New Trail Opens in Sonoma County's Jack London State Historic Park

Jack London State Historic Park in Sonoma County is simultaneously a tribute to the author of "White Fang" and "The Call of the Wild" and a preserve dedicated to the natural surroundings he adored. The park's 1,400 acres include a museum dedicated to London's writing career and life as an adventurer (with occasional piano performances by the staff), the ruins of the Wolf House (a 26-room mansion that tragically burned down shortly before London was set to move in), and over 20 miles of hiking trails.

On March 14th, the park held a ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate the opening of the East Slope Sonoma Mountain Ridge Trail. The 13-mile round-trip hike will be open to hikers, bikers, and horseback riders, and will offer "sweeping panoramas from the top of Sonoma Mountain, finding different views than ever seen before."

To celebrate the trail's opening, the park is offering two guided hikes. The first, on March 28th from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m., will be led by naturalist John Lynch. The second, on May 2nd, will be led by former board member of the Valley of the Moon Historical Society Dave Chalk. Both are free. However, visitors will need to pay the entry fee for the park, which is $10 per vehicle, or $5 per walk-/bicycle-in.

If you can't make it to either hike, the park also has a wide variety of events occurring throughout the year, including their famed outdoor concert series.

Best Picnic Spots in Southern California

We love to be outside any chance we get. The beauty of living in Southern California is that you get chances to be outside A LOT. The cities sprawl far and wide, but there are gems sprinkled within them. You don't always have to wait for a well planned weekend to get out there and enjoy the abundant sunshine, and you don't need to travel far. An evening picnic is the perfect excuse to get out with your family or friends. Meet in the middle, share your favorite picnic recipes, start a fresh new soul nourishing routine. Here are some spectacular places to begin:

Wildflowers
Wildflowers bloom in the springtime throughout Southern California. The exact peak dates for each location are mainly based on the elevation. One of our favorite locations is Anza Borrego State Park. It peaks fairly early, usually starting in February, which gives you a dose of excitement for what's to come for the rest of the season. Joshua Tree National Park and Death Valley National Park can both be incredible later in the season, towards the end of March and April. Around this time period, you can also plan a picnic at the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve. Endless fields blanketed in bright orange and yellow poppies are a satisfying background for a family picnic. Check out Desert USA Wildflower Reports to find your closest blooms and when they're expected to peak.

Hollywood Forever Cemetery
The Hollywood Forever Cemetery is one of the most iconic locations in the Los Angeles area. Many stars of the cinema are buried in this lovely location. You can stop by for a picnic on the grass anytime during the year, but summertime is an essential time to check it out. Movies are played outdoors on the lawn, which is a perfect activity to accompany a picnic. Bring your most adorable picnic basket, a good blanket and some candles, and impress your (many) fellow picnickers with your creative recipes. If you ride your bicycle in, you'll usually get priority standings in the entrance line, even if you haven't purchased a ticket on a sold out night.

Vote for Your Favorite National Monument

Giant Sequoia National Monument / Photo:42dreams/Flickr/Creative Commons License

If you were like most people and didn't vote in March, now's the time to make up for it.

USA Today is taking readers' votes for best national monument. National monuments are named by the president and are protected much like national parks; however, unlike national parks, the designations can go beyond wilderness areas. California is represented twice with Giant Sequoia National Monument and Muir Woods National Monument both nominated in the category, along with 18 other monuments from across the country.

Giant Sequoia National Monument is located in the Sierra Nevada mountain range. The giant sequoia is the world's largest tree, growing at more than 250 feet high on average.

Muir Woods / Photo:strolling_jim/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Muir Woods located in Marin Country was named a national monument in 1908 by President Theodore Roosevelt. It's one of the last remaining redwood and sequoia forests that were at one time plentiful throughout the U.S.

The fact that California has the tallest and one of the oldest trees should be a source of pride for all of us, so go vote for our national monuments! Though, to be fair, the other nominees outside of our great state are pretty darn impressive too.

You can vote here until March 30 at noon ET.

Let us know which monument you vote for in the comments section!

Sing Sea Chanteys In San Francisco

For some silly reason, on September 19th of each year, we celebrate International Talk Like A Pirate Day. This is where people in offices say things like "arrr," "ahoy," "matey," and perhaps even "wenches" in the more lax environments. It is a garbage holiday, not least of which is due to it being horribly inaccurate.

While pirates didn't go around saying things like "shiver me timbers," they did sing a whole bunch of songs called sea chanteys. Part of this was to lift their spirits, but part of it was also to help them with their duties aboard ships:

During the golden age of chanteying, 1840-1860, the work songs of sailors were used aboard ship to help coordinate shipboard jobs. Jobs such as hauling on lines to raise sails, turning the capstan (an iron winch) to weigh (raise) anchor and manning the ship's pumps required sailors to work together in rhythm.

The songs were performed in a call-and-response way, with a lead singer or, chantey-man, singing long verses telling the song's tale, and the crowd joining in for the chorus. If you find yourself in San Francisco on the first Saturday of every month, you can join in the chorus too. If you're brave, you can even lead one of your own.

