Monday Footloose Hiking


I started this Footloose series in 1984 and some folks have been hiking with me since nearly the beginning! Monday morning hikes are such a great way to start the week. We ramble on quiet trails mostly in Marin but also in San Francisco and Sonoma counties. We identify the abundant flora and diverse fauna in our backyard and learn about the geologic and human history of the Bay Area. Our endlessly fascinating and entertaining fellow hikers are yet another bonus! Sign up for one or both 14-week sessions. (Warning: there is usually a wait list for these series as current hikers get first priority.) I am thinking of restarting the Sonoma Tuesday hiking series so let me know if that is of interest to you.

COST: $460 per series

DATE: Fourteen Mondays, 10:00 to 1:30

SPRING: March 6 to June 12, 2017

FALL: September 11 to December 11, 2017

SoulCollage®: Artfully Explore the Interior Landscape

Soulcollage Boundary2

SoulCollage® is a
 creative, intuitive
 collage process full 
of imagination and
 soulful inquiry. No
 art experience is
 necessary! Guided
 by our intuition, we will
 create a series of
 cards, gathering and 
collaging images
 that speak to us. 
Some images we
 select immediately 
recognizing how
 they relate to our 
lives, while others 
we have no idea
 why we choose
 them – or why they
 seem to choose us. Our cards, filled with deep personal meaning, are a visual narrative of our own unique life story. They access our inner wisdom and give voice to the many facets of ourselves – our personality, relationships, dreams and symbols that want to be revealed. This workshop is designed to celebrate YOU! It takes place in Jennie Oppenheimer’’s studio in Lagunitas.

Jennie Oppenheimer is a gifted artist. A central theme of her teaching is to empower each person to find their own unique expression and a sense of freedom and exuberance. Mistakes are impossible.

DATES: Saturday, April 22, 2017, or Sunday, May 28, 2017 10:00am to 3:00pm

COST: $130 (includes materials and lunch.)

In July, 2017 Jennie will be leading a SoulCollage® retreat in England’s lovely Norfolk region. Charming arty towns with cobbled lanes, magical waterways, cycling, walking, expansive beaches, pubs and cafes. Stay on-site at the incredible Didlington Manor or in a charming B&B nearby. What more wonderful way to experience England off the beaten track than to gather with kindred spirits to play and create in this historic and beautiful slice of heaven. More details coming soon.

The Pantanal and the Amazon


GiantOtter for Starling_FabianoOliveira2

After having an amazing trip to Brazil last year, I decided to go again in 2017–twice!! South of the Amazon Basin in Brazil lies one of the world’s most extraordinary natural areas: the Pantanal (a UNESCO World Heritage Site). It is an enormous wetland about the size of South Dakota. Biologists compare it to the African savanna with its vast prairies divided by meandering rivers forested at the water’s edge. It is by far the best place to view wildlife in the New World.
 A mosaic of different vegetation types – 80% is under water during half of the year, and in the other half dry – this region teems with many of South America’s largest mammals – tapirs, jaguars, capybaras, marsh deer, giant otter and giant anteaters. And so many birds! Even non-birders can easily see 100 species in a single day. The flora and fauna of the Amazon and Atlantic forests of the north, the Chaco grasslands from the east and west, and the pampas to the south intersect in the Pantanal to create one of the most biodiverse regions in the world. We stay in comfortable lodges and explore by vehicle, on foot and by boat. Then we fly north into the Amazon Ecosystem. We stay at the remote and very comfortable Cristalino Jungle Lodge Reserve, a true rain forest sanctuary. This richest region in the Amazon has eight
different species of monkeys, three kinds of sloths, frogs galore, toucans, macaws, cotingas and more. Two amazing 164 feet tall observation towers give us an extraordinary perspective of the canopy rarely glimpsed. We can help you extend your adventure to Iguaçu Falls, Rio or the Atlantic Rain Forest.

