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Author: Andrew

Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree

Joshua Tree National Park

On Thursday morning I drove east on the 10 past the stretch of Los Angeles suburban sprawl until the malls faded into gas stations and the houses thinned to shacks and sheds. Once in the open desert on the other side of Riverside county I realized I forgot the annual national parks pass we’d purchased in sequoia last spring. A warning, perhaps?

When civilization whittled to nothing and the last turbine faded from view, an oasis appeared on the horizon. At least that’s what the sign said. 29 Palms is a one stop light town with a national park entrance appended perpendicularly to the main drag. I guess since there’s water and it’s in the desert that makes it an oasis. Expectations began to dim for the rest of the weekend.

Inside the park I went straight to Ryan Mountain, the tallest hike. My reasoning, honed with practice at several other national parks,went like this: My knees are getting older and I didn’t bring braces or pain killers, so I should take on the most strenuous work while my legs are still fresh.

Turns out strenuous work wasn’t to be had on Ryan Mountain. It only took an hour to reach the peak, and I guess you get what you pay for because the view was, well, open desert in every direction spotted by boulders.

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Not ugly per se, but nothing to sneeze at if you’ve hiked up to a glacial lake in Montana, a frozen waterfall in Alberta, an ice cave in Iceland, paraglided over sheer cliffs in Switzerland. You get the idea. A collection of loose and clumped dust in every direction isn’t what soothes my soul. But that’s my preexisting bias talking having been born in a forested place rich with water and leaves and life (and polution and chemicals and death, too, unfortunately). Honestly, the desert can be a damn depressing place and since Sam didn’t have any vacation time and my friends flaked…I was not developing a strong love for Joshua Tree’s hiking opportunities that first day.

But I didn’t come to Joshua Tree for the hiking, I came for the stars. All this hiking and walking was just to kill time until sunset. And calories; I asked for a side of onion rings with my burger at lunch in NowheresVille and they brought out a serving tray full of fry batter.

I went to Keys View, supposedly the place for sunsets in Joshua Tree. The view features an overlook of Palm Springs and Indo against a backdrop of the mountains. I arrived ninety minutes till sunset and my stomach was growling (remember what I said about burning calories?) so I headed to the town of Joshua Tree for a smoothie. I barely made it back to Keys View in time for the real deal, running up the path and slipping on the rocks on the other side of the fence to capture a triumphant sunset. A thick ceiling of clouds capped the far mountains and caught the setting sun like a great searching eye in the distance.

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If Tolkien wouldn’t have loved it, I can confirm that at least amateur softcore pornographers do.
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I went back to the spot every day after only to be disappointed.

I drove off in the twilight to Barker Dam, hoping to capture the stars in the water’s reflection. However, after walking down the trail and bouldering around in the pitch black of a new moon for an hour I had to give up. I’d reached the top of a boulder mountain with nothing but sneakers and a wimpy flashlight. Shining it down below the crest revealed a darkness that could be trees or water, but the absence of reflection hinted at the former. Not wanting to get lost in the dark in the part of a park no one would visit for another ten hours I backtracked to the car and spent the next hour driving back through the park to 29 palms, stopping randomly to attempt night shots on the way.

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On Friday I went first to the chollas garden before heading north to visit arch rock. I’d intended to shoot night photography of the arch the night before, but I couldn’t find it on the map. That’s because it’s located inside the White Tank campground and no signs for the arch appear until you are parking there to take the arch rock trail hike.

Wanting to discover where I’d gone wrong with Barkers Dam I headed there next. As it turns out there are two trails that start from that parking lot, spaced about a hundred feet apart. In the dark I only saw the one by my car and went down it, unknowingly heading for the abandoned Wall Street Mine. The bouldering in my attempts to correct the night before actually led me to traipse over an area clearly visible in the morning light to be part of the park closed off to the public (for danger?). And the dark patch I’d seen was, in fact, trees.

At Barkers Dam I discovered the wind blows over the water (as it does quite swiftly everywhere in the park), rippling it and making my planned star shots impossible anyway. Other than a few ducks, there wasn’t much of interest at the dam so I walked up to the mine. Also underwhelming to a boy from Ohio/California. But some other hikers there were fascinated by the hundred-year-old strips of steel and rotting wood. Old rusted cogs and pipes and pieces of cars Henry Ford lived to see.

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Not sure what to do next I turned into a parking lot and wandered into the valley just to the left of Echo Tree Trail. Unsatisfyingly this flat hike ends in a barb wire fence. I walked the nearby hidden loop trail before going back to town for another smoothie. I went back to keys for the sunset but it was pathetic (and much colder!) compared to the night before. At the arch rock, I tried some night photography but strong winds (I would later read 45 mph!) shook the camera and rattled my frozen bones.

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Okay, so compared to -30 in Alberta it wasn’t that bad, but there’s nothing worse than waiting on a twenty-minute star trail exposure just to have the wind creep up on you and shake the tripod at the 19’58” mark. In frustration, I collapsed my equipment and headed to the hotel.

On Saturday I went to skull rock, a place I’d driven by on my way elsewhere several times at this point, to try the short hike. The hike, it turns out, goes to a parking lot around the side of the rocks and starts over. Just for fun I “lost” myself in the rocks on the way back. Hard to lose one’s self, though, with so many large glaring directional indicators laying about.

