Hiking to Sykes hot springs in Big Sur

Our bike trip continued without much naked time as we were passing through farmland and coastal towns on the way to Big Sur. On our approach to the town of Marina, we had a very pleasant surprise at Del Monte Road. This amiable fellow on the photo below greeted us and offered some energy bars!

farmer 0000 Big Sur, CA, USA

He used to be an avid biker too, and now that is his way to contribute to the community. In his spare time, he goes out to local bike routes and supports bikers with some calories and a smile. That was a great encouragement of what was going to be our longest ride in one day – 85 miles (almost 140km). If you don’t think it’s that much, keep in mind that our bikes were loaded with camp gear and food, and the road along Big Sur coast was very hilly.

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We were constantly rewarded by such beautiful views. The weather was perfect for such a ride: warm and cloudy, with mild refreshing ocean breeze.

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The sun would appear once in a while briefly, and when it reached the silver surface of the ocean, beams of light almost seemed touchable… It was already getting dark though when we hoped to have reached a campground that would bring us close to something interesting in Big Sur. We settled on Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park campground and lodge right off the Pacific Coast Highway 1, it seemed to be pretty close to natural host springs of Sykes, another advice of Dan. We were greeted with a piece of pie at the entrance, which was prepared for the bikers of “AIDS/Life Cycle – Ride to end AIDS” that happened in the same time… We were setting up the tent in the dark and couldn’t wait use some of the lodge’s amenities: a very decent restaurant and a hot shower!

Next day, we started our hike by the Pine Ridge trail. It was easy to follow as it has clear signs for it… Or maybe not so clear, as some of the branches of the trail that looked very much like trails to us we marked as “not a trail” 😀

trail sign 0000 Pine Ridge Trail, Big Sur, CA, USA

This trail goes along the Big Sur National Wild & Scenic River, and it was indeed wild and scenic!

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I was desperate to see an elusive mountain lion, known in the area, but it was too much to ask… and also, they usually avoid humans, so if you do see them, it’s not necessarily a good sign. The views were quite stunning anyways.

view 0001 Pine Ridge Trail, Big Sur, CA, USAview 0002 Pine Ridge Trail, Big Sur, CA, USA

It was interesting to see how different two slopes of Big Sur canyon were: the one facing the sun was almost bare, void of trees, and the more shady one facing north was covered with coniferous forest.  We could also feel that the climate was quite different from the shore shortly after beginning of the hike: the air was much dryer and the clouds didn’t seem to come up there often.

view 0003 Pine Ridge Trail, Big Sur, CA, USA

Some trees were damaged by infamous Californian wildfires, but it was good to see that many of them withstood the fire and seemed full of life again.

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That was also where I saw my first hummingbird, but it disappeared before I could change the lens on my camera… So here are just its beloved red flowers of zauschneria that it fed on.

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Pine Ridge trail crosses a couple of springs of the Big Sur river basin, so we could refresh on the waynaturist 0000 Pine Ridge Trail, Big Sur, CA, USA

and we didn’t have to carry much water with us (I have an ultra-fine water filter pump).

naturist 0001 Pine Ridge Trail, Big Sur, CA, USA

We packed very light, Tam and I shared one backpack which we swapped carrying, so it was a very pleasant easy hike. It was 7 miles to Sykes springs, which we did mostly bare and barefoot too – Tam, part of it, and I, all the way.

naturist 0002 Pine Ridge Trail, Big Sur, CA, USA

When the trail crossed the Big Sur river, we knew it was time to look out for Sykes hot springs and find a place for camping. We saw some tents along the river and continued towards the hot springs… and we couldn’t believe it when we found a perfect camping spot right across one of the hot springs! While two other guys enjoyed the hot spring, we claimed the spot and pitched the tent. Those two were heading back quite soon after that, as they came just for a day.

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After our 85 mile bike ride the day before and then 7 mile hike, we were happy to stay overnight and relax at the hot springs at full.

view 0000 Sykes Hot Springs, Big Sur, CA, USA

Could there be a more perfect natural campsite? I would say it was like heaven, except that the hot spring was very much a manifestation of earthly activities, being produced by the emergence of geothermally heated groundwater from the Earth’s crust. Neither its sulfuric odor was amongst the most pleasant smells you could think of, but we felt like in paradise.

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There are only 3 ‘tubs’ at Sykes, but we were lucky to have “ours” mostly just for ourselves.

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I couldn’t help noticing that the tubs were surrounded by ferns which always a prehistoric look… We had a very quiet, starry sky and babbling brook kind of night… followed by early morning warm up in the hot springs.

naturist 0002 Sykes Hot Springs, Big Sur, CA, USA

Too bad we couldn’t stay at the hot springs much longer, but the hike on our way back was great too. We didn’t see a mountain lion,

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but we did come across of mountain quails,

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western fence lizards,

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and a Steller’s jay dealing with its favorite meal, an acorn. We had our meal at the campground too, jumped on out bike and headed out South… Unfortunately, Niko’s bike broke and we could go as fast as we should. But luckily, as night was approaching, we got a ride from a very friendly couple who agreed to squeeze all our 3 bikes into their SUV and drive us to the next campground. This helped us to get back on schedule, and next day we rode to San Luis Obispo station to take the train all the way to San Diego.

