Tag Archives | Sierra Club

Beach Hopping at Wilder Ranch with the Family Explorers

Sunday, September 23rd, 2018

The beach holds a special, unmatched fascination for kids. Perhaps it is the lack of structure: no trail or poison oak, the inviting and warm expanse of yellow sand, and the thrill of waves breaking over bare feet.

Wilder Ranch is rich in coves that hide behind tangles of willow and coyote brush, and to which we descended through thick carpets of blackberry, silverweed and water cresses. The swell of the ocean thundered up white sand, while slippery seals slept on marine terraces, awaiting low tide. The sand, I had read in the Wilder Ranch guide book, had originated up in the Sierra Nevada, eroded over eons and carried down by creeks and rivers through the mouth of the San Francisco Bay. Ocean currents then bore the sand south till it was deposited in Wilder Ranch’s coves.

The parents perched on the sand, sifting it through their fingers, talking of the pelicans who seemed to fly always north, perhaps to a pelican convention. We watched — could it be with envy? — as the energetic young ones rushed in and out of the swirling tendrils of foam, teasing the reach of the ocean beyond.

We scrambled down to Strawberry Beach, where we enjoyed the sight of dudleya and coastal plantains growing straight out of the rock face. Next, we hopped to Sand Plant Beach where the kids ran and jumped in the sand. We then explored Fern Grotto Beach, tempted by sea caves into whose dripping depths the young ones dared wriggle much farther than I. Finally, on our way back, tired, sun-kissed, and happy, we peeked at the much larger Wilder Beach from the bluff.

Wilder Beach is closed to humans, kept for the plovers who lay there their eggs there in small depressions in the sand, and for the many other sea birds, both residents and migrants who pause for a rest on their way down the great flyway in the sky. After our morning of beach hopping in coves, we were more than content to watch from the bluff a seal dipping in and out of the current and to follow two egrets with binoculars from afar.

Wilder Ranch is a magical place, and it is hard to believe that it was once headed for development. Ten thousand units and a golf course were planned, an expansion which would have doubled the size of Santa Cruz. Fortunately, the town’s citizens mobilized, among them Sierra Club members, to protest the plan. Operation Wilder was successful, to our immense gratitude, and the land was purchased by the State and turned into a state park.

The Loma Prieta Family Explorers offers one or more hikes a month for families with kids ages 6-12 as well as monthly toddler walks. It is our mission to cultivate and nourish a sense of wonder and curiosity in families, with the intention of raising a new generation of stewards for our public lands. Please check our calendar or meetup page for upcoming hikes.

The Loma Prieta Family Explorers are always looking for new hike leaders, 18 years old or over, or aspiring hike leaders, for those under 18. Please email us for more details.

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Sunny Tracking Hike at Coyote Valley

Rachel Carson once wrote, “It is possible to compile extensive lists of creatures seen and identified without once having caught a breath-taking glimpse of the wonder of life.” The Loma Prieta Family Explorers’s mission is to cultivate and embrace our innate sense of wonder, our appreciation of the miracle of life. We love knowing the names of things, but even more, we love to experience them and learn the stories behind them.

Elegant clarkia is endemic to California and grows in oak woodlands. Though it looks so unlike other clarkias, it is still in the same family!

On Sunday, May 27th, the Family Explorers set out in quest of wildlife scat and tracks in sunny Coyote Valley. Undeterred by the warm weather, our group of young story-tellers, bug-and-snake enthusiasts and avid adventurers identified deer tracks and learned which direction the tracks point and whether they were of a hind or front hoof (do you know how to tell?). As proof, we caught sight of two deer crossing the trail, and immediately rushed to check if we can find the tracks they made. We were excited to watch a woodpecker flying overhead, darting here and there, perhaps catching and eating flies in the air, and watched where she went in case her cavity nest was nearby. We examined multiple beetles, spiders and ants, poking through holes and shining a flashlight in to see if we can see inside. We even got to discuss the likelihood of particular scat being dog, coyote or bobcat.

Hopping and skipping downhill, we made our way back, all the while telling stories. The young explorers came up with a tale of three hikers who encounter high adventure at the park climbing trees with poison oak, falling in raging creeks, getting attacked by a mutant shark, and nearly drowning in a whirlpool. A future visitor to the park need not worry, however. We are almost certain mutant sharks are not to be found at Coyote Valley. At least, we found no tracks of them. Other wildlife, however, is abundant, even if often all we see are signs.

Mariposa lilies are one of my favorite flowers to find. I look forward to May, barely concealing my impatience for these glorious flowers to bloom. This one also features lovely bugs inside who are probably enjoying its pollen.

