Hsi Lai Temple, Hacienda Heights

Hsi Lai Temple feels like an oasis in the middle of white-hot urban sprawl of Southern California.  The dry “Santa Ana” winds were blowing at the time of our visit, adding an invigorating charge to the air.  On our way there, Matthew and I paused at Sycamore Canyon to go for a leisurely hike and listen to the dry brush speak with its rustling.  The air is usually so still in Southern California that the plants never otherwise have a voice.  It is wonderful to feel everything come alive when these winds visit every autumn.

Upon arrival, we meandered through the gardens and gazed upon the faces of statues with expressions ranging from serene to crazed and comical.  Since I lean more toward Zen Buddhism than Mahayana Buddhism (the former being more minimalistic and the latter being more ceremonial), it was peculiar for me to see a “forest of faces” in those gardens.  I was further awe-struck by the extravagance of the meditation temple, featuring three giant gold statues of the Buddha and so many tiny golden lights to entrance and humble the observer that it was easy to let go of extraneous thoughts and be still, if only for a few moments in the day.

“Painted Cave”, Lake Cachuma and Solvang

Gloomy autumnal weather settled on the coast yesterday, making it the perfect time to rise above the clouds of Santa Barbara County and explore the back country.  Our first stop was Painted Cave State Park, right off San Marcos Pass on Highway 154.

It’s times like these when I feel compelled to praise my little car, “Sally”; she can climb mountain passes, zip past other cars on the highway and get great gas mileage.  Since our furthest destination of the day was sixty-six miles away and Matthew and I are college students on a budget, the mileage rate is something I feel very thankful for.

“Sally” wound up a narrow, curvy road where we pulled off to the side near a sign marking the location of the cave.  The paintings were made by the Chumash Native Americans and date back from the 1600’s or earlier but the meaning has supposedly been lost, according to the State Parks website.  The Chumash have lived in Santa Barbara County for 13,000 years.  The Spanish missionaries arrived in the 18th century and the United States acquired the area in 1848, meaning these paintings were created shortly before the land and its people experienced a major shift.  A grate has been placed at the mouth of the cave to protect the paintings from vandalism.

After appreciating the paintings, Matthew and I continued along San Marcos Pass until we reached Lake Cachuma, where we went for a nice hike through the oak trees along the edge of the water.

 

Lovably Eccentric Santa Cruz!

After visiting the Monterey Bay Aquarium (see Vibrant Jellies at the Monterey Bay Aquarium), Matthew and I checked into a modest yet very comfortable motel called The Beachway Inn located in Santa Cruz where  I was nothing short of thrilled to discover that they had a large, comfortable, steaming hot jacuzzi.    There was also a full-sized indoor pool heated to a comfortable temperature where Phoebe dipped her toes and Matthew and I stretched our muscles after the long car ride from Ojai.

The next morning, we ventured out to explore Santa Cruz starting with Natural Bridges State Beach.

Afterward, we ventured to the Beach Boardwalk which seemed to contain every colorful carnival amusement imaginable.

Our next stop was Wilder Ranch State Beach where Phoebe promptly fell asleep in Matthew’s arms.  We explored the bluffs and marveled at the precipitous drop below.  Phoebe was wearing her harness and tether to keep her safe when she woke up.  Seagulls rested peacefully at the edge and pelicans soared through  the air below us.  Dolphins grazed the surface of the water in the distance, making the experience even more beautiful.

Three destinations in one day simply would not suffice in this beautiful city so we headed to Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park where we took a leisurely walk on the soft, padded ground through an ancient forest.

Photo Credit: Matthew Phelps

Before returning to the motel, we went to a great mostly-vegetarian restaurant called the Saturn Café in the downtown area where we saw several interesting street performers lighting up the night.  Phoebe had an understandably tired and grumpy moment in the restaurant.  When I took her outside to calm down, a sweet older woman wearing metallic glitter on her cheeks and colorful scarves chatted with me about how she likes to add licorice flavor to her coffee at a local café.  Her chatter distracted and calmed Phoebe while charming me completely, making me curious about what other interesting surprises this town has to offer.

Picturesque Californian Culture at San Simeon Beach, Cambria

Today I saw Californian culture at its finest.  I can’t tell you what the “California Dream” is because I’ve always been a Californian and that’s like asking a fish to tell you about water, but I can describe the moments that make me the most proud and happy to be a native to this state.

When Phoebe and I arrived at San Simeon Beach in Cambria, we were dressed in our usual attire of sun dresses, flip-flops and sunglasses.  To beat the chill of the sea breeze, I donned a light sweater and helped Phoebe into a  wind-breaker jacket.  I noticed others dressed this way, too: sporting shorts and sandals with fleece jackets.  The odd mismatch that is sensible to Californians is what differentiates us from tourists sometimes.

As we climbed down the weathered wooden staircase, I saw an idyllic scene: small children, older children and teenagers playing together with driftwood, arranging it into benches, bridges and tee-pee’s…  There were kids and adults surfing, boogie-boarding and wake-boarding.  People wore rolled-up jeans and wet suits.  No one was there to work on their tan or flaunt their progress at the gym.  Older couples held hands and leaned on each other as they sat on the driftwood and watched the waves.  Kids ran together with their shaggy, feathered hair peeking out of their beanies.  Everyone appeared calm, happy and patient.  I heard moms calling across the sand to kids with names like “Zooey” and “Cyrus”…as in “Zooey!  ZOE-ZOE!  Do you have to go POTTY?  There’s a POTTY up THERE!”  Some of the children scaled the rock formations that lined the beach and the adults nearby looked out for them, letting them know when they might not be safe.  One lone adult pulled out a reading book that he’d wrapped in a bag to keep it safe from the sand.  A little girl ran to her mother who swung her around joyfully.

