Gylen Castle

Getting sick while traveling put a kink in our plans. On September 2, about 12 days into our trip I woke up feeling quite ill. We had a COVID test kit with us and I tested positive for COVID. We were able to extend our stay at the Pennygate Lodge in Craignure. After a few days there we moved to an apartment in Oban for a few more nights. This meant we would not be spending time at the Iona Abbey as planned, but it did give us a few more days to explore Oban. Once we were feeling better we decided a trip to the Isle of Kerrera was in order. To get to the island we walked the short distance to the wharf where we hailed a taxi to take us to the Kerrera Ferry.

This is a small ferry that can only carry a dozen or so people, we ended up having to wait for a few crossings, which didn’t amount to much time, since the ride across the channel takes all of 10 minutes. That said, if you do plan to visit the island allow plenty of time in the event that you end up waiting.

Once on the island it’s a two mile walk to Kerrera Tea Room and the castle. It’s a very pretty walk past farms and pastures overlooking the Sound of Kerrera. We passed through a number of gates, being sure to close them after passing through. At the top of a rise just before reaching the tea room we found a gate with a sign “It’s all downhill from here.

It was just after noon when we reached the tea garden. The Smoked Spanish Chickpea Soup and fresh bread was a welcome treat after the walk. After lunch it was a short walk to the castle where we spent some time exploring the ruins.

The castle which overlooks the Firth of Lorn was built in 1582 by the Clan MacDougall but only occupied for a short time. It was burned by the Covenanters in 1647 during the Wars of the Three Kingdoms.

Once we had explored the castle, and peeked through the windows we made our way back to Oban and on to Kilmartin on the the afternoon bus. You can view more photos online. Here’s the track of our walk on the island.

Arthur’s Seat

Our trip to Scotland started in Edinburgh on August 21. We spent a couple of days here to give ourselves time to adjust to the eight hour time difference. One of the popular things to do in Edinburgh is to hike to Arthur’s Seat. This is an ancient volcano in the hills in Edinburgh. This mountain was described by Robert Louis Stevenson as “a hill for magnitude, a mountain in virtue of its bold design.” There are a number of car parks that give easy access to the trails on, however, being on foot, we turned it into a healthy day hike. Starting out from our accommodations near The Meadows and making our way across town and up the trail to the top.

While it is only a 1000 foot climb it was a challenge getting to the top. From there we had a panoramic view of the city below.

Our host for the Bed & Breakfast where we were staying suggested we follow the trail down the far side to make our way to the Sheep’s Heid Inn for lunch. The sign over the door says the inn was established in 1360, making it one of Edinburgh’s oldest pubs. We ordered the Pan-fired Wild Scallops ras el hanout, smoked haddock Florentine bonbons, celeriac purée, apple & fennel tartar. A delicious lunch after our walk.

When we returned to our lodgings we discovered that we had walked 8 miles. It was time to take off our hiking boots and put our feet up. You can view more photos online.

Ancient Ruins in Kilmartin

Kilmartin Glen is considered to have one of the most important concentrations of Neolithic and Bronze Age remains in Scotland. That seemed reason enough to spend a few days here. Some of the ruins date back more than 5,000 years. These include a multitude of cairns, standing stones, carved rock, stone circles, forts and castles.

There are a number of walks in the area leading to some of the features. So Saturday, September 10, we donned our hiking boots to go exploring. The most prominent features are a series of stone cairns which served as burial sites. These are oriented in a north-south line through the glen. We started with the Glebe Cairn and followed the trail to Nether Largie North Cairn, Nether Largie Mid Cairn, Nether Largie South Cairn, and Temple Wood.

The Nether Largie North Cairn has been excavated and you can climb down into the burial chamber through a sliding trap door. Once inside you can see the capstone with cup-shaped markings.

