Monday, May 20, 2019

Palomar Mountain State Park, April 28, 2019

During the two weeks while Griffith Observatory was closed for major repairs, in addition to making my trip out to Utah (which still requires at least one more post), we also took a "field trip" to Palomar Observatory. Both Palomar Observatory and Palomar Mountain are in north San Diego County. From I-15, you'd typically exit at CA-76 and head east. Although it's a state highway, this road is pretty winding in its lower stretches, before passing Pala Casino, after roughly six miles. There's an accompanying gas station and small store/deli out. As far as I know, that's the last public restroom before you get to your destination, about 45 miles away. So I used the restroom, bought a large coffee and a prepared breakfast sandwich (egg, sausage and cheese). I ate in the car, because I was early for my Palomar Observatory tour, and had time to kill. Also, safer not to drive and eat at the same time!

There is signage for any turns along the way to either Palomar Observatory or Palomar Mountain State Park, though you do need to pay attention. The left for South Grade Road is easy, but easier if no one's on your tail if you have to stop for that turn. There's another sign at a somewhat complicated intersection of numerous roads, where you choose between the state park or the Observatory.

If you *don't* make the double left towards the state park, but only the single left, to the Observatory, there's a vegetarian-options restaurant that seems pretty popular. On Google Maps, it says, "Mother's Kitchen." I ate there, after our Observatory tour, and before I went to the state park. Vegan tacos. Tasted pretty good. Otherwise, the other protein options are eggs, which I already ate for breakfast. Great break, because it was sunny and kind of warm after the tour, but turned to overcast after lunch. Better hiking weather.
The Palomar Mountain State Park flyer is here.

I'd been to this park only once before, over four years ago. That was long enough ago that I couldn't recall all of the trails that I had taken, that time. I recalled taking the Weir trail, so did not want to repeat that one. And I recalled taking the Silvercrest trail, that runs along the ocean-facing ridge that starts near the entrance station. Did not remember the pond, so I drove down there, thinking a walk along what looked to be a (seasonal) stream might be interesting, and with some wildflowers. But when I got there, I did recognize the pond, and realized that I had walked from there down one side, then back up that broad valley below the pond Also, I did not see much in the way of wildflowers that way. So I decided to take a different trail. Actually, first I had to go back to the car and grab the map, so I could see what my options from down here were.
From the map, I saw that I could walk up the Cedar trail (lots of big "cedar" along this trail, hence, the name), then the Scott's Cabin trail, past the cabin, and to the historic orchard, where I had seen apple trees in bloom as I drove in to the park. So, yes, it's a pretty compact park, and you are never far from the road.

The Cedar trail begins quite steeply, but then levels off once you reach a ridge. Plenty of Mountain lilac were in bloom along the upper section of this trail, and along parts of the Scott's Cabin trail. Not much to see at the actual Cabin site; I'm pretty sure it's just some loosely arranged logs, where the cabin used to be, and not actually the remnants of the cabin.
Past the cabin, I headed for the apple orchard. Had to leave the trail to get close to the apple blossoms, unfortunately.

After enjoying the view of the apple blossoms, I backtracked to near the cabin site, then took the short Scott's Cabin Spur trail to the main park road. Crossed the road, used the restroom at Silvercrest picnic area, observed a deer or two, then returned to the park road and headed west, to where the Boucher trail began.
Short ascent. Passed a small pine, with a few Christmas ornaments still on it. Passed between many oak trunks, which I photographed on the way back. Eventually entered a small parking area, where people who didn't want to walk could just drive to this historic fire lookout site.
Along the trail, there are views to the north, with (at the time) snow-capped (I assume) San Bernardino Mountains in the far distance. Once at the fire lookout, you had expansive views to the south, and also along the ridge line. It was overcast, but transparency was not back. Couldn't really see the ocean, but the Pechanga Casino, down in Pauma Valley, was pretty hard to miss.
Apparently, when there's a volunteer on hand up there, you can go on up to the top of the lookout. I couldn't tell if anyone was there, but also I figured the view would be pretty much the same, except for maybe also being able to see from the lookout point what I had seen to the north, while still walking on the trail. So nothing new.

Returned the way I came. Enjoyed passing between all those oak.

