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.

A Visit to Hunter’s Point Shoreline Park

We often visit Heron’s Head Park, the spit of land at San Francisco’s south end. It’s one of the best bird watching spots in the city, and when you reach the tip of the spit you feel like you’re right out in the middle of the bay. This week we found that the new Hunter’s Point Shoreline Park, where the PG&E power plant used to be, is open, so you can walk from Heron’s Head over to India Basin Park. And that’s what we did.

Cross the new steel bridge over the waterway and you’re on a wide concrete walk and bikeway, a new part of the Bay Trail. It’s got spacious benches, water fountains and viewing decks with new landscaping alongside. Perforated steel story boards tell the history of the park and surrounding neighborhood. We learned that citizens had to organize and fight city hall for years to get rid of the polluting power plant.

This beautiful bayside park is the result of their efforts. We say thank you!

A Trip to the Foothills

Redbud was in bloom

Our recent trip to the Sierra foothills to view wildflowers yielded few flowers but we did discover an IPA with 11.1 percent alcohol content in Murphys. We watched fledgling nuthatches from the second floor front porch balcony of the old Columbia Hotel where we stayed and we saw the “Pioneer Cabin Tree” in its fallen state at Calaveras Big Trees State Park.

The old gold mining town of Columbia has been a state park since 1945 but I discovered it on the way home from a backpacking trip in the 1990s while looking for a toilet. We walked out of the public bathrooms onto car free Main Street and stepped back in time to the 1850s when this town was a bustling community of 5,000. We were too grungy to stay, having spent a week in the woods, but we vowed to return and we did.

Open year-round, Columbia gears up in the summer but it was happening this weekend of the vernal equinox. It’s a great place to bring kids, with ice cream and sweet shops, blacksmithing and candle dipping, a gold panning station and bowling in one of the old brick buildings. You can learn history, too, in the many displays set up by the State Park Dept. The two hotels in town are owned and run by the state. The other businesses are privately owned, like the book store, which features the works of right wing ideologues as well as historical tomes.

You can ride the stagecoach around town

The State Parks wants workers to dress in period dress. You know, big long skirts for women with elaborate shirtwaists like they wore in 1860. The men get off easier. They can wear suspenders and bow ties and caps or top hats. We were greeted by the hotelier, a young woman in male drag. Her name is Abby and she told us she has worked for three seasons as a park ranger aide. She leads tours and also teaches classes for kids on the state website ports program. (Ports is a free State Parks distance learning program that uses interactive videoconferencing to help K-12 schools teach common core state standards). She told us she had tried to maintain the dress code, wearing long dresses and aprons, but her short hair didn’t fit with the program. During that time she made up reasons for the short hair on her tours. She’d had to cut her hair because she’s had lice, or she’d had a fever. Someone suggested she wear a wig, and she did that for a season during the hottest part of the summer. None of her colleagues recognized her and the wig was really hot. Finally she just decided to switch genders. Now she wears a cap with a period shirt and pants, boots, suspenders and a black leather vest. She said she rides her motorcycle to work so she’s now ready for anything.

Abby the hotelier and guide

The state classifies the park ranger aides as seasonal, to avoid paying benefits it seems. The only unionized workers are the housekeepers, who are allowed to work full-time. Sidewalks rolled up before sundown. We watched the park ranger aides close up the tall steel shutters (originally built to foil fire) on all the windows and doors. We could drink in the saloons, but there was nothing else going on in the evening. The playhouse doesn’t start its season till April. We hoped for live music on Friday or Saturday night. Nada. Later we learned the place for adults is Murphys, just up the road on Highway 4. A drinking person’s haven where one can taste all the local wines without having to drive all those winding roads to the wineries. Stopping by on Sunday, we discovered we had missed Irish Night the night before, but locals told us we would have had a hard time fighting the crush of drunks. They did have live music though. Maybe we older people could find a happy medium somewhere.

Columbia’s sidewalks rolled up at day’s end

A day trip took us up to Calaveras Big Trees State Park up from Murphys on Highway 4. Since I’d been there several years ago, the California Conservation Corps has built a walkway across the swampy meadow (we heard frogs but saw no newts) and a new visitors complex. Most of the trails are still closed for the season but we could walk to the big stump and as far as the two thousand-year-old “Pioneer Cabin Tree” that fell down this winter. Which was not surprising as a century ago humans cut the heart out so cars could drive through. Actually, it was amazing the tree stood as long as it did.

Driving home we crossed some of California’s iconic Gold Country rivers and creeks, all in good form after the season’s big rains. The town of Columbia is reached by Parrott’s Ferry Road, named for the ferry that crossed the mighty Stanislaus River before a bridge was built. Now the crossing is over the lake created by New Melones Dam, target of environmental protests in the 1970s. Until the dam was built, the Stanislaus was arguably California’s best whitewater rafting river, coursing through the deepest limestone canyon in the West.

We drove into the deep river valleys of the Mokelumne River and Sutter Creek, over Amador and Dry Creeks and the undammed Cosumnes River. Then we crossed the American River on the way into Roseville, and finally the wide muddy Sacramento on Highway 80.

Bridge over New Melones