Saturday, October 5, 2013

No Hazardous Materials

So I hiked Hill 88 last Sunday, and I'm gonna do the same this Sunday. Hill 88: aka, what my friends and I fondly call "The Loop". Love that damn hike, as many of you faithful readers already know. It's so close (just across the GGB in the Marin Headlands), and it's always beautiful. It's relatively compact (just under 5 miles, if I remember correctly), but it has so many breathy ups and downs. Gets the leg muscles and the lungs a-pumping for sure, kinda' like a bonafide out-of-doors stair-master. Plus, on Saturdays and Sundays it's reachable without a car. Yup, I rode the bus over and back...the #76 MUNI bus, one of the grandest, prettiest and, perhaps, vertiginous bus rides in the galaxy, if I do say so myself. Certainly one of the grandest, prettiest and vertiginous in the Bay Area.

I've been spouting off about this for some time, to those who would listen, and now I'll do it again for those who have not heard: There is so much work going on in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (of which the Headlands are a part), so much of our taxpayer money being spent on maintenance and improvement! (Okay, maybe not exactly right now, what with that pesky government shutdown, but you get my drift.) It's amazing, really, the funds and man power invested, and over the past five or so years I've watched the progression. Trails, roads, benches, toilets, railings, campsites, trees, native and invasive plant species, wetlands, creeks, streams, marshes, bridges, signs, trail markers, ADA accessibility, the remaining historic military sites: it's all being fixed up, updated, built up, cleaned, rebuilt, repainted, installed, pulled up, pulled out, spiffed out, planted, replanted, re-graded, re-landscaped, all of which ultimately means...protected. Big time. The reason I mention this again now is that I came upon a big huge sign leaning against the side of a outhouse building in the parking lot at Rodeo Beach, a brand new sign that has yet to be installed and displayed, a sign that shows in graphic detail all the aforementioned "work" the Park Service is undertaking.

Voilà...a link to the actual website, apparently named Project Headlands. (Sounds cryptic, I know.) Also apparently, and you'll see this on the website or on the sign once they all get back to work, Phase 1 is now complete, and Phase 2 is underway. Just saying.

The hike was a scorcher, indeed, especially in the protected valleys away from the ocean. It's also, right about now, a freakin' tinderbox over there, dry as a dead dingos donger (that's an Australian expression; not sure what it really refers to/means, but there you have it). If you like your vegetation sere and brittle and are into earth tones - brown, taupe, ecru, sand, gold, beige, tan, khaki, brownish-grey, olive green - with tiny bits of withered orange and yellow flowers beneath a big, bad-ass blue sky streaked sometimes with wispy white clouds...well, if you're into that then get out there and get yerself a-hiking. The fog is mostly kaput, the relentless wind is a little less relentless, and the seaside days and evenings are warm (inland it's an inferno). No doubt about it, my fellow bipeds: October - Rocktober, as it's known in these parts - is a GREAT month to hit the trail.

On the return bus ride I sat near a woman with her small dog, which was very well behaved, and which reminded me of a canine interlude from last year: same beach, waiting for the same bus, after the same hike.

*  *  *

"Wait a minute, sorry," the bus driver said, as he motioned for us to stop, "you can't get on the bus." I stood with an odd assortment of folks in the parking lot of Rodeo beach, the odd assortment one usually finds riding the #76 Marin Headlands on Saturday and Sunday, all waiting to be transported back to San Francisco. "Some lady's dog threw up on the floor."
     My first thought was, Where the hell is she, and why did you let her off the bus without making her clean up after her animal?
     The bus driver was obviously addled, not sure what to do. A few of us peaked inside. A few folks actually snuck on and took a seat while the driver called headquarters. (Really?  Headquarters?  Can't figure this one out by yourself?) Sure enough there was a small, unsightly pool of puke in the aisle.
     "It's dog vomit," someone called out. "We don't care."
     "It's a bio-hazard," the driver countered. And he was dead serious.
     "Bio-hazard!" I sputtered. "You gotta be kidding me? It's gross, it's a nuisance, and it's smelly, but it's not a fucking bio-hazard!"
     The standoff continued - I could not believe how long it continued - until headquarters, at last, called back. I'm not sure what they said. Hopefully it was something like this: "Hey...get a backbone and get those people and that bus back to San Francisco! What are you, insane?" By that time a couple of my fellow riders and I had walked to the restrooms, snagged a bunch of paper towels and laid them over the mess, thus at least containing the mass as we rode the curvy, hilly, vertiginous roads back to the city. Which, twenty minutes later, we finally did.
     Bio-hazard, my ass.

