31 August 2010

Bay Area Hiking: Eugene O'Neill

It has taken some getting used to, residing in California. Not only do LOTS of people live here (more than 10% of U.S. population) but lots of famous people, too. In particular, Joe Montana, Kristi Yamaguchi, and Sully (the famed pilot that landed his plane in the Hudson River) live or have lived mere miles from my house. But perhaps most famous, at least from the literary perspective, is Eugene O'Neill.

You may be wondering what hiking has to do with one of the most reknowned American playwrights of the 20th century. Well, Las Trampas Regional Wilderness is the site of his former ranch home. Now a museum which commemorates his life and works, the ranch is as easily accessible by trail as it is by road. A moderate, 30-minute hike from Camille Road brings the curious up-close-and-personal with northern California's beloved Nobel laureate.

The ranch house, know as Tao House, is where O'Neill wrote his Pulitzer Prize winning masterpiece: A Long Day's Journey into Night. Simple yet elegant in true taoist fashion, O'Neill's former home was inspired by his interest in Eastern thought. With arguably the best view in all of Las Trampas, it is easy to see how O'Neill found inspiration here where some of his best plays were written. 

Open to the public every summer Saturday and offering play readings on-site, Eugene O'Neill's former home is worth a visit for fans of work, those curious about his life, or hikers simply looking for the picture-perfect view.

27 August 2010

Bay Area Hiking: Las Trampas

Photos by Laura Seewoester
In the shadow (literally) of its eastward neighbor Mt. Diablo and just west of the well-traveled Iron Horse Trail lie hiking trails that do not get the attention they deserve. With high potential for seclusion, varied terrain, and ease of access, Las Trampas Regional Wilderness offers some of the best hikes in the Bay Area.

Despite its proximity to well-populated East Bay communities like San Ramon and Walnut Creek, the trails are practically deserted...even on weekends. I've been on many 2-hour hikes and have not encountered a soul. With serene, contemplative, and aesthetic surroundings, Las Trampas not only entices but inspires.

Its trails combine steep climbs with flat footpaths making every turn something special. The tree-covered pathways and trickling creek along Ringtail Cat Trail offer coolness and shade from the 100-degree summers. The up-close-and-personal vegetation of the Corduroy Hills Trail makes one almost feel like a pioneer. And the numerous ridge trails, while not offering shelter from the sun, get the cool, strong breezes off the bay.

With a little effort, one can quickly reach the Madrone Trail vista where Mt. Diablo and the San Ramon Valley are in full panorama. Summiting is easy, too. Vail Peak is a quick, well-maintained upward hike off the Las Trampas Ridge Trail and peaks at 1,787 feet. But the best for both view and seclusion is the lower-lying Eagle Peak. A narrow, overgrown footpath brings you to one secluded bench (with no room for much else) looking over the undulating hills and vegetation.

For those wanting inspiration, perspiration, or just a little insulation from city-life, you'll find it all at Las Trampas.

24 August 2010

Bay Area Hiking: Muir Woods

Just down the road from Point Reyes past Stinson Beach, you go from unknown to most known. And when you arrive you'll know why. Muir Woods is home to the famed redwood trees of the northwest. Towering high above heads, the trees offer not only grandiose sights but also shelter from sun and rain.

A must-see for first-time Bay Area visitors, Muir Woods is accessible to just about anyone. Shuttles easily bus city folk who don't own wheels (the shuttle lot is just over the Golden Gate Bridge); and for those who rely on wheels for getting everywhere, Muir Woods is wheelchair accessible. While the trailhead at the main entrance is what most people come for (paved or boardwalked and easy to hike) try going off the beaten path for a more "authentic" hiking experience.

For those hiking more for leisure, take the Fern Creek Trail. Trickling water, stony creek beds, and log bridges that take you over both make for a peaceful hiking experience. Those erring more toward the hard-core, take the Dipsea and Sun trails through varied terrain. While inclines are steep and there are areas of no tree cover, the end of the trails rewards. The Tourist Club nestled within the redwoods offers members and hikers (for a fee) access to its German-style beer garden.

