Wine Country…Perfect for a Sunday Drive

IMG_5766When I was young my grandparents  loved to take my brother and I on Sunday afternoon drives out in the country. Though I complained, because where they lived in the central valley was so hot, I secretly loved those drives. Even as a kid I was fascinated by the  old barns, vineyards, orchards and quaint farm houses. Today, now the same age my grandparents were in those days, I love nothing more than meandering out in wine country going down country roads, no set plan in mind! Recently I took off, camera in hand and headed out River Road to Slusser Road to check on some gorgeous magnolias that bloom there in the spring.IMG_5748 IMG_5755 IMG_5744 IMG_5745I’ve been driving there for a few  years just to visit these trees and they never disappoint! Across the street stands the “Slusser Barn”…a little more aged year by year..IMG_5765Part of the beauty is the way the magnolias are interspersed with yellow shrubs, each creating a colorful backdrop for the other:IMG_5762 IMG_5760 IMG_5759 IMG_5756 From here I thought about the Alexander Valley and how beautiful it would be this time of year so back to Hwy. 101 and North! Driving along the roads out there barns abound!IMG_5797And the hills are covered in flowers …IMG_5787 IMG_5794Having a granddaughter who is crazy about horses, I had to stop and capture a few shots of this guy out standing in a field of flowers!IMG_5782 IMG_5779 IMG_5778 IMG_5776Next  I caught sight of the sign to Dry Creek Road and decided to drive out a few miles to explore. So glad I did…I’d forgotten about this wonderful old one lane bridge!IMG_5811 IMG_5831 IMG_5815I stood so long waiting for a photo without cars this guy began to think I was road kill and flew over numerous times before he landed close by to check things out!IMG_5825Out and about for three hours I was out of coffee and ready for lunch so after checking out a few of my favorite “vineyard fans” it was back to the freeway and home.  We are so lucky to live where you can take off driving in literally any direction and see this much beauty!IMG_5802

 

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Ninth Street Egrets Revisited!

A few years ago  I became obsessed with the Ninth Street Egrets! Recently I realized I haven’t driven down Ninth Street for quite a while and since it’s spring it seemed a good time to revisit and see how many egrets still hang out in the neighborhood trees. They’re still there and still fun to watch! IMG_5849cropThey congregate in four main trees and make a terrible mess on the sidewalk and street which I understand the neighbors still don’t appreciate! It only takes a wait of a few minutes to see birds with a three foot wing span swoop down from the sky with a branch or two to add to a nest.IMG_5850It’s common to see a lone bird perched high and simply gazing around or two snuggled together like babies in a nest.IMG_5863 IMG_5837Take off and landings are my favorite but watching everything they do is fun!IMG_5862 IMG_5857 IMG_5849crop IMG_5846If you live in or near Santa Rosa it’s worth the trip to check out Ninth Street just off Stony Point Road to see these wonderful birds. Their soft calls and lacy feathers are a special treat and a nice way to connect with nature in the middle of the city!IMG_5853

 

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Kendall-Jackson Garden and Wine Tour!

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When I researched recently to find a winery with nice gardens, Kendall-Jackson popped up everywhere…and now I know why.

We went at 11:00 a.m. on Labor Day  hoping to catch the garden tour. We expected a quick tour and maybe a few plant ID’s. Wow, were we wrong!  Then, since we were the only two there, I thought maybe they’d tell us to wait for the next tour….but Heather, the tour guide for this walk, was happy to take just the two of us.  First we were given some lovely Rose to taste. That was a nice surprise followed by a complete history of the winery, incredible wine and plant information and four more tastings! What an interesting and fun way to spend a morning!

Heading out for our tour we heard a little about the building itself and the surrounding vineyards…it’s all so beautiful!

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We learned about Jess Jackson, the winery founder. He had a fascinating life and his children carry on his tradition today. He kept the first bottle of each of his first thirty seasons which are beautifully displayed in the entry.

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The entry to the demonstration vineyard is flanked by bricks showing those who supported Kendall-Jackson wines right from the beginning…

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I’ve always wondered why some grape vines seem to be pruned into two tiers so I was interested when Heather explained it is to allow more sun to reach the fruit, which has an effect the flavor. There are 25 vines in this section and visitors are encourage to taste!

