Train Spotting on Elkhorn Slough

With a high tide of 6.2 feet much of the marsh on Elkhorn Slough is underwater. We found ourselves paddling over fences and right up to the railroad tracks. I wonder if the train engineers pay attention to the tide tables.

We launched from Moss Landing, assembling on the beach near Monterey Bay Kayaks. We were on the water at 9:30 a.m. Being a large group, about two dozen people, we formed several pods of kayakers. We paddled along mid-channel watching the sea otters. There were more sea otters than I recall from previous trips, and they seemed quite playful. Then we paddled over the marsh and up an inlet, passing through a fence.

Having explored the north side, we made our way to the south side of the slough where the water was lapping at the rails of the train tracks. Paddling on along the tracks we waited for an approaching freight train. The train was moving quite slowly, out of caution for the high water I would imagine.

It was 11:30 a.m. when we landed at Kirby Park, with the boat ramp completely under water. The current was just starting to ebb, which was a disincentive to paddling the remaining 1.5 miles to the railroad bridge.

After lunch we gathered for a group photo and then made our way back down the estuary, riding a growing ebb current. We were back at our launch site at 1:45 p.m. having logged 9 miles round trip. Along the way we saw plenty of bird life including terns, seagulls, herons, egrets, and a variety of other shorebirds, as well as sea otters and a few harbor seals.

We did have one kayaker capsize under the highway bridge on the return. The current apparently pushed her boat up against the bridge pylons and she flipped over. Fortunately, a couple of experienced kayakers were close at hand and managed to get her back in her boat.

More photos are available in an online gallery.

Winter Paddling

People seem to be amazed that we go kayaking in the middle of winter. While much of the country is gripped by cold temperatures the San Francisco Bay Area is often mild. Even this January with the constant parade of atmospheric rivers and their deluge of rain and wind we’ve had some fine weather for paddling. In the spring the wind comes up and that can be a challenge for kayaking.

Yesterday we had rain. Tomorrow we’ll have more rain. Today we have a break in the weather. Seven of us launched from Point San Pablo Yacht Harbor. There was some discussion about water quality, given the reports of raw sewage spilling into the bay, as well as debris and who knows what else coming down the river. Even so, we decided the risk was low.

We were on the water at 10:00, paddled out around Point San Pablo and over to The Brothers.

After passing between The Brothers, we picked up the ebb current and headed south towards an island near the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge. Those of you that know the bay will know the location, otherwise you can check the map with the track of the trip on the map below. The island is privately owned and landing on the island is not advised. It was 11:00 AM when we rounded the island. We made good time with a 2-knot current giving us an assist.

After lunch we made our way back. After passing back through The Brothers two of our party split off and headed over to The Sisters in order to add a few miles to the day. The remaining five of us headed back to our launch site. The current prediction had slack water at 12:13 at Point San Pablo, although the additional water coming down the river may have had an effect on the currents. We had no current at 1:00 PM when we passed back through the islands.

Coming back around Point San Pablo we stopped to look at a sailboat that was on the beach, presumably a casualty of the recent storm activity. We did see a fair amount of debris in the water; driftwood, bottles, and plastic bags. Our paddle covered 6.9 miles, with a maximum speed of 7 mph when we had the ebb current with us. We were back on the beach at 1:25 PM.

More photos are available in an online gallery.

Point Reyes Retreat

Christmas was an opportunity to gather together as family. We had our two kids, their spouses, two grandkids and two dogs. On Christmas day we opened gifts and feasted on turkey and roast beef. After spending a day exploring local attractions including the Oakland Zoo, we piled into two cars and drove to Inverness, a 45-mile drive, where we had reserved a vacation rental for the better part of the week.

One morning I got up early to go photograph the tree tunnel. This is a feature that has been on my list to explore for some time. Not your typical tourist attraction, it’s simply a road lined with Monterey cypress trees planted in the 1930s. It caught my attention after seeing photos posted on Instagram.

It was a foggy morning, and I was hoping that the fog would create a sense of mystery. My plan was to arrive during the blue hour and to be done when the sun came up. The foggy mood I was anticipating didn’t happen but getting an early start did pay off. When the sun came up the light added drama that I was not anticipating. It turns out the tunnel is oriented almost east-west, so the morning sun creates an interesting effect. This image is available as a fine art photo in my art store at store.treve.com.

