Archive for September, 2010

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Wow, do aspen trees change color quickly. We drove north and south on Boulder Mountain 3 times in 3 days and the color change was striking. I thought that the unseasonably warm weather might retard the change, but they just kept getting noticeably more golden over the course of two days. I’d like to put a time-lapse camera on a leaf and see how much it changed color over 2 days. The other aspect of the aspen groves that interested me was how they grow. Usually, it appears as though an older taller row of trees are fronted by smaller aspens. Sometimes instead of a line of trees, the taller trees are in a circle, surrounded by a row of shorter trees. And they are all changing color at different rates. Another oddity is how they just stop propagating at some point. There are many meadows or smaller glens, totally surrounded by aspen, but there are no seedlings nearby.

We went out early Saturday morning and the light was so beautiful. Besides the aspens, the views from Boulder Mountain are astounding. It truly is one of the most beautiful areas we know of.

For all our trips across Boulder Mountain, we have never stayed at the forest service campgrounds there, usually because they’re closed for the winter. This time, we found Singletree Campground, a sunny open space, surrounded by pine trees. I’m getting my fill of that wonderful, summer, dusty-pine smell this year. Although the weather was warm in the middle of the day, there was usually a light, cool breeze, and the nights were very cool, making it easy to sleep. And even though we were there on Friday and Saturday nights, the campground had very few campers. They probably were all struggling to get into Capitol Reef National Park, about 20 miles away. It has a lovely campground, but this is a “get in the national parks free” weekend, plus it sits at a lower elevation and would thus be much hotter. So we skipped Capitol Reef this trip.

Singletree Campground had one short little trail to Singletree Falls. So we set off, expecting an easy trail and an uninspiring waterfall. Wrong on both counts. The trail, while not long, was all downhill on the way to the falls, getting very steep, sprinkled with enough loose rocks and gravel to make me nervous. But the falls were so worth it. We hit them at the exact right time of afternoon, when the sun was sparkling and the water was shooting in all directions, like fireworks. They were so good, we went back the next day with tripods.

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A catch-up day at Ruby’s Inn, the small commercially-run village at the edge of Bryce, included replenishing our wine and rum (Mojitos and Cuba Libres, yeah!) stocks. Utah has state-run liquor stores and surprisingly, Ruby’s had a tiny nook next to the check-in desk at the lodge. It was cash only, which slowed down the Jamaican guy next to me, who couldn’t buy as big a bottle of whiskey as he wanted. After evaluating my cash reserves, I managed a bottle of rum and two bottles of wine. Thus fortified, we returned to Bryce for one more day and one more hike.

The Peekaboo Trail is 5.5 miles and once again, we descended down, down, down into the canyon, past and through the fantastic rock formations – pinnacles, spires, windows, towers and towering cliffs, interspersed with green trees. We passed two sets of riders; one group on horseback, the other mostly on donkeys. Once we were headed uphill again, we were jealous of them. We got to the top unscathed, and returned to camp for one more night. All in all, we hiked 18 miles at Bryce and descended and ascended a total of 4,564 feet into the canyon. My tootsies need a few days rest.

We finally abandoned Bryce and headed up spectacular Highway 12 to Escalante. The weather report was for thunderstorms on Wednesday, so we decided on a wait-and-see attitude. Wednesday morning was sunny in Escalante, but cloudy and threatening southeast of us. We decided to go out for breakfast and then walked around Escalante, soaking up the ambiance of a small town on top of the Kaiparowits Plateau. In late morning we got a lot of thunder and a few short showers. After lunch, we headed east on Highway 12 for one of the most spectacular sights in the country. The highway just drops into a huge wonderland of rock. We wandered (car-wise) throughout 20 miles of great view after great view, enhanced by storm clouds. By the time we got back to the top of the plateau, a rainbow provided the cherry on our photographic sundae.

