Saturday, January 29, 2011

Broderson Peak Look Out Trail

I went for a hike a few Sundays ago and I didn't take my camera. I figured I was just going on a neighborhood path, nothing special. I didn't think there would be anything worth documenting for this blog...nothing that out of town visitors would be interested in. Geez...what was I thinking?

It was so beautiful, I went and did it again the following week. This time I insisted K join me...and I brought my camera too.

Like most hikes around here, the scenery along the trail itself was beautiful. First you walk along sandy paths through Eucalyptus groves. It's tempting to just stroll along blissfully, but you have to keep a careful eye out on this trail...

Or you might miss things like the strange shapes the trees make as they grow into each other.

When you start climbing through some areas of scrubby looking brush and shrubs, look out for hummingbirds...

and flowers full of bees!

But keep a close watch on the ground too, you never know who could be right underfoot!

Or watching you from inside an old log.

And, be careful not to bump your head as you weave your way through patches of twisted oak.

Towards the end, the trail gets really steep. You have to walk through steep little canyons carved from the sandy dunes.

And, just when you think you'd better sit down and have a break, you're at the top!

With the best view I've ever seen of Los Osos spread out in front of you! (If you click on the pictures, you can see them bigger.)

You can see the The Pacific Ocean and the town of Morro Bay, the Baywood Pennisula, and the the back bay surrounding it...Hollister Peak on the right, and Black Hill above the Golf course. There's a great view of the Sand Spit and the Rock, but not the channel of water that runs between them. And you can see the Cerro Cabrillo Park where I used to love to go running, but don't anymore. Now that I have Piper, I can't stand to leave her at home, and she's not allowed on those trails.

I've labeled these things on the photo below, so you can see what I'm talking about if you don't know the area...yet.

And, as if this view weren't enough of a reason to climb to the top of the hill...just a few more steps and you can see over the back of the peak...down into the rolling green hills and blue horizon of the Montana de Oro State Park.

You won't have any trouble finding it, just cruise along Highland Drive until you see a trail head on the south side of the street...there are several. Park and head up hill until you can't go up any more.

It's really a fabulous hike, and I hope you have time to do it while you're here.

And the best part...dogs are allowed!

Saturday, January 22, 2011

San Simeon Tide Pools

It was hard for me to write the title to this post without adding exclamation marks at the end. This is one of my absolute favorite places, and favorite things to do, here on the Central Coast. I only "discovered" it a few weeks ago, while our 5 and 8 year old goddaughters were visiting.

Before that, I had only explored the tide pools at Coralina Cove, in the Montana de Oro. During my visits there, I would always see a few species of anemones, plenty of hermit crabs and at least one starfish. It seemed worth the treacherous climb across sharp, slippery rocks to peer at these things. But, I didn't think it would be a safe place to bring the kids.

After a little research, I decided to take them north on Highway One to San Simeon beach. I'd been there before because it is directly across the road from the entrance to Hearst Castle. It's a nice beach, but I didn't remember seeing any tide pools. I guess I just wasn't looking. It is tide pool heaven!

I hope you'll add this beach to the top of your "Places to Go" list.

If low tide is near a meal time on the day you go (REMEMBER to check a tide book before you plan your visit) bring a picnic! There's a lovely spot with benches and tables looking out over the beach.

Or, you could bring a blanket and have your lunch on the sand. It's such a pretty place, you'll want to hang out there for a while. Just be sure to start exploring the tide pools BEFORE low tide actually arrives. I think it's best to start an hour before. That way, the water is low when you start, and for a while, it just keeps pulling back and exposing more and more for you. If you wait and start right at low tide, then you are losing ground the whole time.

Unlike the pools I'd been risking my neck to get to, the pools at San Simeon are very accessible. As you can see in the photo below, finding them is as easy as a walk along the beach. Rocks covered in exotic invertabrates just pop up out of the sand every few steps.

