After work hike, Montebello Open Space Preserve

Posted June 25, 2008 by tpmcgee
Categories: hikes

Tags: ,

My wife and kids are out of town for a few weeks, spending time with the grandparents while I take care of some stuff at work. Sucks for me cuz I sorta like having them around so I decided to fill some of my after work hours with some hikes that I haven’t gotten to do recently. With luck I can write up reports of a number of short after-work hikes that others might find useful.

About the parkMontebello Open Space Preserve is located on Page Mill Road above Palo Alto, CA. It’s a big preserve holding a mixture of open grassland and mixed oak forests and allows hikers, mountain bikes and horses on most trails. It’s good for relatively short hikes because there are a number of loop options and if you’re into looking at Silicon Valey it’s got some pretty good views. A really nice map is available from the link above, as are driving directions to the park.


About the hike: The hike I did was just about exactly 5 miles in length and involved a good deal of climbing and descending in open grassland and in deep forest. The end of the hike was a bit buggy because it was near Stevens Creek. There is no potable water available on the hike. There is water available at the top of Black Mountain but it’s listed as non-potable. It used to be okay to drink but now it’s de-certified. In a pinch I’d still drink it over having to go without water but that’s me and I don’t recommend others follow my advice in matters of personal safety. You can expect to see lots of lizards, some deer, and if you’re really lucky you might see a rattlesnake, a bobcat or a mountain lion. I have never seen any of the latter in Montebello despite spending a lot of time in the preserve but I’m told they’re there.


Doing the hike: I parked in the main parking lot off of Page Mill Road, just across the road from Los Trancos OSP, another old favorite of mine from when it used to be open to bikes (it’s not any more, boo). Walked down the accessibility trail that I helped build down to the Canyon Trail. Followed the Canyon Trail a short distance to Bella Vista and then climbed Bella Vista up to the top of Black Mountain. This is an easy climb but can be a little long and there will usually be mountain bikers descending the trail rapidly so keep your ears open and give them room if you can.

At the top of Bella Vista I turned right and followed Old Ranch Trail that parallels the gravel road over to the backpacker camp. Took a short break for a few drinks of water from my water bottle and then continued over to Indian Creek Trail. Indian Creek is a steep fireroad that leads back down to the Canyon Trail. I once dated a woman who liked to ride her bike up Indian Creek, she was a sick, sick woman. 

I followed Indian Creek Trail down to the canyon and turned right walking through a lovely section of trail shaded by tan oak trees, back towards the parking area (but not that far). A short while later I turned left onto the Stevens Creek Nature trail. This trail leads down to the creek and is closed to bikes in the winter because it gets sloppy muddy. The nature trail has all sorts of little placards pointing out features of the preserve and the animal and plant life to be found there. I followed the Nature trail all the way across the bridges and back to the parking area that I started from. Make sure that you don’t turn onto the Skid Trail (we used to call this Skid Row in my hair band days)by accident, the trails are marked clearly but if you were day dreaming you could make a wrong turn and end up going in the wrong direction. The Nature trail intersects with the accessibility trail that you started on in a badly marked intersection. When the Nature Trail hits an intersection turn left to go back to the parking lot, it’s only 0.1 miles away.

Distance and Time: The route described above is 5.1 miles long (according to the map and signs in the preserve) and took me a smidgeon under 2 hours. That’s a pretty quick hike and you might take longer if you were stopping to smell the flowers (there aren’t many). If you needed to cut it short because it was getting dark you could skip the Nature trail and just head back to the parking area after descending Indian Creek.






