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.

Tassajara Ridge

Photos I had seen of some yellow lupine on Tassajara Ridge prompted us to go on a search. On the morning of April 5, we climbed in the car and drove to San Ramon. We were hoping to get an early start and find a bakery with some delectable baked goods. We ended up at a Starbucks which, while lacking the amazing fresh baked muffins where were hoping for, did suit our needs. Then it was off to find the trailhead. Our navigation seemed to be off a bit, and we discovered that access to the open space is limited. It was about 9:30 when we finally parked at the Tassajara Ridge Staging Area. This is a dog-friendly hike with dogs on leash. The hike goes through grazing areas and we did pass a few cows on the trail.

The trail meanders along rolling hills, green from winter rains. At about a mile and a half we found our first batch of yellow lupine, probably Lupinus arboreus. We weren’t the only people out. We crossed tracks with a number of people carrying cameras and tripods.

After spending some time capturing the beauty of these flowers we decided to continue our hike. More photos are available in an online gallery, by the way. The map we were following indicated that we could make a loop hike. We followed the Tassajara Ridge Trail to a junction with the Upper Hidden Valley Trail. Shortly after the trail junction we stopped and broke out our lunch.

At the four mile mark or thereabouts, we found a second field of yellow lupine.

Then it was time to complete the loop and head for home. We followed the Upper Hidden Valley Trail, which seemed to be heading past a water tank down into a residential area. We didn’t want to be walking in somebody’s back yard; assuming we must have missed a trail marker, we backtracked. Eventually we joined a trail that took us the direction we wanted to go, but then we scrambled through the barbed-wire fence where we found a gate at the junction of the loop trail. There we found a sign saying “Windemere Ranch Preserve… No Access Allowed at this Location.” Oops. What can I say?

From the junction we ended up walking through part of the residential development before we found our way back to the first section of the Tassajara Ridge Trail. When we started out we were thinking a short morning walk, back before lunch. It was 3 PM when we returned to the car having logged 9.5 miles.

Joseph D. Grant County Park

When spring arrives I often plan a trip to the Carrizo Plain, which in some years will have a dazzling display of wildflowers. This year the report was not promising so the idea of a five hour drive to did not bode well. With the hills around the Bay Area showing green, I was was reminded about a trip I made to Mount Hamilton some years ago, recalling the green hills and oak trees flush with new leaves.

So on March 28, we jumped in the truck and headed to Joseph D. Grant County Park. We arrived following a light rain with plenty of camping available. We parked our rig in site #9, which was suggested by the ranger at the entry kiosk. The camp facilities were quite nice, with level parking places, which suited us well with our camper. The restrooms were clean and even had showers.

Once we had the camper set up, we explored a bit of the trails around the camp, making a 3.5 mile loop via parts of the Hotel Trail, the Barn Trail and the Snell Trail. There are 51 miles of trails in the park, so no shortage of hiking opportunities.

Dogs are allowed in the park and we had our dog Carson on a leash as required. With the soft light from the cloud cover, I was intrigued with the oak trees festooned with lichens. The trees reminded me of Druids or Ents (if you are a fan of J.R.R. Tolkien). One of those photos, Mossy Tree #1, is now available in my art store at store.treve.com. Along our hike we startled a drift of wild pigs. We had seen signs of wild pigs all over the park. Their activities leave the ground looking like a rototiller has passed through.

The next day, March 29, a longer hike was in order. We walked to Grant Lake passing the Grant Ranch House on the way, then walking over to the lake where we stopped and had lunch.

We returned to camp via the loop trail, passing a couple of ponds along the way. This is pasture land for cattle, so we had our share of gates and styles.

With our meandering over we covered 6.7 miles. We did find a number of wildflowers along our walk including poppies, lupine, mustard, shooting stars and mule’s ears. We also saw a few deer and rabbits. Check out the online gallery for more photos.

