Looking for Peace and Quiet? California's Got Plenty

The National Park Service has a lot of departments, and one of them is the Natural Sounds and Night Skies Division. The work they do is fascinating. Their bold mission, according to their site, is "to restore, maintain, and protect acoustical environments and naturally dark skies throughout the National Park System." One of the ways they're working towards this goal is through the massive undertaking of figuring out the locations of all that noise.

To figure this out, they planted a bunch of microphones throughout the country, compiled upwards of 1.5 million hours of acoustic monitoring, and used an algorithm to determine where the noisiest and loudest parts of the U.S. are located. Here are their very pretty results:

As you can see, if you're looking for peace and quiet in California, you're going to want to steer clear from the two big metropolitan hubs of L.A. and the Bay Area. The Central Valley area apparently isn't great for solace either. But check out those coastlines, the stretch of desert towards Las Vegas, or the tranquility of Northern California. At the very least, most of us have the good fortune of having quite a bit of quiet within driving distance, as opposed to those unlucky folks back East. Use this information wisely, Wanderers.

Fresh Powder Back In Southern California

This winter's been frustrating for any snowboarder or skier looking for fresh powder in the Big Bear region. Luckily for them, that trend seems to be coming to an end.

Over the weekend and into Monday, the area was hit by a storm that left seven to 10 inches of snow at the Mountain High ski resort near Wrightwood. Snow Valley ski resort, meanwhile, reported 10 to 12 inches of snowfall, while Bear Mountain and Snow Summit both reported six inches. (They're supplementing the snowfall with their own snow-making machines as well.) And this recent snowfall may be only the beginning.

The storm system that landed is supposed to remain in the region over the next few weeks, with snow showers starting this Saturday through next Wednesday, at least. Will this be the big snowfall that we've all been waiting for? It's too early to know just yet, but better take those boards and skis out of the closet, just in case. And make sure to check local conditions before making the trek, as well as local advisories regarding the use of chains on your tires.

Flowers Are in Bloom on Anacapa Island

Sitting off the coast of Ventura and Santa Barbara are the Channel Islands. The furthest island east, the smallest sliver on a map, is Anacapa Island which, if we're being honest, is a misnomer. What's been designated as "Anacapa Island" by the National Park Service is actually three small islets: East, Middle and West Anacapa Islands. In total, they have about one square mile of space.

East Anacapa is the largest of the trio, and therefore offers the most to do for visitors. There's a visitor's center with history about the island, a light station from 1932 that includes an original lead-crystal Fresnel lens in the lighthouse, and a two-mile series of trails. Visitors can use these trails to view the native wildflowers which are currently in peak bloom. The giant coreopsis are the highlight. (The island is also home to the largest gull breeding colony in the world. Which is both a highlight and a fun bit of terror.)

You can get to Anacapa a few ways: Private plane or private boat, if you have the cash to spare. Or, if you're like the rest of us, you can get there via public boat. (A fare schedule can be found here.) If you're heading out there specifically for the wildflower bloom, you have until March or so if you want to see them at their fullest.

As always, call the visitor center before you go, if flowers are the goal. (805) 658-5730.

Play In The Snow at Lassen Volcanic National Park

Tucked up in northeastern California near the Nevada border is Lassen Volcanic National Park. While it doesn't get the hype that Yosemite gets, Lassen is its own unique wonder.

The centerpiece of the park is Lassen Peak, the world's largest plug dome volcano. The rest of the park is full of evidence of the churning hydrothermal activity happening deep below the surface, with boiling mud pots, scalding hot springs, and vents called fumaroles that allow steam to escape. It's also one of the few areas in the world where all four kinds of volcanoes can be found. Geologically, it's quite fantastic.

