Summer, Sweet Summer. Every year, I long for your arrival, and once here, cherish the grace of your annual visit. Brightening our days, inviting us to go outside – anywhere, and showing us Nature’s miracles are some of your highlights I appreciate the most.
Another upshot of Summer? As a teacher, I am on vacation! Hallelujah! I savor every moment; each year’s Summer reprieve becomes that much more treasured. Whenever I hear people talk about how little money we make, I have to quietly smile on the inside when I think about how rich we are in that impossible to appraise commodity called time. It is up to us how we use all this time off, but most teachers I know are hot out the gate once that final bell rings in early June. As for me? Well I think I caught a trace of Mrs. Deetz running off, but all I can see is her dust.
While other seasons of the year may bring better mountain biking weather, Summer offers a long window of time to get your ride in the morning, or evening. Santa Cruz gets pretty hot in the summertime, though not like the Central Valley. The regulating coastal fog helps us stay relatively comfortable, but there are some Summer days when it is too darn hot to ride during the daytime. This is where evening rides come in.
I think it needs no preface that my mountain bike videos are not “sick”, “sending it”, or anywhere near the same echelon of Red Bull Rampage. When I make videos, it’s mostly because I learn from them; it helps me become a better rider. Second, I know if I’m going to ride somewhere new, I like to watch others’ videos – and not necessarily the rippingest experts, but people who ride kind of like me, too. It gives me a snapshot of what to expect, and I often learn something by watching others ride. Maybe mine will help someone else out there. Or not. It’s all in good fun, anyway.
Here are a few videos of riding in the Santa Cruz Mountains over the last couple of weeks. I also had a fun ride down in Carlsbad in the San Diego area where my sister lives; Rancho La Costa Preserve is near her house, and has some pretty cool trails.
One place I wish I lived closer to is Northstar. While only a four-hour’s drive from my house in Santa Cruz, its manicured berms and thoughtfully designed trails beckon. I’ve been riding up here for several years now, but only a few times each Summer. It has become a cross of amusement park and mountain playground, a true smile-on-your-face-guaranteed wonder in the Lake Tahoe area. They maintain the trails so beautifully, you’d think they were precious babies. And of course, you don’t have to climb up to ride downhill! The laws of physics are in your favor with chairlift access.
Feel the berm! I was craving that exact feeling – flowing through a berm, angled on your bike just right to offset sliding, and charging out the end of the turn – so I made a trip up on Monday 6/24. There might have been all of fifty riders on the mountain it was so empty; a nice contrast to the busier weekends. Another benefit of Summer vacation!
Here are a few videos of Livewire, Gypsy, Boondocks, and Coaster trails.
Go get your ride on; get your play on! Get your whatever-it-is-you-love-to-do on! It’s Summer!
Yosemite National Park needs no introduction. If you haven’t seen for yourself, you’ve surely seen its iconic images – from Ansel Adams, to Instagram. Just a four-hour’s drive from my home on the Central Coast of California, it’s a gem I’ve visited several times over the years. With this year’s mammoth snowfall, Yosemite’s famed waterfalls have been roaring steady.
I spent an idyllic day experiencing a snapshot of them on Wednesday, June 12, 2019 – a perfect mid-week getaway without the usual weekend crowds. One of my favorite parts about Summer vacation is taking advantage of opportunities like this. Driving up Highway 140 and entering through El Portal, the weather was hot and beautiful. The Merced River was raging like a monster.
Raging Merced River
I meandered up some rocks to Ribbon Falls before continuing onward to Bridalveil Falls, where I took a short walk through fields of lupine. After working up a sweat, I took a cold, refreshing dip in the Merced River at Sentinel Beach, also a good spot to watch Sentinel Falls and Yosemite Falls. Watching Pacific Treefrog Tadpoles in the reeds was a highlight.
As you may already know, Yosemite is large granitic batholith carved by glaciers. It has variations of granite including quartz monzonite, granodiorite, and tonalite. Its plutonic rock initially formed between about 80-210 mya (million years ago) from the subduction of the ancient oceanic Farallon Plate beneath the continental North American Plate. This process also helped uplift the Rocky Mountains to the east, and the vast Basin and Range of Nevada and Utah.
