Old and new memories forged at Mitchell Caverns

by Rachel Norton, Executive Director

One of the best parts of my job is spending time in parks, and I’ve had a great time in the last six months visiting at least a half-dozen state parks for the first time. However, one of the most meaningful and fun visits I’ve taken was to a place I’d actually visited as a teen 35 years ago.

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With my friends and classmates in the Mojave Desert in 1984

Mitchell Caverns, the only limestone caverns in the state park system, reopened to the public on November 3. Named after Jack and Ida Mitchell, a couple who operated a resort at the site from 1934- 1954, the caves offer spectacular limestone formations like stalagmites, stalactites, helictites, lily pads, draperies, curtains and cave coral.  Recently, the Department of Parks and Recreation hosted a private reopening ceremony for park supporters and members of the Mitchell Family, and I was fortunate enough to be able to attend. Representatives of the indigenous Chemehuevi people were also on hand to bless the Caverns, a place they regard as the sacred eyes of the mountains (you can see why as you approach the Caverns from the trail).

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The openings to Mitchell Caverns at Providence Mountains State Recreation Area, October 2017

Providence Mountains State Recreation area, the home of Mitchell Caverns, is in the eastern Mojave Desert, one of the more remote places in the state park system (let alone the country). The easiest way to get there from my home in San Francisco is to fly to Las Vegas and then drive three hours southwest to the park. There are campgrounds in the park, but the closest indoor place to stay is in Needles, an hour away. Once you leave Interstate 40, it’s not uncommon to have the entire two-lane road to yourself for long stretches.

When I was in high school, I was fortunate enough to have a biology teacher who had studied herpetology (reptiles) and was passionate about desert wildlife and ecology. Each year she took a group of students to the Mojave for a week on spring break, and I was lucky enough to go three years in a row (I loved the trips so much she let me tag along even when I was no longer her student). It was an incredible learning experience that introduced me to the beauty and vibrancy of a place that is often misunderstood as being devoid of both qualities. And as I walked into Mitchell Caverns on my visit several weeks ago, I realized I’d been there before!

Sure enough, when I looked back at my high school photo album (from the days when we used actual film and waited days to get our vacation photos developed and printed!) there was an identical shot of the Caverns from one I’d taken days before. Though interactions with the carbon dioxide from our breath and oils from our fingertips degrade the caverns over time, they are in remarkably good shape – I’m proud that the California State Parks Foundation was able to provide $10,000 from our grants program to help restore the caverns and reopen this remarkable place to the public.

If you visit, you must have a reservation – you cannot enter the caverns without a guide. Essential information about planning your visit is available on the state parks web site.

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The Bowtie Parcel Offers Inspiring Community Space in Los Angeles

 

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The Bowtie Parcel. Photo by Michelle White

GUEST BLOG BY PARK CHAMPIONS CORE LEADER MICHELLE WHITE

 

In central Los Angeles, adjacent to Rio de Los Angeles State Park, lies a bowtie-shaped piece of land that feels simultaneously scruffy and tranquil. Known as the Bowtie Parcel, these 18 acres of post-industrial land reside within the former Taylor Yard, a Southern Pacific Railroad service facility.

The Bowtie, acquired by California State Parks in 2003, reveals the potential of imagination and transformation, akin to New York’s High Line, a rail line transformed into a landscaped urban paseo with Hudson River and skyscraper views. Within such dense metropolises, the ability to consciously redevelop once-blighted space and bring more nature to city dwellers reflects the substantial impact of space upon social relations. As Luis Rincon, Community Engagement Coordinator for California State Parks, says, “The health and vitality of a community depend on its green space, its open space.”

Setting foot into the Bowtie immediately evokes the immense variety and messy juxtaposition of nature and urbanity that represents Los Angeles as a whole, and the history of its river. White noise from not-too-distant freeways meets the rush of the river. Carefully-designed “earthworks” and interpretive signage meet furtively-scrawled graffiti. Bikers whizz by on land, while ducks cruise by on the water. Non-native fountain grass and Mexican fan palms meet and overtake decomposed asphalt, displaying nature’s uncanny ability to reclaim over time. Fragrant native plants white sage and yerba santa meet the vaguely chlorinated smell of the river. Concrete banks meet soft-bottom riverbed.

