A Bird’s Eye View at Parker Mesa Overlook

After our first visit to Parker Mesa Overlook five months ago, my friend and I vowed to return. Though we certainly enjoyed our hike, we knew we were missing out on something big. The guidebook promised stunning 360 degree views, but we saw absolutely nothing due to the extreme fog. We didn’t know if we were looking towards the ocean, mountains, or at houses. We had no idea which direction was where. It was actually an odd, surreal feeling to be so enveloped in fog (you can see a picture here)—an unusual and intriguing experience in and of itself, but we wanted the whole package, which included the views.

So one morning recently we headed out to see if we’d have more luck with the views. It was a gorgeous day and no fog whatsoever, only a little haze in the distance. What was immediately noticeable about this hike, as opposed to the first one, was that we could see exactly where the trail was going and what was ahead and around us. At one point, we could actually see where the overlook was and got an idea of what the views might be, and they looked promising.

There's the overlook ahead, the hilltop with the lone tree!

There’s the overlook ahead, the hilltop with the lone tree!

And when we reached the overlook, we were not disappointed. There were amazing views in every direction. We saw the ocean, the coastline north and south, inland to the tall buildings of Century City (or maybe Westwood?), and into Topanga State Park and the Santa Monica Mountains. It was breathtaking and peaceful. We were above all the busyness of the world down below. We sat for quite a while just taking it all in. Continue reading

In the Clouds at Parker Mesa Overlook

What a treat to go mid-week hiking with a girlfriend! We dropped our kids off at school in Santa Monica, and then we headed north along Pacific Coast Highway. Fifteen minutes later, we were high up in the hills of Pacific Palisades at the edge of Topanga State Park, surrounded by beautiful nature and a promise of stunning views.

I had hiked in the same area not long before this. That hike started at the bottom of the hill at a private residence and worked its way up Los Liones Trail and ended at a viewpoint (and then we headed back down). The view that day at the viewpoint was fabulous…

Los Liones Trail view

For today’s hike, we drove up and up to the end of a long, windy road and started hiking about where the previous hike had ended. Today the view was still impressive, but the fog was teasing us and obscured it a bit. My friend and I ventured on.

I had more on my agenda than just hiking and chatting. I had learned that there were seven geocaches right along the route, and with my friend being a geocacher too (she’s the one with whom I hosted a geocaching party earlier this year), I thought we could try to find some caches as well. I also had a travel bug I needed to drop off in a new cache.

Travel bug with viewThe first geocache came upon us quickly, and after initially being sidetracked by what we thought were trails leading to ground zero, we found the cache hidden in a neat pile of rocks off to the side in plain site. I happily said good-bye to the geocoin, but not until I had taken a picture of it with the view of the coast and the fog rolling in. The next few geocaches passed us by as we focused on hiking the uphill climb and were engrossed in conversation. We enjoyed the varied scenery around us and the many adorable bunny rabbits that hopped across the fire road. There were many places to enjoy views, but the fog was coming in quickly so I don’t think we got the full experience.

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As we continued onwards and towards the overlook, we could really see the fog moving in. We were walking in the fog without much knowledge of what was too far ahead of us. Suddenly, we were at the overlook, a nice little flat area with two benches and even a hitching post.

At the overlook was also another cache for us to seek. The geocache description warned of rattlesnakes and advised caution. The cache owner recommended using a stick to probe the area first and then to double check before reaching in or under anything. We were happy to oblige, especially since I had seen a huge rattlesnake on my last hike in this area. Luckily, we found a great probing stick nearby and found the cache without running into any snakes. And I picked up another travel bug to move along.

Unknown view at the overlookThe view at this overlook is supposed to be absolutely stunning. My guidebook states we should have seen 360-degree views. We saw absolutely nothing. The fog had come in so densely that we couldn’t even tell if we were looking at mountains or houses or the coast. I had lost all sense of direction. It was kind of an eerie feeling. We weren’t even really that disappointed that we couldn’t see anything because the feeling of being so surrounded by fog was cool in itself, but we certainly are very eager to come back again to see what we missed!

