Thursday, September 30, 2021

It's Your World

It's Your World, or more precisely, my world, which is the theme for P.J.'s monthly photo blog. I looked at the photos I took this month, and it really wasn't many, but there were enough photos that show a good portion of my world, and so without further ado, here's my world and welcome to it.

1. Geocaching

I seriously doubt that I could go an entire blog entry talking about things in my life without writing or at least, commenting on geocaching. I spent last weekend in Paso Robles, mostly geocaching, but also attending an outdoor wedding. Needless to say, I had some free time on my hands and so what better way to fill up the time than going out and finding hidden treasures using just a GPS receiver? I mean, it's better than watching football all day.

This particular shot was taken at an earth cache entitled McKittrick Oil Seep. For those of you uninitiated, an earth cache is a geocache where you learn some geology. You answer some questions about the area and hopefully see some cool geology in the process. This one was one of the better ones I've done, as it involved an oil seep similar to the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles, although not nearly on the scale of the tar pits. The photo shows an oil seep at the side of the road (yes, that's oil, just coming up out of the ground). There were several other seeps on this side as well as several more on the other side of the road. There was also a seep coming up in the middle of the road just to the right of the shot. I had to watch where I was walking since I didn't want to step in any of the oil and get tar on my shoes. One of the questions I had to answer was if I could see any animals trapped in the tar. I didn't see any, but I actually have seen a mourning dove trapped in the muck at the La Brea Tar Pits, which I offered up as part of my answer for that question. 

In the past, I've done earth caches in all different kinds of area, some in caves, many out in the desert, and some at the beach. They are just another aspect of geocaching that I enjoy.

2. Hiking

My goal has been to get at least 5 miles of walking in per day as part of my daily health regimen and hiking in the hills behind my house or elsewhere happens quite frequently in the mix. At the beginning of this month, I wrote about my backpacking trip in the Sierra in August. Most hikes are not that extreme, but most will be strenuous. I want to stay in shape and live a long fruitful life.

I'm planning another geocaching/camping roadtrip next week where I'll be hiking in Saguaro National Park and Chiricahua National Monument, both of which are in Arizona. I had a student about 15 years ago ask me about Chiricahua National Monument and when I told him I'd never been there, he spent the better part of an hour extolling the beauty of that particular spot. When a 13 year old kid is that excited about something outdoors like that, you pay attention and the park has been on my radar ever since. Next week, I'm visiting, actually camping there and will also be doing some hiking.

3. Meep Meep!

Several years ago, we had a roadrunner living in the neighborhood. Apparently, it was living in the backyard of the house across the street from us. Ironically, the first day that I saw it back then, the very next day, I saw a coyote wandering down the street. Coincidence? I think not, but I digress.

Anyway, the roadrunner disappeared after a couple of months. Perhaps it had run out of lizards to eat there and so it had moved on to greener pastures. I like to think that it was just living the life in our little foothill community, enjoying what the neighborhood had to offer. Interestingly, because of the number of times I spied this particular roadrunner, I was able to hear it squawk a couple of times. No, it doesn't beep like a car as Warner Brothers would like you to believe, but I'm thoroughly convinced that the makers of the movie Jurassic Park, patterned the calls of the velociraptors in the movie after roadrunners.

Earlier this month, I was heading out on a hike and I opened our backdoor and what did I see, but this roadrunner sitting on our fence. Fortunately, I didn't spook it and I was able to quickly get my phone out of my pocket and get a couple of shots of it before it hopped the fence and then proceeded to cross the street over to our neighbor's yard. Whether this is the same roadrunner or a different one, I'm not sure but I hope to see it again. 

4. Butterflies

Over the years, there's a certain theme to my photos as I'm an avid wildlife photographer. The neighborhood birds and insects always interest me and I can usually be assured that I'll see some lizards scurrying out of the way as I walk the neighborhood. Then, in the spring and summer months, it's snake season and I'm getting a reputation as the snake whisperer.

