Archive for the ‘California Dreamin’ Category

Happy New Year – Santa Clara County Parks

Tuesday, January 2nd, 2018

This year, we spend the New Year’s Eve camping at Mount Madonna County Park – a nice small campground surrounded by ‘young’ redwoods.

It was our first night using our new van.

First order of business was to check out how comfortable the chairs are:

And getting the bed and table setup:

Scott goes outside and makes sure everything is setup for the night:

We managed to not take any pictures of making dinner inside the van using the induction stovetop to boil water. We definitely need to figure out counters, as cooking on the floor is hard on the back.

After dinner, I lay down and read a book.

In the morning, we test out the new camp stove with breakfast on the picnic table. With the morning light we could also get a decent picture of the van in all its glory.

After breakfast, we packed up and went for a nice hike (6.5 kms).

Washington and the Oregon Coast – Aug 25-29, 2017

Monday, October 2nd, 2017

We popped over to Washington State to check out a state park – Cape Disappointment. It being the weekend, we figured we would take a look then go find a place to camp someplace off-grid. As we drove through the park, we decided to pop into the campground and see if by chance there were any spots. As luck would have it, just before we entered someone chose to leave early and their spot opened up. We jumped on it, and found ourselves in a lovely spot right next to the beach.

The ground cover behind the campsites was an interesting moss covered sand.

We did the short hike,

past a small beach,

to a lighthouse, that is still an active Coast Guard maintained lighthouse.

That evening we decided to head over to the beach, which was cool and windy —

so windy that you could see the sand moving like a river —

to catch the sunset.

The next day, we went back over the long bridge

to do some laundry and have some gluten-free fish and chips!

Before leaving Cape Disappointment, we enjoyed the longer hiking trail which felt like a giant tropical garden,

and led to another lighthouse, which was under renovations so we could see inside,

and where it was very windy,

and the view was amazing.

Cape Disappointment did not disappoint, however, with the weekend over we needed to start making our way south towards home. Our next stop ended up being Carl G. Washburne Memorial State Park. Upon arriving, we followed a path through an enchanted forest

to a long beach

where we walked until we came to the cliff at the end.

Scott continued up a hiking trail to see the beach from above.

We learned that several people at the campsite were there to escape the smoke in the central valley. It is one of the few campgrounds that does not take reservations, so things were not already completely reserved/full. It is also why we were able to find a campsite.

As evening approached we decided to check out the lighthouse

at sunset.

After two nights at Washburne we headed south again, making our way along the Oregon coast to California.


Oregon Part 1 – Aug 22-24, 2017

Sunday, October 1st, 2017

Wishing to avoid traffic, we hung around Ochoco National Forest for an additional night. Scott enjoyed sleeping in the hammock, with an elaborate setup to ensure he didn’t become dinner for any mosquitoes.

Since we were close by, we stopped by the painted hills.

Originally, we had hoped to spend more time in central Oregon (e.g. Crater Lake), but the entire area was socked in with smoke. We learned that you could not even see across the lake at Crater Lake. With horrible air quality, we decided to head north in hopes of avoiding the smoke.

We found a campground on the northern slope of Mount Hood at a place called Lost Lake. We didn’t manage to take any pictures of the lake, but we did manage to go swimming in it a couple of times. Our first swim was the evening we arrived, and our second swim was after a hike up the Lost Lake Butte.

The views of Mount Hood from the top made the hike worthwhile. You will notice the haze in all our photos, this is smoke from the various forest fires.

Our second night at Lost Lake, Becky decided to sleep in the tent (rather than the van) while Scott opted to sleep in his bivvy. However, when morning came, there was a fine misting of rain, which made Scott sneak over and stick his head under one of the tent vestibules.

From Lost Lake we decided to head towards the coast via the Mount Hood Timberline Lodge and ski area, and yes, there were people skiing up there!

The Pacific Crest Trail crosses just above the lodge (I recall it from the book Wild by Cheryl Strayed).

We didn’t quite make it to the coast that night … so one last stop before the coast.


