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.

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.

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.

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.

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

Shakedown for Spain

These boots are made for walking

In the weeks ahead we’ll be walking about 100 miles along the Costa Brava and in the foothills of the Spanish Pyrenees. We’ll be following two self-guided tours offered through Macs Adevntures:  Foothills of the Spanish Pyrenees and Hidden Gems of the Catalan Coast. As a shakedown I decided to put a few miles on my new hiking boots so on May 12 we put the dog in the car and drove to Briones Regional Park. The goals were to give our Carson some off-leash time, log five miles and check out the wild flowers. Briones Regional Park is a 6,225-acre park in the hills of Contra Costa County. It’s about a 20 mile drive from our house. In spring it’s a stunning park with oak canyons, and green rolling hills. The ridges along the top of the hills afford wide sweeping panoramic views. Later in the year the green grass becomes a golden brown and the temperature can be quite warm.

At one point on our hike Carson decided to get a drink in one of the cattle watering troughs and ended up taking an unintentional swim. Along one of the ridges we passed a herd of cows, and Carson did his best to hike in Joann’s shadow acting a bit shy. There were a couple of steep sections of trail where I was glad I had my hiking poles, and even so, I took my time descending the steepest sections of trail.

Over the course of our walk we logged 4.9 miles. You can see a map or our course above or view more details about the track here.

Tues Oct 9. Cuyahoga Valley National Park

Out the door and in the car at 7:30 for a return visit to Blue Hen Falls in Cuyahoga Valley National Park. At a bend in the Cuyahoga River I caught a glimps of the rising sun reflecting off the water, with a misty fog lingering in the bottom lands. No place to stop and I was intent on getting to the falls with the soft morning light. I could easily spend a week here with all the gorgeous scenery. But that might have to be another trip. Yesterday we did a three mile hike from Blue Hen Falls to Buttermilk Falls, through the woods and alone a creek, hiking through tall hardwood forest and moss covered rocks. Photographing the Falls was a challenge with people continually walking into my composition and a bit of harsh light. Today I had the woods and the falls to myself and I enjoyed basking in the peace and solitude.

Blue Hen Falls (10/8/18 boa iPhone. More to follow)

After my sojourn I returned to our B&B where we brewed a pot of coffee and had breakfast. Then we managed a three mile hike on the Ledges Loop trail, walking past some fascinating sandstone cliffs, with large blocks of sandstone forming ledges, again with moss, ferns and trees, some of the trees showing a bit of fall color.

Ledges Trail

Now we’re on the road again heading to Ohiopyle and back to our theme of chasing Frank Lloyd Wright.

Git Along Little Dogies

On Saturday we took a break from grand-parenting for a quick hike in the mountains. It’s 11 miles from our son Aaron’s place in Big Pine to the Glacier Pack Station. We were just a few miles up the road when we had to stop for a cattle drive. Cattle and cowboys (and cowgirls) coming down the middle of the road. Seemed like they deserved the right of way so we stopped the car to let them pass.

Once the cattle had passed we continued on to the end of the road. Once you reach the end of the road there’s a campground and a trail head. The trail leads to the Big Pine Lakes Basin in the John Muir Wilderness with a number of lakes surrounded by spectacular mountains and a view of the Palisade Glacier. It’s about 5.5 miles into the first lake. From there you can hike to a number of other lakes.  If you want to make it more than a day hike you can backpack in or hire the packers to carry your gear. We did a pack trip here two years ago. More on that in future post. For the ambitious there’s also a trail up to the Palisade Glacier.

We were just out for a short hike, so we grabbed our day packs and hiked up the North Fork of Big Pine Creek until it was time to turn around. It felt good to be in the High Sierra, with the cool clear air surrounded by the sharp jagged peaks of the Sierra.  Our dog Carson was thrilled to be in the mountains able to run off-leash.  We saw a few signs of fall with Rabbit Bush, a few aspen and the willows showing some yellow. It’s still early for the aspen.

Tioga Lake

Tioga Lake

On Thursday, September 13 I was able to break away from work for an extended weekend in the Eastern Sierra. Evening found us setting up camp at Tioga Lake, just east of Tioga Pass and just outside Yosemite National Park. I had this destination in mind as photo opportunity to show off our camping rig at dusk. Sure enough the campground was only sparsely populated and we found a site on the edge of the lake. We’ve avoided this location on previous tent camping trips since it tends to be quite windy and chilly here. With the pop-up camper though the wind isn’t much of an issue. The lake sits at 9700 feet and the wind can howl through Tioga Pass. The campground is located in the Inyo National Forest and managed by Inyo Recreation. The camping fee is $22 but with our Park Pass the fee we paid $11. Dogs are permitted on leash, although once we were out of the campground our dog Carson was happy to be off leash. Water is available through a hand-cranked pump, although we were equipped with plenty of water on-board our rig.

The temperature dropped to 38 degrees in the night, and we had the heater going part of the night, since we had our summer sleeping bags. Fall is on the way though, with the willows turning yellow, the temperatures are dropping.

I had a second objective in mind, and that was to try and capture a photo of the Milky Way over the lake. With the elevation, the clear air, and lack of light pollution, I though this might provide an opportunity for some astro-photography. Tioga Lake

Shortly after the crescent moon set, I set up my Nikon D800 with a 14-24mm lens and captured a few images. This turns out to be a more daunting task than I had imagined. Trying to compose and focus through what seems to be a pure black viewer is a challenge. In the morning we did a short hike around the lake, covering about two miles. Tioga Lake is a spectacular location in the High Sierra, with easy access since it’s right on Highway 120, which runs through Yosemite National Park.

After our hike it was time to head down the East Side towards Big Pine, with a stop at the Mobile Station in Lee Vining for a lunch with their famous fish tacos.

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