And so our return to La Honda Open Space since our last visit in 2020 was indeed different.
The sun shone bright in a cloudless sky as we trekked across the meadows.
I'm not John Steinbeck and Tucker is certainly no Charley. But after our first year together travelling over 14,000 miles, criss-crossing America, hitting 17 states, I thought it was about time we started documenting our adventures.
Tucker and I have spent a lot of time—one may even estimate years—in the Bay area. So eventually, we’ll have to do some of the same trails again. But it’s doesn’t mean it’s the same ol’, same ol’. A trail is more than a path on land; it’s the wind, the heat of the sun, the shadows on a full moon night, the wildflowers in full bloom, the autumn leaves just turning red… all of which make each hike a different experience.
And so our return to La Honda Open Space since our last visit in 2020 was indeed different.
The sun shone bright in a cloudless sky as we trekked across the meadows.
The ocean was a steady blue line across the western horizon.
The rolling hills uninhabited by man stretched on as far as the eye could see. It felt as if Tucker and I were alone in this great big world with Nature, just the three of us.
And that is why I go to the wilds: to leave the humans behind and commune with all the others who have been here far longer than us. I take my canine partner with me so he can have his own experience, most likely much more in depth than mine, as his senses pick up so much more than mine.
I enjoy walking a new trail, experiencing the newness of a place we’ve never been, but there’s something just as rewarding returning to an old haunt to see how different it is… or perhaps more accurately, how different I am now. Is it Nature that changes or our own perspective? Both evolve over time and can change with the winds, so every moment is new.
Returning to Half Moon Bay only a few days later, the cliffs and meadows do not seem much different since last we were there, but the angle of the sun, the height of the wildflowers, the visitors to this place are not the same as they were the last time we were there.
Looking at the photos from the day, this one reminded me of a painting I did as a child. My mother collected my scribblings (as moms do so diligently). One was a page of Blue. When I was older, looking through the scrapbook, she told me I liked to take one color and paint the whole page right off the edges. (Boundaries—physical and metaphorical—have never deterred me.) Looking at the page of Blue, I see the variations, much like this photo: the ripples of blue sea and the pale blue sky and the grey blue of the clouds exhaled from the sea.
I wondered if some subconscious part of me saw this in my mind’s eye in some distant future and poured it onto the page with the limited skill of a child. There is a theory that past, present, and future are layered on top of one another; and our future can bleed back into our present, and affecting decisions that make that future happen.
But that’s all hypothetical. There is very little proof of how reality actually works. But perhaps we don’t need to know how it works. Perhaps just appreciating the beauty of it all is all we need. It’s certainly is enough for me when I’m in places like these.
In November of 2019, we began a walkabout on this little bluff, then ran across the road to the trailhead at McNee Ranch, went up and up and up, caught sight of a Wisdom Tree standing sentinel over the ocean, and then headed back down as the sun set.
Grey Whale Cove’s Trail called for us to start at this same cliffside and race across Highway One to avoid oncoming semis, but once at the trailhead, our feet tread new ground, allowing us new perspective and exploration.
The hills were much greener than the last time we were here, thanks to the winter of water California was getting.
The bench was aptly placed for those winded from the initial steep incline. The north showed us the endless wilds.
And the south showed us civiliation.
We headed north.
Around the “hill” we caught more views of Highway One to the north.
But we set our sights on the wild along the trail in front of us.
The trail took a quick right, straight up the hill we had wound our way around. I can walk for days no problem, but a steep incline kills me. That first incline to the bench was nothing. For this "hill", we ascended over 320 feet within a third of a mile where the grade was 32% at its peak. There were no steps, but the slope was about the same as an extremely steep set of stairs.
But we made it, as we always do. And as usual, the view while allowing my heart to return to its normal rhythm and for my lungs to get some air in them, was stunning.
I stood beneath that Wisdom Tree and let its oxygen renew me.
And then down we went, with views overlooking the ocean to one side and to the diversity of trees on the other--some of which seemed to be Wisdom Tree's elders who had left the bluff for the mountains.
We crossed back over Highway One and explored a little more of the bluff.
Not yet having my fill of the ocean but running out of trail, I decided we should stop at Rockaway Beach. The shops and buildings went right up to the ocean, like an Oregon-style town with no fear of tsunamis.
