Monarch Butterfly

IMG_1741Work has been keeping me busy these last few weeks, and sadly, I’ve had little time to enjoy nature, let alone write about it.  But while visiting my sister in Redondo Beach for Thanksgiving, I saw a big beautiful Monarch butterfly on their lemon tree.  In honor of that lovely specimen, I’m sharing a video of the Life Cycle of a Monarch Butterfly.  If you’ve got 4 minutes, take a look at all of the amazing transformations this creature pulls off in a lifetime.


Bridle Trail


Trailhead:  Enter at main park entrance — Redwood Gate at 7867 Redwood Rd. – pass the entry kiosk and park in first lot on the left next to the Fishway Interpretive Site

Parking:  Parking is free on weekdays, but there is a $5/car parking fee on weekends and holidays April – October.  There are several lots at this entrance.

In a Nutshell:  A shady and easy hike which, despite not being so much off the beaten path, is always peaceful and offers plenty of inspiring natural beauty and wildlife sightings.

Approximate Length:   3 miles out and back (with options to go farther)

Approximate Time:  1 hour

Terrain:  Relatively flat path that follows Redwood Creek.  Some small ascents/descents towards the end of the trail.


When my energy is low, but I need to get out, Bridle Trail is one my favorite places to go.  It’s just a simple out and back trail that never strays too far from the road into the park, or from picnic areas which (I’ve heard) can be popular on the weekends.  But there’s a peaceful sense about this trail that I welcome especially when my mind has been in overdrive.  And even if I set out with the intention to just walk, I always see something so lovely along this trail that I can’t resist stopping to take some photos too.

I find there are fewer dogs on this path (dogs must be on leash here to protect the creek habitat—see below), and IMG_1706a-crperhaps that’s why I’ve had so many more wildlife encounters on this trail.  It’s the only place in the entire park that I’ve ever seen bunnies, and it was along this trail just 2 weeks ago that I watched at least 5 deer grazing not more than 30 feet away from me. More recently, I’ve heard the frogs return.

The trailhead here is actually an historical landmark where the Rainbow Trout species was first identified.  As the interpretive signs will explain, the trout that spawn in Redwood Creek today are all direct descendants of that pure native strain.

The trout have some friends with them in this creek, the California Newts, who come to the creek during breeding season only.  According to, these cute little guys live on land most of the time, and it’s believed they can live as long as 20 years!  But every year, their strong homing instinct takes them back to the same breeding sites starting as early as December and they may remain there through March.  They’ve found that some newts migrate over 2 miles to get back to their breeding grounds.  But even more fascinating is that some experiments have suggested that the newt’s homing instinct/migration could involve a form of celestial navigation! (


From the parking lot, head over to the fishway area and cross the creek.  Go right to start on Bridle Trail.

You’ll notice lots of bramble throughout the hike on both sides of the trail, and undoubtedly you’ll hear something rustling around in that bramble.  Could be one of the many birds around—I’d bet on some variety of a towhee or a stellar’s jay.  Or just as likely it’s a squirrel.  But if you’re really lucky, you might catch a rabbit hopping out of there.

From Bridle Trail, you have several options to take a left on other trails that take you up to the ridge (I’ll talk more about these in another post).  The first two you’ll pass are West Ridge Trail and Orchard Trail.  Just past the turnoff for Orchard, on the right you’ll see one of my favorite trees in the park growing on the bank of the creek.  It’s a sprawling mossy oak behemoth with most of its root system exposed.  I can’t help but take a photo every time I pass it.  In different light and from all perspectives, it always offers an exquisite eeriness that seems to exude a sense of life and death simultaneously.  Here’s one shot, but it’s only the beginning of what this tree looks like.  I’m going to have to do an entire gallery posting dedicated to this tree.  Coming soon!IMG_1409a-cr

Eventually you’ll come to an area called Fern Dell where you can veer to the right for Stream Trail.  Most of Stream Trail is paved at this section, and it winds through various camping sites and picnic areas so I typically avoid it and stay on Bridle.  But it’s a nice area and definitely worth scoping out if you you’re considering picnicking up here.IMG_1696a-cr

Bridle Trail begins to wind and has a few small inclines from this point until you reach Chown Trail, but it’s all easy stuff.  Just be careful of the poison oak on the trailsides as the path narrows.

Once I reach Chown Trail on the left, I’ll start heading back the way I came.  Bridle Trail officially ends at Chown, however it connects with Stream Trail at this point if you want to keep going down this leisurely streamside path.

“their songs never cease”

Since I started this blog, I’ve been acquainting/re-acquainting myself with nature writers and have been totally blown away by John Muir.  For this week’s post, I want to share one of my favorite quotes from him, along with some photos of my favorite trees in Redwood Regional Park, whose expressive songs I can only attempt to capture with my camera.

