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 am. We joined a couple of new found friends and fellow Bay Area Sea Kayakers (BASK), 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 one of my emails 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 then took our time paddling into Cowell Beach watching the surfers at Steamer Lane. Then it was into the Cowell Beach where we had an easy landing and lunch. Back on the water we paddled out along the pier, then under the pier and back to our launch site. Out 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 know 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 framers 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 and we were off the water by 2 pm. 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.

Back to Bodie

It seems like I can never get enough of Bodie, the Ghost Town in a far east corner of California. I spent a few hours here at the end of June, and on my recent trip over the mountains I decided another trip was in order.

As on my previous trip, I decided to camp in the Bodie Hills so that I could arrive at the Bodie State Historic Park when they opened at 9 a.m. This time I found the Paramount Campsite available, so I parked the Four Wheel Camper rig, set up camp and let my dog Carson run free. One thing I like about boondocking is the freedom to let my dog off leash.

The campsite had a well established fire ring, so I built a small campfire, more for effect than for warmth. I’m always looking to create photos that have a sense of drama to them and a campfire helps. That said, I was very conscious about the fires burning in California and of the drought conditions. If you are planning on camping, get a campfire permit, check with the appropriate land management office, be mindful of the risks, douse the fire with water and make sure the coals are cool to the touch before leaving.

In the evening I put my drone in the air to capture an image of the camp. As you can see I was in a grove of Aspen trees surrounded by the desert landscape of the Bodie Hills.

Sunset and sunrise did not provide much drama in the sky, although the motivation to watch the sun come up got me up and out of the camper in time to admire the morning light striking the trunks of the Aspen trees.

At 9 a.m. I was at the entrance station, and I joined the handful of people that were touring the site. As I made my way into the town, I noticed a couple with film cameras, Victor and Sarah. Sarah had an antique Graflex camera, something you don’t expect to see in this day with everybody using their phones to take pictures. I was struck by a mental image of Dorothea Lang holding a similar camera. I struck up a conversation with Sarah and Victor; it seemed we were crossing each other’s tracks all morning.

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 we broke camp and drove the rest of the way to Highland Lakes, where we 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.

Five Depart, Three Return

August 8. The plan was to meet at China Camp, launch our kayaks, paddle out to the Marin Islands and over to the Loch Lomond Yacht Harbor for lunch, then to return after lunch.

Six of us met at China Camp, Michael, Joann, Cynthia, John, Christine and myself. I had posted an announcement that this would be a mellow paddle without the drama of wind and waves. The wind prediction at China Camp was 6 knots, based on Windy, an app I use for wind predictions. Meanwhile, the NOAA prediction for the San Francisco Bay at large was 10-15 with gusts to 25 in the afternoon. China Camp Beach is a bit protected from the wind, so it made sense that it might be windier on the Bay.

We were on the water at 10:10 and proceeded south. As we approached Point San Pedro, we were starting to feel the wind. It was a bit of a struggle rounding the point, but everybody seemed to be doing OK. Once we rounded the point conditions let up a bit, but it was clear that the Marin Islands were out of our reach given the wind. We opted to take a more direct line to Loch Lomond. Even so it was a workout. It was not the mellow paddle I had hoped for, but everybody seemed to be up to the task.

We pulled our boats up the boat ramp at Loch Lomond and found some picnic tables where we could practice social distancing while eating.

After lunch John and Cynthia decided to organize a shuttle back by hitching a ride with John’s wife, who had remained on the beach at China Camp with a good book. They were concerned about the conditions at Point San Pedro on the return paddle.

The remaining three of us put our boats back in the water and, with the wind behind us, it was a fast and easy paddle back to China Camp. Once we rounded the point, the last two miles proved to be mellow. Our track for the day covered close to eight miles. Due to a technical glitch, I only logged the paddle back from Loch Lomond to China Camp. It seems I must have hit pause on my GaiaGPS app as we launched.

Wind in the Gate

Friday, August 7, three of us met at Horseshoe Bay near the north end of the Golden Gate Bridge with a plan to paddle to Point Bonita and back. These paddles are locally referred to as OTG (out the gate). Predicted conditions looked good since we’d be paddling out on slack water (no current), and riding back in on the afternoon flood. Wind was predicted to be 6 to 8 knots from the south in the morning, with 15 to 20 knots in the afternoon.

