Pony Express…Great Ponies, Great Kids!

We have a treasure  here in Sonoma County  right in the middle of Howarth Park! We took our children to ride the horses there many years ago and now we take our granddaughters. Jack is the most popular pony ever and the guy that started us on our horsey adventure! There were so many children that came by while we were there to visit “their” pony Jack- he’s one really popular guy!

Recently our 5 year old granddaughter participated in a horsemanship class that was just amazing! We watched our shy,quiet girl blossom and come out of her shell to an amazing degree over four days of class.  Watching her actually trot on a big pony, arms straight out, big grin on her face and little pink cowgirl boots pointed in the right direction was the highlight of my summer!  (I know she’s a pony because Lucy is less than 14 .2 hands and a pony is up to 14.2 hands…learned that in class!)

Linda Aldrich, the owner, has everything planned and executed so well that the kids in the class, ranging from 5 to 10 years old, all learned to clean hoofs:

Brush and clean the ponies:

Wrap pony legs:

Mount and dismount:

Put on a saddle, etc. properly (the kids know the proper name for everything far better than I do!)

With close supervision from her fantastic volunteer staff each child is taught, encouraged and kept safe throughout the morning.

They have time to study their horsemanship booklets and it’s truly amazing how much the kids absorbed and learned in a few short sessions.

Do you know how many teeth a horse has? The kids do! (Did you know males have more?…really this class is fascinating!)

While children can ride the ponies whenever the park concessions are open you can contact Linda at the Pony Express directly to find out about the horsemanship class:         .

Learning about horses at Howarth Park is truly a special event that can be passed on from generation to generation! Just another reason to love Sonoma County wine country!

Have you taken children there through the years? Have a favorite pony?








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Fixer Upper Fun! Waco, Texas!

Wow, what a fun birthday present… A trip to Waco, Texas to visit Magnolia Market of  HGTV “Fixer Upper” fame.  Thank you to my daughter for an awesome trip…come along with us and see how cool it is there! (Not temperature wise but in every other way!) It is “wandering” a bit far from Sonoma County…but worth it! I had to share!

Right in downtown Waco, Magnolia Market is a great destination for family fun! First stop, The Silos Baking Co. for amazing treats…the Almond Carre pastry is truly amazing and the Cinnamon Roll was wonderful! Next time I’m in for cupcakes and every other yummy thing they sell as well….so good! We went very early right as they opened on a weekday and had no lines…a little later it was crazy busy!

Next up the Magnolia Market building…full of JoJo’s clean style home decor….I may have ordered a huge “Fresh Flower” sign…a must have for a flower gardener right? And, of course, I had to get us each a small framed magnolia blossom drawing as a special memento!

After eating and shopping the central “playground” area is a fun place to relax, people watch, swing and, if you’re still hungry, it’s full of specialty food trucks! (I had a video to post for you, but apparently since I don’t own the lovely Christian song they had playing there when I made the video, I can’t post it…sorry…).

Now on to the main reason for our trip! A gorgeous, brick,  3-4 bedroom home in Waco runs about $350,000.00 as opposed to one here in Calif. for $600,00.00 and up! We drove through Waco, McGregor and Woodway to see if  the homes were as nice as they appear on TV. Tree lined streets, lovely homes, yep…just like the show! (Brain dead from the heat I didn’t get any good photos but you can get the idea from this grab out the car window!)

Young people are moving out of California in droves and my Millennial daughter and son-in-law would like to be among them so they can afford a house! Hence the birthday trip to a truly affordable place she knew I’d love to see and where she could afford to live! (And they have three granddaughters we can’t live without!)

Number one question for me is always, “Can I garden with the plants I love there”? Magnolia Market just happens to have the Magnolia Seed and Supply shop with a huge garden surrounding it! I saw more I loved there than I did at the Dallas Arboretum! (Poor thing, I even made her take me to a Lowe’s to check the plants they had for sale!) While most of what I love can grow in Texas, hydrangeas and dahlias (my favorites) don’t seem to fare very well in the heat and sadly, neither did I…it is really hot and humid…perhaps one adapts? Just look at all they grow at the Magnolia See and Supply though:

We had such a great morning at Magnolia followed by antique shopping in the surrounding area ( The Findery is great!) and a drive by some of the spots made famous by the show like the Magnolia B&B and Harp Design Co. We also walked along the Brazos River with its many bridges and drank our share of Sweet Tea.

Our last stop was a visit to Common Grounds Coffee Shop. On one episode of Fixer Upper they featured the young couple who owns the shop . It sounded great and it was! (Dr. Pepper, Vanilla Creme and Raspberry syrup is Good! (Too hot for coffee for me that day!)

