Fresno Blossom Trail Season Starts This Weekend

If you don't have the time or money to book a ticket to Washington D.C. for the visual explosion of its famed cherry blossoms, you can spend a few hours in the car and take in the famed Fresno County Blossom Trail instead.

The first blooms of the trail are appearing, meaning that a full bloom is expected to take place over the weekend. (Check the site for more up-to-the-minute information.) The trail itself is more of a scenic drive than a hiking trail as you wind through historic towns east of Fresno off the 99, like Reedley, Sanger, and Clovis. It should take you two hours or so if you're stopping to take in the rich vistas of the white and pink blossom trees.

While there are no designated parking spots to enjoy the views -- most of the trees are on private property -- there are plenty of places where you can pull off to the side of the road and snap a few photos. And if you have a hankering for more beauty, you can add a short extension by following the nearby Orange Blossom Trail.

Here's a full map of the trail options:

After the full bloom takes place this weekend, you have until mid-March or so until they lose their luster until next year. So, stick this one in your calendar posthaste.

Surf's Up: Great Surf Spots in Southern California

Southern California's rich surf culture dates back to the early 1900s -- probably 1907, when a Hawaiian surfer gave a demonstration in Huntington Beach. The endless beach breaks formed by reefs and sandbars created ideal waves for surfing in this area, attracting pioneers to pave the way for modern surfing. Individuals like Tom Blake set the foundation for the '50s post-war surf culture to emerge, inspiring generations of surfers to catch the perfect wave (surf movies and music of that era certainly helped to bolster the culture as well). Eventually, Malibu in particular became a mecca for boarders.

Traditionally, surfboards were made of heavy and cumbersome hardwoods. New materials, such as fiberglass, developed during World War II, which led to the the development of the "Malibu Board" -- a lighter, 10-foot, single-finned fiberglass surfboard that enabled surfers to "hot dog" and ride "toes to the nose." In the '70s, boards began to shift, becoming both shorter and faster, and continued to evolve in the '80s, when short boards took over the waves completely.

Today, modern surfing greatly resembles contemporary skateboarding. Small and ultra light surfboards allow for big aerial maneuvers. Despite decades of innovation, classic long boarding seems to never fade away, and, many would say, is making a comeback.

From Santa Barbara to San Diego, Southern California offers world-class long board waves that are ideal for beginners, old timers and everyone else in between. Here is a list of the best long board surf spots Southern California has to offer:

Update: Friends of the San Gabriels Reach Stumbling Block in Sturtevant Camp Purchase

Photo: Sandi Hemmerlein

As reported last week, local non-profit Friends of the San Gabriels mounted fundraising efforts to save Sturtevant Camp, one of the only preserved reminders of the Golden Age of Hiking in the Angeles National Forest. Although donations from a fundraiser got them almost $3000 closer to their goal, the organization reached a stumbling block with U.S. Forest Service bureaucracy.

On January 27, Friends of the San Gabriels CEO Deb Burgess attended a meeting with the U.S. Forest Service, during which she expected that the impending purchase of Sturtevant Camp would be approved. However, according to Acting Forest Supervisor Daniel Lovato, Friends of the San Gabriels still needs to submit a formal proposal to the USFS to request a permit.

Friends of the San Gabriels Mount Fundraising Efforts to Save Historic Sturtevant Camp

Photo: Sandi Hemmerlein
"All I need is 200 people to donate $100 each," announced a petite woman in a bright green t-shirt, perched atop a wooden bench, smoke rising from the fire pit in front of her.

Our host for the day was Deb Burgess, owner of the general store and lunch spot Adam's Pack Station, at the Chantry Flats trailhead at the Big Santa Anita Canyon area of the Angeles National Forest. Seventy of us arrived by 7:30 on a Sunday morning for what was advertised as a "Hike Into History" (co-hosted by ModernHiker.com founder Casey Schreiner), but the real purpose of our early morning gathering became abundantly clear: Burgess is raising money to buy Sturtevant Camp, a historic resort founded by Wilbur Sturtevant in 1893. It's one of the only preserved reminders of the Golden Age of Hiking when women in long Victorian dresses once climbed the San Gabriel Mountains.

"We are here to save this beautiful camp," proclaimed Burgess.

The United Methodist Church has owned Sturtevant Camp since 1945, long after hiking passed the heyday of its "Golden Age" with the advent of car culture. Even though it is the only place in Big Santa Anita Canyon where you can rent a cabin (the 80 or so other cabins throughout the canyon are privately owned), there hasn't been much business up there. Even today, the only way to reach Sturtevant Camp is by hiking in at least four miles on foot. And now, after 70 years of ownership, the Methodist Church is looking to sell.

Hidden in Plain Sight: Hiking and Birdwatching in Beverly Hills' Franklin Canyon

David Lofink/Flickr/Creative Commons

In Los Angeles, where rolling down the car window on the 405 is the closest many denizens get to the great outdoors on a regular basis, Franklin Canyon Park offers a little-known opportunity for Angelenos to get away from it all, right in the middle of the city. Tucked into the northern part of Beverly Hills and not too far from popular Fryman Canyon but seeming a world away, the 605-acre park features a lake, various picnic areas, and three hiking trails, the longest of which, Hastain Trail, offers views of L.A. and even the Pacific Ocean when the weather is clear.

