Exploring Santa Rosa Island (Channel Island National Park)


To me, Santa Rosa Island is synonymous with ‘paradise on earth.’  The white sand, pristine beaches, turquoise water, undisturbed and unlittered land, potential to explore and discover new areas…it felt like an exotic island lost in time. My only wish is that I had more than the allotted 3 hours to explore this magnificent island! After the 3 hour journey on boat to get to Santa Rosa, we were more than ready to explore…


Some practical details first…

  1. No restaurants, stores, shops on the island.  Everything we brought was all we had. Lots of beef jerky, bagels, trail mix, and other small and lightweight non-perishable snacks. And of course, plenty of water for everyone. Heavy but necessary. I suppose you can get some food from the galley on the boat (see my post on the boat ride to the island ) but if you are sea sick like me, I didn’t have an appetite until I got to the island.
  2. One can camp on the island for $15 a night but you must be well prepared for the elements. For us, we have not yet trained our kids to camp outdoors, so we did not have the option.
  3. It was incredibly windy and sunny (no real shade anywhere) so dress in layers. Sunscreen and hats were crucial.
  4. We picked up what we brought and we didn’t take anything with us. This is protected territory and we hope to preserve it for future generations. We aren’t allowed to carry plastic grocery bags, nor feed any wildlife. I’ve read about island foxes but did not see one that day :(. However we saw lots of birds and sea lions.
  5. Pay attention to the departure time.  I’m guilty of pushing the limits but who can resist exploring in paradise? My ticket stated 3PM departure time but when I ran to the boat at 2:50PM, I was the last one on! The boat does not go to Santa Rosa Island everyday, and they do account for everyone but I needed to be consciously aware of the time. I might’ve missed the memo that we should be ready to board by 2:30PM. :0
  6. I had wanted to explore Lobo Canyon. It’s a 9 mile hike, defined as ‘strenuous’ and I knew we would not finish in 3 hours. So my plan was to hike to the base of the Torrey Pines and enjoy the beach. However, as soon as we got off the boat, I realized that 2 members of my family were barely getting over motion sickness, so I told them let’s just enjoy the beach and take it easy. I’m glad we did! 🙂

Our boat had maybe 60 guests going to the Island that day, and more than half were researchers so as soon as we arrived, they went on their separate way while the rest of us scattered. On such a huge island, we didn’t see much of our group until the very end! I’m not sure how many on our boat were camping out on the island, and I would’ve asked if I wasn’t so intrigued by our boat ride over to the island (see my post on the boat ride here).

We basically had the place to ourselves and we heard mostly birds and the sound of chirping bugs on our hike.  Later, along the beach, the pounding of the waves and whistling of wind was deafening but welcomed. It was nature unleashed.




After we got off the boat, the ranger briefed us and then we were free to roam. I was busy getting the kids situated with their snacks so I didn’t hear everything, but my hubby was paying attention.

To get to the beach, the ranger told us to take a left after we reached the campground, which is about 1.3 miles away.


Here (in the above photo) I found steps leading to a rusted ladder going down to the beach. I wasn’t sure if we were allowed to go but I looked at the ladder and knew my kids would not manage the climb down or back up easily, so we decided on the hike. Plus, it allowed us to explore the island a bit!




To the side of the trail, there were some wooden fences that had lichen and moss (I think) growing on it. I thought its contrast with the trees nearby was interesting. 🙂




We walked by an old barn. I’ve read that the Vail and Vickers family used to own a ranch here and there are supposedly horses left behind. We didn’t see any that day but we also didn’t wander off very far inland.




The white buildings above was where we found the ranger sitting and eating his lunch. We made sure we were still on the right path to the beach (it felt like we were just wandering around and there weren’t many signs). And right behind was the only toilet I knew of on the island. I was so happy it was a flushable toilet and I loved how clean it was!


In the photo above, I couldn’t stop but wonder if that might be a lone Torrey Pine sitting on top of that hill. These special trees are only found in two places in the world; here at Santa Rosa Island and Torrey Pines in San Diego (see my post here on the Torrey Pines hike). The base to the Torrey Pine grove was a little ways ahead, and as much as I wanted to hike to it, the beach was calling my name…


As we walked along, we enjoyed our views. The ocean was to our left, and nature was everywhere. I heard the humming of insects and the sound of dirt beneath us as our feet trudged through it. Then a welcomed sight: wildflowers! In May, there were still some left! I remember in April when we went to the Channel Island Visitor Center in Ventura (see my post here), the rangers mentioned that there were wildflowers everywhere, including on the islands, thanks to this year’s rainy winter. I was so happy to see that we could still find some here on the island in May!




The hike was more of a scenic walk, but I couldn’t help but wonder why we couldn’t just cut to the left and go straight towards the ocean. It was getting a bit warm by then and I really had to keep myself from taking that ‘shortcut’ several times. And then I realized why: we were walking around and to the right of an “Active Airstrip.” I saw the sign in the above photo about a mile in. Glad we didn’t cut over! No planes were landing that day, but just in case, I didn’t want to have to run out of the way :0


Finally after what seemed like more than 1.3 miles, we reached the campground sign and made a left. The sign indicated “Beach Access” and we all ran down the hill towards paradise…



I can’t even begin to describe my joy when I saw the beauty of Water Canyon Beach, so I will just let some of my favorite pictures do the talking…






My family and I enjoyed a nice picnic and then we stepped into the water. It was a bit cold but not too bad. And it was beautifully clear! My kids pulled out their sand toys and happily got to work. I could’ve just watched them play and enjoyed these views forever but I knew we only had 3 hours. By then, it was closer to 1:30PM. I kept looking over to the right side. From a distance I wondered if the pile of rocks was something I could climb or duck under. Could it lead to a cave? Or another hidden beach? I ached to explore, and my hubby said he’d watch the kids but I would need to be back no later than 2PM. “Ok, don’t worry, I’ll just run back…” I told him if I got too far.