While roads through much of the park are closed for the winter, the National Park Service has temporarily opened a road from the northwest Manzanita Lake entrance. Visitors can drive the 10 miles to the park's Devastated Area, where two to three feet of snow has fallen. So bring your snow shoes, skis, sleds, blankets, hot cocoa, and whatever other materials you need in order to have yourselves a rollick in the powder. (Also, if you're not into snow, the 1.8-mile round trip hike around gorgeous Manzanita Lake, pictured above, is snow-free and open to visitors.)

Just be sure to check the park's current conditions before you go, as storms moving in the area can close down the road with little or no warning. If that's the case, though, you're only two hours away from Reno.

Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve Ready to Bloom

Every spring, the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve in the Mojave Desert turns into a landscape so lush and vibrant it could be mistaken for an artist's grand masterpiece. (Just take a gander at the above photo for a taste.) And, as this February 18 update from the Parks Department lays out, we're mere weeks away from the poppies blooming to their fullest:

The hills are covered with green, and a handful of poppies have already started blooming along the edge of the parking lot and along Lancaster Road. Filaree and loco week have also begun blooming, and some other small flowered species.

The protected reserve in the Mojave Valley contains the most consistent blooms of our state's flower, the California poppy, with this year's bloom predicted to be "very good to excellent." Generally, the field is in full bloom around mid-April, but will most likely hit their peak bloom a little earlier than usual this time out. That has to do with the lack of rain; less rain equals shorter blooms means fewer days to experience the explosive colors.

Due to the early bloom, this year the park will open its Jane S. Pinheiro Interpretative Center -- which contains wildlife and wildflower exhibits, a gallery of watercooler paintings, a video, gift shop, all the works -- on March 7th. The reserve is about 1.5 hours north of Los Angeles, just past Santa Clarita on the I-5, and costs $10 per vehicle for entry.

New Trails Coming to El Sereno's Elephant Hill

Elephant Hill in the El Sereno neighborhood of Los Angeles may seem like an unassuming bump in the concrete jungle, but it's been at the center of a lengthy battle over land use for the last few decades. Developers have been trying to turn the 20-acre hillside property -- nicknamed "The Heavens" by residents -- into houses since at least 1993. It wasn't until 2009 that City Council, with Councilman José Huizar from District 14 taking the reins, officially ended the battle by settling with developers for $9 million, thusly purchasing the land, with guarantees it would be soon designated as an open space park.

That promise partially came to fruition in 2013, when the Council sold a five-acre section of Elephant Hill to the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority for $495,000. Last Tuesday marked the official transfer of the five acres. What can hikers expect in the near future from Elephant Hill?

[A] walking trail and other improvements that will enhance the experience for countless hikers and residents in this otherwise urban area.

Works for us! And don't worry too much about the other 15 acres of Elephant Hill. That land's been designated as "open space" until the City Council finds other agencies like the MRCA to make a purchase. File this one under: Good guys win.

Over One Million Visited Death Valley National Park in 2014

Photo:NPS photo

Did you make the four-and-a-half-hour drive up to Death Valley last year? Then you were one in a million.

For the first time in a decade, Death Valley National Park reported that visitation surpassed the one million mark, with the entry gates registering 1.1 million visitors. (Documented, that is. Who's to say what mysterious hitchhikers, from this world or beyond, passed through the desert without signing in?) This surpassed the 2013 tally, which only had 950,000 people enter the park. December, in particular, showed a huge improvement in numbers from 2013, with 71% more people visiting the park in 2014's last month. If those numbers carry over, 2015 may push its way into the record books.

As far as why there was an improvement in attendance? The park offers a few possible answers:

Cheap gas, plus the renovation of the Furnace Creek Visitor Center with up-to-date exhibits and informational stations to aid park visitors contributed to the increase.

Surely, the new exhibits and informational stations are top notch. No doubt about that. We're not here to speak ill of the NPS. But, for our money, that first reason, and the increased traveling that comes with lower gas prices, has to figure in the most prominently. Which is to say: Plan a trip now while gas prices are still low.

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:

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