Great Hikes: The Bridge to Nowhere

In 1936, construction was completed on a bridge that spanned the East Fork of the San Gabriel River, deep in the wilderness of the San Gabriel Mountains. Once the bridge was finished, construction of the East Fork Road commenced, which was to connect Los Angeles to California State Route 2. But in 1938, a massive flood destroyed much of the road and plans shifted to build the connection in another area.

The bridge, however, remained, connecting nothing to nothing. And there it still stands today.

While you can't take a car over the bridge, the destination has become one of the most popular hikes in Los Angeles. The trail is not for the meek of heart. It's a 10-mile round trip, starting at Heaton Flats Trail Camp in Azusa. There are at least four river crossings, depending on the rainfall, and you may also have to wade through water that could reach waist-high. There's also no potable water on the trail, so make sure to pack plenty of it. The whole trip should take you about six hours, depending on how long you stay at the bridge. When you get to the end, enjoy a dip in the river under the shady overhang of the bridge. And don't be surprised if you see a handful of bungee-jumpers hoisting themselves over the bridge's side and letting gravity do its work.

Before you head out, make sure you get an Adventure Pass from the Forest Service, or you may end up paying a fine. For more information about the hike, check out this great write-up of the trail.

See Baby Elephant Seals at Año Nuevo

A whole lot of elephant seals hang out on the San Mateo coast -- nearly 10,000 of them every year, in fact. The seals come ashore to Año Nuevo State Park in order to breed, give birth, and undergo the process of "molting," where they shed their outer layer of skin and fur.

Here's some more information about the process:

The process of catastrophic molting causes increased blood flow to the surface of the skin to help quickly supply nutrients to the new fur. During these 25-odd days ashore, the elephant seals seem to be somewhat vulnerable to warmer air temperatures and will often move down to the water's edge or even enter the water to cool off.

The elephant seals are present all year at Año Nuevo, but the molting season takes place between April and August. Adult males molt in July and August, while the female and juvenile seals -- yes, that means baby seals, people! -- molt between the months of May and June. If you're in the market for some baby seal viewing -- now's the time to plan a trip.

In order to see the seals, you will need to complete a three- to four-mile hike, some of which involves deep sand. (Driving to the seals is not an option at this beach.) So make sure to dress accordingly. Also, hikers will need to obtain a visitor's permit between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Pets, for somewhat obvious reasons, are not allowed.

Santa Barbara Beach Named A 'Top 10 Beach of 2015'

For the past 25 years, Dr. Beach -- real name Dr. Stephen Leatherman -- has been traversing the country's best beaches. But rather than simply plopping down a towel and getting a tan, Dr. Beach puts each beach under the microscope. The categories he grades include the "beach material," the speed of the wind, the amount of rain, the water temperature, the number of pests, and quality of the vistas. (Check out the full list of Dr. Beach's criteria over here.)

When the investigation is over, he looks at his notes, crunches the numbers, and ranks the ten best beaches in the United States. And, ladies and gents, the just-released list of the Top Ten Best Beaches in America is as follows:

1. Waimanalo Bay Beach Park, Oahu, Hawaii
2. Barefoot Beach, Bonita Springs, Florida
3. St. George Island State Park, Florida panhandle
4. Hamoa Beach, Maui, Hawaii
5. Cape Hatteras, Outer Banks of North Carolina
6. Cape Florida State Park, Key Biscayne, Florida
7. Coast Guard Beach, Cape Cod, Massachusetts
8. Beachwalker Park, Kiawah Island, South Carolina
9. Delnor-Wiggins Pass State Park, Naples, Florida
10. East Beach, Santa Barbara, California

As you can see, California's offering snuck in at the bottom of the list, with Santa Barbara's East Beach claiming a spot. The beach is located on the eastern end of the stretch of beach parks on the Santa Barbara coast, and has volleyball courts, a playground, showers, and a restaurant. It also offers some of California's best coastal views.

So, if you're looking for a short day trip this summer, you can do a lot worse than one of the beach beaches in the country.

Commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the Lassen Peak Eruption

On May 22nd, 1915, at around 4:30 p.m. -- after years of worrying rumblings from beneath the surface -- Lassen Peak finally erupted. Fragments of rock, volcanic ash, and pumice shot high into the sky, peaking at more than 30,000 feet into the air. Lava flow rushed out at a rate of nearly 10 miles per hour, melting snow and depositing a layer of ash into the soil. To this day, large sections of forest are sparsely populated by trees because of it. The area would never be the same.

In fact, because of the eruption, the area was turned over to the National Parks Department for further environmental study. On August 9th, 1916, the area was officially opened as Lassen Volcanic National Park. And seeing as this weekend is basically the park's birthday, they have all sorts of wonderful events scheduled.

Top 5 Beach Camping Sites in California

There are few more tranquil activities than taking a drive to a beach, pitching a tent, and letting the somniferous swell of the ocean surf lull you into peaceful sleep. But a lot of times, just because the campground site has "beach" in the title, doesn't mean you can actually set up nearby for the night. Here, then, are my favorite five camping sites on the California coast that actually offer close proximity to the beach.

San Clemente State Beach

About halfway between L.A. and San Diego is San Clemente State Beach, which includes 142 different beach-adjacent campsites. Just make sure to get a reservation in advance, as the campground gets super popular during the summer.

San Elijo State Beach

Down on the San Diego coast is San Eligo. Along with the standard natural beauty of the Pacific coast, there is also a reef that divers or snorkelers can explore.

Doheny State Beach

Located in Dana Point, the southern end of Doheny State Beach includes campgrounds with sites only a few steps removed from the beach proper. However, if you're going during peak season, expect a crowd. The beach attracts almost one million visitors a year.

Carpinteria State Beach

Twelve miles south of Santa Barbara, this state beach offers a full mile of sand for swimming, tide pool exploring, and camping. From December through May, it also offers occasional glimpses of gray whales as they make their migratory journey.

Leo Carrillo State Park

One of the favorites for L.A. weekend warriors, Leo Carrillo is just a short drive up Highway 1, and offers 1.5 gorgeous miles of beach for recreation, as well as a number of campsites to use. Again: A reservation is wise.

Rafting the Colorado River Through the Grand Canyon

It is a place where day and night arrive in their own languid time. Where all is sky, rock, and river. Where sun and moon touch rocks 1.7 billion years old, where water moves with a force that can pretzel steel and the creak of oars is the loudest sound, where Bighorn Sheep follow your progress perched on ledges little wider than a pin, and within a mossy nook, if you turn your head just so, a waterfall creates a gauzy rainbow the size of a fingernail.

These are just words, and when it comes to rafting the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon words fail miserably. Numbers do too. Between Glen Canyon Dam and Lake Mead, the Colorado River flows 255 miles. The river's average depth is 35 feet; its average speed is four miles an hour; its temperature, coming as it does from the depths of Glen Canyon Dam, ranges from 48 to 52 degrees. There are more than 160 rapids within the Canyon's confines; in some, the river's speed increases appreciably. The soul is not touched by statistics. Count to three. A complimentary fruitcake to anyone who can remember any but these three numbers.

"I was told rafting through the Grand Canyon would be the best experience of my life," a woman once told me. "And rafting the Grand Canyon would be the second best experience of my life, and the third..."

Such whispers had reached me for years. And so I decided to take the only possible course. I went to see for myself.

Here's the best thing about rafting down the Colorado. Unlike other grand adventures -- climbing Half Dome, meditating with puff adders -- pretty much anyone can do it. Sign on with a river outfitter, and most companies require only that you be at least 12 years old for an oar trip, and eight to ride in a motorized craft.

Other than that, you just have to adjust to a single pertinent reality.

"Some people really embrace the solitude, and some people don't expect it," smiled Christian Seamans, on the drizzly October morning of our own departure from Lees Ferry.