For the best views, you do have to brave the icy pacific, at least up to your ankles. If you're afraid of freezing feet, I suggest wearing wet-suit booties...the kind surfers keep your tootsies toasty. But if you don't have any, go anyway. I find that even bare-footed, I am so engrossed in looking at the marine life...I don't even notice the chilly water. (After the first few moments of shock, anyway.)

The last time we went up there, I started looking for star fish to count, like I always do. But after just a few minutes I gave up. I'd already reached "24" and I'd hardly begun.

The starfish pictured above are the type we see most often around here. They are actually called Sea Stars, not starfish, and this is the species Pisaster Ochraceus. (Thanks for the field guides, Mom!)

This was also an exciting day because I saw my first Bat Star! (Patiria Miniata) As you can see, they are smaller (about 6" instead of 12",) and have short triangular arms rather than the Pisaster's stout tapering arms. After I saw my first one, I saw my second one...then my third and fourth. We even found one upside down on high rock. That didn't seem right, so we turned it over and placed it back in the water. It uncurled and looked okay after that.

After starfish (I mean, sea stars,) my favorite tide pool animals are the anemones. Below are photos of three kinds.

The center shot is of a Green Anemone (Anthopleura sola.) They measure about 2.5 inches across, can be clearly identified by the striped center, and usually do not have others of their kind nearby. (At least, according to my personal observations...they are usually alone...but I am not an expert, I could be totally wrong!)

The top left photo is of Aggregating Anemones (Anthopleura Elegantissima.) All the animals in this colony are clones of each other. Sometimes they are so small, and so encrusted with bits of sand and broken shell, that they just look like a patch of ground...until you look closely and the pattern becomes clear. The photo next to it, on the right, is what they look like partly submerged in the sand. According to my field guide, they can grow as large as the Green Anemones, but the only ones I have seen are about an inch across, or smaller. (Double click on this collage...or any photo in this see it bigger and in better detail.)

The ones on the bottom are Giant Green Anemones (Anthopleura Xanthogrammica.) They have a solid green inner color that is sometimes amazingly bright. Supposedly, they can grow to be 7 inches across and a foot tall! But I have never seen one wider than about 3 inches. They seem to grow in groups of about 3 to a dozen together. The interesting thing about the ones in these pictures is that they are growing along the side of a rock, rather than in a pool. You can see that gravity is pulling them down towards the sand.They look like they are about to slide right off!

Another nice thing about San Simeon Beach is, it's not crowded at all. We were poking around for at least 30 minutes before we saw anyone else. When we did, it was just a solitary woman, wandering around quietly, peering in pools like we were. At least, she was quiet until she got close enough to talk to us. Then, it turned out she had plenty to say.

Like, "Look! That yellow thing is a sponge."

And, "Don't get too close to that Elephant Seal."

And, very enthusiastically, "This is a Gum Boot Chiton. The largest species of Chiton IN THE WORLD!"

It really was impressively big, about the size of a dinner plate. But, I didn't tell her that it's hard to get excited about the biggest chiton (pronounced kite-un) when you don't know what one is and have never even heard the word before. What I did say was, "What are you...a marine biologist or something?"

I was just joking, but it turned out she really was one! Not only that, she is in charge of the Coastal Discovery Center up at the parking lot. We just happened to be there at the exact time she was taking a break from her office work for a walk on the beach. We were so lucky to run into her!

She helped us see all kinds of things that we wouldn't have noticed on our own. For example, (in the photo above) you can see by the tracks in the sand behind the Gum Boot that it is moving towards the water.

And, once she introduced us to the big chiton, I started spotting smaller examples on my own. Like this one, which I think is a Mossy Chiton (Mopalia Muscosa.) Notice the bearded fringe around the edge of it. We are only seeing about half of the animal, because it is partly covered up by a colony of aggregating anemones.

and this one, which I think is a Troglodyte Chiton (Nuttalina Californica.)

She also told us the name of these pretty multi-colored shells that are lying next to it...but neither I nor my companions from the day can remember what it was. (And I can't find them in my field guide.) She also told us that they used to be used as money...but I can't remember by who!

