Sonoma County Parks Opening After the Fires

Two months after firestorms raced through Sonoma, Napa and Mendocino Counties, parks that had been in the path of the fires are starting to reopen. When we heard that Shiloh Ranch Regional Park had opened to hikers, we decided to take a hike and to see what damage the fires had wrought.

Shiloh is an 860-acre mixed woodland of oak, chaparral and fir forest on the hilly east edge of the Santa Rosa plain that had once been a cattle ranch. About 93 percent of the park burned. Firefighters lit backfires through the park to help defend the city of Windsor and stop the fire’s spread. They also used bulldozers to carve fire lines. So we expected to find a treeless burned out mess.

View of the Santa Rosa Plain from Shiloh

What we found was remarkably like the park we had known before the fire. Crews have removed dead trees and installed erosion control wattles on burned slopes. Underbrush had burned and the forest looked more open, but most of the trees should recover.

So my worry about the fate of the oak forest was unfounded. I don’t understand this. How could a fire so hot that it burned thousands of buildings to the ground leave the forest only singed? I do know that this landscape has always contended with fire as part of its natural life cycle and in some ways even depends on it.

Already we can see signs of new growth. Soap plant and Douglas iris poke through the blackened earth. Trees send up new shoots at the ends of their branches. The plants and their communities are healing.

As we drove back home to our neighborhood in the northeast part of Santa Rosa, we passed some of the burned out sections of the city. Chimneys jut from blackened lots and the carapaces of cars and metal appliances wait to be collected by cleanup crews.

Back in our neighborhood, we walked the few blocks to our little patch of open space, Paulin Creek Preserve, a spot of oak woodland that escaped the fire and, thanks to a group of savvy neighbors, also escaped development. It is among the many things for which we are thankful.

Paulin Creek Preserve



Don Edwards Shoreline Park

Ever since I learned that citizens had organized to protect this part of the San Francisco Bay shoreline from development, I’ve wanted to visit Don Edwards refuge. It’s situated just east of Highway 101 in Redwood City about 25 miles south of San Francisco. (Whipple exit).

Thanks to environmentally savvy neighbors in the South Bay, we can now enjoy this spectacular piece of wildland. Walk out onto one of the old dikes (remnants of salt production) and you are right in the middle of a bird sanctuary. It feels far from civilization, even though you are surrounded by cities and development on all sides.

This place is bird watching central. We saw egrets, stilts, sanderlings, ducks, ground birds and shore birds. And from one of the posted signs we learned about a bird, the Alameda song sparrow, that is able to drink salt water and is found only in these marshes!

Love this marsh and we will return for a longer walk.


The Maps App Sent Me Over a Cliff

Dear Maps App, I trusted you. I trusted your soothing female voice. I trusted your visual representation of my location right there on my phone that tells me where I am and where I’m going and even where my car is parked. I believed you right up until you told me to drive over a cliff into the Pacific Ocean.

It happened this week when I asked my phone to direct me to my friend’s house in Moss Beach, a little coastal town near Half Moon Bay. She would say, “In one half mile turn left,” and it had been working well until she instructed me to turn left onto Ocean Blvd. When I turned in that direction, there was ocean but no boulevard. Ocean Boulevard had slid down the cliff. I’m not making this up. I have pictures. This is the road the map app directed me to drive onto.

Keeping up with the ocean’s voracious appetite for the California coast is not easy, I admit. Acres can disappear in an instant. Still, it seems like something that should be a high priority for the map app, erasing roads as they are devoured by the sea and removing them from the map. Oh, and not directing drivers to drive there.


Someone etched a house into a foundation where a house once sat, now hanging over the cliff.

Esplanade Beach–you know, the Pacifica spot where several buildings had to be torn down before falling over the cliff into the Pacific–is a dynamic stretch of coast we’ve been keeping an eye on. The latest development this winter was the ocean’s undermining and destruction of the relatively new public staircase and trail from the bluff far down to the beach. Neighbors told us the plan is to rebuild the stairs and trail exactly as they were. Good luck with that. Here’s what the trail looked like before and after the wipeout.