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We also learned that kendall-Jackson ages all their wine in 55 gallon oak barrels. (When you take the tour be sure to ask  how Jess Jackson figured out a way to get all the oak barrels he needed from France…it’s a great story!) While citrus or melon flavors in wine come from the soil, chocolate or smokey flavors come from the oak so the barrels are important!

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I had no idea how much work goes into making a fine wine.  They have monitors to check how much sun hits the fruit and bat houses to house bats so they can fly out at night and devour insects. Then there are the owl houses so owls can live there and take care of rodents…and that’s all before a grape is picked!

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We also learned grape vine roots can go down 40 feet looking for water.  They dry farm at KJ which means the grapes do not receive irrigation. In fact, they haven’t been watered during the entire drought. If the drought goes on much longer though it could become a problem since the harvest is already down 25%.  Though the vines are lazy and would love lots of water and great soil… apparently stress is part of what produces a great grape!

Entering the garden area is beautiful…

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We rested by a shady gazebo, one of two in the garden, and tasted another wine before entering the sensory and vegetable/flower gardens.

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Smelling scented leaves and then sipping wine helped us discern flavors we didn’t know were there! Signs guide the garden wanderer to select the right wine for the right food…Did you know sage and Pinot go together well and corn enhances Chardonnay?

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Our first glimpse of the huge garden, tended by Tucker Taylor, formerly of the French Laundry  in Napa, was a jaw dropper! This garden is not just tidy, it’s manicured. Rows are neat and even, pathways are covered in straw…I don’t think we even got any dust on our shoes! Oh I love a tidy garden! The plants are lush and healthy from the mature red beans to the new baby lettuce plants.

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The flower gardens run along the sides and they are gorgeous!

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In the center of the garden sits a huge “hops house” planted all around with hops. I’d never seen them growing and they are quite interesting…

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Off to the side of the garden area is a huge area full of heirloom tomatoes growing in preparation for the 19th Annual Tomato Festival to be held Sept. 26th.

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The tour ends at the back of their building where we were invited to sit in the shade while Heather went to get us a lovely treat! We had Late Harvest Orange Muscat dessert wine (my new favorite!) along with some caramel corn the chef made…it was amazing!

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Sitting on their elegant patio I just had to capture a few more images….enjoy…

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If you would like to be educated about wine, if you love a beautiful garden and if you’d love to feel pampered and taste some truly wonderful wine head  over to Kendall-Jackson! The garden tour is available daily at 11:00 am, 1:00 pm and 3:00 pm.

For more information go to : http://www.kj.com/the-wine-estate-gardens

*Cost is $25.00 per person

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Angel Island Day Trip

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Angel Island is a nice day trip from Sonoma County and includes a ferry boat ride in the deal! Leaving Santa Rosa at 8:30 a.m. we ended up in Tiburon in time for a cup of coffee at a nice coffee shop right by the ferry terminal.

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The trip was $29.00 for two of us and included the ferry ride and admission to Angel Island, which is a California State Park. The ride is only 10 minutes but it’s fun and it would be a treat for kids!

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Arriving on the island you can pick up a brochure which includes a map of the hiking/biking trails, and head on over to the visitors center for more info about the island.

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After walking through the visitor’s center we headed down the trail to the left as we came out and walked up and around the island toward the view of San Francisco and Alcatraz.

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I loved the old red hospital and other old buildings on this side of the island.

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Arriving to the point where we could see the city across the bay, we felt it was well worth the hike! I went with my 89 year old dad who out hiked me the entire trip!

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It was foggy and overcast the day we went. I’d like to go back on a clear day for an even better view. While you can continue on around the island for a 5-6 mile hike, we headed back down the way we came to have lunch and catch the 1:10 ferry. The cafe by the ferry boat terminal was reasonable priced and the turkey sandwich was fantastic!

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After lunch we had a little time before the ferry so we headed back toward the visitor center but walked up the hill the other way for a bit, coming upon a water tower and a eucalyptus forest along the way.

IMG_7075ADJ IMG_7074ADJ IMG_7057ADJ Walking back down, and along the shore to the terminal we admired the flowers and watched the sun come out just in time for our ride back to Tiburon.

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Thanks Dad, for a great trip! (Now if I could just keep up with you!)

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Go here for more information on Angel Island.

