Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Waterfall hike at Big Basin Redwoods

Sempervirens Falls at Big Basin. Photo by C.G.
Who says hiking in the rain can't be enjoyed? For one, you've got the trail to yourself and kids can deploy their umbrellas without hitting crowds of visitors - a huge plus in a park as popular as Big Basin Redwoods State Park. Two, waterfalls are double the regular size and that makes the photographer happy. Three, surprises in the form of fallen trees, hail pools and impromptu streams crossing the path add some spice to the itinerary. In the family-friendly section, I selected a trail where I could tell a nice story to my girls.

Puddles and umbrellas. Photo by Frog Mom
 With its quiet groves of mossy old growth redwoods and trails lined with arching ferns, Big Basin Redwoods remains a breathtaking place. This quintessential Northern California quality is the reason we hiked at Big Basin Redwoods last Saturday, on a stormy day that wreaked havoc through the Santa Cruz mountains.

Sequoia Trail. Photo by Frog Mom
Our friend Jerry was visiting from Virginia and I wanted to show him a place that would say "I can't be nowhere else." Redwoods were an obvious choice but Muir Woods was out as Jerry had already been there. Since the weather forecast was to be rain on Saturday and Sunday, I opted for a park where we could see redwoods and waterfalls so that the rain would serve a purpose. For my girls, I knew a historical site along the way where I could tell them how an 11-year old boy built a pioneer cabin with his dad out of a single redwood tree. They would like that. Hence Sempervirens Falls, a moderate 4.5-mile loop from the park headquarters.

We started late, rerouted by the closure of Highway 84 (fallen trees and dangling wires) and a few rocks on the roads. We hit Sequoia Trail easily, finding it right next to the park headquarters. The Big Basin unofficial website has some great historical tidbits on the trail.

Hail on the trail. Photo by Frog Mom
Sequoia trail was originally called Roger’s Trail after an early homesteader who settled in this area. Later, the portion of the trail that connects Slippery Rock to the upper end of Opal Creek was known as Trail Beautiful. This section of the trail was cut in 1895 to accommodate the trains of pack mules that hauled over 800 cords of tanbark that year to the wagon road at Slippery Rock. Remember the tanbark business because we'll come back to it at the Maddock Cabin site.

Catching rain drops. Photo by C.G.
So far the trail was soggy but not flooded and the diffuse light of the cloudy skies added to the charm of the redwoods. We were surprised to find white little marbles in pools under trees or bushes and wondered what they were. "Hail!" said Jerry, who bent down to check. I was amazed that hail had resisted almost a day in the rain because the hail storm took place the previous night.

Hugging the paved road pretty close, Sequoia Trail led us through groves of crazy redwood trees, lots with sizable open caves inside that invite little gremlins to go and explore. When you go, bring a flashlight for your kids so they feel safe bringing out their inner Indiana Jones. Other redwoods were completely burnt by fires except for a circle of stumps. Chimney Tree is a cave tree that smoldered for 14 months in 1904 before it blew its top, leaving a hollow but living tree in its wake.
Tree cave, Chimney Tree? Photo by C.G.

I had fun taking cover from the rain in such a tree cave carrying my 5-year old who kept saying "Mom, let's get out of here, the tree trolls won't like it." For some reason, she is spooked out by  redwood caves. Too dark for her + chance of spiders + springy needle floor = where's the way out? We continued our way and since there were no cars on the road, opted to go for drier ground until the falls.

There they were, Sempervirens Falls, named after the Coast Redwood's latin name - sequoia sempervirens, everlasting sequoia. Now for the history bit. Big Basin Redwoods was the first California State Park founded in 1902. Until then, it was private property destined to be logged - like a lot of the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Sempervirens Falls. Photo by C.G.
Andrew P. Hill, a San Jose photographer, contacted the president of Stanford University, other influential people and founded the Sempervirens Club. In 1900 the club camped near Sempervirens Creek and its members even went fishing in the pool below the falls. They passed a hat, collected $32 to finance their efforts, and launched a fundraising and lobbying campaign to achieve their goal. Two years later, Big Basin Redwoods was preserved for public use. Yay!

Slippery Rock. Photo by Jerry
Think of that as you marvel at the five-fingered ferns along the banks and cliffs of the falls, and the  towering redwood trees. The fenced observation platform makes it easy to get a good access over the falls, a nice plus for kids. Now cross over the road and go north on Sequoia Trail.

