It takes money to maintain and preserve park lands and open spaces, to pay for gasoline to get there and sometimes to park when you arrive. But in our book, these are all bargains compared to paying to come to Northern California from out of state. This is your backyard. You live here, so the surroundings are a steal.
That said, here are 15 ways to save in the outdoors.
Let's start slowly. See that door to your house? Go through it and walk until you find a park (OK, use the Internet if you must!). Take the kids and/or the dog.
Repeat No. 1 on bikes with kids or significant other. Sorry, Rover.
Find your way to Legion Park, less than a mile from downtown Modesto. Tuolumne River runs through it, providing a scenic walking path, and the trees offer welcome shade on a warm day. Another option is Caswell Memorial State Park on the outskirts of Ripon for hiking and skipping pebbles in the Stanislaus River. For a list of other state parks in the area, visit www.trails.com/city-trails
Maybe you need a little more inspiration. You might find it watching the San Jose to Modesto leg of the Amgen Tour of California on Feb. 17, or the Merced to Clovis stage on Feb. 18. Even if you're not moved to take up competitive cycling, the whoosh of professional cyclists speeding by in colorful jerseys could be the highlight of a nice picnic or provide excitement during another ho-hum lunch hour. Visit wwww.amgentourofcalifornia.com
Take advantage of free fishing days sponsored by the California Department of Fish and Game this year. They're normally scheduled in July and September, but the specific dates have not been set. Stay tuned at www.dfg.ca.gov/licensing/fishing/freefishdays.html
Got a Frisbee or generic flying disc? Back to the park for you and the kids and/or the dog. Play catch. Take a jump rope, balls, kite or bottle of bubbles and make a day of it. Those flushed cheeks will gain some color and ache from smiling! For a map of parks and facilities, visit www.modestogov.com
Elevate this activity with a visit to a free disc golf park. Sure, eventually you'll visit a pro shop and maybe dive in with a purchase or two, but first go see what it's all about at Modesto's East La Loma Park. The front nine of the 27-hole course is wheelchair accessible and the entire course spans 5,810 feet. This link reviews some area courses and provides links to others: www.dgcoursereview.com
Visit Stonehenge Indoor Rock at 500 Ninth St. in Modesto and check out the climbing wall. Yeah, it's inside, but you won't notice once you start clinging to the the vertical face and imagining yourself scaling a mountain. First-time climbers pay $20, but return trips are just $12 each. For information, call 521-3644 or go to www.climbstonehenge.com
For a minimal fee of $13 on weekdays, Modesto Municipal Golf Course is open to the public. Dig those clubs out from their dusty corner in the garage or borrow a friend's and spend a few leisurely hours appreciating the finer points of golf. Visit www.golfmodesto.com
Got binoculars? Sure you do! Put those lenses, or a telephoto, to good use on a bird-watching excursion. Modesto River Regional Park is a good place to "hunt" for feathered friends. Will you spy a white-crowned sparrow or a downey woodpecker? Keep a journal with drawings or pictures of your favorites and identify them with the help of a big bird book at the library. Visit www.stancounty.com/er/parks
There are dozens of wineries within 25 miles of the heart of Modesto. Ah, free tasting, free parking. Pack a lunch, spring for a bottle and celebrate January outdoors. Take a stroll. This is your California. Find one you like at weekendwinery.com.
Maybe you're not a joiner, but if you love the outdoors, you might find this $25 investment appealing: the California State Parks Foundation "Parks Sampler." Help support the California state parks system and get an outdoors bargain. The foundation is offering new members a $25 introductory package featuring seven day passes (including parking and admission, good for more than 200 state parks), a one-year subscription to Sunset magazine, a big map of the park system (very useful), the California Parklands newsletter (with seasonal special events) and a membership card good for more discounts. Annual membership is usually $40. Visit www.calparks.org/join/newmember.html
Feeling creative? There are sidewalks everywhere in the city so grab your colored chalk bucket and beautify your neighborhood. Beautify a gray slab of concrete in your driveway or neighborhood. Easy to erase with a little water, take a picture of your picture for the fridge and enjoy year-round! Works well for hopscotch patterns, too.
Perhaps you'd like to be transported to a different environment through the pages of a book. Just do it outdoors! Whether it's your own backyard, front porch or park bench -- which is a great place to people-watch -- select an adventure book and read in the fresh air. Check the library (www.stanislauslibrary.org for hours) or borrow a friend's fave. And don't forget the sunscreen!
It's Jan. 20, just 47 days before the return of daylight saving time on March 8. Each passing day between now and June 21 is depositing more daylight into your fun account. Get out there; it's free. If carpe diem means "seize the day," how do you say "seize the daylight"? Who cares? Just do it.