DATE (s):

June 16-June 30, 2017

June 30 – July 14, 2017
COST: $7400

The Farallon Islands

DSC_1462Just 25 miles off the Marin coast lies the largest seabird colony in the contiguous U.S.  These remarkable granitic islands—part of the City of San Francisco—are home to 250,000 seabirds as well as thousands of California sea lions, elephant seals, Steller sea lions, harbor seals, and a growing colony of northern fur seals. Late summer provides the best sightings (a chance to see blue and humpback whales as well as tufted Puffins) and relatively flat seas. We’ll discuss the current research of the Point Reyes Bird Observatory (now called Point Blue) and tell tales of Sir Francis Drake and the early island “eggers” as we motor from Sausalito under the Golden Gate Bridge, skirting the scenic Marin coast, out onto the greatest ocean on earth. I first volunteered with PRBO out to the Farallons in 1979 and have been leading natural history trips there ever since. What an astonishing and biologically diverse world so close, yet so far away, from the rest of Bay Area.

COST: $135

DATE: Friday, August 4, 2017, 7:30 to 4:00

DATE: Friday, August 11, 2017, 7:30 to 4:00

Natural History, Natural Mystery


The Cedars Preserve, in a remote corner of western Sonoma County, has a wild, otherworldly topography: unusual geologic formations, ancient forests of Sergeant Cypress trees, chaparral, seepage thickets, perennial creeks, waterfalls and pools, and massive talus slopes and barrens.   The preserve contains five rare species of orchid and seven endemic plants that are found nowhere else in the world.  Among the most surprising features of the area are the hyper-alkaline springs which seep from cracks and create large crystalline patterns along the pools. The Cedars is composed of 9,500 acres of terrain composed of ultramafic or serpentine rock. Over the past 200 million years, this specialized rock has been transported from deep below the Earth’s crust to the continental margin where it now sits above sea level. The bare cliffs and scree slopes that rise abruptly out of the Main Canyon are the result of this giant upswelling and are one of the best examples of such metamorphic reshaping

We have been granted special permission to camp in this magical area. Joining me is Jennie Oppenheimer who will support us in exploring and discovering who we are amidst this remarkable landscape . Moving beyond the “usual” Footloose Forays experience, we will stretch ourselves by discovering the wonders of such an alive and ever-changing outer landscape while simultaneously exploring our ever-evolving inner landscape. The invitation is to reconnect with our inherent nature as we come to understand the ecology of The Cedars. An openness to explore inwardly as well as outwardly is strongly encouraged for this unique weekend adventure.

COST: $350

DATE: September 15 – 17, 2017

Bhutan: The South!





This trip is specifically designed for people who have traveled with me in the middle Himalaya on my “regular” Bhutan trip. But anyone is welcome. This adventure explores the Royal Manas National Park—Bhutan’s Biological Treasure. In November 2014 I brought the very first foreign travel group into this newly opened park. We kayaked into the King’s Special Campground right at sunset – one of the highlights of my life.  Royal Manas represents the largest example of tropical and sub-tropical ecosystems in Bhutan. With hundreds floral and faunal species, several of which are globally endangered, it is not only the most diverse protected area in the Kingdom but also one of the world’s biologically outstanding conservation sites. After being maintained as a forest reserve by the Royal Government of Bhutan for many years, Royal Manas was designated a wildlife sanctuary in 1964, making this park the nation’s oldest protected area. In 1993 the area was upgraded to a national park. Now, it forms part of the Bhutan Biological Conservation Complex, an extensive system of protected areas and biological corridors covering over 50 percent of the country. The park’s location and the largely pristine forest, which covers approximately 92% of its area, make the park extremely rich in biodiversity. The diverse flora includes tropical monsoon forests, subtropical broadleaved forests, warm broadleaved forests, cool broadleaved forests, and evergreen oak forests. These habitats support a wide range of fauna, affording us the opportunity to spot many rare and endemic birds and mammals. We’ll drive and hike through the lower elevation forests, visiting the local towns and families, and keeping our eyes out for wildlife. We then fly up into the middle Himalaya giving us the wonderful opportunity to experience several more of the major ecosystems and cultural delights of this peaceful Buddhist world.