Then, as the Pacific Plate abutted the North American Plate about 30 mya, plate directions changed from a head-on convergence to a shearing transform plate boundary, and the San Andreas Fault system was born. Its motions would accelerate the uplift of Yosemite, but it was the work of glaciers, especially over the last two million years, that would shape it into a classic U-shaped glacial valley. There is so much more; I could go on – I love geology!
Today, the Merced River is raging from all the snowmelt of the high Sierras. After a relaxing morning hopping about the valley floor, I made my way to the Upper Yosemite Falls trailhead for an afternoon hike. It should be called a climb, because you are basically climbing up a staircase most of the hike. While only about a seven-mile round trip, the elevation gain alone will negate the seemingly brief distance.
Southern Alligator Lizard
Upper Yosemite Falls Trail (Staircase)
Upper Yosemite Falls Trail
This is the Trail Most the Way Up
Hiking Up to the Falls
Hiking up to Upper Yosemite Falls
When you get toward the bottom of Upper Yosemite Falls, it sounds like a jet engine. It was so loud! The mist of the waterfall will be a welcome relief from the sweaty hike up; at least it was for me. I enjoyed sitting and watching the giant cascades of ice-cold water exploding down the falls. It was mesmerizing, and awesome. I needed to be here. I needed to feel the mist on my skin; the Merced River flowing over my body. I needed to stand in awe of the magic of the mountains; to witness the miracle of Nature. It simply makes me happy to be outside.
I felt so jazzed after this hike, I didn’t think the day could get any better. Leave it to Half Dome at sunset to capture my breath and heart! The alpenglow lit up the rockface like a glowing fire. It was a perfect end to a pretty perfect day.
It Was Roaring Loud!
There is so much more to explore in Yosemite! Every time I go, I feel I’m only just getting into its depths. I’m inspired by the experiences of others who’ve ventured further into its heavenly realm. These pictures don’t do it justice, of course. There is nothing like seeing it firsthand for yourself! Enjoy these waterfalls while they’re flowing so spectacularly, or add it to your bucket list. Seize this beautiful Summer wherever you are!
I admit: I may be just a little obsessed with this year’s Superbloom. It has been an exceptional year for wildflowers, and the last couple of months have brought a celebration of them. Temporary and dynamic, they represent life. Like life, it goes by quicker than you realize, and some seasons are better than others. This Spring 2019 just so happens to be one of the best Superblooms I’ve seen in my life.
While places like Carrizo Plain and Antelope Valley get a lot of attention these days, and rightfully so, you don’t have to travel far to see wildflowers in action. The green, undulating hills of California make the perfect landscape for the Spring bloom. One of the best places on the Central Coast to see them is Toro Park near Salinas and Monterey.
Its steep, grassy hills were uplifted along the San Andreas Fault system over the last few million years, raising sandstone and small outcroppings of metamorphic gneiss to the summit at Ollason Peak, elevation 1,800′. Oak trees, shrubs, and chaparral habitat dominate the landscape. I’ve been following the Superbloom at Toro Park this year. My first trip was in late March; I then returned a few times in April. This is my third update for the season, and you can definitely see the difference in landscape over the last two months.
Enjoy the last of the Superbloom; it’s fading out and soon the hills will be golden again. Make the most of their fleeting beauty, whether a slow stroll, a ripping bikeride, or just a nice place to sit. I certainly can’t get enough of it! Here’s a video of mountain biking down Gilson Gap and Meyer’s Loop Trail.
Quail Hollow Ranch in Felton, California, is truly a gem in the Santa Cruz Mountains. When I moved up to Ben Lomond from Santa Cruz four years ago, it was one of the first new parks I explored, only a ten minute drive from my house. It has grown on me to become one of my favorite microcosms within the area; an often overlooked diamond in the rough compared to more popular nearby parks like Henry Cowell and Wilder Ranch.
