Mother Nature has had some kind of grudge against me lately. It seems that every time I plan on getting out to the snow or backpacking conditions are anything but favorable. The trend continued last weekend, with a massive storm pounding the Sierra on yet another weekend I had planned on going out on a snow camping overnighter. But no worries – Mother Nature had other plans for me. We decided to head to Carrizo Plain National Monument, a seemingly boring open plain situated in the open undeveloped land between San Luis Obispo and Highway 5.
Carrizo’s shining glory is its massive spring wildflower display. Back in January, this year was shaping up to be a dud in terms of wildflowers, but the February rains have led to ideal conditions. The wildflowers of Carrizo are just starting to peak and we were treated to a long list of them.
Wildflowers sighted include:
Cat’s Ear, False Dandelion
Baby Blue Eyes
Farewell to Spring
Purple Owl’s Clover
White Fiesta Flower
Silver Bush Lupine
Even though I’ve gotten out on some good dayhikes, I’ve spent the past few weekends stuck in the Bay Area and the cabin fever has really set in. I was determined to head to the mountains this weekend, and the siren call of the Yosemite Horsetail Firefall window called my name. Many who are familiar with Yosemite know the history of the real firefalls, where a bonfire would be pushed over the Valley rim, but the environmentally correct, 21st century version is created by Mother Nature. In late winter, the angles of the setting sun, when combined with the snowmelt runoff, can create a natural firefall, with the falling water illuminated with a bright orange glow.
Several variables need to come together to make the firefalls happen, and I knew that my only chance of making the window would be this weekend, so weather forecast be damned, I was going to head to the Valley no matter what the forecast had in store for us. We headed out Saturday morning and did some snowshoeing around Crane Flat (I would have preferred my cross country skis, but didn’t get around to waxing them in time). We then headed to the Valley and set up camp at Upper Pines and headed over to the Ansel Adams museum. After a reality check, we accepted the fact that the thick overhead clouds were going to restrict any possible appearance of the firefalls and headed over to Curry Village for dinner. A nice campfire sent us to bed and then the rains kicked in overnight. The constant drizzle this morning kept us from any more snowshoe adventures, but it was still great to get out to the mountains and play in the snow a bit. Can’t wait to spend some more time up there this winter!
I don’t have a lot to say about Thanksgiving day in terms of exploration, but I can’t go without mentioning the incredible food and friendship that we find in the most remote of locations every year. This was our fourth year in Death Valley with friends and each year it gets better and better. We usually choose to focus on a certain area of the park, setting up our base camp at some central location in the backcountry.
This year’s camp took us to an old miner’s cabin. We arrived mid-afternoon on Thanksgiving, and Sooz, Chip, Robin, and Joe were already there. After a short walk around the area to explore the ruins, Jeff showed up and shortly thereafter dinner was started. Everyone brings a part of Thanksgiving dinner and we ended up with an incredible feast: turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, stuffing, bean glop, cranberry sauce, rolls, and pumpkin pie. We don’t let a little thing like being in the middle of the desert with no electricity or running water stop us!
It’s that time of year again, time for me to play desert rat for a week. Thanksgiving is a great time to head to the desert. Temperatures are mild to cold and crowds are generally light (except on the freeways). As usual, we hopped into the car on the Friday before Thanksgiving and headed south, starting off in Rainbow Basin, a swatch of BLM land outside of Barstow.
Late on Friday night we pulled into Owl Canyon Campground and picked one of the several empty sites. Sometime since last year this campground has been renovated with new equipment -nice! On Saturday morning we headed down Fossil Bed road towards Black Canyon. Note: Fossil Bed road is a wide, graded, sedan-passable dirt road from Irwin Road to Rainbow Basin. Beyond that it is 4×4/high clearance due to unmaintained washouts, at least when we passed through.
Black Canyon and Inscription Canyon is an area of petroglyphs and rock hounding a bit northwest of Barstow. We spent the morning exploring some incredible petroglyphs and finding some fire opal on the sides of Opal Mountain.
We swang through Barstow for gas and lunch, then headed east along I-15 towards Afton Canyon. There are several interesting things that happen in the short, 6-mile-long Afton Canyon: the Mojave River emerges from beneath the surface and flows through the desert, the railroad shipping lines run between the canyon walls, the historic Mojave Road passes through, and several interesting historical sites are scattered around.
