Muir Woods

back in April, one of my best friends got married in Muir Woods and she asked me to officiate. the entire week in San Francisco was great and the location they selected truly unique. as with Becca and Dave’s ceremony at Devil’s Lake, it was great to be outside and fun to be tramping through nature in wedding-formal attire.

I visited Muir Woods once previously; on my first trip to California the summer between my junior and senior years of high school, my mom and I drove up from San Francisco to check out the redwoods. at one time, redwood forests covered much of the coast of northern California but during the late 19th century logging cleared much of the timber. a stand of old growth trees remained untouched north of San Francisco along Redwood Creek, due primarily to its relative inaccessibility (the main road from San Francisco to the National Monument is still a steep and windy thing). concerned for the safety of the redwood grove, in 1905 Congressman William Kent and his wife Elizabeth secured a loan from a sympathetic banker friend and purchased 611 acres of land for $45,000.

being held by private hands did not ensure the safety of the grove, however. in 1907 a water company in Sausalito unveiled plans to dam Redwood Creek and flood the valley and heart of the redwood grove. to circumvent the problem posed by local court proceedings brought by the water company, Kent donated 295 acres to the federal government and in January 1908, Theodore Roosevelt established the Muir Woods National Monument under the auspices of the 1906 Antiquities Act. Muir Woods became the 7th National Monument and the first created from lands donated by a private individual. the name for the site came at the recommendation of Kent who objected to having the site named after himself. as Muir was instrumental in establishing the national parks system, Kent later proved instrumental in establishing the National Parks Service and, in 1928, a 280 foot Douglas fir was named in his honor (after decades of environmental buffeting, the tree toppled in 2003 and remains where it fell).

despite the inaccessibility that initially kept the redwoods safe, the Monument enjoys immense popularity due in part to its proximity to San Francisco. when the Golden Gate Bridge opened in 1937, attendance at the park tripled (to 180,000). it now receives more than three-quarters of a million visitors a year. our little troop accounted for at least a few of those visitors over the two days we went up to rehearse and conduct Lindsey & Andy’s wedding ceremony!

Štramberk

as promised, more on the lovely Wallachian town that caused me to spend an entire day hiking.

Štramberk is situated in a notch in the foothills of the Beskydy mountains in the Moravian-Silesian Region. the two most famous sights are the castle, perched atop Bílá Hora, and Šipka Cave. the castle tower can be readily seen from the surrounding mountains — as I learned throughout my hike. the northern path from the town square takes you under an arch with the inscription ‘Cuius regio – eius religio – 1111’ (‘Whose realm, his religion’). I can’t find any conclusive explanation (at least in English) as to whether the Romans visited or occupied the site that early, but it seems possible. the town was formally established in 1359, though the first recorded settlement dates from 1211. 


the castle itself was constructed sometime in the 12th or 13th century, either by the Benešovic family or by Přemyslide princes (one of the oldest and most revered dynasties in Czech royal history). at some point, it fell into the keeping of the Knights Templar, but upon the abolition of the order reverted to the hands of the king and spent considerable time passing between owners. eventually, the Benešovic took possession, but by the mid-16th century the castle began to deteriorate. the city, who now owns the site, spruced up the structure that remains, including the recognizable cylindrical tower known as the Trúba. the tower is 40 m tall and 10 m in diameter and was covered at the turn of the 19th century and turned into a lookout tower under the guidance of a famous Prague architect.


the other famous site is a cave where, in 1880, the mandible of a Neanderthal child was found. archaeological excavation in the cave occurred between 1879-1893 and evidence suggests the cave was inhabited by Neanderthals and cave bears alternately. apparently, this was the first discovery of Neanderthal remains in a cultural context.


another interesting piece of history I discovered while researching for this post concerns “Štramberk ears”. I saw people eating these odd, cylindrical treats (check here for a picture), even carrying away bags of them. turns out, these treats stem from a Christian victory over Tartar invaders in 1241. townspeople managed to flood the Tartar camp and allegedly, when checking the wreckage for spoils, found bags of severed ears, which the Tartars had removed from their victims to bring back to Genghis Khan to prove their kills. the inscription on the arch seems to allude to this victory as well — whomever rules the region gets to choose the practiced religion. ever since the defeat of the Tartars, people in Štramberk bake these ear-shaped biscuits to commemorate the event. today, only eight people are licensed to bake them, which explains why I saw Czechs carrying bags of “Štramberk ears” away with them.