We were on the water at 10:35, with the wind blowing from the south, but a bit fresher than we expected. Nevertheless, we decided to peek around Lime Point, the point under the north end of the bridge, to see what was in store for us. Once around the point conditions were favorable and, while we found ourselves paddling into the wind, we opted to continue along the coast.

About halfway to Point Bonita was Point Diablo, the reckoning point for the day’s paddle. Inside the point the water was calm and protected, outside you can catch the full brunt of the wind and waves. I paddled a short distance beyond the point and decided that battling three- to four-foot waves with a 15 knot headwind was not the best plan. We made the unanimous decision to paddle back to Kirby Cove for lunch.

Kirby Cove was quite protected from the day’s wind and waves, so we had an easy landing. We hauled our boats up the beach wary of the rising tide and broke out our lunches. We found a log about 12 feet long that gave us the proper social distancing. After lunch we returned to our boats just as the waves were starting to lap at them. Back on the water it was an easy return paddle, although we did find an eddy under the bridge that was moving counter to the incoming current. You can see Eoin and Michael just inside the tide line of the eddy in the photo below.

I opted to paddle outside the eddy. We were back on the beach shortly after 1 p.m., having completed a very pleasant paddle covering 4.5 miles. I’ve included a map that shows the track of our paddle. I’ve been enjoying using Gaia GPS as my method for tracking activities on and off the water. The phone app synchronizes with the online service, which I find convenient. You’ll note that I am wearing a GoPro camera on my helmet. One of these days I may actually post some footage.

San Francisco Waterfront

On Thursday, July 31, I had the opportunity to go paddling. I connected up with fellow BASK member Eoin and we arranged to meet at the Emeryville Marina. Given the tides and weather prediction, I thought a paddle around Treasure Island with a landing on a little beach on Yerba Buena Island would be in order. A round trip of nine miles or so. It was gloomy as we put our boats in the water at 10 a.m. The last few paddles I’ve done, I’ve left my GoPro camera at home. This time I thought I’d try to capture some video as well as stills. I find the best way to manage the GoPro is to wear it on a helmet, hence the helmet you see in the photos.

We paddled out of the Emeryville Marina and made our way west across the bay to Treasure Island, paddling into a steady wind of 8 to 10 knots. Slack water was at 10:30, so we had no current to contend with on the crossing. As we rounded the northwest corner of Treasure Island, Eoin suggested we make our way to San Francisco, landing at Pier 1 1/2, a public pier. We were making good time and, with the weather starting to clear, the San Francisco waterfront looked inviting. It was about 12:30 when we pulled our boats out of the water onto the pier. We had our lunch with appropriate social distancing and took a stroll along the Embarcadero checking out the Ferry Building and the Gandhi sculpture just south of the Ferry Building. After lunch we put our boats back in the water. The dock is rather high so Eoin steadied my boat while I lowered myself in, and then I rafted up along Eoin’s boat to give it more stability. Getting into the boats seemed easier than getting out onto the high pier.

Back on the water, we decided to paddle along the water front, checking out the the lagoon at the Exploratorium. Interesting enough, you can paddle under the pier at the Exploratorium into a lagoon.

Having explored the waterfront it was time to head back across the bay, and the current was now giving a bit of an assist pushing us north. You can see from the track on the map below that the current carried us a bit north of our westbound track. After leaving the waterfront we started to pick up the steady wind through the Golden Gate. We found the water a bit lumpy with two- to three-foot wind waves following the predominant wind with an additional set of waves coming from the north, which created some bouncy water. Once we were back around Treasure Island it was a straight downwind run and the waves settled into a consistent pattern. It was about 3:30 when we pulled our boats out of the water. I logged 15.8 miles, including our walk along the waterfront. An excellent day on the water.

Paddle from Emeryville to San Francisco

Threading the Needle

On July 13 it was time to get back on the water. We had a six week hiatus while playing grandparents and dealing with the challenges of social distancing and staying-at-home. With a prediction for afternoon winds we decided to get an early start. China Camp State Park was our chosen launch site and we were on the water at 9:40.

Our plan was to paddle south around Point San Pablo, check the wind and water and round the Marin Islands if conditions looked good. We were paddling on an ebb so we would have the current with us going south, and the wind with us on the return. Once we were on the water two small islands, The Sisters, looked inviting so we set course for the islands thinking we might “thread the needle,” passing through a narrow slot in the west Sister called Grendel’s Needle. Once we were through the slot, we headed back to Point San Pablo. We found that on crossing back we were experiencing the full fetch of the wind blowing from the southwest, giving us some steep wind waves up to three feet with a few whitecaps slapping us; not a place for an inexperienced paddler, but we found the challenge invigorating.