Redwoods of Big Basin

We spent the first day of our bike trip in California getting out of the urban agglomeration of the San Francisco Bay Area: by Cañada bike trail along the seismic Hayward Fault Zone, and then very hilly La Honda road, we reached a small settlement of La Honda; next day, we continued by Pescadero road towards the famous California State Route 1, aka Pacific Coast Highway (PCH, it’s worth noting that it has a bike lane on the side). There were some beautiful vistas on the way, forests and farmland, and we saw our first redwoods, but our first big stop was meant to be Big Basin Redwoods State Park. The spirit of Burning Man also followed us for a bit in the shape of surrealistic statues on some of the farms, like the one below.

naturist 0000 farm on the way to Ano Nuevo Beach, CA USA

By the way, some of my mates from Burning Man camp, which was Playa Bike Repair, knowing my tendency to spend time naked, that I might be able to bike naked in some parts of our route. I didn’t actually have much expectations for that, as most of our biking would be on the highway, but when we cycled down the small Cloverdale Rd and Gazos Creek Rd before hitting PCH, it seemed empty enough and I took my chance! There was just one car passing by and I was not sure they noticed I was naked. I had to put on my shorts when we got to PCH, but not for too long, as we decided to make a brief stop at the beach of Año Nuevo State Reserve. The beach was totally deserted, and all three of us got naked within a moment to enjoy the late afternoon sun after our first 2 days of biking.

naturist 0000 Ano Nuevo Beach, CA USA

Our rest stop was pretty active though: isn’t the best way to relax after a particular exercise, say biking, to do another exercise, say running? At least that’s what we did there for a bit, besides, some stretching too.

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Then we found different kinds of brown algae scattered by waves around the beach. This one above looked like a minimalistic copy of a tropical island covered with coconut palm trees. So-called bull kelp proved to be a great toy to play with (in this light, I definitely prefer its common name over the scientific Nereocystis,  which means mermaid’s bladder).

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Niko found two specimens of the same length and gave the art of poi both naturist and naturalist perspective!

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Tam was just swinging the longer one above his head,

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which Niko then used to hit against the sand as a whip (here comes another common name of this algae, bullwhip kelp).

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Not surprisingly, they both had to fight for in the tug of war game after that!

These algae can actually grow even much longer and they form underwater kelp forests along Californian coast. Too bad the water was too rough and cold to snorkel and see them, but we couldn’t stay much longer at the beach anyways, as we still had to find a campground at our next stop, Big Basin Redwoods State Park. The promise to see the forest with some of tallest and oldest trees in the world was good enough stop our frolicking in the sun. It was an easy ride after that, but we hardly managed to set up our camp before darkness. By the way, it felt rewarding to have come to the park by bicycles, as the camping fee was just $5, as opposed to $35 for those who came by cars.

Here, I need to give a preamble as to how I actually ended having the idea of hiking naked in the redwoods and choosing this forest in particular. When I went to the Spring Bash with Florida Young Naturists, I got a copy of “N, the Magazine of Naturist Living”, which featured an article about hiking in Big Basin Redwoods State Park by Bill Schroer. The article said it was possible to find some secluded trails and also mentioned Cahill policy that determined that simple nudity in State Parks was not a criminal offense. Big Basin Redwoods State Park is California’s oldest State Park (since 1902) and home to the largest continuous stand of ancient coast redwoods south of San Francisco. So, inspired by the article and by the magnificent redwoods themselves, we were eager to explore the forest “as nature intended”. We decided to hike Skyline-to-the-Sea trail with diversion to the Berry Creek trail, following advice of Bill Schroer.

camping 0000 Big Basin Redwoods, CA, USA

We woke up shortly after sunrise, and the sun was reaching out from behind the surrounding mountains and tall trees, it was getting warmer.

raccoon footprint  0003 Big Basin Redwoods, CA, USA

Tam found his biking shirt to have been tried and tested by a local raccoon… Aren’t they supposed to wash things, actually? And there was a spring nearby. Well, not like we were going to wear clothes that day, anyways.

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In the beginning of the hike, we were welcomed by pretty tall northern giant horsetails, a ‘living fossil’ plant, but they were not nearly as tall as their long-extinct cousins and of course nothing to compare with the giant redwoods.

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Redwoods, being one of the most massive and tallest trees in the world, impressed us from the very beginning of the trail. I climbed one of the stumps to embody the strength of these giants… but still looked pretty small.

naturist 0009 Big Basin Redwoods, CA, USA

Well, there’s one natural power that may be stronger than redwoods – lightning. There were quite a few that seemed to be struck by lightning and partially burnt from inside but still withstood it, but many weren’t that lucky and fell.

