Bound for Home

As we turned the calendar to July, it was time to leave our temporary post in Big Pine and head for home. We decided to make the trip a two-day drive with an overnight near Ebbetts Pass on State Route 4. This is one of the lesser-used passes crossing the Sierra. It’s a steep, winding, narrow road with one lane for a good portion of the time. Suitable for our rig, we figured that with throngs of people heading to the mountains for the Fourth of July weekend, it was a likely route on which to still find camping. And since we were driving midweek on a Thursday, we figured we’d have the jump on the campers coming up for the weekend.

Our route crossed two passes: Monitor Pass at 8,314 feet on State Route 89, and Ebbetts Pass at 8,736 feet on State Route 4. Just before cresting Monitor Pass, we stopped to admire the view. I was intrigued with the clouds and grasses on the high plateau.

Once over the passes we had plans to check out Hermit Valley for camping, but when we got there we decided to move on. Not far down the road we saw a sign for Pacific Valley Campground that looked promising. We found plenty of camping available along a lovely mountain stream.

In the morning we decided to explore the trail leading up Pacific Creek. Our dog Carson was happy to be off-leash once we were out of camp, and happy to cavort in the creek’s cool water. We manged to hike about six miles up the creek and back, and returned to camp lamenting the fact that we couldn’t stay longer. We had a commitment for a family Fourth of July get-together.

We broke camp and headed down the mountain passing Mosquito Lakes and Alpine Lake, which were quite busy. There was absolutely no parking available along the road. Every conceivable spot had a car parked with many more cruising looking for parking.

Despite the weekend crush of visitors, we were inspired by our overnight at Pacific Valley. We’ll be returning to explore more of the Stanislaus National Forest.

Boondocking in the Bodie Hills

On Saturday, June 27, I hopped in the truck to drive over the mountains for another family visit. I decided to break the drive up into two segments, with an overnight in the Bodie Hills and a visit to the Bodie State Historic Park.

It was 11:30 a.m. when I got on the road, a bit later than I had anticipated, but with plenty of time to reach my intended destination by sunset. The drive took me over Sonora Pass on highway 108. I was quite impressed with how many campers were out. It seemed like just about every patch of bare dirt had a tent or RV on it. Summer has arrived and it seems people are anxious to get out and enjoy nature after three months of sheltering in place with the COVID-19 pandemic; or at least that’s my interpretation.

When I reached Bridgeport, I turned north on highway 182 and then I headed up Aurora Canyon Road, a dirt road. I had directions to a dispersed camp site called Paramount, named after a mining claim, about 11 miles from Bridgeport. This is a nice flat location in a grove of Aspen. When I got there, it was occupied, with a large tent, tiki torches, and a pile of firewood that indicated these folks were going to be here awhile. I headed up the road about a half mile to another grove of aspen. Not quite as nice a location for camping, but suitable for a quick overnight camp. I drove down a clearing to what looked like a good spot to park the camper, but on inspection I determined that I would fall out of bed given the slope. I moved the truck up closer to the road, and with much maneuvering in the confines of the aspen, I manged to position the rig and level it for a good night’s sleep.

This location was closer to the ridge with sweeping views, which suited me for potential photos of sunset and sunrise. With a few clouds overhead, I was hoping for some color in the sky. I didn’t get the color I was hoping for, but what did catch my attention was the lichen covered rocks and the patterns of clouds.

I’m calling this image Rock and Sky. I love the color of lichens on the rock, and how the design in the clouds seems to draw attention to the rock. I’ve just added this image to my art store, available in a variety of sizes on fine art paper, canvas or metal. Check it out.

It was a very windy night on the ridge, and I was concerned about camera vibration in the wind. I was camping at an elevation of 9000 feet and, while the temperature was a mild 55 degrees, the wind made it feel 10 degrees cooler. The camper is a fairly secure place even with the 50 mile per hour gusts, but even so, it took me a while to drift off to sleep.

