Friday, October 5, 2018

Observation Point, Zion National Park, Utah, September 8, 2018

Hiked Saturday, September 8. Heavy rains in mid-July caused severe erosion on several roads and trails in Zion National Park. When I visited, the trail to Angel's Landing was closed. I hiked that trail last year, and also about 20 years previous, so I wasn't planning to do that one, anyway. However, what that meant was that anyone seeking a seriously long hike out of Zion Canyon was going to have to go up Observation Point. Additionally, the detour to Hidden Canyon was also closed. I'm pretty sure that meant much more people than usual heading up to Observation Point.
Not long after that long-ago trip up Angel's Landing, I had previously been up to Observation Point. But that was long before I had a digital camera. Not sure where my photos from that trip are, now. Nonetheless, having gotten up this morning and feeling up for a serious hike, I opted for Observation Point.

This was on a Saturday. I unexpectedly managed to get a campsite at Watchman just a few days in advanced, so it was somewhat spur of the moment. BTW, this stay was in the C-loop. Tents only. What I discovered there is that seemingly everyone in the tent area wants to burn a campfire so I was annoyingly over-smoked the night before. Also, everyone in a tent needs to use the restrooms, so those are almost always occupied. On my previous stay, I was in the A-loop, which permits both tents and campers/rvs. For an extra ten dollars, you get an electrical outlet (which I didn't really need, but which you might want to use to charge your phone or laptop) and a restroom that was little-used, because all the camper and RV people use their own restroom. I've decided it's probably worth the extra ten bucks to camp there.
So I woke up, ate breakfast, packed up the tent, and drove from my campsite to the day-parking area (because I was leaving after my hike). Then I took the mandatory shuttle bus from the visitor center to the Weeping Rock shuttle stop. From there, there are two trailheads. One is for the short trail to Weeping Rock, while the other is for the longer trail, to Observation Point. I took the latter.

This trail starts out steep, because you need to climb out of Zion Canyon. It's basically one switchback after another. You look up and seek these sheer red-washed rock cliffs, above you. I.'d estimate a mile or so of that, before you level off into a side slot canyon. Because you're heading up the east side of the Canyon, you'll be in shade in the morning, the whole way up.
The relatively level section seems way to short, but the slot canyon you're walking along is quite impressive. The views down into the Canyon are similarly impressive. There were scattered wildflowers along most of the trail so far, even in early September.
More climbing follows the slot canyon, but now you're walking over exposed granite. Then more switchbacks. This last slog is tougher, because now you're somewhat exposed to the south, and the sun's catching you. Later, you'll discover why you're so exposed: The trail is just blasted into the rock. No shade.

Finally, you level off, and it's a largely-flat, 3/4 of a mile or so. Again, outstanding, wide open views over the main Canyon, and also to the East, in spots. If you didn't already know, you'll discover yourself way above Angel's Landing, further down canyon.
The Park Service lists this trail as four miles long, with 2148 net feet of altitude gained. By contrast, Angel's Landing is said to be 5.4 miles and 1488 feet of altitude gained. Estimated hiking time is given as six hours for Observation Point, versus 4 hours for Angel's Landing.
Since I am not hiking as much as I have in the past, I found this hike more difficult than I remembered it, and I'm pretty sure the last time, we included a detour into Hidden Canyon, which was not possible, this time. Then again, I'm 20 years older!

I had semi-forgotten the slot canyons along the way to Observation Point, and that shaded section can be a welcome break, especially if you started late, or it's midsummer.

Made it back fine, and drove on down to the Las Vegas area. Easy 2 1/2 hours or so. Still, I'm looking forward to the scheduled opening of a couple of more truck stops between Saint George and the Mesquite area. As it is, if I take a restroom break in St. George, it's still a little long to drive all the way to Las Vegas without another stop. So I usually stop either at one of the casinos or at the kind-of-rundown-looking gas station near one of the easily-accessible casinos. I prefer the regular truck stops (Pilot and Flying J, in particular).

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Oak Glen Preserve, Yucaipa, CA, Sunday, September 30

It's apple season in Oak Glen. Made my first trip of the season up there. It was really crowded in the shops, but the trail was still pretty empty, all things considered.