Today, we moved the Lazy Daze to Boulder. We had an interesting episode in the Escalante Sinclair gas station. Dave was filling the Lazy Daze with $69 worth of gas. He left the gas pump while it was filling the tank, and about a gallon spilled onto the pavement. I went inside to report it and ask for a refund for the spilled gas. The cashier said she would call her boss.  When we went back in to check with her, she said that her boss’ response was “If you knew the gas pump was going to leak, you should have kept an eye on it.” It’s hard to argue with logic like that. Next time, we’ll go to one of the other two Escalante gas stations. Boulder is a small mountain town at the foot of the Boulder Mountains. Boulder was so remote that before the highway arrived, it was the last town in the continental U.S. where the mail was delivered by donkey. Boulder Mountain is notable to us because its higher flanks are covered with aspen. We’ve seen aspen in every stage on this mountain, from utterly leafless to richly covered in spring green leaves. We checked out most of the 38-mile road today, and the aspen are changing color at the 8,500-9,000-foot level, but the gigantic swathes of golden trees are not yet present. Maybe in a week or so the color will be great, but we can’t wait that long. We’ve now got reservations for Jacob Lake next Tuesday, which puts us 43 miles north of the North Rim of the Grand Canyon. The campground at the North Rim was totally booked and there’s almost nowhere else to stay at such a remote place, so Jacob’s Lake it is for us. That should make for a few long driving days. Oh how we suffer for our art.

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Cedar City is our place to stock up the larder (I found our favorite Dare chocolate fudge cookies) and catch up on internet business. It’s a neat, pretty, little city of 30,000 people. I was in the bathroom at the supermarket. The lady in the next stall had her 3- or 4-year-old boy waiting outside the stall. The dialogue: “Mommy, are you done yet?” “Almost” (30-second pause) “Mommy, can we go now?” “In a minute.” (30-second pause) “Mommy, I want to go.” “All right, all right.” As she’s washing her hands: “Mommy, I want a drink.” Her response: “I need a drink too.” (I don’t think she was thinking of the same kind of drink he was.)

We went for a drive in the mountains the next day to see if the aspens are beginning to change color. They are, but barely. We went to Cedar Breaks National Monument, a large, amazing amphitheater that rivals Bryce in beauty, but not in size. Plus there are no hiking trails to the bottom. We did a short hike along the rim to a small bunch of Bristlecone Pines. This seems to be the autumn of Bristlecones. Besides getting so old, they are large and amazing, hanging on near the edges of cliffs, facing severe winters at 9- to 10,000-feet altitudes. I guess being old and cold makes you tough. (That doesn’t seem to have happened to me yet.)

We came down out of the mountains to search out the Parowan petroglyphs. We had a little trouble finding them, since they are in the middle of nowhere. Finally, we found them among a tall, boulder-strewn cliff with the road running through a break. This rock art hasn’t been protected too well, so there’s a lot of graffiti surrounding (and, in some cases, obscuring) the petroglyphs. Some of the newer stuff was dated: 1889, 1942 and of course, the 1990’s and 2000’s.

On Thursday, we departed Cedar City and drove all of 82 miles to Bryce Canyon National Park. We hadn’t visited here since 1993. After settling into a pretty campground, we went for the 18-mile drive out to the farthest point on the plateau. The few Bristlecone Pines (yes, them again) weren’t too impressive, but the view was quite amazing. I think we could probably see about 50 miles away. The next day we went for an afternoon hike on the Queen’s Garden/Navajo Trails. Only 3 miles long but the descent is 320 feet and later ascent is 521 feet. Again, doesn’t sound like that much, but the ascent is over about a quarter of a mile. But the Bryce trails into the canyon are worth the work of climbing out. They rise and fall through fantastically-shaped stone formations that are an array of pastels: coral pink, apricot, pale lavender and white. The flat parts amble through forested areas. The way out is up Wall Street, a very steep, narrow passage through towering stone walls.

We got up at 6:30 a.m. on Saturday to start our 8-mile Fairyland loop hike. The first 2.5 miles was up and down along the rim of the canyon. The rock spires were glowing in the low morning light. We descended into the canyon, smiling in sympathy at the people who were laboring up the trail we were blithely descending. When we hit bottom, we were swinging along through shady wooded area for a mile or so and then we began to rise again. It was warm by then, about 75 degrees, but not bad. As we wound around one bend, we suddenly were on a narrow neck between two huge canyons. Fantastic! We wound our way back down again and ate lunch at Tower Bridge, a natural rock bridge between two orange towers. After that, with 1.7 miles left to go, we paid for the ease of the first 6.3 miles. The trail went up and up, most of it in the sun. By this time it was probably around 80 degrees. I began stopping every 50 yards or so at a shady spot to catch my breath. It took a while, but we finally got back to the top. I had engineered the starting-ending point of the hike with one thing in mind: ice cream. We got two dark-chocolate-covered, chocolate Hagen-Daz ice cream bars at the little grocery store and sitting on a rock, enjoyed them immediately. After the ice cream, the next best thing was taking a shower. Oh, glorious cleanliness!! We spent the rest of the day lounging around and feeling good that we can still do a tough hike. Plus, we got some good images.