Sunday morning I was up at 5 a.m. for the sunrise. Sunrise is always a wondrous event, with the early morning light changing from blue to gold as the sun rises. The wind was continuing to blast it’s way over the ridge and threatening to topple my camera and tripod. I grabbed a few exposures, made coffee, and had a bowl of raisin bran; not my preferred breakfast, but good for a quick getaway.

I arrived at the Bodie State Historic Park at 8:30, half an hour before it opens to the public; I was the first visitor to arrive. I had a brief chat with a ranger who directed me to the entry kiosk. I had come in the back road and it wasn’t obvious where the main entry was. The day use entry fee is $8.00, with park hours 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. My dog Carson was happy to know he could join me on leash, rather than hole up in the camper while I did my tour.

Bodie was established as a mining camp following the discovery of gold in 1859. In it’s heyday, it was home for some 8,000 people. The last mine closed in 1942.

I had been researching photos of the town and wondering how photographers manage to take nighttime photos. It seems there are several photo tours operated through the Bodie Foundation that provide access with extended hours; something I’ll check out for future visits.

Out of Boat Experience

April 1, 2020. It’s a bit more challenging to go paddling these days with the stay-at-home order. How do we manage to get some “essential” outdoor recreation while minimizing the risk associated with the coronavirus? On our paddle today, we did our best to practice social distancing. Three of us launched from the boat ramp at the Emeryville Marina. While we are used to helping each other get the boats off the cars, today it was every person on their own getting the boat on the water.

We had the boat ramp to ourselves. The marina was very quiet. Once we were on the water, it was no problem to maintain a good distance. We paddled from Emeryville, north past the Berkeley Marina, out to the end of the Albany Bulb, and then to the Albany Beach. We landed at the south end of the beach away from the few dog walkers and beachgoers, keeping a good distance between us as we landed.

We maintained our distancing while we ate lunch. After lunch the prediction was for the wind to come up, and as wind ripples started to form we were anxious to get back on the water. As we approached Emeryville, we could see the wind ruffling the water on Ashby Shoal, so we went to check it out.

On the shoal we had just a few inches of water, so I decided to climb out of my boat and pose for a photo. There are not many places in the middle of San Francisco Bay where you can get out of your boat on a low tide. Low tide was 0.2 feet at 1 p.m. As we were heading into the Marina, we passed a solo kayaker with a cute dog dressed up in a mermaid outfit. We had very little traffic on the bay with few commercial or pleasure craft, just a paddle boarder and a couple of kayakers. Our paddle covered 8.5 miles. The wind remained light through the course of our paddle. You can view more photos here and see more details about our track here.

Desert, Dogs and Dutch Ovens

January 12, 2020. As I write this we’re nine days into an 11 day road trip, making a circuit through Joshua Tree, Mojave and Death Valley. It seems like the theme for this trip is desert, dogs and Dutch ovens. We like to travel with our dog Carson, and winter camping seems to be conducive to Dutch Oven cooking. After sunset I can put the camera away, start the coals for the Dutch Oven, and build a campfire.

We even used the Dutch Oven to thaw out Carson’s water dish after it had frozen solid one morning; that after we had fired up the oven to reheat some quiche from a previous breakfast. Our journey started on Saturday, January 4, with a drive to Red Rock Canyon State Park. Camp fees seemed a little steep there, but the location is worth it. Dogs need to be on leash, which is the rule for many of the places we visited. There is BLM land nearby where dispersed camping is available for free. We paid $23 for the night at Red Rock and that included a $2 senior discount. In the evening we fired up the Dutch Oven to cook cod with lemon and capers. Joann cooked a risotto dish to go along with it. A gourmet meal.

The next morning we were in no rush to hit the road so we fired up the oven again and cooked a mushroom and brie breakfast strada. Absolutely scrumptious, with enough left over to feed us for another breakfast and more.