Sunday, September 3rd, 2017

They say that seeing a partial solar eclipse is nothing like seeing totality. xkcd sums it up nicely in this image:

CC-A-NC – retrieved from

This was the start of our vacation. We had a crazy rush drive north to ensure we made it into the path of totality. We took a few pictures before totality, but when it happened, we spent the entire time (about 2 minutes) just staring up in awe of what we were seeing. We figured the professionals would do a much better job photographing and we didn’t want to waste precious time mucking with our cameras.

In addition to the true amazement of the moon completely covering the sun, we also noticed that our shadows were more defined. The edges were much sharper. The light was interesting and different. Then there were the birds. We were in a National Forest, and we noticed just before the eclipse we could hear all the night birds but also all the day birds at the same time. The forest got loud with the sound of the birds (but although we could not see other people, we could hear them as they were in awe of the eclipse).

Here is a gallery of some of our best images (in order):

Fortunately, we were on vacation and could wait an extra day where we were camping, so we avoided all the crazy traffic after the eclipse. We sat around at our campsite, relaxing, reading, and taking in the nature all around us.

Bay area hikes – Mount Madonna – Tie camp loop

Monday, July 31st, 2017

In order to keep myself motivated and to get out hiking more, I purchased a Santa Clara County annual pass. When I mentioned that I wanted to hike in all of the Santa Clara County parks where hiking makes sense, she mentioned to me the PixInParks challenge. That was enough to keep me moving.

Hiking with Scott on the weekend, it occurred to me that I could use this space to blog about the different trails and share some pictures.

Mount Madonna Tie Camp loop was my favourite hike so far. I was struck by how many different ecosystems we passed through. It is hard to believe that all these pictures were taken on the same trail.

Here is a map and the elevation profile (note that the numbers are in meters). The full hike distance was around 7.5km which we hiked in just over 2 hours.

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The terrain began as a well established trail under the shade of oaks.
Mount Madonna - Merry-go-round


When we came along the creek, we noticed that there were redwoods growing out creek.
Mount Madonna - Merry-Go-Round


We then left the Redwoods behind and continued along the trail to a clearing.

Mount Madonna
We were both fascinated by these plants – and enjoyed the view of the surrounding hills.
Mount Madonna


And then we turned a corner and were in the thick of a grove of Red Woods very reminiscent of the trails at Big Basin State Park.
Mount Madonna

Which yet again opened up with another change in surrounding vegetation.

Mount Madonna

And we mustn’t forget the required selfie from the Tie Camp trail.
Mount Madonna


Overall, a very pleasant hike – about an hour’s drive south west from our home.

Christmas in the deserts

Tuesday, December 29th, 2015

On our vacation adventure in the California deserts, we keep finding parallels to our bicycle travels through the Middle East. In part it is being travelers over the holidays – this is the first year since our bike trip we’re away from family over Christmas. We are also still in the Northern Hemisphere, so traveling over the shortest day of the year poses its own challenges.

Immediately, we were struck by how the deserts (the driest ones) have similar tumble weed to that in Jordan – the biggest different being that in Jordan the desert is littered with the ubiquitous black plastic bags that are used to contain produce and any manner of things found at the markets. In most places we have been, the desert is not obviously dirty – some of that may be the difference in population density.

As we hiked through the Mosaic Canyon in Death Valley, the marble walls reminded us of our exploration in Little Petra (Siq al-Barid) in Jordan. There were no beautiful carved facades, but the narrow gorge felt similar, and Scott couldn’t pass up the chance to climb up the gorge walls.

Our time up at Jumbo Rocks in Joshua Tree was reminiscent of our time in Capadoccia. The spectacular rock formations reminded us of the pillars and minarets of Goreme. They look similar, but the rock in Goreme is volcanic, so it’s very soft. The granites of Joshua Tree are much harder, and eroded over much longer timescales. No manner of searching through Jumbo Rocks is going to find ancient human dwellings and churches – that is something that makes Capadoccia extra special. Being there over Christmas also brought back memories of the kindness of our Turkish friends, who invited us to stay with their parents and celebrate Bayram with them. Bayram (the Muslim Sacrifice Festival), is celebrated in Turkey with family visits and feasting – other than the exchange of gifts this felt very much like Christmas to us. This year, we had our Christmas feast in Joshua Tree overlooking the weather sculpted rocks.

