Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Favorite Pictures from 2013

I noticed a lot of my favorite blogs have put together "Top-10"-like lists. Since I was not able to fit a 60th hike into the year, I instead thought about doing something similar. Without spending an inordinate amount of time going through all the pictures I took in full-size mood, I went with looking at thumbnails on this blog, picking some candidates, then culling down to a moderate number. These photos are in the order uploaded to my blog, which is not necessarily the order I walked them. Not sure if I could actually rank them from 1 to 20.

Clicking on any one picture lets you see it in a larger format, and lets you navigate directly from photo to photo.

Eaton Canyon, March 16, 2013. Got here just as the clouds were burning off. The clouds were still thick enough to leave a hint of mystery in the background, and to let me get some nice saturation on the sunflower yellows.

On the way to Burbank Peak, June 1 2013. Ironically, this was just about a week after I took a similar shot of a dead tree against desert-y mountains. In this case, I'm closer to home. The Verdugo and San Gabriel Mountains are in the background. And, again, I'm using the low sun to add warmth and color to my view.

Same hike, June 1, 2013. Probably five minutes after I took the previous shot, I came across a couple of Mariposa lilies. Again, the sun was nearly horizontal to the subject, so I got some nice backlighting. The flower's pistils and stamen are projected on to the side of the petals. The California buckwheat is also backlit, giving the greenery a little bit of a yellow hue, while the tiny buckwheat flowers also give this shot some additional points of color.

A third shot from my Burbank Peak hike of June 1. This is the actual Burbank Peak, with the "Magic Tree," and a group of 20-somethings enjoying the view (and some beer, it turns out). The coastal fog is rolling in, adding some additional depth to the imiage.

Monrovia Canyon, June 8. Some-times, you know you've got the shot. Sometimes, you *think* you know have the shot, but you don't quite have it. A perfect shot would not have had the aster bud in front of the butterfly. But that's what was there. I love how the backlighting both turned the fringes of butterfly's wings a fiery orange, and made the cliff aster translucent. The sun angle also left my background in shadow, making it nearly black by comparison. I got all that by keeping the aperture wide and exposing for the highlights. So, while it's not the perfect shot, it did everything I could get out of what nature presented me.

Sam Merrill Trail, June 22, 2013. This was on a hike to Sunset Ridge and back. It was an unusual June afternoon, with clouds building and the threat of rain in the air. The setting sun gave the yucca stalks in the foreground a nice warm light. And I liked the contrast between the pair of yucca flowers talks in the foreground right with the two high tension electrical transmission towers in the background left.

Echo Mountain, June 2. Same trail, a few weeks earlier I had to pretty much lay down on my stomach to get the angle I wanted, with the sunlight practically coming from below these flowers. I love shooting as the sun goes down, with the magic light making all sorts of amazing colors possible.

Saturday, July 20, 2013, on Mt. Hollywood Road, returning from "The Bat Cave." Ironically, this was taken on the 44th anniversary of the first humans landing on the moon. Unlike nearly all of my other pictures, this one is a crop. The exposure was for the moon, so I didn't have to do anything with that. But my longest zoom only brings me to 200mm, which leaves you with a pretty tiny moon. So I zoomed in as far as I could, framed the shot for the way I knew I would want to crop it, switched to manual focus to get on the moon, and took several exposures, trying to get the moon just right.

On the trail around Lake Hollywood, Saturday, August 31. Stood around some standing water and fired off probably 20 shots as the dragonflies flitted about. I love how the detail in the wings came out.

Calico Hills Trail, Red Rock Canyon National Conserva-tion Area, September 28, 2013. Jimson weed (datura) are common in dry southern California. I guess they're pretty common in the desert of southern Nevada, too. This was deep in a canyon, with the afternoon sun just striking a portion of my flower. Came out just the way I envisioned it when I tripped the shutter.

Also taken on the Calico Hills Trail in Red Rock Canyon, September 28, 2013. This was probably an hour or so earlier. Monsoon rains of earlier that month gave the wildflowers of the southern Nevada desert a second season. These little yellow flowers carpeted parts of the bajada near the entrance gate to the scenic drive. This photo also came out just the way I wanted it. This one, and the previous photo, were taken with my Kodak "point-and-shoot." My dslr was unavailable on this trip. But I could still use the settings to get the exposure and focus where I wanted it.

