Sunday, May 27, 2007

Hike from Banzai Cliff to Beach

I've been delaying posting this hike because I didn't want to bump the "Old Man by the Sea" Hike to the dust bin of "Older Posts." But it must be done.

My friend Chris Fryling of N15 Architects, and I headed down this trail one morning last week. This hike starts at Banzai Cliff and is an easy 30 minute stroll down to the beach by the old Cowtown. The terrain is all flat, and the trail is well worn.

Banzai Cliff marks one of the spots on the island where hundreds of Japanese residents leaped to their deaths as the American warships were approaching the island. They feared a fate worse than death, and entire families perished in this way. There are lot's of memorials at Banzai Cliff, this being, in my estimation, the most striking, reflecting the Japanese sense of design: grace and simple beauty.

The trail starts at the very north end of the parking lot, by the edge of the boonies. Nothing marks the trail, except for the trail itself.

For much of the hike, the trail is covered by a canopy of tagan tagan trees, so even at high noon, there is some shade. Early on there is this patch that I call, "the Coral Gardens", these large 4-6 feet high spikes of old coral dotting the trail.

Soon after the Coral Garden's there is a complex of caves. It's not marked and it takes a little bit of hunting to find the opening. This is the opening, which is really just a hole in the ground. The caves are in a ring around this hole, so the entrance was probably the roof of one of the caves that collapsed.

The view out of the cave back towards the opening.

Here's Chris exploring a bit. There are active stalagmites and stalactites forming. If you manage to find this cave and go in, please tread carefully and leave these alone.

On this rock, previous explorers have left some of the artifacts they have found -- bullets and bottles and an old salt shaker in this case. Many of the caves on Saipan were used WWII as hiding places for pretty much everyone -- Japanese soldiers and civilians, and indigenous civilians.

Farther down the trail is this old boat. For years, I've heard that this boat belonged to Larry Hillblom, who lived on Saipan and died young in a plane crash on a trip to the Northern Islands during the 1990's. He's the "H" in DHL, and was a multimillionaire who gained some notoriety in this part of the world. The Hillblom Foundation gives away hundreds of millions of dollars to medical research and education.

This building was supposedly part of the offices and barracks for his investment companies. He was a major shareholder in UMDA.

Of all the times I've walked by this building, I never bothered to go inside until today. Some of the stuff lying around seemed to confirm that this was associated with UMDA.

The walking trail eventually hits a grassy road. Just turn left (west) and walk about 3 minutes down to the ocean.

The grassy road turns off to the left (south) but keep going straight down this sandy path.

The water can be really rough here, depending on the winds and the tide. I usually take a swim near the shore if things look calm enough. The edge of the reef is close by as you can see. Right at this beach there is also an old Japanese bunker which is easy to miss, but is right there behind where I'm standing.

We headed south on the rocky coral, because we thought we saw a glass ball floating inside the reef. It turned out to be a rubber buoy. Oh, well.

It's very slightly uphill walking back up the grass road to the trail head. If you get to the stone wall, you've gone too far. Turn around and walk back to find the trail head going back to Banzai Cliff. Enjoy!

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