Saturday, March 26, 2011

In Addition To The Shark

I wrote a little already about the fun times we had when our good friend D. and his three amazing kids came to visit us last week. There's no way I can write about everything else in as much detail as I did about my few scary seconds facing down that leopard shark. But, I do want to give a little summary of our other activities. We did SO much in a few days.

Of course, we went to the beach. The water was too cold for actually getting in and playing in the waves. But that was no surprise, it's ALWAYS too cold. Some visitors don't quite want to believe this, but it's true. Even in will want a wet suit.

But one doesn't need to get into the ocean in order to enjoy it. We had an awfully good time exploring Spooner's Cove in the Montana de Oro and eating a picnic supper at the public access area off the 24th St. exit in Cayucos.

And here is something we learned: Don't ever let guests leave the house without bringing along

1. towels
2. a jug of warm water to wash sand off with
3. dry sock, shoes and pants.

This is especially true if there are kids in the party. I can't remember how many times we went somewhere thinking we would just take a walk along a pretty stretch of oceanfront...and ended up with soggy, gritty, tooth-chattering children.

One of the only adventures we all managed to stay dry and warm for was on the day we headed inland to see Karen at work, and the Cal Poly campus. It is such great school to visit. The buildings and landscaping are beautiful. Interesting events are happening all the time. And, because it is a polytechnic school with a motto of "learn by doing," the campus itself is surrounded by land devoted to student projects. Most of it is agricultural: orchards, crop fields and livestock, or viti-cultural: vineyards and a winery. But my favorite project is the architecture trail.

During the 70's...and maybe into the 80's, I'm not exactly and architecture students built a dozen or so structures along one of the hillsides in Poly Canyon. Some of them seem to demonstrate just one or two principles of construction theory. For example, there is a raised platform using what looks to me like a tri-pod and cable suspension. And another that creates a shaded space using some technique reminiscent of the white roof peaks at the Denver International Airport. But several are complete buildings with roofs and walls, windows and doors. There is even a house with people living in it! I really wonder about who they are and why they get to live in this amazing location.

It's not just the student projects that make this place so special. The canyon itself is magical, with live oak trees spreading into the sky and a rolling carpet of fresh grass covering acres and acres of gentle hills.

This is typical of my feelings for the Central Coast. I love the things that people do...the public art, the farmers' markets, the drive-in movie theater... but the real treasures are the land itself, and the water that meets it, and the living things that thrive there. So far, all of our out-of-state visitors seem to feel the same way, and the H family was no exception.

I know they were as delighted as we were to spot this young Bobcat strolling along the trails in the Montana de Oro State Park,

this California Sea Otter floating on its back and playing with it's flippery feet and,

this beautiful Great Blue Heron slowly swallowing his fresh catch...even though it appears much to big for his slender neck!

Sadly, it was too late in the season to take them down to the Monarch Butterfly Grove in Pismo. All the monarchs have mated by now, and the females are busy spreading their eggs at milkweed plants all over California. And, while they did go up to see the Elephant Seals, they didn't see much but some fat babies lounging around in the sand. Soon they will get hungry enough to start teaching themselves to swim in the shallow water. That might be fun to watch, but for the moment there's just not much activity happening up there. All the adults are already out to sea, hunting and eating.

But tide-pooling at San Simeon is fun any time of year, as long as you go the right time of day. We did, and we saw all the usual wonders including:

Bat Stars,

Green Anemones,

Gooseneck Barnacles,

and Acorn Barnacles.

As usual, I also saw one brand new creature that I'd never seen before. A teeny tiny baby sea star! Look how little and perfect it is!

Actually, I don't know for certain that it is a baby sea star, and not some kind of permanently diminutive species...but it seems like a baby. They must start out little at some point, right? I mean, they don't just appear on the rocks fully formed and fully sized. And furthermore, I can't find any teeny tiny sea stars in my field guides.

Also as usual, we were in San Simeon at the wrong day and time for visiting the Coastal Discovery Center. But we did manage to visit the Nature Museum, back in Morro Bay. No matter how many times I visit that place, I always see something I haven't noticed before. This time, I was shocked to realize there was a stuffed brown pelican floating just over the arch that separates the museum from the gift shop. I must have walked right under it twenty times, and never looked up to notice.

Also, this visit, I spent a good deal of time studying this map which shows the location of the deeper channels in the back bay. Maybe next time I go canoeing I can use this information to keep from getting stuck!