The National Park Service holds a public Chantey Sing on an old historic ship (the specific ship changes throughout the year) at the Maritime National Historic Park on Hyde Street Pier. The sing-a-long goes from 8 p.m. to midnight and is free. Make sure to bring a mug for complimentary apple cider. Speaking from experience, it is simply one heck of a fun, weird time. Just make sure to make a reservation, as the event does book up.

Where Southern California Wildflowers Are Blooming

As we've mentioned before, this spring is set to be an extraordinary one when it comes to Southern California's bountiful wildflower blooms. And according to the wildflower hotline at the Theodore Payne Foundation, it looks like that massive bloom is already here. Here's a quick rundown of where to see this year's batch of wildflowers:

Santa Monica Mountains

According to the Payne Foundation, this is the "go to place for a while." Chocolate lilies are all over, while gooseberry, ground-pink, common goldfield, red skinned onion, purple owl's clover, wild hyacinth, and a whole bunch of other species are blooming all along the Pentachaeta Trail in Triunfo Canyon Park.

Paddling Along the Rivers of Mendocino County

I arrived in Mendocino an hour before sunset, the last light of day touching the faces of the picturesque Victorian homes and store fronts, spilling across the Mendocino Headlands to cast a contented glow on the faces of the dog walkers, joggers, and hand-holding lovers crunching along the winding paths.

I have made a life of watching the sun sink into the sea, and so, eventually, I followed a path to the edge of the cliffs. The sea blew ragged, but the mouth of the Big River was a deep blue calm.

Directly below me, five twenty-somethings stood on the dark rocks as the ocean sighed and moved just off their feet. The three men were fishing. The girls watched the sunset. None of them seemed the least bit concerned with the oncoming darkness. All wore thick flannels and wool caps in deference to the ever cooling wind.

A man stepped up beside me.

Eschewing a greeting, he grumbled, "Stupid kids. How are they going to find their way back in the dark?"

I try to give my fellow man the benefit of the doubt, but it is also true I have small tolerance for the grumpy and the judgmental. I had already seen the well-stocked contents of the red and white cooler tucked up against the cliff, and a full moon was already in the sky. It seemed to me a fine way to spend the night.

I smiled at the man.

"I wouldn't mind being down there with them," I said.

He grimaced at me as if he might give me a push so I could join them.

"Well then, you're out of your mind too," he said.

I nodded agreeably. It was a possibility.

"Maybe gravity got the best of them," I said.

"Huh?"

Mendocino is not without its New Agers, old hippies, and displaced Rastafarians. There is often a sweet smell in the air. It was not hard to see what my companion was thinking.

"I was walking the streets before I came down here," I said.

He harrumphed.

"You are crazy," he said, leaving before I had the chance to tell him what I had discovered.

As the light left the sky, I looked down a last time at the gathering below me. One of the fishermen had put down a pole and taken up a young girl's hand. Moonlight winked on the water.

How can you not like Mendocino, where all the streets tilt to the sea?

That night I ate Brazilian fish stew at the Mendocino Café, where they pride themselves on "serving international cuisine composed of organic ingredients healthy for the planet and our customers." Not that this distinguished the cafe from most of the other local businesses. The stew was piping hot and delicious, a coconut broth liberally endowed with rock shrimp, mussels, clams, calamari and fish. It made me think of my friends at the ocean's edge, and when I walked back out on to the headland after dinner, I didn't even need to walk to the cliff's edge. I could hear their laughter, coming up over the cliffs and running through the moonlight.

Video Captures Majesty, Mystery of Joshua Tree

If you've ever had the pleasure of driving through Joshua Tree National Park, then you know how there's just something different about that area of the world. The edges are a little crisper, the sunsets a little sharper, and the stars seems just a tad closer. It's not surprising, then, that the park has been used in a whole bunch of films.

Its latest starring role, though, isn't for Hollywood. It's for an independent project called More Than Just Parks, which is attempting to bring awareness to America's National Parks by filming short gorgeous-looking videos of all 59 of them. (They've got a ways to go: besides Joshua Tree, they've filmed Great Smoky Mountain National Park, Olympic National Park, and... that's it.)

The project is the work of filmmaking brothers Will and Jim Pattiz, who spent nearly a month exploring Joshua Tree National Park with their video camera:

We chose Joshua Tree because of its unique landscape. Its immense boulder piles, colorful cactus fields, endless desert expanses, and one-of-a-kind Joshua trees make for a spectacular setting.

Here, then, is what they came away with:

If you're interested in helping to fund the project, visit the website for more information.

Soak In Escalen's Hot Springs In Big Sur On The Cheap

The Escalen Institute in Big Sur is one of those places that defies labels. Overlooking the cliffs and surf, it describes itself as "not only a retreat center or an educational institute," but also "a world-wide network of seekers who look beyond dogma to explore deeper spiritual possibilities." In other words, it's a hippie-centric place to find your chakras, meditate, and maybe "re-find your center."

