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.

California’s Wildflowers and Climate Change

wildflowers_exhibit postcard_frontExhibition: Beauty and the Beast: California Wildflowers and Climate Change – A 17 Year Journey Documenting Our State’s Vanishing Beauty

Photographs by  Rob Badger and Nita Winter

San Francisco Public Library, Jewett Gallery
January 23—March 27, 2016

 

In 1992, conservation photographer Rob Badger first experienced the rare and spectacular display of California wildflowers in the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve, a California State Park in the Mojave Desert. Not wanting his partner and fellow photographer Nita Winter to miss what he was seeing, he quickly returned to San Francisco to get her, and drove back to the desert so he could enjoy and photograph this beauty together.

Years later, the 1997-98 El Niño rains produced an unexpected “100 Year Bloom” that inspired Rob and Nita to begin their 17-year documentary art project, “Beauty and the Beast: Wildflowers and Climate Change.”  The project is a visual story about the diverse and delicately-balanced ecosystems supporting spectacular explosions of color on our public lands. These protected habitats are being altered by climatic conditions alien to their region, and invaded and replaced by both non-local and non-native species.

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California Leopard Lilies (Lilium pardalinum), Mount Tamalpais State Park, Marin County, California (c)Rob Badger and Nita Winter

A part of this work is currently on display in San Francisco Main Library’s Jewett Gallery, 100 Larkin St., San Francisco, through March 27. The artists have selected 100 exquisite fine art photographs from their collection. The photos include wildflower landscapes from below sea level in Death Valley National Park to the high, alpine rock gardens above 11,000 feet in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, as well as intimate wildflower portraits, some exclusive to the Bay Area, like the exotic Tiburon Mariposa Lily found only on Ring Mountain in Marin County.

But in addition to displaying the beauty of these places, this exhibit also gives visitors information about how climate change and increasing habitat loss are threatening Nature’s fragile native plant communities and species. “100 Year Blooms” are now happening much more frequently than once a century. This may be evidence that climate patterns are changing. New and alien weather patterns threaten future gorgeous displays of nature, as invasive species take advantage of abundant rains and crowd out native plants. Despite being “protected,” wildflower habitats are being altered by irreversible climatic conditions alien to their region. As wildflowers disappear, many animals, birds and insects that depend on them do as well. The educational aspect of the exhibit aims to inspire personal action to reduce the impacts of climate change, protect what remains of the natural world, and reduce habitat loss.

Exhibit hours are: Mondays 10-5:30, Tuesdays through Thursdays 9-7:30, Fridays 12-5:30, Saturdays 10-5:30 and Sundays 12-4:30. All programs at the library are free. Find more information here.

El Nino rains create abundant Desert Lily blossoms

Desert Chicory (Rafinesquia neomexicana). Abundant El Nino rains create profuse wildflower bloom in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, California, USA during “100 Year Bloom” (c)Rob Badger and Nita Winter

 

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Breathing New Life into a Park’s Artist Past

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Do you have an upcoming flight through the San Francisco International Airport? Now through October 16, 2016 you can experience a piece of California state park history while passing through Terminal 2.

A new exhibition, A Potter’s Life: Marguerite Wildenhain at Pond Farm, gives travelers a chance to view work created by Marguerite Wildenhain, Bauhaus-trained internationally noted artist. Wildenhain taught, worked, and lived at Pond Farm, a studio and artist residence located in Austin Creek State Recreation Area in Sonoma County from 1942 until her death in 1985. The exhibit at SFO – part of the collection of her life-long friend Forrest L. Merrill – offers a stunning glimpse into Wildenhain’s craft.

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The studio at Pond Farm

Pond Farm was established as an artist school and refuge in the steep hills of Austin Creek Redwoods in 1942 by architect Gordon Herr. Wildenhain was the first of several artists to move there in 1942. After a few years, she was the only artist remaining at Pond Farm. She stayed for 30 years, working in her studio and teaching small groups of students to master the art of the wheel.

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Attendees of the Pond Farm reception view pieces made by Wildenhain

On Sunday, January 24, 2016, a special reception and VIP viewing was held at the San Francisco International Airport’s Aviation Museum and Library. For those in attendance, it was a memorable opportunity to hear Pond Farm named as a National Treasure by Barbara Pahl, Senior Vice President for Field Services, National Trust for Historic Preservation. Hosts for the event,  California State Parks Foundation, National Trust for Historic Preservation, Stewards of the Coast and Redwoods, and California State Parks are currently working together to help revitalize the architectural and cultural heritage of Pond Farm. Pond Farm is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and is also designated a National Treasure.

CSPF is proud to be a contributor to this unique project.

To view the exhibition online, visit: http://www.flysfo.com/museum/exhibitions/pond-farm

Community of Experts to Weigh in on Candlestick Development

GUEST BLOG BY CSPF INTERN ALYSSA HEMLER. Alyssa is a junior at Oberlin College in Ohio majoring in Environmental Studies with a concentration on urban sustainability and sustainable communities.

 

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The shoreline at Candlestick. Photo by 4johnny5 via Flickr.

