Monday, April 27, 2015

Exploring National Parks in New York City: Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island #travel

Statue of Liberty National Monument, Liberty Island, New York 

 As if we are eager, impatient immigrants waiting to stake our claim in the new world of the United States of America, we cram onto the Hornblower Ferry with seemingly billions of other people, to head over on the short ride to the Statue of Liberty.

We’re exploring the National Park service in a different kind of way this time. Less awe and wonder from spanning wilderness in the high-country in, say, the California Sierras. Rather, we’re hitting the Urban National Parks.  Finding awe and wonder in the monumental expressions of American Freedom from a 151 foot gal on a pedestal called the Statue of Liberty and her vital side-kick, the Ellis Island Immigration Museum, in the great metropolis of New York City.

Entrance to Statue of Liberty. Museum, Pedestal and Crown. Photo credit: AHixon

The Statue of Liberty:
Alighting onto Liberty Island after the peculiar experience of the ferry listing so far to one side with everyone rushing to take photos and disembark, I find myself saying to my wide-eyed son and little sister -- if we have to swim, stay with the boat -- we finally find American Freedom Soil under our feet and are greeted by a warm National Park Service host in uniform and the spectacular, enormous, copper, female hostess, Lady Liberty, gifted from France in 1886.

How we might walk-up the inside of Lady Liberty's head. From the Museum.
After proceeding through another security line -- where they confiscate my dangerous Almonds -- we’re allowed into the bottom of the pedestal and are surprised by a informative museum inside the structure explaining how the statue was conceived, shipped, constructed and dedicated ultimately as a symbol of freedom and democracy.

From the Pedestal, we look up at the 7 rays of the 7 seas and continents.

Winding through the museum and then, with special tickets, up into the pedestal, we’re able to gaze up, directly into the folds of her beautiful tunic, as if a little field-mice scurrying at her feet. The 7 rays of her crown stretch out above us, pointing to the seven seas and continents of the world, inviting us to be a part of her magnanimous spirit.



Ellis Island:
Though we really could have hung out with the statue all day -- Lady Liberty is that magnetic -- it’s time to hop back on the less-cattle-car-crushing ferry ride over to Ellis Island. Where it all started for many of our ancestors.

Moving through the Ellis Island Museum, we learn about “X” chalk marks during the health screening for immigrants -- X marks the spot -- on immigrants’ jackets essentially guaranteeing them a safe passage HOME back to where they came from because they’re not deemed healthy enough. We learn about their voyage over, packed sleeping conditions, the long lines for every sort of paperwork.

Ellis Island looking back towards the Freedom Tower in New York City.

But most movingly, we come away with our heads full of stories. How a woman can not leave the island without being “claimed” by a family member or husband. How a young girl with an “X” turned her coat inside out and fooled the authorities and made it into America. How a wall of immigrant faces spread out all over the United States, each with a particular destination and job in mind, to make the American Dream a reality.

It’s been said 40% of us can trace our roots back through Ellis Island. Can we step back and imagine that experience? It took unwavering spirit and an incredible sense of adventure.

A huge National Park morning. We walk away awed and grateful.

Jammed on the the ferry like immigrants. My kid and the Statue of Liberty.
-Annie, Outdoorsy Mama

For More Information:
Tour of Islands & Ferry Tickets: Statue of Liberty Tickets
*Highly recommend booking tickets ahead of time. We were able to go to the front of huge lines by simply getting tickets online for the pedestal. Crown tickets were sold out, so plan ahead.

**Families: This adventure is manageable with kids though be prepared for big crowds on the ferries. No food allowed in the Statue of Liberty - they have lockers to stash stuff. And there is airport-like security at the Battery Park ferry terminal and getting into the statue. 

Statue of Liberty Information: Statue of Liberty
Ellis Island Information: Ellis Island


Map from Battery Park to Liberty Island to Ellis Island:
Leave Battery Park in Manhattan (1) to Liberty Island (2) to Ellis Island (3) and back.


Monday, April 6, 2015

Inn-to-Inn Hiking in Northern California: 3 Days, 2 Nights: San Francisco, Bay Area Hikes #AdventureTravel

Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Coastal Trail near Muir Beach, California.

Slinging my pack on my back, we thank the driver who drops us off at the Tennessee Valley trailhead in Marin County, California, for the three day inn-to-inn hiking excursion we’ve dreamed up for this weekend’s adventure.

Our packs are relatively light this time since we’ll have a bed with clean sheets and warm food prepared for our taste-buds each night as we make a loop that runs through the spectacular Golden Gate Recreation Area and Mt. Tamalpais State Park just north of the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco.

Ah, yes, a little pampering is good, especially since this adventure falls right around Valentine’s Day and the three day loop we’re about to explore is as much about reconnecting with each other as relaxed, happy human-beings in the fresh-air as it is about reconnecting our feet to the trails.