*  *  *

I feel so sad for all the people - the families, the young couples, the retired folks, the honeymooners, the tourists, the hikers, the kids, the outdoor enthusiasts - all those who have been turned away from (or had to vacate) our National Parks because of the USA government shutdown. Shit outta luck. For many of them, I imagine, their current trip might be one of those once in a lifetime trips. Lord knows we have plenty of those once in a lifetime places here in California, especially for those who travel halfway around the world to visit: Yosemite National Park, all the parks along Highway 1, all those in Big Sur and Monterey Bay and the Santa Cruz Mountains, Alcatraz Island, Angel Island, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Point Reyes National Seashore, the Redwood National Parks, King's Canyon, Death Valley...I could go on. And that's just in California...think of the rest of the glorious west! (Yeah, I know, y'all back east, too.) As someone who has been blessed (extremely blessed, and I take none of it for granted) to have taken several trips of a lifetime I'm sure as hell glad it didn't happen to me and my fellow travelers. Here's one personal example: Imagine getting all the way to the Galapagos Islands, only to find the park closed. I'd be really, really pissed!

Goodbye, summer.
Welcome, autumn.
Ciao, y'all, for now.
Peter J. Palmer

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Across the Pond

So I went to France again. Spent six overcast, rainy yet glorious days in Paris and one in Burgundy, to be precise. I didn't do any hiking, per se, but with my fellow travelers I sure did a whole lot of walking. We hopped on the Metro aplenty, of course, and took the bus at times, but during the weeklong trip I happily discovered anew that Paris is a pedestrian's dream come true. The terrain is relatively flat, especially in the city center where tourists like me spend most of their time, and the Parisian hits - the architecture and art, the food and wine, the gardens and fountains, the music and museums and people watching - are safe and sound and worth the expense of getting there.

It was my sister Anne's idea. Her daughter Eleni was living local for three months, and before she returned home to Lorian, Ohio, Anne wanted to jet over for a spell and experience the famed City of Light. So she sent out the feelers via email and telephone and soon had her hands full with a slew of interested souls: her daughter Myia, Eleni's main squeeze David, our mom Ginger, our nephew Peter J. and his sister Kelli, me, of course, plus a handful of friends from the neighborhood in west-side Cleveland: Kiva, Michael and Sarah. Our cousin Eddie, who lives in the French town of Thoron-les-Bains on Lake Geneva near the Swiss border, even joined us for a day and a half.

I learned a little bit about myself this trip, and about travel in general.

You see I'd been to Paris twice before. Granted the last time was almost fourteen years ago as I write this, but for some reason I had the brilliant idea that, while the newbies in the group were busy exploring the usual sites - spending an entire day at Versailles, standing in long lines for the Louvre, Nôtre Dame and Eiffel Tower - I would schedule a few solo excursions to wine-growing regions I adore and have wanted to visit: Alsace, Burgundy (again), Champagne (again) and maybe Bordeaux. During my pre-trip research I discovered that all the areas are accessible for a day trip via the TGV (train à grande vitesse, the bullet train); albeit a long day, but our vacation dates coincided with the summer solstice, when the sun doesn't set until almost 10:00 p.m. Sixteen hours of sunshine...I was primed!

Well, my master plan went down the drain like water down the Seine. The Champagne houses I contacted couldn't seem to accommodate us; Alsace, without a car once I got there, was just too complicated and expensive for a mere seven hours; Bordeaux and Château Palmer never really materialized past the "If wishes were horses, beggars would ride" phase. C'est la vie, eh? In retrospect I couldn't be happier with the way things turned out, for c'mon now...What the hell was I thinking. You're in Paris, for cryin' out loud! No, I didn't stand in line for the Louvre or the top of the Eiffel Tower because I'd done that before, but seeing the Eiffel Tower from afar and lit up at night close by, even for the fourth or fifth time? Absolutely fantastic! Milling about the Tuileries garden and the courtyard by La Pyramide; finding myself utterly awestruck by the mindbogglingly good collection of Impressionist and Post-Impressioniest masterworks inside the Musée d'Orsay for the third time. Ditto and ditto! Ambling up the cobblestone rue Mouffetard? Relaxing with a coffee on Place Saint-Michel? Poking around inside Saint-Séverin or Saint Germain-l'Auxerrois? Yes, yes, and yes...all fantastic!