Chotda/Flickr/Creative Commons

Hidden away in the Santa Monica Mountains, Franklin Canyon is also home to a variety of animals, perhaps most audibly the wood ducks and mandarins who live in Heavenly Pond. The area's plentiful chaparral attracts summer-breeding birds like the California Quail, Bewick's Wren, and California thrasher, but birdwatchers in the know frequent the park year-round, occasionally catching winter glimpses of Canada geese, as Franklin Canyon is along the Pacific Flyway migration route. Eagles, owls, and several species of hawks are also part of the park's menagerie, as well as rabbits, snakes, and bobcats. Redwood and walnut trees are scattered throughout the property, as well as wildflowers.

Rachel/Flickr/Creative Commons

In addition to hiking and wildlife, Franklin Canyon Park also offers free educational experiences. The William O. Douglas Outdoor Classroom is a learning center established to inform inner city students about California's environmental resources, and the Sooky Goldman Nature Center is open to all visitors looking to learn more about the park's history, both natural and cultural. Goldman was a conservationist who was instrumental in the 1981 purchase of the canyon by the National Park Service, which saved it from impending plans to develop the land for commercial or residential use. The park's Sam Goldman Amphitheater is named for Sooky's husband and fellow philanthropist.

A day spent outside can be a good excuse to slow down one's fast-paced city life, but for visitors to Franklin Canyon, this decrease in miles per hour is practically an imperative. In 2007, three stop sign cameras were installed along the road to the entrance, and fees for anything less than a full break reportedly approach $200. The cameras have been controversial, with advocates asserting they address speeding problems in the canyon and opponents claiming such an issue never really existed. Regardless, caution is advisable when journeying to Franklin Canyon, lest one of the few free things in Beverly Hills cost you a dinner at Spago.

Hiking To Sturtevant Falls

In October 2014 President Obama designated 346,000 acres of the San Gabriel Mountains as a National Monument. While the location of this hike falls just outside the boundaries of the newly designated National Monument, the article pays homage to this decision nonetheless.

A nature girl always remembers her first SoCal hike.

While standing around at a party in the Hollywood hills, bemoaning the fact no one walks in this town, someone mentioned a great hike to a waterfall just outside the city of Los Angeles. With waterfalls being few and far between in the Midwest, my place of origin, my interest was immediately piqued. Before long we had set a hiking date and were off in search of a place called Sturtevant Falls. Soon I was hooked, in love, and couldn't stop coming back.

What I love most about the Sturtevant Falls hike is its multi-dimensional nature.

First, it's a great destination hike. Some of us need goals and I am no exception. With this hike the goal is an amazing 50-foot waterfall considered by many to be one of the finest around Los Angeles. Only about a mile and half down the trail, after a bit of boulder hopping, nature rewards with a grand sight. Flanked by sheer rock walls, water cascades down into a small pool. Hikers frequently wade into the chilly waters posing for selfies standing aside the falling water. Again, I am no exception. Due to drought conditions, I've noticed the falls have become nothing more than a sad trickle. But with the winter rains I am certain it will return to its typical sensational self.

Second, the scenery, both natural and manmade, sparks imagination and takes me back in time. I'm a kid again, chasing frogs or searching out newts in a stream which curves alongside to the right of the trail downward to the falls. To my left lie idyllic cabins which look to be inhabited by hobbits. In fact, they are resort cabins built in early 1900s, during Southern California's golden age of hiking, and now turned privately owned seasonal residences. As I imagine Bilbo Baggins bursting out of a cabin door, tea cup in hand, one of the real residents comes down the trail leading a pack mule. As they pass on the left I notice the beast of burden is loaded down with provisions. As no drivable roads lead down to the cabins, mules and horses are the only method of transporting goods of sizeable load. Middle Earth may not be that far away, after all.

Third, for being only a short 3.5 miles roundtrip this hike packs a punch, aerobically speaking. The first mile or so is a fairly steep climb down. My first time, I didn't really notice as I was transfixed by the geological wonders of Big Santa Anita Canyon. Easily fooled hiking at top speed down the path to the waterfall, only later did I realize I had to turn around and hike back up. I'm convinced no treadmill or Crossfit experience compares the incline in the last half mile. I bring snacks or a lunch, as the fuel is needed for the trip home.

Dining near the waterfall is nearly picnic perfect, if you're willing to make a boulder your table and the ground your chair. Important to note: solitude is on short supply. Most weekends we dine al fresco with anywhere from 20 to 30 people and more often than not, their dogs, too. Simply focus on the waterfall, as the sound of the water cascading down the rocks usually drowns out the noise pollution from fellow nature lovers.

Whether you're new to Los Angeles or the San Gabriel Mountains, Sturtevant Falls is the perfect introduction to discovering monuments of nature in our midst.