Aspen Grove, San Bernardino National Forest, October 5, 2013. Third visit to the Aspen Grove, made more exciting by the possibility that the government shutdown was going leave my car locked inside the forest. Fortunately, that didn't happen. I got to explore the full extent of the "Aspen Grove," which is actually several pockets of aspen along the Santa Ana River's quasi-headwaters.

Oak Glen Preserve, December 1, 2013. Oaks generally don't turn as colorful as, say, maple leaves. They mostly got a rusty brown. But when the sunlight strikes them just right, the rusty brown becomes a golden hue. Once the foliage has thinned somewhat, they golden hue stands out even starker against the white bark and shadowed branches of these oak.

Same hike as above: Oak Glen Preserve, December 1, 2013. The scale of this shot is a little hard to appreciate, despite the numerous homes and farmhouses in the shot. I got the exposure just right, so the homes sort of standout against the background. But you've got to view the photo at a pretty large scale to see those details.

Sycamore are probably the most colorful leaf we get here in southern California. They're also among the larger leaves you'll find, so even a single leaf can be the focus of a shot.

Eaton Canyon waterfall, December 9, 2013. I like to take relatively longer exposures of running water, to get the "veil" effect. Vibration-reduction technology in the lens may be making it easier for me to do this.

Pacific Ocean, December 20, 2013. This is a really simple photo, but I like it. I like the framing. I like the exposure. I like that I chose a fast enough shutter speed (by picking a high ISO) to allow for a non-blurred image of the sun rising on my way out to Santa Catalina Island.

Lone Tree Overlook Trail, Santa Catalina Island, December 20, 2013. If not for the views along the Lone Tree Overlook Trail, I think I would have been somewhat disappointed with the scenery of the island (at least the part I was able to walk). Those steep, rugged cliffs, and the turquoise waters on the outer shore, made those views just incredible.

On the Catalina Express dock, December 20, 2013. I may be biased by this being a recent shot, but I liked these pelican shots. The lighting was coming from behind the bird, so his eyes were only illuminated when he turned far to his left or right. I had the patience and time to wait him out.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Hike 2013.059 -- Bailey Canyon to Cabin Foundation

Hiked Wednesday, December 25. Short hike, just up to the Cabin Foundation. About 4.5 miles roundtrip.

I've hiked from here several times this year, and have many previous entries of hikes to either the Foundation or Jones Peak. In fact, however, I'm pretty sure I never blogged the last trip to Jones Peak. Nonetheless, search this site and you'll find more details on how to get to the trailhead, and what you'll see along this hike and more pictures of the views along the way.
My hike today was a short one because I didn't feel that motivated, but I did want to get some exercise before the Christmas dinner, which I knew was going to be a major caloric event.

I actually started driving towards Chantry Flat, but decided that by the time I got there, the parking lot would surely be full, and I didn't want to waste the 30 minutes or so extra it would take to drive up there and discover this, then drive back down.

My SD car was very nearly full on this day, so I only shot about 15 photos. My most interesting discover on this clear winter morning was that the Griffith Observatory looks really different from above Bailey Canyon than it does from closer to the place. I'm not sure what the tall building is that seems to reach as high as the Observatory, now why Mt. Hollywood seems so inconspicuous from this angle.

The third picture, by the way, is a crop of the top left of the second picture, so you can see enough to confirm that the little object in the third picture is, in fact, the Griffith Observatory.
The hike did it's job, and I did not feel quite as guilty when I ate my Christmas dinner.

In addition to views of the Monastery, and towards downtown, and the Grffith Observatory, I also took a lot of pictures of a cactus, hoping to get some interesting texture shots. But I was not impressed with my efforts, so no pictures of the cactus here.

Probably one or two more hikes before the next year arrives, so it looks like about 60 hikes will be my 2013 total. Last year, it was 79. The year before that was 100. The year before that was 109. An unfortunate downward trend, but a reflection of my work schedule. I'm still trying to get some balance in my life.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Hike 2013.058 -- Santa Catalina Island -- Stage Road, Divide Road, and Garden to Sky Trails

Hiked Friday, December 20. Despite having grown up in southern California, I had never made it to any of the Channel Islands. However, while driving back home from work one evening, I saw a billboard for Catalina Express. They're the company that runs relatively rapid ferry service between Santa Catalina Island and the mainland. In honor of the city of Avalon's 100th birthday, they're offering free roundtrip passage to anyone on their birthday. The offer is currently good through April 30, so if you've got a birthday coming up and can't decide what to do, here's an idea.