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The Bowtie Parcel. Photo by Michelle White

With the July 2015 passage of a $1.3-billion plan to revitalize the LA River, now pending approval from the Army Corps of Engineers and Congress, the Bowtie is already unique in its placement along the soft-bottom Glendale Narrows section of the river. In these 11 miles roughly between the 134 and 110 freeways, cement never set over the high water table, so while channelization severely disrupted the riparian habitat, wildlife returned to this area over time. Concrete still slopes down to the water, but Arundo donax (giant cane), an invasive grass from Southeast Asia, grows along the water in lush abundance, softening the scene – and preventing erosion. Herons, cormorants, egrets, carp and green sunfish call the river home. It’s an unexpected oasis.

Due to placement of the railroad adjacent to the LA River in the 1870s and channelization of the river in the 1930s, LA has remained fundamentally disconnected from its river as a recreational amenity for more than a century. However, groups such as Friends of the LA River, Play LA River, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the arts organization Clockshop have all worked to revitalize sections of the river.

In particular, Clockshop installed land art and interpretive signage at the Bowtie, working with LA-based artists and Woodbury Architecture for Civic Engagement (ACE) students, and facilitated events such as moonlit poetry readings, rain barrel workshops and urban campouts.

This past weekend Clockshop in partnership with California State Parks and the National Park Service, hosted an LA River Campout at the Bowtie. The popular reoccurring event offers Angelenos the opportunity to spend the night at the Bowtie, complete with dinner, campfire programming, and a survey of local flora and fauna. The Bowtie provides a central city setting to learn about LA’s abundant nature coexisting with the concrete, and to connect with community. As Rincon sums up, “The space is there, but when you add the people and the energy, it makes it come alive.”

Find more about the Bowtie, Clockshop and the LA River Campout here.

Celebrate Mother’s Day in CA State Parks

Mother’s Day is this Sunday, May 8. Looking for a unique way to celebrate mom? This year, think more wildflower than bouquet, more Mother Nature than brunch. Here are some outdoor outings perfect for the California mom in your life:

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View from Rancho del Oso by David Baron

Wander the Coast

Bring mom on a 1 mile, 1.5 hour guided walk with docent naturalist Ann Garside at Rancho del Oso (the coastal portion of Big Basin in Davenport). The group will walk from coastal scrub through one of the last native stands of Monterey Pine left in the world, enjoying the blooms along the way.

More info

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Empire Mine State Historic Park by Pat Sullivan

Enjoy a Spring Picnic

Pack up a picnic and head to the Empire Gardens at Empire Mine State Historic Park from 11am to 4pm Sunday. You can visit with the costumes characters in many of the buildings, enjoy music and children’s activities. Food vendors will be available from 11 am to 2pm or you can bring in a picnic lunch to enjoy inside the Park. (Picnics are allowed inside the Historic Grounds & Gardens only 4 days a year!)

More info

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A hiker in Big Basin Redwoods by TrongQuyen Nguyen

Take a Hike

Get mom out of dodge and go enjoy one of the countless hikes in California state parks. Bring her to your favorite trail, or look for new routes recommended by our partner Weekend Sherpa.

If you’d like something a little more organized, join a two and a half mile, two hour guided hike along Mills Creek at Burleigh H. Murray Ranch State Park. Enjoy one of our areas hidden treasures as you learn about the lives of the first pioneers and farming families.

More info

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Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park photo by David Fulmer 

Serve Breakfast in Tent

If your mom is on the more adventurous side, take her camping! Here are some great Bay Area campsites to choose from. In the morning, you can serve her breakfast in her tent.

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Ferry ride to Angel Island

Set Sail

For an extra unique afternoon, treat Mom to a ferry ride to Angel Island, where you can spend the afternoon on a guided hike to Angel Island’s Historic Camp Reynolds, where you’ll be greeted with a pizza lunch at the historic bake house.  After lunch, enjoy mimosas at Battery Ledyard and the best photo ops the Bay Area has to offer of the San Francisco Skyline, San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate Bridge. From there, hop in an open-air tram for a quick jaunt back to the cafe at Ayala Cove to catch the 3:20 p.m. ferry back to Tiburon.

More info

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Jack London State Historic Park by Kate Dollarhyde

Find Zen

Learn about mindful walking meditation during a 4.5 -mile hike in Jack London State Historic Park on Saturday. Hike leader and docent Jeff Falconer will give an overview at 10 a.m. of walking meditation that has been used as a healing tool during a 1.5-mile hike to Jack London’s lake before you embark on a 3-mile hike, 2-hour hike between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Meet at the Ranch parking lot.

More info

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D.L. Bliss State Park by Ray Bouknight

Head to the Lake

You know the ocean beaches, but don’t forget about our lakeside beaches, like Calawee Cove Beach along Lake Tahoe.