Barefoot, I walked quickly along the beach. I adore the feel of sand between my toes. But I carried my hiking boots with me just in case I needed them to climb something. The topography to my right changed a bit and pretty soon, I saw a big gathering of sea gulls. What were they picking at? As I got closer, I realized there was a rapidly flowing stream from up above, and the water led continuously to the beach. There were probably critters the birds were picking at in the stream…


And then there were some really neat sandstone bluffs. Layers of layers of history I bet were piled in between. I wondered how far back in time this went? I marveled at the vertically growing dudleyas growing on the rocks. Amazing! I could never get dudleyas to grow in my succulent garden but they seem to do so well here in nature…who wouldn’t, here in paradise? 🙂  I looked in one crevice wondering if I could squeeze in and if it might be a tunnel…it wasn’t so I continued forward.


And at last, I reached the pile of rocks I saw from a distance. I looked all around. Sadly, I could not go around it without swimming in the ocean. And I didn’t dare climb it because I could crush the barnacles growing on the rocks, but also if I fell and injured myself, no one would hear me or even know!

natureinspiredmom.sr34.jpgI got some awesome pictures though! There was a little hole where I suppose a small animal could hide out overnight, but definitely not a tunnel.


Satisfied, I started making my way back. It was 1:53 PM, so I sprinted all the way back to my family. It was definitely hard to look straight ahead…I kept looking to my right as I ran…this perfect view was evanescent to me, as was the pounding of the waves, and the salt in the howling wind that was making my hair fly about in every direction.


I made it back to my family by 2PM. My kids refused to go. First, they must race up and down, roll down the white sand dunes, and make snow angels in it. It was really cute and I don’t blame them!  Then they told me they must make one last sand castle. And then of course, we had to clean up the sand toys and pack up. My youngest reluctantly dragged her sandy toes over to me. She hid her shoes somewhere on purpose so I needed to look for them. After what seemed like a long time, we were ready and made our hike back towards the barn and then the pier. Actually by then, we were all running back! We saw our boat cruising its way to the pier and we weren’t going to miss it!



We were on the edge of the pier when I walked by that rusted ladder again. On a sudden impulse I decided I had to go to the beach below now! No regrets! So, I scaled down that ladder and put my feet down on the soft sand and looked around. What a fantastic view! Layers and layers of sandstone bluffs and even more beach to the right of the pier! But really, it was time to go. (Well, now I know for next time, I will go to the right of the pier to explore!) Reluctantly, I climbed up the ladder quickly and ran the length of the pier.





By the time I got to the boat I was breathing heavily. It was 2:50PM. That was definitely a fun filled 3 hours worth of exploring in paradise! I guess I was the last one on the boat but absolutely no regrets! I LOVED my time on the island. I took a last long look at Santa Rosa Island; I wanted to let this image of the island sink into my memory forever. Like the memory of the Painted Cave/sea cave (see post here) that I saw later on the journey back by boat, the perfect images of this island were precious and evanescent. I was actually sad when the boat took off a minute later but I promised myself I would return to paradise again soon!



Thanks for reading! 🙂




A Trip to the Redwoods


Redwoods in Southern California?! Definitely and it’s amazing! I have to admit, the hike is not shaded, so bring a hat and plan to go early, but the difference in temperature once we entered the redwood patch was quite welcomed! We felt like we entered a different world and it was quite magical.

We made this trip about 3 weeks ago, when my kids were on Spring Break. Even though we started early, the direct sun made it feel warmer than it really was (low 70s) and my kids stopped frequently for water breaks. Luckily there were a few benches along the way. The hike is so short (about a mile) that it’s more of a nature walk and it is quite pleasant otherwise.

We entered through the Carbon Canyon/Brea side of the Park (see map here). This park continues on into parts of Yorba Linda and Chino Hills. I wanted to visit the redwoods for quite awhile, but it had been ‘closed indefinitely’ after all the rain this winter. Part of the Carbon Canyon Park includes the Brea dam, so when it rains, it’s definitely a low point and prone to flooding. So imagine my joy when I found out it was finally opened again!

Below is a view near the trailhead. I love this view towards the trail…one can’t really see the redwoods yet, and it’s amazing that just a short walk later, it appears out of nowhere.


I visited the Redwoods previously in the summer and and it was very dry and mostly brown. So I was very happy to see the wildflowers and green everywhere I looked!


At first I thought the yellow patch of flowers below were sunflowers but I was told that these are the invasive mustard plants that were crowding out the wildflowers. I know there are efforts to control the spread of these plants, but it’s awfully difficult. At least though, it’s a more beautiful view than the plain brown/dry vegetation and dirt in the summer.


If you peek through the trees, you can see a little lake. Carbon Canyon Park also has a lake along with various play structures and picnic areas. I promised the kids we’d go there after the hike.


Below, this was our view through most of the hike. Very pleasant and beautiful. 🙂 But be sure to stay on the trail because there was a good amount of poison ivy growing along the sides. The kids had a field day pointing out all the signs warning about poison ivy/oak.



Above is one of many benches along the way. The kids chose to eat their granola bars here and rest their legs. This location made for some pretty nice family photos.

And then, we saw the Redwoods!