All in all, if it weren’t for the (to me,) extremely hot and humid weather, I’d move in a minute! The people are amazing in Waco. Seriously, I had a lovely young woman quietly approach me in a restaurant to whisper, “Mam ya’ll have your skirt stuck up in your underwear”….and she didn’t even laugh…and neither did her group of  her college age friends! She just truly wanted to save me from embarrassment…it was really sweet. Embarrassing for me, but sweet!

If you travel  to some states and say you might move there, locals can get nasty….here at Magnolia the lady working at the Seed shop welcomed us with open arms..”Ya’ll should move here…we have lots of room in Texas and we’d love to have you”! Now that was unexpected. When people in Waco ask, ” how are ya’ll doing today” they wait politely for an answer – they actually care! A little hard to believe when you’re from California where everyone is in a rush all the time!

If you go, you must drive through the Baylor University campus…it is gorgeous!

And if you need a place to stay check out the lovely Airbnb where we stayed…Pecan  Lodge..it was so “Fixer Upper” style perfect!

If you want to go and have any questions, leave a comment below and I’ll tell you what I know! If you’ve been and have a suggestion, that would be fun too!

For information on Magnolia Market: https://magnoliamarket.com/silos/

For the best little Airbnb in Waco: https://www.airbnb.com/rooms/14995716?location=Waco%2C%20TX%2C%20United%20States&s=XbURd_2r

For a family trip, or a girls weekend away, Waco is the place to stay!

Just discovered a great blog Moms Blog about Waco with really good tips for a trip there! check it out:http://waco.citymomsblog.com/planning-trip-magnolia-market-really-need-know/




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Wander to Portland! Just a Quick Flight Away!

Well what is this…Portland? While it’s not in wine country, with the Charles M. Schultz airport right here in town, a round trip fare on Alaska air is often under $300.00 and Portland makes a great quick trip!

While there are many wonderful reasons to visit Portland, my trip this time was to meet my dad for his 91st birthday! My sister and I told him to plan whatever he wanted to do and we would be there to enjoy the day!

He started the day by renting bicycles for all three of us so we could ride 8 miles along the Willamette River and over a couple of bridges! Can you believe I trailed way behind him for the entire ride. He is amazing! The young gal at the bike shop was so surprised he was turning 91 that day she gave him his rental bike without charge! If you run up to Portland for a few days away, definitely rent bikes in downtown Portland….it’s great!

The biggest draw for me is Powell’s Books! This bookstore is three stories high and fills an entire city block! They have new and  used books, magazines, gifts and sections on every subject imaginable! Honestly, I could get lost in there for a full day….

..but since it was dad’s day I grabbed a few mysteries for me , a few horse books for my little granddaughter, and was ready to leave in under an hour!

Just a few miles from downtown Portland is a gorgeous  garden! Serene, beautiful, colorful and truly amazing, Crystal Springs Rhododendron Garden is worth a stop for every plant and garden lover!

The garden includes waterfalls, colorful blooms, grassy areas, ducks, and benches to stop and enjoy it all .Definitely worth a side trip!

After lunch at Deschutes Brewery , one of Portland’s many micro breweries, we squeezed in one more garden….and it was lovely!

Yep…still chasing him…even up a hill!

Portland also has a spectacular Rose garden across the street from the Japanese Garden in Washington Park but it was a bit early for blooms when we were there in May.

The weather is mild, there are tons of things to do and with flights right out of Santa Rosa…Portland is now just a “wandering” away!


Just an FYI: While I usually carry a Canon camera and multiple lenses, this time I carried only my iPhone 6s. While I probably won’t rely on a cell phone camera for all my images again, with a little Photoshop tweaking the images at least recorded the sights! It was kind of nice not having all that gear to lug around!

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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!


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.


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


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!


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!


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!


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.


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?


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.


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!


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


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.


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!


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.


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.


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


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!


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!


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.


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


Go here for more information on Angel Island.

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Shiloh Regional Park Wildflower Hike


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:


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:


Followed by Baby White Eyes:


And some Purple Vetch:


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


Learned that Yarrow can be used to stop bleeding:


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


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:


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


Blue Eyed Grass  delighted the hikers:


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


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:


Or the low growing,  Sun Cups:


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!


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


and floating on the pond:


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


Along with Wild Rose:


Some Mallow in spots of sun:


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 outdoor 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


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!)


The Box Elder:


The Coast Redwood:


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

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The Wild Grape:


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


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!


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:


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


Everyone liked the soft ferny Fennel:


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


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:


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:


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


Walking along we saw Dogwood beginning to bloom:


And Himalayan Blackberry with it’s soft pink flowers:


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:


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:


Along with some Yellow Field Owl’s Clover:


Some Vetch mixed in with Buttercups:


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


And then, a great group of Poppies:

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


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!


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!


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!)


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!


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.


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


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.



Go Here to learn more. And here.



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