Earth Day is a big deal around here. We love celebrating it with a new way to show love for our planet each year. Here are five ways you can celebrate Earth Day too!
1. Plant an organic garden. There’s nothing like fresh home grown veggies and growing your own is easy, inexpensive, and helps save all the pollution from transporting your vegetables from the farm to your grocery store. Start with easy vegetables to grow like tomatoes, lettuces, and zucchini.
2. Ride your bike to work once a week. Get a workout and save gas money!
3. Volunteer at a local preserve/park/trail. There are tons of opportunities to volunteer and give back to your community open spaces. If you’re in CA, check out CalParks as they offer multiple volunteering dates in many of our state parks.
4. Start a pledge board at your work or school. Inspire others by posting pledges they can commit to all year to help keep our planet green. Some ideas are: stop using plastic water bottles, plant a tree, go paperless, use re-useable straws, and pick up litter once a month.
5. Take a hike! Get out there and enjoy what this earth has to offer.
About an hour from most places in San Diego there is a magical place, a real diamond in San Diego County, Palomar Mountain State Park. The Sierra Nevada like atmosphere and 5,400 feet of elevation make Palomar Mountain State Park a unique habitat to San Diego County. Lush forests, babbling creeks and gorgeous views are endless in the park. Home to a few historically important sites, great weather, diverse flora and fauna, and many hiking trails make it a hiker’s paradise.
Palomar, the Spanish name for pigeon roost, was named during the Spanish colonial era in California when Palomar was known for its band tailed pigeons that are present on the mountain. Prior, Lusieno natives called Palomar, Paauw, and lived in seasonal villages on the mountain. There is still evidence of them today, mainly in the form of morteros, or grinding rocks. In the 1880’s, the start of settlement came when George Edward Doane built a cabin where the present day Doane Valley Campground is located. By the 1890’s the mountain’s population had grown significantly and supported three schools and three hotels, including Bailey’s Cabin, which operates as a private lodge today. Four apple orchards were planted around this time, and still produce apples that are used for the annual Apple Festival in October. A fire lookout, Boucher Hill Lookout, was built on Boucher Hill on the 1920’s. The lookout today is operated by volunteers and visitors are able to take a tour of the tower during the season (May-December- 7 days a week from 9am-5pm). In the 1930’s Palomar Mountain State Park was born. Most of the park’s roads, trails, and picnic facilities were built by the Civilian Conservationist Corps. Palomar is also home to Scotty’s Cabin site, Big Willie’s gravesite, and the Weir on Weir Creek, which are accessible by hiking trails.
The mountain receives on average 30”-40” of rain a year and snow in the winter. This humid climate supports the densely wooded forests and vast vegetation in the park. It is included in the California mixed evergreen forest sub ecoregion that California black oaks, firs, cedars, closed cone pines, other California oaks and conifers are grouped in. Cooler days and even cooler nights than the majority of lower elevation areas of San Diego County make the mountain a great escape from the warm summers. Wintertime can bring snow, and the trails are awesome for snowshoeing.
The diverse array of wildlife, including the southern mule deer, raccoons, western grey squirrels, skunks, gray foxes, coyotes, bobcats, rattlesnakes and mountain lions are present in the park, and make their appearance every once in a while to guests. In the late spring through summer, flowering trees, plants, and shrubs share their beauty with us. Dogwoods, wild lilac, wild sweet peas, azalea, lupine, goldenrod, buttercups, and Indian paintbrush are just a few you can see in the park.
With miles of trails, there are many variations that accommodate most levels of hiking. Our favorite hike is the 11 mile moderate outer loop route. Touching most areas of the park, hikers get to see much of the diversity the park offers. The hike starts at Doane Campground, follows French Valley Trail to the Weir on the Weir Trail, up Baptist Trail to Adams Trail to Boucher Trail and the lookout, then down Boucher Trail to Silvercrest Trail, and all the way down Chimney Flats Trail to Thunder Springs Trail and back to the trailhead. With this route, you experience everything the park has to offer from the 500 year old Live Oak canopies, a stunning meadow in French Valley, historical Weir on Pauma Creek, a heart pumping ascent to Boucher Lookout with expansive views to the ocean, Black Oaks on Boucher Trail, a visit to Big Willy’s grave and the apple orchards, and ending at Doane Pond. Palomar is truly a magical place and we highly recommend the trails. Make sure to stop at Mother’s Kitchen afterwards for lunch!