Phoebe and I marveled at the monstrously large seaweed and explored the rocks and giant driftwood logs.  Then we played hide and seek among the cypress trees.  One day, it won’t be as easy as squealing “Oh my gosh, I found you!” to fill Phoebe with glee, but for now she’s just three years old, and we’ll play hide-and-seek as much as she likes.

How would you describe an idyllic scene at the place you call home?

Oodles of Abalone at Gaviota State Beach, Gaviota

On Phoebe’s bookshelf rests a red box with a flower print lid; inside are her treasures from past outdoor adventures.  From time to time, she gently takes out each specimen, arranges them in a row and examines them with her magnifying glass.  Today, she asked me sweetly, “Mommy, can we gather more sea shells for my collection?”  After an hour of the usual hustle and bustle to get out the door, we were driving up Hwy  101 past Santa Barbara on our way to Gaviota State Beach.

Upon arrival, we were greeted by a gregarious park ranger who gladly showered me with pamphlets about the natural history of this beach and a few others nearby.   He suggested some hiking trails and told me about a 95-degree hot spring in the area.  I listened and visualized his directions for future reference, but today was a day for shells.   When I venture out with Phoebe, I strive for simplicity.

The ranger informed me that the beach was named “Gaviota” after a seagull killed by soldiers on an 18th century sailing voyage to find the port of Monterey.  I wondered what could be so spectacular about the death of a bird that it would inspire someone to name a place after it.  Looking through the pamphlet, I saw a surprising number of habitats listed: oak woodlands, grasslands, chaparral, riparian, freshwater aquatic, freshwater marshes, coastal strand, coastal salt marsh and marine. (1)  Sixteen of the wildlife species and six of the plant species that occur in the area are threatened or endangered. (2)

Incidentally, I came across the website of an organization called the Land Trust for Santa Barbara County which states, “Guarding against over-development of this last rural stretch of coastal Southern California is our biggest challenge.” (3)

After changing into our swim suits and slathering on sunscreen,  we walked under the railroad trestle and out on to the pier.  There, we were treated to a nice view of the beach on one side and rugged rock formations on the other.

The sediment is a part of the active Santa Ynez fault and was uplifted approximately 5 million years ago during the Miocene epoch. (4)

A friendly stranger offered to take our photo before we headed down to the sand.

I became a bit distracted with snapping photos of wildflowers before Phoebe tore me away to fulfill our intended purpose.

There was little variety of shells to be found in the area we settled in, but what we lacked in diversity we made up for in quantity, unearthing dozens of shiny blue abalone shells.   One piece featured a spectacular blend of colors and had a natural hole in it, perfect for use as a necklace pendant.   I fell in love with it and tucked it away in my beach bag.  That was the only shell that ended up coming home with us; Phoebe was happy to use the rest to decorate the sand castles she dreamed would be permanent.

Abalone

What was is your favorite “treasure” found in nature?

 

Sources:

(1)    http://www.parks.ca.gov/pages/606/files/gaviota.pdf

(2)    http://www.parks.ca.gov/pages/980/files/GCT-DMND-part1.pdf

(3)    http://www.sblandtrust.org/gaviotacoast.html

(4)    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Santa_Ynez_Mountains

A Bird’s Eye View at Point Dume, Malibu

An extreme heat warning was issued for Ojai yesterday.  Luckily for me,  Matthew had invited me to head to Malibu and explore Point Dume State Beach, a healthy ecosystem on the bluffs that overlook the shore.

“Two miles of scenic trails through grasslands, coastal bluff scrub, and southern foredune areas allow visitors to view an island of delicate biological integrity….The Native Californian Chumash tribe inhabited this coastline for thousands of years and used this area as a sacred space….The incredible vistas here at the point provide an opportunity to view sea lions, harbor seals and dolphins in the surf only a few dozen feet away.” (1)

Westward Beach

Photo Credit: Matthew Phelps

Photo Credit: Matthew Phelps

Photo Credit: Matthew Phelps

Point Dume is a coastal terrace formation dating from the Pleistocene age, 104,000-230,000 years ago. (2)  The tip is the western edge of the Santa Monica Fault, which runs 40 km to the east. (3)  At 150 feet and rising by 1/1,000 ft per year, the bluffs tower over the sea life playing below, allowing adventurous humans the opportunity to walk along the summit and gaze down on soaring pelicans and barking sea lions. (4)

Photo Credit: Matthew Phelps

Photo Credit: Matthew Phelps

Photo Credit: Matthew Phelps

Photo Credit: Matthew Phelps

The viewing platform is said to be wheelchair-accessible on the state parks website.  There is a parking lot at the top of the bluffs, a dirt path, and then a wooden path that leads to the platform.

“Some disabled parking is available along Cliffside Drive, adjacent the bluff-top park area. For viewing platform access, negotiating a slight grade will be necessary.” (5)

Sea lions bathing in the sun

We found beautiful igneous rocks which are remnants of basaltic lava from an ancient volcano. (6)   The green strata are formed by melted light green sandstone. (7)

Photo Credit: Matthew Phelps

Photo Credit: Matthew Phelps

Photo Credit: Matthew Phelps

Photo Credit: Matthew Phelps

Photo Credit: Matthew Phelps

Sources:

(1) http://www.parks.ca.gov/pages/623/files/PtDumeBrochure.pdf

(2)http://gmw.consrv.ca.gov/shmp/download/evalrpt/poid_eval.pdf

(3) http://www.tectonics.caltech.edu/outreach/local/dume.html

(4) http://www.malibugeology.com/rising.html

(5) http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=623

(6) http://www.tectonics.caltech.edu/outreach/local/

(7) http://aapgbull.geoscienceworld.org/content/43/1/222.abstract