We ate lunch at a little seaside diner, and then walked down the short street to the plaza and boardwalk in front of the rocky border that held the sea in.
The rising cliff marked the end of the boardwalk and as far as we could go (safely).
I’m sure we could have clamored over rocks and boulders, but the risk outweighed the reward. The view was quite good from here.
We turned around and sat for a spell, looking at the ocean in the little cove of Rockaway Beach. The ocean is vast, but we need not take it in all at once. Enjoying the coves and inlets, drinking in the views one sip at a time, we appreciate all the nuances of how the sea connects to land. It reminds us that it’s a big life out there, but it's not a challenge under threat of drowning; it's a vast beauty meant to be enjoyed one sippable moment at a time.
Every now and again, I find myself in a place that makes me feel like I’m in a fantasy novel. In this case, the nomenclature of the land, Ring Mountain, added to the feeling. I didn’t think I’d find the Ring here, but walking along the open meadow with boulders strewn about, I imagined a race of giants playing Jacks. They took stones in their hands, shook them like dice, and then tossed them across the landscape.
The land jutted out like a peninsula into the Bays, and I imagined villages set up here, overlooking the water.
As we crested the hillside along the path, the view of San Francisco in the distance made me feel like we were Dorothy and Toto seeing the Emerald City for the first time.
I wondered if before the skyscrapers, one could have seen smoke coming from the chimneys of homes and neighborhoods of the first peoples’ abodes.
Here, the land around us seemed to shift and change with each new view, as if the rocks were alive and moving when we weren’t looking.
Coming upon a particularly large boulder, far from any path, there was a sign for those who had ventured this far.
The art of the ancients was etched in stone.
The comment that they did know their meaning made me wonder: did it have to have meaning? What if someone came across an old school desk a century henceforth, and finding a child’s scribbles pondered, “What great meaning doth this hold?”
Looking out from the rock, we could see that Emerald City, and I wondered if the artists drew what they had seen so many ages ago.
Turning back to the land, it was pure Nature, these jewels of stone tossed here and there to give character and depth to the meadowland.
Even the trees took on a character of magic. They grew in harmony with the land’s slope, shaped by the winds.
The energy of this magical place was palpable. The silence made the feeling even louder. Despite the views, no human sound entered this sacred place.
Tucker studied the rocks, as if trying to find the source of magic.
He looked across the vast meadow, and I wondered if, in his mind, he too saw giants or a village of humans, their homesteads busy with life. I felt as if I could see through time as I gazed across the land.
I wondered if the stones littering the pathways were rising from the earth, or if they had fallen from above, rolled away from a glacier sliding through millennia ago.
Did the blue Bay once cover those gentle hills?
One day, could the bay fill again, and leave that Emerald City in the depths of the ocean, a new Atlantis?
We reached the end of the trail, and it was time to head back along the loop, giving us a new perspective. The trail took us to a prominent boulder, that, from afar, looked to be the head of a canine.
Up close, it took on another visage. It was no longer a dog head, but an intricate design, frozen in time.
I wondered if this was once molten lava.
Or the trunk of a fallen mammoth tree.
We travelled back down the hillside, the city no longer in view, and found even more beauty beneath the canopy of trees still standing.
Tree and stone were connected here, adding to my thought that many of these rocks were actually petrified trees.
The trees held as much magic as the stone and the earth, their character rising outward from the roots, beyond their branches’ reach.
This land was established as a preserve within my own lifetime. When I was born, it was not protected. In fact over 300 acres had been sold to a housing development company wanting to put 2100 homes and apartments on the hill. But one woman (it’s almost always a woman), Phyllis Ellman, led a movement to stop the development, buy the land, and protect it for centuries hence. It took over a decade, but in 1984, she accomplished it.
The land is still here because of her. It is not buried under buildings, or dug up and thrown elsewhere for underground parking garages. I am so grateful to her and to the community of advocates that she led, and I appreciate all those who are still this land’s stewards.
The energy here exudes of a sacred space—although every space on this planet is sacred. The magic held within the layers of earth, sprouting through the trees and emanating from the stones, is an ancient magic. Although the mountain is named for a Marin Supervisor from the turn of the 20th century (George E Ring), the nod to Tolkien seems appropriate.
