Saturday, April 2, 2011

Steep Ravine Spring

Spring has come to Steep Ravine. Webb Creek is running high thanks to nearly a month or rain. No surprise that there were plenty of people out there.

Of course, with Spring comes flowers, and first up is another one of my favorites, Crimson Columbine, an entire patch of which can be found in the lower section of Steep Ravine.
Higher up on the trail, I came across this very unusual fungus. Anyone know what it is?
Out into the Dipsea sun, saw this flower for the first time, so I have yet to identify it. Also found some Mission Bells and Giant Trillium in bloom (another first for me).

This was the first warm weekend of the year, and it was great to get outside. See you on the trail!

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Spring Has Sprung!

After a very wet March, the sun has burst out and so have the flowers. Spring is here. I headed to the Yolanda trail to take a look.

With all the creeks rushing, Phoenix Lake was positively murky, thoroughly choked with sediment.

The Yolanda Nursery has sprung to life with two of my favorites: Red and Violet Larkspur. Also in the vicinity was a patch of Few-Flowered Shooting Stars and buds of succulents.

Plenty of Indian Paintbrush and the first Miniature Lupins also appeared along the trail.

Not to mention Irises and fields of Wild Onion.

Plus Blue Dicks, Scarlet Pimpermel, Orange Bush Monkeyflowers, Vetches, Blue-Eyed Grass, you name it. Get out there now!

Friday, March 11, 2011


It's been a wet March, so I thought I'd head out to see how Cataract creek was flowing. Starting at Rock Spring and heading down the Simmons trail, I immediately came accross of patch of 30 or so Few-Flowered Shooting Stars.
Only a few steps away were a few Calypso Orchids.
And only a few steps from that I saw a Newt, one of three I spotted on this day.
The creeks were running well and everywhere was damp. I also spotted a number of these weird things that I presume to be spider holes. Probing a few of them with a stick, I never got a spider to emerge, but I did find that some of them are up to a foot deep.
Once done hiking, I got back on the road to San Francisco, and spotted another one of my favorite wildflowers is starting to bloom—Red Larkspur.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Clear Day on West Peak

The air is still chilly, but the sun has come out, so we take some friends out for a hike. One of the the first new sights (for me) is this mysterious needle ice, caused by freezing air and a wet, slightly warmer ground.
We head to the top of West Peak, where the foundations of an old Air Force base remain. The air today is incredibly clear. We have no problem seeing downtown San Francisco, Mount Diablo, Point Reyes, and the snow-capped top of Mount Saint Helena.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

SF Columbine

I have to admit I have an unhealthy fascination with Crimson Columbine flowers. They usually appear mid-Spring, but our warm winter weather (until recently) must have tricked this one to pop out early. Not on Mt. Tam though—I found this guy in a sidewalk planter at Waller and Cole St in SF.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Snow on Mt. Tam

If you live in the Bay Area, you surely hears that many of the surrounding peaks got snow, including a healthy amount on Mt. Tam. The incomparable John Wall has some photos here.

I was surprised to see quite a bit of snow still lingering around Rock Spring when I arrived two days later. Then again, it was still so cold up there, it really should have been no shock. Snowmen abound.
With the recent precipitation, the moss is really coming out. I always love seeing these thick, lush carpets of green covering trees and can never resist running my fingers through it.
The snow we checked out was around Rock Spring. I imagine there was a lot more up higher, but the road was closed, it was cold, and we weren't really dressed for snow.
So we headed down to Pan Toll for a little hike. One thing we saw a lot of were these little holes in the ground. They're like little tubes with spirals of pine needles sticking out of them. Quite a mystery, but my best guess is that spiders are making them. The tube structure could have been finely woven spider silk. Anybody know for sure?
The first calypso orchids are starting to appear. Here's a mature one alongside another just making its way out.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Dawn Falls

After nearly a month of beautiful sunny weather, some rain has arrived. So we decide to head into the woods and see how Dawn Falls is running. It's raining, but not pouring, so the falls are only running at medium strength.
Along the beautiful wooded we see a few other gems. First, a collection of expired puffballs draws our eye.
Then this oversize drop of water suspended in a spider web somewhat amazed us. (As usual, the photo doesn't do it justice.)
We also met friendly dogs and encountered zero visibility along the ridge above. Drenched and shivering, we jumped back in the car for SF.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Road Trip Day 4: Out of the Desert

We have an engagement this evening in Grass Valley and a long drive to get there, so we waste little time leaving Death Valley this morning. But once again, on our list of things to see are some old forgotten towns.

The first one is Darwin, population "50 or so." This is an old mining town that still has a few people kicking around, although there is no store or gas station. It seems like people tend to abandon these towns and leave unwanted possessions right where they are, so you see old vehicles and old junk everywhere. The Darwin Dance Hall is at the center of town and sports an Obama cut-out in the window.

Next up is the town of Keeler, only slightly more active than Darwin. The main attraction seems to be a would-be artist who has taken much of the junk lying around and turned some of it into sculpture, such as this train, which I photographed as an old dog expressed his disapproval.
And with that the road points us toward Mt. Whitney, and civilization in the form of Lone Pine, CA. We grab some fast food and eat it in a park beside Mormon missionaries.

