I don't know about you, but there is only so much merry-making by the hearth in which I may indulge before my brain demands that I go outside. Yesterday was one of those days. 

Late December may seem an odd time to take the winding canyon highway to the confluence of the American River, but if you have not made the journey, I highly recommend it. 

Unlike warmer months, parking is easy, and it's a quick trip downhill from the road to the water. It's true that swimming is out of the question, as the water is icy cold, but there's something mesmerizing about watching the place where the North Fork and Middle Fork join forces and continue downstream. 

The current is powerful; the water has come so far so fast, and still has such a long way to go. 

I could stand at the water's edge for hours and be lulled by the meditative sound of its rushing, splashing stones, gurgling in eddies. 

But if you are a more active sort of person, the river in December has something for you, too. 

For a photographer, the winter-red rushes create a striking backdrop and reflection on the water as it rolls past and over boulders and pebbles. 

You might take binoculars and watch for an abundance of wildlife while making your way along the shore. You might also collect an assortment of stones -- some are perfectly smooth and flat for skipping to the far shore. 

Among the stones you'll also find mussel shells that over time transform from brown to black to pearly white, until the river wears them to sand. 

Other folks enjoy a mountain bike ride along river trails, and you'll spot them red-nosed, muddy, and grinning like loons.  With so much beauty so close by, who can blame them? 

If you decide to spend the day at the river, be sure to take $10 in cash for the day parking pass or stop at the ranger station for an annual pass ($125). Also, be careful near the water's edge. What makes the river beautiful is also what makes it dangerous. 

Finally, be sure to carry a day pack with some snacks and water. You just may find a quiet spot to picnic out there in the crisp sunshine. 

The best part of a winter picnic? The chocolate doesn't melt.