(more information can be found here)
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the unexpected 28 kilometer hike

many of you have heard my tale of how on one of my wonderful, sunny Saturday afternoons in the Czech Republic I ended up hiking upwards of 28 kilometers. an unexpected 28 kilometers; I set out with guide book in hand, telling me “The most enjoyable way to get here [Štramberk] is on foot through the hills – 8 km on a red-marked trail from Nový Jičín město train station — or across the river from Nový Jičín horní nádraží station” (emphasis added).

my previous hikes proceeded without incident, lasted as long as I anticipated they might, and allowed me to see some lovely countryside and rural Czech life that I would not have seen otherwise. the trail heads were easy to find and easy to follow. and right there — with the trail head — my unexpected adventure began. from the bus station, I headed for the ubiquitous town square, knowing that I could find some direction from there. and so I did, but after spending twenty-some trekking up a steep hill (with exceptional views of Nový Jičín in the valley), I came to a sign that said “Štramberk 14.5km <– that way”. back down the hill I trekked, back through the town square, searching for the the red stripes that would take me in the other direction.


forty-five minutes later, after zig-zagging past the bus station and (what I learned later to be) the město station, crossing over a trickling canal twice, and wandering up and down all manner of residential streets, I gave up … only to see the elusive red-marked trail around the next corner. in spite of what the universe hinted at for me, I shrugged and turned around, in search of picturesque Wallachia…

more back alleys, residential streets with high rises and single family cottages, crossing the canal a couple more times, past the horní nádraží (which certainly didn’t look like it still received passenger trains of any kind …) — thirty more minutes later and I was finally into something resembling “wilderness”, though it was really just farm fields. a sharp turn to the right took me up yet another steep, steep hill, past a fire circle and over trickling streams — now with the red-marked trail always in sight.

one of the most interesting characteristics of the forest on this particular hike was the closeness of the trees. whereas elsewhere undergrowth had been thinned and deadened lower branches removed, throughout the hike, trees (particularly the evergreens) grew close together and were crowded with black, apparently deadened branches.

as interesting as this undergrowth was, however, after about an hour I was getting rather anxious to find another mileage sign or, really, any indication as to the distance to my destination. the last sign I’d seen — at the top of the hill in the wrong direction — said 14.5 km, but where did that measurement come from?

I eventually emerged from the trees (still no sign of distance markers) and, climbing to the crest of yet another hill, spied what seemed to be my destination in the distance and, really, if I can see it from here, the hike can’t go on for much longer, right?
wrong.

for reasons still unclear to me, rather than heading straight onwards towards Štramberk, the path continued to the right, through cow pastures and down the back side of the hill. at about this time I began to seriously question the guidebook and my foolhardy, blind reliance on its advice.
I’ve got HOW much further to go?!
finally (!) I came upon a directional sign and it did nothing to bolster my determinedly-not-yet-dispirited spirits. though upon seeing the distance back to Nový Jičín I felt rather vindicated in all my ill-thoughts about the veracity of my guidebook’s distances: if I’d already come 8.5km from the město station, and the sign clearly indicates at least another kilometer and a half to Štramberk, there is no way on this green earth that the hike is a mere 8km from the central train station. of course (as I learned), that first destination in town is the municipal swimming pool which, really, isn’t anywhere close to the sights. in fact, it’s at least a kilometer back through the valley from the bottom of this hill:
getting closer to Štramberk…
the white speck on the left-most hill in the picture above? that is the hill and tower seen here. still so, so far to go. eventually, after giving up on the red-marked trail after it tried to lead me back the way I’d come one, final time tooooooo many, and detouring past the National Gardens of Kotouč and the Šipka cave (more on that in another post) I finally made it to the central square, really to exhausted to enjoy much of the admittedly picturesque town.

