1/19/2017 Cross Country Skiing in Yosemite National Park

Is it a drought again?  Or was the snow of 2017 the anomaly?

As I see the first blossoms of Spring, I realize that we are not going to see much more rain this year if any.  It’s depressing.  We had five years of minimal rain before they even declared a drought in California.  Then 2017 came and it appeared like the drought was over.  Looking back, a day cross country skiing in Yosemite National Park was a celebration of snow and water.  A reminder came recently in an episode of “Visiting With Heull Howser”  from 1995. As he interviewed the Mammoth Lakes with the Dept. of Water and Power during their measuring expedition, they were adamant about not predicting snowfall from year to year.  2018 is a reminder of the extremes we live in.

After a quick lap to see and photograph Yosemite Valley, we headed up to the Yosemite Ski & Snowboard AreaYosemite Ski & Snowboard Area.  We parked in the ski area parking lot and headed out Glacier Point Rd trail. While it’s an easy trail, there aren’t the epic views of the valley that you see from the trails (and with heavy cloud cover, there were no views anyways)  It was great to see so much snow in California after years of drought.  Next time it snows, we will be back out to the hut at Glacier Point.

Bridalveil Falls and Cathedral Rocks
Bridalveil Falls and Cathedral Rocks
El Capitan
El Capitan
Skiing Glacier Point Road
Great to see snow again
Snow up to street sign
Snow up to street sign

The Difference Between a Walk and a Hike

When our first dog, Tank (a 170lb Mastiff), started to rip apart the house for entertainment, I read Cesar Millan’s “Cesar’s Way: The Natural, Everyday Guide to Understanding and Correcting Common Dog Problems.”  One of his key points was that no matter how big your yard, you have to take your dog for a walk.  It was a concept I needed to hear.  I had thought “We have 2 acres, the dog can entertain himself.”  Yeah, by destroying it.

What a difference when we started walking the dogs.  A mile around the field and everyone was happy.  They had some exercise, a dip in the pond during the summer, a little ground squirrel chasing, and lots of smells.  The old smells, the new smells, the smells that changed since yesterday.  Stories that we can only guess.  Thirteen years later, we still go to “the field.”  The third generation of dogs, Cash, Roxy, and Sheba take their lap.  The only command, I usually give is to “heel” when we cross the road.  The rest of the time, the dogs can be dogs.

When we hike it’s different; the dogs have to behave.  Any open space is an hours drive so the first thing the dogs learn is to settle down in the truck.  Getting up at every bend in the road gets old after a while and they lie down to sleep.  The carry over is when we run errands, they are calm from the beginning (except for the initial excitement of getting in the truck).  As we get on the trail, their energy is unbelievable.  Ha, ha, they don’t realize we are going 6 miles.  A hike teaches them to conserve their energy; they will get their exercise.

The next thing we look for with a new dog in a hike is to learn who the pack leader is.  With Sheba and Ranger, it came when they picked the wrong trail and we walked on without calling for them.  A couple of minutes later, they came running up the trail to find us with panic in their eyes.  They seemed so relieved to find us.  Never again did they choose a trail without looking back for approval.  Cash stopped to sniff and go the bathroom.  Sheba and I continued on around a bend in the trail and watched as he panicked when he realized he didn’t know where we were.  He bounded down the wrong trail so I yelled to him before he was 2 steps away.  Again, you could see the relief.  And while the panic only lasted a second, he’s never lost sight of the pack again.  Roxy was a little different.  She was so alpha from the beginning that she was leading the hike from her first time on the trail.  Ten miles later, she was still ready to go.  But she got it too.  On her second hike, at San Simeon Point, she took off down a side trail while we all kept hiking.  When she got back on the trail, she could see us because Cash had gone back to check on her.  It was the fastest we’ve seen her do the 100 yd dash.  The beauty is that we didn’t have to say anything.  She got the point and, while she still runs down the side trails to see and sniff, she is always back on track when we catch up.

All our dogs have been “rescues” and, with the exception of Sheba who grew up with us, none seems to have any experience in the wilderness.  They are so curious about everything.  The sights, the smells, the sounds.  The sudden rush of a bird flushed from the bush, or the barking of an elephant seal pup.  I love when they miss the deer frozen yards away.  Unfortunately, unlike a walk at the “field”, we have to correct them on the trail to keep them safe and stop them from chasing animals.  But the trade off is worth it.  We see their confidence grow with each hike.  Ranger would not cross a 12” creek on his first hike.  A couple of months later, he had been to the beach, the snow, and the desert and watched Sheba’s every move to learn to be a dog.  Cash’s insecurities disappear on the trail and his genuine excitement at the beach is great to see.  While Roxy never lacks for confidence at home, it’s funny to see her confront her insecurities like running water around her feet or the waves in the ocean.

