Town Crier intern has brush - literally - with the gorillas of Rwanda

Photos courtesy of Ananya Panchal
Ananya Panchal gets up close and personal with the gorillas of Rwanda on a safari she took in March. She described the experience as “10 days of nonstop excitement.”

Those who visit Rwanda for an up-close and personal experience with gorillas may get even closer than they ever imagined – perhaps too close. On my gorilla safari in March, one of the great apes actually brushed past me.

That’s an experience I won’t soon forget, along with many others from my 10-day visit to Africa.

Santa Cruz: Historical city a relatively small place with lots to do

Image Courtesy of Visit Santa Cruz County
Abbott Square, pictured above in an illustration, is home to the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History. The area is scheduled to reopen as a multifaceted entertainment center June 2.

Although a mere 38 miles from Los Altos, Santa Cruz seems a different world altogether from Silicon Valley.

Promoters are trying to bring Silicon Valley residents and employees – and their money – into the area through hotel renovations and openings, new restaurants and millennial-friendly activities.

Alaska proves ultimate cruise destination

Marc Mooney/Pixabay
Denali National Park, with its majestic mountains and spectacular glaciers, is among the many sightseeing attractions Alaska offers.

Alaska is the No. l cruise destination at present, and it is a wonderful choice.

No-hassle travel: Los Altos agent handles the details, so customers can cruise easy

Los Altos resident Robin DeVaughn strolls through a village on the Mediterranean island of Capri. Her love of Europe and its history informed her long and successful career as a travel agent. DeVaughn, who works for All Horizons Travel, was named a 2016 Trendsetter by Luxury Travel Advisor magazine. Courtesy of Robin DeVaughn

Robin DeVaughn not only enjoys the discovery, customer service and camaraderie that come with a career in travel, she also has benefited from the stability of working out of the same Los Altos office for the better part of five decades.

It was only recently, with the sale of All Horizons Travel to travel giant Frosch, that DeVaughn moved from the familiar confines of 160 Main St. in Los Altos to new Frosch offices in Menlo Park.

Los Altos group behind newest, nearest national monument

One of the newest national monuments – Cotoni-Coast Dairies near Santa Cruz – has a Los Altos connection.

Sempervirens Fund, a Los Altos-based organization, played a prominent role in encouraging former President Barack Obama to designate the 5,800 acres of land on the Pacific Coast a national monument in his last month in office.

“We really initiated and spearheaded the concept of the monument campaign,” said Sara Barth, executive director of Sempervirens Fund. “We have been the lead organization driving it because we see it as part of our vision protecting the Santa Cruz Mountains and their landscapes.”

When Obama signed the proclamation to preserve Cotoni-Coast (pronounced “Cho-tony”) Dairies Jan. 12, it joined Muir Woods, Fort Ord and Pinnacles as federally protected national monuments in the greater Bay Area.

Barth said Sempervirens Fund worked with many others in the community and throughout the Peninsula to manage the coastal lands and foothills in Cotoni-Coast Dairies.

“The strategy was (that) not only is the land going to receive this stamp of approval, but this will lead to additional attention that will lead to additional resources that will allow it to be better managed,” she said. “Right now, it is largely sitting out there closed to the public, without much happening on it by way of management.”

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) owns the new national monument, which was once a dairy. According to Barth, the land needs restoration and land management before it can be opened to the public. She estimated that trails would open in approximately two years.

Barth said now that the coastal land is federally protected, she is less worried about the land being sold off or developed as other BLM parcels may be during the Trump administration.

“It is one thing to propose selling your average acre of BLM land,” she said. “It is another thing to sell something given national recognition by the president of the United States, even if it was a prior president.”

Cotoni-Coast Dairies is special, Barth said, not because of their history, but because the land has remained relatively free of development.

“Historically, it would not have been unique,” she said. “It is that all the land around it has been developed. Cotoni-Coast Dairies shows the ecosystems that exist from the foothills of the Santa Cruz Mountains all the way down through coastal terraces to the coast. It is really a slice of the ecological range you will see.”

Other California national monuments, such as the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument and Fort Ord, received designations due to their roles in U.S. history.

Sempervirens Fund members hope to combine the publicly owned Cotoni-Coast Dairies with their own privately owned San Vicente Redwoods, a contiguous property, to create a protected space of more than 12,000 acres. The group aims to raise funds to create educational programs, trails and habitats that would last for generations.

“We see ourselves as playing an important role both as neighbors to the monument and members of the community,” Barth said. “If the monument is trashed, Sempervirens would have failed abysmally.”

Barth said that while people may have to wait a few years to visit Cotoni-Coast Dairies, she believes it will be worth it in the long run.

“Sempervirens was involved in the creation of Big Basin and Castle Rock State Park,” she said. “We have a long history, and if you look over the long term, these places are part of what makes California extraordinary.”

This, Barth said of the new national monument, is the “next jewel.”

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