Our plan was to set up camp in the campground at the east end of the Canyon, then drive in along the Mojave Road and check out the many sites I had queued up in my GPS. Unfortunately, the river was high enough to prevent us from crossing in our truck. It was certainly possible we could have made it across in our stock Trailblazer, but being solo we didn’t want to risk it – we probably could have been talked into it by someone with a winch! Instead, we did what we should have done at the beginning – strapped on our daypacks and started off on foot down Afton towards Spooky Canyon. It was 3 pm and seven miles round trip on flat, easy navigable terrain – piece of cake!
Hiking the canyon was fun – we chatted with drivers on the Mojave Road, waved to the train engineers as they passed through, and caught a really colorful sunset. Having run out of daylight, we saved the other canyon sites until the next morning. To be continued in the next entry…
I love autumn in the mountains – the crisp air and fall colors along with the relatively light crowds always make for a wonderful experience. Paige had the lovely idea of heading to Yosemite Valley in early November and a few of us jumped in on the party. It turns out it was big weekend in the valley as celebrations of the 50th anniverary of the first ascent of the Nose of El Cap were happening. Combined with a bit of rain, it turned out to be a bit different than expected, but a fun weekend nevertheless.
I arrived on Friday night and met up with Paige, Steve, and Paul at our Upper Pines campsite. Greg and David arrived a little after midnight, and Barbara joined us on Saturday night. We hiked to Yosemite Point from the valley (just beyond Upper Yosemite Falls) and got some great views towards Half Dome and the Clark Range before it started to rain on the hike down. The rain continued through the night but it didn’t stop us from having fun. As Greg said, “what rain?”
Sunday we were all a bit slow to get started after the previous night’s weather and festivities, but we ended up checking out the climbing exhibit at the museum then heading over to Tunnel View for the short climb to Inspiration Point. This was a perfect hike for this time of year – the fall colors and crispy leaves are shown off really well on this trail.
I had a lot of fun playing with my new camera and lens on this outing and can’t wait to learn more and start coaxing better photos out of it. Pictures are here:
I’m having a hard time processing the results of this election. On the one hand: I love how excited and passionate our country feels right now, and I’m really happy to be a part of this historic event. It feels kind of like the Ewok party after the Death Star blew up. On the other hand: Prop 8. Oh California, I’m so disappointed. Shame on you. Our country took one giant step forward in equality, while you decided to stomp on it as best you could by passing Prop 8.
So, what does one do when in this state of mind? Head to the mountains, of course. Come to think of it, that’s my solution for everything. Clears the head, you know. I’ll be escaping to Yosemite Valley tomorrow to celebrate my birthday with friends, hang out around the campfire, do some hiking, and experiment with my new Nikon D90. It’s also the celebration of the 50th anniversary of El Capitan’s first ascent and there are various talks and activities going on in the Valley.
Back in August I had a really fun long weekend playing in the Eastern Sierra with the GBA (Geocachers of the Bay Area) 4×4 group. There is a lot more to do over there than we could fit into the three days we had at the time, so last week we drove out for a follow up trip. Our targets were Laurel Lakes (which we did in August, but couldn’t resist a second run), the crash site of Flight 802 in the mountains just east of Bishop, the Champion Mine/Black Eagle camp on the flanks of White Mountain, Reward Mine, and the Whitney Arch in the Alabama Hills.
Our initial plan was to make this trip primarily focused on fall color photography, and we’d just join in on a couple of runs with the 4×4 group. But an early season snowfall and cold temperatures pretty much fast-tracked the trees to brown, leaving us with little to photograph. I was really looking forward to the Friday afternoon run into Laurel Lakes since it passes through an enormous aspen grove, but it turns out they were all brown or bare. Disappointing, but it can’t be a perfect show every year.
On Friday evening we headed up into the hills east of Bishop to visit the crash site of Convair 340/440 Flight 802. This plane, carrying 36 people, crashed into the mountainside soon after taking off from Bishop Airport in 1974. (crash report) (another detailed description). Though not a far walk, the crash site isn’t easy to get to, either requiring a very steep hike up a canyon or a treacherous contour walk across a rocky slope.
From the crash site we watched an incredible sunset while exploring the remains of the plane and personal belongings. I’ve visited crash sites before, but mostly of military aircraft where crew were able to eject safely. This site was different – shoes, razors, and souvenirs from Mammoth were just a few things that reminded us that almost 40 people died here. A cross, made from parts of the destroyed plane, sits on top of the hill as a memorial. (Flight 802 photos)