Walks and Hikes in Half Moon Bay

Posted March 7, 2008 by tpmcgee
Categories: hikes

Tags: , ,
Wanna go for a sunset hike on the Half Moon Bay coastside?
From time to time various people have asked me for suggestions for where to go for an easy hike in Half Moon Bay, usually tied with a request to see the sunset on the ocean.
The short answer is that there are tons of great walks on the Coastside but some can be tricky to find and the tricky ones aren’t always that much better than the easy ones and which walk you want depends on what you’re after.  If you’re after solitude, though, you need to work a bit harder and have some local knowledge which I will not impart. I’m one of the locals and we really like that there are still places we can go to get away from visitors.
If you want an easy walk on a paved trail there are tons of great options built around the paved Coastside trail, which runs all along the Coast in Half Moon Bay, beginning near the Miramar Beach Restaurant at the north end and ending up at Poplar Street  in the south. The trail continues past Poplar as a dirt trail and can be followed all the way out to the Ritz Carlton. The best places to pick up the Coastside trail in my opinion are at the Miramar or at State Beach at the end of Kelly Avenue in HMB. Parking is free at the Miramar end but you might need to hunt for street parking a bit. State Beach is a state park so there’s a parking fee but it’s worth it.
If you want an easy rural hike instead of a paved stroll you have different options. One of my personal favorites is to hike the Moss Beach highlands above the airport and Mavericks, just north of Princeton harbor. There’s no trail map of the Mavericks highlands but you don’t really need one. You’ve got the ocean/cliffs on one side and the airport on the other so you’ll always know where you are. Just go wander, it’s lovely, very safe and there are other folks walking dogs out there if you need a pointer. Bring a flashlight or headlamp if you’re going to stay out past sunset, it gets dark quick.
The north end of the highlands is near the Moss Beach Distillery,  where you can have a nice meal or just sit around with a beach blanket and hot drink if you like. The easiest way to access the trail system and avoid other people is to go here:
There’s a small parking pullout at the corner of Ocean Blvd and Bernal Ave that you can put your car in and then just start walking southwards on the trails. Some of the roads getting to that area are closed because of slide damage but you can get there quite easily, just don’t be afraid when you see that one road is coned off, there are others that will let you through.
The Mavericks parking lot at the south end of the highlands is shown in the center of this map.
As you can see, if you want to access the trails you would walk up the paved driveway across the road from the parking area and then just pick any trail and start walking. That parking lot can get full at times but if you park there you also have the option of following the harbor trail out to the bottom of the Mavericks cliffs instead of walking the highlands. If the tide is low that can be a fun place to go.
One other option, which is a real favorite of mine, is to head to Montara Mountain/McNee Ranch State Park and walk the Grey Whale trail, which is well marked, to these two benches and enjoy the sunset at the spot that is routinely voted the “Best Place to Kiss on the Coast“. This is an easy hike and can be done either as a singletrack walk or you can follow the old semi-paved road for the majority of the hike. If you follow the road, turn left at the ranger residence, then left again on the first piece of singletrack after you pass the picnic benches. That’ll put you on the grey Whale trail, now turn right and follow the trail out to the two benches. Do not be deceived by the single rickety bench you pass on the way, that is not your destination. Also do not go up the horrendously steep and rutted hill, that is not your destination. Stay on the level trail and don’t touch those nice leafy bushes on the side of the trail, that’s poison oak.

Three cents an hour

Posted February 5, 2008 by tpmcgee
Categories: fatherhood, humor

A few months ago the Big Boy sold popcorn for his Cub Scout troop. He ended up selling more than $250 worth of popcorn and got a spiffy $10 bill as a prize. Basically they paid him his piece of the take. For a 7-year old that’s a pretty nice return and he’s very proud of himself for having earned it. The bill is still in his bank, we haven’t really let the kids spend money from their banks yet, it all gets deposted in their savings account.

Last night I was  emptying my pockets on the kitchen counter after work the Boy picked up the pocket change I’d gotten somewhere yesterday. He asked “Daddy, is this the money you got for going to work today?” and I answered “No, that’s just some change I got from a store”.

“Good”, he replied, “because that’s only 21 cents and that’s not very much for a whole day of work.”

I think he was going to suggest I give up my day job and go into popcorn sales.

Square bowl

Posted February 5, 2008 by tpmcgee
Categories: home improvement

Last Friday night I needed some shop time to unwind after a crap-tacular week. So I spent a little time working on the lathe making a large version of the Christmas trees I gave as gifts last Christmas. Around 11:30 I was at the point where I should have cleaned up and went to bed but I really wasn’t ready to sleep yet. So I decided to take a stab at making a square bowl. I ended up finishing around 1:30ish and woke the wife up to show her what I’d been messing around with.

Square bowl

This is only the second bowl I’ve made but I’m pretty happy with it. it’s made from some hand-me down laminated maple that I got back when I bought a used cabinet saw from a guy in San Jose. I think that’s a biscuit used to strengthen the glue joint form the lamination in the corner of the picture. It was a fun learning project, I’ll try another soon, maybe made from some scrap cherry and bubinga.