Then, back along the road and past what I think was an employee housing unit, then back to Silvercrest picnic area. Three or four deer were now feeding on the slope adjacent to the parking lot. Took a number of shots of them.
Then, back across the road, down the spur trail, back along the Cabin trail, then down the Cedar trail, Doane Pond, and my car. Fair walk and nice to get in before the roughly 2 1/2 hour drive back home.

Nice walk. The visit to Palomar Observatory was also nice, as was lunch at the restaurant, where the road to Palomar Observatory and to Palomar Mountain State Park meet.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Cassidy Arch, Capitol Reef National Park, May 2, 2019

On my recent trip to Arches National Park, I took a detour along the way. Rather than just I-15 to I-70, then down US 191, I cut through the Blue Highways of interior Utah: UT-20, US-89, and UT-24, through Capitol Reef National Park. This added about one hour of driving time, not counting stops, of course. But, despite my numerous trips in Utah, I never made it to Capitol Reef. Well, other than along I-70, which cuts through the same Waterpocket Fold, but north of the park.

Capitol Reef National Park runs a long a good long strip of that fold, so it's a long, skinny national park. Driving west to east on UT-24 going to let me see very much of it, but at least I'd be able to get a taste. Might plan for another visit here, down the road.

By staying in Cedar City the previous night, and planning only an after-midnight hike in Arches, I knew I'd have plenty of time if I wanted to take a hike or two in Capitol Reef.
I was a little concerned that the scenic route to get here would leave me without any rest areas, but it turns out Utah has placed numerous porta-potty and vault toilets along the route. There are numerous public access points to public lands for fishing and what not along the way. Also, there was Butch Cassidy's Boyhood home. Unfortunately, the only shots I took of that were with my cell phone, and now I currently have no USB type-c plugs to download pictures from my phone on to my computer.

Yeah, it turns out my kittens (now probably 9-12 months old) like chewing on those thin, plastic-coated wires. They taken out numerous USB plugs, several fitbit chargers, and a few power cords. Most were not plugged in, and I guess those that were had low enough amperage that they didn't get a shock strong enough to learn not to do this.

There was also a visitor information stop, in a small, pre-fabricated building in Torrey, the gateway town, just west of Capitol Reef National Park. Convenient, as I was needing to pee around then. I had even earlier driven to a town park on the west side of town, thinking for sure there'd be a restroom there. Nope.

The Wayne County Travel Council building was out past the east side of town, just where UT-12 drops south from UT-24. The lady at the visitor center was friendly and helpful. She seemed to know the park pretty well, at least the part I could get to in my Prius. She did, for example, know that the dirt road to Cassidy Arch was Prius-accessible. :D

The only significant trail I took in the park was this one. It seemed symmetrical, since I had visited Cassidy's boyhood home, earlier that day (this arch is also named after Cassidy, though I don't know if he ever actually visited).

I also stopped at several road-side views, so I may later post some petroglyph and pictoglyph photos, later. I had initially planned to also hike Hickman Bridge, but decided after the petroglyphs I was getting hungry enough that I'd be starving by the time I got to Moab, even without the second hike. Yes, silly, but this was sort of a bonus destination. I didn't really research it as well as I should have. Didn't really research other Moab-area attractions, either. I may get into that in a later post, too.

From UT-24, head south on the scenic drive (narrow but paved road) past the park visitor center, about three miles. There's was an unmanned fee station a mile or so down the road. Since I already have the Public Lands Recreation Pass, I figured I didn't need to stop, though I kept the pass handy, if I ran across any rangers.

After about three miles, there's a signed dirt road on the left. Well, it's not immediately dirt, but it turns to dirt quickly. Just over a mile on this well-graded road (no problem, unless it's raining or flooding, I assume), there's a small parking area. This is also the starting point to Grand Wash trail, which has a narrows, about 1.5 miles down the way. Apparently, that's the more popular destination. I would estimate less than 1/4 of the hikers turned left when the arch trail headed that way, just 1/4 or so down the wash.
From the wash, the arch trail swiftly climbs the cliff, and, once you more or less level off, you parallel back, above the road, heading west. I could spot my car in the lot. In the cropped view of the shot, above, it's the ninth from the bottom, on the left.

Nice views, both along Grand Wash, and over the exposed, rolling hills of sandstone and gypsum. It looked a lot like the high country of Zion National Park. Even some checkerboard-ed areas.

