Friday, November 23, 2007

Surgical Strike-Zion

Surgical Strikes. That’s what I call my short trips to places of interest, such as national parks. I usually try to coordinate them around some sort of business, like a conference, so that I use a few vacation days and work pays the airfare and some of the other expenses. This strategy has worked pretty well bringing me to places like the Channel Islands NP off the coast of California, Rocky Mountain NP, Joshua Tree NP, Anza Borrego State Park, among others.

This time I applied the technique (minus the corporate input) to seeing Zion National Park. I noticed that several of my favorite photographers (Jack Dykinga and David Muench) both were teaching workshops in Zion in early November. I figured they must know something that I didn’t and after a bit of investigation I discovered that early November is when the leaves change in that part of the country. The Aspens turn a brilliant yellow and the maples are a deep crimson. I had some personal time to use up and I found a reasonable airfare, so I booked myself a surgical strike to Zion covering November 8-10.

I left Boston around 5PM on Wednesday November 7 and landed in Las Vegas around 10PM PST after a brief stop in Salt Lake City. I grabbed the rental car and checked into the Motel6 in Vegas around midnight. This Motel6 is on Dean Martin Blvd which runs parallel to The Strip, but is separated from The Strip by the 15 running N/S. I could see the big black pyramid of Luxor and the towering Mandalay Bay but where I stood was a world away. Anyway, I tipped over and was asleep in no time.

I woke up around 7AM, checked out almost immediately, grabbed a MacBreakfast and was soon on the 15 heading towards Utah. It took a almost 3 hours to get to Springdale which is the little town just outside of Zion NP. I bought some supplies for hiking and breakfast and headed into the park. I got my campsite, set up the tent and went for my first hike.
The Front Porch

The Back Porch

The nice thing about November is that you can drive anywhere in the park. From March until the end of October, however, to go up into Zion Canyon you must ride on the shuttle. I’m sure the shuttles are convenient and are absolutely necessary during the peak visitation season, but I do like the freedom to move around at my own pace.

I decided to hike the Emerald Pools Trail which takes you up from the canyon floor along a really nice trail to lower, middle and upper Emerald Pools. The upper pool is set below towering red walls and if you want to hike further, you have to be able to rock climb. I took some photos at each of the 3 pools and then took the upper trail back down which made a loop and gave a really nice view down into the canyon.
Looking Back Down the Lower Emerald Pool Trail

The Upper Emerald Pool

View Down the Upper Pools Trail

Once back down, I drove up to the very end of the canyon to the Temple of Sinawava just to check it out. It was getting late afternoon and the light up in there was gone, so I turned around and headed to the eastern section of the park. This requires going through a tunnel that was built back in the 1930s and is low and narrow. The rangers stop traffic when a large vehicle needs to pass through, so I had to wait for a large trailer to make its way through.

Immediately on the eastern side of the tunnel is the carpark for the Canyon Overlook Trail. This is a pretty short (0.5 miles one way) trail to the overlook. I had wanted to do this hike after seeing a David Muench photo of sunrise from the Overlook. I wanted to see the trail in daylight in preparation for a pre-dawn hike with a headlamp so I could photograph sunrise a la Muench. It’s a well marked trail that ends at a railing and a look over the edge down into the canyon and beyond. Underneath, but out of view is the Zion Arch. I set up my tripod and waited for sunset chatting with many of the people who had hiked up to check out the view. I shot some nice images and then hiked down, getting back to the car before dark.
Sunset from the Canyon Overlook

Zion is quite the place and it does attract lots of photographers. I have not seen so many tripods and expensive rigs all in one place before. As I drove down from the Overlook there were still lots of people all set up on the bridge over the Virgin River getting the last shots of sunset and the Watchman. I’m glad I chose the Overlook and avoided the crowds. I continued into town for dinner at The Bit&Spur where I had a lovely pasta dish, washed down with an Evolution IPA. Next year I’ll try the Polygamy Porter.

After dining, I went back to my camp and after watching the stars for awhile I turned in. It was nice and cool and quiet when I fell asleep. I woke up in a few hours and it was like I had pitched my tent in a wind tunnel. IT WAS HOWLING!!!! The fly was flapping like crazy and I could have sworn it was raining. I slpet on and off for a few more hours, but as 4AM rolled around I had to get up. I needed to visit the facilities and I had already been lying down for 8 hours. I was amazed as I poked my head out of the tent to see that the sky was clear and full of stars.