A few things to know before you go:
Parking is $10 per car & Seniors are $9 per car
Camp spots can be reserved here:
Fishing is allowed at Doane Pond with a valid California fishing license.
Dogs are allowed in the park but not on any trails.
Check out Scott Turner’s trail write ups for Palomar Mountain SP on Modern Hiker here:
Hike It Off Magazine supports Friends of Palomar Mountain State Park, the officially recognized non-profit association that supports the park in cooperation with the California Department of Parks and Recreation. Check out Friends of Palomar Mountain State Park as well and consider making a donation!
Whosoever is delighted in solitude is either a wild beast or a god -Aristotle
As most of us hikers know by personal experience and proven by recent scientific studies, not only is hiking good for your body, it is also beneficial for your mind as well. It turns out, in a study done by Stanford in 2015, hiking in nature contributes to lower depression. (http://news.stanford.edu/2015/06/30/hiking-mental-health-063015/) So in a time where we have so many everyday distractions that can cause anxiety and stress, hiking is a great way to get outside, disconnect, and feel good, both physically and mentally. Hiking for many, is also a social experience, as hiking with a group offers a way to connect with others and share the same passion with like-minded people. But what happens when you don’t have someone to hike with or you just want to get away sans your hiker friends? Go solo!
Solo hikes, for me, are even more beneficial to my mind and reconnecting with myself through nature than group hikes. All those distractions of life we try to escape from by hiking sometime sneak along with you on the trail in the form of your hiking partners. Maybe someone is little grumpy, or wants to complain about their significant other, or just won’t stop talking. Maybe someone is having a bad physical day and needs to turn around ending your hike too. Don’t get me wrong, hiking with friends is amazing, but can be distracting, causing that connection with nature to be lost. When I hike solo, it’s just me, the trail, and the weather; no distractions and a perfect time to re-connect with myself and hike off some of those stresses and anxiety. Solo hiking becomes much more of a spiritual experience for me and I notice how much I am one with the earth. I come back feeling so rejuvenated and grounded at the same time.
But what about the dangers of hiking solo? I can’t tell you how many people freak out when I tell them I sometimes hike by myself. “Aren’t you worried about psycho killers on the trail? What about getting eaten by a mountain lion?” I always smile to myself when I hear this and think about my husband’s favorite movie quote in a scene from Heat where Al Pacino yells at Snitches “You can get killed walking your doggie”. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=575xM6Uljw4 Al Pacino’s quote really holds some truth when you look at the stats. On average, around 5,000 people a year get killed by being hit by a car. Compare that to the roughly 35 people a year that die hiking and it doesn’t seem so dangerous. And those mountain lions that everyone is afraid will eat me? According to Wikipedia, since 1890, there has been less than 25 fatal mountain lion attacks in the entire U.S. More people died from contaminated cantaloupes in 2013 than mountain lions since 1890! The facts are mountain lions just don’t eat people and it’s extremely rare to even see one (I’m still waiting to see one even after the 1,000’s of miles I’ve hiked in cougar country).
When I go out on a trail alone, I feel so free- so connected. It’s such a great feeling, knowing I am capable of doing something that scares most people and loving every second of it. When you think about it, it’s only been a couple generations since everyone became so disconnected from the wild and somehow it became “scary”. My Grandfather lived in a time where normal people lived in the wild, slept under the stars, and hiked every day because they didn’t have access to horses or cars. Oh what a time that must have been to live!
