Polulu Valley, Hawaii: #hike7 of the #52hikechallenge

Yes, I know I skipped #6. It was a great hike, in the rain, through a volcanic crater. I’ll get to it later, though, because hike #7 was one of my favorites this year so far. My photos from this hike, taken with my new wide angle prime lens, will tell the story.

First, some background. Polulu Valley Lookout is as far as one can drive on the north shore of Hawai’i, also known as the Big Island. Pololū means long spear, and carves a long cleave on the northern side of Kohala Mountain. The valley is at the head of the Kohala Coast, the oldest part of the island with deep valleys towering over picturesque beaches. Coming from the Kona coast, as I was, it’s a magnificent drive to get there, and the view from the lookout (which has minimal parking and no turnaround and therefore is full of vehicular confusion, to quote my guidebook) is pretty great.

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However, there are wonders to behold if you venture beyond the lookout.

Part 1: Switchbacks to the beach

The necessary disclaimers: this is not a hike for those with balance issues, mobility issues, fear of heights, or those not wearing sturdy/grippy shoes. This hike features steep rocky “trails”, abrupt and railing-less ledges, the potential for rock falls, muddy paths, and dangerous surf.

However, the results are worth it if you can pass up this wall of terror:

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The good news is, if the first 100 feet of steep rockiness freaks you out, you can get a much better view of the beach and the valley by stopping at one of the first overlooks on the trail. Take your picture and go back with no shame in your heart.

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If you continue on, you will switchback down the cliff trail pretty quickly, with incredible views at every turn. As you emerge from the jungle-like greenery, you’ll find yourself with a choice. To your left, a magnificent black sand beach with huge surf (at least it was huge the day I visited). To your right, a peaceful and majestic view up the valley. I was drawn to the valley, for obvious reasons:

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But the beach wasn’t too bad, either:

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A note of caution; don’t swim here. The waves are big, the rocks are substantial, and the current strong.

Just behind the beach is a fairy wonderland of dunes covered in ironwood trees; there are even a few rope swings among them. I have read differing accounts saying that the land behind the beach is private property, but many people seem to take the risk to venture back there. I wandered blissfully up and down the dunes for a while, gazing back down the valley, which seems almost too magical to be real:

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Part 2: Up the cliff to the 2nd lookout

Eventually, I found my way to the beginning of the second part of the trail:

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This section was glorious and far too short: strolling on black sand among lush greens with the sea roaring to the left.

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Abruptly, the trail changed and became dense with greenery, steep, muddy, rocky, and very narrow.

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Here, the sea breeze goes away and the humidity sets in. Basically, you are heading up the steep green “cliff” that you viewed from atop the first overlook. The uphill quotient is fairly significant, but everyone I passed assured me that it was worth it. 600 vertical feet of switchbacks will eventually lead you to the top of the cliff above the second “valley” along the coast, called Honakane Nuie.

My pictures don’t seem to adequately capture the wow factor of emerging, sweaty and panting, from the trees to encounter this view:

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I guess you’ll have to see it for yourself someday. There are two lovely benches at the overlook, which beg the tired hiker to sit and contemplate, but beware of the wind, which could snatch an unwary selfie-taker’s phone right out of her hand.

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I met a couple who went beyond this overlook to the next beach; the continuation of this hike requires ropes and ladders to complete it, which wasn’t on my agenda, especially since I was alone and this trail struck me as relatively poorly maintained.

The return hike was much faster heading down, and emerging from the vegetation onto the beach was breathtaking:


Speaking of breathtaking, hiking back up the switchbacks to the parking area was pretty tough for me. That final uphill is the 5th mile, so the rocks can seem pretty formidable. Luckily, there are a lots of places to stop and “admire the view” while catching your breath.

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Final thoughts

I’ve seen a lot of beautiful places in the these past years of adventures. Polulu Valley is definitely in my top 5. The variation of landscapes on this hike – steep rocks, beach, peaceful valley, tree-filled glade, messy jungle trail, and sweeping vistas – they made the hike completely engaging and challenging enough to be interesting. Even on a hazy day, the colors and the views were incredible. I had heard that the Big Island was a “hikers paradise”, and I was skeptical, because most of the best hikes I’d read about involved just a mile or two of tramping to a beach and back. But this hike changed my tune. I recommend it unreservedly and only wish that I’d been able to bring some of you along with me to enjoy it. Though you might have had to wait for me at the top a bit as I plodded like molasses up the steep switchbacks. Slow and steady gets the views, right? 🙂


PS: Thanks to the lovely lady from LA who offered to take my picture in the crazy wind. She got a kick out of my involuntary exclamation of “Ohhhhh, wow” when I came out of the trees onto the overlook. I guess I didn’t know I’d said it aloud until she laughed and said that’s exactly what she and her husband were thinking. 🙂

Summary: Hike 7 of the 52 hike challenge (read more about the challenge here)

Location: Polulu Valley Lookout, Kapaau, Hawaii.
Date: March 1, 2018
Distance: 4.4 miles
Wildlife: Birds
Notes: Parking is free at the Lookout, but crowded




Rocky Woods, Medfield, MA: #hike5 of the #52hike challenge

It’s tough to find hiking inspiration in Southern New England in February. If inspiration comes in the form of high mountains and grand vistas, that is. No, these months, for the outdoor adventurer not willing to drive 3 hours for an icy/snowy trek in the White Mountains – aka me – are about small hills, mud, and well, small hills and mud.

