Back from New Mexico

So here we are on July 9 ready to hit the road for our 17-day road trip to New Mexico. Check out my Stars and Stripes hat. Our motivation for the trip was to attend a family reunion in Angel Fire, New Mexico. We decided to take our time making our way to our destination. I decided since we’d be hobnobbing with cowboys at the reunion, I needed an appropriate hat, and with the Fourth of July recently passed this seemed to be an appropriate statement for driving across Nevada, Utah, and New Mexico.

We covered 3,000 miles on the trip, and I’ll be breaking up some of the highlights into several blog posts. I’d like to start with some thoughts about trip planning. While I’m quite happy to hop in the truck and see where we end up at the end of the day, my wife, Joann, likes to plan ahead. For this trip Joann spent hours and hours of research and prepared a folder with our itinerary, copies of all the camping reservations including photos of the facilities. Much of the trip was planned using Google Maps and a host of other online resources such as iOverlander, The Dyrt, Hipcamp, and other such resources. All of these are great.

Then a day or two before the trip we pulled out some printed maps and we discovered all the places we were missing. I had a flashback to the days when we used to spend hours pouring over maps looking at the sights along the way. Google Maps is great for getting from point A to point B efficiently, but it won’t suggest you make a quick detour to check out Mesa Verde or take the Turquoise Trail. And for much of the trip we were out of range of cell service, which meant that trying to use an iPhone to look up camping, or even use Google Maps for routes, was futile. What do you do when you come to a fork in the road, and Google Maps is silent and you don’t have a map of the area? Another reason to have printed maps available while on the road.

Our first night we stayed at Logger Camp on the Stampede Reservoir not far from Truckee. This was a lively camp full of families enjoying summer fun. Since our route would take us through some hot country, we planned our stops be at elevations where we would not suffer from heat; we do not have air-conditioning in the camper.

When we travel, I like to have occasional access to the internet. I don’t want my clients thinking I’ve abandoned them, so an occasional stop at a coffee shop with WiFi was in order. And then in Mancos we visited with a good friend, Kayla, a neighbor that our daughter grew up with. We foraged in her garden and, as a professional cook and caterer, she hosted an exquisite dinner.

Once we were in Angel Fire, it was time for the reunion. And no Sundt family reunion would be complete without watermelon and the dinner bell’s call to eat on the C and S Cattle Company Ranch. By the time we reached Angel Fire it was also time to replenish our water supply. We were looking forward to taking showers with our outdoor shower.

Our return trip took us through Taos and Flagstaff. We spent one night Boondocking in the Coconino National Forest just outside of Flagstaff. There we were treated to a spectacular thunder and lightning storm that dumped rain and hail on us. We also stopped at the Petrified Forest National Park which turned out to be quite interesting. I’ve never seen so much petrified wood in such a large area. And, of course, we had to venture on to a section of Route 66 where we encountered Burma Shave signs. Stay tuned for more episodes of our trip.

Breaking the Curse

For the past six weeks or so we’ve been cursed with contrary winds. It seems we’d plan a paddle and the wind we experience was not what was predicted. It seemed as if the wind gods were playing havoc with us. We’ve been attributing this curse to Alan, one of our paddling buddies, since he was the one that was planning the paddles. We even devised a plan where we would send Alan off in one direction hoping he would serve as a decoy so the rest of us could paddle on calm water.

But on Thursday afternoon July 7, following a lovely paddle, we gathered at the Up and Under Pub where we shared a toast and declared the that we had broken the curse.

Six of us launched from Ferry Point that morning for a paddle around Brooks Island. We paddled in the counterclockwise direction, crossing the open water early in the event that the wind should come up later in the day.

Paddling along the south side of the jetty we encountered quite a bit of eel grass. We had this experience on a previous paddle at this location and it seems this year there is eel grass where we don’t recall seeing it in the past. Then, having spied the remains of the dead whale, we paddled close to take a look. Jaw bones are now exposed where a month ago it looked like a freshly beached whale.