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We had two great days in Great Basin National Park. It’s in middle-eastern Nevada, in the middle of nowhere. We’ve camped here several times, but the road to the top was always closed because of snow. We got one of the last spaces in the small campground and set out our camp chairs near a burbling little stream. There was sun; there was shade – it was beautiful. And, we had a resident lone turkey, who wandered through camp around 1 p.m. each afternoon.

Later in the day, we drove the 8 miles up to the trail that goes to Wheeler Peak (13,063-feet high). Our destination was not the peak, but the Bristlecone Pines that occur at the 10,400-foot elevation. Luckily for us, the 1.4-mile trail only rose 600 feet, but of course that 600 feet takes us from 9,800 on up. As soon as we started, I could feel my heart start to pump quickly, but neither Dave nor I are prone to altitude sickness. The trail was pleasant, winding through pine groves and rocky paths. Then the Bristlecone Pines began to appear. These trees are believed to be the oldest living things on earth. Some of them have been in existence for 2- to 3,000 years. Their needles can live up to 40 years. Even when they are dead, they are stunning, with wood ranging in color from white to blond to gray to beige to tan to burnt siena. Unfortunately, the sun had already descended behind Wheeler Peak, so we were photographing the trees without sun on them. We soon realized that the wood colors contrasted so much, sunlight really wasn’t necessary. We decided to go back Sunday, in order to catch more sun on the trees. We got up there about an hour earlier and still were too late; we just missed the sun on the grove. Maybe next time.

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Another 9/11 anniversary. It’s hard to believe that we were sitting in New York, eating breakfast, when the news came on the television in the restaurant. It was so strange, watching on TV what was happening 4 miles away. There was no loud boom or the roar of the buildings collapsing and the wind was blowing most of the dust the other way. It was a beautiful sunny day. We walked to a hospital and tried to give blood, but they weren’t set up for that yet, waiting for casualties to begin streaming in. I managed to call the San Francisco Customhouse and find out that everyone got out of the Customs building in the World Trade Center. Later in the day, survivors began to show up in mid-town, where we were staying. Talk about shell-shocked! There was a fire station on the corner of our block. Flowers and tributes began to collect in front of it, as it became known that so many fire fighters had been lost at the World Trade Center. On a much lesser scale, it was also strange to see a couple blocks of San Bruno turn into a gigantic fireball and crater, but gratifying to see how people immediately responded to help the victims.

On Wednesday, we did the short drive down to Lee Vining, CA, a tiny town of about 300 people, next to the beautiful Mono Lake. Thursday was scheduled for a visit to Bodie, a well-preserved ghost town in the mountains above Mono Lake. Bodie was renowned for a while due to gold and is quite a large town. There is a hotel, general store, barber shop, casino, school, church, fire station, a gas station (added later) and many houses and shacks. The mine buildings are in pretty good shape as well. We were introduced to Bodie in 1980 (30 years ago!!) by Stephen Johnson, our friend and then-photography class teacher, on a photography workshop. So began our love of ghost towns and ramshackle architecture. One of the neatest things I saw on the first trip was a wooden globe of the world in the schoolroom. The paint had long ago faded; all that was left was the rough wood of the globe itself. It’s still there, 30 years later.

We decided to try one of Lee Vining’s gas stations for dinner. Along with a convenience store, the Mobil station contains the Whoa Nellie Deli, that has earned a national reputation for great food. On our previous trips to (or through) Lee Vining, the gas station has been closed for the winter. But it was busy, with lots of people ordering fish tacos, hamburgers, pizza, and ribs. One of the specials was carnitas tacos and we both ordered them. Delicious! A bottle of Mirassou Merlot was $12!!!! And, there was live music right outside the door and a spectacular view of the late light on Mono Lake. Perfect. So if you are heading past Lee Vining on Highway 395, find the Mobil station (it’s a little off the highway; turn left onto Highway 120 and then another immediate left) and try it. And leave a good tip!

Yesterday was our first long driving day: 300 miles from Lee Vining, CA to Ely, Nevada. The weather was beautiful, but much of the drive was boring. Over and over, you head up hundreds of feet in altitude to a summit, then coast down and cross an enormous valley. Some of the mountains are beautiful, some not so much. We finally arrived at Ely and stayed at a grassy little campground on the outskirts of town.

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What a weird turnaround. I first composed this journal entry on ruled binder paper because we didn’t have enough power to run or charge the laptop. I can remember back to 1985 or so when we first got Word Perfect on the computer at work and I stared at a blank screen, thinking “I can’t compose on a computer. I need to write on a piece of paper.” Today, I thought: “I’ll write the blog when I can compose it on the laptop. I don’t want to have to transpose what I write on paper.” Having written a couple of pages on the paper, I noticed how poor my handwriting is. Does anyone still have nice handwriting? Is that a lost art now?

