A little over a year ago, after a period of being seriously sedentary,  I started getting back outside and walking on a regular basis.  Besides improving my physical and mental health, all this exercise has reminded me how lucky I am to live where I live, having close access to the American River Parkway.  I’m also very lucky I can take photos of a few of the sights I see and lucky I have a place to share them.

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I don’t always carry a camera when I go for a hike, but I make sure to bring along my mp3 player; one of my major motivators for lacing up my boots and heading out the front door was the chance to listen to the next chapter of whichever audiobook I had currently downloaded. I thank Overdrive Media, Librivox, and Podiobooks.com for allowing both familiar authors and some amazing new ones to keep me company on my often three-hour treks.

Still, I don’t think I could have stayed motivated to walk every day if the scenery I was walking through wasn’t so inspiring.  I like to think about the history of the area I’m exploring — Negro Bar and Mississippi Bar, along the banks of what is now Lake Natoma, were blasted by hydraulic mining and gold dredgers.  The once-ruined landscape has now become a woodland of oaks, pines and redwoods, berry bushes and star thistle.  Herons and egrets nest among piles of river rock, and seasonal ponds support mallards and other ducks, Canada geese, turtles, bullfrogs, and fish like smallmouth bass, sunfish and trout.

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Then there are the deer, jackrabbits, wild turkeys, squirrels, lizards, woodpeckers, and a few species of snakes.  And these are just the animals I’ve actually seen (or heard) on my walks; there are plenty of others I haven’t caught sight of yet — racoons, opossums, skunks, bobcats… and the list goes on.

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Life managed to survive the massive environmental damage done, but of course this precious resource is still fragile.  Ponds dry up in the summer drought and only fill up when there’s enough rain in the winter and spring.  Rocks and dirt come tumbling down the face of the bluff, impacting the bike trail and those of us who use it on a daily basis.  People sometimes drop their trash on the ground without thinking (and other people make a special effort to clean up the litter — they’re the most awesome of all).

Dry pond, Mississippi Bar

After the rock slide

What I love about the area is that there are always surprises — small gifts, really — for people who keep their eyes and ears open for them.   Like the mule deer buck who swam all the way across Lake Natoma and climbed up onto the bike trail, only to find himself in the midst of a small, somewhat stunned audience of humans.

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Or the hawk keeping an eye on things from atop an abandoned utility pole.

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The strange shapes found in the bark of an oak tree.

Oak Tree bark, Snipes Ravine

A giant rock in the shape of a toadstool.

Toadstool rock, Snipes Ravine

Or one that looks like it’s been through an egg slicer.

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Or one that looks like a brain!

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And then there’s the feeling you get after you’ve dragged yourself out of bed when it’s still dark outside and trudged through your neighborhood to watch the sunrise.

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Totally worth it.

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