Top 5 (California) National Parks

Continuing on my ongoing saga of National Park posts. I’ll be fleshing out my top 5 California Parks (with a few extra stops) that I’ve added to my more local bucket lists. If you have been reading along, you’ll know that national parks have been on my mind recently and with our current political times and a little sister looking to join the ranks of park rangers, it’s been relevant to me. Plus, Nature’s pretty pretty.

1. Sequoia National Park & Kings Canyon National Park

Both of these parks are by Tulare County, California adjacent from each other in the Southern Sierra Nevada Mountains which, if you are having an extended trip, makes it easy to visit features of both parks. Some of these features are shared – there are hikes and beautiful vantage points – but each have remarkable places of their own which made it impossible to feature just one.

In Sequoia, besides the Mount Whitney hike (which I will definitely be training for with my dad in the next year or two), there are 240 known caves including the Crystal Cave. Actually formed from marble stalactites and stalagmites which form textured walls and features. This cave – as well as others – are only available to view on guided tours that you can purchase tickets for at the park. When you are planning your trip, stay flexible by giving yourself enough time just in case anything in either park is sold out for any specific day.

For Kings Canyon, while Roaring River Falls sounds great – I love waterfalls – the pictures of Rae Lakes and the idea of camping and hiking here makes the nature junkie and camera bug in me do a happy dance. Also, the fact that these aren’t far from my sister’s place (at least for now) makes this another big plus!

2. Lassen Volcanic National Park

Like many kids in middle school, I have definitely built many volcanoes in my lifetime out of sand and paper mache, and I’ve studied their structures and the variety of types. Therefore, Lassen Volcanic park, yea, I want to go. Besides volcanic hikes and areas filled with Lava rock from the last eruption, there are areas of geothermic activity (like hot springs), beautiful lakes and waterfalls, and of course a small hike over to Bumpass Hell which has a lifted catwalk that leads you through volcanic vents and mudponds.

3. Pinnacles National Park

Speaking of volcanoes, Pinnacles is ancient volcanic field which means caves. If you look up images of Bear Gulch Cave Trails you will easily see why I want to get up here and as quickly as possible. Of course there are also tons of overlooks that go along with the many trails you can hike. Some of these hike look a bit more treacherous than others – some seriously tiny pathways here – but still so excited to get out there.

4. Point Reyes National Seashore

While most of my listed parks have boasted beaches around lakes, this Marin County park settles along a much bigger body of water. With waterfall after waterfall and beach after beach, plus the beautiful Tomales Bay and Point Reyes Lighthouse, there is so much to explore. And, for those geology nerds out there, Some of these waterfalls are actually ‘Tidefalls’ – waterfalls that fall directly into the ocean – so beaches that also have lovely tidefalls – YES! Welcome to Alamere Falls. Can I say it again for the cheap seats? Yes, Please!

5. Lava Beds National Park

And then back to volcanic- cave strewn loveliness. Located to the southeast of Tulelake, California and the home of over 700 caves, I just want weeks to explore. Many of these caves are names and I definitely suggest researching which ones you can and which you will want to explore.  There is also Petroglyph Point Archaeological Point – the home to one the largest panels of Native American rock art.

*Bonus: Mono Lake

While this is a smaller stop, as soon as I saw the pictures of Mono Lake’s rock formations, I knew it deserved a mention. While the water level has been depleted at times (LA apologizes!), the high salt levels of this lake has made the ecosystem truly unique. The formations you can see in any pictures of the lake are limestone ‘tufas’.

That’s it for me this week and narrowing down this list was seriously a task unto itself so I’m ready to pass it along. If you have a different park or another part of the country I should look through next, drop me a note and I’ll see what I can do.

This is Leave on the Wind, helping you soar.

Top 5 (California) National Parks

That time in Yosemite.

In my last year of college, my family took a quick trip to Yosemite National Park and, in theme with my current national park love, this trip was both amazing and filled with it’s own special brand of hell.

