Adam Blauert

Blauert on Outdoors: New Year’s Day is great opportunity to explore outdoors

A view of Spike’s Peak. This 5.2 mile round-trip hike climbs 500 feet to the best view hike in our area. Best enjoyed on a clear winter or early spring day, the 1,927 foot summit overlooks the Pacheco Pass region of the Diablo Range and the Central Valley.
A view of Spike’s Peak. This 5.2 mile round-trip hike climbs 500 feet to the best view hike in our area. Best enjoyed on a clear winter or early spring day, the 1,927 foot summit overlooks the Pacheco Pass region of the Diablo Range and the Central Valley. Sun-Star correspondent

New Year’s Day is one of my favorite days to enjoy the outdoors. Although many businesses and institutions are closed for the holiday, parks are generally open and uncrowded.

With clear but cold weather predicted, it should be great for recreation. There’s nothing better than starting the new year hiking on a crisp, cool day. All you have to do is to wear clothes that can accommodate a range of temperatures and boots that can handle mud likely to be present in some sections of trail. In addition, there’s plenty of snow in the mountains, and all of my recommendations from last week make great options.

Here are my top three recommendations for places to visit on New Year’s Day:

Yosemite Valley – There’s snow on the Valley floor, and it’s been there long enough that it’s not too hard to get around in waterproof boots. Snow has been cleared from many of the paved pathways and packed down by feet on the unpaved ones. To check snow conditions, I recommend checking the Yosemite webcams. Go to http://www.nps.gov/yose/learn/photosmultimedia/webcams.htm or do an Internet search for “Yosemite webcams.”

The second cam is aimed at Half Dome and gives a good idea of how much snow there is in Stoneman Meadow. The Happy Isles webcam shows the snow along the river. The entry fee is $25 per vehicle through March, $60 for an annual pass and $80 for an annual pass for all federal parks and lands.

Spikes Peak at Pacheco State Park – This 5.2-mile round-trip hike climbs 500 feet to the best view hike in our area. Best enjoyed on a clear winter or early spring day, the 1,927-foot summit overlooks the Pacheco Pass region of the Diablo Range and the Central Valley. The entrance is on Highway 152, 15 1/2 miles west of the junction with Interstate 5. The day-use fee is $10 per vehicle, and free maps detailing the route to Spikes Peak and 25 additional miles of trails are available at a kiosk in the parking area. For information, go to http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=560 or call 209-826-6283.

Wildlife Refuges – Head out to the Merced National Wildlife Refuge or the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge in the late afternoon to see huge flocks of migratory waterfowl, resident birds and tule elk. For information, go to http://www.fws.gov/Refuge/San_Luis/ or call 209-826-3508. The visitor center is closed on federal holidays , but all of the auto tour and trail routes are open. Bring your binoculars and camera.

Bike park needs help

Over the past two years, I’ve featured the Exchequer Mountain Bike Park that is being constructed at Lake McClure. The cooler months are some of the best times to get work done on the trails, and the Exchequer Riders Club will hold a work day Jan. 9. They can use anyone who is willing to wield a shovel, rake, Pulaski or McLeod, and no particular skill is necessary. Registration starts at 8 a.m., and trail work is from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. with a lunch break at noon. You can register or get more information by emailing exchequerridersclub@outlook.com.

A group trail ride follows work completion. If you’re interested in learning the trails, helping out is a great way to do so. High school students can earn community service hours by participating.

Learning Yosemite

One of the best resources for learning more about Yosemite is the series of short “Yosemite Nature Notes” videos the park and Yosemite Conservancy have produced over the last eight years.

With the release of a video about the park’s rare Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep, there are 27 videos available. Sierra bighorn populations are gradually recovering after many years of decline thanks to reintroduction programs by federal and state agencies. The video tells the story of how a new herd was introduced into Yosemite this year. The videos are five to 10 minutes each and filled with interesting information and beautiful visuals. Watching some of them before your next trip is an easy way to gain a deeper appreciation for the park, its natural wonders and human history – including features that are hard to see in person.

The bighorns are a case in point. Despite many days and nights in the Sierra, I’ve only seen them once and the video brings them close. To find the videos, go to http://www.nps.gov/yose/learn/photosmultimedia/ynn.htm or search “Yosemite Nature Notes” on YouTube.

Every kid in a park

One last item for this year: If you happen to have a fourth-grade student in your family, you qualify for free admission to national parks and other federal public lands. The free admission program began on Sept. 1 and continues through Aug. 31, 2016. For information, go to https://www.everykidinapark.gov/. Why fourth-graders? In most states, those students study state history, and their state parks are an important part of that history.

Adam Blauert: adamblauert@yahoo.com

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