But as always, if I can get a shot of a butterfly, I'm all over it. This American Painted Lady was flitting all around my backyard yesterday and once again, I didn't have my Canon handy, so I had to make do with the phone. Surprisingly, I was able to get quite close to this one and get some pretty good close up shots of it. This one wasn't in the best of shape, as you can see by its battered right wing, but it was holding its own quite well. I am curious since the painted lady migration that we get here in Southern California should have already happened. Did this one get knocked off course? Or is this one just a free spirit doing its own thing? This little bit of additional color in the back yard was welcome regardless of where it's supposed to be.

5. And more animals

As noted above, I enjoy taking photos of animals. If I can get the shot, I'll try to do the animal justice. Since it's getting cooler here as we've inched into fall, the snakes aren't out and about anymore, but the tarantulas have started to come out. I spotted this one a couple of days ago on one of my walks. It was just out for a mid morning walk, just like the rest of us. I grabbed a couple of shots and then thought about what I wanted to do next, so I put my foot in front of it hoping that it might crawl over my foot (yeah, I can already hear many of my friends saying out loud, "Are you nuts?").

Well, the spider didn't want to have anything to do with me, so it just stopped and we were pretty much in a stand off, but then I decided to get this shot, since it gave some scale to how large the spider was. In fact, this is actually on the small size for this type of spider, so I'm thinking this is a youngster.

And there you have it. This was my take on the them, "It's Your World" this month. Please stop by P.J.'s blog to see how other people interpreted this photo challenge and please drop a comment below.


Thursday, September 16, 2021

Standin' on the Corner...

Well I'm a standing on the corner in Winslow, Arizona, and such a fine sight to see. It's a girl, my lord, in a flatbed Ford, slowin' down to take a look at me.

And this marks the last entry chronicling the road trip my youngest and I took to Wisconsin and back. After touring through Petrified Forest National Park, we headed to Winslow, Arizona to spend the night. Of course we geocached around town that evening including finding a virtual geocache at this spot. Memorialized in song by the Eagles, Winslow has embraced the pop culture references with a statue standing on the corner and a painting in the background making it look like there's a girl in a flatbed Ford slowing down. The building that the statue is facing plays Eagles music most of the day, although I'm not sure how late into the night the music plays. But then again, unless you really hate the Eagles, does it really matter?

Either way, it's a fun spot when you find yourself in Winslow on Route 66. The following morning, we got up, drove into Flagstaff where we had breakfast, then headed home after a very fun road trip.


Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Adventures

The theme for P.J.'s photo blog for this month is Adventures, and it couldn't have come at a better time, since I went on quite an adventure this past month, though not exactly as planned. But then again, that's kind of the point of an adventure in that you never know how it's really going turn out until after it's done. So here's my five photos from last month, four of which are part of my backpacking adventure and one is of something different.

1. Two striped garter snake

For those of you who have been following along, I've gotten the reputation as the snake whisperer. For whatever reason, I seem to attract snakes to me. I prefer to think that it's because I'm more observant when out walking in the wild, but that's another story that would take too long to tell here. Either way, people say it could be quite the adventure hiking with me. 

My friend Greg and I were on several training hikes up in the Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear Lake area of our local mountains. In Lake Arrowhead, we spotted a Southern Pacific rattlesnake attempting to cross the road. Fortunately, after our car straddled it on the highway, it had the sense to go back to the side of the road and I was able to get a nice video of it as it slithered into the bushes.

This garter snake, a type I've never encountered before, was stretched across the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) when I spotted it. I was pretty content just to lay across the trail while I took some video and photos of it. I estimate it to be about 4 feet long or so, on the large side for garter snakes, but I guess it was enjoying a bountiful time eating some of the rodents out in the wild. We walked around it, I decided to take another photo from the other side, but never got the photo because I accidentally kicked a rock in the direction of the snake and it took off.

2 - 5. The big adventure

We'd hoped that the training hikes at altitude would have prepared us better for the trek ahead, but we miscalculated a little bit. This is the beginning of our hike which was supposed to be a 23 mile loop through the Cottonwood Lakes region, over New Army Pass and into Sequoia National Park. Following that, we were then going to head south on the PCT and then catch the Cottonwood Pass trail back down to our base camp near Horseshoe Meadows. We spent the first night at Horseshoe Meadows, which is slightly over 10,000 feet in elevation and then began the hike the next day.

