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Califonia, USA

I am learning that California is pleasantly diverse and geologically quite remarkable.  From volcanoes - both active and ancient, to earthquake geology to fossil beds  to deep blue glacial lakes, scenic rugged coastlines, natural rock columns and towering granite domes and walls, California is one place I can spend many years exploring and still not be completely satisfied that I have seen it all.  Here are our explorations thus far....

Chilnualna Falls, Wawona, Yosemite National Park, CA

We started our May long weekend at 10am at the trailhead at Chilnualna Falls. Parking was scarce, but we managed to snag one of the last two regular spots, lots more for creative parkers. Parking area and some of the road in was dirt/packed gravel with potholes, though our low clearance 2WD sedan made the journey just fine. A sign indicated the presence of mountain lions. Definitely keep kids close.

Glacier Point-Illilouette Falls-Nevada Falls, Yosemite National Park, CA

We started our day at Glacier Point just before 8am on a Sunday of the May long weekend. There was a huge parking lot, but it was already half full by the time we got there. We headed towards the viewpoints closeby. I was tickled to see Half Dome, Vernal and Nevada Falls across the valley. We hiked the Mist Trail last year to the top of Nevada Falls, and it was awesome to see it all in one panoramic view here. Many pictures later, we headed to another corner for a view of Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls.

Berry Creek Falls, Big Basin State Park

Our first trip to Berry Creek Falls was an unsuccessful one. In an attempt to make the hike a loop, we unknowingly went off on an equestrian trail and couldn't find our intersection for the hike to the Falls. One good thing that came out of that long hike, was we realized that bikes are allowed on the relatively flat Skyline to Sea trail. 

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.