Thursday, December 31, 2009

Hot Spring Fever

I’ve come down with hot spring fever! Ever since that book Melissa showed us at the Ocean Cove VW camp out, I’ve been going crazy about visiting hot springs (but only the natural ones). I don’t know what it is exactly that makes me all into it. I think I like the comfort of the hot water when its cold outside, and the awesome views that you usually have while soaking. Since most of the hot springs exist in areas of the earth which are tectonically active or mountainous, there is some crack allowing heated groundwater to rise up to the surface quickly. This means there are usually mountains around and nice scenery.

One hot spring which Romy and I have been searching for lately is one just north of Steep Ravine Beach within Mt Tamalpais State Park, right on the shore of the ocean. We heard about it from a guy at another VW camp out, this time at Bothe-Napa Valley State Park. The hot spring lies almost on top of the San Andreas fault, by Stinson Beach. At Stinson Beach, there is piece of land called Point Reyes, which is on the other side of the fault (the west side) which has been moving northwards, slowly creeping. Its origins are from far south, meaning that the chunk of land which we know today as Point Reyes was once next to L.A., and going farther back in time, it was probably further south by Mexico or something. Anyways, the hot spring there is under water most of the time. It is only exposed during the lowest of tides. The tide must be -0.5ft or lower for the source of the spring to be exposed. The area has a few sources, actually. The highest of the sources lies within the rocks along the shore. A small pool is formed within the rocky shoreline, which is slightly overhanging, creating a cave of boulder ceilings. As the tide makes the cold Pacific Ocean waters recede, the spring water bursts out, filling the pool with hot water. Somehow people discovered it, and have been bathing there when low tide makes it possible. The other sources come up underneath the sand along the shore. Beyond the rocky shoreline, there is a flat expanse of sandy bottom which is exposed only during the most low tides (at least -1.0ft or lower). Hot water bubbles up from below, and you can bath in it by bringing a shovel or bucket and digging into the sands which lie above the various sources. When we visited on Dec 30th, the tide wasn’t low enough to expose those sources, but we read that you can tell if they are exposed because the sands will have bubbles rising up and out to the surface. Digging into the sand will create a personal pool, which you can soak in for a little while before the ocean comes back and swallows it up again.

The tide chart on the day we went hunting for the hot springs.

Not knowing what to expect when we went, we brought a bucket, as well as towels and small beach chairs. According to what the guy told us (at the VW camp out), we drove down HWY 1 until we got near the Steep Ravine Cabins (which we rented a few weeks before – awesome) and parked the car. Then we walked down to the cabins along the paved road. We took the long way around, as we later discovered there was a much more direct way straight down the mountainside down to the ocean from right where we parked the car, but oh well. . . . Anyways, we got to Steep Ravine Beach, and he told us you have to go north a bit. We scrambled past the rocks, just north of the beach, and started smelling sulfur, a tell-tale sign. But the tide was only at 0 ft, so we waiting until the springs would be exposed. The tide was supposed to be getting down to -1.0ft that evening at 5pm, but it was only 4:15pm. After 20 minutes of nothing, we decided to move more northwards. Maybe we didn’t go far enough? As we walked, we saw a bunch of starfish clinging to the rocks which were normally under the water. One had a double foot. It had 6 feet!!! Gross.

Starfish we saw along the way to the hot springs. One of them has 6 feet!

We walked and scrambled over the rocks. I didn’t see anything. And I didn’t smell sulfur anymore, so I thought we were going way too far north. But then, all of a sudden, we saw cloths on a rock ahead. We kept going towards the cloths and found more and more cloths! Then we saw backpacks, and steam coming from in between some of the rocks near the shore. We saw naked people behind the boulders, and we knew we were in the right place. We had reached the famed hippy nudist hot springs!!! The actually pool was tucked in a cave, so it was hard to see how many people were inside. According to the shear amount of cloths on the rocks, we knew there were quite a lot of people. Nothing prepared me for what I saw next, as I peeked towards the pool. There we at least 20 to 25 naked people squished into the pool, which was the size of our VW bus. Holy crap this was about to get cozy.