You will find Slippery Rock on your left a few hundred yards or so from there. At the base of Slippery Rock, ask your kids to look for the Founders Monument, because this is where the $32 hat collection episode took place. When you feel ready, walk up Slippery Rock. Yes, up. This is the trail, believe it or not. Goofy pictures optional.

My girls enjoyed finding hollow pools carved by the passage of time on the rock, a huge exposed sandstone slab about 200 yards long and 100 yards wide, tilted at a 30-degree angle. Why slippery? The rock earns its name from the underwater springs that seep through the ground and flow down the rock’s smooth surface. Watch your step, some of it really is slippery.

Skyline to the Sea trail. Photo by C.G.
At the top of the rock, find a tiny trail on your left. It goes under tree cover, bends sharply left at a trail sign, and lands you on ... a road. What? This is the old tanbark road created in the 1880s to haul tanbark out of the basin.

At this point, the idea is to follow the road to the Skyline-to-the-Sea trail through a magnificent redwood canyon. It's mostly downhill and the trail can be narrow so watch the kids. We hit a fallen redwood tree on that portion but walked around it without difficulty.

Opal Creek. Photo by C.G.
On and off you will hear the roar of a creek flowing below. It's Opal Creek, a creek that has its tame and raging moments depending where you catch it. The trail sort of loops back and to continue on to the Maddock Historic site, you must turn right at a bridge where the signage can be confusing.

A sign tells you to go left to reach the park headquarters via North Escape Road. Huh huh, go right I say. Cross the bridge and take a left immediately on a series of round stumps that lead to steps, on the Skyline-to-the-Sea trail. You'll enjoy a much more scenic stroll here and you get to stop for a snack at the interpretive sign that marks the location of the Maddock cabin.

The initial Maddock log cabin. Photo by
Frog Mom
Read the sign to your kids, the bits on the tanbarn oak is quite interesting. The Santa Clara Valley hide business was based on tanbark oak from the Santa Cruz mountains. On the other side of the panel is a faded photo of the original Maddock log cabin, the cabin built in 1883 by an 11 year-old boy and his dad with axes, a redwood tree and not much else. Kids, if you only knew how easy you have it these days! All that's left of the cabin is the fence and a redwood log but the photo does speak to the frontier imagination.

After this educational moment on the virtues of hard work, continue on the trail. You're only 1.6 miles away from the park headquarters and it's all easy terrain. If it's raining, look for newts around the creek, generally under logs. We didn't see any but then at this point, we were more focused on reaching a dry spot to remove our wet shoes.

Trail crossing in wet conditions. Photo by C.G.
Had we been hiking in beach clogs, the result wouldn't have been much different except from the squelching sound of the wet socks inside our wet shoes. I thought that my girls were going for a meltdown but when we told them we were minutes away, we resuscitated and kept the momentum. Parts of the trail were literally impassable on dry ground, converted into creek beds by the rain, so we carried the girls on our back to avoid them getting wetter.

The trail. Photo by Frog Mom
The supremely rational 5-year old kept protesting, "But mom, why can't I walk in the puddles? I've got wet feet anyway." Silly me, I preferred that she avoid the complete foot bath until the car. "Mom, I like puddles." I considered her offer. Too late. Splash! Fine, why not let her choose her path since she enjoys puddles so much. Besides, I had a dry change of pants, socks and shoes in the car.

Trail hazard. Photo by Frog Mom
Close to the end of the trail, we hopped over an impressive fallen redwood tree. Not impressive by its size (though it was no teeny bush), but impressive by how red the inner bark was. I hoped that the park's gift store would still be open so that I could buy a dry top for my 7-year old (whose raincoat has since been recycled due to its poor performance) but on weekends it closes at 4pm and we were way past that time.

We finally reached the headquarters and hopped in the car. You'd think the girls were tuckered out and ready for bed. As it turns out we were headed to a friend's party nearby and they had the time of their life playing on a toy kitchen all evening. Kids are made out of steel, wow.

You don't need to do this hike in the rain - no really, it's OK dry too - but for a fuller waterfall, it's best to visit a few days after a heavy rainfall. It still flows in the dry season, but not as impressive.