I think the biggest benefit is that the dogs trust us.  We are not the overbearing pack leader scolding them at every turn.  They realize, that if we are giving them a command, it’s for a good reason.  If we make them sit before opening the truck door it’s because we want them to be calm and not jump into traffic on the occasion when we take them out on a busy road.  The dogs learn that sometimes they need to be patient because we have to run errands but we will always provide something fun to do.  And most of all, we will let the dogs be dogs.

Tank on a walk at "the field"
Tank walking at “the field”
Sheba and Ranger falling into position on a hike
Sheba and Ranger falling into position on a hike
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Sheba and Ranger chasing ground squirrels
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Ranger taking a cat nap backpacking in the Golden Trout Wilderness
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Cash’s first stream crossing. He didn’t realize he could fall in
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Roxy and Cash enamored by elephant seals on the beach below

The Lunatics Have Taken Over the Asylum

My writing can’t keep up with life. 

Three weeks ago we adopted Cassius from a German Shepherd Rescue in Sacramento (http://www.gcgsr.org).  He’s so well behaved, knows his commands, and wants to please.  A couple of good hikes and he understood our expectations.  We had been looking serioiusly at rescue sites for a month and had a list of dogs we were interested in.  His adoption was planned.  

This week, after 6 months of drama, we were given another dog; an unanticipated event.  In July of 2017, we heard about a German Shepherd that needed a new home so we inquired and found out that she had already been adopted.  In August, we heard through the grape vine that the German Shepherd had “destroyed the house” and “had to be kept outside.”  We had seen her tied to a 10’ rope for days in the 108 degree heat of last summer.  After a “discussion” with Animal Control, the owner built an enclosure for her but she sat out there, alone, for months.  Every time I went by she was sitting quietly in her side yard pen.  After someone called Animal Control this week because she was sitting in the rain with no shelter, the neighbor gave us the dog.

Roxy hit the house like a fireball.  Excited as a kid on their first sleepover, Roxy and Cassius played “chase” non-stop for the first hour, then we went for a walk in the field, then another hour of chase.  This wasn’t the same dog I had seen sitting quietly in her pen.  This was a ball of energy looking for friendship, companionship, and leadership.  Somehow, she was part of the pack from the beginning.  As a member of the pack, she was allowed to run to her hearts content around the entire yard (2 acres), wrestle with Cassius uninterrupted by our corrections, smell everything no matter whether it is a tree stump on a walk or the dried cherry I was putting in my morning yogurt, and praised intensely for doing things right.  She has full reign of the house because we trust her.  In turn, she has to follow the rules…no jumping on the couch, no wrestling in the house, no begging in the kitchen and no going out the front gate whether opened or closed.  This evening, as I watch her sleep on her back, I realize that it has only been 2 full days with her and she is a different dog.  

The difference a little exercise and affection make.

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Cassius and Roxy trying to play and walk at the same time
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Roxy learning to be a dog
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Roxy pretending like she knows how to fetch

01/05/2018: Hiking San Simeon Point

I am still trying to mentally leave 2017 behind.  So I took the dogs for a hike at San Simeon Point.

While I’ve always gone out to the point, I have never followed the trails beyond.  There are 2 rows of Monterey Cypress that draw your eye in (see Which Way? for other thoughts on visual pathways).  But the route is dark and narrow and never looked that appealing.  The fog was hugging the coast so there weren’t any grand views of the coastline; it was the perfect day for this trail.

Luckily, the dogs had so many scents to follow that I had lots of time to take pictures.  As I was hiking, between the cypress, I could not see the ocean.  But the breaking waves took my thoughts away from the past and put me into the moment.  The usual trail has lost it’s appeal over the years due to drought conditions and the loss of so many Monterey pines.  The new trail, following the coast in an unmanaged eucalyptus forest, wasn’t great but it brought to places that I had never been.

At the end of the trail was a remote beach with a small colony of elephant seals.  The dogs and I sat on the edge of the cliff and watched and, more interestingly listened, to the group as they basked on the beach.

St. Nicholas Abbey – Cee’s Odd Ball Challenge

Not your average antiques lying around at St. Nicholas Abbey, St. Peter, Barbados 5/19/2014

Cee’s Odd Ball Challenge

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California State Railroad Museum – Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge

Photo’s from a trip to Old Town Sacramento and the California State Railroad Museum.  9/8/2016.