Too early for fall color, and mostly way too late for wildflowers, although there are still some blooming. Lots of sunflowers, near the entrance. I took lots of shots, but nothing special resulted, so I posted none, here.
These bee shots were right near the pond, at the top of the trail. Probably half a dozen shots. I cropped three of them, to get nice and close to the bees.
Then I walked down the trail to where it splits between the return trail and the trail to Preservation Point, then came back through the park, completing the loop. I only had an hour to walk, and, even with lots of stops for pictures, no problem with that.
The oak trees are just beginning to change color. I took a few shots, playing with the back lighting. ANd then there was this vine, that hung vertically over the trail.
Probably head here a few more times this fall and winter. It's a nice place for a little walk, to break up the drive down to Yucaipa. Probably a 90 minute drive from home.
Still need to blog Observation Point, in Zion. Not sure when I'll have time. Plenty more pictures of the Hogle Zoo, too.

Monday, September 24, 2018

Pallas Cats and Pallas Cat Kittens, Hogle Zoo, Salt Lake City

My wife was in need of cheering up over the Labor Day weekend, so we made a short-notice trip up to the Hogle Zoo, in Salt Lake City.

We had read of the birth of Pallas Cat kittens back in early spring, and made some abstract plans to go see them. But, the fact is, it's a pretty long drive to Salt Lake City, so making this a weekend road trip can be pretty exhausting, even if it's a three day weekend.
So we made the drive. And despite the three day weekend, the drive up there wasn't bad, at all.

For logistical reasons, we spent two nights in Beaver, Utah. The rational was that was close enough to get from there to the zoo on Sunday morning, then close enough to get back to the Los Angeles Area on Monday. It worked, but, yeah, while the drive up to Salt Lake on Sunday was not bad, the drive back to Los Angeles, on Monday, was ridiculous.
Somewhat ironically, this was just over a year since our previous stay in Beaver, on the way to the total solar eclipse. I never really managed a proper write up of that trip, though.
The Pallas cat lives naturally in the high altitude lands of central Asia. That means they do well in moderate altitude like Salt Lake, and you don't find them in zoos in southern California. Hence, the crazy drive.
The cats and kittens were as cute as advertised. And, yes, we saw other things. But I took probably 100 pictures of the Pallas Cats, so they get a post of their own. I'm still pretty behind on other posts, but I figured this one would be a quickie.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Canyon View Trail, Zion National Park, Utah

Hiked Friday, September 7.

This is a short, 1 mile roundtrip hike. I first hiked this almost 20 years ago, and intended to come back here later this night to photograph the night sky. But I forgot a tripod part, so the night hike got scrubbed. Took night shots at Canyon Junction, instead, which worked out mostly better.

The trailhead is right at the east entrance to the tunnel on the Zion-Mt. Carmel highway. If you're coming from Canyon Junction, there's a small parking lot on the right, immediately after exiting the tunnel. If you miss that, or you're not driving a compact car, there is limited on-the-side-of-the-road parking, mostly on the north side of the road. If you're coming from the east and you don't park soon enough, you're forced to drive through the entire tunnel before you'll find a place to turn around, so don't do that!
The tunnel, according to the Park Service, was built between 1927 and 1930, and was not intended for oversized vehicles, so if you're a large camper or RV, you'll have to pay an extra fee and schedule your passage through. If you're a commercial vehicle, you'll have to go some other way.

But that means everyone who drives may need to wait for a convoy including an oversized vehicle passes one way or the other. I was waiting in just such a queue when I snapped the first shot of this post with my phone camera. Yes, I was stopped.
The trail is highly engineered, with steps cut or blasted into the rock, and railing or bridges at a few crossing areas, and at the end of the trail.

