Category Archives: California

Death Vally & the Eastern Sierra

In March, I spent almost a week in Death Valley and the Eastern Sierra (sorry for delay; I got busy with the rest of my life and forgot to post this entry). I camped in Death Valley with twenty women, three men, and a cheerful nine-year old. The El Niño super bloom was past, but there were still flowers to be seen. See below the fold, i.e. after photos, for details.

Mirages on the horizon                                                                                                                                 red and ochre folds of earth                                                                                                                       warm breezes parch the arid land.

Ravens cry in the treetops                                                                                                                             coyotes yap in the distance                                                                                                                           a pair of grackles sings at dawn.

Desert Gold and other flowers                                                                                                                     dot the harsh landscape                                                                                                                           delicate petals protected in slot canyons.

Devil’s this and Devil’s that,                                                                                                                           badlands and craters                                                                                                                             golden walls and mounds of salt.

Three bright stars, among the millions                                                                                                       Orion’s belt.                                                                                                                                                   A nearly full moon, watches through the night.

Wind rustles                                                                                                                                                 invasive Tamarack trees                                                                                                                                 barely reaching tents nestled among them.

Another day, gusts                                                                                                                                     obscuring the view                                                                                                                                     coating everything with dust.

A row of photographers at dawn                                                                                                                 soft purple glow on snowcapped peaks                                                                                                   tilted striations of sedimentary rock.

Vast, not empty,                                                                                                                                           defined by wind and water,                                                                                                                           rapidly moving, and absent.

© Deborah Hall

3/25 – A Packed Car

I picked up Paget in mid-afternoon, then we drove to Oakland and picked up Carol. My Subaru was filled to the gills. Commuter traffic was starting by the time we left, so we didn’t reach Bakersfield until 10 pm where we spent the night in a cheap hotel.

3/26 – Furnace Creek

We got to camp shortly after noon, set up our tents, and then explored the valley. Carol has never been here before, so we took her to see some of the classic sights. No beautiful salt patterns at Badwater; they were apparently washed away in a big storm last fall. I wonder how long it will take nature to restore them. We got back to camp in time for a shower and swim before dinner: burritos.

3/27 – Hike in Golden Canyon

Though I’ve hiked in this canyon several times before, this is the first time I went all the way up to Zabriskie Point. It was a beautiful hike, definitely worth repeating. A thin cloud cover kept us comfortable. That night we shared a tasty potluck with our fellow campers, with Easter peeps for desert, and a lantern for a campfire.

3/18 – Hike in Fall Canyon

I drove north with a carload of hikers to this canyon north of Stovepipe. A totally different hike than yesterday, more sheer rock and not as colorful. We saw more darting lizards and pair of redheaded black beetles mating.

On the way back the wind picked up and the valley view turned gray. A few of us drove north to check out Ubehebe Crater. By the time we returned to camp everything was covered with a layer of dust (almost as much as at Burning Man). More than half our fellow campers packed up and headed home early. I went to dinner at the restaurant with Ellen, a fellow camper, and slept in my car, a needless precaution. A light rain cleared the air and the wind stopped around sunset.

3/29 – Death Valley to Lone Pine

I drove off while everyone else was still in their sleeping bags and watched the sunrise at Zabriski Point. It wasn’t the most colorful I’ve seen, but a pleasure to watch. After breakfast we packed the car and headed out, with our cracked lips and visions of clean sheets. We made one stop on our way out of the valley, for a short hike in Mosaic Canyon. I fell and broke my point-and-shoot camera, not the first time; I’m sure glad I paid for that extended warranty. We reached Lone Pine in the afternoon, in time for a scenic drive through the Alabama Hills to Manzanar, one of the Japanese internment camps. I hope we never repeat this sad chapter in our history. With one camera down and my Olympus running low on batteries, I shot many pictures with my cell phone.

3/30 – Alabama Hills to Lee Vining

Paget and Carol joined me for sunrise in the Alabama Hills. It snowed overnight and the Sierras were whiter than the night before. I love seeing the first light hit peaks. Then we headed north and went snowshoeing near Mammoth (covered in “Snow Weekends” blog post). I had a late lunch afterwards, a bowl of chili, and, to celebrate my birthday, a glass of wine. Afterwards they led the way to a small hot spring surrounded by snow-capped peaks. It was too hot to stay in long, but the view was wonderful. It was cloudy by the time we reached Lee Vining, so there was no sunset to see at Mono Lake.

3/31 – Mono Lake, then Home

I tiptoed out of the room before sunrise and drove over to Mono Lake. Other than one other photographer, I had the place to myself and spent a peaceful hour or two wandering through the tufa. One our way home, we stopped near Bridgeport for another hot spring soak. This time the temperature was perfect. We got back to the Bay Area before dark.

Snow Weekends

El Niño didn’t deliver the anticipated whooper rainfall, but it did provide almost normal snowfall in the Sierras, which is much more than we’ve received in our drought-stricken state for several years. I was fortunate to get up to the mountains three times this season.

