Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Anza Borrego Desert State Park: December 2023

December 13, 2023:  After a very difficult year filled with medical issues, we finally took a little trip to Anza Borrego Desert State Park to see the Geminid meteor shower.  At the beginning of 2023, it looked like our camping days were over – I could not walk.

After back surgery and rehab to deal with nerve damage to my feet, we were once again on the road, testing my ability to deal with the rigors of camping and moderate hiking.  (Spoiler alert:  no big problems.).  We camped in Blair Valley, which has dark skies and plenty of boondocking:

(Those pictures make it look as though we were all alone.  We weren't – there were a couple of other trailers scattered about a quarter-mile away.)

Felice took a short hike around the area in the late afternoon and snagged (not literally) this great backlit shot of buckhorn cholla:

The meteor shower was excellent, among the best we have ever seen.  There was a little light pollution from distant towns, but not too much.  We saw about 25 meteors in about 90 minutes, many of which were bright white or green with long tails.  The temperature was around 40 degrees, with almost no wind.  I can't say that we were warm, but this was our least uncomfortable Geminid shower, ensconced in our camp chairs, properly dressed, with a big sleeping bag draped over our laps.

December 14:  We took the Borrego Palm Canyon trail, which starts in Borrego Springs.  Unlike last time, we didn't see any mountain sheep, but the weather was cool and clear.

The boulders lining the floodplain were impressive – imagine the volume of water that tumbled these rocks!  To get a sense of scale, Felice is at center right:

More evidence of tremendous flooding – the ends of this massive chunk of palm trunk were rubbed round, like a well-used pencil eraser, after being worn down by many storms:

That huge black boulder deserves a paragraph or two.  (If you're not fascinated by rocks, skip this stuff.). Note the color and texture – this is dark fine-grained volcanic rock, almost like obsidian but probably basalt, with veins of quartz, much harder than the coarse-grained surrounding "country rock" of beige granite.  How did it get here?  Did the granite overlay the older basalt (unlikely) or did the newer lava punch through the granite?

Without scouting far upstream for the original basalt outcropping, there's no way to tell if the basalt predated the granite.  But it is clear that this anomalous boulder fell into the canyon and was then tumbled and rounded by thousands of "thousand year" floods.  (End of geology moment.) 

We came across a "mortero," a cup-like depression in the rock where the native folks used to grind seeds.  I am told that the term "Indian" is no longer used:

I am also told that the hard work of grinding the seeds was given to the women, who would sing to keep the rhythm.  There are Navajo corn grinding songs available on YouTube – I would guess that the Borrego Springs tribe's songs were similar, but there is no way to know. 

After a leisurely climb, we arrived at the palm oasis, complete with a miniature waterfall (about a foot high):

Amazingly, there were little frogs in the pool at the foot of the falls.  How did they brave the surrounding desert to arrive at this pool?  Tadpoles are notoriously bad hikers.  These frogs must be remnants of the ice ages, when the streams ran down into inland seas, providing a way for the frogs to populate the canyons.  Now they are stranded on a wet island in the desert.  (We didn't get a photo of the frogs, who were unremarkable.)

That evening, as we approached the campsite just after sundown, the almost-new crescent moon was colored by "earthshine," which is exactly what it sounds like:  the light of the sun reflects off the earth and illuminates the dark part of the moon.  Unfortunately, neither Felice's iPhone nor my old DSLR could quite capture this phenomenon, due to the high contrast between the dark side of the moon and the sliver of "daylight."  This is the iPhone shot:

And this is the DSLR shot, with the telephoto zoom:

December 15:  The drive home took only four hours.  Although the desert is not our top choice for camping and hiking, this little trip was a big success because it proved that we are ready to get back on the road.

Monday, November 07, 2022

Four Weeks in the Northwest: Part II (Mt. Rainier and the Eastern Sierra)

Part II:  Mt. Rainier and the Eastern Sierra

Oct. 2:  We decided to pull up stakes yet again -- the forecast called for very poor air quality in the North Cascades over the next several days (which turned out to be accurate).  So we used our old standby, Mt. Rainier, as our escape hatch.  This was, I think, the third time we've used Rainier as a last-minute fallback when other Washington destinations were unavailable due to either smoke or snow.