The drive to Grass Valley takes us by Mammoth, Mono Lake, and finally Lake Tahoe for a brilliant sunset.

Arriving in Grass Valley, we receive a warm welcome among friends. We smell like campfires, haven't bathed in days, and are full of stories to tell.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Road Trip Day 3: Death Valley

Today is dedicated to Death Valley. Driving through darkness last night we could see the moonlit reflection of the distant hills off a body of water, so it's time to go take a look in daylight.

The water, of course, was the Badwater Basin. This is the lowers place in the continental US, at 282 feet below sea level. Even though Death Valley is known for being hot and dry, you can see that the entire thing is shaped by what precipitation it does get. And all that water eventually finds its way down to Badwater, where it evaporates. The landscape is nothing but crusty salt.

Next we drive out to a natural bridge, more sign of how water shapes this landscape. There are a few places where waterfalls pour during the rains.
Next we have the "Artist's Palette," recommended to us by our Grateful Dead listening neighbor in Joshua Tree. Different minerals shade the rocks in a variety of colors.
We make a quick stop in Sunrise Canyon, reminiscent of the the canyon scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark, with little canyon tributaries shooting out every which way. We follow one for some time before turing back.

Next stop is Stovepipe Wells for some food and gas. Then we stop at the nearby sand dunes to do what? Well, throw boomerangs of course.
Andy had never thrown one and had a bit of trouble due to a mis-shapen boomerang. We made a few adjustments though, and he managed to make a catch!

We drive Northward into more remote areas of Death Valley, making our campsite at the Mesquite Campground, but then wasting no time to get to our final destination, the Ubehebe crater.

We hike the trail all around the crater and the smaller craters attached to it. They were created when upwelling magma hit the water table and caused a steam-powered explosion 2,000 years ago.

By the time we finish, the sun has set. We check out the nearby Scotty's Castle and then head back to our camp site. We are at higher elevation here so it's quite a bit colder. And then the wind decided to kick up. We tried to get all the warmth we could from our fire, but eventually took refuge inside the car.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Road Trip Day 2: Joshua Tree to Death Valley

Woke up to a chilly morning in Joshua Tree. Ate breakfast and then got an early start. We aim to camp in Death Valley tonight, but there's a lot we want to see in between.

First stop is a short hike to the 49 Palms oasis in Joshua Tree. With a little stream of running water, this would be a welcome sight for any desert traveler. After the people have left in the evening, longhorn sheep drop by each night to take a drink. While there we ran into a Croatian named Igor who runs his own eco lodge. You can check him out at

Back on the road, we hear North into even more desolate territory. Andy was curious to see a set of alphabetically named towns, starting with Amboy, California. Once a noteworthy stop on the old Route 66,  there's not much in Amboy now. The gas station is still open, but the airstrip, school, church, and just about everything else are in ruins.

Old Amboy Airstrip building
Back to this alphabetical town thing. Supposedly they were set up as a string of stops along the railroad, and indeed, the train rolls right by Amboy. But we had a tough time piecing together the rest of them.

  • Amboy
  • B_____?
  • Chambless / Cadiz
  • D_____?
  • Essex
  • F_____?
  • Goffs
  • Homer?
  • Ibis?
We drove along the tracks to where the B town would be and found some trucks, but no town to speak of. Maybe they left every other letter blank in case they needed to expand. While we were at this site another train came roaring by.

Back on what was Route 66, we hit the deserted Chambless and then check out Cadiz, which is shown on our map but seems to only be a commercial agricultural site now.

Back on the Road, we drive through the Mojave National Preserve. Just more desert really, but we make a stop in another old railroad town: Kelso, CA. It now serves as a visitor's venter for the preserve. Accidentally I disturb a tree full of owls that fly out in a panic.

We press on to the town of Baker and then finally into Death Valley as the sun is going down.

We arrive at the nearest campground after dark, but manage to find a decent spot. With Death Valley's low elevation (below sea level), it's much warner here than in Joshua Tree. We eat dinner and enjoy the rest of the evening.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Road Trip Day 1: Road to Joshua Tree

As much as the Bay Area has more natural beauty than you can shake a stick at, there may be a few sights that require one to leave town. One such sight is the the desert. Road trip!

Starting out from San Diego, we drive East through towns like Descanso (famous for pickled eggs), Julian (famous for pies), and Borrego Springs. We arrive at the Salton Sea, once a tourist destination of some note, but now just a salty lake with beaches of dead fish and barnacle shells.

We learn that the fabled Ace of Spades club was actually just a movie set, and a visitor's center is now in its place.

Driving further into the desert we run across these interesting tall bushes known as Ocotillo. After some recent rain, the flowers are blooming.

We arrive in Joshua Tree around 4pm and look for a campsite. We end up at the Ryan Campground with a little time to explore some nearby ruins from when a spring was discovered and miners formed a small, isolated town in the middle of nowhere.

We light a fire (the desert is cold this time of year!) and make dinner. To pass the time we pull out the camera and start playing around with long exposures. Andy and I try writing out the first letters of our names with a flashlight.