I climbed the steps to the castle walls and tower (again, more on that another day) and, after spending a few minutes to enjoy the view and sounds of Czech tourism for Czechs, headed down to catch a bus back to Nový Jičín. (that mowed field in the middle of the hill in the middle of the picture below — I’m pretty sure that’s where I stood to take the view of Štramberk picture above.)
after waiting a half an hour and attempting to get on a bus heading to a town farther east (which would get me no closer to Olomouc), I consulted the timetable posted at the bus stop … and discovered that the bus from Štramberk to Nový Jičín runs on weekdays and Sundays only. or, to put it another way: any day of the week except the day of the week that I wanted it to run. the much-longer-than-expected hike that I’d psyched myself up to complete with the knowledge that I could take the bus back to Nový Jičín just. got. longer.

but damned if I was going to follow that twisty, convoluted red-marked trail back. for the umpteenth time in my life, I rejoiced for my excellent sense of direction and headed down the hill on the same road the bus would have taken. I would not recommend walking down a two-lane rural highway that lacks any kind of shoulder — soft, hard or otherwise, but opting for the more direct route provided by the highway cut the meandering four and a half hour “eastward” trek to the somewhat depressing ninety minutes. 

upside to such an abbreviated return trip? no problem catching (what I feared might be the last of the night) bus back to Olomouc. and with time enough to stop at a grocery store for something to eat and the 1.5L bottle of water that I have sitting at my desk at work right now. 

downside? are you kidding me that I could have made it to Štramberk and back in less than the amount of time it took for me to get there? as the Blitz would say: “Aw, man!” needless to say, I spent a good deal of time stewing over this while waiting for the bus, wanting nothing more than to sit for about a week and/or rip my guidebook to shreds and burn the remains.

yet, even as I fumed, I knew that one day I would appreciate the adventure the day turned into. Nový Jičín felt very much like a work-a-day town, with people out doing their Saturday shopping, or taking advantage of the helicopter rides offered by the carnival set up on the outskirts of town. Olomouc is of the beaten track for most foreign tourists and, as a consequence, Štramberk was even farther afield; it was filled with Czechs out for their Saturday excursions — couples come to see the cave, cyclists stopping for a beer at the popular pivovar below the castle, families climbing the stairs of the tower and eating whatever roasted local specialties they had cooking at the base. the walk back took me through through the tiny town of Rybi, where got a close look at all the trappings of small village life, including the local pub and school. coming back into Nový Jičín, I walked down a road filled with compact second/summer homes with spectacular gardens (complete with gnomes) and sheds out back and sweeping back lawns with furniture of varying degrees of apparent comfort, a community vegetable garden, and a whole lot more sights that felt so splendidly Czech.

yeah, I would have preferred to start the day heading in the correct direction, that the trail not take the perplexing meanderings that it took, that the bus be running on a Saturday, that I’d had a detailed topographical hiking map … but in the end I don’t regret the adventure. my feet hurt like hell and I could have spent the night whining about how terrible the day turned out but when will I ever be in Nový Jičín or Štramberk or Olomouc again? got to take advantage and rejoice in the opportunities that life presents you.  that is something that the Czech Republic helped me learn: travel is about the unexpected experiences — the adventure. without the unexpected, we just have the same snapshots of the same sites that everyone else has, with nothing to mark our experiences or ourselves as unique.

fastest hike of the trip: Křížat

view of Klet’ and observatory from Křížat

my second hike took me in the opposite direction from my first, south of Český Krumlov, and up the road past my hostel. both the owner and managers of the Krumlov House urged me to hike up Křížat, a modest yet steep peak with a chapel on top and stations of the cross situated through the neighborhood and meadows leading up to it. the view of the sunset from the top, I was told, was quite remarkable.

despite feeling decently taxed by my kayak trip down the Vltava, the glowing recommendations swayed me to hike up Křížat. because she recommended it so highly, I invited Anna (on of the managers) to hike with me but a delay at dinner kept us from getting back to the Krumlov House at the appointed departure time. worried that I’d missed her, I took off up the hill in the hopes that I’d catch her up. as I’d come to learn even more thoroughly later, I found it somewhat difficult to determine precisely which trail to follow and which direction the markers were leading me. taking a left, I made it half-way up the hill, darting through a residential neighborhood before I lost the trail entirely and doubled-back down to my starting point to try the other trail markings.

in the end, I jogged most of the way up the hill and didn’t see Anna (she’d been out when we got back), but as promised, the sunset was spectacular and worth every ounce of effort it took to getting up the hill in time to see the sunset.