On Monday, we packed up and headed 50 miles east on Tioga Road to Tuolumne Meadows. Since it was Monday, Labor Day, most campers were packing up to go home, so we easily got a campsite. Later in the afternoon, we took a walk along the Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne River. The river runs fast, slow, sunny, shadowed, brown, red, green and gold. It’s endlessly fascinating and fun to photograph.

Yesterday we got up at 7:30 and were hiking to Elizabeth Lake by 8:30. The weather was a little chilly, although we could already feel eddies of warm air here and there. We warmed up quickly because the first mile of the 2.4-mile hike rises 800 feet. Doesn’t sound like much, does it? Try it at 8,000 feet. We got a good cardio workout.

Lake Elizabeth is a pretty subalpine lake with a thin rim of sand around the western edge. We walked around the sizable lake, looking for a sheltered spot to rest a while. We found some white boulders and ate our sandwiches, looking out at the white-capped lake. When we got up to go, Dave noticed a marmot on the other side of our boulder. We had apparently forced her off her usual spot on top of the big rock. Whe was heading back up there when we departed.

After a long rest when we got back, we went for a late afternoon walk through Tuolumne Meadows and decided that the Lazy Daze didn’t have sufficient stored energy (the solar panels don’t do well under trees) to have a long, comfortable evening. We ended up trying Tuolumne Lodge for dinner. National Park Lodges vary widely from luxurious to pretty basic; Tuolumne was the basic sort. The dining room was family-style dining in a large tent-cabin. We sat with six other people and it was fun to hear their stories. A father-daughter duo was heading out on a 10-day backpacking trip. Another couple had hiked almost 15 miles on a day hike. The third pair had hiked 7 miles and were going on a 2-day backpacking trip. None of them were spring chickens, either. We were the lazy day hikers at the table.  After a so-so dinner with a nice chocolate pie for dessert, we went out to the big bonfire next to the Lodge. A lady with a guitar and a very nice voice sang a number of songs, including “Puff, the Magic Dragon” and John Denver’s “It’s Good to be Back Home Again”. It took me back to college days, when I’d bring a guitar along on camping trips.

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Sunday, September 5, 2010

We left our house inhabited by our friend, Michael D”Ambrosio, and headed out of town on Thursday. We got to visit with Michael for several days, which included a great dim sum meal at Yank Sing with Harriet, another friend. Harriet, Michael and I (and Kay Fike) worked together in OAS in the mid-1980’s for a couple of years. We always enjoyed working together and we are all enjoying retirement.

I hadn’t planned too carefully, and we were going to Yosemite on the Thursday before Labor Day weekend with only a reservation for Thursday night. But we lucked out and got a nice space under a lot of very tall trees. The days have been warm and the nights cool. Perfect. We haven’t explored the area around Crane Flat Campground before, which is on Highway 120, right at the turnoff to go down into Yosemite Valley. With 90+ degree weather and Labor Day weekend, we wanted no part of the valley.

On Friday, we went for a hike to the Tuolumne Sequoia Grove. It’s a pretty short walk, which is good because it was hot and the return walk is uphill. It was a good starting hike because we have to acclimatize to activity at 6,000 feet altitude. Saturday was a longer hike to Lukens Lake. We started early in cooler weather and the walk was beautiful, through green meadows still thick with wildflowers. The amount of fresh bear scat on the trail was disconcerting, but we forged on the easy trail. Lukens Lake was the perfect example of a mountain lake. It was surrounded by pines on three sides and a golden meadow on the fourth. On the way back, Dave stopped at one point and squinted ahead on the trail. “Is that a stump? No, it’s a bear!” It was a small, golden brown, scruffy little bear, bigger than a cub, but not full grown. It looked at us for a moment, but there were two people on each side of it, so it skedaddled off the trail. That was pretty cool to see, and I was glad not to see Mama, if the little bear was still with Mama. It’s not wise to get between a little bear and it’s mother.

When not hiking, we’ve been lounging around under tall trees, reading, playing Checkers, eating ice cream (It’s It’s!!) and watching our neighbors. We had a fire last night, our first in a couple of years, and roasted marshmallows. Having no graham crackers, we broke home-made chocolate-chip cookies in half and relished the results. It’s been a great Labor Day weekend for the non-laboring Gardners.

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