As usual, we had no reservations and had to search for an RV park using the phone, which is never easy, especially while we are driving.  I had mentioned to Felice that I was feeling a little tired and wished that just this one time, we could go to a nicely appointed RV resort and hang out for a day while we did laundry and went shopping.  (In all our years of camping, we had never before mentioned the idea of an "RV resort.")

My wish was miraculously granted!  Rainbow RV Resort showed up on the phone, right near Mt. Rainier.  The website was very nice, with lots of pretty pictures, and the reviews were good.  So we made a reservation at the Resort for two nights.

We pulled in to the Resort after dark.  "Dark" was the operative word -- we had to use our headlamps to find our campsite, after driving down a very steep hill.  The Resort's sites were jammed together.  Our reserved Resort site was covered in loose gravel and perched up on a ledge -- we would have to back up a steep gravel apron to get the trailer onto the site.

At first, we couldn't find the sewer and water connections.  There were a couple of flat chunks of broken concrete toward the back of the site.  I bent down and moved them aside -- bingo!  The utilities were in a hole in the ground, almost inaccessible.  Truly Resort-style utilities.   

By this time, we were exhausted and laughing hysterically.  We still managed to get the trailer up onto the site and level, with the utilities functioning.  This was not exactly the Resort we were imagining.

Oct. 3:  To be fair, the Resort looked better in the daylight -- there was a nice trout pond, and the laundry facilities were adequate.  I posed for a quick commemorative Resort photo:

We cancelled our second day at the Resort and headed for Cougar Rock Campground at Mt. Rainier.  The national park had just ended the summer "reservation only" policy and had switched to "first come, first served."  We got a nice site (a pull through!) in a fairly quiet part of the campground, which was surprisingly busy for a Monday.

Oct. 4:  We hiked the Paradise and Skyline trails on the south face of Mt. Rainier.  The views of the nearby mountain itself were excellent, but there was quite a bit of haze in all other directions.  The weather was very warm, and the glaciers were throwing off a lot of meltwater -- notice the big waterfall just to our left:

The berry bushes were backlit in the late afternoon:

Oct. 5:  We headed out to Comet Falls, yet another route marked as "strenuous" in the guide books.  Yes, it was.  The surface was rough and rocky, with lots of "giant steps" to challenge one's knees.  And there was plenty of elevation gain, great for cardio conditioning.  Thankfully, it was absolutely worth the effort.

Shortly after leaving the parking area, the trail crosses a bridge over a cascade.  Note the color of the water -- as shown later, that clear blue turned to milky gray in the in the late afternoon:

There were maples hanging over the trail:

Just before Comet Falls, the trail crosses a creek, with an impressive but unnamed waterfall:

Comet Falls did not disappoint us -- the sun was in exactly the right place, and the rainbow was very bright.  Felice climbed down into the bottom of the canyon and (of course) got soaked by the spray:

This long exposure with the telephoto lens shows that there are actually two rainbows, and the colors in the dimmer top rainbow are the reverse of the colors in the brighter rainbow.  Apparently, the top rainbow is caused when light from the main rainbow is re-refracted by the water droplets, thus reversing the sequence of the bands of color:

After spending almost an hour at the falls (including lunch), we hiked up toward Van Trump Park.  Up on the peak of Rainier, it looked as though the wind was kicking up dust and ash, but this might have been just a diffuse "banner cloud" that forms when the flow of the wind is disturbed by a mountain peak:

In that shot, notice the blobby layers of lava that have formed the mountain.  I've since discovered (via the miracle of the Internet) that the lava in stratovolcanoes like Rainier and Mt. Baker tends to be highly viscous, due to the chemistry of the molten rock.  As a result, the lava does not spread out much prior to cooling, thus creating a steep and layered cone.  By contrast, shield volcanoes (such as those in Hawaii) are fed by less viscous material, thus yielding broader and flatter cones.

As promised, here is the blue cascade pool in the late afternoon:

Why did the water turn from blue to gray?  I think it's because the glacier feeding the stream melts faster during the heat of the day than it does at night.  Thus, the turbulent stream will carry more glacial flour later in the day than it did earlier.  (I'm not sure that's right, but it sounds plausible.)