Happy trails!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Sacramento's California State Railway Museum

Central Pacific Railroad No. 1 Gov. Stanford. Photo by Frog Mom 
In Old Sacramento lies a train museum where children can hop onto a sleeping car that rocks to the sounds and lights of a 1950s late-night train, play out their train fantasies on a big-scale Thomas the train set, walk inside a train post office or explore reconstructed train tunnels and depots from California's yesteryears. No wonder the California State Railroad Museum is a must-see destination for local schools and train enthusiasts.

Vintage toy trains. Photo by Frog Mom
A museum that includes 225,000 square feet of locomotives, cars and landscapes, and that organizes weekend steam train excursions along the Sacramento river from April to September deserves more than a visit on the fly. It should get your undying gratitude for prolonging the life of the American railroad dream - it's virtually a train set ready for filming your wildest Gold Rush movie! Actually, the reason all trains are on tracks is that they can all roll out of the museum for filming purposes. Pretty cool, right? Well then, no reason to delay. All aboard and enjoy the ride!

Imagine the Gold Rush. Photo by Frog Mom
When we visited the California State Railroad Museum last month on a rainy week day, we thought we'd have the museum to ourselves. Weather was gloomy and drizzly, snow fell by the truckload on Tahoe, and we needed to find an escape for our girls who were getting all cabin-fevered. The museum was just what we were looking for: hours of indoors fun, enough space to run around if needed, wooden benches to sit down and relax, shiny metal eye candy and miniature train sets for the young at heart.

Past a room of vintage toy trains, the first big display shows a Gold Rush scene complete with a covered tunnel, a canvas tent settlement, rocky mountains ready to be blasted away and engineers at the ready. It is simply awesome and we immediately heard a big "Wow!" from our girls. I thought the same wow too. This part of the museum is as close as a film set as it will ever get.

I didn't expect my girls to notice the display  on Chinese laborers but they couldn't help wonder: "Mom, what are the Chinese people doing on the mountain?" Well, kid, they're getting ready to blow up the mountain with dynamite. "But it's dangerous!" Yup, it is. "They could get hurt!" And so they did. I'm not one for sugarcoating history and I'm glad the train museum shows the reality of the Gold Rush with its dangers - and rewards.
Locomotives and more locomotives. Photo by Frog Mom

As you emerge from the dimly lit room, the vast street-level exhibit hall is an open door into a world of possibilities. In front of you, 21 locomotives are standing on tracks, the same tracks that were used to bring them inside the museum. Some of the trains like the yellow one are right next to a small station with wax station attendant telegraphing text messages, wax women waving out of second-floor windows or wax cats sneaking out on the roof.

Phone! Photo by Frog Mom
A group of 4th graders zoomed by us and walked inside a waiting room where a train station controller figure was sitting on a bench - an old man with a gray beard and a straight face. "How ya doin' homey?" went a girl, making funny faces at him while others were snapping shots with their iPhones. Way to treat the oldie, I thought.

Next thing I knew, all the kids screamed and the girl fell back on her fanny. The figure wasn't a figure at all! He was a docent dressed in a costume and as he rose from the bench  to shake her hand, created quite a stir. Ha ha ha, well done grandpa! He sat back on the bench and the still-shaky tweens scampered away. Apparently the docent had rehearsed his skit because we heard another scream not a minute later.

Action! Photo by Frog Mom
At the end of the yellow train, groups of kids were striking poses in front of big locomotives "a la Flashdance." True, the wax figure of a 1940s female worker was a tempting backdrop. We walked around a small wooden station and I saw an old guy looking down on an open book. Was he for real? I got closer and he looked at me, "Can I help you?" Dang, now I had to think of a question. Yes, well, what time is it? "It's on that clock," he replied, pointing at a big clock. I thanked him and walked away.

"Why did you ask about the time?" asked my kindergartner. That was a darn stupid question, I always wear a wrist watch. Just because would only lead to more questions. "Look, you can climb up in the locomotive!" I said, pointing to a big engine next to us.

The diversion worked and my girls ran up the stairs to the locomotive. What a beautiful machine it was. Beautiful and shiny and massive, headlight on. The inside was crammed with people waiting in line to take pictures of their kids at the wheel, or pulling on a cable, or blowing on a whistle. It's the 1901 Southern Pacific Cab Forward No. 4294 whose cab design allowed for better visibility in sharp curves.
Kid and train. Photo by C.G.

To give you an idea of size, here is an interesting little photo, the kid and the train.