It was absolutely amazing. I’ve seen Redwoods up north, and though these are not that mature, they are every bit just as grand. Especially since it’s so dry and hot in Southern California. How did these trees manage to survive? The answer is underground irrigation. When we walked into the patch, our shoes got a bit damp, and there were some slightly muddy areas. I forgot to take a photo explaining it all, but it’s pretty neat.

I think I took more photos of the views above and all around instead :).




There is definitely a sense of peace and calm as I stood admiring the trees. If we were quiet enough, we heard the rustling of leaves from above and birds chirping all around. The ground was soft with bark mulch and I smelled dampness and wood in the air. Only remnants of light were filtered through the tall trees and we appreciated the transformation into this mystical world. It felt even more magical because of the difference in temperature outside the patch; almost like an oasis in the middle of nowhere.

After a nice long rest break, we headed back. On our way, we saw the dam from a distance. We could’ve taken that way back, but the kids were in a hurry to go to the play structures, so we skipped it this time.


I took another look at the greens and yellows surrounding us, trying to remember it all. Come summertime, the color will be all gone. Luckily we were able to see this before it disappears. And the redwoods? A treat anytime! 🙂

Thanks for reading! 🙂



Torrey Pines Hike: Red Butte and Beach Trails


The lone torrey pine against the beautiful ocean backdrop…did you know these trees are only found at the Torrey Pine State Reserve Park (map here) and at Santa Rosa Island? They are truly special but so is the hike!


We parked down by the beach, as we weren’t exactly sure if there would be any parking left at the trailhead up on top. It was close to noontime (we spent the morning at Carlsbad Flower Fields), and the lifeguard confirmed that parking would be tough to find at the trailhead but it was definitely a good climb up the hill past the sign.  It was quite the trek up the hill with my kids, who even with hats, were a bit hot and grumpy. So we took frequent breaks. Lots of other fellow beachgoers and hikers were also climbing up, so we were in good company.


Above is the little hill that we climbed…it was a bit hot in the direct sun. But once we turned the corner and gained some elevation, trees appeared and thankfully gave us some much needed shade.  We passed by the Guy Fleming and Parry Grove trailheads…and we enjoyed the beautiful views along the way.  Below are just a few examples:


We finally got to the Beach Trailhead and it was a welcomed sight! We had a good view of the ocean below so we were motivated to go. The kids wanted to stop by the Red Butte for a rest stop so we took the little trail and sat on top of the rock, enjoyed the view, and had a quick snack there. Then the kids decided they wanted to go to the visitor’s center, so hubby said he would take them there while I continued down the beach trail. I tried to hurry down the trail without missing all the sights of course…beautiful views were everywhere!


Below in the first three photos of the collage were our views from Red Butte…it was quite the sight! Then I continued past and headed down the Beach Trail.


The trail was well defined but at times a bit uneven and slippery from the eroded sand/dirt. I couldn’t help but admire all the wildflowers as I hiked down along the cliffs, and along the paths. Quite the relaxing hike!


As I got closer to the beach, signs warning of unstable cliffs started appearing and it got more rocky.


But the stairs leading to the beach was awesome! From certain angles, it reminded me of a slot canyon, but a few steps later, one had full view of the beach ahead.  The steep steps were narrow and slanted, and there were no railings so beware of your footing here.


I took a few moments to enjoy the view and then headed back up, knowing that my family was waiting for me. The way back turned into a little scenic jog and my exercise for the day.:)


After I made it back up, I headed for the Visitor’s Center. The “Torrey Pines Lodge” sign threw me off as I thought it was a hotel of sorts, but it was actually a nice cozy center with exhibits and souvenirs. And the view outside was gorgeous!


On our way out, we stopped to admire the Torrey Pines and signage in front of the Visitor’s Center. These trees are definitely quite majestic and I’m privileged to see these rare pines. And of course, it’s native to Santa Rosa Island…hmmm…inspiration to visit the island at some point? 🙂


Have a great weekend and thanks for reading! 🙂

Nojoqui Falls: 80 ft Waterfall Near Solvang


On our way to Solvang, we stopped by for a quick hike at the Nojoqui Falls… and what a treat! There was so much water, I kept getting water spots on my camera lens  (even though I wiped my camera off every few seconds, one can still see spots in my photos :0). I particularly enjoyed the sound of gushing water and the gorgeous scenery of this hike.

The entire hike took our family only about 20 minutes, and it was just about 2/3 of a mile. An extremely easy hike (more like a nature walk), but so scenic. My youngest tripped and fell on some rocks protruding out of the ground, and there were definitely steps upwards, but overall a very shaded and enjoyable walk. Also, beware of tree roots protruding along the path and poison ivy everywhere. This was one hike I kept warning my kids to stay in the middle of the trail and not wander too far off to the sides.



Nojoqui Falls Park is technically in Goleta but very close to Solvang (see map here). Above were signs at the trail head… advertised as a ’10 minute walk to the falls’ and must ‘stay on the trail.’ There was also a warning about mountain lions. Luckily, we did not see any.  There was ample parking on the dirt road. We followed the signs and drove past a small playground. There were restrooms near the parking lot (yay!). This was quite a popular walk. We saw lots of families, even one with a baby a few months old and a toddler. Everyone seemed to enjoy this short walk in the shade.


It was actually a bit cold… even midday. The trees towered above us, and we saw glimmers of sunlight in between the branches. We all had our jackets on. It rained the night before, not much, but at least it was a beautiful sunny day.


Above was one of three bridges en route to the falls.  Below is another bridge, with a bench facing the stream below. The soft sound of water flowing by was soothing as we walked along.




Water was flowing in a little stream below us… at some points a tiny waterfall. It got quite dramatic as we approached the 80 foot waterfall; and definitely breathtaking! I stood and took pictures from the side, underneath, and got as close as possible without getting too wet.