Since this was going to be worth a lot more than a Denny's Grand Slam breakfast, or the deal that the San Manuel Casino has for your birthday, I headed down to Long Beach, early Friday morning.

During the winter time, the schedule between the mainland and the Island is pretty limited. If I didn't catch the 6:15am departure, I would have to wait until 10am. That would cost me half the day, so I opted for the ridiculously early departure that would give me pretty much the whole day to enjoy the island.

The trip across the strait is supposed to take about 70 minutes. Didn't time it, but the time did pass quickly. It was pretty darn smooth, too. Not steel wheels on rail smooth, but way smoother than a whale watching or fishing boat. I even got to enjoy a wonderful sunrise (which I successfully photographed) and numerous pods of dolphins playing in the water (which I did not succeed in photographing).

Once back on land, I wandered down Crescent Street. I consulted the maps and handouts I found in the waiting area before boarding and navigated my way to the Hogsback trailhead. Made one wrong turn along the way, at a fork where neither route was signed. For future reference, if you come to an unsigned fork along Stage Road, take the bigger road.

This trail climbed smartly, giving me plenty of views across Avalon. About 1 1/2 to 2 miles after leaving the dock, I reached the Hogsback Gate. There, you'll note the requirement for a hiking permit from the Catalina Island Conservancy to go into the "interior."

You can get that on-line, but you need to register for an account on that site. You also would have needed to register on the Catalina Express site to get your code for the free ferry ride, by the way.

Since I had the permit in hand, I continued through the gate. The road continues as a paved "hiking trail" for two miles. There are several blind curves along the way, with large convex mirrors to see around the turns. I posed for my birthday portrait in front of one of them.

At the end of two miles, you reach an overlook, and a fence. I assume the fence is designed to keep the bison out of Avalon.

From the overlook, you've got a wide open view back towards the mainland. Depending on the clarity, you may see only the coast, or clear in towards the high peaks of the Angeles and San Bernardino National Forests. You can also see along the island's mainland-facing coast. Looks like a bit further hiking through the gate would be rewarded with additional views.

However, I turned around here. Just before reaching the overlook, I came across a sign indicating that this was Divide Road, and that it was 1.8 miles to Hermit Gulch Trail and 2.6 miles to Memorial Road. Either path would lead me back towards Avalon. However, the sign had no arrows. The intuitive direction would be to go left, along the lined detention basin and along a fence that protected the detention basin. This would lead me to a gate, which, I presumed, would have an opening for me to pass through.

I wasn't sure that was the right way, however. Fortunately, an eco-tour jeep pulled up, so I asked the guide the way to Hermit Gulch.

My suspicion confirmed, I turned left at the sign and passed through the gate. After a short 1/4 mile or so, I reached a sign, indicating this was the Trans-Catalina Trail. Right would take me along the spine of the island to the west side, while going straight could take me to the east side. I went straight.

From here, I had some expansive views in all directions, and a peek at a single tree, far off to the north. Later, when I reached a junction for a trail head to Lone Tree Overlook, I assumed this is the tree I'd overlook. A bit past here, while taking photos, I heard, and turned in time to see, a Channel Islands fox run past me and disappear into the brush.

It's a one mile detour each way off Divide Road to the overlook. The trail is a jeep trail, wide, but with some very steep ups and downs, right along the ridge. It was slow going, as my feet were already starting to bother me. But I reached the overlook, and was glad I did.

The view from the overlook was astound-ing. Steep drop-off, down to the ocean. Rocky crags standing against the waves. Beds of kelp, and aquamarine water. It felt like another world, or, at least, a part of the world very far away from Los Angeles.

Overall, however, hiking, at least on this portion of Santa Catalina Island, was not the trip back to see what pre-Columbian mainland southern California might have looked like. There are wide roads and firebreaks criss-crossing the island. Antenna doted hilltops. Power lines ran along ridges. It was pretty, and obviously less impacted than most of mainland California. But it was not wilderness.

With it now around noon and the tempera-tures up near 60, I changed out of my jeans and into some shorts. Put on the sunglasses, too. Probably should have put on some sun block, but it did not occur to me at the time.