Kids these days don’t know how to rebel

Posted January 30, 2008 by tpmcgee
Categories: humor

My family lives out in the boondocks, which may seem weird given that we’re a 20 minute drive from downtown San Francisco but it’s true.

Our house is on the edge of a big tract of preserved open space and old ranchland so when we look out at Montara mountain at night there are very few lights visible. This makes it really easy to tell when some of the local kids have driven out on the old ranch roads and gone out parking on the local lovers lane overlook. The other day I took my wife and kids out on a hike and we ended up walking through the lovers lane area and I was a bit nervous about what we might find. Sure enough, as we got closer I could see the remnants of some midnight partying on the ground. but then we got even closer and saw that what had been left behind was a dozen Keystone beer cans and a few used condoms.

I am so disappointed in kids these days. What has become of today’s youth? Going out on lovers lane and having safe sex while drinking non-alcoholic beer? Fake beer and fake sex? What the heck kind of rebellion is *that*? Where’s the irresponsibility? Where’s the potential for life-derailing screwups? Sheesh. What are we teaching this generation?

When I was a kid we used to ride motorcycles without a helmet out to the mountains west of Cheyenne, Wyoming, climb up on the exposed rock outcroppings, eat psychedelic mushrooms and drink fifths of bad whiskey (a surefire recipe for puking if ever there was one, btw). Getting down without falling to our death was just part of the rebellion. Sometimes we’d carry scissors with the points up just to make it a bit more dangerous. And the unprotected sex with nearly anonymous partners? Forget about it!

Today’s youth have been so scarred and so scared by our screwups that they wouldn’t dream of a decent rebellion. That’s really sort of sad. Read the rest of this post »

The Tiger Attack was Roid-Rage

Posted January 30, 2008 by tpmcgee
Categories: humor

Tags: , ,

Okay, by now the whole world knows about the incident at the San Francisco Zoo where a tiger got out of its enclosure and attacked three young men, killing one of them. The thing that’s really odd about this is that the enclosure in question was originally built in the 1940s and has housed tigers in the past with no previous escapes. I think I know why this tiger was able to get out now, it took a hint from major league baseball.

Take a moment and think about Hank Aaron’s home run record. Hank broke the previous record back in 1972 and for years other players tried to break his record and failed. For quite a while this record seemed to be an unbreachable barrier and in fact no one succeeded in breaking the record until some goober in San Francisco shot a bunch of steroids into his hiney and developed a whole new level of hitting power.

It seems likely that the folks at the San Francisco Zoo would follow this clear cut path to success and turn to performance enhancing drugs when trying to overcome their own unbreachable barrier. Yep, the tiger attack was nothing more than a bad case of roid-rage.

Now the real question is why the zookeepers are trying to create a race of super tigers.

Big Family, Part 2

Posted October 10, 2007 by tpmcgee
Categories: Uncategorized

Usually when I tell people how big my family is they ask a few FAQs. So to forestall that, here are some of the answers.

1. No, my parents were, and are, not rich. We grew up pretty broke all the time. 14 kids will do that to you. We all wore a lot of hand-me-downs.

2. Yes, they are my real brothers and sisters. No, I do not feel any different about the kids depending on whether they are related to me biologically or not.

3. No, none of them has chosen to investigate their biological parents.

4. My Mom had two washers and two driers and there was rarely a day when she didn’t do 8-10 loads of wash.

5. We went through 2 gallons of milk each day.

6. Yes, some of them still live at home though nearly all are moved out. We’re trying to get the last couple moved out so they’ll be on their own.

7. Yes, the racial thing caused problems but only with stupid people, not inside the family. We just grew up with family members who were different colors and that was just part of the family. We older boys did corner one kid and beat the living heck out of him when he dared to use a racial epithet when referring to my sister, tho. I’d do it again but I’d feel bad about it.

8. Yes, we have had several newspaper stories and evening newscast stories done about us. They always get stuff wrong.

There, did that cover your questions?

14 kids, 13 grandkids, my parents

Posted October 10, 2007 by tpmcgee
Categories: Uncategorized

I come from a large family. So when people express surprise when I tell them that we have 4 kids I always think that their horizons are a little limited.