On my way to Hemingway rocks I stopped several times to photograph what had been mundane the day before. Heavy dark clouds rolled overhead with sun splashes sneaking between. The altered light gave the green of the joshua trees a vibrancy they lack in the full sun washout.

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Reminded me of a car I once bought in Ohio with a green paint job that shined after the rain, then moved to Southern California where it “never” rains and everyone thought my car was gray. Well, on Saturday morning the Joshua Trees were not gray, but nearly lime green and the thin grass not the dusted ochre of yesterday, but a brilliant sunshine yellow making up for the lack of such color in the sky.

At Hemingway I walked out and bouldered up to the rock climbing spot to shoot some climbers on the wall.

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Afterwards, seeking a challenge for my legs I started walking on a whim down the 7.7 mile (one way) boy scout trail. I intended to just turn around after an hour or so to get in a few good miles before lunch. However, after a mile the trail turned right to go to something called “Wonderland of Rocks” if I promised to walk another two and a half miles.

The wonderland is a ever-narrowing trail that eventually surrounds the hiker on all sides with rocks before eventually winnowing down to a marsh pelted with fallen boulders. Those who wish to keep hiking can boulder their way through the narrow crack in the larger rocks, but I turned back, hungry for another smoothie.

My legs needed a break (and carbs) so I went to town for pizza (which is pretty good!) before heading to black rock canyon to the northwest of the park (actually not part of Joshua Tree national park but a day-use area) to make the five-mile west side loop. After the earlier 7-ish mile hike a five-mile trail up the mountain turned out to be a bad idea. My left knee told me so for the entire last two miles. Perhaps to make up for it, mother nature decided to hop a couple of black-tailed jackrabbits close to my walk. Didn’t let them stick around long enough for a great photo, but jackrabbits are skittish by nature, so I was lucky to get within a few feet at all.

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I tried the sunset at Keys View again, waiting in the buffeting horrendous winds, but the blazing eye still didn’t equal what I saw the first night. As night fell I drove to the chollas garden to take star shots. 45 mile per hour winds, wandering teenagers on marijuana, cloud cover, and nagging “professionals” with heavy laser star mapping machines making it clear they wanted me out of their neighborhood made the job difficult yet again.

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When those elements forgot about me occasionally the garden became extra creepy. The chollas look like people in the dark and my coat scraping against my backpack in the wind sounded just enough like approaching footsteps to have me whipping around to check my surroundings in illogical fear more times than I’d like to admit.

Then again, coyotes do prowl the valley at night.

On my last day I visited the Chollas garden again and kept on south, reaching Cottonwood by mid-morning. I hiked up to Mastodon Peak, fun for the bouldering and the view of the Salton Sea in the distance, but otherwise a largely unimpressive walk through a stream of loose gravel. I had one more thing to see before speeding home: a walk “on a real Bajada,” the Joshua Tree brochure proclaimed with such excitement that I assumed miracles awaited. I should have looked up the definition for Bajada.

I’ll save you the trouble. It’s a wash of dirt and rocks that come down from a mountain. And up through those rocks, a few desert trees (and dead ones) grew on a short flat trail overlooking the 10 freeway. The most memorable thing I did on that day was eat shrimp tacos in Indo.

La Jolla Weekend 2017

La Jolla Weekend 2017

La Jolla 2017

This year we thought we’d be clever and use the long labor day weekend for our annual trip to La Jolla. Our cleverness rewarded us with a drive of over four hours to get down there and a less than favorable parking situation, not hitting the water till after 2pm.

Our friends that followed us arrived even later, as the sun was starting to dip back past the cliffs and the water of the cove became murky.

However, no matter when we’d have arrived it wouldn’t have solved the even larger problem: the people! Sitting at the cove reminded me of this:

It wasn’t that bad, but not far off. And the Cove is a tiny beach. Getting in the water at one of the safest snorkeling spots on the west coast turned dangerous because so many people (especially vulnerable children) were out there flopping their feet against the rocks.

Even worse, the traffic jam prevented the sea lions from even attempting to cross the cove as they normally would. In years past they’ve always playfully approached snorkelers while transversing the cove to take a spot on the cliffs on either side. On this occasion they all stayed on the rocks (away from where dry-clothed humans could reach) to the west end of the cove.

However, after approaching those rocks I was still able to observe them up close for a while. Until one opened its large jaws and play-bit at my head.

After we emerged from the cove we went to dinner and then gelato. Sam met up with a friend and went back to LA separately as she had to teach the next morning.

The next morning I started to wonder if she hadn’t made the better choice, as the clouds were heavy and dark in the morning sky. The waves at La Jolla Shores, however, were minuscule and even in the low light provided fantastic visibility far from shore.  Although I have to admit at first I thought the opposite as I encountered only bare sand for the first forty minutes. Then found piles of rocks. Complete with a few lobster.

I’d seen one lobster at La Jolla Shores many years ago and considered myself lucky, as the internet told me they were nocturnal and usually hide during the day. On Sunday, though, they were everywhere. Or maybe with the low tide and low waves I could just finally see them. I caught them walking across the sand. I caught them hiding under sunken steel beams, old ship chains, rocks, you name it. A cluster of forty California lobsters isn’t necessarily a welcome sight though, all huddled together with their ten legs apiece wiggling they looked like a creature from The Thing.

I also saw two crabs, maybe an octopus (they’re good at hiding, so as soon as I saw those two round eyes they’d disappear), a baby leopard shark and…for a while, none of its older peers. Every now and then I’d see a dark whisper of a leopard shark, that characteristic triangular tail swaying twenty feet away. When I tried to give chase they’d always elude me with ease (this would be about as stupid as trying to chase a cheetah on the beach).

In the mean time, I occupied myself with taking our friends to the lobster spots, finding the biggest sting ray I’d ever seen, chasing bat rays, and just exploring with my fingers crossed.

By mid afternoon I was ready to give up on catching a leopard shark with my camera. Another snorkeler warned me that the swarms I’d seen two years ago usually happened in August and that they’d be largely gone by now.

As it so often happens in life, when you stop looking for something it finds you. I ventured north, halfway to the peer. I gave chase in vain to another leopard shark, but unlike before it didn’t disappear into the blue. It disappeared into the black. A mob of them. Twenty or more all crisscrossing and following each other to find the choicest morsels in the sand. This activity amazingly happened in water so shallow I could stand (though I obviously didn’t). Others already were, though, and when the mob would run into a stompy human they’d shimmer away in some other direction, but I’d only have to drift for a bit to find them again.

This activity amazingly happened in water so shallow I could stand (though I obviously didn’t). Others already were, though, and when the mob would run into a stompy human they’d shimmer away in some other direction, but having found their hangout I’d only have to drift for a bit to find them again.

Then, just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, I saw a ghost. Or rather a fish that I’d heard about from Sam down here once before that looked like a one. In the midst of the leopard sharks, a pink and white angular thing twisted along the bottom for a moment and then shot away. An adult shovelhead ray!

After that I threw on the towel, having seen more than I ever imagined in one day, and headed to the water’s edge. Before I got there, though, I saw an even more mysterious creature. It floated a millimeter over the sand underneath me in less than four feet of water and settled invisibly again. I tried to take photos of the B2 bomber wedge-shaped flat fish (maybe some time of ray, but there wasn’t a stinger) but my camera decided to run out of batteries only a moment before. I caught just a bit of the thing on video on the gopro before a heavy-footed woman caused it to flit away. I’ve tried googling it but can’t figure out what it is. If anybody reading this can identify the creature at the end of my video (above) please let me know…

 

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park

Glacier National Park

On Saturday, August 26th we flew to Kalispell Montana. Because we didn’t attempt to book lodging until four or five months before the trip our reservations were scattered around the park. Our first night we stayed in one of the tiny cabins in rising sun motor inn. We killed two black spiders before turning off the lights. Bites on my back the next day suggested we didn’t catch them all.

The next morning we hiked to Saint Mary Falls and Virginia Falls. On the way there we saw a moose. Or part of one anyway. Off the trail, antlers jostled, the rest of the sleeping animal covered by bushes.

We spent the second night at Lake McDonald Lodge, which turned out to be an even smaller cabin than the one at Rising Sun. But no spiders in attendance. Noisy neighbors sharing the wall made up for it. 

On Monday we drove to Logan Pass for the eclipse. However, the parking lot was full so we had to park a half mile down Going-to-the-Sun-Road. We tried both at home and in Montana to find eclipse glasses, but there were never any in stock. Without the glasses, the effect of the eclipse was little more than a very slight darkening of the sun.  After the eclipse exodus we waited for a parking spot at Logan Pass and hiked to the hidden lake overlook. Unfortunately, with all the forest fires the lake and pyramidal mountain behind it were obscured by smoke.

After hiking back down to the vista by the parking lot we were happy to see a travelling group (herd?) of rams. Monday night we checked into west glacier inn.

On Tuesday after passing by the gorge and the trail of cedars we walked on through the woods to Avalanche Lake which, looks little like the photos we had seen. The fire’s smoke obscured the Röthbachfall-like backdrop waterfalls didn’t help. However, just to our left we saw a trio of black bears romping about before climbing a high pine for a nap. We took a break on the calm shore of Lake McDonald before heading back out of the park.

We drove all the way to the other side of the park and up into the Many Glacier area on Wednesday morning. We intended to hike together to ptarmigan falls, but the elevation and exposure didn’t sit well with Sam. She turned back with the next group coming down and I took the bear spray  the next four miles to iceberg lake. Once there I couldn’t help walking in until my feet went numb.

I completed the 9.6 mile hike in just four hours including an hour at the lake to relax and stopping many times for photographs along the way. I rewarded myself with a pint of Gold Miner’s Hefeweizen, a tasty locally (to Montana anyway) brewed beer at the restaurant next to the trail-head and Sam and I shared a huckleberry beer from the adjacent gift shop. On our way out of the park we spotted a black bear frolicking in the stones above the roadway. We checked into Thronsons Motel in Babb, a place unchanged for decades. They had no internet, but a (satellite, I’m sure) television that only played HBO. 

The forecast for Thursday spoke of rain so we decided to take it easy and hike the mile-long wooded trail to Apukumi Falls. Afterwards we walked under storm clouds around the Many Glacier Hotel and down to the shore of Swiftcurrent Lake. After another meal (complete with Gold Miner’s Hefeweizen) I hiked the adjacent trail out to red rocks falls (3.8 miles round trip). While there a passing hiker said they saw a moose ten feet from the trail just a bit past the falls. I cautiously hiked out and just when I was about to give up I heard something chomping on leaves. For the next half an hour I stood in silence and observed a moose cow and her calf dine on the leaves just a few feet off the trail. They were aware of my presence and despite the calf crossing the trail and putting me between itself and its mother, I never felt the animus the park staffed warned about (“moose cows will trample and kill you if you get near a calf). Eventually it was me that moved on and headed back as I didn’t want to worry Sam, the moose presumably stayed there next to the trail for hours.

On Friday we took the 11am boat over Swiftcurrent and Josephine Lake from Many Glacier to the Grinnel Glacier Trail-head. Sam wasn’t for the hike so she stayed on the boat. Ninety minutes later I’d scaled the 1500+ feet and 4 miles of trail to the most famous glacier in the park. At the “lunch stop” before the final climb I spotted a lone ram posing on the bare rock face overlooking the trail.

At the top I put my feet in the water but found it even colder and much slipperier than iceberg lake as there seemed to be far more algae and far less icebergs. I ran back down the trail, eager to get one of the earlier boats back across the dual lakes and not leave Sam waiting. A ranger told me at one point that I’d blown by a family of Grizzlies higher up on the trail without even noticing. On the final mile hikers coming up told me a moose was drinking from the lake by the boat dock. Soon enough the trail bent around and I could see this for myself, as well as the next boat approaching. However, after running around the swamp to the dock to find no moose a man waiting for the boat told me  kids threw rocks and scared the animal away.

After eating at the lodge we drove back to the east glacier section of the park and took pictures at Sunrift Gorge and Baring Falls before checking into rising sun motel.

On our last day we headed to Logan Pass again. Because of the rain on Thursday we hoped the view of Hidden Lake would be clearer. And it was! But we also had an up close encounter with a young mountain goat that wandered across the hiking path. When I hiked up alone a little beyond the lookout I encountered a large marmot grousing literally at my feet.

After leaving the park we stopped in Hungry Horse for some purple (mom loves purple) huckleberry themed souvenirs. With a few hours left before we’d need to be at the airport we decided to check out one of the state parks. Lone Pine requires a parking fee, though, and we only had 30-45 minutes to spend (or so we thought) so we decided to skip it. Instead we parked across the street and took some pictures at Foys Lake.

At the airport everything went smooth until boarding time came and went. And went. And went. Apparently there was an unspecified problem with the plane that required a mechanic. A mechanic that needed to be called in because there aren’t any on site on a Saturday at the tiny regional airport.

We finally boarded the plane about an hour late. And waited. And waited. Eventually we were told that everything was fine but we were waiting on “paperwork” to be completed. Then “paperwork” turned into “we can’t find the ‘logbook’.” Another two hours later we finally taxiied back from the gate and were told we were only moving to make way for an arriving plane.

Then they surprised us and said they could take off anyway.

We arrived back at home in Los Angeles after 1am instead of the much more comfortable 8pm as originally planned. I would not recommend flying Allegiant airlines. However, this appears to be the only airline with a direct flight into Kalispell from Los Angeles, so they know they’ve got a captive (literally in our case, we were told we could not get back on the plane if we stepped off during the long delay) audience.

 

PCH

PCH

PCH 2017

On Friday we made our way northwest to San Francisco for a late lunch on the Wharf. Because we drove up in Sam’s Miata we couldn’t leave San Francisco without a trip down Lombard Street. From there we drove over the Golden Gate and continued to the Muir Overlook before doing a U-turn to begin our journey south along the Pacific Coast Highway. We stopped at the Marin Headlands vistas before plowing on down to Santa Cruz to visit Natural Bridge State Beach.

Apparently, rich kids in Santa Cruz congregate on the beach on Friday nights to annoy wildlife and other humans. I wonder what those kids would do with themselves if they were stuck in the Mid-Ohio Valley for a weekend. Probably not stand on the rocks in front of the lifeguard, scare seagulls from their nests, smoke pot, and drink beer. We felt like old timers complaining about the youngsters, but I doubt any medical marijuana cards are issued to 16-year-olds, even in Santa Cruz. Or medical beer cards for that matter.  At least in my day we tried to hide what we were doing, maybe because our parents couldn’t (or wouldn’t) bail us out if we got caught. Joints were smoked in parked cars at midnight on dirt roads leading into the woods, not in front of tourists at sunset. Not that I’d know about the former, of course. What I do know is that the children on the rocks we saw were afflicted with a clear case of affluenza.

Another hour south and we reached our hotel in Monterey, which had its own fireplace and a free bottle of wine. Apparently, we’d booked so many rooms on Expedia in our last few years of travel they felt it was time to reward us. Pro-tip: when designing customer reward programs it’s always useful to send your customers a survey about what they really want. Neither of us really drink red wine. Whoever invites us to the next dinner party will have to let us know if Expedia wine is any good!