I took a long last look at the waterfall and admired the beauty of it before heading out. We were off to more adventures in Solvang (another post coming later), but what a wonderful start!

Thanks for reading! 🙂

Wildflowers Galore: Chino Hills State Park


Gorgeous neon green hills greeted us when we first arrived at the Chino Hills State Park (4721 Sapphire Road, Chino Hills, CA or here). After the rainstorms this winter, it is so amazing to see everything so green and dotted with wildflowers everywhere! In the above photo, people were taking this steep climb up to the top and getting closer look at the wildflowers. After seeing the superbloom at Anza Borrego (I wrote about our trip here), we started seeing amazing photos of wildflowers at Chino Hills State Park. We had never been to this edge of the park from Chino Hills (there are also entrances from the Brea and Yorba Linda borders), so we decided to explore and it sure was worth the trip!


Although yellow wildflowers were the most predominant ones we saw, there were splashes of other colors as well. We were really spoiled by the abundance of color and the density of flowers. They were everywhere; lupine, poppies, wildflowers in yellow, white, purple and pink. The smell was amazing too!  This was a real treat for the senses. My favorite was the blue-violet lupine, seen in the collage top left. In a cluster, they made quite the show!

The below photo shows the numerous wildflowers that filled the hills for miles and miles. It was quite difficult to photograph as they were small enough so one had to get close to take a good picture of the flowers, but to truly appreciate how many flowers there were, one would need to back up, and then all the flowers just blended in together and looks like grass or weeds. It was truly an experience to enjoy in person…these pictures (try as I might) just doesn’t do the beauty any justice. 🙂




We drove slowly all the way up the narrow street (Bane Canyon Road) as there were lots of people hiking this path and enjoying the wildflowers all over the hills. We paid the entrance fee at the booth, and then drove all the way to the end, where it dead ends into a parking lot and Aliso Canyon trailhead.


This trail was particularly scenic…with a huge rustic windmill, and tons of wildflowers on both sides of the path. Soon we were amongst the hills of wildflowers. The sight was amazing. My kids loved finding different colors of flowers everywhere, smelling them, and standing next to them. Many of the flowers were taller than they were!



It was getting a bit warm, so the trees and meandering stream below were a welcomed sight. I did find some poison ivy below the trees, so it’s a good idea to stay on the trail.

After this we didn’t make it very far, as I started having an allergy attack. I forgot my allergy medication and the pollen was getting to me :0! So we got back in the car and drove slowly back towards the entrance and stopped where we could (at turnoffs and small parking lots) to enjoy the sights.


The photos above and below were different spots along Bane Canyon Road…quite the relaxing view! There was a slight breeze and the tall flowers would sway gently in the wind and rustle. It made some of my photos blurry, but the view was quite enjoyable regardless!


Below was my favorite spot to enjoy the wildflowers. Unfortunately I could not get any closer as there was a sign that indicated ‘Not A Trail.’ But I loved seeing the purples with the orange flowers along the hillside. Definitely quite a treat!


We took this trip approximately 2 weeks ago and I’m pretty sure the blooms are still there. I have to apologize for the delay in posting as I have been super busy with gardening and kids’ activities lately (more on both later). Spring break is coming up and I’m excited for more adventures ahead!

Thanks for reading! 🙂

Santiago Oaks-Santiago Creek, Historic Dam, Windes Nature Trail


Great views, waterfall at the historic dam, wildflowers, playground, and a nice short hike all in one place. Perfect! We looked hard for a good short hike in this unpredictable weather, and found this wonderful park. We only had a few hours, so we wanted something short, but it was a pretty packed few hours with lots to see and do.



Santiago Oaks Regional Park is located at 2145 N. Windes Dr., Orange, CA or here. We were here last year and with the drought, there wasn’t much water at the dam. This time, I heard the water before I saw it. And the sound was music to my ears. There wasn’t a ton of water, and it wasn’t a huge waterfall, but any water in Southern California is just plain exciting, especially since I remembered there was just a big pool of stagnant, stinky, and murky water before. We enjoyed just sitting around the dam and listening to the water for awhile. I climbed up and down the steps to see the dam from above and then below. Either way, a great view!


We also made sure to let the kids hop through the circular steps across the water. What a difference rain makes! Before, there wasn’t much water so there was no need to stay on the circular stone path. This time, it was actually fun to cross the little stream!


We explored a bit along the Santiago Creek Trail until the outskirts of the park. The climb was steep and fun and the views were great. But we headed back down and into the park to see the nature center. Unfortunately, though it was closed. Luckily the playground nearby was definitely good enough for my kids and they played happily as my hubby watched them.


The Windes Nature trail was close by so I decided to explore it a bit. It was numbered with little signs about nearby plants, and even though I had trouble reading some of the words that were faded, it was still very informative. I enjoyed an invigorating uphill climb. The bench at the top of the hill gave me a very impressive panoramic view of the park. I sat up there for a good 5 minutes just breathing in the fresh air, dangling my legs, and enjoying the view. I could see people walking on the trails to the right of me and people going towards the historic dam too. The one lane trail in some areas were a bit steep and rocky, but so much fun! There was so much green to take in, and so much wildlife too. We saw footprints of a bobcat (we think), and lots of birds. Tons of California sagebrush (love the scent too), and green everywhere. But I saw a poster on the wildflowers in the area, and while I saw plenty of yellow ones, I wanted to find a blue one. So off I went. And I found one! It was tiny but pretty just the same. And along the rocks about eye level, were dudleyas!  I love dudleyas…they don’t survive well in my garden but I always find them in the wild flourishing under trees or tucked in rocks. Always a wonderful treat to find a dudleya!  As  I traveled back down, I saw two holes (mini caves) in rocks that reminded me of eye sockets on a skull, and I was tempted to climb in for one second, but thought better of it.