We drove about an hour to get here, and hiked another 45 minutes, so we weren’t about to just give up now. We were going in! A nice (naked) man welcomed us, and told us there was still room, so we ‘dived in.’ The water was just the right hot-tub temperature. The bottom of the pool was a mix of large boulders and smaller rocks. All were soft and smooth. The ocean surf surrounded us, and the boulders above our heads had a bunch of mussels glued to the rocks. There were a bunch of older hippy-looking people crammed inside the pool. Mostly there were men (sausage fest), some with dred-locked hair, some with long hair and beards, some with dorky looking glasses. Some were the quiet type, while others were very social. A few women were there, and they looked normal to me. There was only one other woman with a bathing suit. Romy was the only guy with swimming trunks on. I went in with my suit on, which was not the norm there. But even with all those people in there, the pool was extremely peaceful. You could tell right away you were surrounded with people who were there because they loved nature, life, etc. The guy next to us, named Freddy, talked to me and told me a lot about the spring. We also talked about other natural hot springs. He told me how this particular spring deterred a lot of the wrong people – due to the dangerous trails, lack of personal space, and the ‘self-policing’ of the regulars. He said we were pretty mellow, and normally he didn’t encourage newcomers, but he liked us so he invited us back. I swear we were the youngest people there.

Freddy told us we looked conservative because of our glasses, but were probably pretty liberal (due to the whole coming to the hot springs thing). He said that was better than him, who looked pretty liberal but was really a conservative. These are the type of conversations that happened. He told us there was no alcohol allowed. He said everyone in the hot spring can smell the alcohol on somebody’s breath if they were drinking and that was shunned. The only smoke allowed was cannabis smoke, not tobacco (and of course the steaming smoke from the hot water). All in all, it was a great place and a great experience.

What made it special to me was the fact that it is so temporary. The spring is exposed for a maximum of 3 hours once (maybe twice) a month. At this time, the people gather and sit in cramped quarters to enjoy nature and life, comfortably warmed by the hot springs, whose heat source is deep within the earth. Cleaned naturally by the crashing waves of the ocean, the rocks are smooth and welcoming. It is hidden in a nook, hard to find. It’s the type of place you only know about because a friend told you about it. It’s not for everybody.

But I guess you can say the same thing about most natural hot springs. They are not for everybody. You have to be willing to drive far from civilization, sometimes hike a bit, deal with ghetto-rigged piping systems (sometimes), tolerate a bunch of algae or other slimy stuff (sometimes baby fish) and freezing temperatures (not the water of course). But if you love that, then I would suggest going on a natural hot springs hunt. Find a spring near you and go!

Monday, December 28, 2009

Khana Pieces

Here is the update on how building my yurt is going:

In the past few weeks, I bought the wood pieces to start making the khana, which is the slat walls of the yurt. I went to Ashby Lumber in Berkeley, and bought 80 pieces of 8ft slats (they are 1x2 inch) made of douglas fir. I am following Paul King's guide, although I am not bending the khana pieces as he suggests in his book. I just don't have the time or the energy to make a steaming vessel to put all of the wood pieces inside and then bend them.

The khana join together at points 9 inches apart to form a criss-crossed lattice style wall. For my 12 foot diameter yurt, I will need to make 3 sections of khana, which join together to create the wall. The wall wraps around and is forced into a circle. Once it is joined to a door frame (as you can see in the photo below) it creates a strong support for the roof poles.

This is a picture of a yurt from where you can see the lattice wall, or khana.

I have a total of 85 pieces, the longest being 6.5 feet. This should make for a 5 foot wall height. It took me two weekends to cut down each of the 85 pieces to length, and also round off the two ends so that there weren't any sharp corners. Then I had to drill holes every 9 inches. There were soooo many holes to drill that it literally took half the entire time. I first made a template piece, which had three holes drilled every 9 inches. I put that on top of the piece of khana I was drilling to mark where to make each hole. When I marked the three from the template, I moved the template down the piece until I reached the end, as Paul King suggests in his book.