From Red Rock we drove to Joshua Tree National Park. When we got to Hidden Valley Campground we were discouraged to see a “Campground Full” sign at the entrance, but we decided to take a look anyway and found one open site. We spent two nights and I took the opportunity to wander around for two mornings and one evening looking for early morning and evening landscape photography opportunities. Hidden Valley has interesting rock outcroppings as well as some nice stands of Joshua trees. As a popular spot for rock climbers, camping spaces are scarce. I’ll post more about the landscape photography in another post. It’s hard enough to condense eight days of travel into one blog post.

While wandering through Joshua Tree we managed to do the short nature walk at Hidden Valley. We alternated walking the trail while the other walked the dog around the parking and picnic areas. We also explored some of the other campgrounds and noted that there was plenty of camping available at Jumbo Rocks and Belle. We also drove down to the Cholla Garden which is an amazingly dense stand of cholla cactus.

On January 7 we drove to the Mojave National Preserve where we decided to camp at Kelso Dunes. This is a primitive campground with no running water or facilities except for a few fire rings. There was one other camper about a quarter mile from us. We took a hike up the sand dunes letting Carson wander off-leash, returning to camp just as the sky was going dark following a blazing sunset. With a near-full moon rising to the east we had light to find our way as darkness approached.

From Mojave we drove to Death Valley where we spent one night camped at the Oasis in Furnace Creek. Our motivation was to find hot showers and do some laundry. We camped at Fiddler’s Camp, an RV camp behind the gas station. $24 with showers and pool access included. We also took advantage of the food facilities and ate dinner and breakfast in the luxury of the Furnace Creek Ranch.

Furnace Creek is a good spot to spend a night or two if you want to see some of the more popular attractions of the park. We were intent on seeing some of the less popular locations. In the morning we drove the short distance to Twenty Mule Team Canyon which the park literature suggested was a good spot to walk a dog. We drove in the canyon a short distance, parked the truck and took a two mile walk with Carson on-leash. Dogs are not permitted on the trails in the park, but they are permitted on roads; this is a lightly used dirt road, perfect for walking the dog.

After walking the dog we topped off the fuel tank, anticipating a good 200 miles or so of driving before we could expect another gas station. From Furnace Creek we drove to Mesquite Springs Campground where we spent a very windy night. We were happy to be in the camper rather than a tent. With the propane heater going we were cozy even with a chilly wind blowing outside.

The next morning we drove to the Racetrack Playa with a stop for lunch at Teakettle Junction. The Racetrack is a perfectly flat playa. Near the southern end of the playa there are some truly bizarre trails left by rocks. When conditions are right a thin film of water freezes and thaws in such a way that fierce winds move the rocks leaving trails. Some of these trails go for hundreds of feet. It’s a truly mind bending experience to imagine how these rocks can move. We arrived at about 3 in the afternoon and found good lighting, using the glint of the sun on the playa to photograph the rock trails.

Getting to the Racetrack Playa is a bit of a chore. It’s a dirt road marked as a 4×4 road, and a two hour drive to cover the 27 mile distance over washboard and gravel.

From the playa we drove the short distance to Homestake campground, another primitive campground with no facilities. We had the campground to ourselves. Here we fired up the Dutch Oven to cook Eggplant Parmesan and we ate dinner by the campfire while we watched the full moon rise over the mountains to the east. With nobody else in sight we let Carson have free run of the campground.

Ancient Trees

Some of the oldest trees in the world grow in the White Mountains above Big Pine. Since we were staying in Big Pine for a few days, we decided make a visit to the Patriarch Grove. The Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest is open in the summer but closed in the winter for snow. Some hearty souls will venture into the forest on skis or snowshoes.

Great Basin Bristlecone Pine (Pinus longaeva). At the Patriarch Grove of the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest.

