Around Angel Island

We gave a fitting send off to the year 2020 by putting our boats in the water and paddling around Angel Island on the last day of the year. The quality of light, the serene conditions and the reflections on the water prompted me to convert the images to black and white.

Four of us launched from Dunphy Park in Saualito, pushing off at 10:20, about the time for maximum flood. We paddled out to Point Knox and around the island counter-clockwise. We did feel a bit of the current as we approached Point Knox, with the current trying to push us up Racoon Strait. Once around the point though we had the current going with us and we made good time going around the island and landing at the Immigration Station.

We had a suitably social distance lunch while sitting on the ledges that were part of the historical display. You’ll note that one of our paddling buddies, Steve ended up half-way between “Acceptance” and “Rejection” in the “Realities” zone.

After lunch the current was beginning to ebb, so we had the current with us for an easy paddle down Racoon Strait. As we rounded Peninsula Point, back into Richardson Bay we hugged the shore admiring the expensive home on Belvedere Island. I was looking up at the homes on the cliff when with a crunch I found myself aground on a rock. Easy enough to get back on track, but a reminder to keep an eye on the water. Then it was across the bay back to our launch site, after some discussion about what landmark to aim for. Navigation from a low vantage point can be a challenge . We were back on the beach at 2:15, but only after breaking a paddle while landing. When getting out of the boat, I discovered that I was in a rocky hole, not a firm beach. I put my paddle down for balance, inadvertently wedging it between two rocks. Down I went and leaning on the paddle caused the shaft to snap.

So it goes. I’ve had a paddle on my shopping list for some time. Now I have an excuse to buy one. We logged 9.5 miles and I don’t recall ever having such an easy and pleasant paddle around the island. It was a very quiet day on the bay. Calm weather, and not much boat traffic. We did see a number of the usual bay residents including cormorants, gulls, pelicans and harbor seals. You can view more photos here, including both the black and white and color versions of the images above. Let me know what you think.

Middle Harbor

On December 18, we decided to launch from Encinal Boat Ramp in Alameda and paddle to Middle Harbor Shoreline Park in Oakland.

We launched at 10:30 on a flood current, which meant we would be paddling against the current going towards Oakland, but with a small tidal change, the current would be minimal. In the afternoon we’d be riding the current back. I plotted the course using the BASK.org trip planner, measuring about 4.3 miles to our intended lunch location. I printed a copy of the map which I studied, looking for a landmark that would mark our turning point to paddle into the beach. Then I stuck the map in my dry box, which I keep in a hatch.

I opted to paddle my Dagger Stratos rather than my wooden Coho. Why? Because I hadn’t paddled it for awhile.

All was fine, paddling on calm waters. As we approached the port, I kept an eye out for the jetty I had noted as our turning point. We arrived at the end of the pier at the port and poked around the end thinking we’d find the park. What? No beach? I fiddled with my GPS unit trying to pull up the map on the tiny screen. Then it became clear that I had picked the wrong landmark for our turn into the park. Note to self: Carry a waterproof chart on the deck .

We backtracked and found the beach. A fine sand beach lined with palm trees. It seemed out of place with container ships to the north and south. It was 12:45 when we landed for lunch and we had worked up an appetite after six miles of paddling. We made a note that this might be a fun place to take the grandkids. There is a viewing platform you can climb to watch the tall cranes moving cargo, a nice beach at least on a high tide, and a dolphin sculpture to play on.

After lunch we were back on the water retracing our route, but sticking closer to the shore. We saw a few harbor seals and thousands of birds including cormorants and brown pelicans. We were back at our launch site at 2:45 having logged 11 miles. I was reminded why I like my wooden Coho. On a long paddle on calm water, it moves with less effort than the Stratos. Want to see more photos? Click here.

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.

Mendocino Magic

So many stories to share! I seem to be challenged with finding the time to post them all. Perhaps that’s just as well. I wouldn’t want to bore you with every single adventure. But then I consider this blog to be a log of my adventures, so why not share them all?

I’m going back to September, when we put our kayaks in the water in Mendocino and had a magical paddle. Our kayaking club, BASK (Bay Area Sea Kayakers), has an annual tradition of spending a few days in Mendocino in September. This year with social distancing and the coronavirus pandemic, the club cancelled the event dubbed Mendo Madness. We had been planning on this trip for many months, so rather than just cancel we managed to spend two nights at Van Damm campground and two days paddling. One of those paddles on the Albion River I wrote about not too long ago. Now it’s time to share our coastal paddle.

On the morning of September 20, we launched from Van Damm beach and paddled north. The wave action on the coast was calm and we discovered that we could paddle places that are often too rough to access. Our paddle took us into some magnificent sea caves.