When my parents had their third child the doctors informed my mom that she should stop having kids since all three of her children had been delivered by caesarian. Back in the day the c-section method was a lot harder on moms and the uterine wall and having more kids would have been pushing their luck, according to the docs.

My folks always wanted a large family and Mom particularly wanted a daughter or two. All of their kids were boys so both the limited number and gender mix were a bit of a disappointment to them. They solved that problem by going the route of adopting more children to fill out our family to its current size.

My folks have raised 14 children, three of them home made, 11 adopted. I’m the second oldest. The current age-span is 44 to 22 years of age. All of the adopted kids were adopted as infants, except Adam, who came home from an orphanage in Vietnam at the age of 2. My adopted brothers and sisters are from mixed races, several from outside of the country and some with physical challenges. So my family has black kids, korean kids, vietnamese kids, phillipino kids and some we’re just not sure about.

When you have 8 or more kids and want to adopt more the adoption agencies will mostly offer you special needs kids, some with severe physical challenges. The foreign adoption agencies began to suspect we were using the kids for child-labor and Mom and Dad had to find references to attest that they were not mis-using the kids.

We always knew when Mom was going to get the itch to add a new kid to our family, it was about the time when the youngest started to stop being a baby. The real surprises were when, through weird issues with adoption agencies, we would end up with two kids the same age at the same time. So we had the  experience of raising pseudo-twins with a couple of my sisters and with a pair of my brothers.

Growing up in a very-mixed-race family of 14 kids probably isn’t much different from growing up in any other family. I wouldn’t really know, though,  I only know about my family. We always had enough people for a snowball fight or building snow tunnels in the back yard. Heck, we had enough people for two full basketball teams, with referees, substitutes and cheerleaders, even before the friends came over. Sometimes people would stare or make unkind comments but that’s probably not unusual. One of our best stories is when we went out to dinner and the restaurant manager made a point of telling Mom that they usually asked youth groups to call ahead before they came in.

Mom and Dad stopped adopting kids about the time that grandkids became imminent. They currently have 13 grandkids provided by 4 of their kids, as near as I can figure. Do the math and that tells you that when we sit down to to a meal there are 29 of us. Add in 10 or 12 friends and roomates who usually show up and you can understand why Mom cooks two turkeys and a prime rib for Thanksgiving dinner.

I’m not sure if we’ll be able to make it home for the big family Thanksgiving or Christmas this year, things are pretty crazy here in California right now. I like doing the small family gatherings with just the Honey and the kids but I miss the crowds and crazyness, too.

New Year’s Day Bike Ride

Posted January 2, 2007 by tpmcgee
Categories: fatherhood

New Year’s Day for us was a big family outing day. After a big breakfast of pancakes (yay!) I went mentioned to my wife that I was thinking that maybe we could all go on a big bike ride together. This suggestion was met with a little trepidation since the last time that she was on a bike was when she was pregnant with the Big Boy, so it had been nearly 7 years since she had been on a bike. With a little coaxing she agreed to give it a shot and then I mentioned that she was going to have to tow the Big Girl behind her. More trepidation but still agreement.

I got her bike down and proceeded to wash off the dust that accumulated on it and then mounted the seatpost hitch for the trail-along bike. Time for a shameless plug for the Adams trail-along bike, it’s great and now we have a hitch on both of our bikes.

After the bike was cleaned up I inflated the tires in all of the bikes and got the wife and the Big Girl up on their now-tandem to practice a bit around the neighborhood. A few times up and down the street and things were pronounced workable. I packed all of the bikes, trailers, helmets and assorted other gear up while the wife did potties, shoes, sandwiches and coats, more or less in that order.

We drove down to the Half Moon Bay Coastside Trail and reversed the packing. The Coastside trail is a fairly wide paved trail that follows the blufftops from Miramar and extends down to one of the southern beaches in HMB. According to my car’s odometer this would be around 3.5-4 miles. The Trail gets a lot of walkers, ocean gazers, and casual bike riders. It’s more or less flat for the entire length so it’s a good place for the kids as long as you’re careful at the points where it intersects with the roads to the beach parking lots.