I also realized, once again, what a horrible packer I am, and always have been. You've no doubt heard the advice from friends or read it online: Pack your suitcase, then remove half of the crap inside. Okay, maybe you haven't, but I have, and I got a concrete lesson in the truth of it, this time, as my luggage did not arrive for almost four days (there was a kerfuffle in Newark, not only with me but with everyone in our group - hell, the entire airport - but that's a long story). The lesson learned? They are correct; I didn't need half the stuff, less than half, in my suitcase.

Airport woes and lack of stylish urban-assult clothes aside, our week together in Paris was an absolute blast! A treasure. I'd traveled internationally with Anne before, and I've been blessed to have enjoyed some extraordinary trips with my mom (and dad, who stayed State-side this time). I will forever cherish the adventure with them (even, in retrospect, the minutes - hours? - we spent trying to corral ourselves and our fellow travelers and just make a damned decision), but there's no doubt the addition of the "younger generation" made the experience even more of a hoot! The lot of 'em spanned the ages from 18 to 25 or so, and most had never before been to Paris.

Every night I happily hosted "Uncle Pete's Wine Class", be it in one of the apartments Anne had rented in the Latin Quarter or in the restaurant du jour, and the kids simply ate it up! Knocked it back, too. Concentrating on the classics I perused our local wine shop and snagged, or ordered for dinner, Sancerre blanc et rouge, Côtes du Rhône rouge from several producers, Vouvray sec, Montlouis, Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine, Bordeaux rouge, cru Beaujolais, Sylvaner from Alsace, rosé from Provence and syrah from the northern Rhône; then lead the group thru an informal tasting, discussing the aroma and fruit profile, the body, the acid, the oak treatment, the tannin and the growing region.

Let's get to some pictures and let them tell the rest of the story. I put together an eight-minute slide show on You Tube, complete with a soundtrack by Edith Piaf, if you want to watch the whole thing, but following is a distilled version of pictures and memories.

The whole gang together at last, with me taking the picture. As I mentioned it was touch and go in Newark, but we all arrived within 4 hours of our originally scheduled times (with unplanned stops in London, Madrid and Oslo, to boot!). In the back row there's Myia, Peter J, Kelli, David and Michael; front row is Ginger, Sarah, Kiva, Eleni and Anne.

The facade of Nôtre Dame de Paris at night, of course. After the debacle of our trans-Atlantic flights, after finally checking into our hotel and apartments, and after a delicious, fun-filled yet stiflingly hot and stuffy and sweaty Basque dinner at Chez Gladines, I suggested that we all take a stroll and relish being in Paris with the classic view.

Wine class! Everyone was (just barely) old enough to tie one on with...oops, I mean sip on...some inexpensive, classic wines of France. I loved it; they did as well.

Mom and me on the Pont des Arts after an oh-so memorable luncheon at Le Comptoir in the 6eme. Escargots, naturellment, plus a killer terrine of veal and foie gras, stuffed zucchini blossoms and a savory tart of petits pois, hericots verts, feta and mint. Sipped a glass of Bandol rosé and a half bottle of cru Beaujolais to wash it all down.

Place Saint Michel, one of my absolute favorite locations in Paris, after lunch and during our walk about on the bank of the Seine: past les bookinistes, by the Tuileries and the Louvre pyramid.

An instant Palmer classic! I simply could not resist the sight of all those uniforms, and at the last second told mom to get in there with 'em.

Riding on the Metro-oh-oh...You remember that song by Berlin, right? Not all fun and games, tho; later in the week we found ourselves once again packed in like sardines when Eleni felt a hand inside her purse. She looked around and saw a man holding her wallet, then elbowed him in the ribs. He dropped it and we made our escape, only to find that a few other purses and backpacks were unzipped as well.