Of course, the whole time they were here with us, I tried to remember to bring my camera with me everywhere and take lots of pictures. Even though I often don't feel like taking them, I know I'll enjoy having them later. But when this visit was over, I had something even better than photos to look at! The kids worked together to make this wonderful drawing. It's kind of like a giant 2-dimensional charm bracelet, covered with beautiful little tokens of our wonderful vacations together.

It's hard to pick favorites, but I want to show you just a few of the drawings up-close. Here are:

the kayak I was in when

the shark came at me, and

one of the California Sea Otters we saw down by The Rock.

I just love how much they were able to communicate with just a few crayon lines. I mean, look at this one. It's tiny (that's why it's kind of blurry in this blown-up version.) And it's just a few simple shapes. But anyone who has been up to Hearst Castle can recognize it immediately as the Neptune Pool!

We were lucky to end up with it. A few hours before their departure, I overheard the kids discussing among themselves whether to leave it here or take it home with them. (It was incredibly difficult to keep my own mouth shut and let them come to a decision on their own!) Finally, they did decide to leave it and here's the reason why: so they can add to it during they next visit!

I can hardly wait.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Can You Canoe?

Last weekend, K and I went canoeing out in the back bay with some friends visiting from Pheonix.

At Cuesta Inlet, where we planned to launch, the water looked pretty low. But, down at the water's edge, the mud wasn't more than a few inches deep, so I decided that the channel was probably deep enough to float the boat. K was doubtful, and suggested we drive over to the launch ramp in Morro Bay. But, I didn't want to do that. Boating over where all the sailboats are moored is fun, but I wanted to have the wilder experience of exploring the back bay on this particular day. Eventually, she decided to respect my judgment on the water level due to my "greater experience." Together, we got the canoe down from the roof of the van.

(This photo was taken on a different day, in Cayucos...NOT in on the dirt road at Cuesta Inlet. But, I wanted to show you how we rig the canoe for travelling to and from the water.)

It couldn't have taken more than 10 minutes. But, by the time we had everything unloaded and ready to launch, the water level had significantly changed. What had been a narrow, but useable channel, had shrunken to a muddy ribbon, barely big enough to float a rubber duckie.

"This doesn't make sense," I protested! "Low tide was almost two hours ago. The tide should be coming IN right now!" At this point I remembered that the tide chart I was using was for the Pacific Coast of Southern California...not for the back end of Morro Bay. You might not think it, but the bay tide lags behind the ocean tide by almost an hour. And, the very back edge of the bay, where we were, probably lags behind even more than that.

After considering our options, we decided NOT to pack it all back up and head over to the deep side with the paved ramp. Surely, we reasoned, this was as low as it was going to go. In a few minutes, it would fill back up and we could push out. Only moments after we came to that conclusion, water started rushing back into the inlet. In minutes, it was as full as it had been upon our arrival, and still rising. So all three kids and the other two adults piled into our big pink canoe and pushed off. I followed behind in a sea kayak we borrowed from our neighbor.

At first, it was magical. We floated along towards the wide open water, with the scuplted dunes of the sandspit beckoning in the distance. I knew there was a chance we might get stuck in the mud at some point, but I wasn't worried. Since the tide was coming in now, even if we did get stuck, all we would have to do would be wait a few minutes for the water to rise, and then continue on our journey.

And that's exactly what I told everyone when, a few minutes after emerging from the inlet, we started scraping the bottom with our keels. It wasn't so bad, just sitting there for a moment, enjoying the view. It didn't get bad until we noticed that the water wasn't getting any deeper. It was getting shallower! Right before our eyes, our sheet of shining saltwater became a muddy marsh.

We really weren't that far from solid ground. But the soft sticky mud was over a foot deep, with a layer of slippery clay below that. Getting back would be messy, if not impossible. Our only real option was to wait and see if the water came back.

Eventually, it did. Thank goodness. But I learned a lesson from this experience. Rather, I figured out that I NEED to learn a lesson about the tides and how they work before I take any more out-of-town guests boating in the back bay.

Our plan was to paddle all the way to the sandspit, haul out, and explore the dunes. Once on dry land again, we would marvel at the tiny rows of fairy-sized prints left by the kangaroo rats. We would climb up the soft hillsides, just to have the fun of tumbling down again. We would look for live sand dollars growing in the shallow water, and collect the skeletons of dead ones from the hard packed sand on the beach.