Christian dipped his oars into the cocoa-brown Colorado and smiled again.

"Welcome everyone," he said, as we moved out into the main current. "It's always nice to push away."

Enjoying nature is about pushing away, and all of us -- 19 paying customers who had signed on for a 13-day oar trip with Wilderness River Adventures -- had ensured ourselves additional solitude by coming to the river in October. Fall and spring are the river's unsung seasons; quieter, cooler, heavier with repose. They are also emptier. On the morning we left, putting on to the river at Lees Ferry 15 miles below Glen Canyon Dam, three other groups were starting off too. Over the next 13 days we saw them now and again, but mostly it was just us.

Our party numbered 26; seven guides, 19 clients, six 18-foot neoprene rubber boats, and enough food and drink to embarrass Club Med.

Our Wilderness guides proved supremely competent, but they didn't take their competency too seriously, preferring instead to dye their hair green, announce dinner with a Gregorian chant, and even, on the proper occasion, wear women's underwear (one night we had a costume party). There was Christian, Heather, Brett, Jeff, Nate, Nute, and our trip leader Okie. It quickly became obvious that they all loved the river and the canyon. They knew its history, its wildlife, and its geology. But mostly they knew how to rightly enjoy it.

Early in the trip Nute voiced the sentiment that would become our group mantra.

"Wadda-ya say we run some rapids and drink beer and dance."

My fellow adventurers had come to the river for different reasons, but each grasped the significance of what was transpiring.

"It has always been a dream of mine to raft the Grand Canyon," Reimund Wolf told me on our first night in camp.

Reimund had traveled from Germany. We stood beside the river. A half moon, poised above a dark shadow of butte, threw silver on the river.

"I knew I must come here," said Reimund. "I am 65. I can see the horizon."

Though it is casually labeled a river trip, rafting the Grand Canyon is far more. Traveling down the Colorado gives you access to remote places otherwise reached only with great difficulty or a very long fall. We saw hikers now and then, dirty, bedraggled figures who regarded us dully with the vacant eyes of a mongrel dog. We simply hopped ashore from our happy blue rubber boats, lunched on taco salad and fistfuls of Oreos and, duly fortified, strode into side canyons serene and glorious, hushed places pressed in by walls smooth and cool as satin sheets, where clear creek trickles ran, and here and there sat truck-size rocks deposited at times when the creek was nothing like a trickle.

Some side canyons were dry; tomb still and quiet. Others drummed; waterfalls cascading into pools with a sonorous boom, blowing sprays of rainbow mist. One canyon held turquoise pools so clear and still they appeared to be not pools at all, but vast emerald gems set in the earth. In some of these places we sat apart in contemplative silence. In others we did what was only right, plunging into the pools and hooting beneath waterfalls like ten-year-olds who had discovered their parents' hooch. These places had magical and apt names; Elves Chasm, Shinumo Creek, Matkatamiba and Blacktail Canyon. They sat stoic, and seemingly untouched. It felt was as if we were the first to set foot there.

We weren't, of course. On our sixth day, 68 miles downriver, we hiked up to a butte overlooking Tanner Rapid, and then followed a trail along the sloped hillside. Here and there were metate and mano -- stone trough and handstones used by the Anasazi Indians to mill corn. They were scattered about as if the Anasazi had just up and left, perhaps to take advantage of this lovely day and go for a hike.

Okie picked up a shard of pottery, turning it slowly in his fingers.

"How old is that?" I asked.

"Close to 1400 years old," said Okie.

It was as if past and present had collided as one.

Okie looked towards the Colorado, running brown beneath the sun.

"Yep," he said. "That's the same river they saw."

Meet Rosie the Riveter in Richmond

Nestled at the end of a long industrial park in Richmond, California -- just across the San Francisco Bay -- is the Rosie the Riveter WWII Home Front National Monument. The museum focuses on an under-appreciated aspect of World War II: the civilians at home, particularly women, who helped win the war overseas.

