We had a lovely time at Alviso this week, with five families, two new to Stroller Hikes, and two old-timers (six years of hiking with kids!). Alviso is one of Max’s favorite places to visit – it’s wide and flat, with plenty of running potential. The train goes by every half hour or so during commute hours, there are plenty of birds to be seen, there are beaches, platforms, and jetties to explore, and the open expanse of the Bay means there are mud clods to toss, burms to climb, pickgrass to taste, wild fennel to smell, and snails to find.
This week, the water was lower than normal, and there were expanses of white and rosy brown colored salt flats. If you live near the South part of the Bay, you’ve seen the salt evaporation ponds. Their colors run the gamut of the rainbow, depending on the season, subsequent salinity, and microbes that can live in them. People built burms and added pipes to control water flow in and out of these regions, so some can have a salinity close to that of the Bay, in which fish, shrimp, birds, and algae live. Others get saltier as the season gets drier, and they get rosier and rosier in color, as the diversity of life inside them becomes less and less. The Red Sea, a salt water sea that borders Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Sudan, and other nations, is named largely for its color due to the red algae that lives there – if you swim in it, you find yourself floating, and the
same would be true of these very salty salt ponds, if the sulfurous smell of them was not so off-putting. For me, the smell and color of the water is welcoming – not only because it reminds me of the unique waters of hot springs and the diverse fauna that live there, but because I know my kids will not try to set foot in them – they are not as inviting as clear, blue water. But this time, we found much of the water to be gone, and glistening salt remaining.
As is the case when you get 3, 4, 5 and 6 year-olds together on a Toddler Trek, the kids took off running down Alviso’s paths, and we were to our usual snack spot for 20 minutes into the hike, within just a few minutes. No snack yet – the kids took off running into Don Edward’s Reserve, running down to the beach, then quickly over to the salt flats. Torbin delighted in realizing that the mud had not quite hardened, and what was beneath the crusty layer of salt was very fine, slick “tar,” some black silt with just enough water to slip beneath sliding shoes. Maxwell referred to the mud as quicksand, as he could feel it give beneath his feet, but it wasn’t really quicksand, and only took Teela’s shoes once (photo top left of this newsletter). And as soon as they fully realized what the crystals beneath their feet were, all of the kids licked their fingers and tapped the briny surface, to steal a taste of Alviso Salt. (It tasted a lot a like Red River Salt, which I got for Christmas and is a lovely finishing salt, though I don’t know what the mineral content is, so I would not harvest this salt for dining.) Even Holly (now two) got in on the sliding, bouncing (to feel the mud move under her), and tasting, and we delighted in finding hundreds of bird footprints amidst the salt.
Teela and Torbin took a tiny bag of salt home with them for experiments. They could make a battery, grow crystals, explore dissolution, or more. Salt is amazing. I left inspired – I may have to pull out that finishing salt and use it this weekend for a Father’s Day meal.
When I asked the boys later what they thought of Alviso, I heard “awesome!” And when parents asked “Why? What did you like?,” the boys recounted the sliding, tasting, tossing rock clods, exploring, and yes, even the beauty of the white and rosy brown salt.
Every week we head out to hike, and every week I am thrilled to see something new, watch my kids explore, amuse themselves with nature, and socialize with others. What an amazing hike – all for free and as part of our weekly routine!