A Night on Mount Diablo

Having recently returned from a two week road trip, we were getting anxious to hit the road again. The continuing pandemic and the effort to social distance makes camping inviting. So off we went for a short overnight to Mount Diablo. From our house to Juniper Camp in Mount Diablo State Park is 36 miles and a little over an hour drive. The peak at 3,849 feet rises above the surrounding Bay Area and creates a viewshed that takes in more visible area than just about any other view point in the western United States. We didn’t find much of a view, though, since smoke was still lingering from the season’s wildfires.

It was October 28 when we pointed our camper towards the mountain—a Wednesday. We figured there would be few people and it might be easy to get a campsite. This can be a popular camping spot year-round.

In the morning we laced up our hiking boots and went for a walk, heading up Deer Flat Road. Our morning start created some long shadows. From Deer Flat we joined the Meridian Ridge Trail, which winds in and out of the canyons on the northwest side of the mountain. At 2.5 miles we left the road and headed up the Bald Ridge Trail, a single track trail through Manzanita and chaparral. It’s a bit of a climb getting to the top, but not too daunting. Both GaiaGPS and All Trails label this hike as difficult or hard. On a hot day this could be a strenuous hike, but today we’d label it as moderate.

While we were well-equipped for electronic navigation with iPhones and a Garmin InReach+, we also had a trusty map. Nothing beats a map for navigation. I like being able to see a large swath of land on a map as opposed to the tiny screen on the phone or a GPS receiver. It’s nice to be able to see more terrain and to interpret trail options. With an electronic device the temptation is to stick to the established route. With a map it’s easier to evaluate alternate routes. I find this true on road trips as well. Sometimes the side trips are more interesting than the main route.

Along the aptly named Bald Ridge trail, we found some poison oak in fall color.

We eventually found our way to the top, having gained 1,800 feet in elevation. Then it was down the mountain on the Juniper Trail. We found a couple of sections of the trail were quite steep.

Over the course of our 6.6-mile hike, we passed through pines and live oaks, with bay trees and ferns in some of the shady canyons. The trail guides say 6.1 miles, so along the way we apparently took a couple of detours. We left our dog Carson at home since State Parks are not places where you can have a dog on the trail. We also found that water was not available in the park, so check ahead if you plan on visiting; you may need to carry water. We also avoided campfires given the extreme dry conditions and fire danger. We were home early enough in the afternoon to follow up with clients, lest they think I was off playing hooky.

The Mojave Road

The Mojave Desert is a huge swath of land in the Southwest corner of the United States, much of it located in California. It occupies close to 48,000 square miles and is noted for the Joshua Trees that grow only in this desert. The Mojave Road runs across part of the Mojave Desert and through the Mojave National Preserve, a unit of the National Park System. The road was originally a trail for Native Americans stringing together a series of watering holes and providing a route for trade between desert and coastal dwellers. Later it became a route for Spanish missionaries, explorers, and settlers from the 18th to 19th centuries. Today it’s an iconic four-wheel drive road. We spent four days driving the road with a caravan of Four Wheel Pop-Up Campers.

For part of the tour, I had a GoPro camera on the dashboard of our truck. Here’s four days of touring condensed into 10 minutes. Make sure to watch the water crossing at 8:52.

Our tour started at 7:30 a.m. on October 8 in the parking lot of the Avi Resort in Bullhead City. There we met our tour guide, Bob Wohler of the Off-Road Safety Academy. Bob gave us a briefing and provided a radio for each truck to use for communication while touring.

Once we were off the pavement, we stopped to air down our tires. I’ve driven off-road periodically for over 20 years and this was the biggest eye-opener on the trip for me. Less air in the tires gives a much smoother ride. As Bob would say, sympathy for the passengers, sympathy for the equipment, and sympathy for the environment. Our tour passed a number of interest points, the first being Fort Piute. Then it was on to our campsite for the night at School Bus Camp, noted for an abandoned school bus that marked the location until a few years ago when it was removed.

