Entries tagged with “Wildlife”.


Halfway day! The middle of our week of hiking and the day we passed the halfway point of the West Highland Way.

Kinda reminds us of the PNW

The trail was still fairly rocky and hilly, but easier going than around the lake. After a stretch through a wooded area, we came out onto open grazing lands with lots of sheep and cows. We got awfully close to some cows that were hanging out on the sides of the trail — including a baby cow nursing its mother. We were careful to move slowly and be very non-threatening as we walked around the nursing cow.

A cow nursing on the trail

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After lunch at the bottom of Conic Hill, we set off along the shore of Loch Lomond. We were feeling pretty good about ourselves and expecting an easy walk along the lake to our destination for the day: the Rowardennan Hotel.

And the first part of the afternoon was, in fact, easy walking. The trail hugged the lakeshore and even wandered directly onto the beach in places.

Feet by Loch Lomond

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At the Braeside B&B we had our first of many “full Scottish” breakfasts. It’s a good thing we were walking 14 miles a day — it definitely justified our massive breakfasts!

Traditionally, a full Scottish breakfast includes fried eggs, a rasher of bacon, sausage, black pudding, baked beans, sauteed mushrooms, grilled tomatoes, toast, and of course, lots of tea. And sometimes you’ll also get porridge, fruit, or tattie scones (more on these scones later!). It’s quite the substantial meal! Fortunately for us, the good folks at Braeside let us preselect what we wanted included in our breakfast, making it a little more manageable for those of us accustomed to just toast or yoghurt in the morning.

Into the hills

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A couple weeks ago we spent 7 days walking the West Highland Way in Scotland. At 8-18 miles each day,  the West Highland Way takes you 96 miles from just north of Glasgow to Fort William in the Scottish Highlands.

The West Highland Way starts in the town of Milngavie (pronounced Mill-guy), just north of Glasgow. We took the train up and had fun on the way trying to spot who else might be embarking on the same hike. At the Milngavie train station, we handed off our luggage to the baggage carriers who would be transporting it for us, and then with just our daypacks, we struck off to find the start of the trail.

Start of the West Highland Way at the Milngavie train station

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The hiking book: Hiking the San Francisco Bay Area
The distance: 9 miles
The CityGirls rating: 9

Our good friend TheSailor came to visit just after the new year and wanted a hike to the ocean that wasn’t too hilly. We didn’t have to think too far back for just the right trail, so off we went to Point Reyes to revisit the Bear Valley trail and Arch Rock.

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The hiking book: Hiking the San Francisco Bay Area
The distance: 9 miles
The CityGirls rating: 8

The ocean was calling to us last month.

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The hiking book: 60 Hikes Withinin 60 Miles: San Francisco
The distance: 8.1 miles (the loop is 7.4 miles, but we added on a bit unintentionally owing to a wrong turn near the top of the ridge)
The CityGirls rating: 7

It had been quite some time since we’d been out hiking, so we braved the roads this Labor Day weekend for our nature fix. With the Bay Bridge closed as they finished up the new span, we decided it would be best to stay away from all the other bridges, which are picking up the slack with the main East-West artery closed. So we headed down the Peninsula to Windy Hill Open Space Preserve, one of many parks tucked between Skyline Boulevard and the coast.

at-the-top

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We went to Hawaii!

After let’s-not-even-count-how-many-years, we took a week-long vacation all by our selves and went to Kauai. (Can you see our huge grins through the interwebs and your computer screen? Cuz, yeah, they’re that big.)

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Let’s start with the obvious: Kauai is beautiful. It’s got your stereotypical tropic island beauty: Clear blue ocean? check. Expansive sandy beaches? check. Palm trees waving in the wind? Sun and achingly blue skys? Lush greenery? Check, check and check.

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But Kauai also has a wild, rugged beauty. The mountains and ridges that section off the island are sharp, jagged and lush. Between the sandy beaches are miles of rocky shoreline where the surf pounds into the rocks, creating sprays and blowholes.

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On the western side of the island, Waimea Canyon is so vast and deep that it’s called the “Grand Canyon of the Pacific.” It’s verdant with greenery and rich red soil and has branching fingers of rivers and crevasses that make the comparison all but impossible.

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And let us tell you; the birds are great. We had just arrived on Kauai and were walking in to the rental car office when T-Bell stopped dead for a moment. “They’re not crows, are they?” she said. A couple dark birds were waddling around by the door, and city girls that we are, we just assumed they were the ubiquitous crows we see everywhere. But these weren’t crows. Ubiquitous, yes, but some other, much more interesting sort of bird.

20130617_chickenInstead of pigeons, we’ve got the Common Myna, a dark brown bird with yellow legs and beak and thick white stripes on the wing. They don’t fly too well, and they do this silly awkward bob when they hop along the ground.

