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Arches National Park, Utah

Devil's Garden Primitive Loop, Arches National Park

Devil's Garden trailhead is the start of three different levels of hiking. If the complete loop is done, a total of 7 arches can be seen in just under 8 miles round-trip. The easy part of the trail will take you to the bottom of Landscape Arch. Landscape Arch is the second largest arch in the world, with a span of about 300 ft. It is thin and fragile over it's arch, and it is expected that it would be the next arch to fall. Near the beginning of this trail, there are short spur trails to Pine Tree and Tunnel Arches. It is a mostly flat, mostly paved trail with beautiful views of the surrounding fins and spires.

Canyonlands National Park, Utah (and Deadhorse Point State Park)

Chesler Park Loop/Joint Trail, Needles District, Canyonlands NP, Utah

The Needles district of Canyonlands National Park holds my favorite hike of our trip, my favorite hike of all-time as it stands now. The hike starts off going up some steps, to a view of miles and miles of white-topped red mushroom rocks below. As we walked further, I noticed huge red and white rock structures to our right and ahead. Eventually, three huge structures of red and white rocks appeared before us. As I walked closer to Chesler Park, these structures started looking like castles. It became obvious how massive these rock structures really were, as we walked up to it. 

Marshall Gold Discovery State Historic Park

My kids have been begging to go gold panning for a while now. So I told my oldest son to research where we could go to do that, and he presented Marshall State Historic Park to me.  Located in Coloma, it is a 2.5 hour drive from the SF Bay Area. We pulled into a quiet street with a few exhibits displayed on a sunny but cool Saturday morning. The river seemed to flow at a high rate so we made very sure we found a small inlet to pan for gold. We were told by the Visitor Center staff that the gold panning beach area was across the one-lane bridge and downstream. We carefully made our way across and walked a little ways to find a safe spot. The boys took out their pans, but quickly found that our foil pans were no match for the heavy wet sands. We had better luck picking out gold flakes from the sands with our fingers. Perhaps a metal pan would have done a better job. We did not find any nuggets, just flakes, though an insufficient amount to run any at-home tests to ensure it's authenticity. Perhaps a more “lucky” approach to gold finding would be to spend an hour or two panning with the State Historic Park’s staff for $7/person. More information at the Visitor Center or by calling the Park before heading over. Extreme weather cancels. If you plan to gold pan for free on the beach, check with the Visitor Center about river conditions.

Mount Tamalpais - Dipsea-Matt Davis Loop Trail

We started our walk a little late on this particular February morning. After encountering a few traffic jams and detours, our initial plan of hiking Cataract Falls was not going to come true. First the road to the trailhead was closed off, and the next closest parking spot (Pantoll Ranger Station) was completely full. Heading down Panoramic Highway, we kept our eyes peeled for any parking with a trail close by. After driving 2 hours, we were not going to leave empty handed. After driving down Panoramic Highway for 10 minutes, we found a spot near a large trail. We eagerly grabbed it, not knowing what the trail was. Once stopped, we realized that the trail was DipSea Trail. I had heard about the famous DipSea, and had planned to do it on a different day, but it looks like today was going to be that day!

Bear Gulch Cave-Rim Trail, Pinnacles National Park, Paicines, California

Pinnacles National Park is one half of an ancient volcano that was cut into two by tectonic forces about 20 million years ago. Two thirds of the volcano eventually became Pinnacles National Park while the other side of it became the Neenach Formation almost 200 miles south. Our visit this time had us explore Bear Gulch talus caves. Talus caves are caves formed by boulders and rocks that fall into a narrow canyon. The canyons here are the result of faults and fractures in the central area of volcanic rock. Rock falls that helped form Bear Gulch Caves are believed to have occurred during the last Ice Age.