Looked a bit spooky to me!
Sign with wildflower photos
Beautiful wildflowers…blue, yellow, white…plus scented sagebrush, lots of greens everywhere

The kids were still playing happily at the playground when I got down. I told my hubby that it was probably a good idea they stayed down below because there was no railing up above and some of the trail was pretty narrow and steep for the kids. I would’ve worried about their safety. Plus they were so content playing, it was perfect. We actually had to bribe the kids with food to get them to go but they were tired. Another perfect afternoon…and just in time as it got colder as we left. Another possible rainstorm overnight was in the forecast. So I’m grateful we got to enjoy the fresh air, sun, and wildlife today.



Thanks for following us on another adventure!



Thousand Steps Beach (and a Sea Cave!)

natureinspiredmom.step9.jpgWhat’s better than getting a good workout going to a beautiful beach? A sea cave! A sizable one at that! Finding it isn’t the easiest, and parking is even tougher, but it’s definitely worth it!


Ok, I’ll be honest, it’s not really 1000 steps. One of my kids counted 230. But it sure feels like it. Probably because it is really steep and seems to go on forever. Also, when it’s crowded, it feels a bit narrow on the stairs and it adds to the feeling of ‘how much more?’ But, it IS worth it. Definitely a gorgeous view once you get down. Even then, some people run up and down the stairs for exercise. I saw a few while we were there, and I admire their determination.

The best time to go is during low tide. Be sure to check the tide chart before going. I used the one here.  Even then, we were manuevering between wet rocks and I slipped a couple of times on the algae and got wet. (We went during the winter when the tide was at a low 0.3m). During the summer and high tide, it is impossible to get into the cave and dangerous;  I’ve been told the cave is closed for safety during those times.I suppose that’s the best time to just enjoy the stairs for the workout component, and definitely the beach.

Thousand Steps Beach is located along PCH (Highway 1) and across from 9th Ave in Laguna Beach. Parking along the PCH is difficult to find and beware, watch for traffic! We parked in the Mission Hospital parking lot. It was the weekend, and finding parking in the residential areas across the street from the beach was impossible. Please refer to the map here.

After we made it down the stairs, we were greeted with a gorgeous view. The water is always beautiful at Laguna Beach and I could’ve enjoyed the beach alone. But of course we had to explore the cave. We made a left and could see the cave from a distance.




As we got closer, the cave entrance was definitely easier to spot. Beware of the rocks beneath your feet…they seem to protrude from nowhere. Maybe I just wasn’t paying attention because I was focussing on the cave.:)

Once we entered the cave, we carefully walked along some wet sand, then maneuvered around and climbed rocks to get to the other side. It was amazing! There were different colors of rocks..pastel green, turquoise, pink..and pale green/turquoise water in between the rocks. To me, the opening to the other end of the cave looked like a profile of a man with a distinct nose, but that changed depending on where you were in the cave.




Once we made it to the other side of the cave, we enjoyed the ocean view from within. Supposedly there is a private beach if one continued climbing to the left, but we didn’t. I wasn’t sure if the kids would slip and I didn’t want to chance it. There’s also some uncertainty as to what might be private property. And there was enough beauty already as it was! 🙂

In the photo below, we saw other people climbing on the rocks to the left.



We spent a good amount of time there enjoying the view and exploring the cave. It was amazing!  Then we turned around to head back. The view from that side was pretty spectacular too.


The photo below shows the outside of the cave entrance and to the right was a little enclave where the water would wash up. My kids played here for a bit longer and protested leaving. I don’t blame them. 🙂 It was beautiful…we sat around and enjoyed the ocean waves some more.



Eventually, it was getting darker and dinner time was fast approaching, so we had to head back. The climb back UP the stairs was tougher for sure. But I think we were tired from the day, so that makes sense. Kids got their energy out, we had a relaxing time, and we got to explore a cave! Couldn’t ask for more!

Thanks for reading!

Death Valley (Mosaic Canyon/Badwater/Natural Bridge/Mesquite Sand Dunes/Hiking Challenge)




Death Valley…not only is it an awesome National Park to explore, but did you know they have an annual hiking challenge? I passed by Death Valley many times on the way to other locations, but this time we actually made it as our destination to visit and hike. There was a long drive from one trail head to another due to the vastness of this park. However, we saw the lowest point in Northern America at Badwater, found a Natural Arch, saw the Mesquite Sand Dunes, and hiked though some narrows made out of marble!

This was our family trip in November of 2016. Today in February, it’s raining and hike trails are closed so I finally get to write about our trip that day. The pictures bring back great memories! We finished the hiking challenge same day and was rewarded with a neat bumper sticker I proudly display on my car. I hope to return sometime this year to complete their hiking challenge for 2017. I wouldn’t dare attempt to go now with the rain, but also can’t go in the summer when it’s hot, but maybe I might go see the wildflowers and pupfish soon. The Death Valley Visitor’s Center, Furnace Creek is located here. For the 2017 hiking challenge information, please see the information on their site here.  Their hiking challenge is based on a point system so there’s a list of hikes to do, and depending on its difficulty one can accumulate points. I love this system because one can make it as easy or difficult as one prefers. We brought along our kids, so we chose easier hikes to explore. Personally I found this to be an easier hiking challenge to finish compared to the Anza Borrego’s hiking challenge as one can finish in one visit (if well planned out). However, the hiking challenge only highlights a few things to explore in the park. There is so much to see! Obtain 4 points, show your selfie photos to the ranger, and get a limited edition sticker. Fun times!


