A Week at Loon Lake

Nestled high in the Sierra Nevada Mountains at 6400 feet is gorgeous lake. Loon Lake. Crystal clear water surrounded by forests, granite boulders and patches of wildflowers. Twenty eight miles of 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 our boats off 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 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 to 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 in 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 stay out of 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 the trail and we 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 am after a quick safety talk and a radio check. Our course took us from the beach out 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 pm having logged 6.7 miles. You can view more photos in an online gallery.

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.

Back from Baja

On December 1, we hit the road for a two-week trip to Baja California, returning home on December 15. A whirlwind tour with many stories to tell and photos to share. Rather than write one long blog post covering the entire trip, I’m writing several posts to cover various aspects of the trip. We’ll start with this YouTube video. Joann recreated the trip in Google Earth with slides for each stop along our trip. We’ve animated the map and video so take a moment to follow along.

After getting a late start we decided to scrap our original plan which would have taken us to Red Rock Canyon State Park. So where to spend the night? I have several apps on my phone I use for trip planning. I fired up The Dyrt and started looking at options. It seemed like whatever itinerary I dialed in, The Almond Tree Oasis was the suggested stop. There are not many options for boondocking, let alone camping on the route to Southern California. The Almond Tree Oasis suited our needs. In the morning we fired up the Dutch Oven and cooked up some Mushroom and Brie Breakfast Strata, one of our favorite breakfasts.


Joann preparing Breakfast Strata, aerial view of our camp at Joshua Tree Ranch LA.

The second night we camped near Lancaster at Joshua Tree Ranch Los Angeles, going from an RV camp with full services to boondocking in a lovely grove of Joshua Trees with no services whatsoever. We were happy to pay for the right to camp in this spot, having again relied on The Dyrt to find a site.

Then it was on to Ocotillo Wells SVRA where we joined up with 134 other Four Wheel Pop-Up Campers for their annual rally.

Treve explaining his lift system for popping up the top of the camper with kayaks on top, touring fellow camper’s rigs, Bob explaining radio operation.

It’s always fun to see how people have tricked out their rigs. Following the rally, we continued south to join Bob Wohlers and his Off-Road Safety Academy for a tour of Baja. We had 11 rigs in the caravan. Bob gave us all radios to use for the duration of the tour and with his guidance we managed to cross the border, negotiate our way through Mexicali and along the narrow highways and dirt roads of Baja. We spent one night at Pete’s Camp, two nights at Bahia San Luis Gonzaga, and two nights at Bahia de Los Angeles which was the southernmost point of the trip.

Camp at Gonzaga Bay, Cowpatty Cafe, rainbow at Playa La Gringa at Bahia de Los Angeles.

For the return trip we crossed the peninsula, driving up the Pacific side with overnight stops at Quinta Cristina near El Rosario and Punta Banda. Once back on the US side of the border we headed for Agua Caliente County Park, which I had located using another favorite app, iOverlander.

On the beach with our kayaks on the Sea of Cortez, sunset over Bahia de Los Angeles, camp at Quinta Cristina.

At this point in the trip we were looking for water and electricity, having depleted our water supply and suffering from a dead battery in the camper. With a dying battery we were without refrigeration and heat. We’ll be upgrading our camper soon, moving to Lithium (LiFePO4) batteries. We’ll also be replacing the shocks and adding airbags to the rear suspension to help balance the load. The camper is a big load for the Tacoma. Over the course of the 15 days we logged 2268 miles. You can find more photos from the trip online. I’ll be adding to these galleries as I work through the photos in the coming weeks.

Fall Color Review

So here it is late November and I’ve finally made it through the photos from our Eastern Sierra fall color trip. On September 27, having spent several days with family in Big Pine, it was time to go hunt for fall color. We left Big Pine in the morning, and that night we camped at the Bishop Creek Campground. We were lucky to have some relatively clear air since smoke from wildfires had been plaguing us off and on at lower elevations. Bishop Creek is always a good prospect for fall color.

Here we are with our Four Wheel Pop-up Camper rig parked for the night in a very pretty aspen grove. In the morning we drove up to North Lake and did a short hike to a location I had scouted for a view overlooking the lake. Then it was off to Rock Creek. We made a quick stop at Mosquito Flat trailhead. We did a short hike and, while it was a lovely hike, I was not inspired to take many photos. We moved on to Sagehen Summit Road. Here the aspen were a little past prime but with plenty of photo opportunities.

I found a grove of aspen with a panoply of colors from green to yellow to black. This is my favorite image from this trip and it’s available in my art store. With the sun about to set, we drove the short distance to Mono Lake where we set up camp in the dispersed camping area near Mono Mills.