After maybe 3/4 of a mile of mostly level, you get your first views of Cassidy Arch. It's set back, and does not burst upon you. Heading there, the approach seemed to take longer than expected Quite a lot was across exposed rock, with only the occasional duck of rocks to guide you. Still mostly a walk, though you should stop occasionally to make sure you're on the right path.
Finally, you're there, and, yeah, it's a pretty good way down.

The arch itself must be 10 or 15 yards wide, and walking over the arch is not scary. Hanging over it would be, though, as it's probably 100 feet or so down, to the base of the arch.

There's an anchor on the west side of the arch, where people occasional tie on to, then rappel down the chute. A website I came across says it's a 140 foot rappel from there to the first step, then another 140 foot rappel after that, before it becomes a walk-down.

That means if you're walking up from the dirt road, you'll not be able to get actually beneath the arch.
As is often the case, the return hike from the arch to the car seemed a lot shorter than the hike from the car to the arch. It was also easier to enjoy the rock tops with the sun at my back, and gravity on my side. Back to the car, then drove on out the park, stopping for the petroglyph/pictoglyph panel.

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Rubio Canyon, Sunday, February 17, 2019

Old post, I never finished. This last winter was pretty wet, particularly compared to recent years. I hit several front range waterfalls repeatedly. What I learned is that I'm not sure if Bailey Falls will ever run, again. It seems like the water that does make it to the bottom of that canyon no longer comes over the small drop; instead, it comes down further down the trail, as springs and seeps a few hundred yards downstream.
On the other hand, Rubio Canyon can still get a nice flow on. This February day was one of the better flowing days. Still early season, so not much in the way of wildflowers. But I did see a few western wallflowers along the way.

Relatively crowded by Rubio Canyon Standards. Obviously, I wasn't the only one thinking the waterfalls might be nice.

The lower falls were fine (Moss Grotto and Ribbon Rock). But I only stayed briefly before heading on, to the Thalehaha Falls overlook.

Made it to the overlook as a couple of rappellers contemplated their decent. They decided not to go, by the way. They weren't wearing wetsuits, and I guess they found the water too cold or too high.
Kind of nice with people standing at the top, as, otherwise, there's no sense of scale to just how tall this waterfall is. Nice sluice at the top that guides the water over the edge, and then spreads a bit as it falls into the gorge, below. When it's flowing nicely, the sound of the falls reverberates a bit from the rocky walls that enclose the base of the falls.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Delicate Arch, Arches National Park, Early Morning, May 3, 2019

I wanted to get something like this back in October, during my last visit to Arches. Unfortunately, it was cloudy the night I had available. Even during the previous night, weather was iffy, so I stayed closer to the road, where I was assured of getting a few shots in before the clouds ended the night.

After my experience at Mobius Arch, I figured out that, even shooting at 4 in the morning (or, in the case of this trip, 1 or 2 in the morning), I probably wouldn't have the arch to myself. On the drive through the park, I became more convinced of this fact: The parking lot at Balanced Rock was literally full, at 12:30 in the morning! Lots of people, waiting for the Milky Way to rise, I assumed.

I thought perhaps Delicate Arch, while iconic, had the longer hike in the dark to dissuade too many photographers from trying their luck. I was wrong.
When I got to the parking lot for Delicate Arch, there must have been about a dozen vehicles, including at least one van. I passed a few hikers coming back to the lot on the way back, but not enough to account for all those cars. So I was only mildly surprised to see the number of people in the bowl for Delicate Arch. About half of that number appeared to be part of a single class or tour group, but obviously many more were on their own. Probably if it was just the "regular" folks, it would have turned out okay.

The class, by contrast, decided to place a light to the side, to illuminate Delicate Arch. It was bright enough to create some hotspots in the frame, if you were exposing long enough for the Milky Way. And the lights from the 8 or so camera displays, and 8 or so phone screens meant there was quite a lot of distracting light below the horizon. It made taking a good landscape-orientation photo of the Milky Way and Delicate Arch impossible.
That was the case even when they weren't doing something stupid, like shining a spotlight on Delicate Arch to focus their cameras on. Hint for the newbies: If you have a bright star in the sky (or, in this case, Jupiter, the bright point of light more or less above the center of the arch), you can put that on your screen, then center and zoom in on your display. Make that dot as small as possible, and you're in focus at infinity. With a wide angle lens, you'll also be in focus on the Arch, assuming the arch is more than 100 or 150 feet away. The farther, the better, but even closer, it'll be pretty sharp. And if it's dark, you can't tell if it's a slightly soft focus, anyway.
So after the teacher starting talking about wanting to take a shot of himself inside the arch, with a flashlight pointed to the sky, I got fed up and left. I thought, it being later, even the more accessible roadside arches might have better photo opportunities, since they were also less iconic. Partially true.
There were a lot of people around the Windows Section, but at least fewer were using bright lights, and we were spread out enough to allow for some reasonably dark opportunities. Well, except near the end, when a van of about a half-dozen photographers decided to set up directly behind me. Yeah, that was kind of weird.

