Birthday Weekend

So much has happened in the past few weeks that I’m going to have to back up to July 25. That’s the day we climbed in our truck-camper and headed to Markleeville for an extended weekend of camping and birthday celebration. The main event was our Granddaughter Annabelle’s first birthday.

Birthday Girl Annabelle is in the middle

We made it a five day weekend, leaving our place on July 25 and driving to Markleeville, a small town on the Eastern Sierra located at 5500 feet elevation. It’s about a 200 mile drive, taking us about four hours with a quick stop for a picnic lunch on the way. Our destination was the Markleevile Campground, a US Forest Service Campground with 10 sites. A lovely location with a stream running through it and a very attentive and helpful camp host.

Having settled into camp it was birthday time. July 25 is Joann’s birthday so we broke out the cake and celebrated.

Over the course of Friday and Saturday our campsites filled up. By Saturday evening we had 24 people, five dogs and one parrot. These folks are all seasoned campers and quite adept at entertaining and feeding a crowd.

We had pork shoulder cooked in a dutch oven on Friday evening. It’s a mystery to me what seasonings went into those ovens, but the resulting pulled pork was beyond compare and it made delicious tacos. Sunday morning was a Mushroom and Brie Breakfast Strada and Sunday evening was Chicken Cordon Bleu on Sunday evening.

And of course no camping experience is complete without Smores. So the evening found us toasting marshmallows on a campfire and making a sandwich of the hot toasty marshmallows with chocolate and graham crackers.

In addition to family fun in camp, we did manage to get in some hiking, take in a blue grass concert at an event in town and visit Grover Hotsprings. To see more photos click here.

Merry Christmas from the Alabama Hills

Merry Christmas from the Alabama Hills.

Wishing you a Merry Christmas. We are camped in the Alabama Hills in the Eastern Sierra with what appears to be an annual ritual. We were here last year. This year we represent three generations of Johnsons, the the newest addition, Annabelle, being five months old. We arrived the afternoon of Christmas Eve, set up camp, got the camp fire going along with the coals for the Dutch Oven. Dinner was Chicken Cordon Bleu, with wine to wash it down.

We were surprised by a rain storm passing through in the middle of the night, but we were snug in our beds when the sound of rain on the roof woke us. We woke to find that water that had collected in the camp chairs had frozen solid. Even so we took our time getting the campfire and Dutch Oven coals going, being torn between the photo opportunities of the early morning light and the anticipation of breakfast. Breakfast was quiche cooked in the Dutch Oven. After breakfast we poked around the hills and rocks, A cold wind was starting to find it’s way through our jackets, so we broke camp and headed back to Big Pine.

The Alabama Hills are located in the Eastern Sierra, just west of the town of Lone Pine. The Alabama Hills is managed by the U.S. Bureau of Land Management as the BLM Alabama Hills Recreation Area. There is no fee for camping and there are also not much available for services. No picnic tables, no outhouses, no water. It is also dog friendly; our two dogs were happy to wander around camp off leash. I’m always surprised to see how many people camp here over the Christmas holiday, but that said there is no shortage of spaces to camp. Last year we picked a spot that was exposed and had had a view of Mount Whitney, the tallest mountain peak in the lower 48 states. This year, with the prediction of wind we found a more protected spot with an outcrop of rocks to block the north wind.

This is a popular spot for photographers who wish to photograph the classic morning light on Mount Whitney, Lone Pine Peak and the adjacent Sierra Nevada Mountains. The granite outcroppings also provide endless opportunities for photography. This is also a popular filming location, especially Westerns. Since the 1920s, 150 movies and a dozen or so television shows have been filmed here. There are also dozens of natural arches, with one of the more popular arches being Mobius Arch. The location is also noted it’s dark skies which makes it poplular for astronomy and astro-photography. Not far the North on Highway 395 is the Manzanar National Historic Site, another location worth a visit.

Block Party Spans Two Cities

We didn’t have to travel far for today’s adventures; just had to step out the front door.

A beautiful day for a neighborhood block party. Our party spanned one block. But that one block spans two cities, Albany and El Cerrito, and two counties, Alameda and Contra Costa. Needless to say we had a fire truck from Albany on the South end of the street and a fire truck from El Cerrito on the North end. Great food, live accordion music, a jumping gym for the kids and great company. It’s great to get to know the neighbors. More photos of the event here.