But the #52 Hike Challenge marches on, and I’m a couple of weeks behind, so I had to get out this weekend. I wanted 5ish miles, and I hoped to be able to let my dog off leash, which definitely limits the options even more. Thankfully, though, in Massachusetts we have a non-profit called the Trustees of Reservations. The best way to describe this org is to think of state parks, but privately managed. Estates and individuals donate their land to the Trustees, and the Trustees preserve and conserve it, with the caveat that it be made available for public use. There are more than 100 Trustees sites in Massachusetts – and I haven’t once visited one that wasn’t well-maintained and lovely.

And many of them allow dogs off leash, which is a wonder in Boston. If you are a bad dog owner, just pretend you didn’t read that last line, ok?

This weekend I tried a new site I hadn’t visited yet, called Rocky Woods, about 30 minutes away. It’s a very active site, with lots of event programming and plenty of family-friendly “hikes” that are little more than ambles around ponds. Still, by tracing my way around pretty much all the trails, I was able to put 6 miles under my legs, which felt marvelous after a week spent behind a desk. The miles were mostly flat, so there were lots of chances to look around and enjoy being in the woods. There was a “vista” atop Cedar Hill at a whopping 435 feet:

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And a frozen pond that was drowning the trail around it and the footbridge across it:

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I met some very nice people and pooches, and yes, there was some mud, but it wasn’t too bad. There was one trail that had a low coverage of pine needles, so there was some green to look at, which made me long all the more for spring and that magical neon green haze of new buds on the trees. The trails were well marked and maintained, and all in all I enjoyed myself, even if the hike wasn’t a great physical challenge. And then there were the the occasional woodland creatures we ran into:

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There were at least three of these reindeer? critters. Sadie ignored most of them, but the final one, which was standing in the ice on the aforementioned drowned trail, definitely got her attention, so much that she barked a few times at it. A thing to note about dogs off leash here; they are allowed, but there are several sections that are posted as on-leash. I actually think that’s a great way to manage it, because a lot of these sites could be full of people, particularly kiddos, on nice days.

Next weekend, my photos will change a bit as I’ll be continuing the 52 Hike Challenge from the island of Hawai’i! See you then.


Juniper Springs, FL: Hike 4 of the #52HikeChallenge

A quick visit with my parents is always a great opportunity to invite/force them to enjoy a hike. On this visit, we had a Superbowl to get to that evening, so we couldn’t go far. I am completely unfamiliar with Florida’s hiking options, but I know a little more now. Basically, everything’s flat, and there are apparently alligators.

We had heard that Juniper Springs was a pretty place, so we headed into the Florida National Forest to check it out. The last “springs” I saw were in Yellowstone National Park; we don’t have them here in the northeast. But apparently, they are a given for Floridians (my folks had already been to several).

Anyway, this “hike” wound up being kind of a joke in terms of actual hiking – we just wandered a campground for less than 2 miles, and we saw everything there was to see. Well, except for the giant alligator called Big Daddy who apparently lives at the end of the river. We didn’t paddle or canoe the river, which we discovered is one of the main attractions of the campground. But yeah, we barely got beyond an amble on this one; even my dad remarked, “that was kind of a short hike.” For the record, The Nature Trail hike was closed due to damage to the trail, so a significant portion of the hike was off limits.

Still, there were lovely things to see and it was absolutely delightful for me and my pasty, sun-deprived skin to be outside in 70-degree weather. And the springs were really quite cool. Below are some photos for your enjoyment.

The campground was built during the era of the Civilian Conservation Corps, which began in 1933 and is described as a work-relief program for young men. This is is the spring that gave Juniper Springs its name. You can’t see where the spring actually bubbles up, but you can swim in the water, which maintains a steady temperature of 72 degrees. It must be a wonderful place to cool off in the heat of summer.


This wheel powered the electricity for the camp back in the day.


A short stroll through the woods and campsites will bring you to Fern Hammock Springs, which has a delightfully shabby look about it – there’s nothing more to do there than walk around in the woods and look at the springs. Isn’t that blue color marvelous?


My favorite photo of the day; this looks like something out of a fairy tale. Sprites should be flying about, don’t you think?


The Beznoskas give Juniper Springs the thumbs up.


Hike 4 of the 52 hike challenge (read more about the challenge here)

Location: Juniper Springs Recreation Area, Florida National Forest. About 35 minutes from the town of Summerfield, FL.
Date: February 4. 2018
Distance: 1.87 miles
Wildlife: Squirrels. No alligators were sighted.
Notes: There is a fee to get into this campground. $5 per person for a Day Use pass.

Ward Reservation: #hike3 of the #52hikechallenge 2018

It never fails; I get back from an epic hiking/exploring adventure and I try to get back to that feeling while also assuaging my dog-mom guilt for leaving Sadie at home. Inevitably, we head to one of my favorite Boston-area hikes, Ward Reservation in Andover, MA. It’s managed by the Trustees of the Reservation, and one of the few places I can let Sadie run off leash.

Just under a year ago, when I came back from a grand Utah/Arizona adventure during which I’d rolled my ankle, I came out to Ward with Sadie and within moments, rolled my ankle yet again. 3 miles of hurting later, we’d finished and Sadie was happy. Me, not so much.

This time, I made it through 4 miles without a rolled ankle, and so Sadie and were both happy. I didn’t take any photos, but I did get this little video. This is from Elephant Rock, about 2 miles into the reservation. You may not be able to see it, but there’s a nice view of the Boston skyline from this spot.


If you live in the Boston area, I recommend a visit to Ward Reservation. You’ll have to pay the $5 parking fee, but I’ve found it’s worth it.

Lost Palms Oasis Trail: #hike2 of the #52hikechallenge2018

I was visiting California, so palms trees were to be expected. Not, however, in the middle of the desert.

Welcome to #hike2 of my 52 Hike Challenge for 2018: Lost Palms Oasis Trail. If you’re interested in knowing a bit more about this challenge, check out my #hike1 post.

Hike 2 began not long after hike 1, in Joshua Tree National Park, on the same day. The trail began in the lower desert portion of the park about a 40 minute drive from the high desert section. This part of the park has no Joshua Trees, but lots of other shrubs and cacti, including an entire garden of these crazy things, called Cholla cacti:


Lost Palms Oasis Trail begins at Cottonwood Springs, which is full of palm trees, which seem entirely out of place amid the desert landscape. Normally, there is a visitors center, but we were there on the first day of the government shutdown, so all the services were closed. It didn’t stop the tourists and hikers, though; there were quite a few folks at the Springs.

Once we got onto the trail, though, the crowds shrunk a bit. This hike is nothing fancy; it’s 3.6-3.7 miles out and back (for 7.2 ish round trip), and it’s a steady up and down tromp through the desert. Most hiking sites say it’s moderately difficult, and I imagine it would be in the blazing sun; there’s no shade on the trail except at the Oasis. We were blessed with partly/mostly cloudy skies. The last descent into the canyon that holds the Lost Palms Oasis is treacherous, but the rest of the trail is pretty chill. Not to say I wasn’t sucking wind occasionally (I totally was), but there’s plenty of down to go with the up.

But I get ahead of myself. On the way out, a few features of note included several sections of hiking through a wash through soft sand, and about a billion different kinds of cacti. This was one of my favorites – from afar it looked like a red pouf.


Closer investigation revealed it was definitely not poofy.

I will confess, at about 3 miles in, I was starting to feel the fact that I hadn’t hiked in several weeks. Then we came up a little rise and this view was laid out before us, which gave me a boost:


When we reached Lost Palms Canyon, a little spur took us to a view of the Oasis from above:


Weird and random, right? Then it was down into the canyon, which, on my rapidly tiring legs, was a slow trek. Once down there, we marveled at the huge palm trees, climbed a few more rocks, and had lunch in the sunshine. Lunch featured oranges picked from a California backyard, and an attempt to eat avocados before they were ripe (not recommended).

Then it was back the way we came, and this part of the hike quickly became about adapting our paces to the other folks out on the trail; as the day got older, more people appeared. I briefly led us astray as I followed some girls ahead of us onto a trail that wasn’t the one we wanted, but Shawn brought us back on track. And as we neared the end, I realized the importance of drinking lots of water while in the desert; though I had been drinking, it wasn’t enough, as my leg muscles started to cramp. Luckily, I was able to drink more and keep it from getting too bad.

Later that day, when we looked at our hiking ap, Shawn remarked that we actually made pretty good time, which was a pleasant surprise to me, since, as the one leading, I was sure I was going way too slow. This brought to mind another moment from a hike a few months back when I encountered random strangers – twice – on a loop trail, and on our second meeting, one of the guys looked at me in surprise and exclaimed: “wow, you made good time!” I’ve decided I like it very much when I hear that phrase. 😉

Moral of this hike? Drink lots of water, wear sunscreen, wear a hat, don’t rush. Take time to stop and smell the cacti. And pack a yummy lunch to eat under palm trees in the middle of the desert, which, no matter which way you look at it, is pretty cool.