Friday, June 7, 2013

Muir Woods National Monument

During a recent trip to California, we walked a popular loop on the Ben Johnson and Hillside trails at Muir Woods National Monument, which is near Mill Valley and about 15 miles north of San Francisco.  We made the smart decision of getting to the park early before the inevitable weekend crowds.  We got there a little after 8:00 while the tour buses and individuals forced to park their cars way down the road showed up around 9:30.

The monument features towering redwoods and has trails that link up to surrounding openspaces and parks.  We saw and heard lots of interesting birds and the morning light through the trees was incredible.

Hetch Hetchy - Yosemite National Park

In June 2013, I hiked the trail along Hetch Hetchy Lake in Yosemite for the second time.  This fairly easy hike has little altitude change and tons of great scenery, making it a nice acclimatization hike before doing a more rigorous hike or backpack higher up in the park.  Unlike my first visit to Wapama Falls, 2.7 miles from the trailhead, this trip involved lots of unexpected excitement.  I've visited a lot of national parks and Yosemite is not one of the better wildlife ones.  On top of that, busy/easy/short trails are not the best places to spot wildlife.  On this day, the animals appear to have ignored those memos.  

To start things off, we nearly stepped on a western rattlesnake that was sunning itself in the trail.  That was rudely followed minutes later by an alligator lizard (San Diego Alligator Lizard?) doing its best snake in the trail impression for already frazzled hikers.  After reaching the fantastic Wapama Falls and soaking up the mist, we began the warm, dry hike back.  Here I will add that we encountered many groups of day-hikers, so the trail was not deserted.  While walking the familiar trail back to our car, taking in the gorgeous lake and cliffs to the left and the rocky, scrubby slopes to the right, I spotted a streak of brown that turned out to be a deer running uphill away from the trail.  While the word "Deer!" was exiting my mouth, I noticed a slightly smaller black blob running right behind the deer!  I have no idea what the explanation was, but we were witnessing a bear cub chasing (or running away from a waterhole with?) a deer.  I was too in shock to take a photo, but did get a video of empty scenery with me in the background explaining what we'd just seen.  While my wife was a little spooked by the rattlesnake/bear combo, I was disappointed I'd failed to get a photo of the only bear we'd be likely to see on our visit to the park.  Luckily, a few minutes later, with me in the lead this time, we came across another cub, not far from the trail and not running.  We watched it for a bit and continued on, this time clapping, whistling, and talking loudly in hopes of not surprising any mother bears that might be nearby.  With this strategy, we made it back to the tunnel and across the dam without further incident.
O'Shaughnessy Dam
Hetch Hetchy

Alligator Lizard

Western Rattlesnake

Newt on Trail on Rainy Day.
Newt on Trail on a Rainy Day. 
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