Queen Elizabeth Park, Vancouver, BC

One of the highlights of our recent visit to Vancouver, BC (sometimes called “VanCity” by the locals in order to distinguish it from Vancouver Island) was a visit to Queen Elizabeth Park. Molly’s brother Don, who resides in Vancouver with his husband, John, was our tour guide. We took the train from Don’s neighborhood of Yaletown to the park (we love the public transportation in Vancouver, by the way!) This will be a post of few words and many photos as the visuals speak for themselves (click on any photo to see it larger), but here is what the official website ( says about the park:

Queen Elizabeth Park

Queen Elizabeth Park, Vancouver’s horticultural jewel, is a major draw for floral display enthusiasts and view-seekers, and as a popular backdrop for wedding photos. At 152 metres above sea level, it’s the highest point in Vancouver and makes for spectacular views of the park, city, and mountains on the North Shore.

The 52-hectare park is home to the stunning Bloedel Conservatory. There is also a gorgeously landscaped quarry garden, the arboretum with its collection of exotic and native trees, sculptures including one by internationally renowned artist Henry Moore, and diverse recreational offerings such as tennis, lawn bowling and pitch & putt.


As we walked into the park we were drawn to these metal scuptures. Close examination showed them to be a place where lovers can hang locks symbolizing their commitment.

On our way to the Bloedel Conservatory we walked through the gardens of the Quarry area. Some flowers were over for the season but others were in full swing. The rhodedendrons were stunning.

The views of Vancouver from the top of the hill, where the conservatory is located, were fabulous.



















The conservatory allowed one to get up close and personal with many varieties of birds, including a variety of parrots and finches.

So, Stanley Park gets all the press but Queen Elizabeth Park is pretty spectacular. It should be high on your list if you visit Vancouver.

Glimpses of Shasta

Driving north from the Bay Area on Interstate 5, we look for the Magic Mountain to materialize to ease the monotony of the flat, straight highway. She first appears somewhere in Yolo County, just barely visible above the level horizon. The vision, beckoning down to the plains, always makes me gasp.

We rejoice as she grows bigger. She holds the promise of new environs, lush snow-covered fir forests. This year she is glimmering, whiter than I’ve ever seen her. Contrast these photos with the header picture of a bare Shasta, taken in late summer a couple of years ago during a historic drought.

We stopped for lunch at the Sundial Bridge which spans the Sacramento River at Redding. Walk out to the middle of the bridge and you get another view of Shasta. Swallows nest under the bridge and you can look right through the glass into their nests to see parents feeding their chicks this time of year. The Turtle Bay Discovery Park is still being developed and now there is a 17.5 mile paved trail from the park all the way to Shasta Dam. On the other side of the river is a dirt path. I really want to walk or bike it some day, but on the day we visited in early May, it was already too hot for a hike. It’s on my calendar for next April.

By the time we reached Dunsmuir, the mountain was towering above the highway, peeking out around corners, eliciting new gasps with each curve in the road. To the west we could see Castle Crags, another impressive rock monument. We decided we had to drive up as close as we could get to Shasta, just 14 miles on a decent road up from the town of Mount Shasta. A parking lot at the 6950-foot mark has been plowed to accommodate visitors. We paid tribute to the Magic Mountain with a selfie before continuing on our journey north.

Another Grandmother Has Died

Whenever we travel to Roseville to visit Holly’s mom, we stay in a hotel we call the Blue Oak (even though that’s not its name, it should be) because the building was constructed around a spectacular grandmother oak. On our recent visit we were saddened to learn that our revered grandmother died this winter. We had worried about her as the drainage was never good and water would collect at her roots. Oaks require good drainage to thrive, and after two weeks of steady rain, the behemoth toppled. She was estimated to be 300 years old. We mourn her passing.

Mt. Burdell in Bloom

We discovered Mt. Burdell in Novato, Marin County, when Holly lived in Santa Rosa and I in San Francisco and we would meet in the middle to hike. Spring is the best time to visit this verdant oak woodland with spectacular views of the Bay Area.

We have hiked all the way up to the top which adjoins Olompali State Park. Near the old quarry we found stone walls built by Chinese laborers employed by the Burdell ranch in the 19th century. This time we just hiked the three-mile loop past Hidden Pond, full of water in this wet year.