Category: Places

Exploring the Mourning Caverns

Located in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains in Calaveras, CA, the Mourning Caverns is a historical site that lead many people to it . My idea of a cave which was very much structured by fictional movies and cartoons was a horizontal hole in the ground with plenty of footing to walk on and a huge hole on one side where you could walk in – this was quickly dispelled when I visited this cave.

Narrow vertical staircase at the entrance of the cave

The Mourning Caverns turned out to be a vertical cave with a horizontal drop so deep that the entire statue of liberty could fit in it! And imagine stumbling upon a cave like this before the 1800’s – the terror of walking into a dark hole and not knowing where you are stepping led a few innocents plummeting to their deaths… and that’s what makes the Mourning Caverns an important archaeological site as well.

The 2nd flight of stairs

Getting to the part about why it’s called the “Mourning” caverns – people reported hearing these distinct moaning sounds emanating from the cavern well before the 1800’s. These haunting noises kept many away in fear of what lived in the dark below.

Damp walls with formations of limestone, calcite

However, after WW1 when the spiral staircase was constructed, the moaning sounds got very faint as the metal from the staircase absorbed most of the sound. They then drew the moaning mystery to a close. It turned out that due to it’s original shape and constitution, the dripping glacial water echoed against the large cave causing the moans.

A funny looking bulbous cave formation

 

As archaeology advanced, the skeletal remains were dated to be over 12,000 years old and it was concluded that the cavern might have even been used as a burial ground by Native Americans!

More frilly cave formations

The cave is humid and is around 60 degrees throughout the year. Being a Solutional cave, the Mourning Caverns offers a lot of interesting formations to see some of which I captured in the images below. One of them is a gorgeous calcite precipitation pool with a lovely hint of turquoise green.

Water in the cave accumulated in a small calcite pool
This particular calcite formation is so thin and fragile that it absolutely looks like cloth
This one is known as an igloo. Don’t let your eyes fool you. It’s over 25 feet tall!

For the most daring of visitors there is also the option of rappelling down and while you are there you can also take a really cool zip line nearby. All in all, the unique experience of walking down a 165 feet long metal staircase made from a sunken WW1 ship is the most exciting!

Flimsy looking yet strong metal rails. Try not to look down!

The echoes from the clanking metal combined with the fact that you are over 165 feet up high can leave an unsettled taste in your mouth at-least for the first few minutes if you are afraid of heights. You can feel the vibration as people above and below you step through the staircase.

And finally, the famous spiral staircase that was built out of metal from a WW1 ship!

A tranquil escape to Lake Tahoe

I was fortunate enough to make my way to Lake Tahoe last weekend. It was such a spontaneous trip that we didn’t even reserve any lodging until later in the afternoon on the day that we arrived 😀 ! Being my first trip to Tahoe, I wasn’t even sure what to expect. All I knew was that pretty much everyone I had talked to who had been there had something amazing to say about how beautiful Tahoe was.

The drive to Tahoe was a little puzzling at first with snowy mountains on one side and dry parched hills on the other. I think this was mainly because of the time of the year when half of the place is defrosting. Soon the view shifts to clear open roads with nothing buy snow covered alpine meadows in view. You’ll find yourself glued to the windows looking at the trees and the sky and the white snow and just trying to peak ahead of every turn in anticipation of what’s next. If there is one thing I learnt during this part of the trip it was that it’s really hard to take pictures from a moving vehicle. Luckily, there were a lot of stop friendly places along the way with stunning views of the lake.

It felt so surreal and I found solace basking in the same view that inspired some of the greatest minds to come up with fine poetic works. Among many other poets and writers, Mark Twain described the beauty of Tahoe in one of his travel autobiographies Roughing it. And I used to think most of it was exaggerated poetry and such but Tahoe is one of those places that in no time will have you sitting on a rock pondering the meaning of life lost in the beauty of what is in front of you!

“Three months of camp life on Lake Tahoe would restore an Egyptian mummy to his pristine vigor, and give him an appetite like an alligator.” – Mark Twain

“To obtain the air that angels breathe, you must go to Tahoe” – Mark Twain.

Further north we stopped at Sand Harbor which quite frankly was the highlight of my trip! There are a lot of water activities here. I saw people in canoes as well as a group of snorkelers.

I knew that there was going to be snow but there was a LOT more than just snow here – with clear turquoise water, sunshine and melting snow all at once – Tahoe really is a magical dream come true in Spring!

Sand Harbor  looked more like a beach with snow except that it was surrounded by these angelic alpine mountains all around! This portion of the lake was so clear it looked like glass. You could see right through the water. This was all so much more than I expected to see at Tahoe.


On our way back we decided to stop near Eagle falls. This is a MUST SEE stop and offers a stunning view of Emerald bay and Fannette island. By this time of the day, things were getting a lot darker.

I did my best with the camera but this picture doesn’t do much justice to the tranquil scenery.

Just behind me, the other side of this view had a small waterfall – I’m sure it wasn’t actually the “Eagle Falls” but was a small creek formed from all of the snow melt.