January 16-18 – Claire Tappan

Ten of the women in my hiking group stayed in a dorm room at this Sierra Club lodge near Donner Summit. It snowed every day so we left our cars in the lot and shoe shoed from the lodge each day.

February 5-9 – Echo Summit

Six of us rented a cabin near South Lake Tahoe. Most of us snow shoed every day. I also went down hill skiing for the first time in over a decade! I stuck to the green runs a bit more than the blue. I had a great time and hope to return next year.

March 30 – Mammoth

Last year I spent my birthday in New Zealand and Australia; this year I watched the sunrise above the Eastern Sierras, then snow shoed near Mammoth. (See upcoming Death Valley post for the rest of my activities this week).

Above San Francisco

December 12

I didn’t go far, but I’m considering this travel since an airplane was involved. Alex finally collected on the present I gave him for his 30th birthday, one year ago today. We took a 45-minute seaplane tour over the Bay Area. The weather was not optimal, but the view was awesome. (I had to increase the contrast quite a bit to get usable pictures).

Southern California

I just completed a short road trip to Southern California with Carmen, a friend of Sibylle’s, now a friend of mine, visiting from Switzerland.

9/30/15 – The Broad

We left early to avoid the morning commute in the Bay Area, zipped down I-5 and reached Los Angeles around noon. We’d heard that The Broad, a new contemporary art museum, was sold out, but we went directly there just to see the building and were pleasantly surprised to find a line for people without reservations. Our wait was short (thankfully, since it was hot outside, in the 90’s) and the entry free, which reduced the sting of the $20 parking fee. We downloaded The Broad app, bought a pair of headphones (we have many, but none with us), and headed up a long portal (escalator) to the top floor of the museum, which contains most of the exhibits. I popped back and forth between a couple of the self-guided tours listening to lots of interesting commentary as we strolled about the spacious, brightly lit galleries. It was a pleasant afternoon.

Afterwards, we walked across the street and I took a few pictures of the Disney Concert Hall, a fascinating building designed by Frank Gehry. It opened in 2003, which shows you how longs it’s been since I’ve been to L.A.. No performances fit our schedule, so I won’t be seeing the inside.

10/1/15 – Disneyland

What fun! We got in at opening and left just as the fireworks were starting. I hadn’t been in at least 15 years, but overall little has changed, including the lines. The addition of FastPass allowed us to pre-schedule the most popular rides, e.g. Splash Mountain in the middle of a hot afternoon. Taking advice from friends who visited the park recently, we grabbed a ticket for Star Tours then headed directly to Space Mountain, starting off with two of our favorites, which we repeated later in the day (discovering that there is more than one star tour). According to the Health app on my phone, we walked about 28,000 steps. My feet were definitely ready for a break when we finally sat down on the curb to wait for the night parade. Gratefully Carmen drove us back up to LA in the dark. (Ideally, I would stay in Anaheim the night before and after Disneyland, but that didn’t fit well with our other plans).

10/2/15 – The Getty and Santa Monica

After two early mornings, it felt good to sleep in at our Airbnb in Hollywood. With the AC on and shades drawn, I slept for a rare ten hours and woke feeling totally refreshed. We walked up to a café for breakfast and then took a Lyft ride to the Getty Center, letting someone else deal with the crazy traffic the L.A. is rightfully known for. Another free museum with expensive parking, a great way to encourage carpooling. This amazing white complex up on a hill is worth visiting for the architecture alone, especially as the haze cleared and we were able to glimpse the city and the ocean in the distance. Here they provide iPods and headphones and we could enter the number of selected pieces to hear about them. One of the most fascinating was Christ’s Entry into Brussels in 1889 by James Ensor.

Afterwards, we took a taxi to Santa Monica. The weather was perfect as we explored the pier and strolled barefoot along the beach. It was late afternoon by the time we made it to the other side of town for an early dinner at Marix, a Mexican restaurant that served yummy mojitos. The Lyft ride back, now in the middle of the evening commute, took so long that I had the driver stop at a fast food joint so I could use the restroom on our way.

10/2/15 – LA County Museum

 I puttered on my laptop while Carmen slept in, then we packed the car and headed to brunch on nearby Sunset Blvd. It was close to noon by the time we got to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. We say only a fraction of the exhibits spread across several buildings. I particularly liked Breathing Light by Ganzfeld. This light-filled room with slowly changing colors felt infinite.

It was mid-afternoon when we departed and it took 3.5 hours to get to La Jolla, a distance that would take about half that if it weren’t for the incessant traffic. The tasty veggie chili I ate earlier wrecked havoc on my digestive system, so after a couple urgent bathroom stops I purchased medicine to put a stop to that. When we got to our destination, Carmen and I walked down to an Italian restaurant where I watched her eat dinner.

