Saturday, 16 March 2013

Pinnacles National Park

This was a spectacular surprise just a couple of hours south of San Jose.  We went for what we thought was a short hike one day during Christmas Week in 2011 and stumbled upon this geological wonder.  This park is actually part of an ancient volcano (Neenach erupted 23 million years ago) that had shifted 150 miles north from its original position on the San Andreas fault.  After years of erosion, the volcano  had settled leaving massive monoliths, spires, sheer canyons, and talus caves which made for adventurous hiking trails, at points of which we found ourselves clambering through narrow crevasses, squeezing past hanging boulders that looked like they were tossed from the heavens by some angry god and even  treading through the waters of an underground creek at some point.  We wouldn't have ventured very far if we weren't in the company of younger people so it was a bonus trip for us.  You can see some of the places we hiked through in the photos below.

The park is protected wilderness.  If it had been developed into a tourist area, this would have been named "Camel Rock".

Climbers assessing whether they want to come back for this...

Some of the crevasses that we had to clamber through

Great backdrop for a film shoot...
After you walked past this boulder, you could look back and see it from the top

Looking back at the giant hanging boulder from above

At the top of the climb, the reward - a peaceful lake

A friendly rock face to say goodbye to


Lake Tahoe - an abundance of riches

Lake Tahoe is one of those places blessed with both winter and summer activities and lots of variety - no wonder it's thriving!   In addition hiking, we went swimming, and some of us - rock climbing.  And of course the casinos are an hour away in Nevada.  Riches indeed, in more ways than one.

There are some nice public beaches along the waterfront.  We went to King's Beach, a long sandy beach with mature trees so there was a choice of sun and shade.  It's also very shallow and only waist deep up to about 100 feet from shore, which also means there are no motor boats near where you can swim.

On a side trail off the main hiking trail to Eagle Lake is 90 ft Wall, a popular climb for rock climbing enthusiasts.  It can be climbed by different levels of climbers;  when we were there, there was a class from an outdoors survival camp as well as some pretty experienced climbers.  It's fun to watch too, except don't sit too close - you could end up with a stiff neck and possible rock fall on your head!

Donner Summit is another popular climbing location near the Lake

Where to stay?  The accommodation of choice would be a lakefront cottage.  But there are many other options, including B&B's, hotels, chalets, etc.   We rented this spacious chalet in North Lake Tahoe for three days and look at the view of the sunrise from the bedroom balcony


Enchantment at Lake Tahoe, California

At the centre of enchanting Emerald Bay, near the southern part of Lake Tahoe, is a romantic island complete with tea house at the top.  It is likely the most scenic part of the lake.   From the Emerald Bay lookout, it was a relatively short hike up a rocky trail to Eagle Lake.  The parking lot and adjacent roadside was packed even on a weekday so it was obviously high holiday season.  There were tourists doing the drive between the northern and southern rim of the lake taking in the breathtaking view at Emerald Bay from Inspiration Point and other vista points along the way, and then there were hikers who could be gone for a few hours and rock climbers who could be gone all day.  The advice always is start early, although who wants to get up early when one's on vacation!

Emerald Bay - there is a tea house on top of the island
An enchanting little peninsula in the bay
View from Inspiration Point, further south along Hwy 89 and on a sunnier day
(you can see the Nevada side of the lake)

Rocky cliffs around the bay

the hike to Eagle Lake is along the rocky banks of this river

View of the bay just a short climb up

More enchantment - Eagle Lake, a short 45 minute hike (my speed) from the parking lot

Many granite boulders scattered around the area

Amazing shapes and locales, precariously balanced - God playing Yahtzee

A rocky ridge reminded me of a very similar landscape at Zhangjiajie in China

Dusk at Emerald Bay


Visiting a biodynamic farm in California

If you get to the Hakone Gardens in my previous post, the Santa Cruz mountains are only a 45 minute drive away along Hwy 17.  Of course, 17 is not an easy drive, clogged with southbound traffic even on a Saturday morning when everyone seems to be heading south for the coast.  But it's very scenic and if you leave early, you may be able to avoid the traffic. 

Our destination was Love Apple Farms, a biodynamic farm on the slopes of the Santa Cruz mountains. The terraced farm sits on two acres of land and focuses on organic farming and the holistic relationships between soil, plant and animals.  The star crop is of course tomatoes ("love apple" being an old French term for tomato) and the farm offers more than 100 varieties of heirloom tomatoes.   They also offer tours, workshops and classes in addition to special events catering.  We were there for a post-wedding brunch and the large group ate at picnic tables.  Click here to read a blog post on the food.

You can see below how the farm was situated on a steep mountain slope, maximizing the amount of sun on its crops.  The food was fresh and delicious and the view was breathtaking.  It was worth the drive.  And if you're not in a hurry to get back to town, keep going on 17 and you'll get to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk, an ocean front amusement park.  If you're not in the mood for amusement, the walk along the seawall is nevertheless gorgeous and there will be natural entertainment from the sea lions.   
View of the farm from the entrance

View from the lunch terrace

View of the farm from the lunch terrace

Santa Cruz beach front and the sea lion rock

SUNDAY, 29 JULY 2012

Tranquil Japanese harmony in Saratoga

Hakone Gardens is a privately-run estate garden in Saratoga, near the south-western edge of San Jose, California.  It is a tranquil piece of Japanese harmony hidden along Big Basin Way (State hwy 9)  just south of the Saratoga Village centre - a gem not to be missed if you are in the area or driving through.  The Gardens, created in 1917, have been around for almost a century and some of its trees for even longer.  I was there for a wedding and took these photos before the event.  The bamboo garden turned out to be the best backdrop ever for the wedding photos with just the right amount of shade and light filtering through.


Kois and turtle compete for attention

Complete with waterfall and lily pads 

Bamboo garden

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