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Polo at Will Rogers by Nancy Jackson

Catch a Polo Match

Bring a blanket and a picnic brunch to Will Rogers State Historic Park and watch horses pound up and down the field right before you.  Learn a little bit about polo, watch a match and then hike the park or tour Will Rogers old house (he was a huge horse and polo fan). Matches are free and open to the public all summer.  There are matches most Saturdays from 2 p.m.-5 p.m. and Sundays from 10 a.m.-1 p.m.

More info

Where will you go this Mother’s Day?

Take It Outside, California!

26222329370_0573293b7a_oThis weekend, April 30 and May 1, is Take It Outside, California! It’s an annual event, organized by our partner California Council of Land Trusts, encouraging Californians to get outside and enjoy our parks and open spaces.

Organizations all over California are planning outdoor events for you to enjoy, including ours! We invite Californians to enjoy healthy activities, celebrate our public lands, and Take It Outside, California! next weekend with our special Park Champions work days.

We have planned 5 special, family-friendly volunteer workdays in state parks in partnership with Take It Outside. All tools and training provided. Projects over 3 hours also include lunch.

Will Rogers, Baldwin Hills and Rio de Los Angeles are still looking for volunteers. Register on our website to participate. 

If these parks aren’t in your area, visit Take It Outside California! to discover new parks near you, and sign the pledge to take it outside. Free public activities include a guided dog walk, family festival, kite flying, creek exploration, outdoor Zumba, and a cardio hike with yoga (yiking!).

See you out there.

Great State Parks to Visit If You Want to See a Gray Whale

Have you spotted a whale yet this year? It’s not too late!

There’s a good chance you can see a whale in April. The entire population of Gray Whales migrates along the California coastline twice a year. At this time of  year, Gray Whales are leaving Baja (where they traveled for the winter to mate and give birth), and are traveling north along the coast, making their return journey home to the Arctic.

A typical schedule: 

The migration trip for the Gray Whale is thought to be the longest of any mammal. They cover 10,000 to 14,000 miles round trip, at an average speed of 10 km/h. Really puts your commute to shame, doesn’t it?

The northern migration often is the easier time to see them, because the whales swim close to shore, with their babies between them and the shore, probably to protect them from sharks. Additionally, they are moving slower against the current with their young calves in tow.

According to About.com, your best bet for seeing a whale is to scan the ocean’s surface, looking for a spout (a spray of water). Grey whales normally swim in a cycle of 3 to 5 blows, 30 seconds apart, followed by a three- to six-minute dive, and they often show their tail flukes just before they dive. If they’re swimming just below the surface and you’re high enough to see the water’s surface, they may leave a “trail” of circular calm spots on the surface as they pass, making them easier to track.

Great Places to Watch for Whales

So where to go? There are a few great spots to watch for whales; the best being places where the coastline sticks out. Here are three of our favorite state parks with nice vantage points. Bring your binoculars!

Pigeon Point Light Station State Historic Park 

Pigeon Point has a great vantage point to watch for whales, with the lighthouse perched on a jut of land that reaches farther into the sea.

On Thursdays through Mondays in April, volunteers will be available at Pigeon Point from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. to help spot whales and to answer questions about their annual migration. While you are there, you can also learn about the other marine life that frequent the area, the history of the lighthouse and more. More Info >

Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park
There is a wonderful little trail that takes you out to a point that is great for whale watching. In addition you get the best view of McWay Falls from this trail. Whale watchers stand at coastal overlook points in December, January, March and April to watch gray whales migrate; a lucky few have seen gray whales come into the mouth of the cove. More Info > 

 

Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

They gray whale is the most often spotted whale at the Point, but you can spot other types of whales throughout the year here, as well. More Info >

Even if you don’t spot a whale at these spots, you may still see dolphins, harbor seals, and sea otters, which are always fun. And at the very least, you’ll spend a lovely spring day in a state park.

Good luck, whale spotters.