 10/3-10/5 – La Jolla

Carmen and I spend a leisurely three days staying with my friend Dede, whom I met almost a quarter century ago at a parent gathering when her son and my youngest were in preschool. We bonded over monthly hikes. When she first moved to back to La Jolla, where she was raised, I visited annually. Back then, I’d arrive at the airport 15 minutes before my $49 round-trip flight with skewers of chicken in my carry-on luggage ready for a barbeque at the beach. That all changed with the shoe bomber. Between our travel schedules, it’s been a half dozen years or so since my last visit. Hopefully the next one will be much sooner.

We got some much-needed rain on our first two days, but there were breaks so I was able to stroll barefoot along the breach every morning, camera in hand, my favorite La Jolla activity. We also did a bit of shopping, treated ourselves to a massage and pedicure, and hung out at the house. In other words, we did very little and it felt wonderful. Dede and a friend joined us for dinner on the terrace one day, where we watched a nice sunset. On our last night we drive into San Diego and saw In Your Arms, a very enjoyable theatrical dance performance.

To avoid traffic, we left after the theater and drove to Santa Clarita, north of Los Angeles, reaching our hotel around midnight.

10/6/15 – Home Again

The five and a half hour drive home was uneventful: cruise control on I-5, shifting lanes to past trucks, and smooth flowing traffic on the Bay Bridge. It’s good to be back and out of the car.

California Camping

I recently went on two camping trips in Northern California, where we are blessed with much natural beauty. 
 
Trinity Alps (July 2-5)
 
Traffic light on the long drive north
(except for construction before Weaverville)
Outside temp over 100
 
Great conversations,
in the car, along the trail, and at the waterholes
Familiar faces and friendly new ones
 
Tents scattered through spacious campground
Dried leaves and pine needles
Slivers of water visible through the trees
 
Scramble down to Trinity Lake, one third full due to drought
A flotilla of houseboats in the distance, water warm,
aroma of motor oil and the sound of jet skies
 
Full moon at sunset, reflected on the water
From my topless tent, trees silhouetted
and a few stars in the dimly lit sky
 
Long drives to trailheads at cooler altitudes
A doe and fawn cross the bumpy dirt road
Glimpses of Shasta through the haze
 
Refreshing swims in bowls of granite
Some wildflowers in bloom
Distant thunder, a few sprinkles
  
Cicadas turning on and off
The chirps and twill of birds
Beautiful silence
  
First Saturday in Weaverville
Food, music, and art at Our Space Gallery
What more do I need?
 
No fireworks and follies light
Enjoy the night
Heat Heat Heat
 
Loon Lake (July 16-19)
  
I had a wonderful long weekend kayaking, hiking and swimming in the Sierras with Blue Water Ventures. We loaded up our kayaks at Loon Lake, just west of Desolation Wilderness, and paddled to a boat-in campsite at the north end, called Pleasant Lake. Fortunately there was a slab of granite near the launch site so we could get our gear down to the water, about 30’ below it’s pre-drought level. I paddled to camp with Anne, learning to steer without a rudder.
 
Our group of 13 women, four of whom I knew in advance, was catered to by a half dozen staff and volunteers. We received kayaking instruction (I learned how to rescue and be rescued from a flipped boat) and were served delicious meals. It was a very relaxing and enjoyable trip with great company and perfect weather.

Home Again

We’re back in the land of drinkable water and reliable WiFi. I no longer need to carry T.P. in my pocket or remember not to put it in the toilet (until my next trip to a developing country). Our trip home was uneventful, though it took almost 19 hours, door to door. Much as I love to travel, it always feels good to return home. Zelda greeted me at the door and the cats came to sniff the luggage. I spent yesterday doing laundry, stocking up on groceries, and replacing my cell phone. I already miss quinoa soup, banana chips and bread (I was able to eat baked good with no negative affects, demonstrating that something is wrong with our gluten-filled food industry).

Why am I hooked on travel? When I’m away from home, especially in a location as remote as the Salkantay pass or as foreign as the rainforest, everything non-essential is stripped away. I live more fully in the moment and let go of things that don’t really matter. Seeing how other people live expands my worldview and shows that our similarities are far greater than our differences. And another vague spot on the map becomes tangible; no matter how much I read or how many videos I see, nothing compares to actually being on location with all senses engaged.

In spite of a few travails, I thoroughly enjoyed our four weeks in Peru and Ecuador, my first trip south of the border. I would definitely like to return, perhaps starting with a Spanish immersion course. Thank you Karen, Joanne, and Nancy for joining me on this adventure; I thoroughly enjoyed your company.

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Acclimatization Weekend

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My first big trip will include trekking at high altitude in the Andes. This is going to be a challenge, especially coming from sea level. To give our bodies a jump-start on acclimatization, one of my fellow travelers, Karen, and I spent three nights up in the Sierras. Another friend, Cyndi, joined us. At 7800’, Kirkwood was one of the highest places we could find to stay at this time of year. We virtually had the resort to ourselves as the ski lifts were shut down and the summer tourists haven’t yet arrive. Our hikes were limited due to snow on the trails, so we mostly lounged around our spacious condo and fixed delicious meals. To our surprise, it was snowing when we left. I’m glad we went – I got over a slight altitude headache and was reminded how much colder and drier it is up in the mountains.

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