Peter J and his yiayia enjoying Breton galettes at Café Breizh in the Marais (highly recommended). Of course they couldn't seat an unannounced party of ten in the postage stamp-sized restaurant, but right next door was a retail space/workshop with a large wooden display table. It had packing crates instead of chairs, and a young woman asked if we might want to eat there. We sure did, and so began one of the most delicious and memorable meals of my life: loads of different, savory buckwheat crepes, two large bottles of breton cidre traditionel de pomme, and a space all to ourselves. It was a total gas!

Relaxing in the Jardin du Luxembourg, the 2nd largest public park in Paris, during our walk back from lunch. I had forgotten how serene and ornately landscaped and beautiful the garden is; this year the greens and explosion of flowers whipped up a notch by a very wet spring.

Le football! Came upon these scrappy Parisian youths and asked if they might pose for a picture (I dig taking shots of the locals). Immediately one of them ran about yelling "le photo, le photo!" to his peers. What a hoot: it took a while, but they finally stopped the game and let me have at it. This was just after I asked the same question to a young mom and her cute, cute, cute baby girl, out of the stroller and toddling about. At my request to take a picture of her child the woman paused, looked at me suspiciously and said, "I don't think so." Probably thought I was some sort of perverted "masher".

Sacre Coeur atop the hill of Montmartre. I had never been there before so it was high on my list of to-dos. Wonderful outing, and the views of Paris are unsurpassed.

Love this picture of Eleni, David and Peter J. If they were some hip, grungy rock band it could be their album cover. Right?

Inside Le Train Bleu at Gare du Lyon, one of Paris' main train stations. Cousin Eddie took us there for a glass of wine and a snack, and I was blown away! Can't believe I'd never heard of it in any of the guidebooks I've read, as it's totally worth a stop to while away a couple hours beneath the ornate Belle Epoque decor.

Dinner, Café Le Papillon at the bottom of rue Mouffetard, with cousin Eddie. It was a raucous affair, and our table of twelve occupied most of the tiny dining room. Some of the dishes were tastier than others, but the meal was an utterly enjoyable three hours with family and friends.

The other-worldly, high French (Rayonnant) Gothic splendor of La Sainte-Chapelle on Isle de la Cité. This was also on my short list, and literally gave me chills. Completed in 1248, restored after it was damaged in the revolution and declared a national historic monument in the mid-19th century, the chapel sports 15 fifty-foot high stained glass windows with the thinnest of supports that seem to soar to the heavens. As we were standing in line to enter I noticed a poster for an upcoming concert, Vivaldi's Four Seasons. "Wouldn't that be awesome," I remarked, only to have someone else read the sign and pronounce, "It's tonight!" Thus we returned, and, as you might imagine, the sound of all those violins and cellos was ethereal. Pure magic.

Mom and me with the winemaker chez Paul Pernot in Puligny-Montachet. That big-ass smile on her face probably reflects what we just tasted: '12 Bienvenue-Bâtard- and Bâtard-Montrachet. Can't believe I went to Burgundy with me mum!

Barrel tasting a slew of 2011 red Burgundies chez Alain Michelot in the town of Nuits-Saint-Georges.  Classic, moldy cellar; lovely wines of good structure and purity of fruit.

Ginger and Jeanne-Marie, our gracious host and guide for the morning/afternoon, discussing viniculture on the hill of Corton. She picked us up at the train station in the charming town of Beaune, then escorted us to three domaines in Puligny, Chassagne and Nuits, plus treated us to a lovely lunch in Volnay. Merci beaucoup, Jeanne-Marie!

Ginger enjoying escargots in the town of Volnay...somebody pinch me! We Americans, slave to the automobile since its invention, have missed the, train...because the TGV is phenomenal: quick, of course, quiet, clean, comfortable and on time. The ride to Beaune took 1.5 hours versus over 3 to drive; at one point we reached speeds of 297 miles per hour.

Although I'd seen it before several times, the view of the Eiffel Tower from across the Seine at Place du Trocadéro almost brought me to tears. Throw in the fact that I got to experience the trip with my mom and my sister Anne, assorted nieces and nephews and friends of theirs, plus cousin Eddie, and I'd say the whole adventure was un grand succès complet!