view to the west over the mountains from Křížat

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an on-purpose hike: Klet’


as I mentioned previously, I took advantage of the extensive hiking trails that cross the Czech Republic while I visited, but the only hike that I had on my list prior to departing was up Klet’, a peak of 1,084 metres (3,556 feet) located just a few kilometers outside of Český Krumlov. the hike itself was gorgeous, though the first several kilometers were along a standard country road — my first opportunity to put responsible hiking techniques to good use. there were a fair number of penzions along the route, though at this time of year none seemed too busy. because of it’s convenient proximity to Prague and the Austrian and German borders (and also because the town is well preserved and gorgeous), the town is extremely popular with tourists. but, as I said, late September is the end of the season and although the center of town was swamped by o.a.p.-filled tour buses, on this warm and sunny day I the road out of town to myself.

finally, and rather unexpectedly, the path took a turn to the left and dove right into the woods. the flora reminded me of the MMSD’s School Forest — deciduous trees with sparse undergrowth. there was some evidence of logging — oddly square clearings here and there, muddy tracks of trucks rumbling out from beneath the trees — but things were quiet during my hike. in fact, the entire way up I didn’t encounter a single person. (I must acknowledge, however, that my extraordinarily-well-rested self set out from town immediately after breakfast and was back in town by 1p.m.)

while I enjoyed the hike, the final stretch to the top of the peak tested me and I spent most of it convincing my legs to keep climbing. in addition to a viewing tower and snack-bar cafe, the peak is home to an observatory that tracks near-Earth objects, such as comets, asteroids, and “other unusual objects,” including planets. the observatory is the oldest in the country and on clear days you can see the Alps in the distance. of course, the terms “clear day” and “see the Alps” are more finicky than one might suspect and despite what one might think on a day like the one I scaled Klet’, I could not see the Alps. in fact, the viewing tower remains closed on Mondays and Tuesdays so I didn’t have the opportunity to determine whether another couple dozen vertical yards would make a difference. I encountered a fair number of people at the top, in spite of the closed tower and possibly-unstaffed cafe. it seemed apparent, however, that most of the other hikers came up the eastern slope of the peak, quite probably with the assistance of the ski lift that runs from a car park near Krásetín, to the summit.

despite my fatigue, under-hydration, and the closed nature of the tower, the hike up Klet’ was absolutely worth the effort. at the very least, it helped prepare me for my other hikes of the subsequent 10 days, hikes that I did not plan out as thoroughly and which took me unexpected places at unexpected paces.

a pedometer would be handy

after some consideration, I’ve settled on a unifying element of my trip to the Czech Republic: walking. my accidental 28km hike was just one of many foot-borne excursions I enjoyed during my travels. Czechs, I came to understand, enjoy their outdoor activities and hiking and biking trails snake everywhere across the countryside. before I left, I spotted tips in my guidebook for people looking to hike the length of either the Czech Republic or Slovakia and thought the idea absurd — what country has the hiking infrastructure to allow people to hike that far? to make an enjoyable vacation out of the activity?

the Czech Republic, I now know, for one. presumably Slovakia for another.

I went into a bookstore in Wenceslas Square in Prague looking for a standard, nationwide roadmap like the one I got in Ireland and there were nearly as many detailed local and regional ordinance survey recreational maps as there were for maps for the rest of the world. walks around Český Krumlov, around Prague, around Štramberk, around Olomouc, around Brno, around the Mikulov region … you name it, there was a recreation map to cover your needs. maybe two.

however, for those like me who don’t deem such detailed ordinance maps necessary, the trails are so adequately marked that you’ll do all right without them. as long as you know your destination, or the next town on your path, then the periodic signposts and painted markings on trees and farmhouse corners will lead you in the right direction. of course, you might be better off to have the hyper-detailed maps (or at least to consult them during a planning stage) so that you don’t end up hiking three times farther than you think you will hike and run most of the way back to town so as not to miss the last bus back to where you’re spending the night … but that adventure is for another post.