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Shiloh Regional Park Wildflower Hike

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There was a great turn out for the Shiloh Park wildflower hike, even though it is the toughest of the spring wildflowers treks.  Phil Dean, who leads the hikes, warned us it can be a little steep going up and a little slippery coming down….and it was. But, worth it all the way!

He started by showing us an interesting plant in the field in front of the parking lot. Called by the common name, Jimson Weed, it’s very  toxic and can cause hallucinations that include a sense of flying….hence the saying, “it makes witches fly”. Check it out on Web M.D. and you’ll want to give it a wide berth! It has lovely flowers though:

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Our 3 mile walk began by going up through the oaks and right past an earthquake fault line. Most of the path is shaded until you reach the ridge so that made for nice hiking.

I’m particularly fond of Maidenhair Fern so it was a treat to see it growing wild:

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Followed by Baby White Eyes:

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And some Purple Vetch:

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Coming out of the shade and approaching the ridge trail we saw bright yellow clumps of Sticky Monkey Flower:

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Learned that Yarrow can be used to stop bleeding:

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And examined the little urn shaped flowers on the Madrone Trees:

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The views were beautiful out over Windsor from up here:

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But seeing the effects of Sudden Oak Death on one of the trees was sad:

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I love Wild Iris and they were sprinkled all along the way. Both the Douglas Iris (purple) and the Fernald’s Iris (yellow):

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Blue Eyed Grass  delighted the hikers:

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Along with the Star Flower- (it’s so delicate and beautiful):

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Next we headed along the ridge trail toward a small pond. And found more tiny flowers along the way. Without Phil leading us it would have been easy to miss many of them. Like the tiny Scarlet Pimpernel:

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Or the low growing,  Sun Cups:

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And I certainly would have missed the lovely clump of Mule Ears in a field off the trail since I was staring at the ground to keep my balance at this point!

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Each hike has it’s share of critters and this time it was these Canadian Geese grazing through the grass:

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and floating on the pond:

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After the pond we headed back into the shade and walked up above a mostly dry creek bed. Ferns were growing all over:

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Along with Wild Rose:

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Some Mallow in spots of sun:

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And some softly colored Milk Vetch:IMG_6888adj

The real excitement was over one of our last finds….a Giant Trillum..and the leaves were giant!:IMG_6886adj

This really is a great walk and a wonderful park.  We are truly blessed with such outdoors places to wander in Sonoma County!

Next week’s walk, the final in the series, is 10 a.m. at Riverfront Regional Park. Sadly, I will have to miss that one but I hope you’ll make it!

For more info: go here.

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Steelhead Beach Regional Park on the Russian River

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The Sonoma County Regional parks wildflower hike this week was at Steelhead Beach Park along the Russian River.  Although I’ve taken my kayaks there, I totally missed the wonderful trails!

Following our guide, Phil Dean, we discovered all kind of plants and flowers. We started up by the River Road entrance where he described the:

Big Leaf Maple (Which can actually be tapped like maples back east!)

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The Box Elder:

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The Coast Redwood:

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And as the group walked on we spied the pretty little Henbit:

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The Wild Grape:

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And the Manroot, which oddly enough, has underground roots the size of a man:

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I got excited over a sweet little daisy until he mentioned that the Ox Eye Daisy is so invasive he would never, ever plant it on his property!

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As we walked back across the parking lot and along the road to the left of the old concrete gravel loader and restrooms, we entered a beautiful trail through a riparian area along the river. The first plant we encountered came with a warning. Hemlock, which is often mistaken for Queen Anne’s Lace, is deadly! Don’t even touch it!

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The Wild Radish adds a soft lavender hue:

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While the Lemon Balm, when you touch it, gives off a strong lemon scent:

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Everyone liked the soft ferny Fennel:

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We spotted some Wild Roses and learned the bright red spots on them were galls:

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Phil and the ranger both had nothing but bad things to say about River Reed, a terribly invasive plant that is nearly impossible to dig out:

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Walking a little further along the river we saw a quiet spot to sit and watched some canoes float along the river:

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Next we entered a shady part of the trail full of beautiful plants.

Wild Clematis:

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Wild Elderberry (I’ve made Elderberry Jelly with my grandmother and it’s good!):

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Walking along we saw Dogwood beginning to bloom:

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And Himalayan Blackberry with it’s soft pink flowers:

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The path through this area is gorgeous:

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As we approached the end of the trail we came upon the part I thought was the most exciting of all! First he showed us the Pipevine and it’s unique flower:

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And then he showed us the beautiful Pipevine Swallowtail butterflies that flit through the Wild Radish nearby!

