Step by Step

::: By Hand and On Foot :::

Category: Walks and hikes (page 2 of 7)

Winter Solstice 2014

Sarah-Hope is up in Napa helping her folks prepare for Christmas, so I decided to take a bit of a road trip on my solo Sunday. Which also happens to be the shortest day of the year – so it needs to be spent outdoors. Next stop: San Juan Bautista!

We were thrilled when we realized San Juan is closer to us than is Santa Cruz. I love love love the rolling California hills, with their textures and shapes and lonely oaks silhouetted against the sky. And San Juan is set in the middle of some of the prettiest rolling hills you’ll see.

Oak tree at the trailhead

First stop, a short hike on a bit of the De Anza trail. I only walked up to the first fence, having forgotten my water bottle and wanting to get back home to do some art. But it was a lovely climb, steep enough to feel it, not so steep that you think you’re going to die.

First, a field with cows. Well, on the other side of the trail there was a field. These two cows thought the trees offered better snacking.

Cows in the trees

This tree practically glowed, and the spiral cow paths surrounding it gave it a cosmic feel.

Cosmic tree

Looking behind me at the path I’ve climbed, with a view out over San Juan Bautista and the surrounding hills. As someone who grew up on the East Coast, it’s still odd to have bright green hills in the midst of winter, and dry brown hills in the summer.

Looking back down the trail

I reached a point where I could look out over the other side of the ridge, towards Hollister. At first I could only hear the breeze and the birds, but I soon realized there must be a rifle range on this side, and the rest of my walk was accompanied by the sounds of multiple shots ringing out. (Way too many for hunters, and including what must have been a semi-automatic gun. Ick.)

Looking out towards Hollister

Some laurel berries along the way.

California Laurel with berries

Some scenic views.

Oak trees and barbed wire fence

Oak tree and landscape

As I mentioned, I only hiked a portion of the trail; I will definitely be back to complete it! I hear there’s some interesting geological features, and even better views.

I followed my walk with brunch in San Juan Bautista, where I found a small Basque restaurant that serves Spanish-style tortillas with potatoes, followed by the lightest, tastiest flan ever. So good!

Basque restaurant in San Juan Bautista

Walking the Watsonville Sloughs

It was a gorgeous early afternoon, and, while I wanted to get some work done in the garden, I also wanted to take some time for a walk. The solution: a quick urban hike at the Watsonville sloughs.

First, let me say that I love that we have sloughs in California. A slough is defined as marshy or reedy pool, pond, inlet, backwater, or the like. Back east, we called these things a marsh. Calling a marsh a slough always makes me think of Pilgrim’s Progress, and trudging through the Slough of Despond, and therefore entertains me greatly.

And Watsonville is cut through with sloughs. We have Watsonville Slough, Struve Slough, Harkins Slough, and Gallighan Slough, while just down the road a ways is the larger Elkhorn Slough. Today’s walk took me around Struve Slough.

I started my walk at the small nature center that’s hidden behind the giant complex of stores that includes Ross and Target, on Harkins Slough Road. A quick duck through a walkway under the road took me directly to the path that borders the slough. Even though most of the slough and its pathways are bordered by large complexes of new houses or light industry, the sounds of city life immediately disappeared, and (except for the occasional small plane heading for Watsonville airport) all I could hear was the wind in the reeds and the birds rustling in the undergrowth.

As I approached Ohlone Parkway, I saw two large tubes which I assumed were for drainage. No! They were built to assist small animals in crossing the road.
Tubes for animal crossing

Closer to the pipes. You can see the houses along the path. Also, speaking of pilgrims, note that one could interpret the pattern on the trash can as scallop shells, the symbol of the Camino de Santiago. (You know I just had to go there…)
Three points in one photo

The paths are well-maintained and well marked, with maps posted at each junction.
The path

Some late berries along the way.
Late blackberries

To cross the slough, I had to climb up to the street. Another lovely Watsonville bridge! The sign indicates which slough, and the end post is decorated with a bas-relief of a frog.
Slough sign and art

Plus each upright along the bridge had either a heron or a cat-tail relief.
Heron bas-relief

Reeds and open water. There were some birds congregating there, mostly Canada geese and coots.
Reeds and open water

I had hoped to circumnavigate the slough. The maps posted along the path indicated that this was possible, but no. The maps indicate a bridge or some crossing where I’m pointing, but there’s nothing there. I later found that the printed maps available at the nature center say that this is a proposed pathway. Ah well. I prefer a loop track, but backtracking is fine, too.
No such path