How to get there and important info: Take the 210 east through Pasadena to Arcadia. Exit on Santa Anita Avenue and head north. Go up the mountain for 5 miles until the road ends at Chantry Flats. A National Forest Adventure Pass is required to park a vehicle at the trailhead at Chantry Flats. Don't forget to buy one ahead of time (available at most sports stores and 7-11s in the area) and display it in your car before hiking.

See It Now: San Simeon's Elephant Seals Flood the Waters to Battle Before Breeding

Barking, bleating, and bared teeth increase this month along the Pacific Coast Highway in San Simeon as mature male elephant seals at Piedras Blancas beach emerge from the ocean to spar for rights to the water and female counterparts in their annual pre-breeding ritual. Travelers can get an eyeful -- and earful -- of the sea-dwelling mammals' machismo as they take to the cove for the final time this year before swimming back to open waters, where they will stay til the spring.

Located just north of Hearst Castle, Piedras Blancas is estimated to be home to more than 17,000 elephant seals who arrive at the rookery at year's end to breed and give birth. Juvenile males arrive in October and spend the month practicing their fighting techniques in anticipation of the adult males' arrival in November, though they tend to be no match for the adults, who can weigh as much as 5,000 pounds. Once juveniles have moved on to other sand, accepting defeat sometimes before a battle even breaks out, the adult males are left to war with each other, rearing back, slamming their bodies, and squalling for dominance, often all day long.

While the conflicts provide autumnal visitors an up-close-and-personal experience with these once nearly extinct animals, the outcomes are sometimes bloody or even fatal for the seals. (Humans and their pets are encouraged to stay behind the beach's fencing for their own safety. Posted signs remind sightseers that, among other dangerous attributes, the seals are "faster than you think.") Adult males will remain at the beach until almost the end of January, when they will migrate out to sea.

Females begin arriving in December. The adult seals breed, and pregnant females give birth to the pups from last year's breeding, starting in the middle of the month through the middle of February. By spring, the females will have returned to the ocean, leaving their pups behind and making way for the return of the juveniles.

While juveniles make occasional appearances on the beach throughout the year, breeding/birthing season is one of only two times adult elephant seals reside on the beach. The seals also return when they make their annual molt, usually late spring and through the summer.

Part of Hearst San Simeon State Park, the Piedras Blancas colony of elephant seals was first documented in 1990 with a population of about two dozen. Two years and about four hundred seals later, the first pup was born, and the area is now thought to be home to around ten percent of all elephant seals.

Epic, Yet Illegal: Famous Yosemite Instagrammer Pleads Guilty in Federal Court

Trev Lee climbs a Giant Sequoia in Tuolumne Grove, Yosemite National Park.
| Screenshot: @trevlee/Instagram

"Today has been a good day," he wrote in the caption of a wintry wonderland photo posted to Instagram. It was a crisp December afternoon in Yosemite National Park and Trevor Lee had gone on a hike through the snow and ice skated with the girl he was dating. Reason enough to be satisfied, but gaining some media fame must have helped. Lee, an employee at a park concessionaire of six months at that point, was just featured in Outside magazine and by Instagram's blog for his adventures in the park.

The photos were epic. Camping with views over Yosemite Valley, climbing giant trees, aerial skateboarding, and so much more to inspire just about anyone to pick up and move to Yosemite immediately. Lee, known as @trevlee on Instagram, instantly began gaining thousands of more followers, which today totals over 50,000.

But there was one problem: many of the pictures depicted illegal activity, and four months later, Lee was in court facing nine misdemeanor counts.

'Moving Rocks' Mystery at Death Valley's Racetrack May Be Solved

The mysterious moving rocks of Racetrack Playa in Death Valley National Park have fascinated and perplexed visitors for decades. Scattered across the usually dry lake bed, the stones occupy the ends of furrows, or "trails," that the stones apparently plow in the lakebed as they move, propelled by some mysterious force.

Explanations for this odd desert phenomenon have ranged from strong winds and thick sheets of ice lifting the rocks to an algal mat on the lakebed surface that becomes slippery when wet.

This old mystery may have been solved this week. A research paper published Wednesday in the open-access journal PLOS-One suggests that the rocks may move across the surface of the playa propelled by nothing more than light winds and a little water. And they back it up with the first documented observation of the rocks actually moving.

Why You Should Never Hike in the Desert Midday During Summer

Sign at the Grand Canyon warning of the dangers of hiking unprepared in the hot desert | Photo: xoque/Flickr/Creative Commons License

Dave Legeno, an actor who achieved fame playing the werewolf Fenrir Greyback in a trio of Harry Potter movies, was found dead Sunday by a group of hikers in Death Valley, likely of heat-related injuries. And his death serves as a reminder of the extreme danger the desert poses in summer to those visitors who don't take high temperatures sufficiently seriously.

Legeno, 50, was an accomplished martial artist and by all accounts in excellent condition. Authorities are saying he appears to have died of exposure to extreme temperatures in the washes near Zabriskie Point.

And though the precise circumstances of his death may never be known, it's very likely he'd be alive today had he followed a summer hiking survival tip widely known among those of us who live out here in the desert: Don't go hiking.