Getting There:

If you son;t see the flames from where you are, beware that this is the problematic part of the trip. To set the scene: my family was driving up to the park from the LA area but I – all by myself – planned to meet them at the hotel within the park  since I was finishing my classes and then heading out for spring break. All in all, I was not worried. I was used to trekking the 7-ish hours home fairly regularly so the 4-is hours it was supposed to take to get to the park was never going to be a problem, even if I was starting out between 3 and 4 o’clock.

Cut to me three and then four hours later, missing a phone charger with 10% battery left in my GPS and limited data. Cut to me half an hour later driving through woods in the dark with no reception and frankly no idea where I was (My GPS at the time was really unreliable even for the portable 2010 edition I think it was).

What I remember most was having to turn around and driving back 15  or 20 minutes to a tiny town praying for reception enough to call my family. No one answered. I waited 10 minutes more and the phone rang. The call was patchy but yes, the hotel was just inside the park. That’s about it.

So I thought, F*** it. Let’s drive and hope for the best. I turned the radio up and scream/sang to whatever was on and drove until I say lights. There it was. And there was my older sister looking into the parking lot from the store.

I got out of the can and when she made it to me, I hugged her tight and sobbed, ‘I’m never driving here alone again’ and then just cried.

Yep, she laughed but also hugged me back and brought me food. In the end, with family at the end of the road, I survived and slept very, very well.

But the view was worth it!

After the – may I call it harrowing? – drive down, I really hoped that I would be able to put it all behind me and relax. Yosemite totally delivered.

It’s been about 5 years since this trip so some of the details are fuzzy but others are not.

First, this whole park is beautiful and I wish we had had a longer time to do and see more – I can only imagine it now after all the rain. Again, we weren’t there for very long – we had to get back home for holy week – but we did some pretty cool stuff while we could.

There are a great variety of hike to do at Yosemite ranging from easy walks to check you balance and watch-your-phobias difficult hikes with a wide range of crowd numbers for you to deal with. Since my family ranges in fitness level and desire to trek up mountains, we planned full and partial group activities.

Together we competed the Bridalveil Falls hike. All together the ‘hike’ is a little over a mile round trip and be prepared for misty glasses and cameras. But while the mist is heavy, it is lovely! It’s a pretty iconic view so have your camera out throughout your walk because pictures are great from all over.

Our other hiking day, the family split. Mom and two sisters headed to Mirror Lake (another iconic space but be careful because it is crowded) but the other half of our group headed up to the Upper Falls and Yosemite Point. While this is a pretty long hike – 9.6 miles round trip – the elevation makes it seem like much longer. I really enjoyed myself and this hike started my fitness push – it kicked my butt more than a little bit. Warning, however: if you are afraid of heights, this hike will push you. About 90% of the way up, my sister (who is afraid of heights) had to stop after harrowing through narrow passages and slick roads and a fairly large crowd of hikers in both directions. She ended up in a little alcove with some snacks encouraging those hikers that passed by, a few joining her for a small break – I like to think she helped a few make it to the top with her kind words.

If you make it to the Upper Falls, you should consider the Point as well as your comfort level with heights and climbing down small areas onto ledges. I had to both think of what I was physically doing and yet, shut my brain off to where I was doing it to get to the point (though it looks narrower than it is.). In the end, we were exhausted and soar but even for Bex who didn’t quite make it, the hike was so worth every aching step.

10/10: Would travel again:

While I will never drive here alone again – I only make those kinds of mistakes once! – revisiting this park is definitely on my bucket list! Maybe I’ll even get Bex – a newly inspire ranger-hopeful – all the way up that mountain. Until next time and the rest of my bucket list:

This is Leave on the Wind, helping you soar.

That time in Yosemite.

Last Green Spaces…

at least for this trip.

Conservatory in the garden. Chiswick House, London. December 2015.