This was a Thursday night, by the way. Yes, during peak season, but a weeknight, at between 1 and 4 in the morning. Shudder to think what it looks like when you're shooting in June and July, when the Milky Way is well-placed as soon as it gets dark.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Early Morning in the Alabama Hills, Sunday, April 14, 2019

I visited the Alabama Hills for the first time last weekend. Drove up on Saturday afternoon, and stayed overnight, in Lone Pine. I'l try to get my afternoon hike pictures posted, soon.

Woke up at about 3:45am, and drove back to Mobius Arch trailhead It's dark up there, so I managed to get myself turned around as I drove, and wound up taking a little longer than I should have. Still, it's a short hike to the arch, probably only about 1/4 from the left trail, and 1/2 mile from the right (the trail forms a loop, and approaches the arch regardless of which arch trail you follow.

When I got there, there was already a group of three, there. They had a relatively bright "backlight," on the west side of the arch, a person posing atop the arch, and they were shooting from the west side. I waited until I was sure I would not disrupt a shot before approaching. Then I set up my camera behind them and took a few test shots, while waiting for them to finish. Ironically, one of the first test shots I took came out the most interesting: Just 15 seconds at ISO 1600, f/1.8 with my 20mm Nikon.

If it were up to me, I'd have shot under existing light, with a dark arch, but a longer exposure to catch more Milky Way. As it was, even at 10-15 seconds, the undersight of the arch was overexposed. Still, it was an interesting effect, and I did enjoy chatting with the other photographers.

Dawn approached quickly, and even the first few shots showed a reddening to the west. By the time the first group wrapped things up, the Milky Way was fading.

Just before leaving, I took a few shots with the eastern Sierra showing through the arch. I had done that the previous afternoon, as well, of course. This one is just illuminated by the brightening sky, behind me. Sunrise was still probably an hour away, however. So I headed back to the room, to rest for a while, eat breakfast, and head back home.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve, Friday, March 22

Couple of cell phone shots from a visit to the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve. Came about 9:30am. Since it was relatively early, on a workday, and before the park had arrived on social media radar, I was able to park in the park. When I left, they were encouraging people to park on the road, south of the park. Long backup coming from the east.
Having read that the bloom was starting from the east, and knowing that the rising sun would warm the poppies facing southeast, first, I walked that trail. Limited time due to work obligations, so no time to see it all.

It was pretty cold that morning, and the poppies didn't unfurl until about 11am. Lots of buds visible in these shots, so you can see that peak was a bit in the future. But pretty nice, already. Not sure if I will try to squeeze in a return in a few weeks.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area, March 8, 2019

I have a few wildflower hikes to post, still, but this one should be faster. I drove up into the Las Vegas area on a Saturday. I had previously checked sunset times and the hours the scenic drive in Red Rock was open. I had been wanting to get some night sky shots of the area for a while, but was stymied by the limited road hours. They really don't want you here after dark!

But it turns out, based upon the hanging sunset times and shifting road hours, there are a few windows of opportunity to legally be on the road when the sky is significantly dark. The first window I was aware of was in early March. On March 1, the road hours extend from 5pm winter hours to 7pm. If you visit before the change to daylight savings time, you have (by March 8) over one hour after sunset to get out off the road.
Took about a dozen shots, mostly relatively short exposures. The sky is far from dark, so a fast lens and long exposure would blow out the sky.
Earlier in the afternoon. I had intended to hike Icebox Canyon. I figured with all the recent rains, it would be impressive. But I forgot to assure a pair of socks to go with my hiking boots. Given all the rock hopping, I definitely wanted my boots. But I wasn't willing to use the boots with no socks.
With either flip-flops or sockless athletic shoes, I chose the latter. With that set up, I was willing to walk from the Icebox Canyon trailhead, back up the one-way road, then along the stub road, then the short and easy trail to Lost Canyon waterfall.
Round trip walk was probably about 2 miles.