Oct. 6:  We hiked to Bench Lake and Snow Lake.  In the underbrush along the trail were quite a few chicken-size birds, who were very tame.  I didn't know whether they were sage-hens or grouse -- it turns out that those are two names for the same bird:

The reflection of the mountain at Bench Lake was better than the reflection at Reflection Lake:

Snow Lake was a deep blue-green:

Oct. 7:  Starting right across from the campground, we headed for Carter, Madcap, and Narada Falls.  The trail immediately crossed the Nisqually River:

Carter and Madcap Falls were lovely, but there were no good vantage points for photos.  This one (of Carter Falls) was taken at a twentieth of a second, hand-held -- hurrah for in-camera image stabilization!

The hike was really beautiful, much of it next to Paradise Creek, a tributary of the Nisqually.  The forest looked to be very healthy, apparently free of beetle damage:

Our turnaround point was Narada Falls, which we happened to reach at a perfect time.  The rainbow was brilliantly lit, and it was backstopped by the shadowy wall of the canyon:

Oct. 8:  The campground was about to close for the season, so we left Rainier and visited Kim, Felice's college roommate, Kim's daughter and son-in-law, and Kim's adorable grandchildren:

Oct. 9:  We made our way south to Summer Lake, Oregon, and stopped for the night at Ana Reservoir RV Park.  This was a surprisingly good campground for such a remote location -- very quiet and well-maintained.

Oct. 10:  We stayed at Washoe Lake State Park, near Carson City.  It was also fairly quiet -- a couple of miles off the freeway.  It was very busy for a Monday night in autumn -- we snagged the last available site.  Just as we got situated, the sun was setting on the mountains west of Carson City:

Oct. 11:  We found a boondocking site near Lee Vining, California.  The fall color at Conway Summit was just about at its peak.  Note the lack of haze -- after chasing the air quality readings for thousands of miles, we found clear air in our own backyard:

(I am compelled to note that this shot was taken with Felice's iPhone, as were roughly half of the pictures in this blog post.  The time is soon coming when a DLSR will no longer be necessary.)

Our campsite was on the edge of the woods:

This is the obligatory "view from the trailer door" shot:

Oct. 12:  We took the Green Creek trail.  At first, we thought we had missed almost all of the fall color:

Compare that shot to this one, taken in the same place in late September of 2019:

The creek was flowing vigorously, even though this was a drought year:

As it turned out, we were not too late for leaf peeping -- there was plenty of color in the higher elevations:

Felice gathered a few very colorful leaves:

Kavanaugh Ridge and Dunderberg Peak are at the top of this shot:

Oct. 13:  We charged up the Virginia Lakes trail and made it all the way to the summit, despite getting a very late start.  Summit Lake is in the background, as is the northern part of Yosemite:

Virginia Lakes Valley is one of our favorite U-shaped glacial valleys -- imagine a four thousand foot thick river of ice inexorably carving out the landscape.  It is too bad that the camera can't show the true depth of the valley -- Felice is standing at about 11,000 feet, and the Mono Basin in the far background is at around 7,000 feet:

This is another attempt to capture the delightful isolation of boondocking in a little RV at high altitude -- the chilly air, the late afternoon silence, and the aroma of the sagebrush:

Oct. 14:  We left our boondocking site, headed south, and stopped for a quick hike along the shady south shore of Convict Lake.  (Note for future reference:  Convict Lake has a special day use parking area for RVs and trailers -- very convenient!)

The geology of the mountains behind the lake is fascinating -- thick bands of twisted metamorphic rock, eroded into spires and towers, unlike the more common monolithic Sierra granite:

There was a big extensive aspen grove at the west end of the lake:

The shallow part of the lake was aquamarine, and the deeper part was indigo, a lot like Crater Lake:

Oct. 15:  Home.

Four Weeks in the Northwest: Part I (North Cascades)

(Click on the photos to see a slideshow; hit "escape" to get back to the text.  As always, both Felice and I took these photos.  Many (if not most) were taken with her iPhone!  I edit them on Lightroom, trying to reproduce just what we saw.)

Part I:  The North Cascades

The plan was to take off after Labor Day and do a deep dive into the North Cascades.  But as the time approached, the Cascades were getting smokier and smokier, thanks to forest fires fueled by bark beetle mortality.  We almost cancelled the trip completely.  A week later, the wind and the weather changed somewhat for the better.  Back to Plan A!