“A few minutes ago every tree was excited, bowing to the roaring storm, waving, swirling, tossing their branches in glorious enthusiasm like worship. But though to the outer ear these trees are now silent, their songs never cease. Every hidden cell is throbbing with music and life, every fibre thrilling like harp strings, while incense is ever flowing from the balsam bells and leaves. No wonder the hills and groves were God’s first temples, and the more they are cut down and hewn into cathedrals and churches, the farther off and dimmer seems the Lord himself.”

~John Muir, 1869

Redwood Peak > French > Starflower > Madrone


Trailhead:  Redwood Bowl Staging Area parking lot at approximately 10600 Skyline Blvd., just north of the main Roberts Recreation Area entrance.

Parking:  Parking is free and the lot is large

In a Nutshell:  A short but strenuous hike into deep redwood and madrone forests.  Very quiet and almost entirely under the shade of impressive trees.

Approximate Length:  2 mile loop

Approximate Time:  45 min – 1 hour

Terrain:  Steep inclines with good footing on narrow gauge trails in abundant shade.


BIG.  That’s all I could think as I looked around at the redwoods on this hike.  And it occurred to me that these trees are not just big in stature, they are large in spirit, too.  In addition to the wonderful things trees do like provide oxygen and clean our filthy air, I had recently read that way up there on those redwood branches are mini-ecosystems for all sorts of other living plants and insects.  There are even certain species of salamanders and earthworms who will spend their entire lives 300 feet up in the air, in the cradle of redwood branches (

Even the felled redwoods are generous.  Whether it’s a tree trunk uprooted by a storm that now provides a habitat for plants and animals on the ground, or the harvested timber used for building homes and cities, the benefits from the redwoods seem endless.  And there I was, a mere speck, standing next to these giants.  A speck in size, but admittedly, in generosity too. I had to ask myself, how much do I selflessly do for others?

And I confess to these benevolent trees around me:  It’s possible that when an opportunity comes my way to do something for someone else, I ask myself:  “What’s in it for me?”  “How will I benefit?”

Now honestly, I don’t think friends and family would consider me an especially self-absorbed person.  But by what stick are they measuring me?  Certainly not against the virtuous sticks I stand next to here.

At first, I feel so ashamed I believe penance must be extreme.  Should I give up on a having a profitable career, a mortgage, and instead start spending all my time and energy crusading for some noble cause?  I look to the trees for approval.  They do not reply.

Maybe I need to start smaller and stop looking around for approval.  Maybe I need to drop the cost/benefit analysis.  Rather than my standard “What’s in it for me?”  How about, “What can I offer?” Or “How can I help?”  Because there is always something or someone right in front of me who could use a little help.

The plant that is withering away in my garden:  Put down the phone and feed the plant some compost.

The birds need safe places to nest:  Shut down the computer and put up a birdhouse.

The elderly woman down the street is afraid to leave her house:  Turn off the TV and check in on her, see if she needs anything.

These responses will cost me time and energy.  Sustaining this approach will demand a considerable amount of discipline on my part.  But what is that compared to what I have received?  Compared to these magnanimous trees?


From the Redwood Bowl Staging Area parking lot, follow the signs for the West Ridge Trail.  Eventually, you’ll pass the Redwood Bowl picnic area on your left.

Keep following the trail, past the Roberts Ridge and Graham trails until you reach a major trail intersection.  To the right, you’ll see and smell a bright Eucalyptus grove to start off the Madrone Trail.  I chose to go left and conquer the Redwood Peak Trail first.

A few steps up the trail and you are greeted by a toppled tree creating a Gothic archway into this woodland cathedral.IMG_0773b-cr When you get to the fork in the trail, going to the left will put you on a short path up a hill along the Archery Range on the left.  Up at the top, you’ll find several large rocks which, sadly, look like they have been carved in by people for years.

Retrace your steps back down to the fork and this time go to the right.  Here, we begin a descent of about 300-400 feet in ½ a mile.  Despite the steep incline, there are lots of rocks and tree roots that make stepping down easy.  Even after a bit of rain, there were only a couple spots that were a little slippery.  It was incredibly quiet on this trail that follows a gulch down to the valley floor.  Once in a while, I heard or saw a bird.  Other than that, nothing seemed to be stirring but me.

Redwood Peak Trail ends at French Trail—go right.  As you continue to descend, you’ll find yourself flanked on either side by armies of redwoods and ferns covering the hillsides, all the way up on your right, and all the way down to the valley floor on your left. I had to stop for a while to admire this incredible landscape and see if it were possible to see the tops of any of these giant redwoods.

At the bottom of the hill, you’ll come to another crossroads.  At this point, the signage was a little confusing to me my first time, so I’ll make it easy and tell you to just keep going right until you’re back up at the top. In fact, you are turning right onto Starflower Trail and, shortly thereafter, turning right onto Madrone Trail.

From the start of Starflower Trail you begin the ascent; from this point forward it’s all uphill.  I found it rather intense.  Fortunately, similar to the Redwood Peak Trail, there are plenty of natural footholds along the way that make the climb easier.