On the way back down, we found another geocache, but we left the remaining four for our next time up. We even discussed how this would be an awesome hike for our next geocaching party. The fog continued to come in and it even began drizzling lightly. We weren’t bothered by the weather at all; it actually added an unexpected element of intrigue to the outing. It also gave us more reason to return because most likely our next time hiking this trail will feel like a totally different experience.

Inspirations to Get Out

As a family, we try to make good use of our free weekend time together. These days, however, with both boys the ages they are and the interests they have in team sports year round, we always seem to have sports games one day of the weekend if not both! But when we can, we’re eager to get out and do something. It might be visiting a new place or a favorite from long ago, or attending a seasonal or cultural activity or special event.

With that said, it is easy to just end up lounging at home. The brothers generally play well together and we enjoy watching them spend time together. What helps us get motivated and out the door are some “family challenges” we have. We find lists of suggested activities and we set out to complete them. Currently, we have three lists that provide tons of inspiration for our excursions:

MommyPoppins 100 Things to Do With Kids in LA

This is Mommy Poppins Los Angeles’ bucket list “of must-do activities for LA kids.” It covers just about every kind of activity imaginable: hikes, amusement parks, museums, aquariums, and festivals, just to name a few. And the list also provides inspiration to visit various places in the Los Angeles area: Beverly Hills, Santa Monica, Malibu, Griffith Park, Catalina Island, downtown, beaches, and many other places. Some activities are definitely more easily accomplished than others.

Best East Day Hikes: West Los Angeles

This hiking guide provides descriptions and maps for 18 hikes that are easily reachable from the West LA area. It is not specifically meant for kids, but since they are described as “easy”, we thought it would work well as a guide for hiking with kids. One feature I particularly like about the book is that it has a list of best hikes for beach/coast lovers, waterfalls, children, swimming holes, views, geology lovers, and nature lovers. We can choose a hike based on an area we want to visit or the kind of hike we want to experience.

Geocaching.com logo

We discovered this challenge quite by accident. I had picked out the Solstice Canyon hike from Best Easy Day Hikes: West Los Angeles, but got my canyons mixed up when looking at a satellite map to see if we could add some geocaching to the hike. I thought we were headed to a canyon with tons of geocaches. Once we parked, we quickly learned that the geocache-filled canyon was not Solstice Canyon, but the one right next to it. It ended up being a lovely hike to a waterfall and ruins of an historic home with amazing views, but it only had one geocache for us to find. That geocache, however, turned out to be one of six in a series put out by someone working in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. At each cache, you can pick up a collector’s card; and in the end, all six cards complete a puzzle. The quest for these remaining geocaches will take us to various places in the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area: the Visitor Center in Thousand Oaks, Paramount Ranch, Satwiwa Native American Indian Culture Center, Circle X Ranch, and Cheeseboro/Palo Comado Canyons, all places I’m totally unfamiliar with and eager to explore.

Does your family have any kind of checklist of activities that serves as an inspiration to get out?


Geocaching Party at Will Rogers Park

One of my favorite activities is geocaching. I can be a bit fanatical about it, as described here when we scramble to be “first to find” a new geocache in our neighborhood. For those of you who don’t know what it is, geocaching is high-tech treasure hunting. We use our iPhone to seek out containers of all sizes (from ones the size of your pinkie fingertip to huge boxes, see pictures below) in various locations (from within our neighborhood to across the world, in great urban sprawls or deep in the wilderness).

Sometimes we just sign the log and replace it. Other times we also trade trinkets or we may pick up or leave a travel bug or geocoin. Then we go online and share our experiences with the geocaching community. It’s a great family activity. It adds some fun and excitement to what could otherwise just be a “boring” outing according to the kids. It also often brings us to places we would otherwise not have visited or even known about.