In all, Lake Tahoe is a magical dream come true in March. It really is nothing short of paradise  – just perfectly paired shades of turquoise, cyan and green paired by nature. It’s a huge place with a whole lot more to do than just sight seeing. I only had about a day and a half to look around but I hope to make my way back here again to see more. My recommendation – Don’t miss out on Tahoe in the spring. I will vouch for this time of the year over any other time!

The novice hikers guide to surviving Mission Peak

With a 7 mile trail and no shade in site, a hike to the top of Mission Peak is best taken in the winter sometime around February – May when it isn’t too rainy for muddy boots and isn’t too hot to get a heat stroke. The trail is usually open to the public from 6:30 am to 8:00 pm. Compared to Big Sur and the 17 mile drive trails, this one is a little less scenic but worth it for the challenge. Most north Californians know about this moderately tough trail and have been on an adventure or two here to enjoy the view of the silicon valley from the peak. Mission Peak is one of the high hiking trails in the city of Fremont, California.

Some things never to forget are:

  1. Water

    You’ll see plenty of warnings on the trail to turn back and get water if you don’t have any and as with any hike you will definitely need at least 2 litres depending on your pace. Also make sure to use the bathroom before you enter the trail as you will not find loos in abundance on the trail. If you are getting your pet along, make sure to get them some extra water for them too!

  2. Snacks

    Pack light with granola bars, dried fruit, nuts and small sandwiches especially if you are going with a family or kids (Yes, I have seen kids completing this hike and if they can do it, you can do it too 😀 ).

  3. Sunscreen

    Mission peak is a combination of valleys and hills with a few choices along the way about which path you want to walk. Since there is absolutely no shade anywhere, sunblock is a must if you are taking this trail during the day. It takes anywhere from 2.5 to 5 hours to get back down depending on your pace and with no shade be certain that you will thoroughly be bronzed and burned by the time you are back.

  4. Jacket

    It can get extremely windy during the winter months especially at the peak. Come prepared with layered clothing that you can easily modify depending on how you find the weather.

  5. Running shoes

    You will be doing a lot of walking/running on this trail if you intend on reaching the top and no pair of flats will save you from the steep slopes and rocky terrain on the last 500 feet so it goes without saying that you will need a good pair of shoes to make this journey comfortable.

  6. A Camera

    Finally, about the selfies – on most days you will find people queued up by the 20’s to get a picture at the top. And why not? If you made your way to the top, give yourself a pat on the back and whip out that selfie stick. Whether it be your phone or a fancy DSLR, no hike to mission peak is complete without a selfie at the famous pole.


     

    Additionally, you can take pictures of green hills, views of the valleys and cows grazing, sometimes even a para-glider!

The 17-Mile Drive

I love the California coast. It’s buzzing with all kinds of scenery and of all the iconic west coast road trips, the 17 Mile Drive is one of the most  scenic in Pebble Beach, California. It’s one of those few places that stays picturesque all year long. You can expect to see turquoise beaches, rugged cliffs, groves of cypress trees, wildlife and some impressive mansions along the 21 stop route. From when you enter the gated community to when you leave, all you need to do is drive along the dotted red lines to hit all 22 of the stops. Here are some of my favorites.

Huckleberry Hill

The Huckleberry Trees of the Del Monte Forest

This area has a lot of trees and is one of the highest points along the route giving you quite a view of the North Pacific ocean.

The view of the pacific ocean from Huckleberry Hill

Asilomar State Beach

An accidental de-tour led us to this rocky beach along the open ocean with some interesting terrain.

Ice Plant Meadows along Asilomar State Beach

The Lone Cypress

Among the last few stops is this 200+ year old Cypress tree – having to face high speed winds on a daily basis it is stunted in height compared to the other cypress trees but somehow manages to survive out there on its own.

The Ghost Tree

The REAL Ghost Tree stop didn’t really seem as interesting compared to this magnificent view of the sunset opposite it. There are remnants of really old cypress trees bleached by high speed winds that cast shadows on the view of the open ocean.

 

Adventures at Dusk, Santa Cruz

After a week long of rain, the sun was finally shining and so a couple of friends and I set off to explore Santa Cruz. This was attempt 1 at crossing through highway 1. We stopped by for a quick lunch – not far from the Natural Bridges State Beach at a place called the West End Tap and Kitchen.

I loved the ambiance of this place! It’s sort of a cross between a diner and a sports bar with some family vibes thrown in.

The food is really good for just how busy it is here. Their burgers are quite generous and juicy and come with a tray of endless fries.

Their cheese plates offer a selection of 3 cheeses with some sea salt crostini and seasonal pairings. This is something no cheese lover like myself can resist.

And as a palette cleanser, this lovely bottle of ginger beer was spectacular!

We drove down to the Beach  after lunch where there is this really cool natural bridge across the beach forming two arches. At one point both the sections were connected but the earth is always changing!

A few minutes down the road we stopped by this amazing cliffy coastline illuminated by the dim sunset. I’m still getting a hang of using my camera with low lighting. These pics don’t do enough justice to the majestic west coastline of Santa Cruz. It takes a little bit of careful stepping to get to the edge but the view is definitely worth it.

At Dusk the sun sets across the ocean forming a beautiful orange gradient above the deep blue sea. With lovely vantage points high on the cliffs, this makes for a sunset you’ll never forget.