That was my plan. But, we couldn't find any hard packed sand to land on. All we found near the spit was mud, mud and more mud. We paddled along, hoping for the terrain to change, but couldn't find anywhere we could get the canoe close to the solid shore. Eventually, we decided we'd better head home before it started to get dark.

It sounds like a disappointing afternoon. Nothing really worked out as I'd promised our guests. But, like those bumper stickers about fishing, a bad day paddling around in the back bay is still a pretty good day. The weather was perfect, warm and sunny with a light breeze. The views were amazing all around. And, it's just fun to be out in the middle of water in a boat you are powering with your own energy and skill.

To top it off, we had a couple of unusual sightings. The first one showed up on the other side of the canoe from where I was, so I couldn't see it at first. I could only see the others waving excitedly and pointing. The distance between us was such that I could just barely make out what they were saying. It sounded like, "Shark!"

At first, I thought maybe they were just joking...trying to scare me. I wouldn't blame them. After all, it was my fault we'd spent half our afternoon stuck in the mud and weren't going to enjoy exploring the sandspit. Then, suddenly I remembered that the southwest corner of the bay, not far from where we were, was sometimes called "Shark Inlet." Uh oh.

Then I saw something swim around the back of their canoe and start heading my way. It had a triangular fin sticking up from the center of it's back. I could see a little bit of what looked like it's head weaving in front, and a smaller triangle flipping from side to side in the back. I guessed that was it's tail fin. As it got closer, I could see that I was right, it was a tail fin. And my friends were right too, it really was a shark. And it was coming toward me.

I started scanning my mental files for some kind of useful information that applied to the situation. I did manage to remember that the sharks most commonly seen in the back bay are leopard shards. And that, despite their dangerous sounding name, they are harmless to humans. The voice in my head very calmly reviewed these half-remembered facts.

"There's nothing to be afraid of," it concluded confidently.

But it was hard to listen to that voice when that ominous triangle was getting closer and closer every second. Behind the rational words, I was starting to hear music. You know the tune...duh duh duh duh, duh duh duh duh. This shark might have only been 3 feet long, but it still had JAWS big enough to tear the flesh from my limbs. My heart started beating faster.

"Nonsense," said the voice. "It's perfectly safe in the boat. Anyway, that shark is going to change course in a moment."

But a moment passed, and it didn't swerve or veer. It just kept coming straight at me. Watching it get bigger and bigger as it got closer and closer, my face got hot and I started to sweat. I clenched all my muscles tight to keep my self from paddling madly away. It wasn't the calm voice in my head that convinced me to keep still, it was my fear that I might accidentally tip the boat in my panic to get away.

We hear a lot about the "fight or flight" response to danger, but there is a third option for channeling adrenaline that doesn't get as much publicity, "freezing." That's what I did. I froze.

It's a weird feeling to inhabit a body rigid with fear, while listening to a calm inner voice explain all the reasons why there is nothing to be afraid of. It turned out the voice was right. At the last moment, the shark banked right to avoid colliding with my kayak. It swam so close beside me I could have reached out and touched it if I'd wanted to...and had any mobility in my arms.

It was beautiful, so pale and so graceful, it could have been called the swan shark. From nose-tip to tail, it was adorned with spots and striped that hinted at it's feline namesake. The pattern was in blue. Against the ivory background, it made me think of a china plate, delicate and fine...smooth and strong.

You might think after admiring it up close, and safely surviving the experience, I might have a different response the next time a leopard shark swims at me. But I don't think so. I think there is something primal about watching that triangular shape sticking out of the water, weaving from side to side as it rapidly approaches your own soft human flesh. It think I'll be just as scared next time, no matter what the voice in my head has to say about it.

Obviously, I wasn't able to take a picture of this shark, since I couldn't move. But, here's a picture I nabbed on-line, so you can see how pretty they are.

And here's a link to an amusing video taken by some other kayakers who encountered the same species in the same body of water. It seems like they weren't scared at all. But then, the sharks weren't coming right AT them either!

Happy to still be alive and in one piece, I took a few moments to calm down and just appreciate the amazing beauty of the day. That's when I noticed an unusual wispy shape in the sky. At first I thought it was a cloud, but it was much darker than the other clouds. Then I decided it must be a flock of birds coming in from far away. But I watched it for a while, and it never seemed to get any closer.

