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Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Adventure in search of a good trail

In Albuquerque, one of Jamie's and my favorite things to do was to strap a backpack on Gnasher and head for the hills. It was not difficult to find a place to hike there, just drive towards the mountains, park when you couldn't drive any further, and start walking up. The trails were well marked and easy to find. We spent countless hours trekking around the Sandias and enjoying the views of the city and the surrounding desert. In Georgia, easy access to good hikes was something that we really missed. Now, we are in Okinawa, and beyond excited to start up weekend hikes again - even if Gnasher has to stay on leash to keep him away from habus.

On one of our first weekends here, we decided it was time to look for a good hike. We spent an hour on the internet trying to find information about good hiking trails, but were rather unsuccessful. Okinawa Hai ( is a great site with tons of useful information. I have used it for finding restaurants and shops, but came up short when looking for a good hike. Most of the entries are very family oriented, so they primarily have information about nature walks that kids can handle. When looking elsewhere on the internets, I found a site that looked awesome at face value, but it turned out that all the hikes listed were in Okinawa prefecture, but not Okinawa the island ( This site did have good description and photos of hikes on the surrounding islands, so check it out if doing some traveling in the archipelago. Not being able to find any information on good nearby hikes, we decided to drive all the way north to Nago mountain, which did have a small, but informative article on Okinawa Hai. The Northern part of the island is less populated and we thought the hike would be worth the drive. Unfortunately, it was a Japanese holiday and the traffic northward was so bad that we had to turn around after not even making it half way. We were already pretty far North, so we tried to do some last minute iphone searching to find a trail nearby, but had no luck. We turned around, went home, and went to the beach.

After our first hiking fail, we stuck to the beach for a couple weekends. I felt like I won the lottery when a friend of mine sent me this hiking guide, 2008 Okinawa Hiking Guide, that appeared to be exactly what I was looking for. We decided it was time to give hiking on Okinawa another try and I selected the first hike listed: The historical Yamada stone bridge and observatory. We did a little googling to find more information and found a blog ( that had some pictures from the hike that further inspired us to jump in the car. As we approached the area where the trail head was located, we quickly realized that the directions were outdated and it mattered. After a number of three point turns, we parked somewhere and explored some trails marked in Japanese. It turned out that we had found the trail that we were looking for, but even after finding the trail, the directions still did not make much sense. Regardless, we were appreciative that the guide got us out the door and to the general area for a great afternoon exploring.

We ended up parking partway up the trail and explored downward first to see where the trail started. It is a good thing we did this, as descending brought us to the old stone bridge for which the trail is named. The bridge goes over a stream that emerges from somewhere in the adjacent rock face. The water from the stream makes the jungle there particularly damp, verdant, and odiferous; the air is thick with the scent of tropical flowers and rich dark soil. I kept breathing deeply and enjoying the bouquet of scents throughout the hike, but it was most enjoyable at the stone bridge. After passing the bridge, we continued on down and found the actual trailhead, which was a small turn off directly from 58, with one parking spot. If you are traveling North on 58 from Kadena, the trailhead is on the right just before you reach the Renaissance Ramada. On the way there, there will be an ENEOS gas station on the right, then a stop light, and just afterwards, the pull in for the trail (If you want to park at the trailhead, but the spot is taken, you can park in the Renaissance Beach parking lot and walk south along the sidewalk to the trailhead). At the trailhead there is a large trail map with historical sites marked in English and Japanese. Apparently this trail is part of an an old road that connected the royal family's castle in Naha with all points North. You can follow the trail for a very long way, but there are sections that are along major roadways now.
Shrine at trailhead. This can be seen from 58.
Trail map at trailhead
Stone Bridge, looking down the trail
Stone Bridge, looking up the trail