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Aren’t they beautiful! If you hurry you’ll be able to enjoy them! If you walk along the road on the left of the restrooms you can find them by walking around the metal fence gate. This is at the end of the trail we took, but it can be the beginning of the trail going the other way….clear as mud right? Just go take a walk there and you’ll figure it out….it’s so worth it!

 

For more info look here.

 

 

 

 

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Wildflowers! Crane Creek Park

IMG_6293textadjThis week the regional park wildflower hike was at Crane Creek Park in the hills above Rohnert Park. While last week at Foothills we saw lots of lupine, this week poppies took center stage.

We met at the parking lot and Phil Dean led us on an hour long hike, stopping to describe and name interesting flowers and trees along the way. The view from Crane Creek is beautiful, covering most of Rohnert Park.

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First we saw Fiddle Necks, (which I didn’t photograph so I’ll have to go back!) Followed by Meadowfoam scattered across the fields.

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We saw some Yarrow along the way:

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Along with some Yellow Field Owl’s Clover:

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Some Vetch mixed in with Buttercups:

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A beautiful flower for which I missed the name ( I think it’s Sheep’s Sorrel):

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And then, a great group of Poppies:

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Leaving the Poppies I saw one of my favorites…Blue Dick:

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And as we continued on our way up the hill, I spied this cute little guy:

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We heard quail calling out all along the way, combined with the happy chirp of  Red Wing Blackbirds.

One warning was to watch out for the Poison Oak. There was a huge stand of  it and I could hear my grandfathers voice, “Leaves of three…Let it Be!

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Phil is always full of great stories about the various plants but I think the favorite today was about how beer used to be made with Mugwort. Apparently, it made people a little too wild so the government changed it so that hops ended up being used instead!

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Next we came upon a quiet little spot in the shade of a huge  Bay Laurel tree, estimated to be around 100 years old. It  came complete with a picnic table nestled in it’s shade. Our guide selected a great spot to teach us about the tree.( I plan to pick some Bay that grows by my house to put in my chicken coop since we learned it’s good for keeping  mites and other critters off chickens!)

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I always thought moss hanging from Oak trees was a parasite, but we learned today that the moss on these trees is called Fish Net Moss and is not a parasite and doesn’t hurt the trees. Indian people used to use it for all kinds of things including “feminine protection” if you can imagine that ladies!

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Though much of the park is out in the open and  is probably pretty warm in summer, there are shaded areas and in some spots even benches.

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If you look closely you’ll see all kinds of interesting Lichen growing on the branches of the old trees:

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As we finished our walk we came upon one last treat. Some nice groupings of  Meadowfoam…a nice way to end our walk.  Can’t wait till next week when the hike will take place at Steelhead Beach Regional Park out on River Road. The walk begins at 10:00 a.m.

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Go Here to learn more. And here.

 

 

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Foothills Regional Park, Windsor

IMG_6106adjSpring is the perfect time to visit regional parks wherever you live. Here in Sonoma County wine country, Foothills Regional Park in Windsor is full of wildflowers just waiting to be enjoyed!

You can take a guided walk during March and April so you’ll leave actually knowing the names of the lovely flowers you see.  This weekend we walked with Phil Dean, from the Master Gardener program, who introduced us to some beautiful plants and identified each for us:IMG_6070adj

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The walk is casual with only one hill, the top of which sports a beautiful field of Lupine! I hung out there photographing so long I’m sure we missed many more flowers but since I’m in love with Lupine it was worth it.

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Mid day on a sunny day is not the best time to photograph flowers but there are a few things you can do to improve your chances of a good shot:

1.Use a shade for those blossoms in glaring bright sun.  It might be as simple as standing in such a way as to block the sun. You can  carry a small white poster board (which can also be used to bounce light into shadows) or you can purchase a translucent fold up disk which is what I carry.

2. Use a lense shade to cut glare on the lense used in bright sun.

3. Focus on the brightest part of the flower so you don’t blow the highlights. Focusing on the darkest part of the flower makes the camera want to lighten it up and makes the entire image too bright.