We can’t forget the cold, a not-so-pleasant reminder of cycling in the Middle East. We froze our first night in Antakya Turkey (quite literally – there was a thick layer of frost on the windows when we got up). Then we moved to a slightly more expensive hotel that had heat after dark. The cold also hit us on our bike ride from Antakya to Aleppo Syria. We were clearly ill-prepared to be biking in winter in a desert. Not sure why we thought it would be warm? We clearly didn’t learn our lesson as it has been abnormally cold our entire trip through Southern California deserts. This time we are glad to be traveling in a van that has a heater, although we haven’t been using it enough.

It was the constant cold that had us running south to Aqaba as quickly as we could, in search of warmth. This time, we went south to Borrego Springs. A night in the RV park there prove to be much warmer than our -10ish night up in Joshua Tree national park (the campgrounds are up at 4,400 feet, which makes it even colder than reported at Joshua Tree town). Our hikes up to the palm oases in Anza Borrego State Park reminded us of Palmyra in Syria, without the ancient Roman ruins from the days of the Silk Road. Sadly, many of the ruins have since been destroyed by Daesh.

Unfortunately that warmth didn’t last. Becky now has the beginnings of a cold, so we are going to try to spend a couple of nights in RV parks were we can plug in. We’ll also turn on the propane furnace in the van. On the lowest setting it keeps the van at a minimum temperature which is still comfortable for sleeping but also doesn’t allow the temperature to drop too much. Amusingly, the park we are currently in has mineral springs. This reminds us of the mineral springs we visited in Turkey, when Becky was attempting to recover from a cold back then. Hopefully these springs will be more effective!

We’re thinking that the next time we decide to go camping over the winter holidays that it should be done someplace a little warmer, like Hawaii!

Thanks for joining us on our trip down memory lane. Here are some of our pictures of our California vacation. More will be added to the gallery when we have faster Internet!

Day hikes at Alum Rock Park

Friday, June 26th, 2015

One of my favourite local places to hike is Alum Rock Park. It is close to us – about a 20 minute drive east – which makes it an easy place to go for a short hike. As I was slowly recovering from surgery, it became our go-to place for a walk in the woods. As I began to heal, I could measure my progress by how far I was able to walk. Initially it was not that far – a kilometer or two. Now I’m able to do a complete loop of the upper trail (4.5 miles/7km).

Usually we park at the bottom parking lot (which is free) and hike in from there. The majority of the trail is shaded, so it is still hike-able in the middle of the day, even when it is hot outside.

Elevation Profile
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Up past the visitor center – this picture was taken back on February 14, 2015.
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This one was taken back on April 9, 2015. I’m amazed to see just how green it was, compared to the pictures I took on Tuesday and today.
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You can see that now the trail is looking rather dry, but still is nicely shaded.
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This is looking out onto the same hill as the picture above taken on April 9th. Notice how all the grass has dried up. The hills are brown with a few green dots (trees). Even some of the trees are losing their leaves because of the drought.
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Today I decided to pay for parking and hike from the upper portion of the parking lot. I had planned on purchasing a year pass in the parking pay machines, as indicated on the parks website. Unfortunately, they have changed the programming for the machines and they are no longer offering year passes from them. I now need to make a trip out to the San Jose Regional Parks office in order to get a year pass. For today, I paid the $6 and got a regular day pass. It was worth it for me to get a chance to hike the upper trail – which I otherwise would not have had the energy to tackle.

Elevation Profile
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The drought appears to be taking a toll on the trees. In this photo you can see a bunch of the trees on the adjacent hill are dead.
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I enjoyed my hike today, but it was very dry. I’m not sure how much longer the park will stay open – as it closes if the fire risk gets to be too high. They have now banned all fires in the park, including BBQs. When you breath the incredibly dry air, and see the trees which are shedding their leaves due to lack of moisture, you can appreciate the impact of the drought.

Vacation Day 8 – The End

Friday, June 26th, 2015

I’m happy to report that my ‘rain-sense’ seems to be working in the Sierra’s. I had thought that I had totally lost it. You see, I had this uncanny sense of when it was going to rain. We would sleep in the tent with the fly off, and I’d wake up about 2 minutes before the rain started. This had not been the case when we moved to California. I was no longer able to ‘sense’ when the rain would start. So, I was relieved when I awoke at 4 am for my usual trip to the loo. Immediately upon returning to the van, the rain started. First it was a light sprinkle, but then turned into a serious coastal mountain rain.