Now don’t get me wrong, I am not suggesting solo hiking is for everyone but I do think everyone should try it at least once and see if it is for you or not. If you’re new to solo hiking, here are some tips for your first few solo hikes:
Sun protection (sunglasses and sunscreen)
Insulation (extra clothing)
Fire (waterproof matches/lighter/candles)
Repair kit and tools
Nutrition (extra food)
Hydration (extra water)
A couple months after my accident (click here if you don’t know my story) my surgeon sent me to physical therapy to learn to walk again. I had been in a wheelchair for two months and my once strong legs were in a state of severe atrophy. My ligaments and tendons in my ankle were all stretched to their capacity and extremely unstable. Couple that with the throbbing pain I was still experiencing from having all my cartilage in my ankle blown out (think bone on bone) and the sheer trauma of the injury, I had a long and uphill recovery and was very concerned I wouldn’t be able to hike again.
I endured a couple months of physical therapy which got me from the wheelchair, to crutches, and then to walking, albeit with a severe limp and lingering pain. I was so happy for the progress but knew I needed something more, something that could not only further my healing physically, but mentally as well. No one talks about how difficult an injury like this is mentally. I was depressed, hooked on pain killers, and needing something else. Throughout my journey, I wrote a blog (see my blog here) that really helped expel some of the darkness I went through, but I was ready to move onto something that would connect my body and mind in unison healing.
So I joined my local yoga studio, Sage Yoga. I had practiced yoga years before and remembered how amazing it felt physically and mentally. It seemed like the perfect solution- and it was. I started easy and had the most amazing teachers who helped me modify the poses that adapted to my ankle’s abilities. I started building strength and balance again and felt 1000 times better mentally. One of the most important things yoga brought back in me was my confidence. Confidence to go on my first hike again. It was short and slow and I was kind of scared but after that hike I knew I would be ok.
I directly attribute yoga to my ability to hike again. I am sure without it, my recovery would have been much longer and harder and I may not have ever reconnected that part of me mentally that had also been damaged. Since then, yoga is still a big part of my life and continues to heal my body and mind. I continually torture my body with hiking- strained legs up mountains, tight hips from heavy packs, weak knees from downhill movement, and fatigued feet from miles upon miles of hiking. The one thing I have found that snaps my body back the fastest- yoga. It’s a gift that keeps on giving. Some of my favorite yoga poses for post hikes are butterfly pose (hips), rag doll (lower back/Quads), pigeon (quads/hips), toes pose (plantar fascia- great if you have plantar fasciitis), dragonfly pose (hips), and any twist (multiple body parts).
So, I literally thank the universe for this every time I hike in the form of a yoga pose on my hike. It’s me honoring myself for taking care of me. So if you see me on top of a mountain in tree pose, you’ll know it’s my heart giving gratitude for the path that led me to being able to get to the top of that mountain physically and mentally and to be present in that moment to enjoy it for all that it is.
It seems there has been a reoccurring theme lately in many of the Facebook hiking groups I am a member in- dog poop. Many well intentioned hikers just do not understand the importance of Leave No Trace- especially when it comes to their furry best friend’s feces. Since I hike a ton with my dog, I have researched the reasons why Leave No Trace is ultra-important, especially when it comes to bagging and carrying out my pooch’s poop. Here are the main arguments I see among hikers, time and time again, along with what is the recommended course of action by LNT advocates, biologists, and multiple studies.
I always pick up my dog’s poop at the park but not when I am in the woods. Wild animals poop in the woods, so my dog should be able to poop in the woods too.
At first, this does seem like logical reasoning to why it should be ok to leave your dog’s feces in the woods. I can’t tell you how many piles of coyote crap I have stepped in- it’s all over on some trails I hike frequently. The main reason this logic is flawed is that wild animal feces ≠ domestic animal feces. Think about what that coyote eats vs. what your dog eats. According to www.westminstercollege.edu, a coyote’s varied diet includes scavenging the large kills of other animals, insects, fruits, berries, and prickly pear cactus. Coyotes preferred diet includes deer, elk, rabbits mice squirrels, pocket gophers, beavers, ground nesting birds, amphibians, lizards, snails and fish. It’s a diet high of naturally occurring protein and calcium and is 100% biodegradable. In fact, some studies have shown that the fertile scat of some wild animals is actually a benefit to the eco-system. Researches in Colorado’s Rocky Mountain National Park recently performed a study on samples of bear scat mixed with soil containing Chokecherry seeds in their park’s greenhouse. It turns out, they found the seeds are more likely to germinate after passing through the bear’s system than just dropping off the plant. The seeds have a thick coating that the bear’s digestive system helps to break down making it easier for the plant to germinate.