Our adventure began at 3am in the morning. I didn’t get much sleep because I was so excited! We loaded our sleepy kids in the car and hoped they would sleep most of the way there. Surprisingly they didn’t. They were just as excited seeing the different landscape and lights along the way. We arrived at Baker around 7AM. Boy, was it good to see a town in the middle of nowhere, and good food! We saw the “World’s Tallest Thermometer” (see picture below..sorry dark exposure because the sun was barely rising) and enjoyed breakfast at the Mad Greek. It was very cold…the thermometer indicated 43 degrees. Luckily we were prepared and dressed warmly. natureinspiredmom.bakercollage.jpg

I was so hungry, I had a whole gyro, pistachio baklava, and coffee for breakfast. Everyone filled up and they had so much to choose from (pastries included), so we ate and were ready for more driving.

Heading north from Baker to Death Valley took far longer than I anticipated. I think it felt like a long time because even though we were officially in Death Valley, we had to drive through miles and miles of desert before we could see the visitor’s center or any of the sites we wanted to visit. Plus there was absolutely no reception in the area and no fellow travelers, so as much as I do enjoy solitude from time to time, I was just hoping we’d get there safely!



So one can imagine the excitement when we arrived at the Badwater Salt Flat, the lowest point in the North America! This was considered an easy hike at about 1 mile to and back. However to go to the other side, one can go much further…about 5 miles according to the ranger. Before I had the chance to explain things to the kids, they took off running down the wooden pathway and beyond to what they thought was ice/snow but it was actually salt flats.




It definitely was crunchy beneath our feet and super neat to see.  Apparently Badwater was aptly named not because it was toxic, but just super salty. But what was most interesting was this is the lowest point in North America. The white sign in my photo below is so tiny I had to add text next to the “Sea Level” sign so that one can see from a distance what the words said. We were 282 ft below sea level walking around on these salt flats. The salt path went down for as far as the eye could see. We walked 0.5 mile in before the kids got tired and we turned around. Pretty neat!


Off we went to the Natural Bridge, which was another easy 1 mile hike. There was a bit of unpaved road we had to drive through to get to trail head, so we traveled very slowly and had ourselves a bumpy adventure. It was absolutely beautiful everywhere we looked.




This trail was fairly easy and very scenic. Rocks, cairns, and dry waterfalls were a few highlights.


Pretty soon we approached the natural bridge (see below). It was gorgeous! I still wonder  how nature in all its majesty formed this, along with all the dry waterfalls. We took some time to enjoy the views and take family photos. This trail was very popular with tourists and many were also taking group photos.


We went a little past the Natural Bridge and saw a giant dry waterfall (see below). Another breath taking view! I got closer and stood beneath it to take it all in. I felt like a little ant next to this tall structure. It was a very humbling and beautiful experience.


We drove to the visitor’s center next. The friendly rangers were great at providing information and there was a wonderful exhibit area. We promised the kids we’d be back for that later. The kids each got a Junior Ranger pamphlet (which they started filling out right away), and I got more information on the hikes in the hiking challenge. The center closes at 430PM so we would need to plan to make it back in time to turn everything in. natureinspiredmom.dv19.jpg

After that, we drove awhile west towards Stovepipe Wells Village. I should mention there is a nice souvenir store, gas station, and even a motel there. We drove so far, we were so relieved there was a gas station on the other side. We saw the road to Scotty’s Castle, (which I really wanted to see), but both the road and the Castle are closed until 2019. I guess that’s another reason to go back again! We arrived at the Mesquite Sand Dunes, which is another easy hike, approximately 2 miles roundtrip. However, I did not finish this hike as it was getting hot and I did not want to go too far. The kids and hubby all bailed on me on this one…so I didn’t want to take too long.



We were off to our last hike, the Mosaic Canyon. This was considered a moderate hike at approximately 4 miles roundtrip. There was another bumpy unpaved road that we traveled on to get to the trailhead but it was all worth it. I absolutely loved this hike and the narrows at 0.5 miles was the highlight of my day.



One can see the different stones in this canyon…and then it transforms into narrows with marble/Dolomite. The kids loved climbing the lower ridges and exploring all the different rocks. But it was also very slippery so we didn’t let them climb too high.






Some areas were more narrow than others, but it was so gorgeous. I was mostly sightseeing rather than hiking. We hiked past the narrows and a little further but I guess we were there longer than I thought because we were starting to lose sunlight. We had to make it back to the Visitor’s center by 4:30, so we left, satisfied by everything we saw.

At the Visitor’s center, the kids got their Junior Ranger badges, recited their oaths, and took pictures with the Ranger. They also got to go through each exhibit and learn more about everything that they saw. We barely made it back to the Center on time but we felt accomplished. We then began the long trek back home. Before we left, I was most inspired by this sign…


There is so much still to explore so I’m sure we will be back soon at Death Valley another time. Thanks for reading and following us through our journey!



Anza Borrego Part 4-Hiking Challenge Complete! (Pictograph and Southwest Grove/Palm Mountain)

Pictographs on the rock
One of the most amazing views I’ve ever seen
Southwest Grove at Mountain Palm Springs

Every trip to Anza Borrego is an exciting adventure, and this one was no exception. There’s always too much to do and not enough time! But this is precisely the reason why I love exploring this particular state park so much…and keep coming back!

These 2 trails were the last ones left for me to complete for the ABF hiking challenge (as mentioned in my previous post Anza Borrego Part 1). I was very eager to get to both. As it turned out, these were very different from my previous hikes.  No slot canyons. But pictograph, palm trees, and one of the greatest views ever (more on that later).  I would say they were easier in general but harder in traveling to them. Both were south of the Christmas circle and the visitor center. I will start with the Pictograph Trail first.