The next morning we were off to Virginia Lakes, where we did a three mile hike to Frog Lakes. Most of the aspen here were past prime, but we did find fall color in the willows.

From Virginia Lakes we took the Dunderberg Meadows Road, pulling off in mid-afternoon to set up camp. Here I put the drone in the air, you can see the image looking west over the trees. We found some lovely aspen groves along the Dunderberg Meadow Road and made a note to include this drive on future trips. Before heading back to the pavement we took a detour to explore Green Creek and discovered some very nice camping opportunities. Then it was back to the the pavement on US 395 and up and over Sonora Pass for the drive home. We’ve made many stops near Sonora Pass on previous trips, and on this trip we did not stop for photos. You can view more photos from the trip here.

Picture Perfect Day

I have yet to master the art of capturing photos from a kayak. When I come back from a paddle, I’m often disappointed by how few of the photos meet my expectations. Invariably the photos are out of focus, blurry or have the wrong exposure. It’s a challenge to hold the camera steady with one hand while bobbing around in a tippy boat and holding onto the paddle with my free hand. And then the composition is always changing. I’ll see a potential opportunity forming and by the time I can get the camera in position the scene changes. Then while I’m trying to snap photos my paddling buddies are continuing on their journey. Time to put the paddle back in the water and catch up. And I’m always trying to position myself within the pod to take advantage of the light and composition. Glare on on the viewfinder is another issue, which means I’m more likely to just point and shoot and hope I get something. I like to capture candid moments on the water, water dripping off the paddle blades and the play of light and reflections and clouds. And then there’s the risk of getting water drops on the lens, or worse yet, a smudge of sunblock.

So this past week I decided it was time to master the art of kayaking photography. I use an Olympus TG-5 and on Thursday, November 4, I was determined to see if I couldn’t improve on the quality of the images.

Our launch site was Point Isabel on the east side of San Francisco Bay. One of my paddling buddies suggested this put-in since it is a short drive and I can just sort of fall out of bed and be there. I pulled out of my driveway at 9:02 and parked at the launch site at 9:13. A welcome change from the previous week when I spent two ours getting to our launch site. Our paddle took us to the north end of the jetty on Brooks Island. We had calm water, no wind, and dramatic clouds against a blue sky. Great conditions for photography, with the water offering nice patterns and reflections.

We could see the skyline of San Francisco peeking through the clouds in the distance. We kept our distance going past Bird Rock so as not to disturb the birds.

We were paddling on a high tide, 6.8 feet at 11:40, and as we paddled along we noticed that there appeared to be gaps in the jetty. The tide was so high that it was flooding over the jetty with enough clearance to float our boats. You can see David, riding a little bit of a tide rip over the rocks. We paddled over the jetty and back and continued on to Ferry Point where we stopped for lunch. Then it was back on the water for the return trip. We paddled across the shipping channel and along the inside of the jetty to avoid any shipping traffic. We were back on the beach at Point Isabel at 2:00 having logged 8.5 miles. You can take a closer look at our track here or on the map below. On uploading the photos to my computer, I found that that I had some 424 images! Quite a chore to sort through. But I discovered that the habits I had developed for land-based landscape and architectural photography were hindering my ability to capture photos from a kayak. On land I tend to use a small aperture to maintain a good depth of field. On the water a wider aperture and a high shutter speed seem to work best. I was quite happy with a number of the images. Of the 424 images I captured, I marked 44 as keepers. You can view those photos here. Overall it was a picture perfect day.

A Hike in Fern Canyon

We spent the week of September 12 in Mendocino with members of our kayaking club. On Wednesday the 14th we took a break from paddling to go for a hike in Fern Canyon.

This is a lovely hike that follows the Little River. The trail winds along the river, crossing the stream a number of times on bridges and meandering through tall redwoods and the fern-lined canyon. Once we had hiked up the canyon, we opted to continue on the trail up to the Pygmy Forest. Here the tall redwoods give way to pines and cypresses stunted by extremely acidic, low-nutrient soil that sits on top of a layer of low-drainage iron hardpan.

We were happy to have some overcast since it can be quite warm in the Pygmy Forest. The soft light from the overcast also made for excellent photography. I prefer the soft light to the harsh shadows and highlights that can happen with direct sun. I also found that the railings on the bridges were a perfect place to park my Gorilla Pod and my trusty Sony RX100 camera in lieu of my tripod. Walking through the dwarf trees feels like walking through an enchanted forest.

We returned to Fern Canyon by an alternate trail, making a loop. When we returned to camp we had logged 11 miles. You can view more photos of our hike here and you can view more details of our track 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.

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.

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