While Muir Woods offers a nice break from the bustle of its southward city neighbor, the city in all its liberal glory is never too far away (notice the convenient location of the First Amendment Area):

15 August 2010

Bay Area Hiking: Point Reyes

Just up the road from the Golden Gate Bridge and famed Marin County is one of the best kept secrets of the Bay Area – Point Reyes. While the park itself boasts almost 150 miles of hiking trails, the crowned jewel sits at the Palomarin trail head. If the drive to Point Reyes doesn't awe you (winding along historic Highway 1 inches from hundred-foot coastal drop offs), this trail surely will. 

The Coast Trail starts on the southern end of the park, and immediately the trail pleases. Just a couple hundred yards through effervescent eucalyptus groves you see the coast....from about 200 feet up! Wide pathways make the hiking easy, but be careful; the view entices even the most cautious close to the edge, and vegetated cliffs lead eyes (and hopefully that's all) down to rocky black sand beaches below.

From the cliff side views, the trail leads hikers through varied terrain that keeps the eyes occupied for miles. Dry golden hillsides familiar to East Bayers and short bushes of varied flora line the trails. Evergreens speckling the surrounding hills, some forming covered archways for hikers to pass through. Finally, green leafy vegetation growing high and thick leads to the trail's most popular feature: the Alamere Falls.

Three waterfalls in sequence form a pond-like body of water at the bottom, and views from the still high-up terrain show off the jagged coast. For the more adventurous, climb down crumbling shale cliffs to the beach below. Here, the runoff from the 3 waterfalls culminate into a 4th falling straight to the beach. While the climb down is not difficult cardio-wise, it is not for the faint of heart.  The steep descent requires feet, knees, and hands as the path crumbles with each footfall. Once down you view the 4th waterfall in all its glory, the Pacific Ocean in its vast expanse, and the winding rocky coastline both north and south.

For those who don't hike, try a swim. An estuary has formed between the hills and is accessible by trail or rope swing. Yep, you read right. Adventure seekers can swing by rope from a cliff above into the frigid water of the Pacific. It packs a shock for both observers and participants alike!

The best part about the Coast Trail? Even on a Saturday it is not too crowded. Perhaps it's because Point Reyes falls in the shadow of other close-by attractions; or maybe it's the street signs that local residents take down deterring visitors from finding their neighborhood treasure. But these deterrents should not deter you: Point Reyes and the Alamere Falls is a no miss! (Thanks, Alan, for organizing this unforgettable hiking excursion!):

12 August 2010

Bay Area Hiking: Point Pinole

Lying in between the craziness of Berkeley and the pretentiousness of Napa is regional shoreline that offers beautiful bay views (San Pablo Bay that is). Point Pinole is home to 12 miles of trails that even the most athletically challenged can enjoy. Head west to the Bay View Trail for hiking that puts you inches from coastline, and at its end places you in perfect position to walk the quarter-mile long fishing pier. Then roam your way back further inland through grassland trails and tree covered paths.

Though the trails at Point Pinole aren't as extensive as other parks, its history is. The hiking trials, grasslands, and eucalyptus forest were once the home of Giant Powder Company – a dynamite manufacturer. At the time, it was the only company in the U.S. allowed to use Alfred Nobel's patent for dynamite. From 1880 to 1960 – during which a company town complete with a dance hall, saloon, and bocce ball court were built and the company was acquire by Atlas Powder Company– 2 billion pounds of dynamite were produced.

Today, little is left of the once thriving industry that helped fuel war machines and made construction safer. But a few sites of interest invite hikers to remember what once was. Off the beaten path lies a dynamite blast and burning bunker. While its high embankments and circular form give clue to its former use, grass has since overgrown it and a picnic table lies at its center...a quaint place for a picnic though a little unsettling if you ask me! And for the more mechanically curious, an original powder press is on display.