On the way back, I saw these seeds about to take off.
Seeds about to fly off

And Faust was here! I kept an eye out for him, and for Mephistopheles as well.
Faust writes graffitti

Perhaps this large spider is Mephistopheles in disguise???
Large hairy spider

And back again to the nature center, which is just around the corner from this last bit of slough. All told, this was about an hour’s walk. It’s a lovely getaway right in the middle of commercial Watsonville, well worth exploring. For the less adventuresome, the nature center gives guided walks at 1:30 each Saturday and Sunday.
A lovely bit of slough

Postcards from the Road

Way back earlier this year, when I was preparing to walk the Via de la Plata in Spain, I was counting my pennies and trying to figure out how I was going to make ends meet. I hit upon the idea of a postcard subscription: people could sign up to receive 2, 5, 7 or 10 postcards – original drawings – of scenes from my journey.

I’ve been back from Spain for six months now, and because of the excitement of the arrival of my new etching press, followed by various festivals and Open Studios, I’m only now really thinking about and processing my pilgrimage.

So here, finally, in sequential order, are the postcards I drew. I am afraid the lighting conditions were not always ideal when I took the pictures of the postcards; I’ve done my best to restore the correct color as much as possible.

Seville: the first waymark, at the cathedral
The first waymark

Seville: a courtyard in the Alcázar
Courtyard of the Alcazar in Seville

Seville: the Giralda
The Giralda, Seville

Seville: the Macarena
The Macarena in Seville

My process often looked like this. A sidewalk cafe and a glass of wine are an aid to inspiration!
The Macarena in Seville

Italica: mosaic from the Roman ruins
Roman mosaic in Italica

Guillena: church
Church in Guillena

Just past Guillena: tower in the midst of fields, early morning
Castle in fields, Guillena

Castilblanco de los Arroyos: view of the town from the albergue
View of Castilblanco from the albergue

Monesterio: I felt the town needed a new stamp for the pilgrim credencial that would reflect the town’s status as the jamon capital of the world (or so it claims).
Proposed pilgrim stamp for Monesterio, the jamon

Real de la Jara: view of the town from the castle. I accidentally left this postcard behind on my bunk when I left the albergue in the morning, and I assumed it was lost. I was very pleased to learn that its intended recipient did indeed receive it, thanks to the good samaritan who found and mailed it.
View of Real de la Jara from the castle

Villafranca de los Barros: this church was diagonally across from the pension
Chapel in Villafranca de los Barros

Torremejia: Roman statues used in the wall as building material
Roman statues used in the wall as building material

Mérida: remains of the Roman aqueduct, Acueducto de los Milagros
Roman aqueduct in Merida

Aljucen: street scene
Quiet street in Aljucen

Alcuescar: odd character carved next to the church door
Odd character from Alcuescar

Alcuescar: statue “La Misericordia” in the monestery, seen from the side
Statue of La Misericordia

Roman bridge, between Alcuescar and Caceres
Roman bridge

Cáceres: couple on a bench in the plaza mayor, with the walls of the old city behind them
Plaza mayor in Caceres

Cáceres: bust of a woman on a building wall in the old city
Aztec woman carved on the wall in Caceres

Casar de Cáceres: storks on the church roof; there were dozens of them
Storks on the church roof at Casar de Caceres

Casar de Cáceres: the waterspouts around the roof of the church were quite entertaining
Waterspout on the church roof, Casar de Caceres

Carcaboso: houses
Houses in Carcaboso

Mailing a batch of postcards!
Mailing a batch of postcards in Carcaboso

Oliva de Plasencia: cat on a stone bench
Cat on a stone bench in Oliva de Plasencia

Caparra: the Roman arch. The Via de la Plata goes right through the arch
The Roman arch at Caparra

Pico de la Dueña: the highest point on the route, with windmills and a cross of Santiago
Windmills and cross at the Pico de la Duena

This marks the end of what I actually walked; I finished walking in Salamanca. I took a bus to Zamora and spent two days exploring that city, where I drew my final postcards.

Mailing postcards in Salamanca:
More postcards wend their way to the USA

Zamora: church on the plaza mayor, opposite my pension
Church on the Plaza Mayor, Zamora

Zamora: statue of penitents
Statue of penitents, Zamora

Zamora: a suit of armor as a weathervane atop church tower
Suit of armor weathervane

Zamora: a very operatic-looking statue of Mary Magdalen
Statue of Mary Magdalen in Zamora

My Earth Day Hike

Friday was my day off, and also just happened to be Earth Day — a perfect excuse to revisit one of my favorite hikes: the bluffs along the ocean in Wilder Ranch State Park.