First photo: Blair valley; Second is the seemingly never-ending dirt road; Third photo: finally! a sign we were going in the right direction. Fourth photo: probably a good 2 miles before we got to the Pictograph Trail from this sign

Off from S2, look VERY carefully for the little brown sign saying “Blair Valley.” In the first picture above, that’s Blair Valley. We actually drove right past it the first time until my hubby acutely thought ‘that must be it right there’ so we turned around and saw that little Blair Valley sign and turned in on the dirt road. Once we turned in, another brown sign indicated the Pictograph trail was 5 miles away. Well, it was a very bumpy 5 miles for sure. We turned on a good movie for the kids and hoped we took the right path. After a few miles, we weren’t exactly sure anymore.  We passed by quite a few campers and then a small sign indicating Monteros/Pictograph trail appeared. The unpaved dirt road was roughly single lane, so when we encountered other cars going the other direction, we made sure to stop a little off to the side so they can pass. And vice versa.  My hubby remarked…’just when you think you might be lost, there’s a little sign.’ Luckily after what seemed like a very long time, we passed by the Monteros trail head, and then finally arrived at the Pictograph trail head. Whew! That felt like an accomplishment!

Start of the trail in first photo…trail is pretty well defined by rocks and plants (second and third photo) until it opens up a bit…

So we were eager to start the trail and it was beautiful! But it was definitely a warmer day, so we had to bring extra water and made sure we had sunscreen and hats for everyone.  The trail was pretty well marked…winding through rocks and native plants. Very scenic!

Less than 1 mile in, we found the Pictograph Rock. The kids had fun deciphering it…one kid saw what looked like the sun, another said the triangle might be a hut, and it was fun trying to figure it out.

The pictograph rock! Giving us much needed shade. We stopped here for a short break.

From that point on, we could’ve turned around and headed back. One child wanted to hike more, while the others were hot and wanted to go back to the car. As a family, we decided  hubby was going to take the tired kids back slowly, while I could continue a bit more with the adventurous one.

First photo: from a distance it looks like there’s no way past the rocks. But it opens up to a nice pathway until you start seeing a great view (second, third, fourth photos)

So off we went for a little while longer. The ranger mentioned it was about half a mile more until we might see smuggler’s canyon with a good view.  From far away, it looked like one would hit a dead end (see first photo). It was hot and we were ready to turn around until I talked to a fellow hiker, who told us there’s a small path that opens up and the view is definitely worth seeing. And he was right. It was really exciting going through that pathway, and then all of a sudden, THE VIEW. One of the most gorgeous sights I’ve seen and it actually made me a bit dizzy.

This was as close as I was willing to get with camera in hand at the sheer drop off. Beautiful view for sure!

The view was fabulous! One could see rocks below, the Vallecito valley, and surrounding hills and mountains. But I was very wary of that drop off you see in the photo. Did I ever mention I used to be afraid of heights before I started hiking? Well I might still be, but this was a little different. At the edge of the rock (maybe 3 feet away), it sloped downward and veers completely straight down. I believe I heard the ranger say it used to be a waterfall? It sure seems like it. I got dizzy every time I went closer as I thought…my phone might drop, my sunglasses or hat might fall, it’s sloping down so I could slip…and worse yet, my kid was edging closer and closer. Kids seem to have no fear, and this one was so excited that my child kept exclaiming “I see the EDGE OF THE WORLD!” We enjoyed our view for awhile and believe me I kept my adventurous one safely behind me, but what an experience! This was the absolute highlight of my day. I should’ve taken a video of this precise location, but I think I was dizzy enough and had one hand on my kid, that I just forgot.

Completely satisfied and amazed after that experience, we headed back to the car. On to Southwest Grove trail.

We headed south on S2 again, and we eventually found the trail head. This one wasn’t as hard to find, except we were driving for a long time and there were a lot of little signs that we passed (not on the map) so we had to really pay attention and not second guess ourselves.

First photo: Interpretive panel. Second and third photos: following the trail. Some parts were muddy beneath us. Fourth photo: Continuing past this first set of palm trees.

We could see some palm trees from the parking lot, but the interpretive panel was a bit to the left of where we parked and so we started there. The trail was soft beneath us, as water was still running below our feet, so our footprints left muddy marks and there were some gnats in the puddles. When we could, we would walk higher on the rock trail alongside the palm trees, but it was not very visible. We walked though a grove of Palm trees (Pygmy Grove) and then we went up on the sandy ridge. One could stay on the path below (the sandy wash) but both lead to the Southwest Grove.


First photo: finally a sign! We were on the right track, grove is 0.75 miles away. The second, third, fourth photos were taken of the trail on the sandy ridge, progressively getting closer to the Southwest Grove.

Eventually we saw a small brown sign. It indicated that the Mountain Palm was 0.75 miles away and another trail (Bob Willow) was to the left. We went towards the grove on the ridge and welcomed the sight of the grove and shade! It was a beautiful sight, to see a big Palm grove in the middle of the desert. We took it all in and relaxed in the shade for awhile.


At this point, I was curious about the Torote Bowl extension that was at the southwest corner of the grove. We climbed halfway up a rock wall before I realized this was not it. I didn’t see any signs but saw footprints, so I decided to follow it as far as I could. Lost the footprints but started seeing what I believe to be borrego droppings. So we got back down and went up some more steep steps a little further down.  But we didn’t go all the way up as we were getting hot and tired by this time. We climbed back down and at the very end, noticed the Torote Bowl sign laying on the ground. It had been knocked over and broken at the wooden post area. No wonder I missed it the first time!  Oh well, I will save that adventure for another time!

