Reunion in Bishop

In April of 2017 my two brothers and I gathered together with our families to memorialized my father. We made a commitment to gather as a family on a regular basis. In 2020 we set our sights on Bishop in the Eastern Sierra and booked accommodations at the East Side Guest House and Bivy. Then COVID-19 struck and we scrapped our plans. With the pandemic easing up this year we decided to make another go at gathering. Family started arriving on Saturday evening April 24 with people coming from Washington, Texas, Hawaii and Massachusetts. My wife and I and our lovely Aunt Sue, being the hosts, arrived the day before to give us time to stock the larder with groceries. East Side Guest House is an an ideal location in the Eastern Sierra to set up a base camp for outdoor adventures. The facility has private rooms, a duck pond and a view of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and a common room for cooking and meeting.

We had the barbeque going as guest arrived. Joann and Sue had prepared skewers of Shish kebab which we put on the grill as family arrived.

April 25. The Alabama Hills and Independence

The day started with Lemon Ricotta Waffles. I had arranged ahead of time to have a couple of waffle irons available, and with plenty of family chipping in, we were serving waffles at 8 am. Waffles with whipped cream, butter, syrup and berries and lots of other goodies.

After breakfast we set up a sandwich station. Line up and make a lunch. Then we piled into cars for the drive to the Alabama Hills.

There is much to see on the drive south from Bishop. Some of our party made a visit to the Manzanar National Historic Site, one of the sites where Japanese Americans were incarcerated during World War II. A few of us stopped at the Mary DeDecker Native Plant Garden and the Eastern California Museum in Independence. The museum has an amazing collection of native American basketry and the garden was looking very nice with many plants in bloom. We also took advantage of the delicious ice cream at the Eastern Sierra Ice Cream Company.

April 26. Big Pine Lakes

Monday morning everybody was on there own for breakfast. Take your pick of oatmeal, eggs, bacon, sausage, toast, raisin bran, other packaged cereals, apples, oranges and bananas. And if that isn’t enough you can walk next door to Schat’s Bakery for espresso and pastries. Then we again set up the sandwich station.

There were several in our group that were anxious to get into the High Sierra. Despite the fact that the trails are usually snowed in this time of year, it looked like we might be able to get to one or two lakes in the Big Pine Lake Basin. We piled into our cars and drove to the the trail head at the end of Glacier Lodge Road.

My wife and I made it as far as First Lake at 10,000 feet. My two brothers and clan made it to Fourth Lake at 11,000 feet. We did find a few patches of snow on the trail, but nothing that required technical gear. First Lake still had some ice. The higher lakes were still frozen over. We logged 9.5 miles on our hike to and from First Lake. You can see a map on my GaiaGPS account. Those that went higher logged 12 miles or so.

April 27. Pleasant Valley Reservoir

With family members ranging in age from 3 1/2 to 84, we opted to do an outing close to Bishop to accommodate those that were not inclined to tackle a strenuous High Sierra hike. We found a nice level paved hike along Pleasant Valley Reservoir. This proved to be a lovely hike with opportunities to look for wildflowers and birds.

Those that were more adventuresome drove up to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest and reported a lovely outing. Tuesday evening marked out last day together and we had a birthday to celebrate.

The next morning we said our goodbyes and began our drive back over the mountains.

There is so much to see in the Eastern Sierra and I was sad to leave, but since we have family there, we manage to visit several times a year. The East Side Guest House and Bivy was a delightful place to host our reunion. The large community room, while being shared with other guests, proved to be a great place to gather, to chat and look a family photos. And talking about photos you can view more photos online.

Birthday

On March 5 I marked 72 years. The celebration started on March 3 with a visit to Aunt Sue’s place in San Jose. My daughter and grandson came down from Mount Hermon to celebrate. We started with a BBQ in the back yard where I cooked up some steak and we had carne asada tacos.

As the afternoon progressed and the temperature started to drop ,we moved indoors where my grandson Micah helped put the candles on the cake. The cake, by the way, was made from scratch by my daughter Amy. A delicious yellow cake! My wife, Joann, was not able to join us since she was recovering from a cold.

On the actual day, March 5, I too was feeling a bit under the weather so a restful day was in order. We started with a visit to Annie’s Annuals, always a fun place to visit if you have an interest in plants. We came home with a collection of plants, with edibles for the back garden including something called a Purple Tree Collard. We’re hoping to use this as kale. We also added a few plants to our front yard which primarily has natives. Some of the edibles have already become food for snails and slugs, but a few, including the Tree Collard, seem to be doing fine. In the evening it was off to Fonda, one of our favorite restaurants on Solano Avenue and a short walk from our house. Margaritas, duck tacos and oysters on the half-shell were a special treat. A great way to celebrate 72 years.