 

It’s All About Family

Following two family reunions, back to back, one a small event with seven people, the second a huge event with 95 people, I found myself reflecting on family.

Our road trip started out three weeks ago with a visit to our son and daughter-in-law in Big Pine, California. They will soon be adding another member to the family. Then on to Salt Lake City where we participated in a shower to honor our daughter and her husband, expecting their first baby. Two grandchildren to be joining the family in the next two months. Then on to Rancho Jacoma near Santa Fe where we joined my brothers for a reunion with spouses and a great aunt. We spent five days, eating together, hiking, and reminiscing about family. We stayed in the Butterfly House, with four bedrooms, enough to accommodate our group. My brother Arlen proved his culinary skills, creating gourmet meals for dinner. Our first evening together he cooked salmon which was exquisite. What was missing from our gathering was the younger generation, nieces and nephews. We’ll just have to hope we can get them all together at a future event.

Then on to Phoenix where we joined the Sundt Family reunion. With 95 people the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass resort was an appropriate venue. Dinner was catered at the nearby Rawhide facility. Duke Sundt, the family story teller took to the stage to tell stories and to serenade us.

The next day following breakfast, my wife Joann presented a tribute to her mother who was part of the Sundt clan and who had passed away recently. Joann also took on the job of maintaining the scrap book for her tribe. No small task. The scrap book is huge, and this is only one of the scrap books representing one of the 12 tribes of Sundts.

My experience of the Sundts is big hats, big belt buckles and big hearts. I always feel like I belong when we gather.

Santa Fe Road Trip: Day Four

We’re spending the night at Diamond Campground, near Springville, Utah. Our destination is Santa Fe. We have a week to get there. So we’ll be wandering the southwest for the next few days. No WiFi here so I’m writing a short post on my iPhone. More to follow when I can sit still long enough to edit photos on the laptop. Our travels so far have brought us over the Sierra Nevada Mountains via highway 120 through Yosemite and down the east side of the Sierra to Big Pine, where our son and daughter-in-law are expecting in July. Our first grandchild. From there it was on to Great Basin National Park, and then on to Salt Lake City where we celebrated the anticipated birth of our second grandchild, due in August.

Arches of the Alabama Hills

Following up from my previous post, after our Christmas morning breakfast of quiche, we broke camp and went about to explore some of the arches in the Alabama Hills. The Alabama Hills are  a collection of rocks and hills at the foot of the Sierra Nevada Mountains just west of the town of Lone Pine just off of US Route 395. The rocks here have eroded in such a way as to form some fantastic shapes and arches which lend themselves to some amazing photo opportunities with the background of the Sierra. This was a popular spot for filming movies in the 1940s and 50s and there is a Museum of Western Film History located in Lone Pine.

Our explorations took us on a short dog-friendly hike that went past several arches including the Mobius Arch, perhaps the most notable arch. This is an ideal location for early morning photography, with the morning light catching the Sierra.  By afternoon when the sun crosses the crest of the Sierra the mountains are back lit making photography more of a challenge.  If you wish to visit the arches you can find an on-line map here.  There are apparently hundreds of arches scattered throughout the area, but a handful are easy to access. A Google search also found a guidebook to 72 of the arches. You can also view more of the photos I captured here.

Christmas in the Alabama Hills

Christmas eve found us in the Eastern Sierra setting up camp in the Alabama Hills. There were four of us and two campers. Our son Aaron and his wife Serena joined us for the overnight camping trip, about 45 minutes south of their place in Big Pine. Part of our mission was to see if we could create a photo of our two campers worthy for Truck Camper Magazine’s calendar. It will remain to be seen if our photos make it into the calendar but we had fun scouting a location, setting up camp and creating photos. The location we picked had a view of the crest of the Sierra’s with the peak of Mount Whitney visible to the west and an outcropping of granite boulders to the east, hiding some of the other campers in the area.

The Alabama Hills is a recreation area managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Open to camping year round. Dog friendly and free of charge. There are no facilities though, so bring your own water.  Inclined to be hot in summer, we had mild winter temperatures, with the thermometer recording a low of 39 degrees overnight.

We’ve recently discovered Dutch Oven cooking and we put our oven to use cooking a savory Christmas eve dinner of chicken and rice. with chunks of chicken breast wrapped in thinly sliced ham and bacon. Breakfast was quiche with ham left over from an early Christmas dinner a couple of days earlier when our daughter and her husband rendezvoused with us on their way to Utah.