I still don't know what it was. Maybe it was pollution. That's a depressing thought, and a scary one. The hill I watched it drift over was one of only half a dozen that separates our little town from the nuclear power plant in Diablo Canyon.

Now obviously, a black cloud approaching from a nuclear reactor holds a lot more possibility for harm than a three foot shark. But for some reason, the dark shape in the sky didn't scare me at all. I watched it with interest the whole time we paddled back to the inlet, and forgot all about it by the time we were home eating macaroni and cheese.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Sweet Sweet Sweet Springs

Happy Saturday Morning, Everybody!

Piper and I just got back from a lovely jog. We started from the house, just before sunrise. Our loop took us out to the back bay, through Sweet Springs, along a dirt road that connects Ramona to Los Osos Valley Rd., up to the end of Broderson Rd., west on the sandy scrub brush trail behind the houses of Highland, down Bayview Heights, past the skate park, through the frisbee golf course, behind the library, up the hidden path from 5th to 9th and down hill all the way home from there.

It was beautiful every step of the way. And birdie-full too!

I was a better runner back before I was a birder because I didn't stop as often! But I know I didn't enjoy my morning outings near as much as I do now. Here are just a few of the exciting species I saw this morning...all within the ten acres of enchanting and protected waterfront woodland that makes up Sweet Springs Nature Preserve.

At the park's edge, hopping through what looked like a wild raspberry bush, I spied a fat robbin's red breast! But the rest of the bird didn't belong to a robin at all. The wings were dark with white spots, and the whole head was shiny black. Usually, when I see a bird I've never seen before, I need a help from a friend or a field guide before I can identify it. But, I knew this one right away, because K had seen one a couple of weeks ago and told me about it.

We had looked it up and identified it as a black headed grosbeak, like this one. (All the photos on this posting are swiped off the web...they are not from my camera or even from my guidebook.)

Of course, it's belly isn't really red and it lacks the roundness of a robin...but we chalked that up to individual variation and figured we'd correctly identified her bird. After all...the "compare" feature in our birding book didn't mention any other similar looking birds in the area that might cause confusion.

But later, we came across a picture of this bird:

And K had her "AHA!" moment. She had seen a spotted doubt about it.

So when I saw one this morning, hopping through roadside brambles, I was able to instantly identify it! So exciting.

But it wasn't until I actually entered the park that things got really interesting.

The first thing I noticed was the sound. Or rather, the ruckus. Maybe I have been surrounded by that much bird-noise before, but I certainly haven't noticed it enough to really hear and pay attention. Good grief. It was worse than a zoo. From every direction came hoots and hollers, cheep and chirps, grunts and groans, twitter and tweets. It was maddening, being surrounded by all this bold and unmistakable evidence of interesting avian activity...without being able to SEE any of it. Each time I tried to follow my ears with my eyes, all that came into view was a patch of wild grasses or a cluster of eucalyptus branches. I was starting to think these birds were invisible. There just didn't seem to be anyway that normal birds could make that much noise without revealing themselves just a little bit!

And then a "rattatatatat" directly overhead caught my attention. The early morning sun was casting more shadows than light, so it was hard to see details. But I did manage to make out the shape of a 6-7 inch bird chipping away at a tree trunk with it's sturdy little beak. It had black wings, a white belly and a white back, so I'm pretty sure it was a downy woodpecker, like this one:

Then, wading through the springs themselves, I saw a snowy egret lifting it's bright yellow feet in and out of the mud. Hoping not to scare it away, I froze mid-step and whispered at Piper to "sit! stay!" I've seen these birds before, but only a handful of times.

What we see a lot more often around here are the great white egrets. They're taller, sleeker and more dramatic to look at with their graceful legs and long curves necks. But I don't find them as thrilling, because they are more common.

I'm learning this is a normal way to react, now that I'm a "real" birder watcher. The uninitiated expect the bigger, flashier birds to be the most exciting. Those are fun to spot, no doubt about it. But I'd give up a blue heron sighting any day,

in exchange for a glimpse of an LBJ (little brown job) like this dusky warbler, here on a rare visit from Siberia.

Another nice thing about being a "real" birder, is that I am starting to be able to identify some birds even when I can't see them very well. For instance this morning I saw, perched on the the bushes between the eucalyptus grove and the sandy beach of the back bay, a teeny tiny little bird with it's beak in profile against the dull light of the western sky. Even without being able to see it's color or the shape of it's body, I'm SURE it was a hummingbird. And, I'd bet that it was an Anna's hummingbird, because I now know that those are the most common ones in Los Osos.