Much like intuition, I cannot say whether these boulders and their energy come from within or without; but their intensity, their magic, and their sacred wisdom is the same regardless.
I suppose the same could be said of my canine guardian: his innate magic, whether from within or without, leads us on our magical explorations, and I am so thankful that he chose to share his journey with me.
Mori Point is another open space landmark along the San Francisco coast that Tucker and I have already trod. Although I am always trying to find new places to explore, as I’ve come to learn, one can go to the same place over and over, but if you take a new way there each time, then it’s a whole new experience.
So rather than park and walk up the direct steep incline to the Point and meander along the meadows and cliffsides, we parked within a neighborhood north of the Point and took a shaded path along backyard fences that spit out onto the boardwalk along Sharp Park, the northern border of Mori Point lands.
I wanted to go up the hill to the cliffsides, but Tucker wanted to explore the new place first, so we hung a right and walked along the busy boardwalk of people and dogs.
To our east was the sensitive habitat where the rains still puddled and birds and wildlife were safely congregating.
To our west was, of course, the ocean.
We walked a half a mile toward toward civilization and then turned around before it we were reached streets, houses, and parking lots.
We stopped at our entry point to the boardwalk and I gazed south, realizing that trees were always the gateways to lands of magic.
It was a steep climb, but well worth every step for this smile.
While sitting there, a woman came up to ask if she could share the bench, I said of course and Tucker immediately took to her as if they were long last friends. He hopped up next to her to give her kisses, and she giggled in response. Tucker loves most all people, but there was something about her.
We had just had a confrontation on the boardwalk with a person who didn’t grasp the dangers of having an off-leash puppy that didn’t respond to voice control, and I was trying to shake off the negativity. As she spoke and laughed and told me about her own dog and I watched Tucker love her, I came to the conclusion that I had been sent an angel. That’s not to say she was an entity from heaven, but that the universe sent me just what I needed to rebounded. Messengers come in all forms-people, views, interactions, animals… But I use the word angel because when recounting this tale to friends, two of them stated exactly the same thing: “Aww, you were sent an angel.”
The woman who sat next to us said her name was Jennifer. I told her mine was Stephanie. With no other prompting, she told me that whenever someone couldn’t remember her name, they alway guessed Stephanie. I told her that ever since I was a child, when people couldn’t remember my name, they guessed Jennifer—even over the phone. I’ve known a lot of Jennifers, and she’s the first one to say this.
Before I could decode the coincidence into a message, Jennifer’s husband came up to us and gave Tucker a treat. Tucker got more love and after brief introductions among us, Jennifer left to continue on her hiking journey with her husband and friend.
I sat a moment, in reverence of what the universe provides when we need it most. I could have rebounded from the conflict by sitting still and looking out over the water, but the guest star character of this angel just made it all the faster. And reminded me that there is more goodness in the world than ill. Tucker clearly recognized her from the other side, as dogs have that ability to cross between the worlds.
I thanked the universe for this gift, took a deep breath of ocean air, and we continued on our journey across the bluff.
We had to stop while I attempted a few photos to line up with Harold & Maude’s ending sequence. I never can get it right, and there’s a clear difference in tide level between now and fifty years ago.
But regardless of framing, it’s beautiful.
We carried on even higher up and looked out over the ocean, There, in the distance, I spied a land mass. I checked my maps, and could not find a little dot naming it, no matter how far I zoomed in. I had never seen it before, and we had traversed much of the coastline in this area. Why was it suddenly visible?
It disappeared from my view a few times, and I tried to catch it, but found it difficult. I wondered if it was a mirage. I didn’t think climate change could effect he sea level quite so quickly. With all the rains, the sea should be higher, not lower.
An older gentleman had been behind us after we left our seat at Mori Point, and while Tucker and I are slow walkers, he was even slower. We were all just taking out time to enjoy the journey.
However, when we reached our second peak, he caught up with us. We both questioned another traveller’s choice to sit on the cliff’s edge. We knew well enough that the edge can break off easily—especially after hard rains.
The man told me he had lived here his entire life. I asked him what that island was out there, and he answered without a second of doubt: “Those are the Fallones islands.”