State Park Events this Weekend to Escape the Super Bowl

It’s Super Bowl weekend. Are you just not that into football? Or would you like to get some exercise before you settle in for the big game? Either way, try out a state park this weekend! We’ve got five great ideas to get you started:

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STARGAZE IN A PARK

Fri. 2/5, 7:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Anza-Borrego Desert State Park – East of San Diego

Join the Anza-Borrego Foundation on the roof deck of the visitor center to check out the night sky. Bring warm clothing, a chair or blanket to sit on, and binoculars if you have them. Photo by Thomas Haraikawa

 

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SEE A WHALE

Sat. and Sun. 2/6 and 2/7, 11:00 a.m.
MacKerricher State Park – North of Mendocino

Meet at the visitor center to learn from docents about the annual gray whale migration, then walk along the Laguna Point boardwalk to look for whales. Binoculars provided. Wear layers! Leashed pets OK. Photo by Gary Philbin

 

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COOK IN A STATE PARK

Sat. 2/6, 1:00 p.m.
Santa Cruz Mission State Historic Park – Downtown Santa Cruz

Explore different cooking styles of the people who lived and worked at the Santa Cruz Mission State Historic Park for over 200 years, including hot rock cooking, tortilla frying on a Comal and baking in a Horno. Taste samples and make your own tortillas! Photo by Richard Zimmerman

 

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VOLUNTEER, CAMP AND KAYAK

Sat. and Sun. 2/6 and 2/7, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Salton Sea State Recreation Area – Southwest of Palm Desert

Sign up for a two-day project to help with ramada construction and grounds cleanup, and camp at the park for free Friday and Saturday nights. Plus, free kayaking on Saturday afternoon! Potable water, restrooms and showers available; no electricity. Photo by Thomas Haraikawa

 

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TRAVEL BACK IN TIME

Sat. and Sun. 2/6 and 2/7, 11:00 a.m. – 3:00 p.m., Tour of Ranch House 1:00 p.m.
Wilder Ranch State Park – West of Santa Cruz

Visit a dairy ranch from the 1800s and learn about California’s ranching history! The one-hour tour includes early California ranching buildings and restored workshops run by water power, as well as volunteers in period clothing. Photo by Diane Main

 

 

 

 

 

 

Star Wars in State Parks!

If you’re like us, you’re pretty excited for the premier of the new Star Wars movie. If you’re re-watching some of the old films to prepare, pay special attention to the scene in Endor. Or, even easier, take a look at this clip:

 

Look familiar? Kind of like some California redwoods you may know?

In fact, those are California redwoods! Parts of Return of the Jedi were filmed in California state parks. The scenery for the Imperial speeders chase above was filmed in our very own Grizzly Creek Redwoods State Park.

Other location scenes were filmed in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park and Patrick’s Point State Park.

Pretty cool!

Here are some other Star Wars locations you can experience for yourself from our friends over at Weekend Sherpa. 

Enjoy your Star Wars experience in the theater AND in the parks.

‘Tis the Season for Winter Camping

There are many wonderful choices for where to camp in California state parks, and now is one of the best times of year to do it, especially in Southern California where summer temperatures can be a little high for many campers. With the weather cooling off though, it’s important to learn a few tips in advance so that you stay warm at night when the temperature drops.

Stay Warm

To make sure you aren’t cold at night, invest in a down or DownTek sleeping bag; it keeps you warm and isn’t too heavy to travel with. Also, make sure you have warm, dry clothing to sleep in, as well as a hat and gloves for the chilly mornings. Wearing wool or moisture-wicking fibers will help keep you dry throughout your camping trip, reducing the need to bring too much extra clothing.

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Cook Good Food

Cold weather camping recipes lend themselves more to hearty stews and chili than summer foods like hot dogs and hamburgers. For a gourmet meal by the fire, bring along your Dutch oven or plan to cook meals in a foil packet over the fire.

For a quick and easy campfire recipe, do some of the prep work at home: slice vegetables and package them in a plastic bag, and create your spice mix for each meal at home, so you don’t need to bring multiple containers. For chili, mix chili powder, cumin, cayenne pepper, garlic powder, onion powder, oregano, and a few bay leaves together and package it in a small plastic baggie. For a chicken stew spice mix, combine sage, basil, thyme, salt, garlic powder, and parsley.

Check out the chart below for tips on what method to use to cook each type of meal.

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For more information on fall camping, read Amy Whitley’s article on Fix.com.

Thanksgiving week in Big Basin Redwoods State Park!

Big Basin Redwoods State Park is California’s oldest State Park, established in 1902. This park features ancient coast redwoods that are among the tallest and oldest trees on Earth. These California trees can reach higher than 320 feet, and their trunks can grow more than 27 feet wide. And these trees can live for more than 2,000 years! In this park you can enjoy spectacular views of the Pacific Ocean, lush waterfalls, more than 80 miles of roads and trails, and a fascinating natural and cultural history. Here are some events to check out this week!