Cee’s Black & White Photo Challenge

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10/15/2016: Touring Christchurch

I didn’t even get to write my blog about the damage seen in our visit to Christchurch before the next earthquake has devastated New Zealand.  Kaikoura and the surrounding area is one of the most beautiful areas that I have ever experienced and hope for the best for everyone impacted.  (aerial photos from 10/28/2014: Flight over Kaikoura)

My first career was in urban planning and my second is in emergency services, so visiting Christchurch was fascinating from a clinical standpoint.  Two years ago, we were advised not to go to Christchurch because of the damage; “there was nothing to see.”  When we visited in October, I was disappointed that I had missed seeing city center on the last trip because I would have liked to see the recovery process over time.  Today, I am glad we didn’t spend time there because we were in Kaikoura and who nows when that area will recover.

I’ve seen lots of areas burning or recently burned by the wildfires in California.  Within a year, the scars of some of those fires are gone and they are on fire again.  I began my second career on a fire near the Indians (10/19/2015: Hiking “The Indians”).  The scars?  An occasional snag or cat-faced oak.  I was in lower Manhattan the week after 9/11 and have returned every 3-4 years since.  Still vivid in my memory are the store front mannequins covered white plaster dust, the impromptu memorials of flowers along chain link fences accompanying hand made signs for the missing, and the debris fields towering over 100′ fire department aerial master streams at Ground Zero.  The recovery?  On a physical level near complete.  Changed but vibrant again.  On a personal level it will never be forgotten.  New Orleans shocked me the most with whole districts abandoned.  Areas the size of small towns just left to rot.  Each is an interesting case study in damage, response, and recovery.

Christchurch was a reminder of the frailty of our cultural world.  Five years after the earthquake, buildings are abandoned, shored, or demolished.  In fact, whole blocks of buildings are not used.  However, it’s an odd mix because so many other areas full of life.  Outside the city center, you could pass through the city and not see any signs of the earthquake (did it 3 times).  In fact, as we walked down a residential street, our first experience was what looked like a church steeple sitting on the ground with no building to hold it up.  It caught us off guard because everything else seemed so normal (The next day, we found out that we hadn’t noticed our first experience with the rebuilding because a skin had been built around an old church to protect it’s historical interior).  A walk through the city center was an interesting mix of damage and recovery.  Most city blocks were completely normal, then you would have to detour because of construction (but what city isn’t full of construction).  You are always crossing the street because of closed sidewalks or walking through the tunnel of scaffolding .  Christchurch was different though because the next block would have a complete skyscraper, empty.  No signs of life except graffiti and broken windows.  The next block…like nothing had ever happened.

I was disappointed to read that they want to tear down the Christchurch Cathedral but, in light of this week’s news and the long list of damage caused by earthquakes, I understand. The list of cultural icons that I have seen that are now damaged or destroyed keeps growing though.  It’s a constant reminder of time and it makes me want to travel more lest I miss anything else.

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Steeple from the Wharetiki House
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Our City O-Tautahi
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Massive shoring on Our City
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Chief Post Office
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Christchurch Cathedral
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Shoring on Christchurch Cathedral
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James Cook Memorial, Victoria Square

 

 

 

 

Hoiho Quest

When I research a trip, I make a list of must sees, like to see, and hope to see.  On this year’s trip to the South Island of New Zealand, Kiwi’s and penguins were pretty high on the priority list.  It’s great to read all the guide books and tourist maps, but when you get there, you find there are choices…blue penguin or yellow-eyed.  Which would I rather see?  Can we see both?  What are the habits of each?  Nocturnal?  Locations?  Travel times?  Alternative sites?  (Why one of my favorite travel blogs ever was Type A Traveling at Bulldog Travels)

Personally, I would rather find wild animals on my own in their habitat rather than take a tour just to check a box.  The next question is “Are we going to find them in their natural habitat without a guide?”  Are we okay going home without seeing them?

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Penguin crossing sign in Oamaru

 

These were all the questions going through our minds as we reached Oamaru, New Zealand and realized there was no way that we were going to reach our reservations at Penguin Place near Dunedin (The trip that should have taken 3 hours per the guidebook was taking 5.)  Should we stay to see the Blue Penguins return at dusk?  Should we continue on the trip and hope we saw penguins elsewhere?

We had a ferry to catch in a couple of days and had to continue south hoping for the best.

Later than expected (thanks to cars and trucks speeding up every passing lane leaving a line of traffic trailing them (a phenomenon we see on our local highway)), we arrived on the Otago Peninsula.  We had a reservation for a campsite and settled in after 14 hours of flying and 11 hours of driving.  The next morning, after the “full breakfast” and a couple of flat whites, we weren’t in the mood to take a tour; we needed exercise!  We rode our bikes from Lower Portobello and hiked to a spot where locals said we might see penguins.