To me, part of the trains' appeal is the monumental size of these machines compared to, say, a car or a bus or a tram, all of which kids see regularly on San Francisco's city streets. When you take them to see a train (here or in the Santa Cruz mountains, in Sonoma, in Suisun City or in Jamestown), kids get exposed to something that's mostly out of sight in our daily cityscape and a reminder of days when people traveled at a slower pace - and watched the landscape. Even writing this I'm seriously considering a train trip down the coast to San Diego.

Meat or fish darling? Photo by Frog Mom
Oops, I got sidetracked. Back to the museum where we continued our exploration.

The Fruit Growers Refrigerator Car was a fun walk through with wooden boxes stacked inside and an icing dock, but my girls' favorite was the Dining Car No. 1474 Cochiti, a bullet-type diner-dining car showcasing menus, china settings from the museum's collections, and a docent dressed as a butler. Since you can walk through the entire car and gaze at the various china designs (Santa Fe, Rockies, Western National Parks...), it was very popular with visitors and we had to get in line to enjoy it.

Train kitchen. Photo by Frog Mom
Next to it is the killer sleeper car on a rocking mechanism, a car where you actually feel like the train's zooming past stations and rocking you to sleep at night. Berths are made-up with white linen and beige blankets, a passenger is fast asleep in his compartment, the rhythmic clicking of the wheels is interrupted by the occasional whistle - it's a sensory experience.

Other cars nearby can be viewed from the outside, showing kitchens that look like home kitchens, or kitchens that look like industrial kitchens, or Victorian lounges with tea sets that are worthy of westerns. The visual treats don't stop on that floor. When you've had your fill of oversize engines, climb to the second floor of the museum where everything is miniaturized and kid-sized. For children, this is the real fun.

Thomas the Train-land. Photo by Frog Mom
When I purchased our tickets, the cashier had whispered to me: "There is a Thomas the Train room upstairs. Don't tell them now." Oh I understood well enough. Once they were in that room dedicated to all things Thomas the Train, it was very hard dragging them out.

One of the displays was especially fun as it consisted of an elevated oval train set mounted around a clear plastic bubble where kids could poke their heads and watch the train go choo-choo from inside the loop.

Miniature trains. Photo by C.G.
As I said, it was hard to drag them out of there. I had to play the "Come check out the Hogwarts Express!" card to get any results. Alas, the Hogwarts Express was a disappointing small Lego set but we were moving and that was good.

All the second floor is dedicated to miniature trains, in particular Lionel trains, and several big scale train sets with buttons to push had the kids drool with envy at the engines in motion. From toddlers to school grade kids, they were all captivated by the small trains. Who wouldn't? Some are such exquisite mechanisms with tons of details, it's hard not to stop and start scrutinizing them from every angle.

This was the last stop on our tour, until we exited through the museum shop ... and purchased a few toy trains for my nephew. Great museum!

Details: The California State Railroad Museum

  • The museum is open daily (except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year's Day) from 10am to 5pm.
  • Corner of 2nd and I Street in Old Sacramento.
  • Accessible by car (parking lot a block away) or aboard Amtrak.
  • All Aboard! Steam-Powered Excursion Train Rides from April through September, every hour on the hour on weekend from 11am to 5pm (details here)

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Visit the Olmec Exhibition at the De Young Museum

Colossal Head 5. Photo: Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes–
Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia–Mexico–Javier Hinojosa
The masterpiece of the Olmec Exhibition at the De Young Museum in the Golden Gate Park is Colossal Head 5 - 13,000 pounds of solid volcanic basalt carved by hand between 1200 and 900 BC. Visiting this exhibition with children is a fantastic way to introduce them to lost civilizations, a romantic and fair view of what happened to the mother culture of Mesoamerica.

Way before the Mayas and the Aztec, the Olmec civilization developed a complex society, invented a writing system, farmed the land, and learned to extract latex from the rubber tree. Olmec means "rubber people" in Nahuatl, the language of the Aztec. Then for unknown reasons, the Olmecs vanished into thin air. Pfft, gone. With mysteries worth an Indiana Jones movie or two, the Olmecs are a kid's riddle dream. I took my girls and they came out fascinated and puzzled. Who were these people?

Archaeologists study a monumental stone head discovered
at the La Venta site in Tabasco State, Mexico. © Richard
Hewitt Stewart / National Geographic Stock
"No, we are not going to see real Olmecs, they are already dead" was the first thing I heard as we faced the Colossal Head 5 at the entrance. That was a grandmother taking her toddler grandson around the sculptures. It's important that kids understand that they are viewing a slice of history and one we don't know much about. If you expect big paintings showing daily life with the Olmecs or wax figures dressed with feather tops and pectorals, you'll be disappointed.