I returned back to Divide Road and turned right. Almost before I had finished the turn, I came across a rest spot and a sign. This was the Hermit Gulch junction. By now, however, I had noted my boot soles starting to separate, and decided it would be safer to stay on a flatter surface, and decided to continue on the Trans-Catalina trail to the Memorial Road.

That junction was also well-signed. It indicated 1.2 miles down to the Memorial on my left, or straight ahead for a six-mile walk that would loop me around to the east of Avalon, then return to the city. On your left is your first view of the William Wrigley, Jr. Memorial structure, while to your right is a deep canyon that runs off to the ocean, in the distance. But you can't see the shoreline from here, so the view is not nearly as dramatic as the one from Lone Tree Overlook.

After a long, switch-back-filled descent, I was there. I climbed the stairs, walked around the structure, and took lots of photos. It's a photogenic structure, although, because it sits with the "front" more or less facing north, the only time you'd get the front of the structure in sunlight would be near sunrise or sunset in the summer months.

From the memorial, I headed down Avalon Canyon Road, passing a girls soccer match and a golf course along the way. Once in town, I passed "The Nature Center" of the Catalina Island Conservancy. While the sycamore in the parking lot were golden yellow and very attractive, the volunteers inside were fixated on completing preparations for a Christmas party. After about five minutes of being ignored while I looked for material to read or buy, and exhibits about the island (of which I found none), I left the building, snapped photos of the sycamore, then continued my walk towards Avalon. It is allegedly "about a mile" from the Botanical Garden to town, but it seems like 2 miles from the Memorial to Crescent Avenue.

Along the way, I passed a taco stand that advertised $1 tacos for happy hour. Alas, I was about 30 minutes too early for Happy Hour.

I continued into town, walked along Crescent, then found Clarisa Avenue, where the Conservancy's headquarters is located. I asked for and received a free map of the area trails, did not see any additional publications on hiking on Santa Catalina Island, and then headed back into town.

By now, I was starving. I had also confirmed, after looking at numerous menus along the way, that lunch was going to cost me about $12, no matter where I ate. Ended up eating fish and chips on the pier. They were delicious.

After my late lunch, I hobbled along, heading towards the dock. Got there several hours before my departure, so I found a bench, took off my boots, and relaxed.

Occasionally, I tried shooting pictures of passing seagulls. Then a much larger bird made its pterodactyl-like approach. The thing was huge.

It landed no more than 18 feet from where I sat. I fired off numerous shots, first with my 18-55, then with my 55-210 zoom. At this distance, even my relatively short zooms did the trick. The bird (which I figure to be a brown pelican) stayed put nice and long, I waited patiently for it to turn its face into the sun so I could get some nicer pictures of this massive bird.

It was a totally unexpected treat, watching the pelican use its ungainly beak to nip at itches in its plumage, and to use it s gangly legs to scratch an itch.

Probably shot 20 photos of just this bird, and at least that many of passing seagulls. Just waited for my ride.

I also browsed the gift shop here, but found nothing that I thought my wife would enjoy, so all she got from my trip to Catalina is a couple of stories.

As I sat waiting, it occurred to me that sunset would probably occur on the ride back. I wanted to be able to end my day with a photo of sunset, just as I had begun it with a photo of sunrise. That would mean sitting on the left side of the boat, so I hoped I would be able find a window seat on that side when I boarded. Fortunately, the boat was not that crowded, and I got on early enough to have a choice of 2 or 3 remaining left-side window seats.

I sat down, waited for departure, fired off a few shots as we headed out of the harbor, then probably (I'm not sure, but probably) fell asleep. It had been a long day, already.

I woke up when I heard the engines throttle back, indicating we were back inside the Los Angeles-Long Beach Harbor breakwater.

At this time, the sun was still well above the horizon. But with our reduced speed, the sun was approaching the horizon by the time we passed the Queen Mary. The sun was eclipsed by the old luxury line for a few seconds. When the sun emerged on the other side, I fired off a few shots, and hoped the dirty windows did not detract too much from my closing shots for the night.

Maybe 15 minutes later, I was in my car, hoping I could find my way back to the Long Beach Freeway (I-710) north. I did. Caught a little bit of rush hour traffic, but managed to stay awake during my drive home (always important). Pulled into my driveway a little over 12 hours after leaving that morning. Long day. Good day. And mostly free, except for the parking, the coffee and coffee cake for breakfast, and the fish and chips for lunch/dinner. And the gas, of course.