The museum's varied and interesting exhibits include war propaganda posters, videos devoted to the role women played in the factories, and details on life during the food rationing. There's a full schedule of lectures throughout the year.

The country's oldest National Park Ranger, 93-year-old Betty Soskin, also works at the monument. She has been at the park since its inception in 2000, and still leads a handful of weekly "Ranger Talks" about what life was like during the war.

Perhaps the most important aspect of the monument, however, is the "Rosie Meet and Greet" every Friday. Between 10 a.m. and noon, and 1 p.m. and 2 p.m., visitors can actually meet with a group of female civilian docents (the "Rosies") who freely and openly share stories about life back on the home front, along with photos from their private collections. There's truly no better way to learn history than asking those who lived it.

The monument is open seven days a week, from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m., and closed only on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year's Day.

Wildfire 'Season' Begins With Pinnacle Fire

Last week, 10 acres of Pinnacles National Park, located east of Salinas and south of San Jose, burned in a raging wildfire. The fire -- which was contained on the park's east side, near the visitor's entrance -- was started by "a spark from machinery as Caltrans workers mowed brush." It was quickly contained and put out without any injuries or property damage.

This is the first big fire of the official California Wildfire Season, which often starts in May and continues through September.

However, that "seasonal" outlook is an outdated understanding of our state's wildfires. In fact, according to this report from late April, there have already been a whopping 943 wildfires burning a total of 4,078 acres. (As the piece puts it: "More acres have burned in California in the first four months of 2015 than in nine of the past 10 years.") And it doesn't look like it's going to get any better.

The state's ongoing drought has already killed over 12 million trees, essentially turning them into fuel. Vegetation is dryer than ever, allowing it to burn at an incredible rate and turn the slightest spark into the most extreme blaze. Seeing as snowpack and reservoirs are at record lows, it's even more difficult for firefighters to bring in water to put out the fires.

All of which is to say: This is going to be one fiery year, everyone. Make sure to watch those campfires go all the way out.

New Trail Proposed for Joshua Tree

One of the comforting things about our National Parks system is the fact the parks rarely change. While our everyday lives are full of alterations -- be it stores opening and closing, jobs lost and gained, buildings bulldozed or constructed -- the parks are an area on the map where stasis is the norm, where you can return to the same tree decades later and plan on it still being there. Which is why any new trail announcement's a relatively big deal, no matter how short of a distance it goes.

This year, Joshua Tree National Park has started the process of opening up a new trail. If established, it will consist of a modest .7-mile loop that begins and ends at the parking area of Skull Rock, located towards the middle of the park. The trail would essentially be an extension of the current one, but with a separate loop back to the lot. It will also feature a few more scenic vantage points for hikers to admire.

Perhaps most fun of all, the small loop was designed and developed by a summer school class of Morongo Basin GATE (Gifted and Talented Education) students a few years ago. For more information about this new trail -- as well as the history of Joshua Tree and how the new trail will affect the park's vegetation -- head on over to the official release. The public will have 30 days to comment on the proposal.

Lyme Disease Found in San Bernardino Forest

Last week, the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health put hikers on alert after discovering two ticks infected with Lyme disease. It was the first time since 1991 that ticks in the area have tested positive for the disease.

Here's what you need to know, from the report:

Typical symptoms may include fever, headache, fatigue and a rash resembling a bull's eye that appears near the site of the bite. [A]n infected tick, after burrowing through the skin, usually must be attached and feeding on its host for at least 12 to 48 hours before it can spread the bacteria.

If you're planning on hiking in the area, make sure to apply bug repellent before heading into the woods. It's also vital to perform a tick check upon exiting. If you find a small critter latched on your skin, grab it with a pair of tweezers as close to your skin as possible without jerking or twisting it. (Apparently, some attempt to use a lit match to light the sucker on fire. Don't do that.) If you can, save the tick so that it can be examined.

If you end up contracting the disease, don't panic. Treatment with antibiotics during the first stages of the disease is highly successful. The key is seeking treatment as soon as possible.

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