I sat around at the picnic table as I decided on what to do. I really wanted to get out to the Canyon Overlook, but I kept talking myself out of hiking in the dark. All the “ohmagawds and whatifs” were rolling around in my head. Finally, I got going. I decided to go for it. Of course, I sat in the car for awhile offering the same arguments against, but as the night began to give way to light, I shouldered my pack, put on my headlamp and started walking.

Surprisingly, the hike was very relaxing. While I was relaxed and happy to be up and moving, my attention was very focused on the trail, lit by my headlamp, since there are several places where there is a long drop off to the dry wash below. I arrived at the overlook in plenty of time to set up my tripod and wait. It was quiet and clear. I was glad to have my warm jacket with me since the temperature was hovering in the upper 30s.
Sunrise from the Canyon Overlook

As the sun came up, I was all alone at the overlook. I kept expecting to hear voices coming up the trail to join me at first light. As first light passed, I thought for sure someone else would join me. Nope, I spent an incredible 2 hours watching the sun rise and illuminate the Towers of the Virgin with a gorgeous alpenglow. I returned to my car and still no one was there. Happily I returned to my camp for the morning ritual. (See the description in the Rocky Mountain post below)

Unfortunately, I goofed the day before and bought the wrong gas for my stove. No coffee. No oatmeal. What to do? I could go into town, buy another can of gas for my stove, come back, perk coffee, make oatmeal and waste the rest of the morning or I could go into town and visit the Mean Bean and get the necessary sustenance. That was the right choice! I walked in and ordered the largest coffee I could along with a breakfast sandwich. Mmmmmmmm and served up by a guy wearing a T-shirt that said “Never let a C student run your country!”.

I took my nectar and manna and split for the park. I ate as I drove up to the Temple of Sinawava and my date with the Riverside Walk, the paved trail that leads to the Virgin River Narrows. The late morning light backlighting the brilliant yellow Aspens along the rushing Virgin River suggested photo after photo. It was really hard to find something that wouldn’t be so obvious. I was set up to take an image and was framing my shot when a party of 3 walked past. One of the men said “There’s a photo up in there somewhere.” I agreed and they kept walking along.
Along the Riverside Walk

I walked up all the way to the end of the Riverside Walk taking more photos and reveling in the light. I took a few images at the trail’s end and was considering walking further up the canyon. I had to think hard about it. I had been talking to one of the park rangers the day before and he told me that the water was about 50°F. That’s cold and my feet are not really happy in the cold. As I was considering what to do, the same group passed me. Another one of the guys asked me if I was thinking about going up stream. I recognized him as one of my favorite landscape photographers, Jack Dykinga ( ). Of course, I said I was absolutely going up into the Narrows. He then asked if I’d carry his pack.
Looking Up Into The Virgin River Narrows

As we were hiking up into the Narrows I struck up a conversation with another member of the group, a woman named Jillian Robinson, a documentary film maker from Tuscon. In addition to Jack Dykinga, I was hiking with Jeff Foott, another professional photographer of some note. I was welcomed into the group and was able to spend most of the afternoon watching how these folks worked. Jack just tromped up into the Narrows, saw an image, set up his 4x5 camera, metered the scene and started taking pictures. Then just as quickly he moved to another spot and did the same thing. Then back to the first place for more. Then he made all of us get that same image.
My Version of the View Up the River

The View Down River in The Narrows

So, about the time that Jack ran out of film I needed to get out of the water. My feet were beginning to feel a bit like wooden clubs on the end of my legs and I needed something to eat. We walked back downstream and back to the cars. I said goodbye and went and ate some cheese and nuts and bread, feeling very satisfied and really lucky to have been there to hang with those folks.

After I finished eating and drying out, I went off in search of the evening spot to shoot sunset. I thought maybe at the same bridge with the hordes, but that I would venture down next to the river and get more of the scene looking up. The light did not cooperate very well and there were low clouds moving in. The spectacular show of the night before did not repeat, so after a few lackluster shots I went into town for another dinner and sleep.

My plan for Saturday was to break camp and head up to the Kolob Canyon area to either hike into the Subway or around to the Double Arch Alcove area before driving back to Vegas and an early morning flight on Sunday. Double Arch Alcove was suggested by both Jack and Jeff as one of THE places to go, especially with the foliage as beautiful as it was. I had my backcountry permit for the Subway and I had details for the Alcove and just needed to make up my mind.

Making up my mind was decided by my dinner. I had ordered a pork tostada and a couple of IPAs. I went to bed happy and full only to wake up a few hours later trying to decide whether to puke or shit! I ran to the bathroom and spent the next hour sitting there. I went back to my tent and fell asleep again only to wake up again in a little while with the same problem. I spent the next few hours voiding everything that was inside me. Once the sun was up, I started to break camp and it took awhile because I had to keep stopping and resting and fighting to keep from puking. After a couple of hours I felt a little better and figured a small coffee would be OK. Thus fortified I decided to forego and ideas of hiking that day.