There are numerous points of interest along the road, including a tin can into which you can drop a penny for good luck, the Mojave Mailbox where you can sign your name and leave a comment, and a collection of gnomes and frogs. You just have to see it to believe it. The terrain ranges from sandy flats to rocky road to a dry soda lakebed, traveling through some magnificent Joshua Tree forests along the way. The road has worn down at several points so that you are driving in a canyon so narrow that the vegetation is brushing against the sides of your vehicle.

Once across the soda lake you arrive at a pile of rocks. Bob had instructed us to pick up a rock earlier in the trip, and this is where the rocks are deposited—at Travelers Monument. There is actually a monument buried under this pile of rocks. If you scramble to the top of the pile you can read the plaque. We were sworn to secrecy regarding the words so you’ll just have to plan a visit to read it yourself.

A highlight of the trip was the lava tube, and also the water crossing at the end. We ended up driving the last section of the road from east to west because we helped some travelers who got their vehicle stuck in the sand. Time was an issue, so we took a detour to Afton Canyon Campground for our last night. The next morning two rigs decided to cross the Mojave River with Bob’s coaching.

More photos are available here, and I’ve made a few select images available as fine art prints in my art store.

We logged 180 miles on the tour, some of it on side trips off the Mojave Road. Elevation ranged from 500 feet at the start of the tour to 5,700 feet at the high point.

Albion River

The Mendocino Coast provides a wide range of opportunities for outdoor activities including hiking , camping and kayaking. And with a kayak, depending on your skill level and the weather conditions, you can surf, poke around in the rocks or paddle on the flat water of a number of rivers. We spent two days padding in Mendocino, September 20 and 21. On our second day, we opted for a flat water paddle on the Albion River. From our camp at Van Damme State Park we drove to the Albion River, where we paid the $10 fee and launched our boats.

We launched on low water and had the current with us paddling upriver. We planned to paddle for an hour and a half and find a takeout for lunch and an early return, thinking we might have a longer paddle back down the river with the current still flooding, pushing water up the river, and the potential for wind. As we approached our turnaround time, the river became narrow and winding. The game became “let’s paddle to the next bend,” and then “the next bend.” This went on until we reached a log across the river, blocking further progress. There we found a gravel bar and a pleasant meadow which looked like an inviting place to stop.

We pulled our boats up, ate lunch and put our boats back in the water just as the rising tide was threatening to take our boats. The gravel bar had disappeared in the 30 minutes we had been eating. We were amazed at how much tidal activity there was this far up the river.

We were happy to discover that our progress back down the river was good despite the current, and the wind did not materialize. We paddled through some old pilings, practicing boat control, and past the houseboats, some of them looking more dilapidated than they had the year before. We were back at our launch site at 2 p.m., four hours after our launch. Our paddle logged 8.5 miles, most of it in total peace and quiet save for a few birds and a river otter. You can view more photos here. Here’s the track of our paddle.

South America 1978-1979

With the coronavirus pandemic giving us an excuse to stay at home, my wife Joann and I decided it was a good time to start rummaging through photos and journals from some of our past adventures. Most notable was a trip to South America some 42 years ago. Going through files of film and journals was a daunting task. I’ll have more to say about that in future posts, since I’ve discovered much long-forgotten content that is destined to find an audience. And our first product from this effort is a book about the month we spent in South America at the end of 1978 and the beginning of 1979.

Our adventure started on December 22, 1978. I had been on an oceanographic research ship in the South Atlantic and I joined Joann at the airport in Santiago, Chile. From there, our travels took us to Torres del Paine National Park where we spent a week backpacking.

In 1978, Torres del Paine was a remote location. There was no public transportation to the park. We teamed up with a couple of Germans and hired a taxi to drive us to the park. After a long, bumpy ride on dirt roads the taxi dropped us off, returning to Puerto Natales with the Germans. We really had a sense that we were at the end of the world.

How we got back to Puerto Natales is another story, but once we were back to civilization we flew to Puerto Montt where we spent time in the Lake District before traveling to Peru to visit Machu Picchu.

You can thumb through the book on the Blurb website, or buy a hardcover copy or PDF. I posted photos from the book in a gallery.

