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 camp ground 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 to rough to access. Our paddle took us into some magnificent sea caves

I had a GoPro camera going on my helmet and 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, 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, with 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 lake bed, traveling through some magnificent Joshua Tree forests along the way. At several points the road has worn down so that you are driving in a canyon with the sides 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 Traveler’s 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. This was because we ended up helping some travelers that got their vehicle stuck in the sand. Time was an issue, so we took a faster 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 from 500 feet at the start of the tour to 5700 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.

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.