Many of these trees exceed 4000 years in age, displaying fantastic forms. The Patriarch Grove is situated at 11000 feet of elevation. It’s quite a climb from the 4000 feet at Big Pine. Leaving Big Pine shortly after 11 a.m. on Monday, November 11, we drove about 15 miles into the Inyo National Forest and pulled off onto a dirt forest service road to find a spot for our picnic lunch. We also wanted a spot where our dog Carson could run off leash.

After lunch we continued our drive up to the Patriarch Grove. The main visitor center is at the Schulman Grove, 24 miles and a 45 minute drive from Big Pine. We were intent on visiting the Patriarch Grove, another 12 miles on a dirt road which took us about another 45 minutes. It’s a windy, bumpy road. Our bouncing around caused a jar of jam to upend in the refrigerator in the camper.

As we left the pavement and ventured onto the dirt road we were surprised to see a sign declaring the road a National Forest Scenic Byway. A sign at the entry station indicated that four-wheel drive was advised for the drive and, while we were equipped with four-wheel drive, the road looked manageable for a two-wheel drive. We reached the grove at 2:15 p.m., and we were the only people there. The grove looks like a moonscape with gnarled, weathered trees scattered about. We spent about an hour exploring the grove before heading back to Big Pine.

For landscape photography I usually prefer morning or evening, although with the sun low in the sky this time of year I found some nice shadows and textures. By experimenting with multiple exposures and using some Lightroom wizardry I managed to capture some interesting images.

There is camping at the Grandview Campground and dispersed camping nearby. In the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, dogs are permitted on leash and visitors are encouraged to stay on trails or boardwalks.

Back in Big Pine we again “set up camp” in our son’s driveway.

Our “camp” in Big Pine.

Remnants of Fall Color

Willows and tree in Big Pine

We’re taking an extended weekend to play grandpa and grandma in Big Pine, a town of about 1800 people in the Eastern Sierra, elevation 4000 feet. Home to our son, his wife, and our granddaughter Annabelle. It’s a 310-mile drive and the shortest route takes us through Yosemite National Park on Highway 120. The highway closes in winter for snow but, this being a very dry year, the snow has yet to come. We arrived at 5 p.m. on Saturday, November 16, just as darkness was setting in. After the seven-hour drive we were happy to pull the truck into the driveway and pop up the top on our Four Wheel Camper. Then it was dinner time. We had a very pleasant meal and, following some family time, we turned in for a quiet and peaceful night’s sleep.

Sunday morning we awoke to a bright, sunny day and after breakfast we ventured out for a walk on the desert in shirt-sleeve weather. Five of us and two dogs. Our walk took us out the front door, down the street to open land managed by Los Angeles Water and Power; a great place to walk dogs off leash and to enjoy the view of the mountains to the east and west.

Talking about walking, our granddaughter Annabelle was a trooper at testing out her new skill of walking. She did manage to take a spill, planting her face on the trail, and getting her lip a bit bloody. It wasn’t long though before she was back in good spirits. After the walk it was time to check the chicken coop, and sure enough, we found four eggs.

I did not expect to see much fall color on this trip. We did see some color in the black oaks driving over the mountains, and in the willows and rabbit bush on the desert.

Shakedown for Spain

These boots are made for walking

In the weeks ahead we’ll be walking about 100 miles along the Costa Brava and in the foothills of the Spanish Pyrenees. We’ll be following two self-guided tours offered through Macs Adevntures:  Foothills of the Spanish Pyrenees and Hidden Gems of the Catalan Coast. As a shakedown I decided to put a few miles on my new hiking boots so on May 12 we put the dog in the car and drove to Briones Regional Park. The goals were to give our Carson some off-leash time, log five miles and check out the wild flowers. Briones Regional Park is a 6,225-acre park in the hills of Contra Costa County. It’s about a 20 mile drive from our house. In spring it’s a stunning park with oak canyons, and green rolling hills. The ridges along the top of the hills afford wide sweeping panoramic views. Later in the year the green grass becomes a golden brown and the temperature can be quite warm.