Because the Interstate 5 corridor is crowded, heavily used, poorly paved, and hilly, we decided to try the inland route, essentially Highways 395 and 97, using Highway 31 through Summer Lake, Oregon, to connect 395 to 97.  This was not any faster or slower than I-5, but it was a lot emptier, smoother, and flatter.  

The only problem was that the gas stops were very far apart, often 120 miles or more.  This required careful planning during each day, which was not so easy in a vast area essentially devoid of cell coverage.  Overall, though, I think I prefer the inland route from Southern California to Northern Washington.

Sept. 18:  We stopped for the night at Oh Ridge campground near June Lake.  That night, the mountains picked up a dusting of snow.  We were sure that we would encounter a lot more snow and rain in the Northwest.  (Nope.  Almost the whole month was warm and dry.)

Sept. 19:  We stayed in Lakeview, Oregon, at Wild Goose RV Park.  (Next time, we will look for an RV park further away from the highway.)  Just before sunset, a rainbow pointed to an unlikely location for the proverbial pot of gold:

Sept. 20:  We stopped in Goldendale, Washington at Star Gazers RV Park.  It was reasonably quiet but not lovely – just a large parking lot.

Sept. 21:  We stayed at Issaquah Village RV Park, which was right next to the freeway.  Of course, it was very noisy, and the air was terribly smoky due to a nearby forest fire.  There was no working 30 amp power at our site.  (The management generously "comped" our stay due to the power problem.)  I took a rest while Felice met our nephew Zach for a hike at Tradition Lake.  Later, we went out for Greek food:

After dinner, we went to Lowe's to get a "dogbone" adapter, so that we could use the working 50 amp power outlet at our site.  Google Maps took us on a hilarious (and indescribable) slalom route through a series of back alleys and dark deserted parking lots, suddenly ending at the Lowe's loading dock.  (Unfortunately, this was one of those "you had to be there" experiences.) 

Sept. 22:  We headed north to Bellingham RV Park.  The goal was to spend a few days, just to see what Bellingham was like.  After parking the trailer, we went to Whatcom Falls Park:

Sept. 23:  It was not a "view hike" day, so we took the South Bay trail.  It was a surprise to see so much industry along the waterfront.  Felice is in a red windbreaker to the left of center:

Sept. 24:  We went to Larrabee State Park and hiked up the Fragrance Lake trail.  The foliage was impressively lush -- Felice is the small purple patch just to the left of center:

Although most of the trail was heavily forested, there was one viewpoint looking over Puget Sound:

Fragrance Lake was pretty, but there was no discernible aroma:

That afternoon, we wandered down to the beach at Larrabee State Park.  This is the only place where the Cascade Range reaches the sea:

Sept. 25:  We left Bellingham and found a boondocking site along the Nooksack River.  At first, we selected a site that was near (but not on) the river.  But after a little more exploring, we chose another nearby site, which was right on the river.  We had already set up our equipment tent at the first site.  Rather than taking down the tent and reassembling it, I just carried it down the road to its new home:

We had a thumbnail view of Mt. Shuksan from a corner of our site -- this is the first time we have ever boondocked in sight of a glacier:

We set up our "snacking circle" on the riverbank -- the water was a milky blue, due to the meltwater carrying glacial flour, pulverized rock scoured by the ice:

That evening, we drove up the hill to the Artist Point area, stopping for the obligatory picture of Mt. Shuksan at Picture Lake:

(It should really be called "Artists' Point," but it's not.)

As we had hoped, there was a great sunset behind Mt. Baker:

Sept. 26:  We chose the Ptarmigan Ridge trail on the flanks of Mt. Baker, a strenuous hike.  It was a fairly clear (and hot) day, although there was some haze from forest fires further east.

There were great views of the mountain all along the trail:

Parts of the trail were pretty rough and rocky:

There was a little haze in the air -- the haze seemed to make some of the photos feel more like paintings:

This next photo was taken on the same spot almost exactly eight years earlier -- no haze:

There were a few turquoise glacial tarns -- note the heavy smoke on the horizon:

There were many views of Mt. Shuksan on the return trip:

These are wild mountain blueberries, backlit in the late afternoon:

Sept. 27:  In the morning, we moved the snacking circle to a spot with a better view of the river.  Note the startling color of the water -- that was caused, I think, by the reflection of the sky.  The true color of the river was more of a milky turquoise:

This shot of the campsite shows the awning deployed "Washington style," with the corner intentionally askew so that the rain runs off away from the trailer door.  (There was rain in the late afternoon forecast.)