Khana Pieces
Some of the khana pieces I made our of douglas fir. The ends were cut at an angle so that there were no sharp points.

I am now in the process of sanding all of the pieces (all 85 of them!) and then varnishing them with one coat. I got over half of them sanded already and about 1/5th of the pieces varnished. The varnish will seal the wood and make it look nicer from inside. I am basically done with the frame of the yurt. Now I just have to put it together after I finish varnishing all of the pieces, including the roof poles.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Putting Up the X-mas Tree

Our Christmas Tree
Our Christmas Tree

We were debating for a while whether or not to get a tree this year. I wanted a tree, and so did Romy, but we wanted a real tree, but felt bad if we bought one. We didn't want to kill a tree just to drag it inside for two weeks. Then, at first jokingly, Romy suggested we buy a pine tree from Home Depot and put it in a big pot and bring it inside, then let it grow outside for the rest of the year. Next x-mas, we'd bring it inside again! So as we were going to Home Depot for some stuff (unrelated to the tree) we checked out the garden section to see if they had any pine trees for sale. They didn't, but they had their x-mas tree section fenced off outside, so we took a look. We found a few rosemary trees, which were about one foot tall. It was a rosemary bush that was cut into a cone shape to look like a tree. I thought that was creative, but it was too small. Home Depot didn't have what we were thinking of, so we later went to a nursery and found exactly it! They sold pine trees that were in a big pot and were about 3 to 4 feet tall. One of them was priced right (just $15 more than a cut tree that was 5 feet tall) so we decided to get it. We managed to fit it in the back of the Daewoo, and drove it home.

Our Christmas Tree
Bow ornaments

We got a Colorado Blue Spruce. It had a lot of slugs living in the soil, and a snail. Before we brought it inside, we let it sit outside for a few days because it rained a lot, so it got a good watering. Meanwhile, we didn't have any tree decorations, so we went to IKEA. They already had their x-mas decorations on sale, so we bought a few items. They were all very cheap. I think we spent no more than $8 on all of the tree decorations. I made the star at the top from a roll of shiny silver wrapping paper and cardboard. I also had to make a stand for the pot. I wanted to elevate the tree so that the foliage was in the window, so that it could get the maximum amount of light during the day (since it is alive). The man at the nursery said we shouldn't keep it indoors for more than a week, so we put it inside this past weekend. We'll put it back outside just after x-mas.

Our Christmas Tree
Person thing. . . santa? ornaments

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Steep Ravine Cabin

My sister, Nicole, and her husband, Marcel, came for a quick visit this past week and as a special treat, we reserved one of the Steep Ravine Environmental Camp cabins on the ocean! They are part of Mt. Tamalpais State Park, which is located just north of San Fransisco in Marin county. The cabin was a bit pricey ($100/night) but we figured it would be a once-in-a-lifetime kind of experience, and where else can you get a beautiful cabin just a stone's throw away from the ocean for $100? Split between four people, it wasn't bad. We reserved it on

Steep Ravine Cabin
Two of the Steep Ravine cabins perched on 'rocky point.'

When we reserved the cabins, we got an e-mail with the code to the gate (the entrance to the environmental camp is locked from the highway) and the combo for the cabin. You must make a reservation to get in - its not a drive-in kind of campground. We reserved cabin #4, which was the southern most cabin, and we had an awesome view of the waves crashing onto the rocky shore. Before I reserved the cabin, I tried researching about them on the internet, but couldn't find too much info on them, so I will write as much as I can about our experience.

Steep Ravine Cabin
Our cabin, called Rocky Point, #4.

Inside the cabin, we found a plaque which told the history of the cabins. They were built in the 1930s by some man (I forgot who). He built 13 of them and then leased them out to private individuals. In the 60s or 70s, the state park took over the land, and the issue with what to do about the cabins became controversial. They were abandoned by the park service, and most of them became dilapidated. Three of them eventually had to be torn down because they were in bad shape. In the 80s, the park finally began to restore them, and in 1984, they began renting them out to people to stay in (like us!). There are 10 cabins which remain in use, plus a fancy campground host cabin (it looks more like a small house). There is no running water or electricity. It is completely primitive. Inside the cabins are wooden sleeping platforms and a wood stove, which you use for heating.