In 2011, California State Parks Foundation (CSPF) began construction to restore wetlands and create a park on the northern Yosemite Slough waterfront area of Candlestick Point State Recreation Area. A lot has been accomplished in the years since, but there is still so much to be done.  In the short time that I’ve been interning with CSPF, I have learned a lot about the extensive planning process for this park. Not only does CSPF need to raise all of the money for this project (over $25 million), but there are three phases of the actual restoration/ park building. The first phase, restoring the north side wetlands, was completed in June of 2012. Currently, they are in phase two – public access and visitor use. This includes all of the capital improvements for the park (benches, an interpretive center, a picnic area, etc.) as well as all educational programming.

There is a lot of planning for phase 2. CSPF has gathered an advisory committee made up of experts who specialize in various aspects of parks and recreation: natural history, environmental and citizen science, cultural history, youth and community outreach and engagement, health and recreation, art, and policing and security. This committee will meet a total of six times in the next 12 to 14 months to help develop the first interpretive master plan for the park. An interpretive master plan aims to improve the visitor experience through development of interpretive facilities, educational and multimedia programs, interpretive signage, and enhanced recreational opportunities.  This includes planning activities to have in place for Yosemite Slough at the anticipated opening at the end of 2017. Throughout the whole planning process, the advisory committee will help foster strong community involvement in this historically underserved community.

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A working board from the first advisory committee meeting on January 26, 2016.

Because the advisory committee is composed of experts from a variety of educational, professional, and personal backgrounds, incorporating all of the different ideas and viewpoints will be a lot of work, but is essential for an effective and rewarding planning process. So although it may seem like park building is moving slowly, there is a lot of work being done behind the scenes to make this park a reality.

Governor Brown Releases 2016-17 Budget Proposal

It’s a New Year, which means it is time to starting thinking about new budgets.

In a news conference earlier today, Governor Jerry Brown proposed a $170 billion California State Budget for Fiscal Year 2016-17. The budget includes $589 million ($117.5 million General Fund) for the Department of Parks and Recreation, an amount similar to what was allocated last year.

We are pleased to see that the budget proposal continues an investment into aging state park infrastructure and the ever-growing deferred maintenance backlog in our parks currently estimated at over $1 billion. Specifically, Governor Brown has proposed authorizing $60 million to go towards deferred maintenance projects in state parks.

This is a good continuation of the slow but steady reinvestment in our state parks by addressing deferred maintenance needs. We at CSPF know it is vital to improving the user experience at our state parks by making them safe and accessible, which is something we have been advocating for over the past 10 years.

We look forward to working with policymakers as the budget process progresses over the coming months. We will be discussing budget issues as part of Park Advocacy Day, which you can read more about below.

As always, we will continue to monitor and keep you informed of the development of this year’s budget.

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.

Take a Guided Seal Walk at Año Nuevo this Winter

Today is December 15, which means it is the first day of 3+ months of guided Elephant Seal walks at Año Nuevo State Park! If you haven’t experienced the seals at Año Nuevo before, this is the year to do it. It is unforgettable.

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Docents go through extensive training and are highly knowledgeable in the natural and cultural history of the park. They may even be able to tell you anecdotes about individual seals.

To protect the seals during the winter months, visitors can only view the seals as part of a guided walk. The park offers naturalist-guided walks between December 15 and March 31 (except for Dec. 25 and Jan. 30 & 31 for the annual Seal Adventure fundraiser which requires separate tickets). These popular three mile walks over rolling sand dunes last two and a half hours and are considered moderately strenuous. They operate daily from early morning to mid-afternoon, rain or shine.

PUBLIC SEAL WALKS

Public seal walks are offered daily for individuals, families, or groups.

  • Starting October 20, tickets go on sale as early as 56 days in advance, and no later than one day before arrival.
  • Price per ticket: $7.00 (Children age three and under are free and do not need a ticket.)
  • Children age 17 and under require one adult chaperone for each 10 children.
  • Each walk has a capacity of 20 people, including chaperones.

RESERVATIONS

To reserve your guided public or school group walk, call 1 (800) 444-4445 or visit http://anonuevo.reserveamerica.com/. ReserveAmerica is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day.

If all guided walks on Reserve America are sold out, the park does release guided walk tickets on a first come first served basis. It is recommended that you arrive at the park before 12:00pm on weekends and holidays and 2:00pm on weekdays for a chance to purchase these tickets. Although there is no guarantee tickets will be available, the park typically releases 60-120 tickets per day.

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You won’t believe how much noise these seals make!

SCHOOL GROUP SEAL WALKS

School group walk tickets are offered weekdays for grades 1 through 12 only.

  • Tickets for all school group walks go on sale the first Saturday in October.
  • Price per school group ticket: $21.00 (Each ticket allows entry for up to 20 students plus two required adult chaperones, for a total group size of 22.)
  • School groups without the required number of adult chaperones will not be admitted on the school group walk.
  • Each caller may purchase up to four school group tickets.

EQUAL ACCESS GUIDED WALKS

Seal walks are available on an accessible boardwalk for visitors needing mobility assistance. These tours take place on Fridays, weekends, and select holidays from mid-December through mid-March. The price is $7.00/ person. Reservations are required. For reservations and info, email Ano.EqualAccess@parks.ca.gov, or call (650) 879-2033.

 

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The winter weather can be quite chilly. Be sure to bring warm layers, rain gear, and good walking shoes. Umbrellas, strollers, food and pets are not allowed. 

 

Find more information about what to bring and what to expect on your walk here.

Enjoy your walk with the seals!

‘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