The once bustling, busy, and booming peninsula is now a peaceful and quiet hiking retreat.  But there is still potential for some bang-up jobs on-site...congrats on your 3rd place standing at the Nitro Trail Run, Brian!

08 August 2010

Bay Area Hiking: Del Valle

While many visit Northern California for its wine, city tourist attractions, or the famous Hwy 1 drive, often left out of of the mix is the hiking which is second to none. Despite the thousands (yes, you heard me, thousands) of trails tucked in-between communities throughout the Bay Area, locals and tourists alike often overlook this past time opting for more "tourist worthy" activities. My next couple of posts in-series will highlight some of the Bay Area's "hike worthy" destinations.

Del Valle Regional Park is most known for its water sports.  On any given weekend, trucks with boats in tow and SUVs with kayaks atop can be seen heading toward the Del Valle Reservoir entrance on Mines Road. But while the dammed Arroyo del Valle river provides ample area for boating, 28 miles of hiking trails are also found here.  For hikers, avoid the watersport fanatics and find a more peaceful hiking experience at the Arroyo Road entrance.

Del Valle's East Shore Trail wins the award for immediate gratification. A short (yet steep) 15 minute uphill hike brings you to views that will blow you away. A picturesque panorama of both the Livermore and San Ramon valleys causes even the most earnest hiker to stop and pause. Rolling hills dominated by Mount Diablo, green trellised vines waiting for harvest, and one of the most beautiful golf courses in the country are just some of what you'll see. Turn around from this view and another awaits: the Del Valle Reservoir, lush with green trees and placid water which looks best as the sun sets.

After being blown away by the view, continue along the moderate 4-mile loop winding through hills of golden hay. Then catch the Heron Bay Trail to bring you close to the water. Fenceline blocks shoreline in most places, but look for the sporadic gates which allow foot access to rocky beaches and the reservoir itself.

While Del Valle hiking sits in the shadow its watersports arena, the hikers know better! Del Valle is a view-worthy hiking destination.

04 August 2010

Visiting the Google Campus

After blogging about Apple and Craigslist, it seems only appropriate to continue with my technology topic trend. And what better way than to feature Silicon Valley's Internet giant – Google. (Thanks for hosting me Eva and Alex!)

Unlike other company campuses, Google's errs more toward the university type. Just walking around Google grounds, you can't help but be transported back to college days yourself. Buildings surround open public areas where jean-and-T-shirt–clad employees can mingle, read, play volleyball, or just waste away the lunch hour. Walking and biking are the preferred forms of inter-building transit...Google even provides community bikes to do so! Even the cubicles reminded me a bit of dorm rooms, each expressing their share of individuality as well as college-style clutter. (I'm a firm believer that clutter breeds creativity...or vice versa.)

And then there's the food...college cafeteria style it is, but college cafeteria quality it is not. Self-serving and self-bussing is still the norm, but the selection of food is a far cry from college cuisine. From Asian soup–noodle bar to sushi to Indian and even vegan cuisine, there is something for everyone's tastes and tendencies. And for those who are cafeteria-food traditionalists, burgers and pizza are still to be found (though the burgers today were buffalo and my pizza had more cauliflower than cheese).

But more than nostalgic, Google is revolutionary. From its start in 1998 to its searching-made-simple claim to fame, Google has set the bar high for competitors from the beginning. And for employees Google has continued to be a pioneer, breaking the rules of corporate America. Twenty percent of employees' time is allotted for their own personal projects, encouraging not only creativity but self-controlled variety in the workplace. In addition, it's not the subordinates (if you can even use that term here) vying for the top positions. Bosses are the ones working to impress in an effort to attract a successful team. And if you don't like your boss, you can fire him or her and find a new one.

For those of us not lucky enough to wear PJs at work or bring our cocker spaniel to the office, we can still reap the technological benefits of what the Googleplex phenomenon has nurtured – Gmail, Google Maps, and of course my favorite: