Kayaking Baja

In early December we managed to get our kayaks out on the Sea of Cortez for a couple of paddles. We had traveled to Baja as part of a caravan of 11 campers on a trip led by Bob Wohlers and the Off-Road Safety Academy. Our first opportunity to paddle was at Bahia San Luis Gonzaga. We spent two nights camped on the beach, which afforded us one day to kayak. We had calm water and no wind. We paddled from our campsite on the beach out around an outcropping of rocks and to the point at the northeast end of the bay. We saw numerous birds including Frigate birds, but not much other marine life. Coming back from the point we noodled along the shore poking into all the little inlets we could find.

We logged 6.6 miles and had a very pleasant paddle. Here’s the track of our paddle.

Our second opportunity to paddle was on December 10. Anticipating wind we were anxious to get on the water early, launching at 9:45 AM.

We spent the better part of two hours paddling along the beach, around the headlands and back. Sure enough, on the way back the wind came up, as you can see from the whitecaps in one of the photos. Fortunately, we only had to contend with the wind for the short distance back to our camp.

Here’s a short video captured with my GoPro camera while paddling.

Back from Baja

On December 1, we hit the road for a two-week trip to Baja California, returning home on December 15. A whirlwind tour with many stories to tell and photos to share. Rather than write one long blog post covering the entire trip, I’m writing several posts to cover various aspects of the trip. We’ll start with this YouTube video. Joann recreated the trip in Google Earth with slides for each stop along our trip. We’ve animated the map and video so take a moment to follow along.

After getting a late start we decided to scrap our original plan which would have taken us to Red Rock Canyon State Park. So where to spend the night? I have several apps on my phone I use for trip planning. I fired up The Dyrt and started looking at options. It seemed like whatever itinerary I dialed in, The Almond Tree Oasis was the suggested stop. There are not many options for boondocking, let alone camping on the route to Southern California. The Almond Tree Oasis suited our needs. In the morning we fired up the Dutch Oven and cooked up some Mushroom and Brie Breakfast Strata, one of our favorite breakfasts.


Joann preparing Breakfast Strata, aerial view of our camp at Joshua Tree Ranch LA.

The second night we camped near Lancaster at Joshua Tree Ranch Los Angeles, going from an RV camp with full services to boondocking in a lovely grove of Joshua Trees with no services whatsoever. We were happy to pay for the right to camp in this spot, having again relied on The Dyrt to find a site.

Then it was on to Ocotillo Wells SVRA where we joined up with 134 other Four Wheel Pop-Up Campers for their annual rally.

Treve explaining his lift system for popping up the top of the camper with kayaks on top, touring fellow camper’s rigs, Bob explaining radio operation.

It’s always fun to see how people have tricked out their rigs. Following the rally, we continued south to join Bob Wohlers and his Off-Road Safety Academy for a tour of Baja. We had 11 rigs in the caravan. Bob gave us all radios to use for the duration of the tour and with his guidance we managed to cross the border, negotiate our way through Mexicali and along the narrow highways and dirt roads of Baja. We spent one night at Pete’s Camp, two nights at Bahia San Luis Gonzaga, and two nights at Bahia de Los Angeles which was the southernmost point of the trip.

Camp at Gonzaga Bay, Cowpatty Cafe, rainbow at Playa La Gringa at Bahia de Los Angeles.

For the return trip we crossed the peninsula, driving up the Pacific side with overnight stops at Quinta Cristina near El Rosario and Punta Banda. Once back on the US side of the border we headed for Agua Caliente County Park, which I had located using another favorite app, iOverlander.

On the beach with our kayaks on the Sea of Cortez, sunset over Bahia de Los Angeles, camp at Quinta Cristina.

At this point in the trip we were looking for water and electricity, having depleted our water supply and suffering from a dead battery in the camper. With a dying battery we were without refrigeration and heat. We’ll be upgrading our camper soon, moving to Lithium (LiFePO4) batteries. We’ll also be replacing the shocks and adding airbags to the rear suspension to help balance the load. The camper is a big load for the Tacoma. Over the course of the 15 days we logged 2268 miles. You can find more photos from the trip here. I’ll be adding to these galleries as I work through the photos in the coming weeks.

Crossing Carquinez Strait

At the northeast corner of San Francisco Bay is Carquinez Strait. This is a narrow passage where the Sacramento and the San Joaquin Rivers empty into the Bay. On Saturday November 27 our kayaking club, Bay Area Sea Kayakers (BASK), hosted a paddle here. Not having much familiarity with this area I thought it would be fun to explore this area with a few paddlers that know the area well.

After a comprehensive safety talk and radio check nine of us we were on the water at 11 am launching from the boat ramp at the Martinez Marina. We paddled west staying clear of the shipping channel and taking advantage of the ebb current for a quick ride. Shortly after launching one of our party discovered that he was quite uncomfortable in his boat. He turned back leaving the eight of us to continue on. When it was time to cross the straight we held up to let a ship pass. Then it was across the straight to Glen Cove Waterfront Park where we found a nice beach to land. We had lunch in a grove of trees on a bluff overlooking the beach.

After lunch we were back on the water hugging the north shore to avoid the deeper water where the current was still ebbing. We even managed to find a few eddies going counter to the main current. We paddled along the Benicia waterfront admiring the waterfront homes and decrepit docks. When it was time to cross the shipping channel we again held up for a tanker and an escort of tug boats.

Then it was back across the straight and back to the marina. We were back at the boat ramp at 4 pm, finding a traffic jam of boats waiting to use the ramp. We managed to land and get our boats off the ramp without interfering with the traffic much. We logged 11.7 miles on an excellent paddle with great company. You can view the track of our course below. Click on the map to view a more detailed view. I was disappointed to discover the lens on my camera had acquired a smudge of sunblock which ruined most of my photos. A lesson to carry a lens wipe and to check the lens frequently. In any event, I did manage to salvage a number of images and you can view them s here

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Fall Color Review

So here it is late November and I’ve finally made it through the photos from our Eastern Sierra fall color trip. On September 27, having spent several days with family in Big Pine, it was time to go hunt for fall color. We left Big Pine in the morning, and that night we camped at the Bishop Creek Campground. We were lucky to have some relatively clear air since smoke from wildfires had been plaguing us off and on at lower elevations. Bishop Creek is always a good prospect for fall color.

Here we are with our Four Wheel Pop-up Camper rig parked for the night in a very pretty aspen grove. In the morning we drove up to North Lake and did a short hike to a location I had scouted for a view overlooking the lake. Then it was off to Rock Creek. We made a quick stop at Mosquito Flat trailhead. We did a short hike and, while it was a lovely hike, I was not inspired to take many photos. We moved on to Sagehen Summit Road. Here the aspen were a little past prime but with plenty of photo opportunities.

I found a grove of aspen with a panoply of colors from green to yellow to black. This is my favorite image from this trip and it’s available in my art store. With the sun about to set, we drove the short distance to Mono Lake where we set up camp in the dispersed camping area near Mono Mills.

The next morning we were off to Virginia Lakes, where we did a three mile hike to Frog Lakes. Most of the aspen here were past prime, but we did find fall color in the willows.

From Virginia Lakes we took the Dunderberg Meadows Road, pulling off in mid-afternoon to set up camp. Here I put the drone in the air, you can see the image looking west over the trees. We found some lovely aspen groves along the Dunderberg Meadow Road and made a note to include this drive on future trips. Before heading back to the pavement we took a detour to explore Green Creek and discovered some very nice camping opportunities. Then it was back to the the pavement on US 395 and up and over Sonora Pass for the drive home. We’ve made many stops near Sonora Pass on previous trips, and on this trip we did not stop for photos. You can view more photos from the trip here.

Picture Perfect Day

I have yet to master the art of capturing photos from a kayak. When I come back from a paddle, I’m often disappointed by how few of the photos meet my expectations. Invariably the photos are out of focus, blurry or have the wrong exposure. It’s a challenge to hold the camera steady with one hand while bobbing around in a tippy boat and holding onto the paddle with my free hand. And then the composition is always changing. I’ll see a potential opportunity forming and by the time I can get the camera in position the scene changes. Then while I’m trying to snap photos my paddling buddies are continuing on their journey. Time to put the paddle back in the water and catch up. And I’m always trying to position myself within the pod to take advantage of the light and composition. Glare on on the viewfinder is another issue, which means I’m more likely to just point and shoot and hope I get something. I like to capture candid moments on the water, water dripping off the paddle blades and the play of light and reflections and clouds. And then there’s the risk of getting water drops on the lens, or worse yet, a smudge of sunblock.

So this past week I decided it was time to master the art of kayaking photography. I use an Olympus TG-5 and on Thursday, November 4, I was determined to see if I couldn’t improve on the quality of the images.

Our launch site was Point Isabel on the east side of San Francisco Bay. One of my paddling buddies suggested this put-in since it is a short drive and I can just sort of fall out of bed and be there. I pulled out of my driveway at 9:02 and parked at the launch site at 9:13. A welcome change from the previous week when I spent two ours getting to our launch site. Our paddle took us to the north end of the jetty on Brooks Island. We had calm water, no wind, and dramatic clouds against a blue sky. Great conditions for photography, with the water offering nice patterns and reflections.

We could see the skyline of San Francisco peeking through the clouds in the distance. We kept our distance going past Bird Rock so as not to disturb the birds.

We were paddling on a high tide, 6.8 feet at 11:40, and as we paddled along we noticed that there appeared to be gaps in the jetty. The tide was so high that it was flooding over the jetty with enough clearance to float our boats. You can see David, riding a little bit of a tide rip over the rocks. We paddled over the jetty and back and continued on to Ferry Point where we stopped for lunch. Then it was back on the water for the return trip. We paddled across the shipping channel and along the inside of the jetty to avoid any shipping traffic. We were back on the beach at Point Isabel at 2:00 having logged 8.5 miles. You can take a closer look at our track here or on the map below. On uploading the photos to my computer, I found that that I had some 424 images! Quite a chore to sort through. But I discovered that the habits I had developed for land-based landscape and architectural photography were hindering my ability to capture photos from a kayak. On land I tend to use a small aperture to maintain a good depth of field. On the water a wider aperture and a high shutter speed seem to work best. I was quite happy with a number of the images. Of the 424 images I captured, I marked 44 as keepers. You can view those photos here. Overall it was a picture perfect day.

Don’t Walk the Boat

Drakes Estero is one of my favorite places to paddle. It’s an estuary in the Point Reyes National Seashore and designated as part of the Phillip Burton Wilderness. A beautiful spot to paddle with lots to see. It’s closed March 1st to June 30th when harbor seals are birthing and, given the shallow water in some places, you want to pick a time when you’ll have enough water to paddle over the sandbars. This past week, on October 28, the timing seemed promising.

The first challenge was getting to our launch site. It’s 54 miles from my house to the launch site. During the morning rush hour it can be a challenge. I left my house at 7:40 and arrived at our launch site two hours later. Traffic was backed up crossing the San Rafael Bridge due to fog. As you can see, once we were on the water the fog had cleared and we had flat calm.

I’m including a screen shot of the tide graph, since we were hoping for a enough water to keep from walking our boats across a sandbar. High tide was 7:03 at 4.28 ft. Low tide was 11:17 at 3.71 ft.

We found the sandbar shortly before 11:00. If we hadn’t been distracted watching birds, we could have avoided the walk by skirting west around the bar. Approaching the beach, we began to feel the wave action from the ocean as waves entered the mouth of the estuary; we paddled through kelp beds and clear water feeling the gentle action of the dissipating offshore swell. Offshore a good swell was pounding the beach with rows of breaking waves.

Once across the bar, we climbed back in our boats and paddled to Sunshine Beach were we had a leisurely lunch. You can see the beach in the distance beyond the Janie’s wooden boat.

After lunch we paddled over to the inside of the Drakes Beach spit where one of our group had split off to admire the surf.

It is unusual to be on a paddle with three wooden boats, all built by their owners. Then it was back on the water for a pleasant paddle back to our launch site. As usual, what started as a calm day ended up with some wind, but not enough to hinder our progress. Over the course of the day we logged 8.3 miles and we saw dozens of harbor seals, pelicans, shore birds and even a couple of leopard sharks. You can take a closer look at our track here or below. If you click on the map, a satellite view shows the sandbars and channels in more detail. You can also view more photos here.

The Church and Creation Care

A friend of mine recently told me that a friend of hers was surprised to discover that the Church has an interest in creation care. I found this a bit surprising since I have had a faith-based interest in environmental stewardship for over 50 years. We need to experience the world around us with a sense that this is a sacred gift given to us. And what institution is better suited to promote the sacred nature of creation than the church? This is not a new idea. Saint Francis of Assisi is often referred to as the patron saint of ecology and of animals. His teachings go back to the 13th century.

For my own part, I have felt that my role in promoting environmental stewardship is to use my camera to create images that capture the beauty and grace of God’s creation, and through those images inspire others to want to save the planet.

This week something shifted, and I was invited to go stand on a street corner and hold up a sign. So the afternoon of October 19 found me at Ashby Avenue and Regent Street in Berkeley holding a sign.

I’m the guy with the black hat. The invitation to participate came through a church croup, Creation Care and Climate Justice, which is looking for ways to make our own church, First Presbyterian Church of Berkeley, more environmentally-friendly and to share the message with the congregation and the community at large.

The location for our rally was selected because it’s close to the Berkeley Presbyterian Mission Homes (BPMH) and we wanted to show solidarity with their mission.

Now is the time to act. We’re a few weeks away from the Global Climate Conference in Glasgow (COP26) and the global organization “GreenFaith” is asking faith communities to rally and insist on Climate Action. Keep your eyes open; both faith based and secular organizations will be spreading the word.

Rescue Practice

On October 9 we had perfect weather for our kayaking club (BASK) rescue practice. My dry suit had just come back from Kokatat after having the neck gasket replaced. So I was looking forward to putting it to the test.

After signing in and having a brief orientation, we broke up into pods, with some of the newer members seeking basic instruction and some of the more experienced members looking for peer practice. Above is a photo of the group of paddlers watching a demonstration of how to get into a boat using a “heel hook” technique, followed by some photos of paddlers doing T-rescues.

Of course, to practice getting back into the boat you have to get wet. So over we go, upside down and reaching for the release loop on the cockpit cover. I discovered that my dry suit wasn’t keeping me dry. I could feel cold water inside my suit, pooling around my right elbow. Not a happy feeling since my suit just came back from the factory. In the future I think I’ll pay the additional fee for pressure testing. In any event, I was wearing a thick layer of expedition weight polypropylene for insulation, and this kept me comfortable despite the water.

The T-rescue with the heel hook went well. I added a twist, since I’m usually anxious to get back in the boat once I’m in the water. During this exercise I decided to pull my camera out to take a few photo from the swimmer’s perspective. Following the T-rescue, I tried a paddle float self-rescue, a technique where you put a float on one end of the paddle and use the paddle and float as an outrigger to get back in the boat. Easier said than done, but with practice it works. Finally I attempted a cowboy scramble, where you climb up on the back deck and work your way into the cockpit. With some coaching I made this work; the first time I’ve been able to get back in the boat with the scramble.

At the end of the day when I took off my dry suit I found about a cup of water in each of the socks. Not so dry, but happy to report that the insulation I wore was sufficient to keep me comfortable despite the water in the suit. Now I need to determine if I can fix the leak or if I need to send it back to Kokatat.

A Hike in Fern Canyon

We spent the week of September 12 in Mendocino with members of our kayaking club. On Wednesday the 14th we took a break from paddling to go for a hike in Fern Canyon.

This is a lovely hike that follows the Little River. The trail winds along the river, crossing the stream a number of times on bridges and meandering through tall redwoods and the fern-lined canyon. Once we had hiked up the canyon, we opted to continue on the trail up to the Pygmy Forest. Here the tall redwoods give way to pines and cypresses stunted by extremely acidic, low-nutrient soil that sits on top of a layer of low-drainage iron hardpan.

We were happy to have some overcast since it can be quite warm in the Pygmy Forest. The soft light from the overcast also made for excellent photography. I prefer the soft light to the harsh shadows and highlights that can happen with direct sun. I also found that the railings on the bridges were a perfect place to park my Gorilla Pod and my trusty Sony RX100 camera in lieu of my tripod. Walking through the dwarf trees feels like walking through an enchanted forest.

We returned to Fern Canyon by an alternate trail, making a loop. When we returned to camp we had logged 11 miles. You can view more photos of our hike here and you can view more details of our track here.

Mendo Madness 2021

Each year our kayaking club, BASK (Bay Area Sea Kayakers) takes over a number of camping sites at Van Damme State Park for a week of camping and kayaking.

This year’s adventure started Sunday morning, September 12. With our kayaks on top of our camper we hit the road. Before we got very far we discovered that our camping reservations didn’t start until Monday. What to do for Sunday night? We pulled off the road to consider the options and Joann booked us a night at the Seagull Inn. Hey, I’m not going to complain about breakfast being served.

After breakfast we drove the short distance north to Russian Gulch. The prediction was for high surf, but the beach at Russian Gulch is quite protected, so getting on the water was not a problem. In poking around the cove though, we decided it was too rough to venture out. After a very pleasant paddle on the cove we checked into our campsite. That’s our Four Wheel Pop-Up Camper with the kayas on top parked next to the trees.

In the morning we fired up the Dutch Oven. Here’s Joann serving up Hash Brown Crusted Goat Cheese and Scallion Quiche. Yum! With rough water predicted on the coast we opted for a paddle on the Big River, and we found a few BASK members happy to join us. We logged 12 miles paddling up the river and back. A very pleasant paddle in an enchanted forest.

Wednesday, September 15, we put on our hiking boots and hiked up Fern Canyon to the Pygmy Forest. Another enchanting trail up a canyon lined with ferns and redwoods. The hike in itself is worthy of a separate blog post so stay tuned.

On Thursday with the conditions on the coast continuing to look daunting, we opted to paddle on the Albion River. We managed to pull together a group of eight people to paddle up the river. That brings us to Friday, our last day in Mendocino and it was time to paddle the coast. Conditions were much calmer than earlier in the week so we launched from Van Damme Beach and poked around a few rocks and paddled through a few caves. Hard to condense a week’s worth of adventures into one short blog post so stay tuned. I’ll be posting separate stories with more details. You can view more photos of our adventures here.

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