So, I did something else I have done in the past when I explore a new area-I decided to drive and see the countryside. And what better way to do that than to drive up to Bryce Canyon NP. After all it would only be about a 1.5 hour drive and I would be able to check it out for the big spring trip next year. So, while still feeling like I was going to hurl, I pointed the car east, drove through the eastern section of Zion and on up to Bryce.

Once in Bryce, I drove all the way to the end of the road and slowly worked my way back to the entrance stopping at each overlook and taking some photos. This canyon is unique geologically, filled with structures called hoodoos. The hoodoos are artifacts from erosion of the very soft sandstones in the area. As they erode, short, deep canyons are formed. In Bryce, there are thousands of these canyons creating a maze of passages. Ebeneezer Bryce once remarked “It’s a helluva place to lose a cow.”
Sunrise Point-Bryce Canyon

The View From Bryce Point

Bryce is at over 8000’ so each time I tried to hike out a little ways at the overlooks, I would get really winded, my head would start to pound and I’d feel sick all over again. But I stopped at each overlook and made mental notes about good spots to take photos at either sunrise or sunset.

By the time I had driven all the way through the park it was getting late, so I bought a Coke and began the drive back to Vegas. I returned to the same Motel6, took a shower, re-packed and fell right asleep. My alarm woke me up in plenty of time to get to the airport for my 6:30AM flight home. After a quick change of planes in LA I was headed home, arriving in the early evening happy and tired. I can’t wait to go back next year for a whole week.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

'Rahdo, dude!

As I prepare to (finally) upload this entry, one of my best friends, Chris (moron) LeMay is getting settled in his new city of Boulder, CO. I am REALLY envious!

“‘Rahdo, Dude!” Apparently this is THE way to say it according to my colleague Hans. Not only do you say it with your best Valley Boy/Girl inflections, but you also have to hold your hands with the thumbs and little fingers extended and the other three fingers folded like this:

With your hands folded like this, you waggle them back and forth while saying” ‘Rahdo, dude!” This is the proper way to refer to Colorado. While I was there no one did this.

I arrived in Colorado at the Denver International Airport late in the day on August 23 after a flight where the flight attendants were kept in their seats with seatbelts on. Denver is perhaps my least favorite place to land due to lots of wind and very few smooth landings. So, I was expecting a terrifying landing complete with firetrucks and a slide down the emergency chute. It turned out to be the smoothest landing I have ever had in Denver.

After collecting the big yellow duffle and my other bags, I picked up the rental Jeep and headed up to Longmont for a stay at the Super8 motel. I figured that I would like a night to collect my thoughts, take a shower in the morning before heading up to Rocky Mountain Nat’l Park (RMNP). It was the right thing to do because I had never been in this part of “Rahdo, dude” and would rather explore during the light of day.

I checked out the next morning and went to the Albertson’s I had noticed the night before to load up on supplies for the trip. A full shopping cart later, I headed south to Boulder to visit Neptune Mountaineering and pick up a couple other things I needed, like a stove and fuel. This place is really neat with little “museum” nooks containing climbing gear from the ages scattered around the store. I could have spent the entire day in there just browsing, but I was on a mission.

So. After collecting my stuff from the store, I drove through Boulder up to Lyons where I picked up CO Rt. 7, which took me all the way up to Estes Park. This route is jaw dropping gawjus! It passes below Long’s Peak, part of my quest, while continuing north. I stopped in to the ranger’s station at Long’s and picked up a map and other info before heading down to Estes Park.

Estes Park is a real tourist trap with t-shirt shops and knickknack shops cheek by jowl along Main St. and tons of people strolling along. I am told that by now, the town is pretty much rolled up for the winter and largely deserted. Anyway, I continued through to get up to the RMNP Visitor Center to get more info about camping.

Now, I must admit to a rather lengthy and strenuous debate with myself about actually camping, alone, for 3 days. I have gotten so far away from my dirtbag roots, that the thought of it was beginning to terrify me. Oh, what the hell, I’ll just get a room for tonight. I did this in CA in June and it bugged me. I finally settled down and got some cash and headed back up to Long’s, where there is a drive-in, tent only campground. Perfect base of operations! The extra bonus is sleeping at over 9000’ which is one of the recommendations for acclimatizing to the altitude.


