The Mojave and Death Valley Desert

3/25/18 - 4/7/18



The focus of this weeklong car camping adventure is the Mojave Desert. We stay the entire week at a private oasis along the Amargosa River near delicious hot springs, just outside Death Valley National Park. Here Willow Creek bubbles to the surface, attracting a plethora of wildlife. The old T and T railroad (the beds battered by desert floods and home now only to coyotes and rattlesnakes) used to run through here. We head north into Death Valley and surrounding wild lands on day trips. Here the names say it all – Badwater, Dante’s View and the Devil’s Palette.  These areas contain some of the most fantastic scenery this side of Mars. Dramatic sunsets, eerie tree yucca forests, sand dunes, rugged mountains, volcanic craters, desert tortoises, chuckwallas, coyotes, golden eagles, and abundant desert wildflowers are all found here.  Exploring on foot and by car we travel the backcountry of this still Wild West.

Dates: March 25 to 31 and  April 1- 7, 2017
Cost : $525 per person



Monday Footloose Hiking

3/5/18 - 9/10/18



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 5 to June 18, 2018

FALL: September 10 to December 10, 2018

Wildflowers, Whales, and Gourmet Picnic




It is your lucky day! We’ll beat the weekend crowds on this Friday the Thirteenth. Pt. Reyes is famous for its spring wildflower display. Visiting the best areas at their peak display and using easy methods to identify the colorful flowers, you’ll be delighted at all you will learn.  Concentrating on several common plant families enables you to recognize plants not only along the coast but in your own backyard and throughout California as well. Pussy ears, owls’ clover, cream cups, redmaids, checkerbloom, mule ears, and lupines! From our vista at Chimney Rock we can see baby gray whales and moms lingering in Drakes Bay before they resume their slow journey to Alaska. Topping off the day will be a sumptuous picnic lunch created by chef and foodie, Jennie Oppenheimer. A perfect class for beginning or intermediate flower, whale and food lovers.


COST: $90

DATE: Friday, April 13

SoulCollage®: Artfully Explore the Interior Landscape


Soulcollage Boundary2

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.



SoulCollage® is a creative, intuitive collage process full of imagination and soulful inquiry. Guided by our intuition (and Jennie), we create cards, gathering and collaring images that speak to us. Our cards, filled with deep personal meaning, are a visual representation of our own unique life story. They access our inner wisdom to help us explore questions around our dreams, challenges, creativity, and purpose. This workshop is designed to celebrate YOU! It takes place in Jennie’s studio in Lagunitas (west Marin).

DATES: Saturday, April 21, 2018,

COST: $130 (includes materials and lunch.)


Jennie leads private gatherings if you have a group of friends who wants to learn SoulCollage®, explore themes or create cards together. She is also available for individual coaching sessions. Visit her website, or contact her at to discuss your ideas!

Bhutan; Shangri-La

4/22/18 - 5/10/18
Punakha Dzong

Punakha Dzong

Tiger's NEst

Tiger’s Nest


On this unique tour of the tiny, far-away Kingdom of Bhutan, we travel from the western cities of Paro, Thimphu and Punakha, with their beautiful Dzongs and markets, to remote villages of the Lhuntse District in eastern Bhutan, farther into the country than most visitors ever go. We take numerous day hikes and experience firsthand the cultural diversity of the Bhutanese—medieval and modern, with large doses of mysticism. We’ll immerse ourselves in the breathtaking natural splendor of Bhutan—a region of incomparable biological richness and beauty. Its lush, temperate cloud forests of pine and rhododendron provide sanctuary for a great variety of flora and fauna. Its high valleys are covered in forests and embrace small monasteries, chortens, traditional stone houses, and markets. We travel with Bhutanese guides who have deep connections throughout the country; they freely share with us their intimate understanding of the environment and their people.

For centuries, Bhutan was isolated by its geographical situation, bound to the south by dense tropical jungles and to the north by the mighty Himalaya. As one of the world’s last strongholds of Tibetan Buddhism, it is home to people for whom compassion and happiness are more important than productivity and material wealth. In the last fifteen years Bhutan has slowly opened its frontiers to a few privileged visitors. Last year, only 80,000 tourists were allowed in the country, and then only with a government-sanctioned travel agency. This is a fascinating time, as the Bhutanese deliberately incorporate modern technology while reverently protecting their rich cultural heritage.

This is a moderate tour—not a trek—but you must be in reasonably good shape to participate. We will be hiking at elevations that range between 4500′ and 11,000′ on steep trails that may not be well maintained. Nearly full.

