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 Eel Grass 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 were back in our boats and 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.

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.

Chasing the Sun

A month ago, on February 6, I left home along with my wife Joann to drive over the mountains to Big Pine. Along with taking grandma (Joann) over to spend a few weeks providing child care, I had the added mission of taking time in the Eastern Sierra to pursue some landscape photography. For me this means chasing the sun . On previous trips I have explored the ghost town of Bodie, the Alabama Hills, and the Bristlecone Pine Forest in the White Mountains, all locations that are quite accessible from Big Pine and offer stunning photo opportunities.

For this trip I decided to explore locations close to Big Pine. Why spend time driving when you have the majestic Sierra in your back yard? And with a trip home in the middle of the month I had ample opportunities to chase the sun further abroad.

My first sunrise venture took me to a location just off California State Route 168 with a view of the town of Big Pine and the snow capped Sierra to the west. The town of Big Pine was lost in the shadows but when I switched to a longer focal length I captured the image of Birch Mountain you see above. Just a few minutes later from a location along the Owens River I captured a image of Mount Sill, the image on the right.

A week later I pointed the camper home and spent the night near Mono Lake. Here’s a photo of me on the morning of February 17 captured with my drone. It was 11 degrees when I stepped out of the camper. My dog Carson was not going to leave the camper at that temperature.

The evening before, while I was exploring the environment near Mono Lake, I was struck by an otherworldly landscape with the black branches of burned shrubs against a blanket of white snow. A few days later on the morning of February 22, I was again camped at Mono Lake on my return back to Big Pine. This time I found a better vantage point to capture some color in the sky over Mono Lake as illustrated in the photo above. Also shown is an image captured along the Owen’s River featuring a bare cotton wood tree in the morning light.

Once back in Big Pine I continued my search for photo vantage points close to town. Here’s a photo of Birch Mountain and the surrounding peaks from the shoreline of Klondike Lake.

One of the things that fascinated me on this trip were the limbs and branches of the bare trees against the blue sky. Whereas the morning and sunset photos are captured with a Nikon D850 on a tripod, often blending multiple exposures, during the day I’m more likely to use my point and shoot Sony RX-100, which captures amazing photos. The back and white image of the trees was captured on a morning dog walk. I applied some post-production wizardry to make the trees and the snowy mountains stand out.

For my last sunrise venture I put the drone in the air to capture a photo with part of the town of Big Pine in the foreground and Sierra Nevada mountains just starting to capture the morning light. Here’s a link to a larger collection of photos from this trip. Some of these images will be available shortly in my art store. Feel free to contact me or comment.

A Tale of Two Boats

On November 30 we put our two wooden boats on the water at Drakes Estero. It’s a 50 mile, 75 minute drive from our house to the launch point. We opted to drive out to the Point Reyes peninsula the day before and spend a couple of nights at a lovely little Airbnb rental so that we could enjoy the paddle without having to get up early. High tide was predicted for 10 a.m., and my plan was to be off the water by 2:30 when the sandbars would likely be exposed.

I’m paddling a Pygmy Coho, a kit boat from Pygmy Boats. The Coho was built in 1999, so it’s marking 21 years of use. At 17.5 feet long it’s a full size sea kayak. Joann is paddling the Ronan, built in 2017. I have to confess that if I have my choice I’ll choose the Ronan. The Ronan is 14.25 feet long. The Coho has very little rocker, so it’s fine for passage making when you want a boat that tracks straight. It’s also great for camping since it will hold quite a bit of gear. Sad to say, Pygmy Boats is not producing kits at the moment, and it remains to be seen if they will be back in business. The Ronan is a bit livelier with more rocker and a hard chine, and I find it a more playful boat especially if there is some wind, waves, or dynamic water. Today we anticipated flat water and little wind, so the Coho seemed like the boat for me.

I decided to capture some video with my GoPro camera. Here’s a link:

I alternated camera positions between my helmet and the deck, experimenting with different camera vantage points. I’m never content with just one point of view.

We paddled out the Estero to Sunshine Beach, just opposite the entrance to the Estero. Here we found ourselves feeling just a bit of the swell from the ocean while paddling through the glistening fronds of a kelp forest. After a quick stop, we were back on the water hoping to get across the sandbars before the tide dropped and before the wind picked up. We meandered back through Home Bay. In Home Bay we found the propeller of a WWII P-39. Check out an earlier blog about the sunken treasure.

Over the course of the day we logged 10.5 miles. On the return trip we did find that we were paddling into the wind, with the wind blowing 12-15 miles per hour, not enough to cause concern. Over the course of the day we logged 10.5 miles, a very pleasant paddle, and we were back on the beach at 2:15, ahead of the falling tide. We did see a few birds, including white pelicans and numerous shorebirds, along with a few harbor seals.

Drakes Estero is one of my favorite places to paddle. It has the feeling of a pristine section of the California Coast. It’s within the boundary of the Phillip Burton Wilderness, so there are no motorized vehicles. The Estero is subject to closing for seal pupping; check with the park service if you plan to visit.

Check out an earlier post here. And an earlier Youtube video here.

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.

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.

Bound for Home

As we turned the calendar to July, it was time to leave our temporary post in Big Pine and head for home. We decided to make the trip a two-day drive with an overnight near Ebbetts Pass on State Route 4. This is one of the lesser-used passes crossing the Sierra. It’s a steep, winding, narrow road with one lane for a good portion of the time. Suitable for our rig, we figured that with throngs of people heading to the mountains for the Fourth of July weekend, it was a likely route on which to still find camping. And since we were driving midweek on a Thursday, we figured we’d have the jump on the campers coming up for the weekend.

Our route crossed two passes: Monitor Pass at 8,314 feet on State Route 89, and Ebbetts Pass at 8,736 feet on State Route 4. Just before cresting Monitor Pass, we stopped to admire the view. I was intrigued with the clouds and grasses on the high plateau.

Once over the passes we had plans to check out Hermit Valley for camping, but when we got there we decided to move on. Not far down the road we saw a sign for Pacific Valley Campground that looked promising. We found plenty of camping available along a lovely mountain stream.

In the morning we decided to explore the trail leading up Pacific Creek. Our dog Carson was happy to be off-leash once we were out of camp, and happy to cavort in the creek’s cool water. We manged to hike about six miles up the creek and back, and returned to camp lamenting the fact that we couldn’t stay longer. We had a commitment for a family Fourth of July get-together.

We broke camp and headed down the mountain passing Mosquito Lakes and Alpine Lake, which were quite busy. There was absolutely no parking available along the road. Every conceivable spot had a car parked with many more cruising looking for parking.

Despite the weekend crush of visitors, we were inspired by our overnight at Pacific Valley. We’ll be returning to explore more of the Stanislaus National Forest.

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.