Saturday required some maneuvering. The pacific coast highway closed a few months back after the heavy winter rains washed a bridge out. We spent a few hours at Point Lobos looking at sleeping seals, bird islands, and squirming tide-pool creatures before going down further. However, we didn’t make it to the lighthouse by the end of the road. We started to see that the area around the lighthouse held no villages to offer succor for our grumbling tummies. We turned back to visit Carmel-by-the-Sea and eat some great (but pricey) mexican food at el Pescadero.

After lunch we had to make the long drive around the PCH closure by going east then down the 101 and back west again to San Simeon. When we left Carmel the temperature was in the high 60s with a sweet ocean breeze. We put the top down, of course. By the time we crossed through the farmland of Carmel Valley and blasted between the yellow hills of King City it was over a hundred degrees. Even at a matching velocity, a convertible offers no relief. We had to pull off at the first rest stop and put the top up until we could reach the coast again.  

We turned off the 101 and drove through the hills of San Simeon. We went to the Hearst Castle visitors area and discovered the entire castle rented out for the evening by a private party. We put the top back down and drove by the ocean to the nearby elephant seal boardwalk. After listening to those giant sea dogs burp and fart and scratch and fight for a while we went further up the PCH to point where the road closed northbound. This time we drove all the way up to the literal closure signs at Ragged Point. And when I say “at” I mean it. The road closes immediately in front of the exit from the Ragged Point hotel restaurant. So we turned in and had some chowder before hiking down the hill to Ragged Point Beach to watch the sunset.

On Sunday, we decided to skip Hearst Castle as it would have delayed us too much. Instead we walked around Morro Bay for about an hour (including watching sleepy sea otters) before driving to Pismo Beach for some quick tacos.

From there we followed the road straight home, as straight as one can get on the clogged 101. Although that’s not true either. We detoured briefly through Solvang and around and down to Santa Barbara for ice cream to cap off the trip.

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park

On Memorial day we drove up to Yosemite, arriving in the valley in the early afternoon. Other than tunnel view (a requirement), our first stop was Brideveil Falls. Just like Grizzly Falls, Brideveil overflowed with melt from the storms earlier this year. So much so that walking to the viewpoint to take pictures was no different than walking into a rainstorm. We’d later read that water hadn’t flowed like that in the park since the 1960s.

After walking a bit to dry out from Bridalveil’s soaking we went down to the meadow to find our room at the Valley Lodge. We didn’t plan our trip as far in advance as recommended. As such our rooms were piecemealed together from me checking the lodging site every day until an opening (any opening) popped up. As a result, we were stuck with four separate rooms for four nights. The front desk combined two of those nights so we only had to switch rooms once. However, because we came in so late in the reservations process (people typically reserve at least six months in advance for Yosemite Valley lodging) our first room was probably the worst in the valley. None of the rooms have air conditioning, but our first felt like a sweat box. On the second-floor, it must have been on top of a laundry room (or something) that kept it hot even early in the morning when the rest of the valley floor cooled down to forty degrees.

After checking into our sauna room we walked to Lower Yosemite Falls, which is visible from the lodge. Yosemite Falls’ spray blasted everyone on the viewing bridge. We ran across the bridge and spent the rest of the night wandering through Cook’s Meadow hunting birds and deer with our cameras.

Tuesday we set out for Upper Yosemite Falls, a three and a half mile hike to the top. It turned out to be incredibly vertical and after the first two miles turns into a sun-drenched rock climb. Sam had to turn around. I probably would have fainted if Sam hadn’t bought a water bottle with a filter. This allowed me to fill the bottle from the smaller waterfalls on the sides of the trail. Drinking from a glacial waterfall after feeling exhausted and dehydrated is quite a rush.

At the top, the trail flattens out around boulders eventually leading to dangerous viewpoints with only some flimsy metal rails deterring a 2,400-foot fall.  Doesn’t sound like much when you read it like that, but consider that’s a good fifteen seconds at terminal velocity to race the water down. Of course, the cliffs don’t go straight down; halfway they break and run in towards the valley before finding another cliff. Upper Yosemite Falls is so high that from the bottom you can only see that bottom cliff. For even further perspective consider that Staubachfalls, one of the waterfalls in Lauterbrunnen that so influenced Tolkien’s Rivendell, is only a little more than a third the height of Yosemite. Even Rothbachfalls, Germany’s highest waterfall is still nearly a thousand feet shy of Yosemite Falls. And unlike those other places, I couldn’t leave Yosemite without reaching the top on foot.

From the top, and from some of the other viewpoints, the falls produce an impressive double rainbow (as if the punishing waves of water cascading down the tallest waterfall in America wasn’t amazing enough).

Speaking of punishing; apparently, my old knees aren’t up to a 7+ mile2,500-foot elevation change hike. After half an hour of hopping down the rocks returning to the valley my knees began to seize up. The trail coming down seemed to stretch on forever, like the vertigo effect (or dolly zoom, if you’re nasty) in movies where you zoom in on the rocks in the foreground but the end of the trail just gets farther away.  I finally reached the bottom, creaking and moaning like an old robot in need of oil, two and a half hours later.

Tuesday night we checked into our new room in the Alder building, cooled by vents receiving air from the stream behind the building, which was firmly planted in the meadow forest instead of the hustle and bustle of the village proper.

After a well-earned dinner Sam and I set up in the meadow again to catch the red sunset on half-dome. Deer came again, but the red face never did.

Wednesday the rain clouds blew in so we drove up to Glacier Point to take pictures through the fog. On our way back down we stopped to see a momma california brown bear patrolling the ground beneath a pine that her three cubs climbed up.

Back in the valley we treated ourselves to the Mountain Lodge restaurant (good, but not great) before heading to the meadow again. Our patience rewarded, we saw the red sunset rise and cover half dome.

I headed to tunnel view alone for a few starlight shots.

Thursday we set out to hike to Nevada falls. We were turned back by the fierce hail of water from Vernal Falls after ascending the stone steps nearly to the top. After only experiencing the “mist” of the first half of the stairs it became clear that going all the way would soak us through. It was so wet at the top we would have needed underwater camera housings to not return with broken cameras. We turned back, and a good thing too as my knees were already beginning to hurt again.

We took the easy walk to mirror lake, but were a bit disappointed with what we found. We walked to the other side of the lake, but nowhere did I see an opportunity to take the clear photos of the lake (really a swamp) I’d seen online. However, we did see a salamander on the walk out.

Later we drove to tunnel view for the sunset before stopping in the meadow for some starlight photography before mobs of mosquitos forced us back into the car and off to our room.

Sequoia National Park

Sequoia National Park

On the Saturday before Memorial Day, Sam and I drove through central California on our way to Fresno to start our national parks California road trip.

Sequoia National Park

We went straight to Clovis to check in but the room wasn’t ready so we backtracked to Sequoia. I didn’t know what I was doing when I booked this trip. When I first searched the lodging inside the parks they were all sold out on our dates. Only later, after we’d booked other stuff outside the parks, did I think to go look for single-day reservations inside the parks. For Yosemite this eventually worked, but it turned out our Clovis hotel was non-refundable, so that meant a 90+ minute drive in and out of Sequoia each day. So, showing up at the hotel only to find out they weren’t ready was especially frustrating (throwing away hours we could have spent inside the park).

In the park around 4pm we visited Grant Grove and then drove all the way down King’s Canyon to Grizzly Falls. Because of the rains earlier this year Grizzly was overflowing and bombarding onlookers before they could get close enough for a photo, but we tried anyway.

We stopped several times on the way out of the park as the sun slipped over the canyons. The navigation in Sam’s Miata put the road on the side of the cliffs instead of facing up, so it looked like we were diving directly down on the turns (a clip is at the end of the video). We stopped over and over on the way down the canyon and back up for the many vista points looking west.

Sunday we went back to the park, waiting in line to get in for about 90 minutes at the southwestern gate. We briefly checked out Hospital Rock before driving up to Morro Rock. Unfortunately, the NPS had closed automobile access to Morro Rock. the only way to reach it was to park in a lot and walk a mile to the shuttle stop. We drove by the shuttle line and saw several bus-loads of humans already waiting and decided to skip Morro entirely.

We continued on to Sherman Tree and Congress Trail, where we found a parking spot after a few minutes of waiting. It was already late in the afternoon at this point because Sherman Tree is in the southern area of the park, farther from our hotel. 

After hiking Congress Trail we tried to go to Buck Rock Lookout, but discovered one of the roads was closed and the other was unpaved. We weren’t comfortable taking the little Miata on a dirt road so we headed down to Hume Lake for dinner. While there we discovered the lake is populated by a Christian kids camp, serving up burgers and milkshakes with fake smiles and forced cheer. Or maybe I’m just projecting. Signs were posted everywhere advising girls to wear t-shirts over their swimsuits. It amazes me the lengths some people will go to deny human nature in the name of false modesty. I always get a weird vibe in places like that, which was an interesting contrast with the beatific lake. It felt like we were extras at the very beginning of a summer camp slasher movie, and we were sure to scoot on out before the sun went down.

On the way out of the park we stopped again, and again, to take pictures of the sunset over the rolling mountains, just as we had the day before.

 

The Parent Trip

The Parent Trip

Parents visit 2017

On Wednesday, March 29th, I picked up my parents at Burbank airport and took them to Quenelle ice cream for a snack on the way home. To their melatonin releasing systems it already felt like 11pm, so there was little more to do at home but swap gifts and head to bed with the promise that (for the first time) they may not be waiting an eternity for us to get up since Sam’s Pilates teaching schedule has turned us both into early (or earlier, in my case) risers.

The next morning we ate breakfast at The Griddle (hey, what happened to bringing out the Chicago Scramble in a cast iron skillet, guys? Sad.) before walking around the Petersen for a few hours. We’d been to the Petersen before the redesign and although things now seem better organized, they are hiding most of the cars in the vault. Which, of course, is now a separate fee to see. Lame. As a consequence of our shared German miser (Meiser?) genes, my father and I turned down my mother’s (French sympathy genetic programming) offer to pay for our admission to the vault. “Besides,” I reminded him, “we can see a lot of these cars on the street in this town anyway.”

And it was true, we’d see at least three more McLaren P1s on the streets before they flew back. But I’m jumping ahead…

Finishing earlier at the Petersen than we anticipated we drove north to the Hollyhock House, another place that somehow ended up having less to see than last time. Despite completing more of the renovation, the kitchen and upper floors are now completely closed off and the exterior is still not finished.