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But even when fallen, redwoods look majestic!

naturist 0006 Big Basin Redwoods, CA, USAWalking on a fallen redwood gives you a good perspective of their height (and a pretty way to cross a stream)…

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so as sitting under or on these fallen giants makes you appreciate their huge mass.

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And yet they look prettiest when they stand tall.

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Looking up in the redwood forest, it seems like green canopy and blue sky are at the same height.

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If you want to celebrate the tree-hugging day with redwoods, you would need more than one person to hug a big redwoods properly…

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even two would be hardly enough!

naturist 0000 Big Basin Redwoods, CA, USA

Skyline-to-the-Sea trail and its branches go along springs with clear water, so you don’t need to carry much water with you (we used a filter, however)

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and can refresh on the way once in a while. Looks peaceful, doesn’t it?

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Until you notice this monster hiding on top of the stream! 😀

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Another ‘monster’, a giant Pacific banana slug, seemed much less menacing. Where did it get its beautiful golden color? Maybe from this spring?

naturist 0002 Big Basin Redwoods, CA, USA

We had no clue why that spring had such a color, but given that California Gold Rush times were long gone, we were doubtful we found a source of wealth…

naturist 0012 Big Basin Redwoods, CA, USA

The trail was well-maintained and even had stairs at steep inclines. By the way, we did encounter quite a few fellow hikers and we behaved like being naked was the most natural thing in the world (isn’t it?) – and it seemed to work well – we were often greeted with smiles and witty questions.

It was sad to depart from the redwoods, but we hoped we would see them again, it was a memorable first encounter with wooden giants!

Orr Hot Springs and Montgomery Woods

While winter’s attempt to reinstall its reign over New York City on Monday night failed totally, with the morning rain washing down almost all snow and the afternoon sun dealing with the rest, my friends in Europe are still suffering from yet another particularly long and snowy winter. So, here is probably my last blogpost of the winter season. Well, this one is from Californian ‘winter’, so don’t expect anything like jumping in the ice hole in the Moscow River, or frolicking in the snow by the naked gym in Paris… but rather soaking in hot springs! California has lots of those, so Niko and I spent some time choosing which ones to visit on the way from Eureka to San Francisco. Orr hot springs called our attention by having a reputation of providing exquisite tranquility; it is a cute rustic resort with small cozy cabins, excellent self-service kitchen, and of course saunas and baths filled with natural thermal water.

naturist 0000 Orr springs, CA, USA

Orr hot springs are quite easy to reach from Bay Area, but seclusion is one of their key words. There is no cell phone service, no wi-fi, and actually, not even an official webpage! I don’t think there is a lack of visitors though, thanks to the word of mouth and reviews in Yelp… and websites like this one 😉 Therefore, to make sure there is a spot for you, reservations by phone are required +1 (707) 462-6277.

We arrived quite late in the evening and had the main bath for ourselves for a while.

naturist 0001 Orr springs, CA, USA

It was gorgeous full moon night, and mist gathering above the hot springs made the whole place look mysterious.

naturist 0002 Orr springs, CA, USA

In the morning, the mist highlighted sun rays peeking through bamboo.

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… and the mist that condensed on the grass around hot springs, provided another pretty display – hoar frost – and a proof that it did get down to freezing temperatures during the night.

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Not a problem though, if you are surrounded by hot springs and saunas.

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After absorbing the heat of thermal waters, it feels just great to walk around butt-naked despite the cold.

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By the way, the whole resort is clothing optional except for registration desk.

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We explored the territory of Orr for a bit,

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and after the check out time in the cabin (noon), we decided to go for a hike.

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Unfortunately, there are no trails starting at the resort, but there are some in its vicinity, in the Montgomery Woods State Natural Reserve.  The afternoon was getting quite warm, and as we turned away from the main trail, I felt comfortable to get unclad.

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This trail mostly featured young redwoods, as the area was probably still recovering after logging. One of the huge redwood stumps looked like a stage.

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We didn’t see much wildlife except for a few birds and a couple of these ancient-looking creatures, red-bellied newts.

red-bellied newt 0016 Orr springs, CA, USAred-bellied newt 0017 Orr springs, CA, USA

It was the first time when I saw an adult newt, as previously I only saw juvenile forms (efts) of a related species in Harriman State Park, NY. Adult forms aren’t that bright, except for the belly in this species. By the way, only preparing for this blogpost did I find out that their red belly “serves as a warning to potential predators, as [they] have enough of a neurotoxin … in their skin to easily kill an adult human”.

Speaking of warnings, soon we reached a fence with a sign saying that there was private property further up the trail and no trespassing was allowed. Why wasn’t there any warning in the beginning of the trail? We turned back and went down to the main trail, which went through old growth redwoods, including some of the tallest trees around!

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We didn’t have enough time to explore the whole trail, but even the trees near the beginning were impressive.

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In this forest of giants, we looked somewhat Lilliputian, but it made us appreciate only more the splendour of nature.

naturist 0015 Orr springs, CA, USA