At one point on our hike Carson decided to get a drink in one of the cattle watering troughs and ended up taking an unintentional swim. Along one of the ridges we passed a herd of cows, and Carson did his best to hike in Joann’s shadow acting a bit shy. There were a couple of steep sections of trail where I was glad I had my hiking poles, and even so, I took my time descending the steepest sections of trail.

Over the course of our walk we logged 4.9 miles. You can see a map or our course above or view more details about the track here.

On the Trail to Spain

We’ll be on the trail in Spain in June. It’s time to limber up the legs. We’ve had a very wet winter, which has kept us off the muddy trails, but with a few days of sun I decided to stretch my legs in Tilden Regional Park. It’s just three miles up the hill with 26 trails ranging from less than a mile to close to 14 miles, spread out over 2079 acres. Many of the trails are dog friendly with dogs off leash, so it’s a favorite for hiking with Carson. Tilden Park also boasts a steam train, a merry-go-round, a botanical garden and a lake to swim in. And one of the roads that transits the middle of the park closes each winter for the newt migration. The newts are not dog friendly though, they are poisonous to dogs.

In June we’ll be following two walking routes in Spain Foothills of the Spanish Pyrenees and Hidden Gems of the Catalan Coast, both walks are through Macs Adventures. In the fall of 2017 we did a walking tour of the Dordogne region of France care of Macs Adventures.

Alamo Canyon

February 3. We woke up to rain. After three nights at Twin Peaks Campground in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument it was time to move on. Our plan for the day was to check in to the visitor center to see what the road conditions might be for the Puerto Blanco Drive, a 41 mile loop drive on a one-way dirt road. We were advised that the road might not be passable due to the rain and opted for the suggestion to drive as far as the Red Tank Trail Head and take a short hike.

When we got to the trail head, Joann set off to hike the one mile. I popped the top up on the camper and pulled out my laptop to edit photos and write. Again, with Carson, our dog, we were obligated to take turns hiking. Dogs are not allowed on the trails. When Joann returned I grabbed my rain coat and struck out on the trail hiking in the misty rain.

While I was gone, the carbon monoxide alarm in the camper decided to malfunction sending off a false alarm. The sound was too much for Carson and Joann ended up abandoning the camper and walking Carson up and down the road on a leash.

When I returned, we hit the road again, this time looking for a campsite in Alamo Canyon. Alamo Canyon is a primitive camp with four sites, first-come-first-served. We were happy to find a site open. Two of the sites were occupied with pop-up truck campers like ours, so we felt right at home.

As we were setting up camp the clouds parted and the sun shone through providing some dramatic afternoon light for some landscape photography. The next morning we took turns hiking the 1.8 mile trail up the canyon beyond the campground. More photos of the day’s adventures are available here.

Ajo Mountain Drive

February 2. Our adventures today took us through the Diablo Mountains on the Ajo Mountain Drive in the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument. This is a scenic drive that takes you on a loop around the mountains, going up a canyon and around the rugged crags. If you have limited time in the park this is one of those must-do items. The drive is 21 miles on a one way dirt road. It’s a graded road and easily negotiable in a car although there are some very winding sections and the drive is restricted to vehicles under 25 feet in length. We used the guide book we picked up at the visitor center and we stopped at the designated locations to read about the natural history of the Sonora Desert. The guide suggests allowing two hours for the drive. We spent a good four hours, stopping to take photos and to hike. This is a spectacular drive, passing through stands of Saguaro and Organ pipe cactus and up into the rugged and mountainous terrain. The canyons with slightly higher elevation and it capture a bit more rain then the lower elevations which results in lush desert vegetation. At the top of the loop you can take a two mile round trip hike up Arch Canyon. We took turns, one of us hiking while the other kept our dog Carson company. Once again, dogs are not permitted on the trails. A number of wildflowers were in bloom including poppies. You can see additional photos of the drive here.