I had a GoPro camera going on my helmet. I’ve finally managed to edit the video down to three minutes that I think will give you the feel for what it’s like to paddle here. Here’s the video clip.

Paddling into the caves with the water glowing a blue-green was magical. This wasn’t about covering distance, but we did cover about four miles while poking along the rocks. We were back on the beach for lunch. After lunch we explored a few caves south of the beach. Here’s the track of our morning paddle.

The Mojave Road

The Mojave Desert is a huge swath of land in the Southwest corner of the United States, much of it located in California. It occupies close to 48,000 square miles and is noted for the Joshua Trees that grow only in this desert. The Mojave Road runs across part of the Mojave Desert and through the Mojave National Preserve, a unit of the National Park System. The road was originally a trail for Native Americans stringing together a series of watering holes and providing a route for trade between desert and coastal dwellers. Later it became a route for Spanish missionaries, explorers, and settlers from the 18th to 19th centuries. Today it’s an iconic four-wheel drive road. We spent four days driving the road with a caravan of Four Wheel Pop-Up Campers.

For part of the tour, I had a GoPro camera on the dashboard of our truck. Here’s four days of touring condensed into 10 minutes. Make sure to watch the water crossing at 8:52.

Our tour started at 7:30 a.m. on October 8 in the parking lot of the Avi Resort in Bullhead City. There we met our tour guide, Bob Wohler of the Off-Road Safety Academy. Bob gave us a briefing and provided a radio for each truck to use for communication while touring.

Once we were off the pavement, we stopped to air down our tires. I’ve driven off-road periodically for over 20 years and this was the biggest eye-opener on the trip for me. Less air in the tires gives a much smoother ride. As Bob would say, sympathy for the passengers, sympathy for the equipment, and sympathy for the environment. Our tour passed a number of interest points, the first being Fort Piute. Then it was on to our campsite for the night at School Bus Camp, noted for an abandoned school bus that marked the location until a few years ago when it was removed.

There are numerous points of interest along the road, including a tin can into which you can drop a penny for good luck, the Mojave Mailbox where you can sign your name and leave a comment, and a collection of gnomes and frogs. You just have to see it to believe it. The terrain ranges from sandy flats to rocky road to a dry soda lakebed, traveling through some magnificent Joshua Tree forests along the way. The road has worn down at several points so that you are driving in a canyon so narrow that the vegetation is brushing against the sides of your vehicle.

Once across the soda lake you arrive at a pile of rocks. Bob had instructed us to pick up a rock earlier in the trip, and this is where the rocks are deposited—at Travelers Monument. There is actually a monument buried under this pile of rocks. If you scramble to the top of the pile you can read the plaque. We were sworn to secrecy regarding the words so you’ll just have to plan a visit to read it yourself.

A highlight of the trip was the lava tube, and also the water crossing at the end. We ended up driving the last section of the road from east to west because we helped some travelers who got their vehicle stuck in the sand. Time was an issue, so we took a detour to Afton Canyon Campground for our last night. The next morning two rigs decided to cross the Mojave River with Bob’s coaching.

More photos are available here, and I’ve made a few select images available as fine art prints in my art store.

We logged 180 miles on the tour, some of it on side trips off the Mojave Road. Elevation ranged from 500 feet at the start of the tour to 5,700 feet at the high point.

Albion River

The Mendocino Coast provides a wide range of opportunities for outdoor activities including hiking , camping and kayaking. And with a kayak, depending on your skill level and the weather conditions, you can surf, poke around in the rocks or paddle on the flat water of a number of rivers. We spent two days padding in Mendocino, September 20 and 21. On our second day, we opted for a flat water paddle on the Albion River. From our camp at Van Damme State Park we drove to the Albion River, where we paid the $10 fee and launched our boats.

We launched on low water and had the current with us paddling upriver. We planned to paddle for an hour and a half and find a takeout for lunch and an early return, thinking we might have a longer paddle back down the river with the current still flooding, pushing water up the river, and the potential for wind. As we approached our turnaround time, the river became narrow and winding. The game became “let’s paddle to the next bend,” and then “the next bend.” This went on until we reached a log across the river, blocking further progress. There we found a gravel bar and a pleasant meadow which looked like an inviting place to stop.

We pulled our boats up, ate lunch and put our boats back in the water just as the rising tide was threatening to take our boats. The gravel bar had disappeared in the 30 minutes we had been eating. We were amazed at how much tidal activity there was this far up the river.

We were happy to discover that our progress back down the river was good despite the current, and the wind did not materialize. We paddled through some old pilings, practicing boat control, and past the houseboats, some of them looking more dilapidated than they had the year before. We were back at our launch site at 2 p.m., four hours after our launch. Our paddle logged 8.5 miles, most of it in total peace and quiet save for a few birds and a river otter. You can view more photos here. Here’s the track of our paddle.