First photo: rock wall I thought was the Torote Bowl. Second photo: steep steps to the Torote Bowl. Third photo: Torote Bowl sign that was knocked down and broken (probably why I missed it in the first place)

We soon headed back towards the parking lot. It was a beautiful view that I didn’t see until we turned around. Here you can see our shadows as we took it all in.

On the sandy ridge on the way back to the parking lot

We ended the day by stopping by the main Christmas circle and getting some pizza and a few souvenirs. So with that, we completed the 5 hikes for the ABF hiking challenge. Took us 3 trips and so much adventure! Definitely a fun experience. But it doesn’t mean we are done. What I learned is that there is so MUCH more that we haven’t seen. And now I hear that wildflowers are coming? With the rain we’ve had, it’ll be spectacular! So I’m sure we will be back…

Thanks for following us though another adventure!

Sea Cave Adventure at Dana Point (Tide Pools too)

The view out of the cave

Sea caves are mystical to me; the allure is that it is an adventure only accessible during low tide…but better yet, a chance to explore a cave! A sea cave in Dana Point is icing on the cake, because the beach is already gorgeous, so the trip to the cave is amazing!  Especially during winter, when I yearn for the good ol’ beach days of summer, the call of the ocean speaks loudly to me.

Inside the cave

It has been raining lately, so we haven’t been to the beach in awhile. But a picture I found lately reminded me of our trip last year this time to Dana Point and the sea cave, so of course I wanted to revisit.

[Warning: Please do NOT attempt this adventure unless it’s very low tide. Some even prefer negative low tide. It can be very dangerous. My motto is always to be safe than sorry! And please wear good shoes; there are lots of rocks to maneuver through!]

I checked and double checked the tide charts for Dana Point. I used this site here. Today was our lucky day! The lowest tide (for the next 7 days or so ) was set at 3:40 pm, so we planned to reach the cave around then.

So off we went. We began at the Ocean Institute, address 24200 Dana Point Harbor Dr., Dana Point, CA 92629 or here

Walk behind the Institute, enjoy the beautiful views and walk down this set of stairs under the green enclosure. It is a short 1 mile trip round trip, but beware, there are lots of rocks to maneuver through, so be sure to wear appropriate shoes. It was a cloudy day today, but the temperature was perfect. Apparently everyone thought the same thing, because immediately we noticed quite a crowd of people along the same path. Some stopped short for family photos, and others went to explore the tide pools along the way, but some continued on the path toward the cave.


There is a sandy pathway along the rock wall to the right where others have traveled (see below). But the pathway becomes more and more rocky quickly.


Below, I’m looking back at the rocks I traveled through. Some of the rocks were unstable, others had seaweed draped over it, and others were just slippery. I told the kids to pick the biggest, flattest, most sturdy rocks to walk on, and not to jump nor rush. This photo reminded me that I was going extra slow and being extra careful I don’t twist my ankle…


This goes on for awhile. One can go at a leisurely pace, going closer towards the rocks to explore tide pools, or just walk and enjoy the constant crash of ocean waves and salty air. Go for a bit further, until it seems like you can’t go any further because you’d have to swim! Look carefully to the right to see a slit in the rocks. That’s the entrance to the cave.

And there’s the slit in the rocks…entrance to the cave. At first I didn’t see it because a fellow visitor was blocking it, but there it was!

As you get closer the entrance gets bigger, until you enter and it opens up into a majestic cave. The first time I saw the cave, I was awe-stricken. This time, the beauty is just as inspiring!


And there’s the cave! Big enough for a large group of people…


I made a collage below of the views from left to right as you look out the cave. To the left, there’s a collection of huge rocks with water everywhere. One could climb these, but it’s very slippery. I know because I slipped a few times on the algae and barnacles, and I was wearing my hiking shoes and going extra slow. The rocks are constantly getting refreshed by the ocean waves, so it’s just too slippery for me to climb beyond where I was. To the right I see much of the same. It does veer off into a separate little cave, but it’s nowhere as big as the main cave. One could just sit here and enjoy the beauty here.


And we did. For a long time. I loved every moment of it! I took so many photos and caught the crash of waves on that rock below. The water was clear greenish blue. When it swelled, it was a marvelous sight and the thunderous noise was deafening. One cannot dispute the power of nature here! At this spot, I could just enjoy and forget everything else in the world.


But it was getting late, so it was also time to go. As much as the kids liked exploring the ‘pirate cave’ (they called it this because someone once told them this was where pirates used to smuggle goods and hide it), they were asking for food, so it was time to make the journey back.

But before we made it all the way back, one of my most enthusiastic critter loving kids insisted on looking at the tide pools, so of course I happily obliged. This was one of our favorites. Here we found many sea anemones, hermit crabs (crawling around quickly), barnacles, and seaweed. It was wonderful to explore!


Love the pastel colors in the tide pool. Look how clear the water is! 

After that it was a short trip back on the rocks. But suddenly, the sun came out…just long enough to smile at us and allow us to take a few pictures of our shadows high fiving each other.

High five on the rocks! 🙂

It was an awesome day to remember! Overall it took us about 1.5 hours for this roughly 1 mile trip. It took us longer because we spent a good amount of time enjoying the views in the cave and we were cautiously slow navigating the rocks with kids. And we enjoyed exploring the tide pools!

We got back quickly to the Ocean Institute and bought some souvenirs for the kids at the shop there. They loved their day! We did too!

Thanks for following us on our adventure! And on to the next…