On the way back home we stopped at aPeruviann restaurant for a late lunch. We’d need the energy before going on the evening hike to the top of Mount Hollywood.

Unfortunately, once our large group got to the top of the mountain around 8pm the wind started blowing. Unbeknownst to us a wind advisory notice had gone out and gusts up to 80mph were gusting through the Glendale/Los Feliz area. After we all spilled our drinks (and other things) on ourselves we quickly packed up and headed back down.

As we drove up to the condo complex the streetlights went out. After driving inside it became apparent that the electricity for the entire street had gone out. Luckily it came on a few minutes later, though these things tend to happen more often in Ohio than California so I don’t think our guests would have minded much. (In fact, my father emailed me a day after they got home to say their electricity went out again after they’d restocked their fridge since returning from vacation)

Friday morning I took my parents to Porto’s in Glendale for breakfast. We then hiked up Beaudry Loop trail, a new one for all of us. The bottled up emotions surrounding our transition into Bizarro World last November finally erupted; my father and I spent most of our time on the hike arguing about politics with mom trailing in the distance. The hike seems to ascend to a height higher than Mount Hollywood, Griffith resulting in one of the best views of the city you can get. If anything, it’s not as well known as the other trails in the city, so a father and son can yell at each other all morning without anyone calling the cops!

After the hike, I took them to Suaz Taco in Glendale. This is a little shack with an order window that serves up some of the juiciest Cabeza burritos you’ll ever have.

After tacos we drove to Heritage Square. Even mom, who had been excited about this place, ended up finding it rather boring. Most of the old homes were in a state of serious disrepair. Now, perhaps if you’re a pampered SoCal kid you’ve never seen the rotting walls of a 150-year-old home. But if you’re from Ohio you’ve probably lived in one. Nothing special there. I miss the rain, not the termites.

(No, not referring to my parents’ house, specifically. There were plenty of other opportunities to spend time in ancient crumbling houses during my tenure in the Buckeye State. Even on AirBnB!)

After a quick stop to see the revamped Highland Park Bowl and we were on our way home for popcorn and a movie.

Saturday morning we got up early and ate at Heart’s Cafe on the way north to the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve. After turning left on the road to the reserve we started noticing parked cars. Before long the cars were a solid line on both sides of the road and traffic slowed to a crawl. It was only 9:30am,  a ranger turned us away at the entrance, the lot already full. We dropped off my parents and parked a mile or two down the road, where cars were already filling up the roadsides.

Once we finally got into the park I was dismayed to see the “super bloom” was rather anemic. The only other time I’d been to the park the colors were a solid blanket covering the hills in every direction. Here they only existed in thin pockets and on some hillsides, not at all.

We went on a short walk and decided to head downtown for a Mexican restaurant Sam recommended. Unfortunately, we hit a wall of traffic on the 5 around Glendale and our growling stomachs didn’t want to wait another hour (or two, or three) to get all the way downtown. We exited the highway and went to a corner burrito stand that yelp recommended. Not as good as Suaz, so I won’t mention it here.

Back at home, we relaxed for a bit and then decided to finish our day with a visit to Kettle Glazed donuts down the street. We got there too late in the day to get the full selection, but what we did see was good enough. They even let us try one of the cronuts with filling. We bought one (or more) of every flavor they had (except for peanut covered, for obvious reasons) and went home to dip them in milk and mix with the batch of biscotti mom made earlier that morning.

On Sunday, mom baked up a bigger batch of biscotti while Sam taught pilates at the studio. When Sam came back we went for a snack at Hugo’s Tacos on the way to Malibu. After finding parking we walked up Winding Road to Escondido Falls. Dad was starting to feel ill, so he turned back on Winding Road to wait in the car.

The remaining three of us soldiered on past two news vans with reporters, three fire trucks and even more ambulances. All there for a dog in a well. I am not kidding.

Our original plan was to cap off the day with Dad’s favorite fried oysters at Malibu Seafood. However, like the poppy reserve, the line backed up around the block and parking up along the PCH. If you’re unfamiliar with that place the food is pretty good but it takes forever to get your order on a slow day. This would have taken hours. We decided to drift down the highway a few more miles to Fish Market, which, although serving up some great seafood, does not serve shellfish due to its dedication to kosher cooking.

Back at home, bags all packed and showers taken, we switched on the local news to see that yes, Lucy made it out of that well.

Hollywood Rainbow

Hollywood Rainbow

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We’re all used to seeing rainbows all the time a little further west in Hollywood (and closer to the ground), but on Saturday after the rain stopped and the sun peeked out a big one arced over Griffith Park. I noticed it while sitting in our home office working on those trip videos. I grabbed my camera and literally ran out the door and up the hill.

I had to stop several times to catch my breath as ascending that hill is already like using a step machine when you’re taking it slow. Running up the entire way might have killed me. Sadly, I didn’t make it all the way up before the rainbow started to fade as the sun began to set, but I managed to still take some okay photos of the phenomenon and a shaky video.

Let this also be a record of how lush and green the Hollywood Hills are now, compared to their normal sandy exposed earth color. The trail up the hill is now surrounded by very thick fresh green grass with little yellow and purple flowers starting to bloom all over.