So, I found a site, paid the $60 for 3 nights and pitched the tent. I had no sooner finished this than it started to rain. It was the afternoon thunderstorms that roll through the mountains during August. I climbed into the Jeep and tried to wait it out. It stopped long enough for me to cook dinner (Mmmmmm…..Top Ramen) before it started again. Once again it stopped and I decided to head down to Lily Lake and see if it would clear enough for some sunset photos. Nope, it just kept raining, so I turned around and headed back to camp.

The T-storms continued throughout the night waking me several times. The lightning flashes quickly followed by thunder (Eeeek! That was close!) gave me pause as to the wisdom of my decision for camping. But, I decided to see what the morning would bring.

I got up about 90 minutes before sunrise and raced down to Lily Lake again. I didn’t worry too much about waking anyone else since most of the folks who camp at Long’s are there to actually try and climb to the summit (14,275’). This usually means up and ready to hike by headlamp at 3AM. This early start is crucial to success, since you want to be on the way down in time to miss the afternoon storms. Once it started to brighten I was witness to the deposit of snow on the mountains. August 24 and there’s snow in the Rockies. I like winter but that’s pushing it a bit.

Once the light was gone, I went back to camp and made breakfast. This included “The Ritual” started by Chris LeMay and me back in Tuolumne. The ritual is strong, black coffee perked on the camp stove. This is the requirement for breakfast. Everything else is just fluff. The Ritual

After breakfast I packed my stuff for the first hike. Over dinner the night before I had settled on hiking the Glacier Gorge trail out to Mills Lake which has a beautiful view of the back side of Long’s Peak as well as views of Hallett Peak, Chiefshead and the Spearhead in a beautiful alpine setting. Only problem was that I was staring late and by the time I arrived at the parking area for Glacier Gorge, it was full. I could take the shuttle bus that the Park Service runs, but I thought I’d see if the Bear Lake lot had any slots available. I could connect up to Glacier Gorge Trail from Bear Lake and it was only a wee bit longer so I figured why not.

There were plenty of parking spaces there since it is one of the most popular spots in the park. Bear Lake is only about 300’ from the parking area and the entire trail around the lake is handicapped accessible. There are those who would argue that a handicapped trail around a lake is an abomination, but I would much rather have those be able to enjoy what I take for granted. The more people who can participate in the outdoors, maybe the more people will voice disapproval when the government wants to limit the parks. Or not. I still would like to think that they would.

The hike was really enjoyable and I was really glad to have spent the night at altitude because I did not suffer any ill effects. In fact, I felt so good, I decided to extend my hike and go out to Black Lake. It added another 4.5 miles to the trip, but it was well worth it. As soon as I left Mills Lake, the crowds thinned and I was pretty much alone until I made the return trip. I made it back to the camp in good style, had a beer while cooking dinner (Mmmmmm….Top Ramen) and was asleep soon after. Chief's Head
Glacier Gorge
Black Lake

Chief's Head from Black Lake

There were no T-storms on Friday night, so I slept through. At least until everyone else in camp started preparing for their assault on the Long’s summit. Most folks were turned back on Friday due to the snow at the higher elevations, so, coupled with regular weekend traffic, it was really crowded on Saturday. I got up early enough to shoot sunrise, but the light was pretty boring.

After “The Ritual”, I packed my stuff again for a hike up to Chasm Lake, which sits at the base of the east face of Long’s Peak, aka the Diamond. The Diamond is one of the most prestigious alpine rock faces to climb in the country. It was really humbling to sit below it and gaze up. By the way, it’s HUGE! Once I was above treeline I ran into a steady stream of people on their way down. Saturday was another tough day to summit due to dangerously strong winds. Conga Line

Much of the hike is above treeline and the lake itself sits at nearly 12,000’. It was a beautiful day. Again. And I was alone at the lake for nearly 30 minutes before anyone else arrived. There were, however, climbers calling to each other up on the face. I could only imagine how miserable it had to have been Thursday night with all the rain and for them, snow. Chasm Lake and The Diamond
View Down from Chasm Lake

After eating a bit of lunch, I headed back down. This was my second day of hiking above 10,000’ and I was pretty tired. I made some dinner (Mmmmmm…..Top Ramen) and had a beer while I built my campfire. It was, after all, Saturday night and what would a Saturday night be without a fire. This is another tradition from weekends at the house in Charlemont. I was asleep soon after the fire died down to coals.

Sunday was checkout day and I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do. My legs were sore from the pounding down the trail and I needed a break. Jackie, the host for the campground, suggested that since I had only seen a small portion of the park, that I should drive the Trail Ridge Road. Jackie and her husband Kas, are retired folks who sold all their possessions and bought an RV. The Rv is home. From my several conversations with her, they are having a ball. A tip of the old chapeau to them!