One of the most amazing things was a wall of rock and sand growing out of the beach...or that's what I thought it was before we looked at it closer. It was actually a colony of Sandcastle Worms (yes, that is what they are really called...or Phragmatopoma Californica.) The worm that lives INSIDE the tubes is a reef-forming polychaete. The tubes are made of grains of sand which it collects from the water with it's tentacles, combined with special underwater glue it produces with its body. The coral-like structure also becomes a home for lots of other animals.

We cannot see the actual worms in this photo, and I didn't see them that day either. I don't know if that red thing OUTSIDE the tubes is a worm or a snake. I was not able to find photos of it in my guide books or on-line. But I DID find pictures of the Sandcastle I know this is not one of them.

There were masses of mussels nearby and several anemones nestled inside crevices along the tubes, but the most interesting residents were these little green crabs.

She's really keeping an eye on me!

After exploring the tide pools, we went up to see the Coastal Discovery Center. I'd admired the murals on the outside several times, but never been in because the hours are pretty limited.

They are only open from 10-4 on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

So, if you go to San Simeon, try to schedule your visit during those hours. If the tides cooperate, go to the Discover Center before you hit the beach. You'll learn an awful lot of stuff that will make your tide pooling adventures even more interesting.

They even have a "practice wall" where you can get a head start on locating and identifying different animals. (Especially great for kids.)

So for your visit, try to come on a weekend day, when low tide is around 2:00 or 3:00. Visit the center, discuss what you learned over a picnic lunch on the lawn, then go down and explore the pools. You might also have time to walk to the north end of the beach to where the Black-crowned Night Herons hang out. And, of course, you'll want to walk out to the end of the pier to see the view. You can even rent a paddle board or a kayak and head out past the waves. In any event, it's easy to make a full day out of a visit to San Simeon Beach.

While it's tempting to try and combine this trip with a tour of Hearst Castle (right across the road,) a look at the Elephant seals (just a few miles north,) and a hike to Piedras Blancas Lighthouse (just a little bit farther,) I really think it's best to save those things for another time.

You can only have so much fun in one day!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Mid-winter Blooms

Here we are in the middle of January already, the depth of winter. It does get cold, even here in California. For my early jogs, I wear a wool hat and mittens. Some mornings there is even frost on the windshield. Mostly it fades when the when the sun comes up, but one day I had to scrape it off with a pancake flipper. So, don't believe it when people tell you we don't have any seasons here. We do!

Of course, it's nothing like we were used to in Colorado, or even Maryland/Virginia.

The contrast became really clear while the van was failing its smog inspection the other day. With an hour to kill, Piper and I strolled around downtown SLO, taking pictures of interesting plants. Once I started looking, it seemed like almost everything had some kind of flower growing on or near it. I figured with an hour to spend, we'd be able to walk a long way, but we were hardly able to go around the block...we had to stop so often to take photos!

Here are some of my favorites:

It's hard to believe it's not spring!

Our cousin E is here visiting us right now. She has the same background as us: grew up near the middle of the East coast, adult life spent mostly in Colorado. She is having a hard time adjusting the the plant life here. She keeps saying things like, "All my life I believed that everything dies in the winter, but it's just not true."

Not here it isn't.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Blogger's block

Back in late October, when K first got offered the new job at Cal Poly and the wonderful reality that we would be moving to Los Osos was just sinking in, I decided that when we got here, I would start this blog. Of course, I had to adjust my initial start date of "when we got here" to "when we get settled." Getting settled coincided nicely with the start of 2011, so I started this blog last week, on New Year's Day. I put up a couple of photos from the Polar Bear Plunge in Cayucos, one of my favorite local events, but I didn't write much. I didn't really know what to write.

I don't really know what to write today.

It seems like two-plus months of anticipating and ruminating would have been plenty of time to get clear on exactly who this blog is for and what it is supposed to be about.

Originally I thought it would be for our friends and family who are considering, or planning, on coming to visit us. I imagined it would be about all the wonderful, beautiful, exciting and unique things there are to see and do and experience on the Central Coast. I hoped that reading about our adventures here would make our loved ones more likely to visit. I also hoped that having some information ahead of time would make their visits more enjoyable once they got here. I also thought, since we might not be able to take time off work and serve as guides for all our guests, that the accounts given here might equip visitors to guide themselves around the area.