Right after passing the overhang above, I ran across a small herd of desert bighorn. They were still in the area when I walked back, maybe an hour later. Even without trying, they were no more than twenty yards from me as I passed.
The reason for the long gap in time for such a short hike is that I, like many others, waited for sunset. The canyon view looks more or less to the west, so the sunsets in the distance. On the night I was there, there were plenty of fluff clouds that I thought made the sunset pretty spectacular. But someone while I was there pronounced the sunset "a dud." I'm not sure if he was being ironic. It's hard to tell with people, sometimes.
The other thing people apparently like to do now is, rather than take photos or enjoying the sunset directly, they want to stand on a rock and be photographed as though they are somewhere precipitous. Fortunately, they apparently are good enough at Photoshop that they can just edit you out, so you don't actually have to care if they keep crowding behind you to stand on a rock and strike a pose while their friends take their pictures.
In the old days, you could just take a picture of a place, and people could tell by your having taken a picture that you were there. Now, however, it's apparently required to place yourself in the picture, with that very special pose. Even the "I'm gazing out and enjoying the sunset in solitude" shots need to be posed, reviewed, and reshot, which would seem to me to make it really hard to actually "enjoy the sunset." But that's just me. I spend the time around sunset watching the changing colors and shadows of the clouds and landscape around me. These moments are fleeting enough that I don't want to be distracted with how I or someone else looks in their selfie or "candid" moments. Yep, grumpy old man!

Friday, September 14, 2018

Canyon Junction, Zion National Park, UT

Did an overnight trip to Zion National Park last weekend. Stayed in Watchman Campground on the night of the 7th.
Just took two hikes, neither of which I've posted, yet.

During the overnight, I drove up to Canyon Junction for some Milky Way shots.
Unfortunately, I forgot the adapter for my tripod to my camera, so I had to shoot either balancing the camera on the bridge railing, or balanced on my sweater, atop the railing. The shots came out okay, although obviously if you zoom in, you can see evidence of camera wobble and movement during the exposure.
Hopefully, next time will be more successful.

Not sure when I'll have time to blog my hikes. The short one, maybe this weekend. The longer one will take longer to sort pictures.

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Alpine Pond, Sunset and Campground Trails, Cedar Breaks National Monument UT, July 14, 2018

Just about one month since I hiked here. This was part two of a two night trip into southern Utah. On the first afternoon, I arrived in Zion and just hung around the Watchman Campground and hiked the Watchman trail, twice. The next day, I headed up to Cedar Breaks, with the intent of doing some hiking, then volunteering for the star party (they have one every Saturday night, in the summer).

Despite my any visits here, previously, I had never actually camped at Cedar Breaks. I always just stayed in a motel down in Cedar City, an easy half-hour drive down the mountain. But because I was an official NPS volunteer, they were willing to put me up in a campsite.

Had to do some hiking before checking in, though, since I arrived before check-in time. I decided to hike the Alpine Pond trail, which I had done before, but not on my trip, the previous month. It may not be until the Colorado Columbines over the red amphitheater rocks that any of the shots are actually from the Alpine Loop trail. Also, the sunflower field was from a large meadow that's east of the trail. I walked back from the Alpine Pond trailhead to the Point Supreme Trailhead via the road, because I wanted to be on the correct side (for lighting purposes) for those sunflowers.
My photos were organized by flower type, however, so the first few shots were not from that hike, but from one of the others.

I went through my shots and organized by flower type, so the order is lost and I can't tell you for sure on which of the three short trails I walked that I saw each of these flowers. The exception would be the large meadow of sunflowers, which was just west of the main road that passes through the monument.
The flowers were obviously blooming in greater number and variety than the previous month, was is to be expected. The week was there this time was supposed to be their "Wildflower Festival," which presumably is scheduled for just such a consideration (though, admittedly, I did not hike the Alpine Loop trail, last time. Still, it seemed like the flower variety was pretty limited on the parts I could see, including the large meadow. The most prominent flower that time was the Aspen bell, which does not stand out like the sunflowers, to be sure.
After my hike, I was able to check in. I forget the site number, but it overlooked another large meadow, to its east.

It's a nice little campground, though it looks like some construction is underway. I didn't ask anyone what it was about.

The sites are sufficiently spaced, though I think there's only one flush toilet and shower per gender. It was pretty empty the night I was there, so that wasn't an issue. If the place is fully booked, that might be an issue.

A nice engineered feature of the campsites here is that you pitch your tent on worn river pebbles, so any water that does fall on your tent drains down rather than potentially running between your tent and the ground, so that helps keep you dry if it rains, which it did, heavily, while I was there.

The regular nightly fee of $24 is up a few dollars from last year, and relatively expensive for a small park. On the other hand, it includes a shower, which could otherwise cost more than a few dollars each, if you had to go elsewhere for a shower. That was a lifesaver for me, considering how hot and humid the previously night down in Zion had been.
Maybe an hour or so after getting my tent pitch, some pretty serious rain came down. I stayed completely dry, however.