In the picture below, you can see the face is a reddish-pink, but a still photo cannot communicate the thrill of watching one in the wild when the light is working in your favor. Most of the time their heads look rather dark and dull. But, if you find one when the sun is behind you on a bright afternoon, keep it steadily in your sights. You will eventually be rewarded by a POW, Shabam! "Did you see THAT?!" kind of moment when the light hits the surface of the face feathers just right and the bird's head lights up like a hot pink disco ball.

Of course, just because I'm getting good at identifying my flying, feathered neighbors...doesn't mean I have to do it all the time. Sometimes I do what I used to do, just watch and enjoy them. From the look-out deck at the end of the board-walk, I could see a whole crowd of long-billed shore bird. If I'd tried, I might have been able to pick out the individual species. There were probably some whimbrels and marbled godwits it the bunch, maybe even a long billed curlew.

One day soon I'll be over there again, with my field books and binoculars, ready to make some positive identifications.

But sometimes, it's nice to just relax and enjoy watching them. They are miraculously beautiful, no matter what their names are.

Flying High at the Morro Bay Bird Fest (guest writer)

After an exhilarating time at the Great Salt Bird Festival in 2008, I kept my ears open for another opportunity to immerse myself in all things feathered and beaked. Living in landlocked Colorado, I am always hungry (thirsty?) for the water, so the Morro Bay Bird Festival seemed like an excellent match for me.

The toughest thing about bird festivals is choosing which events to attend. Staying with M and K in Los Osos (a few miles south of Morro Bay), I also wanted to balance time with birds with time with them. Since I’m new to the area, I decided to focus on getting to know Morro Bay.

With this in mind, Friday morning found me rejoicing in the the warm weather as I walked a portion of the Morro Bay shore line with a dozen others, some new to birding, others with decades of experience. This walk introduced me to three large wading birds: the long-billed curlew, the long-billed dowicher, and the marbled godwit. These birds find their food (aquatic invertebrates, mollusks, snails, larvae, worms, and leeches (yum!)) by probing their long bills into shallow water and mud. One website compares the dowitchers eating style to a sewing machine, as its bill drills up and down.

One way to distinguish the godwit from the curlew and dowitcher is that the godwit’s beak turns slightly up. “Up toward God,” I thought, even though I’m more of a “god is everywhere” type than a “God in Heaven” type. Thinking this was a pretty clever mnemonic, I soon heard several people make the “up towards God” comment. Easy cliché or great minds think alike?

Ambling southward (birders are rarely brisk, too much to look at), we stopped the Heron rookery near the natural history museum. This grove of eucalyptus and Cyprus trees is home to great blue herons, great and snowy egrets, and black crowned night herons (though I didn’t see any of those.) More recently, double-crested cormorants have moved in. Many of the trees were dead, unable to withstand the acidity in the droppings of these large birds

After walking past the marina, we wandered into the estuary. Tide out, we didn’t see many birds, but I was introduced to the salty, tasty, pickleweed plant. One of the bonuses of bird festivals is learning about the bigger picture, the ways that plants, animals, and geography are all interlinked.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Pt. Buchon Trail

The Pt. Buchon Trail opened in 2008 as part of an exchange deal. Pacific Gas & Electric, who owns the property, got a permit to build a storage facility for used radioactive fuel. Regular folks got access to this amazing piece of land that hugs the coast along the "buffer zone" between the Diablo Canyon Power Plant to the South, and the Montana de Oro State Park to the North.

Access is limited to 255* hikers each day. I have no idea if they've ever come close to "full capacity," but it seems unlikely. The times I've been there I've seen maybe a dozen other people, at the most.

The trail opens at 8am, Thursday through Monday. Supposedly, it stays open until 5pm, but they ask you to return to the trail head by 3:45.

To get there, drive through Los Osos on Los Osos Valley Road until you hit the big left turn and the road turns into Pecho Valley. Continue driving all the way through the Montana de Oro State Park until the road dead ends at the Coon Creek trail head and parking lot. Head toward the chain link gate and you'll find an opening on the left side, just big enough for a person to walk through. Follow the paved road down the hill, across a very sturdy looking concrete bridge, and up the next hill until you come to the sign-in station at the Pt. Buchon trail head.

I can't tell you exactly how far this part of the walk is, but here's how far away the parking lot looks, after you've reached the station.