What is here today is not necessarily intact. Over the millennia, a number of the stones in the cairns have been taken away to be used as building material. The sites have been excavated for archaeological research and reconstructed to their present day form. Even with all these disturbances it’s remarkable to visit these sites and to imagine what life was like here 5,000 years ago, with a society that had people of prominence worthy of such an elaborate burial. It may be the flow of metals being traded through the glen that gave rise to this society.

The Nether Largie South Cairn is perhaps one of the most interesting. Here you can climb down inside and imagine what sacred ceremonies may have happened here.

In addition to the Cairns there are a number of standing stones throughout the glen and a circle of standing stones at the Temple Grove. Following our exploration of the Neolithic sites, we made our way to the Kilmartin Church to explore some of the gravestones in the graveyard. The church was closed, but it was still quite interesting to see some of the gravestones dating back hundreds of years. The Kilmartin museum was also closed for renovation, which was a bit of a disappointment. It would have been interesting to have additional information to help interpret the history of the glen.

Even though it was an easy walk through the glen we managed to log six miles.

Carnassarie Castle

Today, September 11, marks our 22nd day of travel in Scotland. We’ve had many adventures over the past three weeks. Some of those adventures will eventually make their way into this blog, but for today, I’ll share today’s walk to Carnassarie Castle. And, of course, at the top of the news is the passing of Queen Elizabeth II. That caused us to revise our plans to return to the Edinburgh airport for our return flight. Nevertheless, it didn’t stop us from lacing up our hiking boots this morning and going on a walk after a hearty Scottish Breakfast at our B&B here in Kilmartin, Old Manse.

Our track led us along several country paths, up into the hills, through woods and past babbling streams. Then we climbed a hill to the castle where we spent quite some time going up and down many flights of narrow circular stairs to admire the view. The castle was built between 1565 and 1572 by John Carswell who had been granted the land by the Earl of Argyll. Carswell would become the Bishop of the Isles and was instrumental in translating the Book of Common Order into Gaelic, which became the earliest book to be translated into Scots Gaelic.

The overcast sky with threat of rain provided some nice soft lighting to set the castle in a surrounding landscape of green rolling hills and woods.

After climbing all the stairs and poking into rooms and windows, we found a spot to break out our lunch of cheese and crackers.

We returned to the town of Kilmartin by retracing our steps, walking by an apparently abandoned caravan which seems to have a picturesque spot along the track. Back in town we stopped at the museum café for a bowl of hot lentil soup, muffins and coffee. The museum is closed at the moment for renovation, but that didn’t deter us from enjoying a cool pleasant day in the area of Scotland which is known for it’s archeological significance, with ruins going back over 5000 years.

Ruby Mountains

Continuing on our road trip to New Mexico, on the afternoon of July 10 we left Highway 80 near Elko Nevada and drove 35 miles up into the Ruby Mountains. Our campsite at Thomas Canyon Campground was situated at an elevation of 7600 feet. While most of the drive across Nevada is arid desert, Thomas Canyon is in a lush grove of Aspen surrounded by wildflowers. We spent two nights here, giving us one day to take a delightful hike up the canyon.

We were happy to find that fires were permitted and we bought firewood from the camp host. These days one isn’t guaranteed a campfire, given dry conditions with high fire risk. The next morning we fired up the Dutch oven for a breakfast of hash brown crusted quiche. A delicious breakfast before we set off on our hike. The hike goes 2.25 miles up the canyon, so up and back we logged 4.5 miles.

The hike climbs from about 7600 feet to 8900 feet, hiking through aspen groves and through meadows of wildflowers following Thomas Creek for much of the way. Here’s the track of our hike.

In the evening I took my big camera out and grabbed my tripod to see what I could find in the late afternoon light. Lo and behold I found a sunlit grove of trees that looked like fall color in the last rays of light. Some of these image will be in my art store shortly. You can view more photos in an online gallery.

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.