On March 30 we awoke to fog and decided we’d take the back road home by going over the top of Mount Hamilton, then following San Antonio Valley Road and Mines Road. This made for an interesting drive. We stopped in the fog for a short walk through the mist shrouded oaks, and then up out of the fog to the Lick Observatory.

As we drove down the east side we were impressed by how much fire damage we saw from SCU Lightning Complex Fire that occurred in August of 2020. The fire threatened the observatory on top of the mountain and burned 396,624 acres. We were driving through the burned area for quite some time.

There seems to be little public space on the east side of the mountain, so when it came time for lunch, we found a side road with a space wide enough to park and pull out our camp chairs. This turned out to be a rewarding trip for a quick getaway with much to see.

Point San Pablo to Bullhead Flat

On the morning of March 1, six of us gathered at the beach at Point San Pablo Yacht Harbor with a plan to paddle across the bay to Bullhead Flat, a destination in China Camp State Park. Since currents, wind and shipping traffic are concerns, we spent some time discussing the plan before launching our boats. With a slight flood we expected the current to push us north, up the bay, so we set a ferry angle taking us more directly across the shipping channel with the current carrying us towards our destination.

We were on the water at 10:00. David turned his radio to channel 14 to notify Vessel Traffic Control (VTC) that a pod of six kayakers would be crossing the shipping channel. He was not able to raise VTC. We paddled on until we were outside of Point San Pablo and I was able to contact VTC on my radio. I reported our location, our destination and the estimated time for our arrival across the shipping lanes. The red buoy marks the starboard (right) side of the shipping lane.

Once across we headed for The Sisters, a couple of islands off of Point San Pedro. Several of us decided to “thread Grendel’s Needle,” a gap in the rocks on the westernmost Sister. We had calm water paddling through the needle. With a stronger current and wind, there can be quite a surge of water.

We were a bit hesitant to paddle the needle since there was a flock of cormorants on top of the island, and we try our best to not disturb the birds when we are paddling. From The Sisters, we paddled north past McNears Beach, past the China Camp Village beach, and on to Bullhead Flat. There we pulled our boats out of the water and found a picnic table to use as we broke out our lunches.

After lunch, it was back on the water for the return trip. The current was now ebbing a bit, so we had the current working with us as we crossed the bay. Again, we set a ferry angle to compensate for the current. The gathering clouds caught my attention on the return paddle, and I thought they made for a lovely photo composition with the kayaks. I’ve posted an online gallery with more photos. You can see a track of our paddle below. We logged 8.3 miles with a very pleasant day on the bay

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.

Don’t Walk the Boat

Drakes Estero is one of my favorite places to paddle. It’s an estuary in the Point Reyes National Seashore and designated as part of the Phillip Burton Wilderness. A beautiful spot to paddle with lots to see. It’s closed March 1st to June 30th when harbor seals are birthing and, given the shallow water in some places, you want to pick a time when you’ll have enough water to paddle over the sandbars. This past week, on October 28, the timing seemed promising.

The first challenge was getting to our launch site. It’s 54 miles from my house to the launch site. During the morning rush hour it can be a challenge. I left my house at 7:40 and arrived at our launch site two hours later. Traffic was backed up crossing the San Rafael Bridge due to fog. As you can see, once we were on the water the fog had cleared and we had flat calm.

I’m including a screen shot of the tide graph, since we were hoping for a enough water to keep from walking our boats across a sandbar. High tide was 7:03 at 4.28 ft. Low tide was 11:17 at 3.71 ft.

We found the sandbar shortly before 11:00. If we hadn’t been distracted watching birds, we could have avoided the walk by skirting west around the bar. Approaching the beach, we began to feel the wave action from the ocean as waves entered the mouth of the estuary; we paddled through kelp beds and clear water feeling the gentle action of the dissipating offshore swell. Offshore a good swell was pounding the beach with rows of breaking waves.

Once across the bar, we climbed back in our boats and paddled to Sunshine Beach were we had a leisurely lunch. You can see the beach in the distance beyond the Janie’s wooden boat.