Thanksgiving Day, November 26

All hikes start at Park Headquarters

Redwood Grove Loop Walk – 11 am and 2 pm, 0.5 mi
A 0.5 mile stroll through a magnificent old growth redwood forest. See the famous Mother Tree, the Father of the Forest and the incredible Chimney Tree on this 90 minute walk.

The Road Less Traveled – A Dog-Friendly Walk – 9:30 am, 3 mi
On North Escape Road, a paved road closed to traffic. A three mile, two hour round trip walk with a docent. See stunning old-growth redwood groves along beautiful Opal Creek. With a discussion about redwood ecology and park history.

 

Black Friday, November 27

All hikes start at Park Headquarters

Meteor Trail Hike – 10:30 am, 6 mi
A docent will be leading a hike that features mountain streams, oak woodlands, chaparral and redwoods. There will be a discussion of forests, flowers and fires on a six mile, 3.5 hour hike.

Redwood Grove Loop Walk – 11 am and 2 pm, 0.5 mi
A 0.5 mile stroll through a magnificent old growth redwood forest. See the famous Mother Tree, the Father of the Forest and the incredible Chimney Tree on this 90 minute walk.

Coffee Talk and Crafts – 9 am to Noon
The Sempervirens Room next to Park Headquarters will have free coffee or hot chocolate. A docent will be there to answer any questions. There will also be a craft activity got kids!

 

Saturday, November 28

All hikes start at Park Headquarters

The Road Less Traveled – A Dog-Friendly Walk – 9:30 am, 3 mi
On North Escape Road, a paved road closed to traffic. A three mile, two hour roundtrip walk with a docent. See stunning old-growth redwood groves along beautiful Opal Creek. With a discussion about redwood ecology and park history.

Redwood Grove Loop Walk – 11 am and 2 pm, 0.5 mi
A 0.5 mile stroll through a magnificent old growth redwood forest. See the famous Mother Tree, the Father of the Forest and the incredible Chimney Tree on this 90 minute walk.

 

Sunday, November 29

All hikes start at Park Headquarters

Redwood Grove Loop Walk – 11 am and 2 pm, 0.5 mi
A 0.5 mile stroll through a magnificent old growth redwood forest. See the famous Mother Tree, the Father of the Forest and the incredible Chimney Tree on this 90 minute walk.

Art, Books and Coffee – 9:30 am to 12:30 pm
In the beautiful redwood Sempervirens Room, choose a book or two to read with your family, while sipping coffee, tea or hot chocolate next to a roaring fire. There will be a docent available to help you find the perfect book for your family to enjoy, answer your questions about the park and provide an artful craft for your children.

 

Photos: Redwood photos by Sean Peck. Sign photo by Charles Tu

Pigeon Point Lighthouse Celebrated!

Every November people from near and far gather at Pigeon Point Light Station State Park to mark the anniversary of the first time—in 1872—its Fresnel Lens was lit to guide mariners. A technological marvel, even by today’s standards, the first order Fresnel Lens stands 16 feet tall, 6 feet in diameter, and weighs 2,000 pounds. Though the lens is now on display in the adjacent Fog Signal Building, the lighthouse remains an active U.S. Coast Guard aid to navigation.

After 143 years of weathering wind, salt water and other harsh elements, the lighthouse is closed for a major rehabilitation project led by CSPF. Phase One, an interim stabilization of the tower by removing the lens and sealing all cracks to prevent water intrusion, has been completed. Drawings for the remaining three phases (upper tower, lower tower, oil house) are pending approval and a series of events to kick off the restoration campaign are in the works.

The lens will not return to the upper tower until repairs are completed, but that didn’t stop the festivities enjoyed by over 1,000 attendees on Saturday. During the day, families took docent-led nature and history walks, children made their own lighthouses while sipping hot chocolate, musicians serenaded the crowds with songs about lighthouses, Beyond the Border food truck served up delicious meals, and everyone stopped by the Fog Signal Building for viewings of the magnificent lens and its prisms of light.

Shortly after sunset, an audience gathered for a slide show of the construction drawings by Architectural Resources Group (ARG) which were projected onto the lighthouse itself. Then a short video entitled “It’s A Long Way to Pigeon Point” (by docents Stuart Nafey and Peter Bohacek) described historic transportation modes used to reach the lighthouse, as well as marine mammals and birds that migrate past the area.

After the two showings, other images were projected onto the spectacular lighthouse screen—including a lava lamp which only audience members of a certain generation could identify. Using the lighthouse as the backdrop for these two viewings was quite a spectacle. The volunteers at Pigeon Point plan to do it again next year, so save the date of November 12, 2016.

Photos by James Zhang