*  *  *  *  *

The entire week was a rainy one, no doubt about it, but the worst of the downpours lasted only 45 minutes or so, and the cooler temperatures sure beat playing tourist for 16 hours a day in 85 degree heat with a humidity to match.

Even though it seems, at times, as if many Parisians wouldn't much care if we all just stopped visiting, most are more than happy to stop and lend a hand, recommend their favorite local boulanger or restaurant, share their love of Paris, City of Light. And it's an easy city to love. From my first glimpse of the Seine out the plane window to that final RER ride back to Charles de Gaulle airport, I learned that 14 years is way too long between trips to France, way too long since my last "Week in Paris".

A bientôt,
Peter J. Palmer

Friday, May 3, 2013

Why I Hike

1.  Because I can't run 12 miles.  Okay maybe I can, but it wouldn't be very pretty.

2.  It's easy to do.  Open your front door, step outside, tool around the block and you're walking.  Open your front door, step outside, get your ass to a city, county, regional, state or national park, find a trail and - Behold! - you're hiking.  Simple as that.

3.  The rewards are priceless, but the pastime is relatively inexpensive.  You don't need a long list of costly gear: a good pair of shoes or boots, some sunscreen, a nice wide-brimmed hat, a water bottle and...well, that's about it.

4.  Opportunities to become immersed in nature abound.  Depending on where you live, however, some of those opportunities are more accessible than others.  Here in San Francisco we are blessed with not only a world-class city but also with easy access to areas of true wilderness.  I realize that other city centers are a bit more "land-locked", and that for many people it takes a whole lot longer to escape the urban drone and lose oneself on the trail.  So look around.  Do some research.  Then get out there; get some dirt under the soles of your shoes, wherever "there" happens to be.

5.  It's exercise.  Duh.

6.  You see shit.  Flora and fauna.  Oftentimes the usual cast of characters, but sometimes a real treat, a real prime find, be it animal, vegetable or mineral, is just around the bend.  And weather - whether you know it our not - adds to the uniqueness of each trek.  Even if you hike the same trail over and over again the differences in outings can be significant.

7.  Because it's a great way to share quality time with other people, one that doesn't involve sitting around a table or at a bar drinking and eating.  I'm not dissing the camaraderie the kitchen and dining room can foster - in fact, I love it, plus I'm an excellent prep cook and pretty adept at opening a bottle of wine - but "Moderation in all things," someone once said.  "Including moderation," another added, which means you can always hit the trail with a cold beer under your belt, a practice one of my hiking buddies has mastered.

8.  It's rejuvenating.  Physically, mentally and spirtiually.

9.  Thinking happens.  Ideas are hatched, and discussed.  Dilemmas are contemplated, and issues, perhaps, resolved.  Corporations pay big bucks to reserve offsite venues for "retreats", but my friends and I have learned from firsthand experience that a few hours on the trail is a much more economical option.

10.  Because I was born to walk.  I was born a biped, programmed from the start to amble, hike, leap, march, meander, mosey, pace, pivot, promenade, saunter, step, stroll, traipse, tramp, trek, turn and wander.

To leisurely explore the simple pleasures of a peaceful, sunlight-dappled woodland trail beside a babbling brook is to discover my religion, to reaffirm it.  To blindly stride alongside the rest of the human race on hard, unforgiving concrete and tar and cobblestone is my penance, and to watch the world race by from the window of a car on those same synthetic surfaces, pure hell.

Don’t get me wrong.  There is nothing inherently evil about The Need for Speed now and then; nothing like a good old-fashioned, 21st century road trip to inspire a freewheeling sense of liberation and excitement.  There’s nothing like staring out the window of a plane, either, watching the mesmerizing patterns of Planet Earth crawl by from 30,000 feet above sea level.  The crazy corkscrew of rivers; the rigid, geometric squares and circles of cropland; the intricate web of roads; the swath of two dimensional colors during the day and the blazing constellations of city lights in the dark: they are hypnotic, no doubt.  But the giddying tempo of driving, and the cocoon of metal skin that somehow allows me to soar from city to city, from coast to coast, even from continent to continent, also keeps me unnaturally separated from the mysterious, innate rhythms of my natural being.