The bluffs at Wilder Ranch State Park

We’ve had a lot of rain this winter, and it was interesting to see the extent of the erosion along the trail. Here’s a good example. That roped-off cliff edge used to be the trail.

Erosion at Wilder Ranch State Park

I wasn’t the only one out and about. I stopped for a while to watch a hawk hunting. I believe it is a Sharp-Shinned Hawk; any confirmations out there?

A hawk hunting

After a few miles, you come to Strawberry Beach. There’s a long loop around the beach and marshland behind it, or you can take a shortcut down and across the beach.

Strawberry Beach

This shortcut is best taken at low tide, since high water and marsh runoff can block the narrow ledge that leads back up to the bluffs. I only take this shortcut on the way out; somehow I feel better with a drop on my right side instead of my left, and it’s definitely easier to negotiate the narrow path while going uphill.

The narrow trail back up

Yes, it does get a bit difficult to navigate.

Narrow and uneven trail

Most of my pictures look out towards the ocean. The other side of the trail is also interesting, mostly agricultural. Here’s a good crop of artichokes. The mid-coast produces something crazy like 99.9% of the US artichoke supply.


Do I need to mention it’s a gorgeous day?


There’s been a lot of rain lately, so the grasses have been growing like crazy, and fewer people have been out on the trails. Still, I’m surprised at how grown-over the trail out here has become. It’s usually more like a dirt road than a single track path.

Grown up trail

I paused for lunch on a bluff. Here come some surfers, climbing down to the narrow rocky beach. If you look closely, you can see some other surfers already out in the water where the wave is breaking.

Surfers descending to the beach

The now-overcast sky doesn’t dim the brightness of these asters. This is my destination: Four Mile Beach.

Flowers above Four Mile Beach

I love the bluffs. So interesting to see the layered rock. The gulls love them too, for the updrafts along their edge.

Gulls and sky

Diagonal vein

Cliff with cypress

My round trip was approximately 10.5 miles. Here’s one last picture from the day: some calla lilies in a sheltered cove.

Calla lilies

Berry Creek Falls

Berry Creek Falls

Aren’t they amazing?

These are the falls I was trying to visit when I hiked the mountain in Big Basin State Park last week. This week, I took the right turn and found them, and it was so well worth both hikes.

The problem with my first attempt to visit the falls was that, since I was hiking, I took the trail labeled “Hikers.” At this time of year, regardless of how you’re traveling, if you want to visit the falls you must take the fire road, marked “Horses, bicycles, handicapped.” Keep to the right at this sign.

Take the road.

There was beautiful morning light as I set out.

Morning light

There were a LOT of newts. It’s newt mating season, and they were all crossing the trail, hurrying to a hot date.
Newt in a hurry

The trail to the falls is about 6 miles each way, mostly all fire road, mostly all relatively flat and looking like this.
Fallen tree still growing

About a half mile before the falls, the trail narrows to a footpath. It’s foot traffic only from this point, and there’s a hitching post for horses or for locking bikes. There’s a small footbridge across the stream. Oops, make that a small footbridge in the stream. It’s sturdier than it looks; this photo is taken from the far side, after I had crossed.
A bridge with a problem

Oh no! Another funky bridge! You have to shuffle across, one foot in each trough.
The next challenge

This picture is for Paula.
Crossing the bridge
(It makes me think of the old Patti Page song we used to sing.)

White trilliums along the path.
white trillium

And purple ones as well.
Purple trillium

The falls remain out of sight until the last minute, when you turn a corner and there they are! Here are a couple of views from different vantage points.
The falls through the trees View of falls at lunch

There’s a viewing platform at the foot of the falls, and you can climb a trail to the top to see the water cascade over the lip. The platform was pretty busy, so I hiked a bit back down the trail and then turned up another trail that heads towards the park headquarters. As I suspected, I found a handy bench with a great view of the falls, and sat there to eat my lunch and enjoy the view.

A seat with a view

Eventually I had to leave, and started the trek back to the car. By this time it had warmed up. Most of the newts were gone, but now there were tons of butterflies. Here’s a white one.
White butterfly

And a blue one.
Blue butterfly

A small alternate trail (ie blocked off but still accessible) gave a great view of the creek and the budding trees. This spot made me feel like I could be back on the east coast.
Budding green and creek

All in all, a great hike. Twelve miles round trip, same trail in and back. Easy walking, wonderful scenery, and the beautiful Berry Creek Falls as the grand prize. Here’s one last look.
Berry Creek Falls

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