COST: $6700 land costs. Non-refundable deposit $500

DATE: April 22 to May 10, 2018

Learn Hoop Dance

Michael Ellis & Gang Hooping at Badwater - Death Valley CA 4 apr 2013 db

Michael Ellis & gang hooping at Badwater – Death Valley CA

Annie O founded World Hoop Day (, an international charity for kids to promote happiness and world peace. They bring hula-hoops to the developing world. Annie is an excellent instructor and loads of fun.


Do you want to gain core strength? Want to laugh and giggle? Even lose some weight while having fun? Come join Annie and me at my home in Santa Rosa for a hula-hoop lesson. We don’t just hoop on our waist anymore. We promise you’ll learn to move the hoop up and down your body, as well as spinning on your arms. We will share a few skills and tricks that will definitely impress your friends and family. We’ll learn the fascinating evolution of hooping from Native Americans and Australian aboriginals to the Whamo Toy Company. Be prepared to break a sweat. We will even feed you lunch. Hoops will be available for sale to raise money for World Hoop Day.

DATE: 11:00 to 3:00. May 13, 2018

COST: Donation $60 (lunch included)

The Pantanal and the Amazon

6/24/18 - 7/11/18


GiantOtter for Starling_FabianoOliveira2


South of the Amazon Basin in Brazil lies one of the world’s most extraordinary natural areas and a UNESCO World Heritage Site: the Pantanal. It is an enormous wetland 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, 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 to the north, the Chaco grasslands to 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. Last time we saw eight different jaguars, giant and southern anteaters, tapirs, hyacinth macaws and 2000+ caimans! Then we fly north into the Amazon Ecosystem, where we stay at the remote and very comfortable Cristalino Jungle Lodge Reserve, a true rain forest sanctuary. This rich region of the Amazon has eight different species of monkeys, three kinds of sloths, frogs galore, toucans, macaws, screaming pihas,  and more. Two amazing 164’  observation towers give us an extraordinary perspective of the canopy rarely glimpsed. We can help you extend your adventure to Iguaçu Falls, Rio de Janeiro, or the Atlantic Rain Forest. Nearly full.

DATE: June 24 to July 11, 2018

COST: $7730 Non-refundable deposit $500

The Farallon Islands

8/3/18 - 8/10/18



Just 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 3, 2018, 7:30 to 4:00

DATE: Friday, August 10, 2018, 7:30 to 4:00

Natural History, Natural Mystery

9/14/18 - 9/16/18



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 14 to September 16, 2018

Palau and Yap

10/04/18 - 10/18/18




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.

Harboring more species of marine life than any similar-sized area in the world, Palau is one of the best snorkeling sites on the planet.  The abundance and diversity of its marine life, shallow water accessibility, and clear water visibility reveal a dazzling array of rainbow-colored fish and breathtaking corals.  The famous Rock Islands are a maze of unsurpassed beauty, tropical gardens atop limestone ridges set in glass-clear waters. In addition to its great marine biodiversity, Palau is also renowned for Jellyfish Lake where visitors can swim with non-stinging jellyfish in a landlocked marine lake.  Another aspect of Palau is its historical role in WWII. Remnants of the war remain prevalent especially at sites such as Peleliu, which was a major battlefield.    Culturally, Micronesia is fascinating and a visit to Yap will bring us to the most traditional corner of Micronesia where Yapese continue to practice their traditional lifestyle.  Yap is also known as the best place for seeing manta rays on a consistent basis, and in recognition of the area’s importance, the government recently established the Yap manta marine sanctuary.


COST: $6000. $500 non-refundable deposit.

DATE: October 4 – 18, 2018.

Ecuador: Three Worlds in One Country

1/2/19 - 1/19/19

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. I led this adventure over 25 times; it is amazing!

COST: Cost:  $8600. $1100 single supplement. $500 non- refundable deposit.

DATE:  January 2 to January 19, 2019

Greatest Show on Earth: The Serengeti

1/28/19 - 2/27/19






Tanzania, not Kenya, has the best wildlife show left on the planet, and we will be there at the peak of 1 million wildebeests giving birth in a 3-week period! This is in addition to giraffes, elephants, lions, rhinos, leopards, gazelles, impala, 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 winter since 1992, and it remains my all-time favorite natural history experience. I have taken over 700 people on this safari and they have all had a phenomenal time and a life-changing experience. It remains the perfect choreographed itinerary with exquisite local guides. This is indeed 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 and it is definitely clamping!

COST: $9650 land cost (no change from last year) Non-refundable deposit, $500.

DATE: January 28 – February 12, 2019

DATE: February 12 – February 27, 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.

Sorry but you must sign a Liability and Release form.