Day 1:
The first leg of the trip is a coastal vista extravaganza as we climb on the Coastal Fire Road up and out of Tennessee Valley’s lush grasslands in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) and onto the single-track trail that winds along the edge of the coast. The Pacific Ocean breaks directly below us and Muir Beach is our destination for the night.

I can’t stop taking pictures. The beauty of the coastline is seriously sweeping us away and we pause to snap a selfie of us looking back towards where our feet have jsut come from. Its one of those moments when you stop. Breathe. Listen. And have that moment. Not a person in sight. Just us and nature. Complete and total trail zen. You know it.

The Pelican Inn. Muir Beach, California

Winding back down the southern cliff’s trails of Muir Beach, just a few miles away from the world-famous Muir Woods National Monument, we find our way from the coastal-surf into the little community where we check-in for the night. The Pelican Inn. A quaint, little old english style place with a great pub and delicious fresh food.

Day 2:
Waking up to the sound of the waves rolling into Muir Beach down the road, our stomachs yell - Halleluiah! - with the giant breakfast we’re served by possibly the most friendly, warm hostess I’ve encountered in my lifetime. Filled to the brim, I wrap some of the extra freshly made bread in my napkin for a treat on the trail and we’re off for the second leg of our adventure.

Up Redwood Creek Trail with a surprise stream crossing, we’re now over Santos Meadow to Heather Cutoff Trail and Heather’s wildflower covered switchbacks to meet up with the Coastal View Trail and its wake-me-up vertical. T-boning the Dipsea Trail at close to 1,400 feet, we stop for a snack of fresh bread and gorp and a 180 visual sweep of the GGNRA, which we’ve left behind for now, and Mt Tamalpais State Park, which we’ve crossed over into earlier on the hike.

Mt Tamalpais State Park, California. Looking back over the Coastal View Trail.



From here we can see the shimmering San Francisco Bay to the east as it opens up westward into the Pacific and towards our next destination, the coastal town of Stinson Beach.

After this sunshine filled break, off we trek down over the coastal hills and through the redwood groves that lead down the last miles to one of our favorite hideaways on Earth. The cool beach town of Stinson Beach. Sleepy the right time of year, bumper to bumper on the appropriate all-out-beach-summer-holidays.

Stinson Beach, California




Dropping our packs at the front desk of the simple yet beachy-classy Sandpiper Inn, we check in our gear, whip off our hiking garb, and run in our flip-flops for the 2.5 mile beach just a block away from our cozy little room.

Day 3:
We grab a hikers breakfast at the Parkside just down the road from the Inn and walk to the beach for one last sip of coffee and a goodbye to the lung quenching ocean-spray. See you again soon, we hope. But for now, we have the final leg of our hike to finish. The 7 mile, Dipsea Trail that links Stinson Beach back over to Mill Valley.

This part of the hike doubles back for a few miles over where we’d been the day before. But, heading in this direction, we see the hike from such a different perspective with such different views, we feel as if it’s a brand new trail.

Mt Tamalpais State Park. Heading into Muir Woods area on Dipsea Trail.

Hitting the same 1,400 foot apex point as yesterday, we give it a high-five, and from here forward, we now descend into the new, previously untrodden section of the Dipsea Trail. Giant redwoods remind us that we’re just steps away from Muir Woods, and we stop and hug and worship some of these mammoth trees that line the trail and fill the hills surrounding us.

Through Muir Woods with another surprise stream crossing -- bridge is out! -- and it’s back over one last 750 foot hump then down, down the Dipsea Stairs into the mountainside town of Mill Valley, California.

2 nights. 3 days. 16 plus enjoyable miles. An Inn-to-Inn hiking loop through a national & state park. Heavenly hikes on Earth.

-Outdoorsy Mama

Where to Stay:
Muir Beach: The Pelican Inn, 415-383-6000
Stinson Beach: Sandpiper Lodging at the Beach, 415-868-1632

Length: Total **Loop: @ *16.5 miles. 
Day 1: @ 4 miles -- Day 2: @ 5.5 miles -- Day 3: @ 7 miles
Location: Hiking loop through the Golden Gate National Recreation Area and Mt Tamalpais State Park, North of San Francisco, California
Hike start: Tennessee Valley Beach Trailhead, Mill Valley, CA, Golden Gate Rec Area
Hike end: Old Mill Park, Mill Valley, CA
Exposure: Mostly sun.
Difficulty: Moderate to Strenuous. Day 3 has @ 2,100 vertical total.
Dogs: Sorry, leave the dogs at home.
Golden Gate National Recreation Area Trail Map (includes parts of Mt Tam State Park) 

Credit: GGNRA NPS Map 
*All mileage in this article is a close approximation as the trail signs and the maps and even the apps have an interesting variety of measurements. 
** I am calling it a loop because it starts and finishes in the same town. However it does not start and finish in the exact same location in that town. Please note.