After lunch we paddled over to the inside of the Drakes Beach spit where one of our group had split off to admire the surf.

It is unusual to be on a paddle with three wooden boats, all built by their owners. Then it was back on the water for a pleasant paddle back to our launch site. As usual, what started as a calm day ended up with some wind, but not enough to hinder our progress. Over the course of the day we logged 8.3 miles and we saw dozens of harbor seals, pelicans, shore birds and even a couple of leopard sharks. You can take a closer look at our track here or below. If you click on the map, a satellite view shows the sandbars and channels in more detail. You can also view more photos here.

Mendo Madness 2021

Each year our kayaking club, BASK (Bay Area Sea Kayakers) takes over a number of camping sites at Van Damme State Park for a week of camping and kayaking.

This year’s adventure started Sunday morning, September 12. With our kayaks on top of our camper we hit the road. Before we got very far we discovered that our camping reservations didn’t start until Monday. What to do for Sunday night? We pulled off the road to consider the options and Joann booked us a night at the Seagull Inn. Hey, I’m not going to complain about breakfast being served.

After breakfast we drove the short distance north to Russian Gulch. The prediction was for high surf, but the beach at Russian Gulch is quite protected, so getting on the water was not a problem. In poking around the cove though, we decided it was too rough to venture out. After a very pleasant paddle on the cove we checked into our campsite. That’s our Four Wheel Pop-Up Camper with the kayas on top parked next to the trees.

In the morning we fired up the Dutch Oven. Here’s Joann serving up Hash Brown Crusted Goat Cheese and Scallion Quiche. Yum! With rough water predicted on the coast we opted for a paddle on the Big River, and we found a few BASK members happy to join us. We logged 12 miles paddling up the river and back. A very pleasant paddle in an enchanted forest.

Wednesday, September 15, we put on our hiking boots and hiked up Fern Canyon to the Pygmy Forest. Another enchanting trail up a canyon lined with ferns and redwoods. The hike in itself is worthy of a separate blog post so stay tuned.

On Thursday with the conditions on the coast continuing to look daunting, we opted to paddle on the Albion River. We managed to pull together a group of eight people to paddle up the river. That brings us to Friday, our last day in Mendocino and it was time to paddle the coast. Conditions were much calmer than earlier in the week so we launched from Van Damme Beach and poked around a few rocks and paddled through a few caves. Hard to condense a week’s worth of adventures into one short blog post so stay tuned. I’ll be posting separate stories with more details. You can view more photos of our adventures here.

Hearts Desire to Pelican Point

July 15, 10:00 AM. We were climbing in our boats at Hearts Desire Beach. Four of us. Hearts Desire is a lovely beach on the Point Reyes Peninsula, part of the California State Park system. I chose Hearts Desire as our launch point because the weather prediction was for wind on Tomales Bay. Hearts Desire and the west side of Tomales Bay is protected from the prevailing wind, so it provides a good launch site when the launch sites on the east side of the bay are windy.

We were launching on a low tide, and while some beaches can be muddy at low tide, we found firm sand. Paddling north along the bay we stayed close to shore. We saw racoons foraging along the shore as well as Great Blue Herons, egrets and osprey. Overhead we had pelicans reeling about and, in the water, jellyfish. With the low water, the eelgrass would occasionally grace our our boats.

Our intended lunch stop was Tomales Beach about three miles from our launch site. When we got there we decided to continue on to a more secluded beach. There were a handful of campers on Tomales Beach. We landed at a beach just south of Pelican Point. True to it’s name, we saw several White Pelicans on the point and opted to land far enough south so as not to disturb them.

After lunch we returned to our boats. We were back at our launch site at 2:30, having logged 9.2 miles. You can see more details about the track here. A beautiful day on Tomales Bay, one of my favorite places to paddle. You can see more photos here.