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Penguin tracks in the sand

At the end of Victory Beach, we found the tracks of the last penguin hiking to the ocean for the day.  We were rewarded with Southern Fur Seals but, alas, no penguins.  It was fascinating to see all their scuffling in the sand as they climbed over the last dune into the bush.  Nothing I ever imagined from pictures of penguins in Antarctica.

Later the same day, our tour of the Catlins took us to Curio Bay.  Again, there was the chance to see Yellow-eyed penguins.  But when?  The penguins didn’t have a ferry to catch in the morning.  We hiked down to the Petrified Forest (fascinating in itself) but then had to decide whether to keep driving or camp for the night.  We decided to check on the camping, buy some supplies, and admire the view from the bluff.  At the last second we decided to return to the petrified forest and look for penguins again.

 

We knew at first glance that penguins must be there because everyone was crowded into a cluster on the rocky shore.  After a quick hike down the bluff, we took a seat on the rocks and watched as Yellow-eyed Penguins returned from their day at sea.  It was more entertaining than I ever expected.  We sat quietly on the rocks and let them go about their business (so happy to have a long lens for my camera).  They look like any other bird in the ocean but, as they came to shore, they morphed into an awkward Weeble plodding across the rocks.  As they preened themselves they seemed so proud; so detail oriented.  They spent a long time cleaning themselves at the water’s edge.

But, with their head down, their walk looked like they were kicking a can down the road in anticipation of the next bad thing to happen.  As they hopped from rock to rock, there was a long pause as they seemed to contemplate whether could make the landing.  All I could think of was Eeyore.  They had the look of a hard day at work and a long commute home.

The big surprise came as the last penguin came to the edge of the bush, leaned back, and called to the wild with the energy of an opera singer.

The early stress of seeing a penguin was alleviated in one instant.  As opposed to the effort to see a Toucan in the jungles of Belize (Toucan’t See Me), finding penguins was easier than I expected.  Off the coast of Stewart Island, we found Blue Penguins while kayaking with Phil’s Kayaks.  Pictures?  Sorry, trying to keep the kayak steady in heavy seas; both hands on the paddle and both feet working the rudder.  The photos would not have been interesting because the birds were so small in such a large bay.  The fascinating part was hearing the barking of penguins as they called back and forth to one another from all around us.

In Milford Sound, we were rewarded with a sighting of Fiordland crested penguins; a breed we had no expectations of seeing.  The ship’s captain said it was rare to see the penguins and he had never seen such a large group (11 total).

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Fiordland crested penguins or ‘Tawaki’

And the kiwi?  We went to Stewart Island in hopes of seeing one.  As I sat out on the balcony with my cup of coffee early one morning, I heard the calls of 2 males and was happy with that.  Next trip I might consider a tour.

 

 

9/29/2016: Running Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

I was so impressed with hiking Point Lobos State Natural Reserve that I decided to return on my morning run.  As I arrived at the entrance, I found a group of runners with the same idea just waiting for the park to open.  It was great to cover the trails that I had missed the previous day and, once the other runners had chosen a different trail, I felt like I had the park to myself.

The only mistake I made was running from the hotel.  I don’t mind running busy roads but Route 1 was ridiculous.  Every blind corner had a truck speeding north, hugging the shoulder to maintain whatever momentum he had.  It got old quickly; I should have driven to the park and done all my running on quiet trails, enjoying the tranquility of the nature reserve.

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Whaler’s Cove
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Whaler’s Cabin
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Abalone shells
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Whaling Station Museum
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Cypress Cove
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Dyer’s Polypore (Phaeolus schweinitzii)
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Sunrise through the fog and pines

 

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View from Route 1 as the coastal fog receded

 

9/28/2016: Hiking Point Lobos State Natural Reserve

The character of the Monterey coast is all present at the Point Lobos State Natural Reserve.  The towering sculptural Cypress amassed in contorted groves, the textures of the pendulous lace lichen hanging from the Coast Live Oaks, the pastel colors of the wildflowers intermixed in the coastal scrub, and the ephemeral views of the rocky cliffs revealed by the shifting fog.  Wildlife can be seen in the forest, in the cliffs, and on the water.  It doesn’t take much time to realize why so many authors, artists, and creative people were attracted to the California coast south of Carmel.  The full range of emotions are reflected off the Pacific Ocean, carefree crystal blue in the sunshine and moody grey when the clouds roll in.

Just off Route 1, it’s a busy park.  But, with so much natural beauty in a small space so close to Carmel, Point Lobos is worth the visit.