As you can see, it looks like I'm pretty excited to head out on the trail and I'm not going to lie, I was. The adrenaline had kicked in and my pace was way too fast for the first 100 yards or so. Fortunately, my shortness of breath told me I needed to slow down, which I did and we progressed at a much more reasonable pace for the rest of the trip.

However, what you're not seeing in the first photograph is my migraine headache. Most of my migraines are caused by stress and usually when the stress is released, is when I suffer the headaches. I can't begin to tell you how many times I've had a migraine on the first day of Christmas break, the first day of Spring break and the first day of Summer vacation when I was teaching. This hike was no exception. I was stressed. As I noted in my last blog entry, this was the first time I'd been backpacking since I was 19, the week that Elvis Presley died. You can do the math, but needless to say, it had been a long time since I'd been backpacking and I was overpacked. I had way too much food and the other big thing that was weighing me down was my tent. Couple that extra weight I'm carrying with a migraine that my prescription meds are just barely blunting and it wasn't the most pleasant trip I've ever been on.

Still, we pressed on and slowly the first couple of miles were behind us. We'd entered early on, the Golden Trout Wilderness area and then progressed up the hill until we entered the John Muir Wilderness area. The next day, we were supposed to enter into Sequoia National Park, but we needed to finish out this day first. 

With the headache, at least checked for now, the hiking was a bit easier, but I had no appetite. So that meant the weight of my pack wasn't declining either. I forced down some food knowing that I needed calories in my system, but it took me the better part of an hour to eat an entire Clif Bar. If you've ever backpacked, these are snack bars designed for hiking, very dense, loaded with calories to give you energy. 

I think there was another contributing factor as well, in that we were getting smoke being blown into the area from the French Fire, which was about a hundred miles away or so. The views were rather hazy and you could smell smoke in the are. If you look at photo number 4, you can see the view from our campsite was rather hazy. I'm sure this didn't help since we were also hiking above 10,000 feet.

After setting up camp and finding a geocache at the far end of Muir Lake, we hung out at camp and discussed the next day's hike. This would have taken us up over 12,000 feet in elevation and been the longest mileage day of the hike. Neither of us were feeling really well and we made the decision that we were going to end our adventure early and head back down to Horseshoe Meadows and go home.

Some of you might say that the trip was a disappointment. Not really. I learned some valuable lessons from the trip. While my tent is an awesome tent for car camping when I'm by myself, it's too heavy for a backpacking trip, so I need to look for something that's much lighter to carry on my next trip. And there's the second thing I learned and that even though this trip was very hard, it wasn't something that would turn me off on backpacking forever. I'm looking forward to more adventures like this, perhaps even coming back here next year. 

The third thing I learned was I packed way too much food. A guy in camp told me his bear canister weighed 10 pounds for an 8 day trip. I had a 10 pound canister for a 4 day trip. Yeah, I had way too much food. And so I'll adjust.

When we got back to the car at the end of our up and back overnighter, I told my friend, "Let's remember the good things about this trip." And so I leave you with one last photo that I took that morning. The winds had shifted overnight and blew all of the smoke from the fire down the hill into Owens Valley and we were left with crystal clear views. The sun was rising, just starting to hit the tops of the peaks. The waning gibbous moon was starting to set over the same peak and the scene was magical. This is why I go on adventures like this.

As John Muir stated, "The mountains are calling, and I must go."

Please be sure and check out some other people's interpretation of the same theme on P.J.'s blog.

Friday, August 20, 2021

Some real wandering

In a couple of days, I'm going to be doing some actual wanderings, something that I haven't done in about a year and a half, since right before the pandemic shut everything down. I've been planning this trip for the past 6 months, getting everything together, taking training hikes at altitude, and keeping in shape, just so this could happen.

Next week, I start a 23+ mile backpacking trip into the Sierra Nevada out of Horseshoe Meadows trailhead. The nice thing about this trek is the most I'll be hiking on any given day is about 8 miles. Most of the days are in the 5 to 6 mile range. I haven't been backpacking since I was in college, way back in (mumble, mumble), let's just say, Elvis died the week I was backpacking in the Sierra.