We were also amazed at the number of pelicans we saw, wheeling overhead, diving and fishing. We stopped at Barbara and Jay Vincent Park for lunch, walking to the top of a knoll where we found some rocks on which to sit.

After lunch it was back on the water. The wind had picked up a bit and we were bracing for a slog into the wind. We crossed the channel heading to Brooks Island and admired an Osprey that was feeding its young in a nest on top of the dolphin (pilings) in mid-channel. Then the wind eased up and we had a pleasant paddle back to our launch side, again mystified with the number of pelicans that were about. You can see more photos in an online gallery.

Tomales: Marconi to Chicken Ranch

On June 26, seven of us launched our kayaks from Marconi Beach not knowing quite where we’d end up for lunch. Shortly after 9 a.m. we launched on flat calm water, paddling across to Hearts Desire Beach where one of our fellow BASK members was assisting at an Environmental Traveling Companions kayaking event.

From Hearts Desire we noodled southeast along the Point Reyes Peninsula, taking our time and exploring all the nooks and crannies and even some caves. Paddling through eel grass beds we saw hundreds of jelly fish. Since my Olympus TG5 camera is waterproof I popped it under the surface and started snapping pictures more or less at random. I was amazed I got something useable.

Paddling on, before you know it we were at Chicken Ranch Beach. It was just a few minutes after 11 a.m. and, though it was early, we decided it was lunch time. Our plan was to get an early start and get off the water before the wind came up.

Sure enough, as we were eating lunch the wind started to build and not as predicted. The prediction was for WSW winds 9 kts. What we had was coming straight down the bay. We launched into a stiff wind that was raising whitecaps. Fortunately, we did not have a great distance to travel so we slogged it out powering straight into the wind. We were back at our launch point at 12:30, having logged 5.8 miles. You can view more photos in an online gallery.

A Week at Loon Lake

Nestled high in the Sierra Nevada Mountains at 6,400 feet is a gorgeous lake, Loon Lake. Crystal clear water surrounded by forests, granite boulders, and patches of wildflowers. Twenty-eight miles up a windy road takes you off the main highway deep into the Sierra Nevada mountains not far from the Desolation Wilderness. We anticipated meeting a number of fellow kayakers, members of Bay Area Sea Kayakers (BASK), for a week of paddling, hiking, wildflower hunting, birdwatching, and camaraderie.

We arrived on Sunday evening, June 12, dropping off our boats near the boat ramp and finding campsite 44. We parked, popped the top up on the camper and joined one of our camp buddies, Eoin, who was preparing dinner for our cook group. The next morning, I put my drone in the air to capture a photo of our campsite.

June 13 – Rubicon Trail Hike

Monday we opted to explore the north end of the lake on foot, driving to the Rubicon Trail Staging Area and making our way partly around the lake. The Rubicon Trail is widely recognized as the premiere OHV route in the United States. As hikers, we decided to stay off the jeep trail and try to find a route that was hiker friendly. We ended up off-trail, making our way over bare rock, through thickets of trees and down through a bog. It was spectacular country but slow going as we bushwhacked. After a couple of hours, we managed to cover 2.5 miles.

June 14 – Paddle – North End of Lake

Tuesday morning we were up early to fire up the Dutch Oven and cook a breakfast of mushroom and brie breakfast strada, one of our favorite camping breakfasts. With breakfast out of the way we assembled at the boat ramp. Our route took us along the eastern shore of the lake, noodling along and poking into coves and inlets, passing a small waterfall at one point. We stopped at Pleasant Campground for lunch and then continued exploring the north end of the lake.

With the wind starting to build in the afternoon, we decided to make our way back to our launch point. We covered 10 miles in the five and half hours of our adventure.

June 15 – Paddle – South End of Lake

Having explored much of the north end of the lake, today we explored some of the islands at the south end of the lake, making our way north to a lovely lunch spot on a granite spit. We had fun doing some flatwater rock gardening in a group of rocks. I even managed to get the drone in the air to capture some aerial views, something that I’ve wanted to do for some time, but usually the logistics of paddling take priority over the logistics of flying a drone.