Santa Cruz Paddle

The past two weeks have been a blur of work and play, so let me back up to September 15. Despite the smoke and poor air quality, we found ourselves at the kayak boat ramp at the Santa Cruz West Harbor at 10 a.m. We joined a couple of newfound friends and fellow Bay Area Sea Kayakers, Trey and Becky. Our connection was a common interest in photography. Trey found his way onto the email list for my art store at store.treve.com. He responded to an email promoting my fine art photography. After exchanging email, we ended up talking on the phone and taking him up on his invitation to paddle out of Santa Cruz. The Air Quality Index was 158 as I recall, not ideal for outdoor activity, but we decided to brave the elements and launch. The air quality was much better than it had been the week before. We paddled out of the harbor and headed for the lighthouse two miles away. Conditions were quite calm, with little wind.

Just past the lighthouse we rounded Seal Rock and took our time paddling into Cowell Beach, watching the surfers at Steamer Lane. Then it was an easy beach landing and lunch. Back on the water, we paddled out along the pier, under the pier and back to our launch site. In the kelp beds we saw a few sea otters. Elsewhere we saw cormorants, sea anemones and star fish on the pilings of the pier and sea lions making their presence well-known with their barking under the pier.

It was fun paddling with our new friends, and no doubt we’ll join them on the water again. Trey and Becky, being potato farmers, left us with a bag of potatoes, a few of which we put to use a week later while paddling with other BASK friends in Mendocino. Stay tuned for more about Mendocino. Over the course of the day we logged 5.4 miles; we were off the water by 2 p.m. Here’s the track of our paddle.

Back to Bodie

It seems like I can never get enough of Bodie, the Ghost Town in a far east corner of California. I spent a few hours here at the end of June, and on my recent trip over the mountains I decided another trip was in order.

As on my previous trip, I decided to camp in the Bodie Hills so that I could arrive at the Bodie State Historic Park when they opened at 9 a.m. This time I found the Paramount Campsite available, so I parked the Four Wheel Camper rig, set up camp and let my dog Carson run free. One thing I like about boondocking is the freedom to let my dog off leash.

The campsite had a well established fire ring, so I built a small campfire, more for effect than for warmth. I’m always looking to create photos that have a sense of drama to them and a campfire helps. That said, I was very conscious about the fires burning in California and of the drought conditions. If you are planning on camping, get a campfire permit, check with the appropriate land management office, be mindful of the risks, douse the fire with water and make sure the coals are cool to the touch before leaving.

In the evening I put my drone in the air to capture an image of the camp. As you can see I was in a grove of Aspen trees surrounded by the desert landscape of the Bodie Hills.

Sunset and sunrise did not provide much drama in the sky, although the motivation to watch the sun come up got me up and out of the camper in time to admire the morning light striking the trunks of the Aspen trees.

At 9 a.m. I was at the entrance station, and I joined the handful of people that were touring the site. As I made my way into the town, I noticed a couple with film cameras, Victor and Sarah. Sarah had an antique Graflex camera, something you don’t expect to see in this day with everybody using their phones to take pictures. I was struck by a mental image of Dorothea Lang holding a similar camera. I struck up a conversation with Sarah and Victor; it seemed we were crossing each other’s tracks all morning.

Cowbells in the Sierra

It’s August 25 and I’m hiking down a mountainside when I hear cowbells. For a moment I start fantasizing that I’m in Switzerland. I check the map and I’m headed to Upper Gardner Meadow in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, but let me back up to the previous day. The story starts when Carson, my dog, and I hopped on board our camper for a four-day trip over the mountains. The original plan was to finish some client work and head over the mountains to join my wife and my son’s family in Big Pine, joining them on the 25th. The wildfires burning near Santa Cruz forced me to change my plans. The fire drove my daughter and her family to seek refuge at our house in Albany. Both she and my grandson, Micah, had colds and, as such, my family on the East Side suggested I take my time crossing the mountains to make sure I didn’t bring the cold with me. I can think of worse fates than being banished to the mountains for a few days.

In any event, I decided to drive up State Route 4 and to camp near Highland Lakes near Ebbetts Pass.

The drive took us past Mosquito Lake, which despite the name, provided an idyllic view of a cabin on a rock with clouds reflecting on the quiet water.

Not far beyond we found the turnoff to Highland Lakes. I found a spot to camp for the night a couple of miles down the road, a spot with a well-established fire ring and a babbling stream. A perfect spot to camp and let Carson run off-leash. I popped the top on the camper and cooked a quick dinner.