I had bought a new tent about a month previous, since I had ambitions for perhaps a few more camping trips this year than last year, and my old tent, purchased from Sears, in the late 1980s, was showing its age. I had serious doubts as to how it would hold up in the rain.
Bought the new tent during REI's "friends and family" Memorial Day sale, although I'm starting to think I probably could have gotten it for less, even without the sale and coupon, had I bought it from elsewhere. At any rate, it's an ALPS Mountaineering Meramac 3 tent. The selling point for me was the oversized shock cords, and, of course, the use of clips rather than a sleeve for the shock cords.

There's nothing revolutionary about that, but it was a step above what I had. Much easier for one person to pitch the tent, that way.
The tent has a large amount of mesh on the walls, so it gives you no privacy without the fly. If it's fair weather and you're just trying to keep the creepy crawlies off of you, you can go without the fly. With rain likely as I set up, of course I used the fly.

Lots of breathing space between the fly and the tent, so I think this would breath decently. Nice long reach of the fly, to keep the water off the tent body. I also bought the fitted "footprint," to keep the tent floor off the dirt.

I was completely dry inside, after a multiple hour deluge of monsoonal moisture.
Unfortunately, the clouds never really dissipated after the rain, so even when the rain stopped, it seemed likely that no astronomy was going to happen that night. To be safe, I did drive my car with my telescope the short 1/2 mile or so to the visitor center, but I was pretty sure I wouldn't need it.

Instead, I used the time to hike the Campground and Sunset trails. Actually, I think there are two Campground trails, because one is paved and presumably ADA compliant, while the other is single-track, and has steeper grades. The single track also takes you further from the road, so that's nice. The nice view of what I assume are common yarrow were from that hike. There was also a large boulder, with hollows on the top that filled with water. A bird was bathing in it. It was a pretty sight, but my photographs did not do it justice.
Once at Sunset Point, I spent some serious time, on the chance that maybe the sun would peek under the clouds and give us some magic. That did not happen.

I did get to chat with several interesting individuals who also watched for sunset. I learned some about various cameras, as well. That was a nice plus to the trip.
Once the sun was well below the horizon, and whatever colors we were going to get were passed, I walked back to my car, then drove back to my campsite. Used my new headlamp on occasion, which was another nice plus.

Went to bed under clouds. Got up at about 3:30am, to pee. Zipped out of the tent, and was greeted by a wonderfully dark and clear sky. So I did my business, then hopped back in the car to drive back to the visitor center parking lot. There were too many trees, and the light from the restroom was too bright to take night sky shots from the campground.

Of course, I knew I was racing the sunrise, so I didn't bother with trying a lot of different lenses. I basically just shot at ISO 1600 and f/2.8. Don't remember if 20 or 30 seconds. And even with that, after three or four shots, clearly, the horizon was getting brighter.
They came out okay, though a little vignetted (meaning the lens shield seems to be impinging on the corners of the frame). That happens if I'm not careful about making sure the lens shield is completely mounted, so that might be it.
These weren't the shots I was planning for. I was actually thinking I might hike out to Ramparts Overlook and get some shots of Bristlecone pines, silhouetted against the Milky Way. But I knew I had no chance at getting any significant hiking in before the dawn.
Once the horizon got sufficiently bright that I figured I had no chance at getting serious Milky Way without getting an overly bright horizon, I packed it up and drove back to my campsite.

It was still only about 4:30am, local time. But I was awake, so I decided to break camp in the dark. Hopefully, I did not disturb my neighbors.
The early start meant I could get back to the LA area by early afternoon, and, not insignificantly, beat at least some of the Las Vegas to LA traffic you get on any given Sunday. Major plus.

Despite not getting a chance to do any astronomy outreach, I thought this trip was a good one. I got some interesting shots in Zion, the night before. I got to stay at the Point Supreme campground, to see how I liked it (I liked it a lot). And I got to do some new hikes, short though they were. Got some nice conversations along the way, too.
There were other destinations nearby that I thought I might visit that I didn't have time for. However, Cedar Breaks is pretty near by, and I may be able to return later in the year. Not 100 percent sure, though, since I have tentative plans for a trip to eastern Utah during the time when I had been visiting the Cedar City area for the aspen. Anyway, we'll see.