No visit to Tomales Bay is complete without a visit to the Bovine Bakery, a favorite haunt for pastries and coffee. Then we had a day with a break in the rainy weather and we headed to Limatour Beach, one of the few beaches in the Point Reyes National Recreation Area that is dog friendly.

And no family adventure is complete without grandma reading stories in front of a warm fire. On our last morning together, we piled into two cars to brave the fog and stormy weather to drive out to the lighthouse. You can see the car ahead with half of our crew is nearly lost in the fog. It was a blustery walk from the parking lot to the viewing platform. The lighthouse was lost in the fog, so we created our own Point Reyes Light with an iPhone. More photos are available in an online gallery.

Hot Creek

East of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, not far from Mammoth Lakes, is an area known as the Long Valley Caldera. This is a geologically active area with steam vents, geysers, and hot springs, the remnants of an ancient volcano. I’ve been visiting the Eastern Sierra for several decades and only this year decided to check out the area known as the Hot Creek Geologic Site.

My plan was to scout the location with the intention of returning in the morning when the steam from the many vents would be visible in the cool morning air. As it turned out, we had some dramatic weather with rain and hail and that was enough to appease my photographer’s eye.

There are a number of trails you can hike in the area with signs warning you to stay out of the water. Some of the pools are boiling hot. Despite the warnings we did see several people in the creek.

From the Hot Creek site, we decided to head for camp. Our intended camping site was a spot referred to as Laurel Springs on iOverlander, a “wild” campsite site just off of Highway 395. In trying to locate the site we apparently drove past it. Rather that turn around, we decided to follow the forest service road to see if we could find another suitable spot to park our rig. It wasn’t long before the road deteriorated a bit and I shifted into four-wheel drive. Then as the road got a bit rockier it was four-wheel low. You can see a photo of my shadow on the road looking east with Crowley Lake in the distance. We climbed up a valley to a ridge and there at the end of the road was a campsite with a picnic table and an incredible view. On one side of the ridge we could look east with a view of Crowley Lake, on the other side was a view of Convict Lake. In the morning I put the drone in the air to capture a view of our rig with Laurel Mountain and Convict Lake in the background.

That morning, October 11, we broke camp and continued our journey home. We made a quick tour of the June Lake Loop, stopping at Gull Lake to walk the dog and admire the view. We found quite a few pockets of fall color, but for the most part the aspens were still green.

Our route home took us over Tioga Pass on highway 120. Near the summit we stopped for one last peek at the fall color on the mountainside. Then we drove down into Yosemite Valley thinking there might be a remote chance of camping. We were impressed by how busy the valley was. No luck finding camping, so we headed home. More photos are available online.

Dazzled by Yellow

After three days of chasing fall color I was starting to feel overwhelmed. I felt like I had to give my eyes a rest, and yet we’d find another grove of aspen in full splendor, I’d grab my camera and start snapping photos. And then I’d be asking myself how the image I’m capturing differs from the many thousands of photos I’ve captured over the past 50 years. In any event, every photo is another adventure and the magnificence of the changing seasons never gets old. I’m always looking for a way to create unique photos that celebrate the glory of God’s creation.

Fall color in the Eastern Sierra usually starts in mid to late September with the aspen at the higher evaluations changing color first, and the color progressing down the canyons over the course of several weeks. I usually start to watch the fall color reports in mid September. This year October 4 was the earliest date we could get away, so we stocked the camper with food for a week and hit the road.

From our home in Albany, CA, we decided to take California State Route 108 over Sonora Pass. After passing the summit we stopped briefly near a grove of aspen, admired the view, and then decided to head to our intended camping destination on Green Creek. We were hoping to camp at the Green Creek Campground. Why? Because we wanted to fire up our Dutch Oven to cook dinner; for that we needed a fire ring in an established campground. The campground was closed. There are plenty of places to boondock along Green Creek so we found a comfortable spot to park our rig. We implemented “plan B” for our menu which did not require a fire ring. I was a little annoyed, though, when campers not too far away from us lit a campfire, something that’s prohibited in the dry conditions. I was too shy to confront them. What would I say?