The exhibition displays mostly sculptures, with the exception of a few ceramics, and can be a bit dry on the "alive and kicking" aspect. What we did with my husband - and the wandering grandmother did the same - was read the labels first, then translate them in kid-friendly terms to the children. In most cases, this was easy because the art is so figurative and creative.

Zoomorphic vessel in the form of an opossum.
Photo: Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes–
Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia–
Mexico–Javier Hinojosa
Take this zoomorphic figure shaped like an opossum. "Look mom, a pig!" exclaimed my kindergartner. Precisely what I like to hear. She certainly didn't get the animal right but to her -and to the little toddler grandson too - it looked like a pig and she could relate to it. "It's cute, I like it," she added.

The displays in the opening rooms include a few of these sculptures representing fish or birds and it's fun just to walk around and ask children what they think it is. Since the animals are easy to recognize, that gives you a good opportunity to speak about wildlife at the time of the Olmecs. I wish the interpretive panels included more explanation about the Olmecs' daily life and how the sculptures may have been used, but if you take the audioguide (which I didn't), it probably gives you more background.

As you progress, you'll see that the Olmecs mixed human and animal creatures from land and sea to create supernatural beings. A greenstone pectoral reminded me of the tiki jade pendants from New Zealand, with its oversized head and thick lips.

Hollow-baby figure holding a ball.
Photo: Joseph McDonald
When my girls recognized a serpentine statue as a baby, they both both pointed to it like they were in familiar territory. Olmecs babies were like ours - good, now we can rule out the outer-space theory. A baby figure holding a ball confirmed the feeling and we moved on to a room that shows how ceremonial axes were buried in dirt chambers and how they were excavated. That part didn't resonate as much with the young ones, though I loved getting a sense of where the artifacts were discovered.

Actually that room did drive a point home with my girls. In the following room we saw a half-kneeling figure with high-waited belt and bands below the knee. I think the label indicated it was excavated. "They made this and then they hid it, why?" asked my kindergartner. Good point - why were the figures buried?

Nobody knows for sure and that's part of the excitement. Discovering the Olmecs has been a huge archeological work in progress since the 19th century when a Mexican farmer found the first head in his field - and probably freaked out at the enormity of the head. For the anecdote, David Hatcher Childress, considered by many to be the real life Indiana Jones, wrote about the Olmecs as the greatest mystery of North America. So here, mystery and more mystery to come.

Offering 4 (group of standing figures and celts).
Photo: Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes–
Instituto Nacional de Antropologia e Historia–
Mexico–Javier Hinojosa
The next display proved to be another puzzle. This group of standing figures surrounding a leader and celts was buried in white sand. "They look like surfboards," said a guy next to me, and I could see his point.

This was the only display that showed a group of people engaged in an activity and as such, captivated my kids' much like a doll or figure display would. It was a scene and scenes speak to a child's imagination.

Advancing we reached a standing figure called Monument 19 which my 2nd grader called the headless horseman. Two seconds later, my kindergartner exclaimed "But mom, it's broken!" Ha ha moment. What, the museum didn't glue the pieces back? It was fun to see the indignation and to explain how old the pieces were - that some had been intentionally broken by people and that we were lucky we found any of the sculptures at all.

Monument 9 (Twin II). Photo: Consejo Nacional para la
Cultura y las Artes–Instituto Nacional de
Antropologia e Historia–Mexico–Javier Hinojosa
The sculpture that inspired the best comments was a contortionist in an extremely flexible position with feet on his head. My oldest said "I can do that!" and I barely stopped her before she got on the ground to wrap her feet around her head. "It's the basket position, we do that at school," said the youngest. Their reaction showed, once again, that they could relate to a pretzel-yogi guy past the rock barrier and the centuries.

In the last room, roller seals looking like carved rolling pins inspired a little chat on whether or not the Olmecs could write (apparently they did) and how my kids thought this seal could be used to mark a document.

The cherry on the cake came in the form of a History Channel documentary that made me cringe at times but which showed the lands where the Olmecs originated, and included archeologists and museum curators interviews. My girls watched it twice and particularly enjoyed the images where Mexicans are dressed as ancient Olmecs (but then, it confused them too because they asked me if they were still alive. Sigh) For a less simplistic view on the Olmecs, the BBC featured a series of 5 episodes called "Secrets of the Ancients."