Last week, I promised to finish up the post topic covering green spaces in western London. Now I honestly wish I had time to hit Kew Gardens, which seems really worth the trip with has a varied array of programming throughout the year, however, my schedule and weather have conspired against me.

Still, yesterday I managed to sneak out in the morning before a late work function to see two final green spaces: Chiswick House and Gardens and Gunnersbury Park.

Overall, this trip only took about 5 hours including travel to and between locations and, truth be told, travel took most of the trip.

Chiswick House and Gardens

Chiswick House, London. December 2015.

I chose this spot because of the pictures in this buzzfeed list (where I heard of most of the green space locations I’ve visited these past months.) It is just as lovely as the pictures.

Again, since its winter, things are a bit thinner all over, but it’s a lovely area with sights made for pictures (there are literal frames and posted cards explaining the sites viewed through them well worth the reading).

The house is closed for winter so in all the walk took little over an hour, wandering through the park.

My favorite spot was the conservatory which was great for pictures, though it is small.

If you want a longer stay, I’d recommend coming in summer when you can take a day to hang out and view the house.

The walk between these two parks is about 45 minutes and is relatively straight forward. If you go from Chiswick to Gunnersbury like I did, make sure you are on the left side of the street otherwise you’ll have a further walk and stairs to get into the park.

Gunnersbury Park

Standing ruins. Gunnersbury Park. December 2015.

The park is great if you are looking for a space to play football or other field games or go putting around the green, however, in its current state, photo junkies like me may as well skip it.

The whole park is basically under construction, or at least 95% of anything you’d want to photograph. The main website talks about the museum being closed for construction, but it is so much bigger than I could have imagined.

Once all the construction is done, this park should be an absolutely beautiful place to shoot, but for now, its a walk through flat grass.

Summing up the two days in the western greens:

Knowing what I know now, I’d say you can hit all of these spots in one day in spring or summer when their hours are longer if you do a lot less wandering (or getting lost) than I did.

My other recommendation is looking at a two day trip adding a few more stops, like those I mentioned last week as well as Syon Park.

But that’s all from me while out here living in London. I’ve loved it all and hope you have as well.

This is Leave on the Wind, helping you soar.



Last Green Spaces…

Long Green (Chain) Walks…

… a four-in-one kind of day.

Finding Green in the Grey City. Horniman Gardens, London. November 2015.

The problem with the winter cold and coming up on the end of my time here is that I don’t end up going out as much as I would like to. Also, time passes more quickly than expected so it seems impossible that my long day running through part of the Green Chain Walk in London was already three weeks ago.

While the north of London has its share of forest stops to wander through, if you are a fan of green park spaces (and a few forests as well), practically everywhere along southern London is an easy distance from a decent number of green space networks. I’m slowly but surely trying to make my way through them.

Last week, I looked at Morden Hall Park, but this week I’m looking at a close network along the Green Chain Walk through Crystal Palace Park, Horniman Gardens (and Museum), Dulwich Park, and Sdyenham Hill Wood.

I was only in Dulwick Park for a short time (and accidentally; I got a little loss) after a shortcut through Sdyenham Hill Park went awry due to a closed pass, but Crystal Palace Park and The Horniman Gardens really make the trek to this part of London worth it all.

So to break it down:

Dinosaur Pond. Crystal Palace Park, London. November 2015.

Crystal Palace Park is a massive green space which is filled with all sorts of sights and events you can attend throughout the year. Even when there are no events on, the park is filled with walks like Darwin and the Dinosaurs walk with an audio guide offered through Audiotrails. This trail moves throughout the park with easy numbering following the evolution of these statues, like this large dinosaur specific waterway.

Near the center of the park, there is also a maze whose history is detailed in the large sign outside the entrance. It shouldn’t take more than an hour (and that is if you get really lost!) to complete with nice placards to follow throughout. At the very least, this is a great photo spot!

The Maze. Crystal Palace Park. November 2015.