Quail Hollow is part of the Santa Cruz Sandhills habitat, a peculiar zone of ancient marine seabeds from up to fifteen million years ago. Over the millennia, the uplift of the San Andreas Fault (and its subfaults like the Zayante Fault) rose the sandy seafloor, creating a porous, nutrient-poor soil profile in which specific flora and faun adapted to thrive within. Ponderosa Pines also grow here, which are more commonly found in the Sierra Nevadas. It is a mix of Chaparral, Oak woodland, grassy meadows, and dwarf Redwood forest. Seven endemic species call it their home, including the Ben Lomond Spineflower.
Quail Hollow Ranch was settled in 1866 by Joseph Kenville, and later purchased by the Lane family of Sunset Magazine fame in 1938, where the main ranch house was used for a test kitchen and staging home for the magazine. In 1974, the main property, including still working horse stables and surrounding 300-acres, was purchased by the county. Check out Quail Hollow Ranch: A History, by Susan Collins Lehmann, for much more interesting information about its natural and anthropological history.
Sunset Magazine Test Kitchen
Inside the Ranch House
It changes beautifully throughout the year. Right now, it is bursting at the seams with gorgeous, vibrant wildflowers. Blankets of Lupine flowers, Vetch, and special yellow Poppies color the landscape like spilled paint. When you first drive into the park, the undulating hillside exploding with purple Lupine flowers will take your breath away. It’s not uncommon for people to stop midway down the road, get out of the car, and take a picture or four. It’s absolutely stunning – and fleeting. Knowing how quickly it goes, I savor these days when the wildflowers are in full bloom.
Fernald’s Iris, White Fairy Lanterns, and Sweet Pea arch gracefully toward the sky. Oak trees are blooming with their broccoli-like clusters, fluorescent with new life. It is magical here. Wildlife abounds. I once saw a family of Bobcats here – two cubs and both parents. It was one of the biggest gifts Nature has given me to witness their play and familial interaction, oblivious to my camouflage sentry point.
I also saw a Mountain Lion here, only a few days ago. I was hiking on the Chaparral Loop, at a nice, meandering pace; I was taking some pictures of wildflowers, and taking in a sort of “forest bathing” experience. Suddenly, a young spotted fawn emerged onto the trail, and bounded toward me. I moved out of its way, and recorded it as it ran off. I was mildly concerned that it was separate from its parent, but next I heard a curious sound: loud, rhythmic exhaling. Not quite a snort, but like someone was violently blowing their nose. I looked up the hillside to see an adult deer, the doe Mother of the fawn I’d just seen, quite presumably.
What is she doing? I pondered. It was pretty obvious there was some kind of threat. Within a few seconds, the movement of a large mountain lion turning to skulk up the hillside came into view. I scrambled to grab my phone to film it as it slowly crept away, its long tail going out of sight. The deer bound across the forest a few paces, and then stopped abruptly, facing uphill toward the puma. Twitching her tail and occasionally stamping her hoof, she continued to exhale rather loudly in about five-second intervals. I stood in awe, wondering if I was going to see a live kill. I was close to the ranch house and parking lot, so I knew I could scream if the very low probability of the cougar going after me were to ensue. Mountain lions are elusive and avoid humans, generally speaking, and clearly deer, its main staple, was on the menu tonight.
I stood there about ten minutes, watching the deer snort and stand off, before it ultimately bounded off near me. I swear it felt some relief seeing me standing there on the trail. Making its escape route next to me wasn’t a coincidence, I don’t think.
When I got home, I quickly Googled Deer exhaling loudly and came across deer-hunting websites explaining the behavior. It was certainly a defensive behavior to an established, clear threat of a predator. I had never seen this before, and found it super interesting to observe. Knowing it means a hunter is near, however, makes me wary of seeing it again in the future.