Morro Bay

The central coast of California is not an area with which I have much familiarity, so when a fellow BASK (Bay Area Sea Kayakers) member announced a trip to Morro Bay we signed up, eager to paddle with knowledgeable friends. On January 6 we strapped our kayaks on top of our camper and hit the road. We had a campsite reserved at Morro Bay State Park.

No camping trip is complete without firing up the Dutch Oven. So one morning we cooked up a Hash Brown Crusted Quiche, one of our favorite recipes. Mind you, this fed us well for at least a couple of breakfasts.

Our launch site was about half a mile away at the kayak launch next to the Kayak Shack. Eight of us launched and paddled around the Morro Bay State Marine Preserve and up into Los Osos Creek. We paddled until we could go no further. We were hoping that we could connect with a channel that would take us to Chorro Creek, but that effort was futile. We observed plenty of bird life along the paddle. You can tell from the track that we spent a fair amount of time exploring the estuary. We logged 10.7 miles.

The following day, January 8, we were back on the water paddling to the south end of the bay and up Shark Inlet. When we ran out of water we turned around and paddled north along the sand dunes, stopping on the dunes for lunch. After lunch we continued north exploring the main channel out to the ocean and came back along the waterfront of Morro Bay, watching sea lions and sea otters. We logged 9.6 miles.

After two days of paddling we decided it was time to exercise our legs and explore Montaña de Oro State Park. We enjoyed the walk along the bluffs. There were some powerful waves crashing on the rocks, not a good day to be in a kayak on the coast.

I was surprised to find California Poppies already blooming in early January. After a very pleasant hike we decided a late lunch was in order. Tognazzini’s was recommended by several of our fellow kayakers, so that was our destination. We split an order of whole crab, which was delicious. After lunch we discovered that there are two Tognazzini’s. Tognazzini’s Dockside Restaurant and Tognazzini’s Dockside Too. Tognazzini’s Dockside Too was playing live music. After lunch it was back to camp with a nice walk along the boardwalk and a view of the sunset from the top of the hill. You can view more photos online.

Paddle & Party

April 1. Our adventure today includes a paddle on Tomales Bay followed by a party at Heidrun Meadery to celebrate David’s birthday. Seven of us were on the beach at Marconi Cove ready to get on the water at 10:00. We launched on a low tide and paddled across the bay to the Point Reyes Peninsula and then north paddling in flat calm without a breath of air. Temperatures were predicted for mid-70s so I opted to leave my dry suit behind. The calm water gave us a view of thousands of jellyfish just below the surface.

I stuck my waterproof Olympus TG-5 under the surface of the water and snapped a bunch of photos hoping my might capture some of the moon jellies. Low and behold, I actually captured a few images that were worth saving.

Once across the bay we paddled north along the peninsula landing at Tomales Beach for an early lunch. Then it was back to our launch site. Our paddle was just shy of eight miles. You can view the track of our paddle below or click here to see more details. We were in no hurry, but anxious to go taste some wine.

We packed up or kayaking gear and drove the short distance to the Heidrun Meadery for a wine tasting with wines made from honey. These are sparking wines made with the Champagne method. Who knew there could be so many flavors of mead, with the flavors based on the source of the honey. Buckwheat, sage and wildflowers were among the flavors we tasted. Once we were lubricated with bubbly we broke out the cake.

Since we were all sufficiently vaccinated we opted to enjoy the camaraderie sans masks. The last time I was without a mask in this large a group was March 14, 2020, when we had a party to celebrate my birthday. Plenty more photos to share. Go here to see them.

Have Your Kayak and Eat It Too

Treve with cake to celebrate his 70th birthday.

On Saturday, March 14, we hosted a party to celebrate my 70th birthday. The cake was noteworthy. We commissioned the cake through our local Lavender Bakery & Café on Solano Avenue. They not only created a work of art but also delivered it to our door. Since kayaking is my go-to sport at the moment, I wanted to have a cake with a kayaking theme. Chocolate cake with layers of vanilla butter cream filling and fresh raspberries, not to mention the fondant frosting – a work of art.

We had about 30 people at our home, which was quite a turnout given the advice to practice social distancing due to the COVID-19 health risk. We were quite ambivalent about hosting the party; now, as of March 17, we have a “Stay at Home” order in place so we’re staying close to home. The guidelines say that getting outdoors is an “essential” activity, so we’ll be getting out in our kayak, bicycling and walking the dog at a distance from others, but no group activities.