Again, the wind came up after lunch and we made haste back to camp, hugging the shore to avoid the brunt of the wind. We logged 6.9 miles over the course of our paddle.

June 16 – Loon Lake Trail

With two days of paddling behind us it was time for a hike. Our dog Carson had two days in the camper and it was time to give him some off-leash time. We followed the Loon Lake Trail along the east side of the lake, paralleling the route we had paddled two days before. This hike took us through some lovely forests, through glens of freshly sprouted bracken fern, over sections of bare granite rock with occasional views of the lake.

We stopped for lunch just shy of Pleasant Campground on a slab of granite with a view of the lake. There we watched the white caps on the lake and were glad we had done our paddling earlier in the week. We admired many wildflowers along the trail and covered 7.3 miles.

Please view more photos of the trip in an online gallery.

Whale on Brooks Island

May 31. Five of us launched our kayaks from the beach at Ferry Point for a paddle around Brooks Island. We were on the water at 10 a.m. after a quick safety talk and radio check. Our course took us from the beach to the end of the jetty at the end of the Richmond Shipping Channel. The plan was to negotiate the exposed leg of the paddle early before the wind and associated waves started to build. Once we were out of the shipping channel, we followed the jetty heading southeast. We were amazed by how much sea grass we encountered. Perhaps my previous experience was with higher tides and rougher water when the seagrass wasn’t so evident.

About halfway along the jetty we found a dead whale. This was cause to take photos, but to do so I had to ask one of my paddling buddies to open my back hatch get out my spare parts kit with spare batteries for my camera. My camera battery went dead shortly after launching. The island is off limits due to nesting birds, so we stayed in our boats.

With the whale well documented we continued on. Pelicans were quite plentiful, wheeling overhead and diving for fish. One pelican dove just a few feet away from my boat giving me the opportunity to capture a few photos at close range.

The water was starting to get a bit bouncy as we approached the southeast corner of the island, but nothing of concern. We landed at Barbara and Jay Vincent Park on the little beach facing the bay. The beach was a bit rocky with the low tide. After lunch we were back in our boats facing a stiff wind coming from the southwest. We decided to paddle straight into the wind which would place us on the leeward side of the jetty, hoping the jetty would provide us some protection. We battled the wind and the whitecaps and eventually found some relief.

Along the way we encountered the Brooks Island caretaker with what looked to be a load of recycling. He advised us not to land on the island due to the birds that were nesting. He also told us that one could land on designated areas from September through March when the birds are not nesting. We reported the dead whale, and continued on our journey. We were back on the beach where we had launched at 1:30 p.m. having logged 6.7 miles. You can view more photos in an online gallery.

San Bruno Mountain

On May 16 we met a few friends for a hike on San Bruno Mountain. This is a state park covering 2,400 acres, an island of rugged open space in the middle of a highly urbanized environment. It is also home to a number of plants and animals that are endemic to the mountain.

It promised to be a warm sunny day as we departed Berkeley, but when we parked at the trail head we were confronted with a chilly and blustery wind with fog billowing over the ridge. I promptly broke out all my layers. We hiked the Summit Loop Trail starting at the parking lot just off of Guadalupe Canyon Parkway.

I was surprised at the diversity of habitats. This included coastal scrub, oak woodland, chaparral and riparian habitats. There are also a variety of wildflowers. This year the spring wildflower display was not as magnificent as it can be. Even so we saw a variety including iris, aster, foxglove, lupine, and poppies.

I was also surprised with how lush and green the the mountainsides were. We hiked through tree tunnels and past glens of ferns. Quite a difference from our usual hikes in Tilden Park. Perhaps since the mountain captures the fog off the coast it gets more moisture than the East Bay Hills, providing more diversity.