After arranging the awning, we headed out to the Damfino Lakes trail.  (Supposedly, the lakes got their name after a ranger was asked what they were called.)  The drive to the trailhead was very long (45 minutes), rough, and twisty.  After a short hike (about a mile), we were bushwhacked by a very rich patch of blueberry bushes:

The blueberry bushes were very close to the ground -- I left those for Felice, while I concentrated on the huckleberries, which required less bending.  After a while, our hands were stained, a badge of honor:

The huckleberries are the larger, darker ones -- they are a little tart but very flavorful.

The red berry bushes surrounded the lake:

It took us more than an hour to harvest two quarts of ripe berries.  All the while, we kept a lookout for bears.  A ranger had told us that the bears were particularly active at this time of year and that they pick the berries with their agile lips.  (This answers the age-old question, "Do bears have lips?")

We then hiked toward Excelsior Pass but ran out of time because we had been bewitched by the berries.

Late that afternoon, as we were driving back down the mountain toward our campsite, we fantasized about enjoying the berries with vanilla ice cream.  On a whim, we drove into the nearby "town" of Glacier, which is very small (pop. 142).  Not even a gas station.  Our expectations were very low.

The town was totally deserted -- not a soul in sight, no other cars.  Silence. The sky was cloudy, and the light was dim.  

On the side of the road, there was something that looked like a model of an ice cream shop.  We stopped in front of it.

In the window, there was a life-size cardboard cut-out of an ice cream man, complete with a striped apron and a little white cap, just standing there, motionless.  The whole thing looked like a cruel hoax:

Felice rolled down her window and waved tentatively at the cardboard ice cream man.  He waved back -- not a hoax!

She asked him, "Do you have vanilla?"

"Sorry.  Sold out."  

But he did have coconut, which went perfectly with the berries.  If this all sounds dreamlike, it was. 

Sept. 28:  On a rainy and foggy day, we tackled the strenuous Lake Ann trail.  Mt. Baker occasionally peeked (peaked?) through the dark clouds:

The Sitka mountain ash was amazingly colorful -- this is exactly the way it looked.  The color has not been enhanced:

We made it to a ridge overlooking Lower Curtis Glacier on the flank of Mt. Shuksan:

That evening, our dessert was a bonanza of berries mixed with yogurt and half and half:

Sept. 29:  Reluctantly, we decided to leave our great campsite near Mt. Shuksan.  Many of our favorite trails in this area were closed due to fire activity or due to earlier washouts during the spring flooding.

We moved a couple of hours south to Sauk Park Campground.  This was essentially boondocking -- no facilities, no water, no reservations.  The sites were right on the bank of a beautiful blue-green glacial river:

Unfortunately, Highway 530 was on the other side of the river, and there was some traffic noise.

Sept. 30:  The morning sun illuminated the foliage:  

The campsite was very spacious and wooded:  

We then headed out to the Sauk Mountain trail, accessed by another long, rough, twisty gravel road.  The trail on the south face of the mountain consisted of very sharp switchbacks with steep drop-offs, but Felice was able to overcome her vertigo -- a triumph!

The north face of the mountain was a series of basaltic knobs, a "cockscomb" formation.  The last time we took this hike (several years ago) this entire area was covered in deep snow:

The last rocky portion of the trail required a bit of a scramble.  From the peak, we could see Mt. Baker in the distance, despite the smoke and haze:

Oct. 1:  We took the Cascade Pass trail, accessed by yet another long, difficult, dusty drive.  Unfortunately, this was on a Saturday, and the trailhead parking was full.  There was not even a place to turn around -- I had to back the truck quite a way down the hill to a tight space that Felice had snagged.  (Don't go on a weekend or a holiday.)

As we hiked up the switchbacks, we could hear ice and rock roaring down the avalanche chutes below Johannesburg Glacier.  The views from the pass were excellent:

There was a mother bear and her cub grazing on the berries above the pass -- they were pretty far away from us:

Next: Part II (Mt. Rainier and the Eastern Sierra)