One sentence in the movie summarized the Olmec mystery pretty well and stuck with me "We just don't know." A fitting conclusion to a Sherlock Holmes incursion in time. Why don't you take your kids to the exhibition and find out? Kids have their own way to approach ancient art, whether or not we adults know anything at all about it. Reward them with tarts or chocolate mousse at the De Young Cafe and call it a day.

Olmec: Colossal Masterworks of Ancient Mexico

  • Dates: February 19, 2011 - May 8, 2011
  • Location: De Young Museum
  • Ticket information: $25/adult, $22/seniors 65+, $21/students, $15/youth 6-17, free for members and children under 5. Get a $5 discount if you buy your tickets online in advance.
  • Hours: Thursday through Sunday - 9.30am - 5.15pm, Friday 9.30am to 8.45pm, Monday closed.
  • Adress: 50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive, San Francisco CA 94118. Phone 415.750.3600
  • Website
  • Upcoming events: check the calendar here.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Hiking Harkins Ridge at Purisima Creek Redwoods

Purisima Creek Redwoods. Photo by C.G.
When winter turns to spring and creeks are flowing, Purisima Creek Redwoods hides one of the best fair weather hikes east of Half Moon Bay. Spreading from the ridge of the Santa Cruz Mountains at Skyline Blvd down to a lush redwood canyon, the preserve offers easy and moderate trails if you start at Higgins Canyon Road. The concept is simple: brace for 1,200 feet of elevation gain over 2.2 miles on open ridges, get a sun tan, take in views of the Pacific Ocean as you munch on your picnic lunch, and enjoy a pleasant downhill 5-mile shaded stroll through redwoods, ferns and mosses.

Though it sounds like a lot, we had three girls from 5 to 7 years of age with us and they finished the hike in less than 4 hours, running down the path and us adults running close behind to catch up with them. "They're not tired," a man remarked at the entrance gate when we dropped our bags for a final snack before hopping in the car. You betcha. For a 7+ mile hike, it was surprisingly smooth.

Yes, mountain lion habitat. Like the entire Bay Area.
Photo by Frog Mom
The trail
From Half Moon Bay on Highway 1, we followed Higgins Purisima Rd 4 winding miles up the road to the entrance for Purisima Creek Redwoods. The parking lot is small and the day we went, others had gotten up before us so we parked on the side of the road. I was afraid that the trails would be muddy after the recent rains but the beauty of hiking in redwood country is the needle cover on the ground. It may be spongy and wet but it's not stick-to-your-shoes clay.

Next to the porta-potty and interpretive panel with maps (we already had one dated 03/2010 so we didn't take the 09/2010 version - figured trails were the same), we turned left to cross the bridge over Purisima Creek and made a right to follow Harkins Ridge. The initial trail, probably an old logging road, was wide and smooth, undulating nicely underneath redwoods along the creek. The real effort came after we left the creek. Suddenly the trail started going up, up, up, emerging of the forest canopy onto sunny hills. At the first bend, I heard a grating sound and quickly found that it came from a chaotic pile of sticks right above the trail. Woodrat for sure! It's the first time I positively hear a woodrat going about its business in a nest so that was exciting.

Out of the redwoods. Photo by Frog Mom
We continued the climb and our group of five spread out in three units, each focusing on their own interests. My husband was discussing with my 5-year old at the front, the two 7-year olds were talking music, and I was taking notes, looking for wildflowers and photographing random stuff at the back. I was rewarded with the first sticky monkey flowers of the season and various white blooms I could not identify. Though there were two steep inclines, the grade was overall quite moderate and gentle on little legs getting hungry.

Once on the actual ridge, we got great views on the opposite ridge looking south towards Bald Knob. What a relief for our girls when at 2.2 miles, we finally reached the junction with the sign pointing to Purisima Creek Trail. This was the start of the Craig Britton Trail that would take us down to the creek. Finally, they were starving!

Lunch time! Photo by Frog Mom
Lunch was in order and lunch was had, though in the sun as temps in the shade were on the brisk side. We distributed cheese, bread, salami and cucumber around and secretly wished we were eating a steaming hot bowl of chili because of the fresh air. Blame that on the altitude! We were at 1,536 feet (468 meters). As we were quietly enjoying our break, a black insect full of legs crossed my daughter's hand. I had been carrying my youngest daughter's bug box all the way up and quick as a flash, opened it. The insect walked right inside and I screwed the lid on, I realized it was a tick. Everybody up!

