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Featured: Remembering Summer in Castle Crags State Park

I'm happy to report that I'm back in action over on the California State Parks Foundation blog today with a guest post about one of my favorite hikes from last summer. After weeks of frosty mornings here in the Sacramento Valley, pictures of bright blue skies and memories of the hot morning sun on our faces are really making my day.

Here's a little snippet:

Northern California winters tend to come on quickly and bring winds, rain and yes – snow – to the region. When the days are damp and dreary, I like to look back and remind myself of fun, warm weather hikes.

For example, this past summer my husband and I decided to hike the Crags Trail at Castle Crags State Park. We visit the area every summer and it had been a few years since we had tackled the challenging trail.

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Check out the full post here: Remembering Summer in Castle Crags State Park

Many thanks to the folks at the California State Parks Foundation for allowing me to share some of my favorite park memories!

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Looking on the Bright Side: A Hike in Stebbins Cold Canyon Reserve

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As I sat down in front of my computer this morning, a loud rumble shook the house. The look on my pup's face said it all: thunder!The first real storm of the season has hit the Sacramento Valley and, while it's easier to stay put and just keep typing on days like this, I sometimes need a little reminder of the sunnier days of yore.

And by days of yore, I mean approximately 72 hours ago.

This past weekend was perfect. We had a lovely Thanksgiving with family {and hope you all did, as well} and finally broke out of our food-induced haze to head out for a hike on Sunday morning. All of the left-over turkey, stuffing and gravy {not to mention the remnants of that delicious cheese plate} in the world couldn't stop us from getting out and enjoying the beautiful weather.

We headed up to Stebbins Cold Canyon Reserve near Lake Berryessa to finally tackle a hike we had heard so much about: the Homestead/Blue Ridge Loop Trail.

In a word? Awesome.

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The trails make a loop and a fellow hiker mentioned that it might be better to head up the stairs rather than down, so we headed for the Homestead Trail portion first. My knees give me a bit of trouble, so heading down all of these stairs could have been painful. They were also pretty mossy and slick in areas thanks to the lovely tree cover. We were glad we took her advice!

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Once we finished the climb, we could see the valley to our right:

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and Lake Berryessa to our left:

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I asked the hubs to take a picture...you know...for proof. To the right of yours truly, you can see the rest of the trail that tops the ridge:

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This is what that trail looks like up close:

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As we headed back down into the canyon, we were treated to beautiful displays of what was left of the fall colors:

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I assure you, those leaves are now gone. We're expecting the wind and rain to continue through Sunday, so I guess we can say goodbye to all of those autumn hues.

Once we finished the hike, we took the scenic drive up to the north end of Lake Berryessa. The lake was quiet and calm as a few kayakers headed in for the day.

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Obviously, I'm a big fan of looking back at shots of brighter days, but I want to know: what helps you get through the rainy, blustery season? I don't necessarily mind the rain, but it makes spending time outdoors a little less desirable. I suppose we all have to keep on moving forward, no matter the weather. Sometimes it's just nice to hear what keeps everyone else lookin' up even when skies are gray.

I hope all of my Northern California friends are staying warm and dry!

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Happy {rainy} Wednesday, all!

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A Day Date with Myself to the Marin Headlands

I absolutely love exploring places with other people. More often than not, I'll convince my husband or call upon friends to come with me when I get the urge to just go and see and do.Not long ago, however, I discovered the complete joy of exploring places alone. As in, by myself. With no one else. Just me, myself and I. It's lovely.

That's not to say I'll ever stop exploring and traveling with others. I love that too much. Yet, I find myself drawn to the convenience of the occasional solo journey, where I can move at my own pace, have little need for compromise and can listen to whatever music I choose on the way there (and back).

Several weeks ago, I ventured out on a solo date -- a day date with myself, if you will -- to the Marin Headlands located in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area just north of San Francisco.

This was the same trip during which I was able to spend time admiring the Golden Gate Bridge and the day was filled with all of the things I wanted to experience.

I started at the Marin Headlands Visitor Center, which I highly recommend if you've never been to the park before:

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The helpful docents told me about a few short trails and I opted for the Rodeo Lagoon Trail, which starts at the parking lot and ends at the ocean. It's a fairly easy trail and since I had my sights set on the Point Bonita Lighthouse (which I'll get to shortly) and the Golden Gate Bridge, it sounded like the perfect way to start the day.

The trail takes you through wetland areas and under fantastic tree canopies like this:

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There is also a giant tree along the trail that creaks and cracks in the breeze:

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Once you're out from under the trees, you'll start getting a glimpse of the trails' namesake lagoon and Fort Cronkhite beyond.

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Then you'll catch a breathtaking (at least to me) view of Rodeo Beach:

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I sat for a bit at the edge of the lagoon:

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Again, lovely. I took in the sites:

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Perfect. And decided to explore the beach a bit:

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The beach was blustery at best, but the sights and sounds were just what I needed.

I knew that I wanted to have plenty of time to explore the lighthouse and the bridge, so I headed back along the trail to the parking lot. Once in the car, the trail head for Point Bonita Lighthouse was a short drive up the hill. If I'm not mistaken, you can hike from Rodeo Beach to Point Bonita Lighthouse, but that wasn't in the cards during this visit.

When I reached the trail head, my first thought was, "what lighthouse?"

The tricky headlands have her hidden from view:

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You'll head down the short, steep trail and end up at the entrance to a tunnel:

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The tunnel is open only part of the day, so be sure to check the schedule at the visitor center before you head toward the lighthouse.

Once you exit the tunnel, you'll walk a skinny path that hugs a cliff. After a few bends and curves, the small lighthouse will come into view:

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While it's not a grand structure, Point Bonita Lighthouse is the only known lighthouse reachable just by suspension bridge. We all know how much I love a cool bridge, so naturally, I was impressed.

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Because of where the lighthouse is situated, it offers great views from the platform toward the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco. Can you imagine being a docent? Talk about a corner office!

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Back on solid ground (yes, my friends, the bridge sways in the breeze wind), you can catch a glimpse of just how amazing this structure really is. It's perched on the very last bit of land and has been in that spot since 1877.

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Amazing.

As I mentioned, I wrapped up my perfect little solo excursion with a healthy dose of the Golden Gate Bridge. You can read more about that here.

Anyone else enjoy the occasional solo adventure? What do you find rewarding about traveling, exploring or sight seeing alone?

Link up in the comment section if you'd care to share!

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Happy Tuesday, all!

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