Now the real experience begins. If you enjoy meandering along green rolling hills, through meadows filled with wild flowers, listening to the crashing surf, and admiring rocky precipices jutting out from the sea, they you are in for a real treat. If you mistrust authority and hate following rules, or you are by nature a highly anxious person, this might not be the best way for you to spend your afternoon. Here are a few of the regulations and warnings you will be subject to during your visit. This, of course, is after you fill-out and sign the mandatory trail waiver which asks for your full name, complete contact information and a description of your vehicle.

"Please Stay on Trail"

"Do Not Litter"

"Look. But do not remove anything from the trail."

"No pets, smoking or open flame, alcohol, tobacco or firearms."

"No commercial photography without prior permission"

"Beware of Snakes"

"Please Stay away from Cliffs."

"Beware of Caves collapsing. Do not enter."

"Do not pet or feed the working animals."

"Stay clear of ranch electric fencing."

"No Poaching"

"If you hear the emergency warning siren sound, return immediately to the check-in station for further instructions."

"All users requesting access to the trail may be subject to a security check."

"Remote alarmed and monitored by sheriff’s department. Unauthorized entry is a felony."

"Remain on the marked trail at all times for your safety - exceptions are considered trespassing and subject to intervention up to and including arrests."

"Warning: Nuclear Power Plant"



If you decide to proceed, and I hope you do, here is what you are going to see along the 2.5 miles trail:

a huge sinkhole with a beach and flowing tides at the bottom of it,

dramatic rock formations,

blue mountains on the distant Northern horizon,

arches over the sea,

steep green hills against the bright blue water,

And some of the luckiest cows in the world.

If you go in early spring, you will see carpets of golden poppies with the soft round mountains rising up behind them

or, if you turn the other way, you can admire them with the ocean as a backdrop.

We are not actually in the Montana De Oro, but it is the same kind of terrain, and is just as deserving of the title.

If you know enough Spanish to translate it into "Mountain of Gold" and you remember from history class that the "Rush of '49" happened in California, you might think the reference is to a mining legacy. But once you see these poppies, you understand the real meaning behind the name.

And, if you come a little later in the season, you'll catch the overlap between poppy blossom time and wild mustard season. Prepare to be enchanted.

(I grabbed this photo from a PG&E website.)

After an hour or so of hiking along gentle inclines, you will approach Windy Point. Thankfully, as most of the trail takes you through wide open spaces with no bushes to hide behind, they've placed some bathroom facilities out here.

As you round the corner, you will be greeted by this stunning view, with the Diablo Canyon Power Plant barely visible in the distance.

Here's a close-up. It reminds me of the Emerald City, partly, because of the bright green grass surrounding it, and the fields of poppies that lead to it. Also, because there is mysterious wizardry happening inside it, producing electricity for more than 2.2 million people.

It's a strange sensation to emerge so suddenly from reverie induced by peaceful communion with nature. One moment I'm in awe of the beautiful flora, the rich land, and the powerful sea. The next I'm recalling the famous Einstein quote:

"It has become appallingly obvious that our technology has exceeded our humanity."

Now, I know there's a lot of controversy over nuclear power and whether it is ultimately good or bad for people and the environment. I'm not even going to get into that here.

But I will remind you that PG&E is the "evil force" in the very true-to-life film, "Erin Brockovitch." According to the website of the real Ms. Brockovitch,

"What PG&E did was real... As early as 1965 this company knew that the facility in Hinkley, California was contaminating the ground water with high levels of hexavalent chromium and they chose to cover it up."

In 1996 PG&E was forced to pay $333 million in damages to the 600+ Hinkley residents involved in the lawsuit that made Erin famous.

The trail continues for another point 8 miles from this spot. But neither I nor any of the people I've hiked this route with have ever felt an inclination to continue. For one, the path leads somewhat steeply downhill, which means an uphill climb on the return. But I think the real reason I always turn around is that seeing the plant makes me anxious. I'd rather just go home and forget about it, which is what I do.

And that is why we have nuclear power plants and poisoned drinking water in the first place.**

* I calculated 255 people a day by subtracting 20 (the number of people allowed on the guided hike at PG&E's other accessible nature area, Poncho Coast Trail) from 275 (the total number of people allowed per day on the two trails combined.)

** Not everyone forgets about it. In the early 1980's, construction of this plant was strongly protested. And, for more information about Erin Brockovich's continuing battle for the environment and public health, you can visit her website at: