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Last week Chris and I went house hunting in Santa Cruz. As with any quick trip with definite goals, it was quite a whirlwind, but I’m happy to say that we managed to explore the area, find an apartment and go to local bike shops with time leftover for walks on the beach and hikes in the redwoods. Success!

We went expecting to find an apartment in the city of Santa Cruz, but the places that were in our price range were a decent commute to school and downtown. So we went north, into the redwood forest. Our apartment is 10 miles from the city and the commute over twisty, turny roads through the redwoods is gorgeous. It’s definitely smaller than we’re used to, so that will take some adjustment for both of us, but we’re excited to have a cottage in the woods.

One morning, we got coffee from a local coffee roaster (looks like it will be a good substitute for Kaldi’s coffee here) and walked along the beach. We saw dolphins and 3 groups of seals catching their breakfast in the ocean. It was a great way to start the day.

There seem to be good things for both of us there. For Chris, there’s a great bike culture, amazing trails, and a respect for locally produced goods. For me, there’s no shortage of interesting stories due to the science activities locally and nearby (Stanford and San Francisco) as well as wonderful hiking for inspiration. Here’s to a one year experiment of living in California!

My time in Lindau reminded me that there are plenty of adventures to be found close to home. Returning to St. Louis, I was inspired to find new experiences in the St. Louis area. After a quick internet search, I found the Wabash Frisco and Pacific steam train in Eureka,MO (20 miles southwest of St. Louis). I’d never been on a train ride through the woods, so I thought that it might be great fun. And I was right.

My fellow riders were families with young kids. It was fun watching the little ones get excited as the train pulled up to the “station.” One little girl sitting in front of me wasn’t that excited about the train ride, but she was a good sport. When our train stopped in the middle of the woods to let another train pass, she asked, “Mommy, are we going to have to walk all the way back?” Mom reassured her that the train would take us back.

The scenery wasn’t too special (typical Missouri cliffs, a view of the muddy Meramec River, and the usual trees). What I did find fun was the sound of the train in the woods. I’m used to the rustle of a squirrel bounding over leaves or the crunch of sticks underfoot as I’m hiking. The chugga-chugga of the engine and the whoo of the whistle was both foreign and familiar…and just plain fun. Here’s a photo of the volunteer operators reversing the engine after our trip.

We’ve had a string of 100+degree weather here lately, so I’ve been trapped inside near the AC. When the temps have dropped some, I’ve been exploring different hiking trails around the St. Louis area. When Chris and I leave Missouri next month, I’ll put my book of area hiking trails in the Moeller lab library for other grad students to use. I should include an appendix with information about the steam train too!

Today I needed to go for a hike, but didn’t really want to drive too far away. I checked my guidebook and found Lone Elk Park. It’s less than 10 miles out of town, with a 3 mile hike around a lake. Perfect. I packed my daypack, grabbed my trekking poles, put on my waterproof boots, and headed out.

I can’t believe it took me 5 years to find this place!  It’s great quick hike, with plenty of elevation change and wildlife to see to keep it interesting. I saw a brown and white speckled hawk, a red-headed woodpecker, a mother elk and her calf, and a dad elk. Mr. Elk was in the middle of the munching on some grass, so I headed off into the woods to give him some space.

Turns out Lone Elk is a wildlife management area and part of the park is a bison area. Apparently the bison are mean, so you can only drive through that area, not hike. Driving through that area, I found the bison herd and some wild turkeys fighting in the middle of the road. I took a video of the battle and posted it to my flickr site.

Refreshed by my time outdoors, I’m ready to start the week.

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