Huh. Definite lapse of knowledge on my part, as well as for Apple Maps and AllTrails. So odd. I wondered why it only revealed itself to me now, and was perplexed about how I could lose its vision so easily, as if it had hidden itself behind the Mists of Avalon.
I thanked him, and then Tucker and I headed inland across the hillside to get back to our trusty steed. We crossed trails we had walked before, but every view was unique to this experience.
Tucker was delighted by it all. And I felt a renewed connection to the universe. I looked up the Fallones Island and discovered that the native tribes of the Bay area called this Island of the Dead. They never travelled there, as it was home to those who had ceased living. Perhaps its disappearing and appearing acts contributed to this belief. Perhaps seeing it was an omen—of troubled times to come, or of visiting ancestors.
The universe is magical. The confrontation, the angel, the names, the man who knew the island, the island hidden beyond the veil… we’re all connected. We just need to be open to the connection to feel it and to experience it. Perhaps it’s he same with the islands, this cluster of uninhabited land masses (uninhabited except for the enormous population of wildlife and a few scientists), is only seen when you’re meant to see it. Even the first white invaders did not mention seeing this island. The Island of the Dead was as protected as Avalon.
Every time we go for a walk, the journey is magic. We do nothing extraordinary; just place our feet on the earth and walk in the art gallery Nature has created. And we are never disappointed by the view we get. But when you open your heart and mind as well as your eyes, you’ll find that the journey is even more extraordinary than you could ever imagine.
Tucker and I have haunted the Marin Headlands a number of times. I thought I knew the trails and had step foot on all the dog friendly trails. But late last night, clicking on trailheads on alltrails and following the red lines to see if they appeared familiar, I found a trail we hadn’t yet trod.
The starting point was the same usual: the barracks and beach. But rather than follow the people upwards to the hilltop, we went northwest, along a path no one else was taking, Tucker balked at first. He didn’t see why we would go that way. So I let him a lead us back for a bit, then told him that I needed to see what was down this path. He followed me begrudgingly at first, but then realized maybe it wasn’t so bad.
The winds were fierce, as if testing if we had the drive to continue along the ragged cliff’s edge. Perhaps it was this force of nature that was giving Tucker pause.
I told the winds I welcomed their voice, and was hear to listen to their sage advice. They calmed a bit, and allowed us to trespass, to take in the spectacular view with no human intervention.
We walked on, the vast ocean before us, and the clouds riding the breeze.
The path was more of a stream from the recent rains than a trail, but it wasn’t treacherous.
The cypress trees were the doorway, hiding the magic that lay beyond.
Beneath the cover of trees, our feet found little dry footing. But we made it through and as the cypresses leaned back as if drawing a curtain, we espied the main event.
An unexpected “whoa” escaped my throat as I stepped out from beneath the trees and took in the vast beauty.
Tucker seemed suspicious of whatever was in the strong winds that accosted his ears and nasal passages. But I was too joyful to notice that as my eyes drank in the view.
The flat peninsula devoid of grasses gave us views of the south and the north: To the south, where the beach and our trusty steed rested...
To the north, where the redwood groves held their land just over the mountain peaks, taking in the ocean air and fog every morning and evening.
The colors and shapes took a hold of me, this glorious work of art by Nature.
I could stand there all day, drinking in the beauty, inhaling the magic.
But Tucker seemed done, and as his loyal partner, I had to respect his choice. He had let me go down a path he initially objected to, so now that I got what I wanted, it was his turn.
We returned the same way, exiting through the magic cypress portal and back to the land of humans.
All along this coast, there was the remnants of United States military. As we passed a half-downed fencing, I had to ask again (to no one and to no answer), why, when our military abandons a location, do they leave it looking like a zombie apocalypse, a hundred years hence?
We carried on, facing the south this time, taking in the beauty of it.
As we passed a small inlet, a fuzzy white cloud rose up beside me, drawing my attention to whence it came.
There below, as the waves crashed, sea foam fairies danced above the bedrock, springing skyward, then floating back down, rocked again by another wave, dancing and giggling to the rhythm of life.
The term “supernatural” comes to mind, and yet I had to wonder how something more super than nature could exist. Or did those who created the term just never experience places like these? For truly, taking the road less taken, you wind up in Nature so spectacular, you could never fathom anything more super than this.