Japanese home above the Stone Bridge

After our excursion down to the base of the trail, we walked back up to where we had started and began the trek to the top. At the top of the stairs from the stone bridge, there is the cutest little yellow and white Japanese house. The yard and patio were immaculate and their view combined with the solitude of the hillside made me rather envious of their sweet abode. Continuing up past the house, there was an entrance to a cavern with stalactites framing the entrance. Of course Jamie started planning a return visit with ropes and other gear so that he can repel down into the cave. I, for one, was not too disappointed that I had chosen to wear flip flops on this hike and was not well equipped enough to warrant any cave exploring. I am still rather nervous about the creepy-crawly fauna on this island. When Gnasher pooped on the trail, Jamie instructed me to grab an elephant ear type leaf to pick up the poop and throw it into the woods. Only problem was that grabbing the giant leaf required stepping off the trail. I was literally paralyzed with fear as I reached for that leaf and Jamie laughed on in amusement. Luckily, no habus got me that time, but the cave seems even more treacherous than a single step into the brush. Alas, I will likely have to get over my fears since caves are Jamie's favorite.

Just past the cave, the trail split in two. The helpful blue trail markers that assisted us to that point were pointed up a staircase to the left. The trail to the right was marked with pink plastic ties and seemed the road less traveled. Jamie pushed on to the right and we followed a gorge with water running through it for a while before turning upwards on a narrow path of yellow and orange clay. We soon saw mountain biking tracks and as the trail changed shape, it became obvious that this must be the aptly named "la luge" trail mentioned in the hiking guide. Some places along the way were a bit slippery, but the trail was pretty well maintained and not too difficult (on the way up at least). Along the way, we enjoyed spotting many caterpillars and spiders on the foliage and butterflies flying zig-zap patterns in every direction. There were many recognizable swallowtails, but also some new butterflies that I had not seen before. I was particularly smitten with a quite large black and white butterfly that reminded me of a newspaper page, but much prettier.

As we began to reach the top of hill, we could see power lines and a fenced off area with barbed wire. The trail turned up to the left and let us out at a small clearing with some benches, stone markers, and a graffitied cement observatory. From the observatory, there was an impressive panoramic view of both sides of the island including the East China Sea, the Pacific Ocean, and the Royal Okinawa Golf Course, which was strangely empty. Attached to the rail of the observatory was a beautiful set of painted ceramic tiles that illustrated the view with labels in Japanese. This hike made me much more motivated to work on learning to read. It is so frustrating to not be able to read signs; I now know what it feels like to be illiterate. I have an adult mind and can understand and observe what is going on around me, but I can't read. Being completely illiterate must be the most frustrating and depressing condition. I swear I am going to practice my reading and writing everyday from now on; I even ordered a reading and writing workbook from amazon last night. It should arrive within the next month or so...

Across from the trail we had taken up, there was a giant staircase leading down. I thought this might hook up with the staircase going up that we had chosen against at the beginning of our hike, so we checked it out. Instead, it led down to a rather dilapidated picnic and parking area. We saw some pink tape leading away and down the road, so we followed it to a driveway. It appeared that this driveway was also marked with pink tape, so we kept exploring. The driveway was a dead end with a chain blocking the way into dense forest, but there was also a trail off to the left that was blocked with bundled branches and had a sign that appeared to say "caution" or "no entry." Of course we followed the blocked off trail. We saw a sign that said "to observatory" in chicken scratch on an old piece of ply wood, and soon after we met up with the trail we had followed to the top. Ignoring caution signs had paid off.

After hiking down and hydrating, we drove about a mile North and pulled over at a sandy beach. I did my first real swimming (not wading) and Gnasher PRed for swimming distance. Jamie went swimming, too, but not by choice. After G's impressive swimming at the beach, Jamie thought he was ready for dock jumping and threw the frisbee off the jetty. Gnasher did not chase it, so Jamie was forced to jump in. The water was cool, clear, and refreshing and had me looking forward to summer and all the beach days the future holds. But, honestly, in that moment, I was not really thinking much about the future, but relishing the present. How lucky we are to be on this adventure together.