Our first day, we'll hike about 5 miles up to one of the Cottonwood Lakes and find a campsite. There's actually a couple of geocaches up there, so we'll probably look for those after we set up camp. Those might be the only geocaches we find on the entire hike, but that's fine. My plan is to enjoy this, take lots of photos, and possibly put together some video blogs when I get back home.

The second day is probably our toughest day, hiking 8 miles up and over New Army pass into Sequoia National Park. Campsite is scheduled to be Soldier Lake in the park. From there, on the third day, we'll hike south, pick up the Pacific Crest Trail and follow it southbound to our next campsite. The next day, we'll complete the loop and end up back at Horseshoe Meadow. 

I'm really looking forward to this trip.

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Petrified Forest National Monument

Once again, it's time to look back on my youngest and my 2017 road trip to Wisconsin and back. When last we checked, we had stopped at Capulin Volcano National Monument in northeast New Mexico. The following morning, we headed off with the intention of making it into Arizona, somewhere near Petrified Forest National Park. As we drove we, of course, geocached along the way, because that's what we do.

We stopped for lunch in Albuquerque, New Mexico and then continued on to Arizona, reaching Petrified Forest sometime around 3 o'clock in the afternoon, which gave us plenty of time to tour the park. This was my second visit to the park and the first for my youngest. For those of you unfamiliar with the park, you can either enter the park at the southern end or at the northern along Interstate 40. There is no established camping in the park but there is plenty of wilderness backpacking opportunities, although you'd have to be prepared since it is a desert and water is scarce.

The park, for the most park is a drive through, something that can be seen in a couple of hours, but that doesn't diminish it in any way as a national park. The scenery is breathtaking with broad vistas in the northern part of the park. The small loop hikes take place in the southern part of the park where the concentration of petrified wood is found There's even several geocaches located within the park boundaries, which is very rare since the National Park Service views most geocaches as litter, but since these were all placed by a ranger who was stationed in the park, the park service allowed these. They even have a page dedicated to geocaching on their website. For the most part they were simple hides, but they took you to many viewpoints and points of interest within the park, without impacting the landscape in any way. Besides the traditional caches, we also found a couple of virtual caches and a couple of geological based earth caches.

Looking at the second shot, you can see in the distance, a developing thunderstorm. This would curtail a little bit of what we wanted to do, but we still were able to enjoy the park and what it had to offer. We drove through the painted desert part (northern) and stopped at all of the viewpoints, including one where there was a rusted hulk of a very old Studebacker roadster where there is a geocache hidden. Petrified Forest also has the distinction of being the only national park that the original Route 66 crosses through, which is what this viewpoint was pointing out.

After that viewpoint, you then cross over Interstate 40 and are now in the petrified forest. At every viewpoint, you get glimpses of logs, petrified with beautiful colors. As you can see in the third pooh  the colors of all of the logs were simply amazing. According to the park's website, the colors primarily come from three different minerals. "Pure quartz is white, manganese oxides form blue, purple, black, and brown, and iron oxides provide hues from yellow through red to brown." Most of the logs during this point are farther away, but you can walk out to them. Being in the high 90s, we opted to take photos and then continued on our drive, hoping to hike the Crystal Forest loop trail.

Once we got down to the Crystal Forest, we stopped and decided to hike the loop which takes you through a large portion of petrified wood and brings you very close to a lot of the logs that are preserved in the park. The temperature had cooled down considerably at this point owing to the impending thunderstorm which was approaching from the east. We kept hearing thunder in the distance and occasionally would see flashes of lightning, so we quickened our pace just a little bit. There's not a lot of cover out in the desert so the threat of a lightning strike was slightly higher, not to mention the distinct possibility that we could get rained on by a cloudburst.

I took some more photos and we finished up the loop and hurried back to our car, getting there just about the time it had started to rain. You can see the rain in the distance of the last photo as we hiked the Crystal Forest loop trail. As we walked the loop, I was struck by the immenseness of the logs, many like the one in the last photo lining the edge of the trail. I also lamented the fact that there had to be signs along the trail at regular intervals telling people that it was against the law to remove any of the petrified rock. In fact, people were encouraged to report other people who had removed pieces of petrified rock from the area. As you can see from the last photo, there's a lot of petrified wood, but if everyone took a piece every time they visited, the park would soon not have any of its namesake to even be a park anymore. If you are out and about anywhere, please practice the Leave No Trace principles as outlined on the link provided.