DATE:  January 6- 22, 2018

Greatest Show on Earth: The Serengeti





Tanzania, not Kenya, has the best wildlife show left on the planet, and we will be there at the peak of 1 million animals giving birth in a 3-week period! This in addition to giraffes, elephants, lions, rhinos, leopards, gazelles, oryx, hyenas, jackals, cheetahs, dikdiks, and zebras. And the birds! Flamingos, storks, pelicans, white-crowned shrikes, eagles, bee-eaters, ostriches, rollers, and so many more. Comfortable private tent camping combined with cozy lodges make this the perfect trip. Resident Tanzanian naturalists accompany us throughout our visits to Arusha National Park, the Serengeti Plain, Tarangire National Park, Olduvai Gorge and the Ngorongoro Crater. I have been leading trips to the Serengeti every February since 1992, and it remains my all-time favorite natural history experience. This is the trip of a lifetime; you owe it to yourself. If not now, when? And no, it’s not too hot, and yes, the food is delicious!

COST: $8750 land cost (same price for 3 years). Non-refundable deposit, $500

DATE: January 28 – February 12, 2018
DATE: February 12 – February 27, 2018

Palau and Yap

11/03/2016 - 11/19/2016



Micronesia’s thousands of high volcanic and low sand and coral islands are interspersed with low-lying atolls and coral reefs encircling still blue lagoons.  Just north of the equator, this is the remote unspoiled Pacific, with palm-thatched huts, outrigger canoes and coconut trees.  Palau is one of the best snorkeling sites on the planet, harboring more species of marine life than any similar-sized area in the world. It is also renowned for Jellyfish Lake, where visitors can swim with million of golden stingless jellyfish in a landlocked marine lake. On the island of Peleliu, remnants of World War II-era tanks and bunkers are reminders of the most deadly battles in the Pacific theater. A visit to Yap takes us to the most traditional corner of Micronesia, where Yapese still practice a traditional lifestyle.  Yap is also known as the best place for seeing manta rays on a consistent basis, recognized by the recent establishment of the Yap Manta Marine Sanctuary.

COST: To be determined. Refundable deposit, $500

DATE: November 2018

Ecuador: Three Worlds in One Country

Ecuador slide show 192

Ecuador slide show 187

This remarkable tour of Ecuador takes us to the Galapagos Islands, the Amazon, the Andes, and around the capital city of Quito. The Amazon: From Quito, we fly 30 minutes to the frontier town of Coca and travel by speedboat down the Napo River deep into the Upper Amazon Basin. Biologists think that this part of the world has had no major climatic change for 100 million years! The diversity of life is astounding: jaguars, caimans, piranhas, monkeys, sloths and more exotic tropical birds than you can possibly imagine. We will venture daily into the surrounding jungle on foot and by canoe. Best of all, there are surprising few annoying insects! The Galapagos: We then have a week in the Galapagos on one of the finest yachts in the archipelago, and we swim and snorkel every day. Our yacht carries 16 passengers so we are guaranteed an intimate visit to islands where fauna show little fear of humans. We’ll see close-up giant tortoises, marine iguanas, penguins, blue-footed boobies, lava lizards, sea lions, fur seals—we’ll even swim with penguins and sea lions! The Andes: Back on the mainland, we will tour dramatic Quito and the Highlands‑‑ 9300’ high and surrounded by the Andes snowcapped volcanic peaks. Colorful Indian markets offer incredible shopping, and we’ll have a birding and wildflower adventure on the lower slopes of Volcano Cotachaci.

COST: $8100. Non-refundable deposit $500

DATE: January, 2019


To register, please fill out and submit the form below.

To pay, please mail a check (sorry no charge cards), payable to Footloose Forays, for the full amount for domestic trips or the required deposit for international trips. You are officially registered upon receipt of your check.

Michael J. Ellis
Footloose Forays
1275 4th St. #311
Santa Rosa, CA 95404-3522

Please sign up early, as most trips fill quickly. A trip information package will be sent as confirmation. Call (707) 570-2187 or E-mail us at with questions.

Cancellation of domestic trips will be accepted four weeks prior to the trip. There will be a 15% processing fee. Cancellations received after that time will result in fee forfeiture. Cancellation policies for international trips vary. Please ask me for particulars.

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