The second thing I Googled was Fawn separated from doe, which led me to an educational page from the Wildlife Center of Virginia . Its slogan was: Don’t be a Fawn-Napper! Apparently, every Spring and Summer, well-intentioned people find fawn alone in the forest, panic that it’s been abandoned, and try to rescue it by taking it to a local wildlife shelter. Though I hadn’t considered “rescuing” the fawn, I admit I didn’t know what I learned next: fawn and mothers stay apart during the daylight hours, reuniting at dusk. The mother will purposely stay away from the fawn to avoid drawing predators to their young. The next time I see a young fawn alone in the forest, I won’t be so concerned. Unless, of course, a mountain lion may have just been hunting it! Here’s a video of the whole encounter, Variable Checkerspot Butterfly and wildflowers to boot:
That was the third time I’ve ever seen a Mountain Lion. The first time was while running on the Zane Grey loop at Wilder Ranch, and the second time was mountain biking down Fenceline trail, also in Wilder. Both times it turned away from me; both times were in the Springtime, just like this time. Spring is one of the most active time for all animals, and every time I go for a hike or a bikeride, I remind myself that I am in their home, in their backyard. We share the landscape, and especially in Springtime, it’s important to be aware of our animal friends (snakes on the trail included).
By Summer, the hills will dry out, with perennials like Yerba Santa, Manzanita, and Silver Bush Lupine will be in their prime. Quail Hollow boasts the hottest average temperature anywhere in Santa Cruz County, and it certainly lives up to its name on the southwestern, sandier slopes on a mid-Summer’s day. Reptiles abound; it’s a wonderful place to spot all kinds of herps, rattlesnakes included.
With Autumn comes shorter days, changing leaf colors, and the onset of shedding Summer’s bounty. Deciduous trees start to lose their leaves, and the trails are about as dry as they’ll ever be. Some sections of the trail are as deep and loose as beach sand. By the time the late-Fall rains start, usually around November, mosses spring to life on the trees, and fungi start to emerge. It’s a welcome sight.
Winter is a special time of year here, with many mushrooms pushing out from under leafpiles, and gray fog clinging to the hillside like a blanket. There’s barely anyone here, and if you hike all the way up the Sunset Trail , you will get a nice peek of the Monterey Bay, reminding you of the upcoming nice weather of Spring and Summer. If you only have a short time frame, go for a quick but satisfying stroll on the Chaparral Loop. If you have about an hour or so, take the full five-mile Sunset Loop, which will also take you through a dazzling, dwarf Redwood forest, full of candy-like Trillium flowers in the Spring.
Top of Sunset Trail
False Solomon’s Seal
Which leads us back to right now – sweet, beautiful Springtime. Now is the best time to see Quail Hollow’s full palette of colors. Enjoy a slow saunter through the Oaks, and let the warm sun make you feel like you’re at the beach. You are, in fact, at the beach – just one that’s several million years old and about 1,000′ above sea-level.
Wilder Ranch State Park, in Santa Cruz, California, is full of color and activity this time of year. With the Spring wildflower bloom in full effect, this is an ideal time to get outside and enjoy nature’s kaleidoscope of flowers. With sandy to loamy soils that gently wind up ancient marine terraces, equestrians, hikers, runners, and mountain bikers alike are all out in full force these days enjoying the gorgeous landscape.
One of my favorite (legal) trails within Wilder Ranch is Enchanted Loop Trail. It’s a pretty short downhill through a redwood canyon teeming with ferns, clovers, and moss. After the exceptional Winter we had this year, everything is ultra vibrant.
Elegant Cluster Lily (Brodiaea elegans)
Elegant Cluster Lily (Brodiaea elegans)
Though known more for cross-country mountain biking, Wilder is a fun spot that makes up for its infamous ruts with its exceptional beauty. Ocean views, expansive fields of green, and pops of glowing wildflowers beckon you to take frequent breaks and enjoy the scenery. By mid-Summer, it will still be beautiful here, but not like the Spring bloom. This is a truly special, finite time of year.
Golden Star (Triteleia ixioides)
Coast Live Oak
California Goldfields (Lasthenia californica) with Blue-Eyed Grass
Watch out for Snakes in the Trail!
Nice Gopher Snake!
Purple Owl’s Clover (Castilleja exserta)
Golden Star (Triteleia ixioides)
Marsh Woundwort (Stachys palustris)
Baptisia Yellow Bush Lupine
Coast Live Oak
Here’s a video of my ride today down Enchanted Loop. Enjoy this beautiful Spring!