As we rounded the point, we left the rough water behind. I find when I’m paddling in challenging conditions I’m intent on keeping my hands on the paddle and practicing boat control. Putting the paddle down to take photos is not an option.

We took a quick reconnoiter of the Marin Islands and decided that rather than slog into the wind, we’d turn into a little beach near McNear Brick & Block, a brickyard that was established by George P. McNear and his son Erskine in 1898 which still operates today. You can see the chimneys of the brick works in one of the photos.

Once we landed, we pulled our boats out of the water and dipped into our lunches for a mid-morning snack. With the wind building though, we decided that it was prudent to get back on the water to begin our journey back around the point.

We were back at our launch point at noon. We finished our lunch and went back on the water to practice boat control drills and rescues. My Eskimo roll needs more practice.

Our paddle covered six miles, and we were glad to be off the water as we watched whitecaps build in the afternoon.

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.

Boondocking in the Bodie Hills

On Saturday, June 27, I hopped in the truck to drive over the mountains for another family visit. I decided to break the drive up into two segments, with an overnight in the Bodie Hills and a visit to the Bodie State Historic Park.

It was 11:30 a.m. when I got on the road, a bit later than I had anticipated, but with plenty of time to reach my intended destination by sunset. The drive took me over Sonora Pass on highway 108. I was quite impressed with how many campers were out. It seemed like just about every patch of bare dirt had a tent or RV on it. Summer has arrived and it seems people are anxious to get out and enjoy nature after three months of sheltering in place with the COVID-19 pandemic; or at least that’s my interpretation.

When I reached Bridgeport, I turned north on highway 182 and then I headed up Aurora Canyon Road, a dirt road. I had directions to a dispersed camp site called Paramount, named after a mining claim, about 11 miles from Bridgeport. This is a nice flat location in a grove of Aspen. When I got there, it was occupied, with a large tent, tiki torches, and a pile of firewood that indicated these folks were going to be here awhile. I headed up the road about a half mile to another grove of aspen. Not quite as nice a location for camping, but suitable for a quick overnight camp. I drove down a clearing to what looked like a good spot to park the camper, but on inspection I determined that I would fall out of bed given the slope. I moved the truck up closer to the road, and with much maneuvering in the confines of the aspen, I manged to position the rig and level it for a good night’s sleep.

This location was closer to the ridge with sweeping views, which suited me for potential photos of sunset and sunrise. With a few clouds overhead, I was hoping for some color in the sky. I didn’t get the color I was hoping for, but what did catch my attention was the lichen covered rocks and the patterns of clouds.

I’m calling this image Rock and Sky. I love the color of lichens on the rock, and how the design in the clouds seems to draw attention to the rock. I’ve just added this image to my art store, available in a variety of sizes on fine art paper, canvas or metal. Check it out.

It was a very windy night on the ridge, and I was concerned about camera vibration in the wind. I was camping at an elevation of 9000 feet and, while the temperature was a mild 55 degrees, the wind made it feel 10 degrees cooler. The camper is a fairly secure place even with the 50 mile per hour gusts, but even so, it took me a while to drift off to sleep.

Sunday morning I was up at 5 a.m. for the sunrise. Sunrise is always a wondrous event, with the early morning light changing from blue to gold as the sun rises. The wind was continuing to blast it’s way over the ridge and threatening to topple my camera and tripod. I grabbed a few exposures, made coffee, and had a bowl of raisin bran; not my preferred breakfast, but good for a quick getaway.

I arrived at the Bodie State Historic Park at 8:30, half an hour before it opens to the public; I was the first visitor to arrive. I had a brief chat with a ranger who directed me to the entry kiosk. I had come in the back road and it wasn’t obvious where the main entry was. The day use entry fee is $8.00, with park hours 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. My dog Carson was happy to know he could join me on leash, rather than hole up in the camper while I did my tour.

Bodie was established as a mining camp following the discovery of gold in 1859. In it’s heyday, it was home for some 8,000 people. The last mine closed in 1942.

I had been researching photos of the town and wondering how photographers manage to take nighttime photos. It seems there are several photo tours operated through the Bodie Foundation that provide access with extended hours; something I’ll check out for future visits.