4. Try to photograph the same flower in shade and sun to see the difference.

5. Get low and try different angles instead of just shooting down from the top.

6. Try to get a log, rock or some other item in the photo to add interest in some shots.

7. You may need to bump up your ISO to make sure the speed is at least 125 or higher to stop a flower blowing in the breeze, while closing down the f stop to 8 or so to retain detail.  (Or you may want to use a larger opening to blur all but the flower…artistic choice)

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Next to Lupine I really love the wild Iris that grows all over Sonoma County from the beach to the foothills:

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One of the less attractive plants (but certainly the most interesting) was the Soap Plant. It only blooms at night since it needs moths to pollinate it, so we didn’t see any flowers. And while the plain green leaves aren’t much to look at, if you look closely at the ground around them you’ll see little “brushes” coming out of the ground.  It’s actually part of the root and Indians did  make brushes from them! ( See what cool things you learn on a guided hike!)

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Along with the wildflowers you’ll see some animals:

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If you’d like to bring a picnic, there are tables scattered around the park for your dining pleasure and  lots of beautiful,

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peaceful views…

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And a few more flowers..

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For more information to to: http://parks.sonomacounty.ca.gov/Activities.aspx

There are a few guided hikes left this spring and I plan to do all I can!IMG_6125adj

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Muir Woods…The Redwoods Next Door

Here in Sonoma County we are fortunate to  have the  beautiful Armstrong Redwoods. In Marin County they have Muir Woods. Similar, but worth the trip down the road to see more majestic giants in a quiet, cool forest sporting a babbling creek and myriad shades of fresh green foliage.

With wooden walkways through most of the park it is stroller and wheelchair accessible and well worth the $7.00 entry fee. A small store and lunch spot surrounded by beautiful decking makes a nice spot to sit and visit after your stroll through the redwoods. Our trip today, on a Monday in May, shows how popular the forest is. We arrived at 10 a.m. and had to park in overflow parking! When we left at noon cars were parked along the roadway for at least half a mile.But, here is why it was worth the short walk back to the entrance:

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Armstrong Redwoods…Mushroom Season is Here!

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Armstrong Redwoods State Park is beautiful any time of year but now, in January, there’s a little something extra to enjoy! Mushrooms are popping up all over.  Though we didn’t score a find this time like we did years ago when we came across a bright red mushroom, we found some lovely little patches along the walkways.

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We went out on a sunny Sunday and the parking lot was full of hikers. It’s a great place to take children for a safe, level hike among the trees.  Set them free to look for mushrooms (but warn them to never touch….do not eat!) There are different kinds they can search for:

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Benches where you can stop and take a break:

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Signs to warn them about traffic (I love this one!):

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More mushrooms:

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The little “caves” created by past fires are spooky and irresistible to children:

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The amphitheater is a wonderful place to stop and read or relax for  a while.  We took our Bibles but after a few minutes our fingers were numb from the cold this time of year! As we sat there reading a young couple came up talking about what a wonderful place it would be to get married and how lovely the sound would be in the “theater”. Suddenly we were surrounded by beautiful opera as the young woman ran to the stage area and sang her heart out! Such a sweet moment!

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Following the path back to the parking lot we came upon more mushrooms:

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The “icicle” tree:

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and more beautiful paths to take back along the stream bed to the picnic area:

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It’s a truly beautiful and peaceful spot. A nice place to rejuvenate for the week ahead. Even with the parking lot full we had the path to ourselves at times, and met nice people to chat with at other times. Walking to the end of our time there, I spotted the light breaking through the forest to create this beautiful shadow….there but moments….like the troubles in this life if we hold them with an open hand….

IMG_5609adj The redwoods are a treasure, something I would miss terribly if I ever had to live somewhere else. Take time to make a trip to Guerneville and walk among the big trees..it will satisfy your soul.

Note for Photographers: It’s dark inside the forest. You’ll need a tripod to get the best images…which I forgot to take.  Many of these photos needed an ISO of 1600 because it was so dark…barely passable for a blog…and certainly not suitable for printing enlargements. If you have that in mind, to get the very best results, you’ll need a tripod so you can use an ISO of 100 or 200 and take a long exposure without flash.  I was forced to use  bounced flash lighting to get some of these images and a high ISO for the rest – Don’t wake up like I did, and decide to run out to the woods in such a hurry that in the  excitement over your wonderful idea,  you leave your tripod behind!

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