The rolling hills  of Coyote Valley Preserve may seem similar to many others in the Bay Area. The park is so teeming with wildlife, however, because it is uniquely situated not only at the narrow “neck” of the valley but also next to the only undeveloped section of valley floor remaining in the Bay Area. Mountain lions, bobcat, turkey, deer and other wildlife routinely cross through this narrow “neck” between the Santa Cruz mountains and the Diablo Range, helping diversify their genetic pool and connecting habitats. Even the seething traffic of 101 does not stop them — they often cross in culverts under the freeway.

We love visiting Coyote Valley, and this visit was no different, with its promise of wildlife and mariposa lilies, harvest brodiaea, and sticky monkeyflower dotting the hills, the air drenched with the spell-binding scent of buckeyes. Thank you to Justyna for leading us!

Join us on a future hike to experience the miraculous forests and meadows of the Bay Area and reconnect with your own wonder of life. The Loma Prieta Family Explorers offer monthly hikes to nearby parks as well as a Toddler Explorers program. For more information, please visit our calendar.

See you on the trails!

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Early Spring Walk to Frog Lake at Henry Coe State Park

Climbing Monument Trail at the beginning of our hike

Getting to Henry Coe State Park is not for the faint — or lazy — of heart. Seven miles of windy road carry us deep into the Diablo Range, into mountains whose ruggedness baffled and challenged even experienced explorers like the 1776 Anza Expedition. While the land had been impacted by the homesteaders and ranchers who followed Anza, Henry Coe is wilder and more remote than anything you might expect so near the Bay Area. I rarely drive into the park without catching a glimpse of wildlife: deer grazing in a meadow, turkey courting, quail flying away at the sight of the car, or the occasional tarantula crossing the road. As the valley below disappears behind the curves in the road, I release a sigh and step forward on a footpath from which you can see only nature; no cars, no roads, no homes.

Shooting stars

The Loma Prieta Family Explorers began offering hikes for families with children ages six to twelve in November. Our first trip led us to Huddart Park where we learned about the redwoods and counted banana slugs. We loved the redwoods so much that we decided to go back and explore Sam MacDonald Park, where we beat our banana slug record, hugged first-growth redwoods, and had lunch in view of the ocean. Since wildflower season is beginning, our next hike led us to Russian Ridge, where we admired three-hundred-year-old Canyon Live Oaks, a golden coyote, and 360-degree views from the ocean in the west to the bay in the east, with Mount Tam and Mount Diablo dominating the skyline. Now here we are, tackling what can only be described as our toughest hike yet, at Henry Coe.

The young crowd led the way, climbing giddily up the hill on Monument Trail. I am always amazed by the details which children see long before us adults. Called back by hollers, I am shown a patch of snow framed by the roots of a bay tree and different types of delicate mosses and lichen. I inform the kids that though we begin with an uphill, they will be tired of the downhill before we are done, but I am utterly wrong. The children gallop down the sloping trail with the same enthusiasm and geniality with which they tackled the steep hill. The parents and I jog after them, enjoying Indian warriors and shooting stars along the way and stopping to appreciate the curious trunks of big-leaf manzanita.

The climbing tree

Just before arriving at our picnic spot, we pause for the climbing tree. This tree had grown strange bumpy burls around its trunk, tempting us with its climbability. The kids attempt it and only make it a few bumps up, but our solitary dad, unwilling to give up, climbs with agility, using the burls as a step-ladder. He peers at us from the top, calling, “Now how do I get down?” His success encourages the kids to try again, and only the promise of a picnic at the campground drags them away.

Frog Lake

Frog lake proves a wonderful attraction, but we’ve sat too long at lunch and we’re cold. After searching for frogs and discovering one toad, we turn to follow the trail back. We hop over Coyote Creek. Small blue butterflies flutter over yet-to-flower blue-eyed grass. Buttercups and shooting stars sprinkled with dew dot the hillside. We see one cold ladybug and tiny waterfalls, swollen into existence by the rain. Manzanitas and gooseberries grow slowly ripening berries, too few and young to weigh down their branches. We’re full of good cheer, telling tales and jokes, discovering giant mushrooms growing on tall trees. A view opens before us, and we realize our hike is almost over. Just a little bit more uphill, another tale or two, some complaints from the youngest member of our crew, and a last glimpse of the trail which carried us high up into the hills many hours ago.

It is hard to say goodbye. We walk to the barn to take a peek at the stable and the blacksmith shop. We imagine how hot it would have been in there when the blacksmith worked. We answer a riddle: how much money did the state pay for the park in 1958? Guessing anywhere between a dollar and a thousand, the answer, ten dollars, only takes us slightly by surprise. Finally, we all disperse to our homes, driving down the same windy road, this time watching as the road leads us, switchback by switchback, back to the human hub below.

The Loma Prieta Family Explorers offers monthly hikes for children ages six to twelve. Please check our calendar for more information. Short Toddler Explorers discovery walks are offered on Fridays and include a walk, story time, and an art project. Please join us for hikes and contact us if you would like to become a leader with the Family Explorers.

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Sigal Tzoore (650) 815-5109