San Bruno Mountain

On May 16 we met a few friends for a hike on San Bruno Mountain. This is a state park covering 2400 acres representing an island of rugged open space in the middle of a highly urbanized environment. It is also home to a number of plants and animals that are endemic to the mountain.

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

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

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

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

More photos are available in an online gallery.

Reunion in Bishop

In April of 2017 my two brothers and I gathered together with our families to memorialized my father. We made a commitment to gather as a family on a regular basis. In 2020 we set our sights on Bishop in the Eastern Sierra and booked accommodations at the East Side Guest House and Bivy. Then COVID-19 struck and we scrapped our plans. With the pandemic easing up this year we decided to make another go at gathering. Family started arriving on Saturday evening April 24 with people coming from Washington, Texas, Hawaii and Massachusetts. My wife and I and our lovely Aunt Sue, being the hosts, arrived the day before to give us time to stock the larder with groceries. East Side Guest House is an an ideal location in the Eastern Sierra to set up a base camp for outdoor adventures. The facility has private rooms, a duck pond and a view of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and a common room for cooking and meeting.

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

April 25. The Alabama Hills and Independence

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

After breakfast we set up a sandwich station. Line up and make a lunch. Then we piled into cars for the drive to the Alabama Hills.

There is much to see on the drive south from Bishop. Some of our party made a visit to the Manzanar National Historic Site, one of the sites where Japanese Americans were incarcerated during World War II. A few of us stopped at the Mary DeDecker Native Plant Garden and the Eastern California Museum in Independence. The museum has an amazing collection of native American basketry and the garden was looking very nice with many plants in bloom. We also took advantage of the delicious ice cream at the Eastern Sierra Ice Cream Company.

April 26. Big Pine Lakes

Monday morning everybody was on there own for breakfast. Take your pick of oatmeal, eggs, bacon, sausage, toast, raisin bran, other packaged cereals, apples, oranges and bananas. And if that isn’t enough you can walk next door to Schat’s Bakery for espresso and pastries. Then we again set up the sandwich station.

There were several in our group that were anxious to get into the High Sierra. Despite the fact that the trails are usually snowed in this time of year, it looked like we might be able to get to one or two lakes in the Big Pine Lake Basin. We piled into our cars and drove to the the trail head at the end of Glacier Lodge Road.

My wife and I made it as far as First Lake at 10,000 feet. My two brothers and clan made it to Fourth Lake at 11,000 feet. We did find a few patches of snow on the trail, but nothing that required technical gear. First Lake still had some ice. The higher lakes were still frozen over. We logged 9.5 miles on our hike to and from First Lake. You can see a map on my GaiaGPS account. Those that went higher logged 12 miles or so.

April 27. Pleasant Valley Reservoir

With family members ranging in age from 3 1/2 to 84, we opted to do an outing close to Bishop to accommodate those that were not inclined to tackle a strenuous High Sierra hike. We found a nice level paved hike along Pleasant Valley Reservoir. This proved to be a lovely hike with opportunities to look for wildflowers and birds.

Those that were more adventuresome drove up to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest and reported a lovely outing. Tuesday evening marked out last day together and we had a birthday to celebrate.

The next morning we said our goodbyes and began our drive back over the mountains.

There is so much to see in the Eastern Sierra and I was sad to leave, but since we have family there, we manage to visit several times a year. The East Side Guest House and Bivy was a delightful place to host our reunion. The large community room, while being shared with other guests, proved to be a great place to gather, to chat and look a family photos. And talking about photos you can view more photos online.

Tassajara Ridge

Photos I had seen of some yellow lupine on Tassajara Ridge prompted us to go on a search. On the morning of April 5, we climbed in the car and drove to San Ramon. We were hoping to get an early start and find a bakery with some delectable baked goods. We ended up at a Starbucks which, while lacking the amazing fresh baked muffins where were hoping for, did suit our needs. Then it was off to find the trailhead. Our navigation seemed to be off a bit, and we discovered that access to the open space is limited. It was about 9:30 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.

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