Palisades State Park

on my recent trip to South Dakota, the weather proved infinitely more agreeable for “outdoor activities” than it had been in January. still windy. very windy. but much, much warmer.

on Saturday, we set out for Palisades State Park, located just northeast of Sioux Falls in Garretson. the Split Rock Creek flows between the pink quartzite walls of the canyon, which rise between 30 and 50 feet from the surface creek. in the U.S., major quartzite formations are found in central Texas, Utah, southwest Minnesota and eastern South Dakota, and the Baraboo Hills of Wisconsin. these particular rock formations are somewhere around 1.2 billion years old and is one of the only places in the country to contain catlinite (also known as pipestone), which is used by native peoples to create peace pipes. apparently, several pipestone quarries can be found within the park (we stuck to walking along the Creek and climbing the rocks).

because of the quartzite cliffs, Palisades State Park offers excellent rock climbing opportunities (not unlike Devil’s Lake) and, despite not having any proper equipment, the three of us took the opportunity to scramble up the “Queen” spire. (the picture below is of the “King”, from where we stood atop the “Queen”.) Josie, with her much longer legs, managed to get up onto the very highest point of the spire, while Rebecca and I settled for slightly lower perches.

during the 19th century, there was a huge flour mill overlooking the bluffs and the town of Palisades bustled on the banks of the creek. in 1886, silver was discovered downstream and produced a short-lived boom (the ore turned out to be of poor quality). several years later, the railroad company built a switching yard where Garretson is now located and the town relocated. railroad officials offered free lots to business owners located in Palisades to relocate to the new town.

info from the South Dakota state park system and from the town of Garretson

Croagh Patrick

Saint Patrick (c. 390-460 c.e.) is the patron saint of Ireland and there are many, many locations across the island that claim some affiliation and draw pilgrims. one of these is Croagh Patrick, a peak of just over 2,500 feet that lies five miles from the town of Westport in Co. Mayo on Clew Bay. on “Reek Sunday” (the last Sunday in July), some 15,000 pilgrims climb the mountain. the most penitent climb to the summit in bare feet. on my way up, I saw one guy coming down in that fashion, and I spoke with another Irish person who’d made the trip at least once.

during the 5th century, Patrick climbed to the top of “the Reek,” fasted for forty days and forty nights. at the end of the period, he rang a bell (or threw it off the peak, in some versions), knocked a she-demon from the sky and banished all the “snakes” from Ireland. there’s a chapel on the summit where they hold services on Reek Sunday, and on other occasions.

i’d already gone on two decent walks this day, and it was already about 4 pm when I arrived at the parking lot at the base of Croagh Patrick. but i’d driven all that way, so I thought I’d start walking and see how far I could get. my guide book recommended allowing three hours to get from the base to mountaintop chapel, and another two hours to get back down again. i knew i wouldn’t have enough time before the sun set to get up and back, starting at 4pm, but i thought i’d see how far i could get in an hour, before turning back around. an hour in, i was already about 2/3 of the way up, so i decided to keep going. made it up in a breathless and exhilarating two and a half hours, had good look at the views from the summit. the hour-long trip back down was rougher in a lot of ways — the whole “going down” strain on the quads. and the shifting scree was harder to predict on the way down, and my feet went straight out from under me at one point. thought i’d have a nice bruise on my tailbone the next day, but it turned out that the challenge of shifting (and walking) posed by my aching quads overwhelmed any soreness that might otherwise have occurred.

needless to say, i slept like a log that night. it was faaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaantastic.

Torc Waterfall

after lunch in Killarney, we decided to drive around the Ring of Kerry. this resulted in some very scary moments facing down oncoming coaches, but it also provided us with two spectacular destinations, the first of which was Torc Waterfall. the Owengarriff River flows through the Friar’s Glen from the “Devil’s Punch Bowl” and falls 18 metres. (the first picture is at the top of the falls; the second, at the bottom.) initially we didn’t intend to go all the way to the top, but it’s only 70 vertical feet and took us about 15 minutes to get to the top — very much worth the time effort.

the Kerry Way crosses across the top of the waterfall. there are signposted walks all over Ireland, and this is one of the longest at 215 kilometers. it roughly follows the driving route around the Ring of Kerry, and begins and ends in Killarney. we didn’t see anyone who looked like they were doing the hike, but we did our trek rather later in the day (about 3 pm)

another popular attraction near Muckross House (just down the road from the Torc Waterfall) are the “jaunting cars”, or horse-drawn buggies that will take you through the gardens of Muckross House and along this stretch of road. mostly, it was a lot of fun to say “hey, look, it’s a jaunting car.”