Caught before the blood bath. Photo by Frog Mom
Now that bug box, I got it at in Sacramento where they carry an impressive selection of bug boxes (and a ladybug playground - no joke). It was great because it was clear all around, had a magnifying lid, and allowed us all a good look on the evil beast from all angles. For $3, no more. How repulsive, finding a tick at lunch time.

I was so shocked that we had found a tick without any of us getting their blood drawn (we checked, believe me), that I kept the tick in the bug box and it ended up at school the next day for show-and-tell.

Creek running through the woods. Photo by C.G.
It's maybe that discovery that had the girls quicken the pace on the way down. I may be wrong, but I assumed there would be more ticks in sunny and grassy areas and less in colder redwood groves. Whatever the case, as soon as lunch was over - the tick helped cut our appetite short, we headed downhill at a brisk pace.

Much to our relief, the redwoods were soon above our heads and a gurgling creek by our side. There was our occasion to hunt another specimen of the  slimiest inhabitant of the redwoods: the banana slug. We didn't have to wait long. They just love it there: cold, damp, dark - it's heaven.

Banana slug. Photo by C.G.
The girls got on their hands and knees to each see the double pair of antennas on the banana slug's head and oohed and aahed when they found them. "Where are her eyes?" asked the 5-year old. Look closer, they are at the end of the biggest tentacles. Isn't that a fun fact? Even more daring fact: did you know banana slugs were the official mollusk of the state of California? With such a pedigree, we were happily looking for them in mossy areas and photographing them on all sides. These slugs got style.

Soda Gulch? Photo by C.G.
In the realm of the redwoods, banana slugs are as frequent as creek tributaries and impromptu waterfalls. We crossed 3 to 4 bridges, some over narrow gullies, and were in awe in front of the abundance of ferns. The trail was now a roller-coaster type with ups and downs that had the girls run downhill like mad bees and wait for us patiently at the next "hill."

They had a great time pushing imaginary "tree knobs" and asking each other"Are you ready for a funky ride?" before darting away down the trail with arms spread out like planes. At the end of the Craig Britton Trail, we made a break by a rock bench so the girls could enjoy some hot chocolate. When we go hiking in the winter, we always pack a 0.5 quart hot water thermos and packets of powdered hot chocolate. Once again, it was a hit.

Playing by Purisima Creek. Photo by Frog Mom
Right after the bench, we found the wide Purisima Creek Trail (a choice trail for bikers) and turned right to head downhill. Roughly 400 yards farther, the trail crosses over Purisima Creek at a point where ferns and greeneries lend the whole area a lush primeval atmosphere.

It's too pretty to pass up and our trio of girls didn't resist playing by the creek before continuing. It's convenient with an easy access to the rushing (and cold) waters and one of the few places where kids can dip their hand in the creek.

Was it fog? Photo by C.G.
The rest of the hike on Purisima Creek Trail was more of the same "let's go on a funky ride" type, with occasional puddles and a mist that looked like fog. Was it fog? I don't know, it was sunny by the ocean. Fog here was unlikely but even so, fog is the normal local climate. After barely 4 hours including the lunch break, we were back at the entrance gate. That's how a tick took his first car ride up the coast to fulfill educational duties for young masses.

Hike length: 7.5 miles
Total elevation gain: 1,200 feet
Time: 4 hours (at moderate pace)
Clothing: wear layers, cold under the redwoods.
Ticks: avoid tall grasses and always check everybody from head to toe after the hike.
Water: none at the trailhead.
Restrooms: portapotty at trailhead.
Maps: free maps at trailhead but if you prefer, you can download it online here.
Parking fee/park use fee: none. FREE.
End of the hike. Photo by C.G.
Trash: pack it out.
Dogs: not allowed.
Directions (from MROSD website): From the Highway 92 and Highway 1 intersection in Half Moon Bay, travel on Highway 1 south approximately 4.3 miles. Turn left on Verde Road. After turning on to Verde Road and traveling 1/4-mile, continue straight to remain on what becomes Purisima Creek Road. (Verde Road splits off to the right.) Travel approximately 3.7 miles on Purisima Creek Road to reach the Preserve. Parking is available for approximately 5 cars.