Anyway, the Trail Ridge Rd is the northernmost road in the park and most of it is in the alpine tundra zone. I decided that this would be a perfect way to get my self over to Loveland by Sunday night so I would be ready for my training class (the actual reason for my being in ‘Rahdo, dude in the first place) on Monday. I was impressed to see the number of people on bikes pedaling their way up and over the Divide. The road crosses the Continental Divide and then continues west and south ending up on the western side of the park down around Grand Lake. Robert at the Continental Divide

From there I drove north to Walden and Gould and then down through the Cache le Poudre canyon. This was spectacular but was so busy with fishermen and kayakers that I couldn’t find a place to pull off and get out. It also was another rainy day, so I just kept driving, finally ending up in Loveland by way of Fort Collins. All in all, a pretty nice and low key day and the perfect way to end the vacation part of my trip.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

By the Time We Got to Woodstock

“By the time we got to Woodstock
We were half a million strong
And everywhere there was song and celebration”
Joni Mitchell

Holly and I made the trip to Woodstock on Saturday to hear photographer Robert Glenn Ketchum speak at the Center for Photography . He is one of the leading voices of the conservation movement and is one of the most respected environmental photographers on the planet. If you can think of a superlative, it applies to him and his work. So, he was leading a workshop there and part of the deal is that the Center has the workshop leaders give a lecture on Saturday night. It’s open to the public and so we decided to go. It’s about 2 hours, maybe a tad longer, and not a bad drive, even if you take the long way.

After running errands in the morning, we headed out just past noon with the intention of meandering our way to NY. Everything was going along just fine and then….. SURPRISE! We’re going to CLIMAX! It was all I could do to hang on to the steering wheel. Thank goodness Holly had made the trip before and knew what to expect, but I was not quite prepared.

Anyway, the town of Woodstock is a hoot with everyone trying to purchase a bit of the cashay, dahling of the ever so trendy happening that is still Woodstock. Mixed in are the burnouts who never could quite bring themselves to leave. It’s hard to walk the streets and keep a straight face.

The lecture began more or less on time and was definitely worth the drive. One of the very cool directions he is moving in is tapestry. He has been working with the Suzhou Embroidery Research Institute in China for a number of years. The embroiderers actually take his images and copy them exactly into tapestries, some of which are 6’x14’. I have only seen images in his book Regarding the Land . Pretty amazing stuff.

That;s about it for now. I gotta go find my tie-dye and love beads.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

My Week in SoCal

As mentioned in the last post, I was off to San Diego in late June. The purpose of the trip was to attend the AAPS(American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists) National Biotech Conference where I was presenting a poster covering some of my recent work. Unlike many of the others attending, I did NOT take the red-eye home or even fly the next day. Hey, when I get my airfare paid by someone else, I use it to my full advantage!
Pretty Swank Digs!

The View From My Balcony

I arrived on a Friday night, picked up the rental car and checked into the hotel too late to get any food. So, I got up early enough to get a big breakfast the next AM before attending the all day forum concerning protein precipitation. I know, it sounds thrilling, right? Once over, we went to dinner at a fabulous pub with Julie (old climbing bud), who as it turns out is coming back to Boston after completing her post doc at UCSD. When I told her of my plans for Sunday she mentioned that the area I had chosen to hike had burned 3 years ago and was now on its way back, but was still pretty ugly.

Her recommendation was to head up to Idyllwild and hike around the historical (from a climbing perspective) Tahquitz and Suicide Rocks. Tahquitz back in the late 50s was the site of the first 5.9 in the U.S. This was the stomping ground of the L.A. based climbers who were at the vanguard of Yosemite big wall ascents and the first ascent rosters are a who’s who in American climbing. This was a really good suggestion. It was cooler since the hike was at a bit of altitude and a beautiful trail led to the summit of Suicide Rock where I lounged in the sun. Sorry no photos yet since I forgot Dig It! Al, the little point-and-shoot camera I use for capturing shots along the way. Once I have some of the images from slides, I’ll post them.

After Sunday it was back to business at the conference with full days of hob knobbing with my fellow wizards occupying my time. However, on Wednesday the only topics of interest to me were in the morning so I had the JEEP loaded and ready to roll by noon and I was off to Bishop, 360 miles to the north.