When I travel as I was meant to, by walking, deep within my soul I hear the regular inhale-exhale prayer of my own miraculous breath, spurred faster and faster by an incline on the horizon, and feel in my chest the ritual drum beat of my own miraculous heart.

I was perfectly designed to leave my lazy set of footprints on a sandy, cream-colored, half-moon beach, to step triumphantly on mountaintops and hopscotch gingerly on the smooth granite boulders of a stream, even to hurry back and forth on the wooden or carpeted or terrazzo floor of a restaurant.  I was meant to have achy feet, tanned feet, earn a living in shiny black Rockports, explore the world in mud spattered Tevas and Timberlands.  Go barefoot as often as possible.

My father and mother, George and Georgene, were, perhaps, born to stumble into each other’s lives on the humid, summer shore of Lake Erie, already proud but unknowing owners of the two microscopic cells that would become their first child.  My mother’s parents, Pete and Diane, were likewise born to venture with bravery and excitement and trepidation across a rickety gangplank and onto a boat that would slice through the sea from Greece to America, then take their first steps in the New World.  My father’s family had already made the voyage.  Even further afield, their parents and grandparents and great grandparents were pre-programmed to trek from village to village, from hut to hut, from cave to cave, back through the narrowing generations in a reverse march of time.

Theories abound, but perhaps as long as four millions years ago our carbon-dated, unnamed ancestors were anxious, maybe forced, to try it for the first time; to climb down from the trees of central Africa and ease cautiously toward the future, from the green safety of the forest to the exposed and perilous savanna.  Besides a slew of similar DNA and the sometimes confounding awareness of my own existence, the reality I inhabit shares little with those early human beings, save the fact that we both learned to stand on our own two feet, then to put one in front of the other.

Like I said, I was born to walk.

See you on the trail.
Peter J. Palmer

Friday, April 19, 2013

Livin' la Vida Lobos

Here's a fact: There are oodles of places on the California coast that rival the beauty of Point Lobos State Reserve, which is located a few miles south of Carmel in Monterey County. Here's another fact: Many of those places are just as picturesque, just as jaw-droppingly dreamy and dramatic, but none are more so. The meeting of land and sea at Point Lobos is one of the loveliest on Planet Earth.

As the crow flies California is 840 miles long from top to bottom, but if one were to (and actually could) walk step by step along the entire shoreline -  on sandy, wind-swept beaches; inland around bays and lagoons and tidal marshes; atop mountains and cliffs and headlands; through forested ridges and wide open, seaside fields - once accomplished the pedometer would clock in at a whopping 3,427 miles. Yup, the coastal caress of California is not straight. (What?) Instead, it's chock full of ins and outs and ups and downs and easts and wests - intimate nooks and crannies alongside vistas so grand they'll take your breath away - and Point Lobos State Reserve has them all in spades.

Point Lobos is relatively small, as well. At just over 500 acres, compact, and many of the in-and-out or loop hikes can be enjoyed in 30 or 40 minutes (longer, of course, if you linger). Thus one might explore several of the well-maintained trails in a single day, especially during the late spring, high summer and early autumn months when sunset retreats toward the 9 o'clock hour in these parts. The entrance fee is $10 per car and includes a spiffy, fold-out brochure containing, among other things, the history of the reserve, facts on native flora and fauna, a list of brief hike descriptions, a very handy, well-executed map, and supplemental information on adjacent Carmel River State Beach (the gist of which seems to be: no matter how calm and inviting it looks, don't swim there).