After getting everyone ready with jackets and helmets we set out. We had the Big Boy on his own bike, the wife on her bike with the Big Girl on the trail-along and the two little ones in the Burley trailer behind my bike. We rode a small distance on the streets of Miramar to get onto the Coastside trail and then proceeded at a more or less leisurely pace to ride the trail to its terminus and back again (total ride was probably 7 miles). The wife and Big Girl were bringing up the rear of the ride with the Big Boy in front of them. That let me set the pace and deal with intersections and passing the walkers. The two little ones settled into the trailer and took turns napping and leaning on each other. This was the first time in the trailer for the Little Boy (he’s 14 months now) and he was very proud of himself.

On the way back the Big Boy decided he was ready to lead the way. We explained that he had to say “excuse me” to everyone he passed and he did pretty well at that. We soothed any upset walkers by wishing everyone a Happy New Year and he soon added that to his greeting when he passed someone. He also decided that I’d been a bit too leisurely in setting the pace so the ride back went pretty quickly.

All in all I’m sure we were quite a sight with all of us riding together. The babies got lots of “ooos” from walkers that we passed and the wife said she caught a number of people trying to do a head-count as we went past. At the end of the ride the kids were very proud of themselves, though the Big Girl resented having to help Mama so much and announced that next time she would ride her own bike. I’m not sure she’s quite up to the ride but we’ll work that out in time.

All in all the wife and I are feeling very pleased with ourselves, having started out the year with a big family outing that went off without a hitch.

P.S. Mike over at Beagooddad asked for suggestions for mid-weather outdoor activities but I’m thinking that Northern California mid-winter is different enough from an Iowa mid-winter that this doesn’t count.

The flower box

Posted December 29, 2006 by tpmcgee
Categories: fatherhood, home improvement

When we bought our house back in 2001 the house had been vacant for about 18 months and it was evident that it had not received a lot of upkeep even when it had been recently occupied. The stairs in front of the house were in sad disrepair (dangerous rotting wood with exposed nails jutting out) and the landscaping left a bit to be desired also. Frankly it was lacking in curb appeal.

We took care of the rotten old steps by pouring new concrete steps a couple years ago. But then it was time for the curb appeal and my wife had flower gardens in mind. Luckily the area in front of the house had previously been graveled and cars had been parking on that gravel for about 18 years. So getting it out should be no trouble at all. (You’re seeing the sarcasm here, right?)

The wife specified a planter box running the width of the front and about 4 feet wide. So the first thing to do was to dig a hole. This is what a hole looks like.

 Big Hole

Note the compacted gravel still in place. That’s what I dug through with pick, shovel, and rake. The old gravel was loaded by wheel barrow into a debris box and hauled out. My back is still telling me how much it disliked that project. In retrospect I really should have hired out this part of the job. A guy on a bobcat could have cleared that space in very little time and would have done a better job of it.

Other picture of a big hole

Once we had a hole we needed to line it with “garden cloth” to keep the gophers out (yes, gophers will dig under concrete and through gravel, trust me). For those of you not familiar with garden cloth it’s heavy wire mesh with holes about 3/8 of an inch on each side. I don’t kow why they call it garden cloth, I call it “a fence”.

large hole with bricks and gravel

After the hole was lined with wire mesh we could put sprinkler lines in place and cover the bottom of the hole with fresh gravel to give drainage and a seat for the stone that would form the planter walls. The wife couldn’t understand why I didn’t just wash and screen the old gravel I’d just dug out. She figured that new gravel just *had* to be expensive. She relented after I had the debris box hauled away and bought a truckload of clean gravel for $20.

hole with a boy beside it

With the hole prepped we could move on to building the walls, which was surprisingly easy once I spent a couple hours making sure my base gravel layer was perfectly level.

Then a truckload of planter soil showed up and some plants got plopped into place. This was the kids’ favorite part of the process, watching the truck dump dirt in the new hole and get it all messy. The plants went in a couple weeks before Thanksgiving but I didn’t actually make time to take pictures until after I’d put up Christmas lights on the house. There will not normally be a Christmas tree or lighted candy canes in our flower box. But the flowers seem to be surviving quite well and are maybe even growing a little.

flower box

other picture of flower box

So there ya go, curb appeal in four easy steps. Dig hole, build box, put in dirt, plant flowers. No fuss, no muss.

curb appeal