Hard to estimate the total mileage, since a lot of it was on city streets. About 5.5 miles from the Hogsback Gate to the Wrigley Memorial. I'd estimate between 3 and 4 miles to get to between the dock and the trailheads. Gonna call it 9 miles for the day, even though my feet felt like they had walked much longer than that.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Hike 2013.057 -- Griffith Park -- Between Mt. Hollywood and Fern Dell

Hiked Saturday, December 14. I had business to take care of at the Observa-tory (which turned out to be undoable, so I combined it with a hike. As a result I started in the middle, hiked up to Mt. Hollywood first, then went down past the Observatory to Ferndell, then returned up the same trail to my car.

I've hiked up to Mt. Hollywood probably a half-dozen times now, and down to Ferndell at least twice: In April and in in July. Could have sworn I also went there in the fall, but I don't see the hike posted.

Despite my previous trips here, I still made a new discovery: There's a "George Harrison Tree," right on the north edge of the Observatory parking lot. That's it, right there. Of course, I shot it with sun peeking out from behind the tree, as in, "Here's Comes the Sun."

There's also the James Dean statue, on the west walkway as you approach the Observatory, the side facing the Hollywood sign.

The Charlie Turner Trail starts right behind the George Harrison Tree, on the north end of the lot. There's a drinking fountain right near the start. Head on up the trail, and you pass the Berlin Children's Forest within about 100 yards, then come over a rise and descend to the passage over the Vermont Canyon tunnel. On the other side, the Charlie Turner bears to the left and makes a long climb to the west, then loops back for a long and shallow climb as it heads to the east.

Stupid people cut the switchback, risking injury to themselves or those below them, and speed erosion along the trail. Here, a bunch of Boy Scouts, (with "777" on their shoulders--the nearest Pack 777 is based in Diamond Bar) are slip-sliding their way down a steep descent. Stupid pack leader.

At the end of the sweep back to the east, you reach a junction. Either "up, left" or "up, right" will take you to to the top, but, today, there was construction on the "up, left," which would be the Charlie Turner, so you had to go right, past where you soon passed Dante's View.

Also at this junction is where the two other "trails" (one seems to be a formal, somewhat steep, but not all that difficult trail, while the other runs along the ridge and ends where the Scouts were struggling down towards the Vermont Tunnel.

Nice 180- to 270-degree views from around this section, where celebrating hikers can be seen either on the nearby ridge here, or on the slightly more-distant Glendale Peak. The "tiny" people making their way up, or posing at the top, of Glendale Peak puts some perspective on the size and distances involved.

A hawk zipped quickly past me here. I didn't have time to try to reset for a higher shutter speed, so the picture is only moderately sharp.

Dante's View is where you begin rounding the bend on Mt. Hollywood. You've still got some distance to go, so you may wish to sip some water at the fountain here. If you have dogs, let them get their fill, too.

One more turn, and it's on up to the picnic tables atop Mt. Hollywood. I've taken plenty of pictures from here in the past on clearer days, so took none, today.

Instead, after literally a moment, I turned on back down. I originally intended to call it a day, but from the top I could see what looked like the brown-rust of oak leaves in Ferndell, so I decided to walk past the Observatory and take the trail that runs down from immediately to the east of the Observatory. I assume this is called the "Observatory Trail," since if you follow it down (making a right at your first junction), it later splits into an "East Observatory" and a "West Observatory" trail.

I took the East Observatory Trail, which is slightly more direct if your goal is Ferndell. As usual, I walked on down to near Los Feliz, then turned around.

Alas, the colors were not as nice as I had hoped. And, given the near-noon-day sun, there were lots of bright spots and shadowed area, which makes photography without filters or post-shot manipulation unappealing.

Once at the end, I looped back around and headed back up to the Observatory.

Up near the top of Ferndell, across the street from the park, is "The Trails" cafe. I've never managed to actually find the place, though I've also never seriously looked for it. It seems invisible from the Ferndell Trail, so you'd have to walk down Ferndell Drive/Western Canyon Drive to find the place, I think

Anyway, back to the car much later than I planned. Figure on about five miles total for the hikes today.