There are many more spots for budding photographers from the Sphinxes near the top of the park to the layers of arches and surrounding greenery and hiking trails throughout.

The Hortiman Gardens are much smaller but no less picturesque. The gardens themselves are highly maintained—not the overgrown beauty of the Pergola and Hill Gardens, Hampstead Heath— but between the shapes, colors, and surrounding architecture, this is quite the lovely area. One thing to note: there are gates between gardens which do not mean you cannot enter and are easy to open.

The gardens are set on a hill so the elevation gives a great shot of the city in the distance as well as other vantages of the surrounding area. On the downside, this means that the park is a bit hilly so be ready for the incline.

If you are traveling with younger children, there is also an area with animals you can look over and a museum which has been listed as one of the highest rated, unseen spots in London. With its extensive collection covering music, natural history, and anthropology, it’s one of the parts of this sight I wish I had managed to hit.

One last stop for this sight, again mostly for photo-bugs, is the beautiful conservatory building set near the park café. This area was empty when I visited but it is still an amazing shot.

My original plan for the day was to hit these two parks which are a fairly easy walk away from each other (about half an hour) if you do not get lost…. Which I did on the way back. There is also a bus route that runs between these spots and makes the trip easy if you don’t mind spending a little bit of money.

The Ruins. Sydenham Hill Wood. November 2015.

Dulwich Park was a nice walk through but there were some great views through the pass of Sydenham Hill Wood. There are some picturesque ruins and bridges but remember, parts of the park are closed which made this a much longer walk between Crystal Palace Park and The Horniman Gardens.

Again if you are looking for some nice views, especially if you have kids who need to get out of the city, these are a few spots and a day out of the grey, which I really recommend.

So, until next time and a little more green,

This is Leave on the Wind, helping you soar.

Long Green (Chain) Walks…

Wander Morden….

…. More time in green London.

Pooh Bear in Morden Park. Morden Hall Park, London. September 2015.

This trip happened about 10 weeks ago, back in the full fall weather, before winter started moving in, on a much warmer day than I’m currently experiencing.

One of the reasons we hit this park was because of a free music show some friends were a part of at a nearby café. But back to the green space:

Morden Hall Park is a National Trust park which surrounds the River Wandle in the south of London. The park contains an array of landscapes and buildings including Morden Hall (hence the name), Morden Cottage, an old Snuff Mill, a second-hand bookshop, as well as old farm buildings some of which make up the garden center and a city farm.

The area known as the “Heart of the Park”, which includes estate buildings, the Stable Yard, and the rose garden, is  a great area to wander and take pictures—at least as a start. This is where the top picture was takes.  The rose garden was one of my favorite spots. With over 2000 roses and the little brook featured in the picture, it’s a beautiful photo stop as well as a nice place to treat yourself to a picnic and nice read—weather permitting!

Water Arches. Morden Hall Park, South London. September 2015.

Throughout the park, if you stick to the waterways, you’ll find foot bridges of all styles and sizes, from flat woods to intricate metals, each fitting the style of the surrounding areas and all great for us photo junkies.

Another great spot we wandered across was these beautiful water arches with the overgrown plant life lingering across the water ways. These are located a short walk from Morden Hall, and are one of the many hidden gems you’ll find if you just wander through the many areas of this National Trust Park.

There is also a Tramlink light rail line from Wimbledon to Croydon that runs through the northern part of the park with multiple stops which give you quick and easy access to the park and a nicer walk than coming up from the underground. The train tracks make another great picture spot and was quite unexpected for us!

Train in the Green. Morden Hall Park, London. September 2015.

I loved being able to walk over the train rails and there are so many areas throughout the park, each which look so strikingly different from the rest that this is just one more spot in London where you can take the day off for photoshoots, a day in the park to read or picnic, spend your lunch hour if you live or work nearby, or another chance to escape the gray of the city while still being in the city.

This is Leave on the Wind, helping you soar.

Wander Morden….