This past weekend a friend and I had the opportunity to introduce geocaching to a few families from our school. We planned the event at Will Rogers State Historic Park in Pacific Palisades. It’s the perfect setting for such an activity. In the middle of our urban sprawl is this beautiful escape into the wilderness. Continue reading

Family Hike: Hollywood Sign

first-day-hikesI was inspired by the suggestion of the California State Parks Foundation to explore more California state parks in the new year and then I came across the First Day Hikes initiative… So I suggested a family hike for New Years Day. We made plans to explore Griffith Park and the Hollywood Sign, an area I’ve been eager to hike for a long time. (It turns out the First Day Hikes initiative is actually guided hikes in certain state parks around the country, but hey, we were going out to a park in our state on the first day of the year, good enough for us.)

Our goal ahead!

I had two goals for us on our outing — to make it above and behind the Hollywood Sign and also to find possibly five geocaches that I’d picked out in the area. Neither goal was accomplished unfortunately, but it was still a fantastic outing, one that I want to try again now that I know the lay of the land. Continue reading

First to Find!

It was 4:13pm on a school day, the first day back from Spring Break, and I had just asked Sonny to sit down and begin his homework and Doobie was supposed to be cleaning up messes from his day at home, but suddenly I started rushing about getting my shoes on and gathering my handbag and car keys. I had just received an email notification that there was a new geocache in the park only a two-minute car ride away. Here was another chance for us to be FTF, or First to Find.

Sonny and I had tried once before. The notification came in one evening after he had already gone to bed. It turned out the new geocache was on the way to school if we took a different route than usual. I snuck into his room to see if he was still awake. He was so I asked if he wanted to try to be FTF on the way to school. There was even a prize for FTF, a bison tube, whatever that was. He was eager so I told him we would only be able to try it if he hustled in the morning and was ready to go 15 minutes earlier than usual, which is tough when the usual departure time is 7:30.

Usually, my husband takes him to school in the morning, but I offered to take him that morning. Sonny did good getting ready in the morning and we were out the door as planned. We found GZ, ground zero, easily. It was a twisty, spooky looking tree right along the street. We were able to park right in front of it. It was early in the morning so we didn’t have to watch out for muggles. It was just us and the occasional passing car. There was a knot in the tree and using our geosense we guessed that’s where the cache would be. And it was, but sadly we were not FTF. We missed it by 45 minutes. We were second to find. Sonny was disappointed since the prize was already taken.

So when I got the notification for this most recent one that was so close to our home and it wasn’t too late to try for it, I seized the opportunity. The kids eagerly joined me. I was ready to leave without them if they hesitated even for a moment. Luckily, Dad was working at home that day so I could have left them if I needed to do. I rarely see Sonny put his shoes on so quickly and Doobie left in pj’s and slippers (he’d already taken a bath). Doobie wanted to scooter to the park but there was no time for that.

Once we arrived at the park and were walking towards GZ, I started reading the description of the cache to the kids. It was called “Rancho Park Red Cross”. Before I had even finished reading the description, Sonny yelled out, “I found it!” He had seen it before he had even started looking for it. The blue container stood out like a sore thumb.

Approaching ground zero

It seemed like an amateur had placed this cache. “Cache” wasn’t even spelled correctly. There was no log nor pen inside it, only a few random items like a guitar pick, a business card showing muscular men (and “HOT” scribbled next to one of them), and an electronic tracker of some sort from Elle and Christine’s 18th Birthday.

Disappointing contents

Disappointing contents

The kids were disappointed in the pickings. I was disappointed there was no log to prove we were FTF. It was kind of an anticlimactic end to what started out as something with great potential. Luckily, I had a pad of paper in my geocaching kit and ripped out a couple of pages to create a makeshift log. Doobie grabbed the electronic tracker thing. Sonny didn’t take anything. We left a couple of small superhero minifigures so the next kids to find it would feel more fulfilled. We quickly logged our find online while at GZ so no one would try to claim it before us. And then we headed home a bit dejected. Hopefully, we’ll have another opportunity to be FTF and it will feel like we actually accomplished something!