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Coronado Island & Horses

Coronado Island & Horses

Friday morning we were off on a little boat to Isla Coronado, the closest of the Loreto islands formed by volcanic rock. We first stopped beside a high cliff on the southeast side of the island. The water was freezing, but I managed to see another stingray sunning itself on the higher rocks before our guide rounded us up.

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At the northeast tip of the island, we observed a colony of sea lions basking in the sun while red crabs scurried to the water’s edge.

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In the water the outcropping turns into a steep cliff going down where light cannot return, but curious sea lions do. There weren’t as many in the water as in La Jolla, but because of the clearer water (no sand, seaweed, or children in floaties here) it was much easier to watch the lions swim up and check you out.

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The crashing waves of the Sea of Cortez against the craggy rocks at the tip of the island only a few feet away reminded snorkelers of the inherent danger. After less than ten minutes we were pulled out so we could go to Playa Coronado, a series of beautiful white sand coves on the southwest side of Isla Coronado.

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From the air (from the plane on the way home):

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Lunch was waiting for us on the beach, and tropical fish waited for us in the coral. I took so many pictures my battery died.

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But the gopro battery held up. For a compilation of the snorkeling highlights see below:

Back in town, we had dinner at Orlando’s, which has great strawberry margaritas and even better fish tacos. After we’d ordered I saw the waitress bring another table a plate of Orlando’s Shrimp and made a note to try it the next day.

On our last day, we lazied around town looking for souvenirs until time for our horseback tour. The two-hour tour meandered around the desert east of Loreto.

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Halfway through the tour (and after shots of tequila) a wild donkey decided to join us.

You can see a bit of that in the latter half of this video:

Back in town we had dinner at Orlando’s again and tried his namesake shrimp dish. If you can tell me somewhere in LA where I can get shrimp split and filled with ham then wrapped in bacon, fried and served up with spicy cheese sauce (and margaritas), let me know. Now!

After dinner it was dark so I dropped Sam off at the hotel and went back to the pier. I walked out on the sandbar connected to Loreto’s beach and took shots of the ocean and stars.

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Back at the hotel, I noticed a little access door to the roof had been left open so I crept out to take a few shots of the town until a maid noticed me.

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The next morning we did our final souvenir sweep and ate breakfast at Pepeginas, which, I swear has one of the best omelets in existence. Ask for the mushroom queso omelet and combine it with chorizo. It’s the best thing in Loreto.

 

Bahia de Concepcion

Bahia de Concepcion

The morning after leaving the lagoon we walked to Rene’s for breakfast before checking out and hitting the road.

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By 1pm we turned off the 1 at Playa Santispak, a beach we’d seen days earlier on the drive up. As soon as we arrived a man in a pickup truck asked if we wanted a boat tour. His English wasn’t good, but we figured out It was only 500 pesos per hour so we asked him to take us snorkeling in the Bahia de Concepcion. We had no idea where he was going, so we were off on an adventure.

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First, we stopped at an old shipwreck to the east of the islands which had turned to an artificial reef.

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Next we went to nearby Isla Pitahaya.

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Under the water, the thin kelp strands formed long ghostly forests that reminded me of white Christmas trees. Later research seems to suggest this plant is technically brown algae. Out a little further I saw a stingray in the sand. I went back to the boat and convinced Sam to jump in.

Sam got cold quick and got out. I was sad to come topside after the hour was up. I asked for “uno mas” and the captain took us south and farther into the bay to a tiny island called Isla La Cueva that connected by a submerged sandbar to another even tinier island with no name. After checking out the tiny island I swam across the 250-foot shallow channel to the main island and discovered lots of fish below the water and birds above. 

At Isla La Cueva I observed a great deal of sea life in the shallow underwater caves beneath the volcanic outcroppings holding various birds (but mostly the Brown Pelicans ubiquitous in BCS). Starfish, tropical fish, electric shrimp, pufferfish, balloonfish, pilotfish, rockfish, parrot fish, crabs, sea slugs, sea worms, and tons of vibrant sea anemones.

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Below is a video cut together from the snorkeling in the bay:

By 5:30 we were back in Loreto and hungry for dinner. An aggressive waiter convinced us to be his first customers of the night at Playa Blanca. And the steamed seafood plate was great. I was disappointed that he only had the regular (i.e. I can get them at Ralphs supermarket in LA) cervezas of Pacifico, Corona, and Modelo Negra. He rebounded by insisting that the Modelo was delicious and I’d like it. I asked him if it was a stout, which he didn’t seem to understand the meaning of, so I waved my hand and told him to go ahead and bring it anyway (I mean, beers are only a dollar down there). And I liked it. It’s actually pretty good. I’d had Tecate before going to Mexico, which is a “meh,” standard light beer. I tried Indio beer for the first time on our first night in Loreto and discovered it’s terrible. But Modelo Negra is actually surprisingly good. And even better with fresh seafood and a plate of limes.

After dinner, we shopped around for more tours to fill our last two days in Loreto. All the snorkeling tours were basically the same price and went the same place, so we settled on a vendor, had some ice cream down the street at the wonderful Mexican chain called La Michoacana and then tried to sleep for our morning snorkel tour the next day.