Fall Color: Eastern Sierra

We’re on a short road trip to look for fall color in the Eastern Sierra. We’re also visiting family in Big Pine. Our trip took us through Yosemite National Park and over Tioga Pass to Mono Lake where we spent the night of October 2. The word was that the best fall color might be in Bishop Creek, so we started our tour at Mono Lake, driving South, avoiding some of the popular spots north of Lee Vining including Lundy Canyon and Virginia Lakes.

At Sagehen Summit we found some pockets of color with large swatches of Aspen still green. Having four wheel drive, we were able to negotiate some of the sandy terrain, although we did encounter some fellow leaf peepers that managed to get stuck. We were able to help them by using our leveling blocks and a shovel. They were quite happy for the assistance. From Sagehen we headed south to Bishop Creek were we set up camp at the Sabrina Campground and then drove the windy, narrow, one-lane road to North Lake. We were disappointed that there was very little fall color at North Lake. In years past, the mountain side above the lake is ablaze with orange and yellow.

Some fellow leaf peepers we consulted with said this was the worst year they can remember for fall color. Nevertheless, I can always find something to photograph, and I was particularly struck by a small grove of Aspen along Bishop Creek, adjacent to the campground. I returned to this site several times for late afternoon, dusk and dawn photos. My favorite from those efforts was the morning image. I was reminded how much I enjoy the soft light of dawn and dusk for photography. I find the harsh contrast of mid-day sun and dappled shade hard to work with. Back in camp after the morning photo venture we had breakfast and then took a short hike along the north side of Lake Sabrina. We found some nice color in the Aspen groves along the north side of the lake.

Overall we found the fall color conditions quite mixed with occasional pockets of color and many Aspen groves still showing green. There is some speculation that unseasonably warm weather followed by a sudden cold snap a week ago has delayed the display of color for the most part, with the sudden cold creating pockets of color. There could be good opportunities to see fall color over the next few weeks.

We’re now in Big Pine playing grandparents. More news to come. Stay tuned.

Mendo Madness

Each year our kayaking club, Bay Area Sea Kayakers (BASK), takes an extended weekend in Mendocino to do what we do best, eat food and paddle. Some members say we are an eating club with a kayaking disorder. Nevertheless, the event is great fun in a beautiful location with great camaraderie and fellowship. We headed to Mendocino on Wednesday September 18 making our way to Van Damme State Park. The next morning we were on the beach at Van Damme with our boats ready to get on the water. There was a good swell running and a number of paddlers opted to go hiking or paddle on calm water rather than deal with the wave energy being displayed on the coast. Joann and I took up the invitation to follow some of the more experienced paddlers who were offering a “Newbie Paddle,” for those new to the Mendocino coast.

This gave us some exposure to the rocky coast and we got to feel what it’s like to play in the rocks with waves with water surging this way and that and waves crashing on rocks. Mind you we stayed clear of the really active water. See my previous post Through the Washing Machine for more about that.

The next day, September 20, we opted for some quiet water after our rather adventuresome day on the coast. We joined a group of paddlers for a paddle on the Big River. The round trip paddle up the river and back was 11 miles and we were back in camp mid-afternoon to drink beer and soak up the sun.

Friday evening marks Bourbon and Brine, a social event with bar tenders concocting some unique mixed drinks. I had a Storm Cag with rum, ginger liqueur, Averna and orange juice. Joann had a Sea Palm with Gin, lemon juice, elderflower liqueur , celery bitters and a sprig of sea palm. Nathan and Krista, two club members hosted the event. Nathan outdid himself with his creativity as a mix master.

With most of these folks wishing to get on the water in the morning without suffering hangovers, drinking was done with moderation. I for one, did not want to find myself sloshing about in the waves suffering the after effects of alcohol.

Saturday night marked the club potluck dinner. With some 70 or so kaykers in camp it was an amazing feast.

Sunday was another flat water paddle on the Albion River. Our journey took us up the river past several houseboats, stopping to was river otters at play. We had a quiet paddle on smooth calm water. The paddle up and back covered six miles

You can view more photos of the BASK Mendo Madness activities here.

Through the Washing Machine

Through the Washing Machine. Rock Gardening near Van Damme

I call this image “Through the Washing Machine” for reasons you can imagine. This was captured on a recent trip to Mendocino. I had a GoPro camera mounted on my helmet. I had intended to capture video, but for some reason I ended with a series of stills. It’s a challenge to take photos here. I’m not going to take my helmet off to see what the camera is doing and this isn’t the kind of place where I’m going to pull out my still camera. With water surging in every direction, keeping both hands on the paddle to brace is a good idea.

We were in Mendocino with our kayaking club, BASK, for an annual event called Mendo Madness. The club takes over the better part of the upper loop of camp sites at Van Damme State Park and spends several days paddling in various environments. Rocks and caves on the coast and quiet flat water paddles on the rivers. This day, Thursday September 19, some of the more experienced paddlers offered a Mendo Newbie paddle and I’m always game to tag along when the more experienced paddlers are offering to serve as guides. More about Mendo Madness in the next post. Here’s a couple more photos from my helmet cam. Note the other paddlers playing in the surf and rocks. You can see a kayaker punching through the surf in the right photo, the kayak is just under my paddle.

Calm Day on the Estero

Thursday, September 12 I was supposed to have a photo shoot for a client, but the shoot was cancelled. My backup plan was to manage some desperately needed home repairs. My wife had a different plan. She said “let’s go paddling on Drakes Estero.”

Paddling through the eel grass beds on Drakes Estero

So at 10 am we were on the beach at Drakes Estero along with several fellow BASK friends, looking a flat calm and with warm weather. I didn’t even opt for a dry suit or a paddling jacket.