Take care of yourselves wherever you are; reach out to friends and stay connected.

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.

Bunny Foo Foo

Bunny Foo-Foo at Hall Wines

On Monday, November 11, I had a reason to drive to Saint Helena, 50 miles north of our house in Albany, California. Saint Helena is in the midst of the Napa Valley. A client asked me to scout a location for a photo shoot. Rather than drive up and back alone I took my wife Joann and we combined the work trip with a dinner date.

Joann did some research ahead of our visit. Being that it was a Monday a few restaurants were closed and we thought it best to plan ahead, select a restaurant, and make reservations. We settled on the Farmstead restaurant at Long Meadow Ranch, a farm-to-table restaurant with a general store, cafe and tasting room.

After the client meeting we headed to Farmstead. While driving north on Highway 128 we were struck by a giant bunny leaping out of a vineyard; Bunny Foo Foo at the Hall Wine Tasting Room. The late afternoon sun glinting off the bright surface of the bunny was arresting. We stopped to grab a few snapshots. From there it was s short drive to Long Meadow Ranch.

With time to spare before our dinner reservation we took advantage of the tasting room and wandered the grounds while we sipped wine. Dinner was fabulous. I had the special of the day, bacon wrapped meatloaf. Joann had trout. I’ve never considered meatloaf to be a gourmet item, but with our waiter’s recommendation I’ll have to say this dish was out of this world.

Halloween Paddle

Thursday, October 31, found me on the water again paddling with several of my BASK buddies. One of the members of the group, Steve, decided to embellish the map of our track. See the image below.

We launched from Point San Pablo Harbor. Point San Pablo is at the north end of San Francisco Bay, separating San Francisco Bay from San Pablo Bay. It’s also on the route for ships going up the Sacramento River. Once on the water we headed for deeper water out towards the shipping channel hoping to hitch a ride on the flood tide. At Point Pinole Regional Shoreline we found a beach where we landed for lunch.

We paddled in near-perfect conditions with little wind and smooth water. After lunch we gathered around to sing Happy Birthday to two members celebrating October birthdays, Susan and Jen.

On our return with the current still flooding we paddled closer to shore, taking advantage of an eddy to carry us back in the direction from which we came. Over the course of our paddle we covered 9.4 miles.

Back on the beach we put put our boats on our cars, changed out of our dry suits into our street clothes and gathered up at Nobilis restaurant for snacks and drinks. Point San Pablo Harbor is a sleepy little yacht harbor with a funky collection of houseboats and public art. While not on most people’s tourist roster, it’s worth the visit, even without a boat.

You can view more photos here and view the track and stats here.

Quixote Winery: A Hidden Napa Valley Gem

The Quixote Winery is a hidden gem among the better known wineries of the Napa Valley. It’s located on the east side of the valley in the Stags Leap District. Having returned from Spain in June with a fascination for Antoni Gaudi’s designs, a friend suggested we check out the winery.

The whimsical architecture is like nothing else in the valley. The original winery owner, Carl Doumani, was fascinated by Don Quixote the Novel by Miguel de Cervantes. In his search for somebody that could create a winery to fit his vision he commissioned Friedensreich Hundertwasser, a Viennese artist and architect.

We visited the winery on August 27, having made a reservation the day before. Tasting is by reservation only, although you might be able to get same day reservations. We signed up for the White Label Experience that included an estate tour and a tasting of five wines paired with a plate of gourmet cheeses. With just two of us we had a rather exclusive tasting. It was a delightful experience and we left with three bottles of wine. This is a small winery. The estate vineyards cover 27 acres with Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah, Malbec, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot.

If you are planning on visiting the Napa Valley keep in mind that there are some 400 wineries with tasting rooms, and the valley includes some 16 distinctive appellations, each with it’s own distinctive soils and climate that lend themselves to different varieties of grapes.

The Los Carneros AVA at the southern end has a cool climate moderated by marine winds from the Bay and soils dominated by a clay-hardpan. This region produces Chardonnay, Merlot and Pinot Noir. Thirty miles to the north the Calistoga AVA with warmer temperatures and rocky volcanic soil is better suited to thicker skinned grapes such as Cabernet, Zinfandel, Syrah and Petite Sirah.

If you are thinking about wine tasting check out the Napa Valley Winery Map and the Napa Valley Vintners.

Oh, and after our wine tasting we drove the short distance to Yontville where we split a Pulled Pork Sandwich at the R+D kitchen; a delight to the palate after the wine tasting. There’s no shortage of options for wine and food in the Napa Valley and the surrounding areas.

More photos here.

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.

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