I arrived in Bishop around 7PM after some stops and some slow traffic. The 395 past Adelanto is really a 2 lane road with lots of semis heading both north and south. There are some passing areas but not nearly enough so it was a pretty long drive. I wasn’t quite sure of where to park and sleep, so being kinda hot, tired and hungry, I decided to take Tom Bodett up on his offer and booked a room in a Motel6. When I went into the office I thought I had stepped into a John Waters film and Divine was behind the counter. I don’t think I have ever seen eyebrows like that except on Divine and I gave a quick shiver and handed over my credit card.

I was up somewhat early the next morning but was having trouble deciding where to go and what to do. I think one of the consequences of withdrawing from Celexa is a sort of anxious muddled feeling that sometimes gets in the way of making decisions. Anyway, I went to the Buttermilks outside of town and drove up through there to evaluate the weather and find a camping spot. The Buttermilks are at a high enough altitude that it gets nice and cool at night, so sleeping in the back of the JEEP wasn’t going to be too hot and uncomfortable. After finding the perfect place to sleep on Thursday night and I headed back to town and an Ortega omelet at Jack’s, home of THE best breakfasts in this section of the Universe!

I finally made a decision about what to do and checked out of the Motel6 and headed up to South Lake and the trailhead for the Treasure Lake trail. South Lake is about 15 miles up and outside of Bishop. The road ends at the lake, which if it isn’t entirely man-made, is at least man-enhanced by the construction of a dam at the north end. The trail starts at about 9500’ above sea level, which means I was huffing and puffing while putting on my boots!
The view down the trail toward South Lake

Shooting Star along the trail

Thankfully, the same folks who built the trails in the White Mountains of NH did not build the trails out in the western states. See the post below concerning the Nelson Crag Trail. The Treasure Lake trail steadily climbed, but the use of switchbacks made it much easier than the typical White Mountain beeline. I took my time and made it to the lakes in pretty good style. Of course my non-Alpine start of around 10AM insured that I would arrive at the lakes at midday, perfect timing for photography. NOT!!!! Midday is probably the worst time to try taking good photos and the resulting images are not among my best. No problem though, since my aim was to hike and be out and about in one of the most stunning places on the planet.
Mt. Goode from Treasure Lake

I was back to the JEEP around 3 and a call back home was in order. Holly asked about my plans for the rest of the day and suggested that I think about capturing sunset at Mono Lake, since there we really had no sunset images from there. I figured why not? It’s less than an hour north along the 395, I could have dinner at the Mobil Mart and be back to the Buttermilks and the camping spot I had scoped out early enough. I headed north and decided along the way that I would go by way of the Benton Rd which would connect with the 120 and bring to the Tufa State Reserve from the south. It was the right choice and had me driving through beautiful backcountry.

I arrived at the Reserve with plenty of time to scope out the Navy Beach. The Navy Beach is the location of the sand tufa which are quite different from the more well known tufa of the lake. I wandered around looking for spots to set up for the sunset and having figured it out, I went for dinner.
The Navy Beach

Now dinner in Lee Vining, CA may appear to have limited choices and for the most part this is true. However, they also have Tioga Toomey’s Whoa Nellie Deli stuck in the corner of the Tioga Mobil Mart. Dinner at a gas station? you ask. Yes! And it is worth the drive. Fresh made on the premises are cheescakes, chocolate cakes, pies and more. Pork tenderloin, a steak salad that will make you salivate like Pavlov’s dog, fish tacos and jumbo burgers are just a few of the entrees. They also have wine and beer. Mmmmmmmmmmm!

So, I said hello to Matt the Chef (I understand that he actually is a trained chef) and ordered up a cheeseburger to go. I grabbed a six of Fat Tire Ale and headed back to the Navy Beach to wait for the sun to go a bit more. Apparently this is one of the spots on Mono Lake where people swim. A guy was there with his kids and he had the van all tricked out with tunes, a grill, coolers and beach chairs. Looked like a lot of fun. I ate my burger and washed it down with a couple of Fatties and listened to some classic rock while the sun slowly dropped.