In the morning I broke camp and drove the rest of the way to Highland Lakes, where I found an established Forest Service camp. I picked a site near the lake. I wanted to be close to the lake to take advantage of the evening and morning light. The campground fee was $8.50, the reduced rate for a senior pass. I ended up putting a $10 bill in the envelope since I did not have the exact change. I wonder if the pricing is just a way to put a few extra dollars in the coffer. Pit toilets and running water was available and the campsites have steel fire rings. Many of the picnic tables are in need of repair. Most of the campers had dogs on leashes so we felt at home. Having established camp, Carson and I found a trail that would take us on a five mile loop, up a mountain side to a lovely little pond. From there we hiked along a ridge and then an off-trail scramble down the mountainside to join the trail again at Upper Gardner Meadow. Then it was back to camp. The air was a bit hazy with smoke, but I found that the quiet waters of the lake provided some nice reflections early the next morning. Here’s the track of our hike

Stay tuned, since I”ll be sharing more stories about the trip.

To Big Pine and Back

On June 7 we hopped in the truck for the drive from our house in Albany, California, to Big Pine. Our route crossed the Sierra Nevada Mountains at Sonora Pass, Highway 108, a windy two-lane road. As we approached the pass, we found ourselves in clouds with light snow flurries, an uncommon occurrence for June. Once we arrived in Big Pine, we set up “camp” in the driveway using our Four Wheel Pop-Up Camper as our bedroom for our visit.

I spent the better part of 10 days in Big Pine. During our stay we made a few outings – a picnic lunch in the Inyo Mountains, and a picnic dinner on Big Pine Creek at an elevation of 8000 feet to escape the heat of the Owens Valley.

Other adventures included morning walks in the desert and paddle boarding on nearby Klondike Lake. On June 16, it was time for me to head home to tend to business; I left Joann to continue playing grandma, providing childcare while our son and daughter-in-law worked. On the trip home I made a quick overnight stop at a favorite dispersed camping spot near Mono Lake, which afforded the opportunity to practice social distancing in a quiet spot off the beaten track. On June 27 I’ll be heading back to Big Pine for the next installment of grandparenting. Stay tuned.

Escape From the Bay Area

Five o’clock in the morning my alarm goes off. I looked out the camper window and decided it was too dark to get up. I hit the snooze button and went back to sleep. Ten minutes later I awoke again and was surprised how much the light had changed. I was quickly out the camper door. At 5:15 I had my camera pointed at the sky above the rocks. The brilliant and fleeting color lasted just a few minutes. By 5:25 the color was gone. Sunrise was 5:34, so the lesson is to get up early to catch the sun.

I’m camped in the Alabama Hills. The photos from the big camera will have to wait until I get home next week. I managed to get away without a card reader to transfer the images from the memory cards. Needless to say the iPhone does a good job for capturing images to share here.

The Alabama Hills is in the Eastern Sierra, in the Owen’s Valley, 375 miles from home. While it’s still in California, it seems like a world away from the anxious throngs of people in the Bay Area hunkered down with stay-at-home orders to avoid the risk of COVID-19. No masks here. There are quite a few campers considering the location, but we are all quite spread out. This is dispersed camping on lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management. No services, so you need to be prepared.

After a morning in the solitude of the rocks and desert, I’m feeling quite refreshed. Three months of shelter-in-place was taking a toll on my mental attitude, wondering if I’d ever get out in the camper again.

We brought the camper over to spend some time playing grandparents while our son and daughter-in-law work. My wife will spend several weeks. I’m spending a week and a half. We justified our escape from the stay-at-home order by considering our childcare services to be essential. So here we are. And while visiting, I’m inclined to go explore some of my favorite haunts in the Eastern Sierra.

Earth Day 2020

Zodiac boat ride in Southern Chile

“The mountains are calling and I must go.” – John Muir

In 2007, I made my second trip to Chile to hike the W-Route in Torres del Paine National Park. The first trip was in 1980, long before this became a destination. I was browsing through my photo archive looking for something to share on Earth Day, and this image caught my attention.