If you want to stay there for a workshop, it can be pricey. The cheapest accommodations are $405 for a weekend, and that's only if you're willing to stay off-site or in a sleeping bag. But, there is a way to use the hot springs for cheap. (And no, not by breaking in and donning a disguise that certainly would include a fake mustache and cane.)

You need to be a night owl.

See, every night between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m., Escalen opens its doors to the public for $25 a person. However, only 20 people are allowed to use the hot springs each night, so call in advance to get reservations. (During the summer months, reservations are available 5-6 weeks in advance and go quickly.) For more information, including the number to call, visit this page at Escalen's website.

A Journey (And Some Fly Fishing) Through Lassen Volcanic National Park

We forget how much of California is wild and vast maw. Head into California's far northeastern reaches and the world falls away. You'll pass over happy creeks, hypnotic orchards, and honor system fruit stands with signs hanging from barns proclaiming, "The best gift you ever found was in a barn." Everywhere is the aphrodisiac of pine. Also, from almost every vantage point along almost every road, snow-capped Mount Lassen looms: in the empty-wide sky, white clouds scurry toward Lassen for their own closer view.

It's as if you are driving towards promise.

Northeastern California is home to many wild and lovely things, and one of them is some of the world's best fly fishing. The lower Sacramento, Fall River, Hat Creek, the Pit River, the McCloud, Burney Creek: these are bucket list fishing holes. Name drop them to even the most casual angler and watch his eyes glaze over while his hands twitch, casting already for God's own wild rainbow trout.

Like many outdoor activities, fly fishing first provides opportunity for a breathtaking road trip, and the journey into California's northeast is no exception. A casual glimpse at any map reveals, to the north and east of Redding, the happiest preponderance of green: sprawling national parks (Lassen Volcanic), national monuments (Lava Beds) and national forests (Plumas, Lassen, Klamath, Shasta-Trinity, Modoc) that occupy space reserved in other parts of California for fast food restaurants and big box stores.

I traveled first along California Highway 36, through the towns of Paynes Creek and Mineral, and then along Highway 89. I passed over the aforementioned burbling creeks, with Mount Lassen filling my windshield like a serene Japanese painting as the road slowly rose and took on a steeper cant until my car stopped, panting at the southern entrance to Lassen Volcanic National Park.

A pretty ranger flipped open the entry window and smiled.

"Well today's your lucky day," she said. "The road just reopened this morning."

I had been driving past heavily snow shrouded forest for almost thirty minutes already, but still I said somewhat stupidly, "But it's June."

The ranger nodded happy acknowledgment.

"It sure is, but up here that doesn't matter. Some years this road is closed in July. I'm from New Hampshire. I thought we had snow. But snow in July..."

Not just any snow, but buttercream snow topped with a sparkly ice sheen. On this bright, sunny day the Park was a fairyland, made fairer still by a road impeccably cleared. It's with good reason that Highway 89 is designated a National Scenic Byway. I drove through a summer winter wonderland until I found a spot where I could pull off the road and wander through the snow.

Exploring Lassen Volcanic Park would take several lifetimes. It is 106,000 acres of surreal volcanic terrain surrounded by a cool green sea of conifer forest; home to our country's greatest labyrinth of lava tubes and countless hikes through bubbling, steaming, blurping volcanism. The easy hike into Bumpass Hell provides a great initiation, but not on this day. It was buried in four feet of snow.

So I found a pullout where the snow was actually melting in places, and I wandered off into the woods, meandering through conifer passageways hung with air I wanted to drink. In the forest, the sunshine became fairy glow and I could hear nothing but my own eider-softened footfalls, and when I stepped out into an open pasture a goose-pimpling wind rushed across the snow. But that was the only sound. I can tell you unequivocally. Silences do whisper and hum.

Time Travel to the Gold Rush at Bodie Ghost Town

Visiting ghost towns is generally a high-risk, high-reward gamble. (This doesn't include Calico, which is less of a legitimate ghost town, more of a theme park attraction.) Usually, they're far off the normal route that you'd take to get anywhere. And when you finally do navigate the various twists and turns to get there, you're left with nothing but a house or two in such disrepair that you don't really get a good sense of how life was back then.

Not so with Bodie, California.

The town began as a mining camp in 1859, when William S. Bodey discovered gold in the region. A mill was established in 1861, and the town boomed to nearly 10,000 people by 1880. Schools, churches, and houses stood alongside saloons, brothels, and opium dens. During its heyday, it was called the "most lawless, wildest and toughest mining camp the far west has ever known." But, as is the case with most mining towns, the townsfolk dispersed once the gold ran out. And in 1932, 90% of the town was burned down due to a fire allegedly started by a two-and-a-half-year old boy playing with matches.

Roughly 100 structures survived the fire, however, including the bank, schoolhouse, Grand Central Hotel, and the Methodist church. The town's 1962 designation as a National Historic Site and State Historic Park helped to preserve the remaining structures and to give visitors a chance to learn about its history. Also, unlike other ghost towns, this one's only a tad off the beaten path. If you're heading up to Yosemite, this is a worthwhile detour for a short afternoon adventure. Entry is $5.

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