Once the burger was gone and the light was changing for the better I grabbed my camera and tripod and wandered out amongst the tufa. I spent the next hour or so happily shooting images of these little deposits. The tufa form in the very alkaline waters of Mono Lake when fresh water from underground springs bubbles up into the lake, mixes with the carbonate rich water and form an insoluble deposit of calcium carbonate. There are 2 kinds of tufa, the calcium carbonate variety and the sand tufa, which are formed of sand cemented into columns that support a calcium carbonate crown. The 2 types are quite different and striking in their own right.
Full moon rising

My plan was to finish up after the sun had dropped behind the mountains and head on down to the Buttermilks, but as I walked back into the parking area, someone else was there parked next to my JEEP. In passing I mentioned that I was impressed with the van conversion (this minivan had been converted for roadtripping with a sleeping platform/storage set up that replaced the back seats) and this elicited an invitation for a glass of wine. I wasn’t really quite sure what I would be doing the next day and figured that a stay at Mono Lake for sunrise would be a wonderful thing to do, so I accepted the wine. I spent a lovely evening chatting about all sorts of topics and was up for a beautiful sunrise at the Lake.
I love the sight of sand tufa in the morning

The view toward the more famous south tufa with the Dana plateau in the background

After taking a number of images at sunrise, I headed back over to see Matt for breakfast. While eating I decided that I would head up to the Little Lakes Valley at the top of Rock Creek Canyon. I hiked one of the trails last year and figured I’d take another trail up towards Mono Pass to Ruby Lake. It was another gorgeous day and starting out at 10,000 feet it was already nice and cool. I hiked steadily up to the lake on another really nice trail. The view back down the trail

Bear Creek Spire at the head of the valley

Once there I found a sheltered spot, though not too sheltered since I wanted the wind to keep blowing the bugs away, to bask in the sun. this little alpine lake is surrounded by some of the most spectacular rock walls I have seen. Apparently this was one of Galen Rowell’s favorite places and I can see why. The Ruby Wall from Ruby Lake

After shooting more film, I headed back down to the JEEP and a trip into Bishop for a visit to Rowell’s Mountain Light Gallery. This is a compulsory stop for me whenever I am anywhere near Bishop. I was able to catch the Carr Cliffton ( exhibit which was there for only another few days. The images on display were breathtaking and I am very fortunate to have seen them in person. Of course I had to buy some books and replace my missing ring adapter and filter holder for the neutral density split grads that I REALLY could have used in the morning at Mono Lake.

OK, it’s Friday and I have to be back in San Diego on Saturday evening to re-pack everything and be ready to leave on Sunday morning. I can a. Stay in Bishop overnight and drive back the way I came or b. drive to Joshua Tree National Park, spend the night and drive back through the park on Saturday. This way I could check it out for next year’s Most Excellent Month of March Extravaganza. I chose b. Joshua Trees

Joshua Tree is a most extraordinary place. I was very impressed with the beauty of the area and the campgrounds are amongst the best I’ve ever seen. I started out in the NW corner of the park which is in the Mojave Desert and slowly drove SE through the Park. Joshua Tree National Park

Eye Candy for Dr. Dover

Cholla Cactus Garden

About halfway, there is a transition zone where I drove down from the Mojave into the Sonoran Desert. This was marked by the Cholla Cactus Garden which is amazing. The two deserts are strikingly different with the Sonoran being hotter and more barren. Both are quite beautiful however, even if it was 115°F in the Sonoran Desert. Just before I left the Park, I saw a flash of something off to my right. It looked like a mule, but I only caught a glimpse of the hind end. As I drove a little further I could see the head of a Desert Bighorn Sheep. He had the full set of horns and was quite magnificent. We gawked at each other for a few seconds before he ran off and I kept driving.

Once out of JTree, I had another choice. I could go west to the ocean and continue along the coast to San Diego or I could go a little bit further east and see more desert. I opted for more desert. I drove over to the western shore of the Salton Sea, home to a newly discovered school of pupfish. Pupfish are endangered and thought to be extinct in the Salton Sea, but there they are and they have scientists scratching their heads trying to figure out how they got there.

About halfway down the shore State Route 22 heads west towards Borrego Springs and home of the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, another destination for next March. I quickly checked out the park’s visitor center, got a map and some literature and was on my way back to San Diego. The Badlands in Anza-Borrego State Park

Anyway, the rest is pretty much anticlimactic. I checked into a Days Inn, re-packed my stuff, made my flight on Sunday in plenty of time, and am now back home. Whew! Another whirlwind tour of California!

Monday, June 25, 2007

You came DOWN the Nelson Crag Trail?

Vindication is sweet. For 4 hours Kim and I had been struggling down the Nelson Crag Trail, one of the steepest trails on Mt. Washington. Cursing was one of the major components of our conversation. The Nelson doesn’t end at Pinkham Notch, but 1.6 miles north of there near the start of the Auto Road. Thankfully the Old Jackson Rd trail is mostly flat.

Even though we were late to get back to let Rosie the Chihuahua out, we needed to stop in the Pinkham AMC shop to buy a book. We met up with a fellow hiker from earlier in the day and began comparing notes. She had taken the Lion’s Head trail to the summit while we had diverted and taken the Alpine Garden trail so that we could view and photograph the alpine flowers that were blooming.