Drakes Estero is an estuary in the Point Reyes National Seashore about 50 miles north of San Francisco. Named after Sir Francis Drake, who may have anchored in adjacent Drakes Bay during his explorations. The estero was also famous for oyster farming up until recently when the oyster farm was shut down. Congress declared the Estero a wilderness and oyster farming is not consistent with the management of the wilderness. See my previous posting about the book The Oyster War.

In any event we had a lovely paddle, paddling out to a small beach we have dubbed Sunset Beach, having a leisurely lunch and paddling back. Logging about 8 miles overall.

Lock Lomond to McNears

After traveling in Spain for a month, and then jumping back into work projects, I managed to get back on the water last week, July 11, to join some of my kayaking buddies for the Thursday Lunch Paddle.

Approaching one of the Marin Islands

We launched from Loch Lomond Yacht Harbor in San Rafael and paddled out around the Marin Islands before heading toward China Camp. The weather prediction was for afternoon winds with gusts to 25 knots in the afternoon. When the prevailing wind is up, paddling along the Marin coast can provide some protection with Mt Tamalpais and the Tamalpais ridge blocking the wind when it’s from the west. There were six of us on the water: Bill, Susan, Danny, Alan, Joann and myself.

Contrary to the prediction though, when we launched we found ourselves paddling into a SE wind, but once rounding the Marin Islands and heading North the wind gave us a bit of a boost. The Marin Islands are part of the National Wildlife Refuge and they are closed to the public, but still interesting to paddle around.

We rounded Point San Pablo, and paddled past the quarry towards China Camp, but upon reaching McNears Beach we decided it was lunch time and we landed there and found a picnic table for lunch. When it was time to get back on the water we had a group of kids from an outdoor education program that were curious about our boats and our gear, and they were eager to help us get our boats back on the water. You can see a couple of kids helping Joann with her boat in one of the photos above. The predicted wind never materialized so we had an easy paddle back to our launch site with a bit of an assist from the ebb current. Our track out and back covered seven miles. You can see the track of our paddle here.

No Fat Friars

June 7. Our adventures today take us to an ancient church after a long walk. The day begins with breakfast at Can Blanc and then a walk to the bus station in Olot, a 30 minute walk. Olot is a city of 34,000 people nestled in the Garrotxa Volcanic Zone Natural Park. We had hiked through part of the park on previous days. An interesting city with a mixture of architectural styles: stone farm houses, modernista, and a glassy and glamorous market place.

From the bus station it’s a 15 minute trip to Castellfollit de la Roca (pronounced something like Castle-fo-leet). Our terrible pronunciation led to some confusion with the bus driver, but after checking our tickets he assured us we were getting off the bus at the right location.

The town was quiet when we arrived. No tourists in sight, a few cats wandering the narrow streets, and a few local folks out and about. One of the locals greeted us and pointed out some sights. He tried to warn us about the path down the cliff to the valley below, saying it was “muy mal,” and dangerous. We thanked him and proceeded to walk down the rough steep cobbles. I was after a photo vantage point that would show the town on the cliff.

Castellfollit de la Roca

From Castellfollit de la Roca our itinerary included a taxi ride to Oix (pronounced Oich), where we checked into our lodging, ate a quick picnic lunch and embarked on an afternoon loop walk up the valley. The hike took us along a stream, through lush thickets of trees and ferns, through a cow pasture and on up the canyon. At 2:12 pm I made a note in my journa “song birds, cow bells, wind in the trees, butterflies.”

Higher up the canyon the trail became quite steep and rocky, with a metal bridge at one point that looked rather tenuous.

It was 4:30 when we reached the Santa Maria de Escales Church. The church was mentioned in a historical record of 1092. With the effort it had taken us to reach the church I declared that there were no fat friars here. The door to the church was locked, but there was a window in the door through which you could view the interior.

I took a few photos and then we were anxious to make our way back down the canyon by another route. We took our time since both of us find going downhill hard on the knees. It was close to 7:55 pm when we returned to Oix, having logged 10 miles on our afternoon walk. Between the morning walk to the bus station, walking around Castellfollit , and our afternoon walk we were feeling hot and tired. A cold beer sounded appropriate.

A cold beer at the end of the hike.

Santa Pau and a Loop Hike

On June 3 we made our way from Girona to Santa Pau by bus, finding the local bus stop near our apartment in Girona. For this leg of our trip we’re carrying all our luggage. I carry a day pack and a travel pack. Once we start our walking tour our luggage will go by taxi and we’ll go on foot with just our day packs.

We transferred buses in Olot where we had few minutes for a snack; coffee, apples and coke. Once in Santa Pau we found our lodging at Hotel Sal Sastre right across the street from the castle. We spent some time walking around the medieval town.

On June 4 we began our Macs Adventures walking tour with a loop hike from town up to a high point at Santa Maria Finistres. Here there is a hermitage which has some historical significance. We had a very quite picnic lunch here. This is truly a place of solitude. From the time we left town at 10 am and when we returned at 3:45 pm we had the entire trail to ourselves. The trail was a moderately steep track up the mountainside passing through beechwood and oak forests. Our feet crunched through the leaves on the trail and there was no sign of anybody else having used the trail recently. We clambered over a couple of fallen trees and passed a number of sections in the trail that had been rooted up by wild pigs, as if a roto-tiller had gone through. I would imagine that some sections of the trail could be slippery following a rain, with slippery leaves and mud but with dry conditions we had good footing. It’s a very pretty hike through the cool shade of the forest, passing by farms and pastures closer to town. When we came out of the forest we could see our town on the hill in the distance.

Having returned to town, we had logged 10 miles. The Macs Adventure hike is a nine mile loop. We manged to add a mile with a trip to town in the morning to buy bread, cheese and salami for our picnic lunch. After 10 miles it was time for a cold beer.