Now think about what your dog eats. If you’re conscious and feed your dog a high quality food, it contains many ingredients including added nutrients and preservatives. If you feed your dog a lower quality food, it contains much more than that. I googled Purina Dog Chow ingredients just to see and this is what I found:
Ingredients: Whole grain corn, meat and bone meal, corn gluten meal, animal fat preserved with mixed-tocopherols, soybean meal, chicken by-product meal, egg and chicken flavor, whole grain wheat, animal digest, salt, calcium carbonate, potassium chloride, l-lysine monohydrochloride, mono and dicalcium phosphate, choline chloride, zinc sulfate, yellow 6, vitamin E supplement, ferrous sulfate, yellow 5, red 40, manganese sulfate, niacin, blue 2, vitamin A supplement, copper sulfate, calcium pantothenate, garlic oil, pyridoxine hydrochloride, vitamin B12 supplement, thiamine mononitrate, vitamin D3 supplement, riboflavin supplement, calcium iodate, menadione sodium bisulfite complex (source of vitamin K activity), folic acid, biotin, sodium selenite
Not very natural to say the least. All these added nutrients, fillers, chemicals, and preservatives go right into the delicate environment. Added nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, create unstable environments that cause algae blooms and feed invasive plants and weeds.
What’s one poop from my dog? It’s not even that big.
According to Leave No Trace Organization, across the US, 83 million pet dogs produce 10.6 million tons (that's 21,200,000,000 pounds) of poop every year. That’s a lot of poop! Imagine if everyone that is hiking with their dog left their dog’s mess. Plus an average dog poop takes about a year to decompose. So as you can see, it can pile up fast and stick around for a long time.
People complain about my dog’s poop when horse’s poop so much more and they don’t have to clean it up.
Again this comes down to diet and internal processing. Horse manure contains grass and grain fibers, minerals, shed cells, fats, water, sand or grit depending on the type of soil the hay or grass was growing in. About 3/4 of the total weight of manure is water. The chemical constituents of horse manure are not toxic to humans. Horse guts do not contain significant levels of the two waterborne pathogens of greatest concern to human health risk, Cryptosporidium or Giardia, neither do they contain significant amounts of the bacteria E. coli or Salmonella. In fact, many people use horse poop as compost for their gardens. Dog poop is nothing like horse poop. Did you know that in one gram of dog poop there are 23 million fecal coliform bacteria, which are known to cause cramps, diarrhea, intestinal illness, and serious kidney disorders in humans? Imagine all those piles of poop when it rains, washing all that bacteria into our agriculture fields, water sources, and oceans.
I do bag my dog’s poop in biodegradable bags. It will degrade so it’s ok to leave it.
No one wants to look at your decomposing dog poop bag for the next year (at least). This includes even if you’re just leaving the bag and plan on picking it up on your way back down. Most likely, you may forget it or someone else will feel the need to pick it up for you. It goes against the ethics of hiking and put everyone who hikes with their dog in danger of having dog friendly trails change to no dogs due to all the litter.
Again, this goes back to the 7 Principles of Leave No Trace:
Plan Ahead and Prepare
Travel and Camp on Durable Surfaces
Dispose of Waste Properly
Leave What You Find
Minimize Campfire Impacts
Be Considerate of Other Visitors
Poop stinks and I don’t want to carry it in my backpack all day!
When I see comments like this my blood literally starts to boil. This is irresponsible dog ownership, a complete disregard to fellow hikers and the environment, and pure laziness. It’s a privilege to be able to take your dog on a hike and it is your responsibility to ensure you bag and pack out their poop every time.
So what can you do as a hiker with your dog to ensure you’re doing to right thing with your dog’s poop?