Steep Ravine Cabin
The smaller of the two sleeping platforms in the 'bedroom.' You can also see the bunk beds to the right.

We came with a bunch of our own firewood (although they sell large bundles for a reasonable price near the campground host). We also had a big Coleman lantern to light up the cabin at night. We brought all of our camping stuff, basically, like sleeping bags, a small stove, and the mess kit.

Steep Ravine Cabin
The table and bench/sleeping platform in the main room of the cabin.

We got there in the afternoon, so we had time for a small hike before it got dark. There was a nice trail along the coast, and also into the campground part of the environmental camp. We saw calla lilies blooming and other coastal flowers in bloom. There were hummingbirds, herons, and pelicans all over! After that we ended up going back into the cabin to start a fire in the wood stove and toast some pine cones we picked up so that we could eat the pine nuts. We ended up over-toasting them, because they came out a little burnt.

Steep Ravine Cabin
Ocean view from inside the cabin (#4).

We brought plenty of wine and chips, chili, avocados for dip, and cheese. That was our dinner. We could hear the waves crashing into the shore below us all evening and all night. It was neat! Although it was cloudy, it didn't rain. We had a light mist overnight, but we were sleeping anyways.

Tidepools near the cabin.

The next morning, we woke up early so that we could go check out the tidepools near the cabin. Hiking north, we found a rocky inlet where we saw a bunch of hermit crabs in their shells, walking around. Then we began to notice bright green sea anemones, and even brown and orange starfish! We picked up some dried kelp, and tried poking the starfish to see if they would move, but they were really hard and stiff, and they didn't even budge. They were just stuck to their rock.

A brown-ish starfish at the tidepools.

Starfish at the Tidepools
Two orange and two brown starfish clinging under the rocks.

Sea Anemone
A green sea anemone.

On our way back, the sun came out a little bit, and we saw a rainbow! But it seemed like rain was coming our way. After we got back to our cabin, it was sadly time to go already, since check-out was at noon. So we packed up our things and headed to the car. We drove home along the coast on Hwy 1.

Rainbow over the Cabins
The Steep Ravine cabins and a rainbow.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Bristlecone Pines: Earth's Oldest Living Things!

Whenever we make a trip over to the Bishop, CA area, we have to stop and see the Bristlecone Pine trees. They live happily in this one spot (although their range extends into Nevada and Utah), high up on the mountain tops in the White Mountain Range in east central California, just north of Death Valley National Park. The White Mountains are in the rain shadow of the Sierra Nevadas, so they are extremely dry and cold, but just as high! The tallest peak in the Sierra Nevadas (Mt. Whitney) stands at 14,525 ft, while the tallest peak in the White Mountains (White Mountain) stands at 14,246 ft.

Bus at 10,000ft
Driving up to see the Bristlecone Pines over Thanksgiving 2009. My mom is scrapping off the ice build-up on the windshield. The Bristlecone Pine forest is in the background.

The Bristlecone Pines live up there, just below the tree line. They survive in the dry, windy, and cold environment because they grow very slowly and their wood is highly resistant to insects, fungi, and disease. The oldest known tree living right now is 4,767 years old and is named "Methuselah." It grows somewhere up in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, a protected region up in the White Mountains. Its exact location is kept secret to protect it. To give you an idea of how old that actually is, Methuselah was a seedling when the ancient Egyptians began building pyramids. It is still alive today!

Bristlecone Pine
A Bristlecone Pine in the White Mountains.

The White Mountain Range is home to the oldest Bristlecone Pines. Scientists who read tree rings have made a continuous record of the pine trees' growth that goes back 10,000 years ago by coring dead trees and alive ones. This website is a great place to learn more about them!

Bristlecone Pine
A close-up view of the twisted branches of a Bristlecone Pine in the White Mountains.