We were so impressed with the fall color along Green Creek, we decided to spend a second night although we moved our rig a mile down the road. The road into Green Creek is a dirt road. For the most part it is navigable by passenger car, although close to the campground it gets a little rocky.

From Green Creek we headed towards Bishop by way of Dunderberg Meadow Road. We admired the aspen along the way and set up camp at the Sabrina Campground in the afternoon. The fall color was about peak there. In the morning we drove to North Lake where I spent some time with my camera and tripod capturing fall color. We also gave our dog Carson the opportunity to hike with us off-leash.

From Bishop Creek we drove to Bishop where we spent the weekend with family. Then we headed home after a night camping on a ridge overlooking Convict Lake. We had intended to spend more time on the road but the furnace in our camper was not working; getting up in the morning with the temperature in the 30s was wearing on us.

More photos are available in an online gallery.

Gylen Castle

Getting sick while traveling put a kink in our plans. On September 2, about 12 days into our trip, I woke up feeling quite ill. We had a COVID test kit with us and I tested positive. We were able to extend our stay at the Pennygate Lodge in Craignure. After a few days there we moved to an apartment in Oban for a few more nights. This meant we would not be spending time at the Iona Abbey as planned, but it did give us a few more days to explore Oban. Once we were feeling better, we decided a trip to the Isle of Kerrera was in order. To get to the island we walked the short distance to the Oban wharf where we hailed a taxi to take us to the Kerrera Ferry.

This is a small ferry that can only carry a dozen or so people. We ended up having to wait for a few crossings, which didn’t amount to much time since the ride across the channel takes all of 10 minutes. That said, if you do plan to visit the island allow plenty of time in the event that you end up waiting.

Once on the island it’s a two mile walk to Kerrera Tea Room and the castle. It’s a very pretty walk past farms and pastures overlooking the Sound of Kerrera. We passed through a number of gates, being sure to close them after passing through. At the top of a rise just before reaching the tea room we found a gate with a sign “It’s all downhill from here!”

It was just after noon when we reached the tea garden. Smoky Spanish Chickpea Stew and fresh bread were a welcome treat after the walk. After lunch it was a short walk to the castle where we spent some time exploring the ruins.

The castle overlooking the Firth of Lorn was built in 1582 by the Clan MacDougall, but was only occupied for a short time. It was burned by the Covenanters in 1647 during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms.

Once we had explored the castle and peeked through the windows, we made our way back to Oban and on to Kilmartin on the afternoon bus. You can view more photos online. Here’s the track of our walk on the island.

Arthur’s Seat

Our trip to Scotland started in Edinburgh on August 21. We spent a couple of days there to adjust to the eight-hour time difference. One of the popular things to do in Edinburgh is to hike to Arthur’s Seat. This is an ancient volcano in the hills in Edinburgh. This mountain was described by Robert Louis Stevenson as “a hill for magnitude, a mountain in virtue of its bold design.” There are a number of car parks that give easy access, however, being on foot, we turned it into a healthy day hike. We started out from our accommodations near The Meadows and made our way across town to Holyrood Palace, then up the trail to Arthur’s Seat.

While only a 1000 foot climb, it was a challenge getting to the top. From there we had a panoramic view of the city below.

Our host at the Bed & Breakfast suggested we follow the trail down the far side to make our way to the Sheep’s Heid Inn for lunch. The sign over the door says the inn was established in 1360, making it one of Edinburgh’s oldest pubs. We ordered the Pan-fired Wild Scallops ras el hanout, smoked haddock Florentine bonbons, celeriac purée, apple & fennel tartar. A delicious lunch after our walk.

When we returned to our lodgings, we discovered that we had walked 8 miles. It was time to take off our hiking boots and put our feet up. You can view more photos online.

Ancient Ruins in Kilmartin

Kilmartin Glen is considered to have one of the most important concentrations of Neolithic and Bronze Age remains in Scotland. That seemed reason enough to spend a few days there. Some of the ruins date back more than 5,000 years. These include a multitude of cairns, standing stones, carved rock, stone circles, forts, and castles.