Instead of crows, there are chickens. Chickens and roosters everywhere. On the side of the road, wandering through the parking lot, in any green space that is regularly mowed (i.e. pretty much everywhere in resort-land). Most of the roosters are gorgeous, with lush feathers, vibrant colors, and plumed tails.

The third ubiquitous bird is the Cattle Egret, an elegant white egret with a peach-colored patch on the back. These egrets hang out on the side of the road with the chickens.

Stay tuned for more tales of our adventures on the Garden Island!

 

The hiking book: Hiking the San Francisco Bay Area (Falcon Guides)
The distance: 10.2 miles
The CityGirls rating: 7

Craving ocean and an escape from the city, we braved holiday-weekend crowds at Point Reyes National Seashore to hike Tomales Point. The weather was perfect as we drove up through Marin—a warm, sunny, spring-like day that reminds us just how lucky we are to live in the Bay Area.

Point Reyes National Seashore is a diffuse park with discrete sections of trails. We started at Pierce Point Ranch, an historic cattle ranch up near the tip of the park. While Piece Point Ranch is no longer operational, we passed a handful of other ranches, established in the late 1800s, that are still in operation.

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The hike up Tomales Point is pretty much a straight shot from the ranch. The trail begins by heading up to the top of the bluffs along the ocean’s edge, with an achingly beautiful view of the bright blue sky, the turquoise ocean, and the mottled green hills.

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As we got closer to the edge of the bluff, we could smell the salt and hear the surf against the rocks below. There’s something about sea air that invigorates and rejuvenates, and we soaked it in.

The middle part of the trail, once it left the edge of the bluff was much less exciting and clogged with other hikers, but we continued on, and the payoff was well worth it.

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We took the trail all the way out to the tip of Tomales Bluff, and it felt like the ends of the earth, with waves crashing, birds circling, wind whipping by, and the ocean stretching out endlessly to the west. There were a bunch of other people there, but the grandeur of the rocks and the waves eclipsed any feelings of crowding.

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It was beautiful and severe and wild and good for the soul.

birdsThe hiking book said this was a good trail for wildlife spotting, and spot wildlife we did. As soon as we got out on the bluff at the beginning of the hike, we saw a red tailed hawk darting and flitting above the scrub.

We often see vultures circling overhead when we go hiking, but hawk sightings are much more rare. This one flew along beside us and the beside the trail for a while, and we even saw it stoop and dive.

Out at the end of the Point we saw a whole bunch of shore birds sitting on the rocks, cleaning in the tidepools, and flying arcs along the bluffs.

The most exciting of these was the black oystercatcher, which has a bright orange beak. Really, what’s better than a bright orange beak?

Along with the oystercatcher, we saw cormorants and two species of gulls.

Tomales Point is also known for its population of tule elk, a subspecies endemic to northern California. The name tule elk comes from the marsh plant tule, on which the elk feed.

Tule elk were thought to be extinct in 1870s, when a small herd (less than 10!) were found near San Luis Obispo. The owner of the land where these elk were found protected them, and the population rebounded, leading to the need to resettle the elk elsewhere in California.

We were hoping to catch a glimpse of the elk, and as we hiked out to the point, we saw a couple herds of them on the hills in the distance.

On the way back we got an even better view, as the fog rolled in and the elk became less shy. We saw one herd that was just on the other side of a low rise from the trail—we could see their antlers and ears poking up behind the scrub. Farther along the trail, we came across another herd grazing not more than 50 feet off the side of the trail!

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HIKE NOTES
Ease of following designated hike: 10. There’s just the one trail from the ranch out to the end of the Point.
Best season to hike: Spring, fall, or spring-like days in mid-February. Definitely go when it’s clear.
Our hike time: 3.75 hours.
Solitude: 3. There were a couple spots early in the hike where we had the place to ourselves, but most of it was super crowded.

The hiking book: Hiking the San Francisco Bay Area (Falcon Guides)
The distance: 4 miles
The CityGirls rating: 6

Ten million years ago, this preserve was an active volcano, spreading lava and volcanic ash around the area that became the ridges and formations of the Berkeley Hills. Mastodons, hipparions, camels and prongbucks once roamed here, and their remains have been found in the quarries that excavated much of the infilled rock and lava down to the original volcanic crater, Round Top.

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The subduction process that caused this ancient volcano is the same one that, moving northward over millions of years, caused the eruptions of Mount St. Helens.

That’s great and all, you may be saying, but how did this volcano fall over? Well, as the guidebook says, “Welcome to California.” After its period of activity ended, earthquakes “folded, titled, crumpled and tossed” Round Top into its current form.

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