She then inquired as to our hike down from the gardens. We responded that we came down the Nelson Crag Trail. The news that we had done this caused several of the other patrons to put down the books, t-shirts, mugs, etc they were ogling to chime in, nearly in unison “YOU CAME DOWN THAT TRAIL?” The general consensus was that this was not one of the trails to come down. It is unrelentingly steep and much of it is in very thick woods. As I said earlier, vindication is sweet!

Tuck's from the LionsHead Trail

We had started the day hiking up the Tuckermans Ravine Trail to Lion’s Head and up to the Alpine Gardens so that we could photograph the tiny alpine flowers that were in bloom. There were blooms all along the trail including plenty of Bunchberry and Clintonia a.k.a. blue bead lily.
Bunchberry in bloom

There is actually a fairly small window for the alpine blooms and mid to late June is the usual peak season. I think we were there just a wee bit before true peak. Don’t get me wrong it was gorgeous up there, but the Mountain Avens were still mostly buds, waiting to burst in the next few days and the carpets of blooming flowers were scattered. Since this was my first, but not last trip to the flowers, I may have been expecting more than what is typical.

There were diapensia everywhere and scattered in amongst them were Lapland Rosebay and the tiny Mountain Azalea. We stopped for lunch at a beautiful little stream that led into a small marsh. Hellebore, Hairy Deer Grass were the prominent species there. Continuing along the trail we came to the junction with the Huntington Ravine Trail and considered, only for a moment mind you, descending by way the HRT. It would have involved 3rd classing down some sections with exposure all around. I haven’t been climbing much and my head wasn’t up for that.

The view across the Gardens from the top of Huntington's

So, a quick consult of the map showed that making a loop hike by going down the Nelson Crag Trail would be almost the same distance and since we always think covering new ground preferable to back tracking, we opted for the loop. Note to self: Never take the Nelson Crag Trail again!
The point of no return

Once down and with book in hand we retreated back to Kim’s house in Conway to a very happy (and relieved) little dog. Margaritas and some raviolis and soon the Nelson Crag Trail didn’t seem so bad. Of course 3 days later my thighs still had twinges of stiffness from the constant set of 2.5 miles of deep knee bends.

So, I’m off to San Diego for a conference with other biotech geeks. Aside from I love what I do and I’m presenting a poster of some of my work, I am also going to boogie up to Bishop for a few days of hiking before heading home.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Spring at the Rolling J Farm

June 9, 2007

It’s taken me a little mental re-organization to admit that the BLOG doesn’t have to be only for trips. It can also be used for keeping in touch with folks and a means for showing off the gardens. So, here’s a brief update from here at what I call the Rolling J Farm.

The seasons here at the farm tend to revolve around the fire…winter the woodstove, summer the grill. Cooking on the woodstove or over a wood fire in the fire pit is waaaaaay more satisfying than turning on the electric stove. This time of year after Saturday chores, time in the garden and a bike ride, we start the fire in the grill. A gin&tonic to fight malaria from any potential mosquito bite and watching the traffic roll by is quite relaxing. As you can see, it's quite a comfortable set-up.

So, tonight I’m here at the Rolling J Farm with Mr. Cat while Holly is at Harvard making Livingston Taylor look good. The last of the Harvard events (the 35th reunion concert) is tonight and so begins the final countdown to her summer vacation. Mr. Cat is patrolling the attic and I’m finishing a fabulous porterhouse and watching the lightning bugs. Mmmmmmm.. fresh kale, asparagus from our garden and steak from Avery’s. It doesn’t get a whole lot better. All complimented with a lovely Pinot from Paul’s ( in Shelburne Falls. Even the No-See-Ums seem to be a bit more relaxed tonight and are not intensely eating my feet.

Last weekend we were able to get most of our plants into the garden beds. Tomatoes, potatoes, Brussels Sprouts, kale, hot and sweet peppers and alliums of many sorts-onions, leeks, shallots, scallions. I’ve also started transplanting Ostrich ferns under the crabapples so we can have our own supply of fiddleheads each spring.

In the dooryard gardens all the herbs are growing great guns and I’m going to harvest some to dry. Oregano, thyme, savory, sage, and tarragon all seem to have survived the winter unscathed.

The iris, peonies, mountain rue, and tansy are all beginning to flower and the gardens smell lovely right now. I’m in the process of building another small stone wall in the gardens to shore up some slumping soil and create another tier for plants.

There’s always stuff to do here at The Farm. Stay tuned for more!