IMG_0786a-crThe Madrone Trail was aptly named as madrone trees are everywhere in all their red and peeling glory.  This trail is also, according to the map, about ½ mile.  With its steep ascent, it felt longer.

Less than ¼ mile from the end of the trail, I finally saw some wildlife.  A graceful deer was leaping away from the sound of me, her tail bobbing through the forest.

The trail winds around back up through the Eucalyptus grove we saw earlier near the West Ridge crossroads. Take the West Ridge Trail back down to the parking lot.

While the shade of this trail makes it perfect for hiking on sunny days, I highly recommend getting up there on a foggy morning, too, for an extra-ethereal experience.

Naughty by Nature

It’s been a bit of a challenging week as I’m adjusting to cold mornings, dealing with a case of contact dermatitis and anticipating an increase in workload.  In an attempt to diminish my own agitations, I thought I’d write a short post this week paying tribute to nature’s great agitator.

IMG_1020a-crThis summer while on a hike, I noticed a plant on the trailsides whose leaves were turning shades of brilliant red, making a showy impression against its verdant surroundings, at times glistening like hard candy in the sun.  I couldn’t resist trying to capture the beauty of these leaves with my camera.  But when I got home, the photos didn’t seem to do them much justice.

I decided to do some research to determine the name of this plant and discovered it is none other than poison oak!  What a minx!  Seducing naïve hikers like me with a dazzling glow, inviting me to come closer for a better shot.  That would’ve been one painful lesson for this novice to learn.

Now that I know how to identify it, I see it often.  I highly recommend making sure you know how to identify the plant (see this thorough publication), especially before going out to collect some colorful fall leaves.  I saw some horrendous images on the internet of people who had severe reactions to the plant.  Of course, you could be immune to it, but that’s one of those things I don’t care to find out about myself. IMG_1465a-cr

In my research, I found this amazing article.  Apparently, I’m not the only one enchanted by the beauty of poison oak.  But I can easily promise I won’t be participating in their peculiar annual ritual.

Tres Sendas > French > Starflower > Tres Sendas


Trailhead:  Waterloo Staging Area at approx. 9300 Skyline Boulevard, Oakland, CA

Parking:  Parking is free, but lot (if you can call it that) is small—about 4 or 5 spaces—and there is additional parking street side.

In a Nutshell:  A deep woods hike with several ascents and descents, some of which you may find strenuous.  Overall, a moderate trail with abundant shade and spectacular changes of scenery.

 Approximate Length:  ~1.7 mile loop

[For a longer hike, turn right onto French Trail the second time you run into it, and left on West Ridge Trail back to Waterloo (~2.3 mile loop).  For a longer and sunnier hike, from Starflower, go right on Tres Sendas, left on Stream Trail and left on West Ridge Trail back to Waterloo (~3.1 mile loop that somehow seems less strenuous than the others).]

Approximate Time:  45 min. – 1 hr.

Terrain:  A winding narrow gauge trail with some strenuous ascents and descents below the canyon ridges.



This hike was the location for last week’s photo series entry, Fallen Dragons.





From the Waterloo Staging Area, walk down a path (passing the red house on your right) down to the trail marker.  Take a right onto Tres Sendas which will immediately take you down into lush woodlands.  The path follows a currently dried up creek which I can’t find on any map.  I have rarely seen anyone on this portion of the hike, although you’re sure to hear a thriving squirrel community rustling around on the other side of the dry creek.

The trail continues to descend into a valley of mossy oaks, bays and ferns.  And while I am always delighted by the verdant beauty along this trail, in the mornings, the sun shines down the hillside, its light dispersed into a multitude of rays by the density of trees in its path.  And the leaves caught in those rays glow in astonishing shades of green against the background of their shadowed neighbors.  Nothing like starting your day with such a spectacular symphony of trees and light.

IMG_0783aAfter about 1/3 of a mile, turn right onto French Trail where you’ll begin ascending.  From this point forward, the trail winds up and down several slopes along a valley floor with redwoods and ferns cascading down the hillsides.  The scene is otherworldly here, and I can’t help but feel like I’ve tripped through a portal into some pristine prehistoric period.  The sad and ironic fact is that the redwoods here are 2nd and 3rd generation forests, their ancestors having been harvested in the mid-1800s and again in the early 1900s.   (More on this subject will be coming in a separate blog entry.)

In just over half a mile, you’ll come to the Starflower crossroads.  Turn left here, and then left again once you reach Tres Sendas.

This section of Tres Sendas is a little more popular than the previous trails.  And it’s easy to see why with its redwood trees and large rocks closely bordering the trail.  After ¼ of a mile, you’ll pass French Trail (this is where you can turn right for longer hike mentioned above).  In less than another 1/10 of a mile, you’ll come to another French Trail marker—turn right to stay on Tres Sendas and to climb back up the trail you initially took down to the valley floor.