We stopped where the trail crosses Battery 59 Road just short of the summit and opted to retrace our route back to the car. This was deemed to be the preferred route, rather than continuing the loop with the idea that the rest of the loop is not quite as interesting. We were on the trail for a little over two hours and logged 4.5 miles. Definitely a place to revisit with its diversity of plants and animals.

More photos are available in an online gallery.

BASK Meeting at China Camp

Sunday, May 15, provided us with a full day of activities with our kayaking club BASK (Bay Area Sea Kayakers) at China Camp State Park. We have a good relationship with Friends of China Camp, the non-profit that runs the park. As such we had access to the museum for a presentation prior to the museum opening to the public. China Camp is a beautiful spot on San Pablo Bay about an hour drive north of San Francisco. It is of interest historically and culturally. A Chinese shrimp-fishing village thrived here in the 1880s.

I arrived early since I had volunteered to record the presentation given by John Muir—a presentation on the history of China Camp. That video is now available on YouTube. Before the meeting, we unloaded our boats since we planned to paddle later in the day. The tide was quite low when we unloaded, as you can see in the photo. By afternoon the tide would be high enough to avoid getting stuck in the mud.

After the presentation we moved to a picnic area south of the main beach for brunch: bagels, lox, cream cheese, fruit, yogurt, and coffee. This being our first face-to-face general meeting in over two years, it was a treat to be able to sit down with fellow club members.

After brunch a number of us broke into pods to participate in a coastal cleanup. Each pod was assigned a section of shoreline between China Camp and Buck’s Landing. I was in the green pod, and our territory spanned Buckeye Point to Jake’s Island. Five us us set out to paddle to our area. As we rounded the point near Rat Rock, we found ourselves paddling straight into a stiff wind, with wind waves and white caps. We attempted to hug the coast to stay out of the direct force of the wind, but the wind soon took a toll on members of our pod. Three members opted to turn back rather than fight the wind and the waves.

Two of us continued on, powering into the wind and waves. I found it to be an exhilarating experience.

While paddling I was also trying to stay in contact with other club members via radio. Each time I’d pick up the radio, the wind would set me back, and then I’d have to struggle to catch up. Even so, we made it to Jake’s Island in good time. From there is was a fast ride back as we scoured the shoreline looking for debris. There was not much to see from the vantage point of a kayak.

We did pick up a pod member on a SUP and, with the higher vantage point, he was doing a better job spotting debris. What debris we did find required getting out of our boats and wading in the marsh, wary of stepping into a hole of boot-sucking mud. Most of the debris was higher up in the marsh and hard to reach from a boat.

Once we completed our cleanup, we rendezvoused with Ranger Scott to off-load our debris. We didn’t set any records for distance, having covered five miles, but even so, it was a fun day and an exhilarating paddle. More photos are available in an online gallery.

Reunion in Bishop

In April 2017, my two brothers and I gathered together with our families to memorialize 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 Eastside 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. Eastside Guest House is an ideal location in the Eastern Sierra to set up a base camp for outdoor adventures. The facility has private rooms, a duck pond, a view of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and a common room for cooking and meeting.

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

April 25. The Alabama Hills and Independence

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

Several in our group 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 hike to one or two lakes in the Big Pine Lake Basin. We piled into our cars and drove to the trailhead 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 not inclined to tackle a strenuous High Sierra hike. We found a level paved trail along Pleasant Valley Reservoir. This proved to be a lovely hike with opportunities to look for wildflowers and birds.

The more adventuresome drove up to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest and reported a lovely outing. Tuesday evening marked our 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. I was sad to leave, but since we have family there, we manage to visit several times a year. The Eastside 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, chat, and look at family photos. And talking about photos, you can view more 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 a.m. 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 p.m. 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 the five-hour drive did not bode well. With the hills around the Bay Area showing green, I was reminded about a trip I made to Mount Hamilton some years ago and recalled 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, suggested by the ranger at the entry kiosk. The camp facilities were quite nice, with level parking places well-suited for 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 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 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 drove 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 the 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 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.

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