A recent Rent-a-Sommie gig at Pebble Beach Food & Wine found me shacked up in Monterey-town for a slightly overcast but warmish April weekend. My work load for the festival was light, so after a tasty Friday luncheon featuring a luxurious, five-course menu paired with Portuguese wines I parked my Kia Soul rental car at Fisherman's Wharf and enjoyed a leisurely, three-hour round-trip stroll along Monterey Bay: south through John Steinbeck's romanticized (but now pretty touristy) Cannery Row, past world-renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium and into the quaint, seaside hamlet of Pacific Grove. Along the way there are loads of tacky souvenir shops and restaurants in the heart of Cannery Row, lots of historic buildings and plaques, and, at the south end, a handful of small, rocky, crescent-shaped beaches that are permanently fenced off as they are protected haul-outs for the endangered California harbor seal. Springtime is prime time, and I paused for a spell to observe the newborn pups as they made their way in the world: snuggling and suckling on mom, learning to swim with her in the shallows, noisily and awkwardly sparring with their peers. On the return tramp I parked my rump on a bench overlooking the bay and gazed west as the sun set: watched more harbor seals and sea lions cruise the calm blue waters, watched the offshore beds of giant kelp sway with the incoming swells, watched a group of gregarious, playful southern sea otters go about their aquatic business.

When my work at the Grand Tasting on Saturday finished around 4 p.m. I drove south again, forked over $10 to a smiling park ranger and entered Point Lobos. The park is very popular - for good reason - especially on weekends, but luckily, as I approached, an employee was just taking down the "Lot Full" sign, which meant I didn't have to ditch the car outside and hike in to the coast (a pretty walk, but time consuming). Instead I leisurely drove the main access roads twice, an attempt to get the lay of the land and decide where I wanted to spend the next three hours. Turned out to be an absolutely lovely three hours, and I'm so glad I made the time.

I've got lots of pictures, so let's get right to it.

These first five are from Whaler's Cove, a unique feature of the Central California coast if there ever was just one, and an utterly enchanting place. The terrestrial part of Point Lobos is, as I mentioned, around 550 acres, but in 1960 another 775 acres was added, all of it submarine: one of the first underwater nature reserves in the US of A. Whaler's Cove and a large area of adjacent ocean are part of the reserve. Registered scuba divers and, I believe, a limited number of snorkelers can access the water at a concrete ramp; from there an underwater world awaits discovery - giant kelp forests, rockfish, sea urchins, starfish, sea otters, seals and sea lions, perhaps a passing gray whale. The parking lot has restrooms, picnic tables and several trailheads: one follows the gentle arc of the inlet, another climbs to a beautiful vantage point above the cove and northern portion of the park.  

Next, some photos of the spring wildflower bloom. The park is currently awash in all the usual suspects: the iconic California poppy, fields of Douglas iris, spiky Indian paintbrush, fragrant blue blossom, bushy bushes of Monkeyflower and much more. It's quite the visual and olfactory juxtaposition: the riotous technicolor of flowers, the deep greens of fertile forest, the mysterious blues of vast Pacific Ocean and expansive sky, a wisp of white fog, and myriad earth-tone hues of rich soil, massive stone and fleeting sand.

Below, some landscape shots from the southern half of the park. There is no way the Little iPhone That Could could ever capture the magnificence of the place, but there you have it. This part of the park has, in addition to great hiking, a pair of small, rocky, isolated beaches where one can supposedly walk in the water, perhaps swim (though you should check on the legality of that, and very seriously consider the frigid idea before you do).

And finally, if and when you do decide to visit Point Lobos, a hike that should be at the top of your list; that you should not miss, even if you only take one. I was driving toward the exit when I decided that - Hell yes! - I had time for one more walk: The Cypress Grove Trail. The park brochure lists it as "the favorite of many visitors", and as soon as I started walking I was glad for my change of mind and abrupt U-turn back to the trailhead. It is simply spectacular! A microcosm of all the park has to offer. The views are unsurpassed, both on land and out to sea. The chance to spot animals offshore - seals, sea lions, otters, birds, whales - is in your favor as the trail leads out onto a promontory of rock surrounded by water, and the loop winds through one of the last two naturally occurring stands of endangered Monterey Cypress trees. The orange stuff in the following pictures is a type of algae that finds a happy home on the gnarly, windswept Cypress trees and rocks.

I'll leave you with two artsy-schvartsy silhouette shots. Point Lobos is a Muse extraordinaire, nurturing the artist in us all - be it painter or poet - and there is a whole community (with its own website) devoted solely to the images she has helped create.

So make the trek and be inspired. Feel the ancient soul of Planet Earth where the worlds of land and sea and air collide. Discover the timeless magic of Point Lobos for yourself.

Hopefully I will get another chance in the not too distant future.

Until then, peace out.
Peter J. Palmer