As I'm writing this, those all sound like very good reasons to write. I guess I should just stick to that original plan.

Here's the problem I'm coming up against. I don't just want to write about things to do while visiting. I also want to write about all the things I love about the area that might be really boring to an out-of-towner. Elephant seals, monarch groves and castles on the hill seem like perfect topics for a vacation-planner to read about. But I also want to write about the new route I found for walking to the library from my house, and how much I love our local hardware store. If a person is only going to be here for a week, or a weekend, why would she care about those things?

I guess my real worry is that this blog is going to be boring. I worry about that no matter what I am writing.

I also worry that it will just sound like boasting. It is so great here. I love it here so much. How can I tell other people about it without sounding like a braggart? And, a boring braggart at that.

I think I just need to face up to the fact that I am not writing this blog for other people. I am writing it for me. I am writing it because after being away for two years, I feel very very clear about how lucky I am to be back. I am in love with the Central Coast, with San Luis Obispo County, with Los Osos and with this little house. I want to make the most of living here. I want to explore and experience everything there is to see and do. I want to learn about the histories of the people and the animals and the architecture and the geological formations. I want to become an expert on this place.

Aha! That is the real reason I am writing these posts: to deepen my relationship with my home. I know that to learn any topic well the best approach is to either teach it to others, or write about it. I'm going to use this blog to do both.

If my future house-guests can use it to have a better vacation, great! If I can use it to encourage the people I miss to come and see us, excellent!

But no matter what, if I can make the time each week to sit down and write about all I am learning and doing here, I know it will further my own knowledge and deepen my own experience. That's the outcome that will really mean the most to me.

And, if you- beloved reader- find my essays boring and boastful...please don't read them anymore. Just come visit us and see it for yourselves.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year!!!

2011 Arrived with a SPLASH!
New Year's day feels like an important holiday. I can't help but believe that everything I do today sets the tone for the next twelve months. The down side of this superstition is that it can really stress me out if something bad happens. The up side is, it give me a great excuse for having a REALLY good day.

We spent the morning at home with friends, enjoying a big breakfast of french toast, scrambled eggs, fried potatoes, yogurt, honey, oranges (picked fresh from our friend's backyard), apple butter (made from the apples in our backyard), and champagne. Since some of the friends were new and some were old, we got the chance to tell and hear all our favorite stories again.

Afterward, we drove the 10 miles up to our neighboring beach town, Cayucos, for the annual New Year's Day Polar Bear Plunge. Sadly, we arrived too late and missed the costume contest. (The rule is: you can wear anything except a wet-suit.) But there was still plenty of time to take a dip and earn our participation certificates. K tried to talk me out of jumping in, since I've had a cold and she didn't think the shock of the cold water would be good for my immune system. But I LOVE being part of this community tradition, and I couldn't let a stuffy nose hold me back.

Back at home, we sang and played piano. We drank hot tea and watched an episode of our current bad TV show: Dexter. Then we took a nap.

Evening is falling now, and we don't have any plans for the rest of this year's first day. Maybe we'll walk down to our local bar, The Merrimaker. Since it's Saturday, there should be kareoke. And, as the singing doesn't start until nine, we have a good chance of getting there before it starts. (Getting somewhere early today is important because I need to counteract the fact that we were tardy for the costume contest...otherwise I'll spend the whole year being late for things.)

If my superstition holds true, and I hope it does, I'll spend this year close to my sweetheart and surrounded by friends, enjoying abundant and delicious fresh local food, getting intimate with the natural beauty that surrounds us, playing music and singing, telling and hearing funny stories, and enjoying the luxury of naps. There will be a little bad TV, some late arrivals, and lots of outrageous outfits.

It sounds like a pretty good year to me, with plenty of adventures to write about in this blog. Obviously, I'll find ample time to do that regularly. After all, I'm doing it today.