As noted above, you can probably see the entire park in about a couple of hours. To really delve into some of the trails, it would probably be more like four or five hours. But if you're traveling on Interstate 40, in the eastern part of the state and you're not in a hurry, this is a spot that you'll probably enjoy. I've been back a second time in October of 2019 when I was coming back from my Colorado road trip. I mainly stopped that time to find some of the geocaches that we hadn't found on the previous road trip mainly because it was really hot the day we were there. In October, I didn't have worry about heat and I was able to find the ones we'd bypassed two years previously.

Sunday, August 1, 2021

Happy

Well, July was a total bust regarding this blog. I had high hopes for the month of July, but the month just got away from me. A trip to the Bay Area during the second week in July fulfilled my retirement goal of an overnighter per month, which is starting to look pretty good for the near future at least. 

And I was able to get out and take some photos, so P.J.'s monthly photo blogging challenge looks doable this month as well. With these photo blogs, I usually don't try to think about the theme very much and then when the month is ended, I look at the shots I've taken and see if they fit into the them for the previous month. Sometimes, it's really easy, sometimes, I don't participate because I didn't take anything that I felt fit the theme.

This month's theme was happy and I think I was able to get five shots that fits the theme pretty well. So without further adieu, I give you my take on the theme happy.

1. The COVID hairstyle

Most of you who have been following along know I decided right from the get go that I wouldn't expose myself unnecessarily and so things that didn't need to be done, didn't get done, like getting my haircut. Several of my friends took the same tack, one of them being John, a fellow geocacher. We both had gotten our last haircut in February of 2020 and had only seen each other via Zoom meetings. We joked about the length of our hair and decided to have a contest as to which of us could have the longest hair length by the time the next time we met at a geocaching event. Yesterday, for the first time in about a year and a half, we saw each other at a geocaching event. Since I got my haircut about a month ago, I definitely lost that contest, but it makes me happy that we were able to get together once again.

2 & 3. Family and Dogs

As always, getting together with family makes me extremely happy. In mid July, my wife and I drove up to visit with two thirds of our kids, both of who live up in the Bay Area with their respective spouses/partners. My youngest was visiting with his partner back east, so he wasn't along for the ride, otherwise it would have been the first time the entire family had been together face to face, since before the pandemic began.

We also got to meet my daughter and son-in-law's new dog. I say new, since we'd never met her before, but they've had her for over a year now. About a week before we got there, my son's partner got a German Shepherd puppy which we also met for the first time. It's been a long time since dogs have been in our households and it was really good to see four legged friends enjoying life under our rooftops again.

4. Travel

I love to travel. I especially love to travel to new places that I have never visited before, but a couple of places are near and dear to my heart, one of them being San Francisco and the Golden Gate Bridge. I think I could sit in the shadow of the Golden Gate Bridge and watch the sunlight and clouds play around its spires for days and days. No matter how many times I visit, I try to sneak in a visit to the bridge and this last trip up north was no exception.

Because I was doing some geocaching related things I also decided that it would be a good time to explore Ft. Point again, located underneath the bridge and to also walk across the bridge over to Marin County. I've done that one time previously about 6 years ago, but it felt like a good time to do it again. I'm not sure I'd do it again, mainly because of the noise and the fact that I've already done it twice, but standing on the bridge and getting different kinds of photographic shots still inspires me and makes me happy, so I won't say I won't ever do it again, because I know in the long run what makes me happy.

When I originally took this shot, I thought it was going to be a throw away shot, one that I take, because I don't think I've gotten enough shots of a particular subject. I always take more than what I really need to take for this reason, because every now and then, you get a shot that just tends to grow on you. This is one of those shots. I love how the south spire of the bridge disappears into the mist of the cloud bank and how you can barely make out the north spire. 