There are a number of walks in the area leading to some of the features. So Saturday, September 10, we donned our hiking boots to go exploring. The most prominent features are a series of stone cairns which served as burial sites. These are oriented in a north-south line through the glen. We started with the Glebe Cairn and followed the trail to Nether Largie North Cairn, Nether Largie Mid Cairn, Nether Largie South Cairn, and Temple Wood.

The Nether Largie North Cairn has been excavated and you can climb down into the burial chamber through a sliding trap door. Once inside you can see the capstone with cup-shaped markings.

What is here today is not necessarily intact. Over the millennia, a number of the stones in the cairns have been taken away to be used as building material. The sites have been excavated for archaeological research and reconstructed to their present-day form. Even with all these disturbances it’s remarkable to visit these sites and imagine what life was like here 5,000 years ago, with a society that had people of prominence worthy of such elaborate burial. It may be the flow of metals being traded through the glen that gave rise to this society.

The Nether Largie South Cairn is perhaps one of the most interesting. Here you can climb down inside and imagine what sacred ceremonies may have happened here.

In addition to the Cairns, there are a number of standing stones throughout the glen and a circle of standing stones at Temple Grove. Following our exploration of the Neolithic sites, we made our way to the Kilmartin Church to explore some of the gravestones in the graveyard. The church was closed, but it was still quite interesting to see gravestones dating back hundreds of years. The Kilmartin museum was also closed for renovation, which was a bit of a disappointment. It would have been interesting to have additional information to help interpret the history of the glen.

Even though it was an easy walk through the glen, we managed to log six miles.

Carnassarie Castle

Today, September 11, marks our 22nd day of travel in Scotland. We’ve had many adventures over the past three weeks. Some of those adventures will eventually make their way into this blog, but for today, I’ll share our walk to Carnassarie Castle. And, of course, at the top of the news is the passing of Queen Elizabeth II. That caused us to revise our plans for returning to the Edinburgh airport for our flight home. Nevertheless, it didn’t stop us from lacing up our hiking boots and going on a walk after a hearty Scottish Breakfast at our B&B here in Kilmartin, Old Manse.

Our track led us along several country paths, up into the hills, through woods and past babbling streams. Then we climbed a hill to the castle where we spent quite some time going up and down many flights of narrow circular stairs to admire the view. The castle was built between 1565 and 1572 by John Carswell who had been granted the land by the Earl of Argyll. Carswell would become the Bishop of the Isles and was instrumental in translating the Book of Common Order into Gaelic, which became the earliest book to be translated into Scots Gaelic.

The overcast sky with threat of rain provided some nice soft lighting to set the castle in a surrounding landscape of green rolling hills and woods.

After climbing all the stairs and poking into rooms and windows, we found a spot to break out our lunch of cheese and crackers.

We returned to the town of Kilmartin by retracing our steps, walking by an apparently abandoned caravan which seems to have a picturesque spot along the track. Back in town we stopped at the museum café for a bowl of hot lentil soup, muffins and coffee. The museum is closed at the moment for renovation, but that didn’t deter us from enjoying a cool pleasant day in the area of Scotland known for its archeological significance, with ruins going back over 5,000 years.

Kayak Around Iona

August 31. Our Wilderness Scotland paddling adventures included several day paddles exploring parts of the Isles of Mull and Iona. The day’s adventures usually started with a briefing by one of the guides. Here’s Howard explaining the route around Iona. Our land base for these outings was Achaban Houses which was a mile from Fionnphort, our launch point for the paddle around Iona. You can see the van with the kayak trailer in the photo.

It was a promising day as we schlepped boats and gear down to the water’s edge. Without much delay we were on the water but since we had the tail end of the ebb against us, we stayed close to shore looking for eddies and paddling inside the rocks that separate the Sound of Iona. Once we were around the rocks and on the sound, we picked up the pace a bit to make the short crossing to Iona where we paddled around the point and into a white sand beach for coffee and tea.

For the rest of the trip we had the current with us. We poked our noses into caves, paddling in and out of rocks admiring the clear and colorful water. Coming back into Fionnphort we had to hold up a few minutes for the ferry. And then it was off to the pub to celebrate.

More photos are available in an online gallery and you can view a video as well.

We logged 11 miles on calm water. An excellent day’s paddle.

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