Then I drove to the Pine Creek trailhead, and waited for dark. Shot with my Nikon D3400, 18-140mm lens at 18mm, f/4, iso 1600, 15 seconds. Some shot horizontal, some vertical.

Saturday, March 2, 2019

Bajada Trail and Lost Oasis Trails, Joshua Tree National Park

I visited the southern extreme of Joshua Tree National Park on Sunday, February 24. I had been following DesertUSA's Desert Wildflower Alerts, and saw that the area around the Bajada Trail was in bloom. (Note that this will take you to the then-current report, not to what I was reading a few weeks ago).

I had hiked this area on several previous occasions, including at least once when it was in bloom, but I can't find a post with photos of those earlier trips on my blog. Oh, well.

I have also hiked to Lost Palms Oasis on at least one previous occasion, as well as the shorter hike from that same trailhead to Mastodon Peak on at least two previous occasions, including just last year.
Although the Lost Oasis hike was a lot longer, the "real" point of this trip was to see wildflowers, so most of my photos are from the very shorter saunter around the Bajada Trail.
Even down in the Coachella Valley, wildflowers were blooming along the freeway median and in adjacent areas, so I was optimistic for some nice blooms "up" at the Bajada. And I was not disappointed. The area was blue with lupine, with plenty of brittlebush mixed in, a lesser but non-trivial amounts of desert poppy and other flowers.

Off in the distance, to the west, the snow dipped low on Mount San Gorgonio, and vicinity. I tried to frame a few shots of the lupine with the snow-capped mountains in the distance.
There were some painted lady butterflies fluttering about, but I didn't get any to pose. I did get one, by accident, wen I was photographing a patch of desert dandelion.
From the Bajada, the road heads to higher altitude as you head deeper into the park. Blooms were still numerous, but not as dense as further down, where the previous pictures were taken. I didn't stop again until the Cottonwood Visitor Center.
I wasn't sure if I was going to hike, because I had forgotten my medication that I should have taken around 9am that morning. Eventually, I decided it would be best to take a longish hike to try to control my bloom sugar that way, as it would still have been a pretty long drive home to get my medication.

The other factor that tipped my decision making was that I ran into a middle-aged gentleman at the Bajada (I say middle-aged now, because I'm old; if I ran into him thirty years ago, he would have been "some old guy"!). Jim was a commercial driver, who parked his mobile home/rig down outside the park, as there's a sign on the way up that says no commercial vehicles are allowed in the park.
As I was still debating if I would hike, I told him, no problem, I'd take him to the visitor center, and reassess from there.

Once at the visitor center, I decided to do a hike, though I still wasn't sure which one. So then I drove the mile or so to the Cottonwood Springs trailhead, and, eventually decided on Lost Palms Oasis, since I had just been to Mastodon Peak the previous fall.
So not only did I take a decently long hike, but I had some company, along the way.

The distance from Cottonwood Springs to Lost Palms is probably 3.4 miles, each way, although there are dueling signs at the trailhead, and one claims it is 4.4 miles.
The hike turned out to be easier than I recalled, probably because it was somewhat warmer the last time I hiked it. On this day, I doubt it was much above 50. It was neither windy nor particularly dry, either. Perfect desert hiking weather.
This was several days after the last storm, yet there was still the occasional small patch of snow on the ground. It was still getting pretty cold overnight, and not superhot in the day. And I guess they must have gotten decent accumulation.
The trail itself is relatively flat. I mean, it goes up and it goes down, but only a few of the ups are steep enough to get your blood pumping. The steepest decent is at the end, when you drop down to the oasis. Numerous palms (the largest concentration, they say) are along the base of the ravine. Water seeps in various places.
I should take some care if you do decide to descend, since it does take some care and dexterity not to slip on your butt. Not a huge amount, and it does help if you have lug soles.
As noted, a nice hike. And, unlike on most of my hikes, I had company. It was a nice change of pace.
This last shot, by the way, was from the rest area on eastbound I-10, near Whitewater, and just before U.S. 62. Nice view of Mount San Jacinto, which was also snow covered.