South America 1978-1979

With the coronavirus pandemic giving us an excuse to stay at home, my wife Joann and I decided it was a good time to start rummaging through photos and journals from some of our past adventures. Most notable was a trip to South America some 42 years ago. Going through files of film and journals was a daunting task. I’ll have more to say about that in future posts, since I’ve discovered much long-forgotten content that is destined to find an audience. And our first product from this effort is a book about the month we spent in South America at the end of 1978 and the beginning of 1979.

Our adventure started on December 22, 1978. I had been on an oceanographic research ship in the South Atlantic and I joined Joann at the airport in Santiago, Chile. From there, our travels took us to Torres del Paine National Park where we spent a week backpacking.

In 1978, Torres del Paine was a remote location. There was no public transportation to the park. We teamed up with a couple of Germans and hired a taxi to drive us to the park. After a long, bumpy ride on dirt roads the taxi dropped us off, returning to Puerto Natales with the Germans. We really had a sense that we were at the end of the world.

How we got back to Puerto Natales is another story, but once we were back to civilization we flew to Puerto Montt where we spent time in the Lake District before traveling to Peru to visit Machu Picchu.

You can thumb through the book on the Blurb website, or buy a hardcover copy or PDF. I posted photos from the book in a gallery.

Santa Cruz Paddle

The past two weeks have been a blur of work and play, so let me back up to September 15. Despite the smoke and poor air quality, we found ourselves at the kayak boat ramp at the Santa Cruz West Harbor at 10 a.m. We joined a couple of newfound friends and fellow Bay Area Sea Kayakers, Trey and Becky. Our connection was a common interest in photography. Trey found his way onto the email list for my art store at store.treve.com. He responded to an email promoting my fine art photography. After exchanging email, we ended up talking on the phone and taking him up on his invitation to paddle out of Santa Cruz. The Air Quality Index was 158 as I recall, not ideal for outdoor activity, but we decided to brave the elements and launch. The air quality was much better than it had been the week before. We paddled out of the harbor and headed for the lighthouse two miles away. Conditions were quite calm, with little wind.

Just past the lighthouse we rounded Seal Rock and took our time paddling into Cowell Beach, watching the surfers at Steamer Lane. Then it was an easy beach landing and lunch. Back on the water, we paddled out along the pier, under the pier and back to our launch site. In the kelp beds we saw a few sea otters. Elsewhere we saw cormorants, sea anemones and star fish on the pilings of the pier and sea lions making their presence well-known with their barking under the pier.

It was fun paddling with our new friends, and no doubt we’ll join them on the water again. Trey and Becky, being potato farmers, left us with a bag of potatoes, a few of which we put to use a week later while paddling with other BASK friends in Mendocino. Stay tuned for more about Mendocino. Over the course of the day we logged 5.4 miles; we were off the water by 2 p.m. Here’s the track of our paddle.

Parker Lake

With the Labor Day weekend approaching, it was time to make our way over the mountains towards home. We decided a three-day camping outing was in order. The trick was to find a spot off the beaten track that would be away from the throngs of campers. Here’s where a little local knowledge came in handy. Our son Aaron had a tip that Parker Lake might be the spot. So on Saturday, September 5, we pointed our rig towards Parker Lake. Along the way we observed that campgrounds near Grant Lake and Silver Lake seemed to be packed to capacity, and the trail head parking was full to overflowing.

We found Parker Lake road and left the pavement, switching into four wheel drive. This is not a road I would recommend for anybody with low clearance, although we did see a Subaru Forester. We stopped on a rise where I took a photo of our rig with Mono Lake in the background.

A few miles further on we found a nice camping spot in a grove of aspen and pine trees. As is my habit, I’m always looking for that Truck Camper Magazine calendar photo, without a camp fire in this case, since campfires are not allowed in the current conditions. I substituted a camp lantern for our campfire glow. In the morning we woke up to an orange dystopian sun peering through smoke from a wildfire, the Creek Fire, on the other side of the mountains. As you can see in the photo above, the sun is peeking through the smoke. Despite the smoke we decided to do the short hike to the lake before breaking camp.

From our camp we hiked up the road to the trail head, and then up through sage brush and desert vegetation and down into a lovely wooded valley with pines and aspen.

Once in the valley it’s a short distance to the lake which is situated in a bowl with mountains rising above. The mountains were shrouded in smoke, but nonetheless we stopped to let Carson get his feet wet and to watch ducks that seemed to be looking at us for a handout. Don’t look at me for a handout. I make it a point not to share my food with the local wildlife. After a brief stay, we hiked back to our campsite, popped the top town on the camper and headed over the mountains for clean air.