Boat in a Bag

How about a kayak that you can check as airline baggage for that remote expedition? I’ve been intrigued with the idea for some time, and when the opportunity came up to try out TRAK kayaks I signed up. So Saturday, June 26, my wife Joann and I grabbed our paddles and PFDs and drove to the Antioch Marina where we met Kathy Bunton of Delta Kayak Adventures. Kathy walked us through the process of assembling the kayak. It’s quite an ingenious system. The frame is aluminum tubing that unfolds and snaps onto the ribs.

The frames are color coded, with the bow sections being blue and the stern red. You slide the frame into the skin, and then you attach three hydraulic jacks that put tension on the frame. You can see Kathy adjusting the tension on the keel jack. You can also use the keel jack to adjust the rocker. With a few pumps, the bow and stern come up to give the boat some rocker. Release the tension and the keel goes flat. You can adjust the rocker while you are paddling; I was surprised to see how sensitive the boat was to the rocker adjustment.

Once we had our boats together, foot pegs adjusted, and the float bags in place, we paddled around the marina a bit to get a feel for the boats. Then it was out onto the San Joaquin River, around Point Antioch and into into Corteva Wetland Preserve. There we found some calm water and I asked Kathy to take a photo of the two of us in the TRAK boats with Mount Diablo in the background. We paddled up a few of the waterways in the preserve where we watched river otters, racoons, herons, ducks and turtles. Then it was time to head back to the marina.

Back out on the river, we had a good ebb current pushing the water to the west and a good breeze blowing from the west kicking up a few waves and even creating a few white caps. I ventured out into the rough water playing with the current and the waves a bit to see how the boat handled. Overall I was impressed with the performance. It felt more like a hard shell kayak that I expected and I like the way it edged. The hard chine felt a lot like the Pygmy Ronan I often paddle. Out in the wind and current, the boat did tend to weathercock a bit, but with a bit of practice I think it would handle well. While we didn’t cover any real distance, we did manage to log a little over three miles, and to get the feel for the boats on flat water and lumpy water with some wind. It was a fun and adventuresome paddle.

You can view more photos here. And take a closer look at the track of the paddle here.

Wind in the Dunes

April 21. I arrived at Eureka Dunes at 4:47 PM. The wind was howling and the sand dunes were alive with moving sand. I tied a hefty rock to my tripod to keep it from blowing away and captured a few seconds of video. Mind you, the recorded sound alone is intense.

I popped the top of the camper up and climbed inside to get away from the blowing sand. Inside, the front roof vent was loose and it was making a tremendous racket banging up and down in the wind. I had visions of a sleepless night.

It wasn’t long, though, before the wind let up. With the sun low in the sky and about to set over the mountains to the west, I decided to go for a walk. I left my big Nikon D850 in the camper since I did not want to expose it to the flying sand. I grabbed my trusty Sony RX100 and went out to explore the dunes with the late afternoon light.

As I ventured out on the dunes I realized this was a rare opportunity. The wind had scoured all the footprints. My experience photographing sand dunes is that they are rarely free of footprints. The clean sensuous lines of the sand ridges in the angle of the sun resulted in some stunning images. This didn’t last long. While I was photographing the dune and sky image you see above, another party of hikers came by and and the clean lines were no more. As the sun sunk over the ridge the lighting became too soft for my liking and I retreated to the camper to fix dinner.

The next morning I was out of the camper at 6 AM with my big camera and tripod to see what the morning light had to offer. One of my favorite images from this trip is the one above with the light and shadow playing on the dunes and the bushes in the foreground. This image and a few others are available as fine art prints in my art store.

The early morning light revealed many interesting compositions. Light and shadows and texture. It was 9 AM when I returned to the camper. At that time I was no longer seeing compositions that I found interesting.

I must say that the campground was not too busy. If you look closely at the photo of the valley you can see my camper alone in the distance with no other vehicles near by. There were three vehicles in the campground representing six people.

Eureka Dunes is located in Death Valley National Park. To get there requires a long drive on a washboard gravel road. It can be slow going if you are in a passenger car. The campground is dry, with no drinking water available. Campsites have picnic tables and there is a vault toilet.

You can see more photos from the Eureka Valley trip here.

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