I love the architecture of the bridge and how the bridge was redesigned  to include the arch so that Ft. Point wasn't demolished when the bridge was built. I love that surfers use this area as a gathering spot in which to ply their particular hobby (It's not for me, but that's what makes the world go around, is a little bit of diversity).

5. My love

I met her at a party in June 1986 and we were married a year later in July 1987. We've had our ups and downs, but mostly it's been a lot of ups, which makes me very happy.  To this day, I can't for the life of me even begin to understand why she still wants to be around me with all of my faults, so I guess I can consider myself a very lucky man.

I know she doesn't really like this particular photo, but I think it's one of the better photos I've taken of her over the years. It was taken at an outdoor dining venue in town, where we went just to enjoy each other's company and enjoy eating together. I like how it shows her relaxed side. As my daughter says, "Vacation Mom is the best mom." 

We don't eat out very often during her regular work year, but when she's on summer vacation, we get to spend a lot more time together. Evening walks to help keep us in shape happen during the summer time and she's expressed an interest in continuing that into the fall and winter months. I'm agreeable to that. And so it goes. But she makes me happy and I hope I make her happy as well.

And that's my take on this month's theme. Stop by P.J.'s page and click on the links at the bottom to see how other people have interpreted this same theme.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Capulin Volcano National Monument

This is a continuation of our 2017 road trip that I took with my youngest in June and July of that year. The day we drove through 5 states in one day, we stopped at Capulin Volcano National Monument in the late afternoon for a quick day trip of this out of the way national monument. It's a small park, only open during daylight hours, so it's perfect for a quick side trip. 

Usually, when we enter a national park or monument, we usually hit the visitors center first and this part was no exception, but there were a couple of extenuating circumstances to this visit. There was an actual physical geocache located inside the visitors center. Usually, geocaches are not allowed within national park boundaries, because the park service views geocaches as litter, for obvious reasons. However, this one was being maintained by one of the rangers there and so this was one of those special circumstances. I'd found a geocache hidden in the visitors center of the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, but this one was a little bit easier to find, because all we had to do was ask the person behind the desk for the geocache and they pulled it out from behind the counter. Cool deal all the way around. After signing the logsheet and dropping a travel bug off in the container, we then headed back to the car and the road which would take us to the rim parking lot.

This particular monument is only open during daylight hours, there is no camping inside the park, so it would only take a couple of hours to tour the entire park. We spent about an hour and a half there, either in the visitors center, or walking the rim trail around the volcano. We opted not to make any hikes after the rim trail mainly because we had had a long day already and still had another hour or so to drive to get to our motel room further down the road.

The rim trail is self guiding with several interpretive signs around the rim giving you insight into why this volcano is here and what happened when it erupted many thousands of years ago. Because it stands out from the surrounding landscape, it offered views of New Mexico in all directions. I'm sure that if we'd been paying attention to details on a couple of the signs, we might have been able to see into Utah to the north, but I don't recall any distinguishing features that stood out.

There were two interesting things that did stand out on that particular walk. The first was the abundance of ladybugs that were in the early stages of getting out of hibernation and into mating mode. They were everywhere and I got a couple of shots of them, but nothing to write home about. Those of you who are still reading at this point are probably wondering, why I chose to put a picture of a damaged bench here instead of a photo of the ladybugs.

Well, this damaged bench was interesting, mainly because the damage was caused by a lightning strike. That, in my estimation, made it the coolest thing we saw up there on the rim that day. The bench actually had its own interpretive sign, so we weren't just guessing about it and we didn't really wonder whether we were in danger of a possible strike since the clouds off in the distance weren't the thunderhead type of clouds.

While up on the rim, we also completed what needed to be done for a virtual cache that was in the park and we would have probably also completed the steps for an earthcache that was there as well, but hadn't read the cache page ahead of time. It was only after we were back down off of the volcano that we realized that the information that we needed was back up on the rim and there wasn't enough time left to get back up there before the park closed, and so we called it a day.

All in all, it was an enjoyable couple of hours we spent in the park, once again marveling at the power of nature. If you're ever in the northeast corner of New Mexico, you might want to consider checking out this little park. It was a mid summer day and we practically had the park all to ourselves.