When I awoke and was ready to get up at 8am, it was still raining. There was no sign of it letting up. We decided to pack up and head to the cafe at Toms Place for a dry/warm breakfast and hopefully some Internet, where we could check the weather forecast and figure out where to go next. We had originally planned on another day hiking at Rock Creek and then a day at Mammoth Lakes, but neither was any fun if the rains were constant and heavy.

It turned out that the only place in Northern California it wasn’t raining that day was Napa. So, we decided to head back over the Sierra’s to one of the state parks up in Napa. It would allow us to dry things out and perhaps go out for a nice meal. We had previously been to Sonoma, but had not been to Napa, so it would also be exploring a new area. The fastest way over the Sierra was through Yosemite. We had originally planned to drive over via Kennedy Meadows (which features in Cheryl Strayed’s book Wild), but with the rain there weren’t many great scenic views to be had – so the fastest route made more sense. Either way, we were in for a long day of driving.

On the way through Yosemite we drove around the Tuolumne Meadows campground. It wasn’t particularly busy, but was certainly soaking wet. The roads through the campground were in remarkably bad shape for a National Park. The area was pretty nice and many people were still out and about, going on short day hikes in the area. We concluded that we much preferred the quieter campgrounds in Rock Creek valley. We would like to come back to Tuolumne Meadows to do a hike or two, but would probably try to stay in a National Forest campsite outside of the very busy national park. We snapped a quick picture and got back in the car to continue the uneventful drive to Napa.
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In Napa we stayed at the Sugarloaf Ridge State Park. Our expectations were low, so we were pleasantly surprised by the park. It was pretty much two open fields with campsites on the outside edges. What was nice was that the edges were trees, so you could choose a site that had either morning or afternoon sun (we opted for morning sun, thinking we might spend two nights there).

Since the campground was still pretty empty, the morning was rather peaceful (my favourite part of camping). I snapped a photo from my phone of the wild turkeys that were grazing in the field.
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After breakfast we decided that we were ready to just be home (OK, I decided I wanted to sleep in my own bed!). We had really enjoyed our time in the Eastern Sierra and will definitely make plans to go back and explore more. The old trees and the hiking were fantastic.

Through this series of posts, I’ve shared some of our pictures. You can see the full set in this gallery:

Vacation Day 7 – Rock Creek and the Upper Hilton Lakes

Thursday, June 25th, 2015

We awoke to another beautifully sunny day. We are glad we didn’t let the weather forecast stop us from exploring this area.
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Our original plan for the day was to go on a hike from our campsite. I was going to do part of the hike and then turn back when I felt I had done enough, and Scott would continue to hike a little longer.

Then I got in the hammock, and decided that I needed a rest day.

Although the sun was out, it wasn’t that warm outside, so the hammock with a couple of blankets was quite nice. The morning warmed up quickly, and I found myself shedding layers as I wrote and sipped my morning coffee. I am reminded of NaNoWriMo and thinking that my November project will be to write one of the GoingEast Books.

I thoroughly enjoyed my day lazing about at the campsite. It is so beautiful. I was even able to take a nap in the hammock.

While I was resting up, Scott went for a long hike, getting back just after 5pm.

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Yup, that’s snow.

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At one point, the trail Scott was following ended in a cliff. Rather than climbing it, he decided that backtracking was the safer of the options. I am very thankful that he made that choice! You can see the cliff in this picture.
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Some weather in the distance – foreshadowing what is to come …
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Not sure where my thoughts were at this point … but I was definitely thinking deeply!

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Vacation Day 6 – The Methuselah Walk

Monday, June 8th, 2015

We awoke to a beautiful morning. The weather up here is much warmer than it was at our last couple of campsites. If we didn’t desperately need showers and were not low on water, I’d suggest that we stay a second night!

After breakfast, we packed up and headed back up to the Schulman Grove Visitor Center with plans to walk the 4-mile Methuselah Walk. The walk “leads you through the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, past the oldest known living tree in the world” – according to the self-tour walking guide that we purchased. We have found these self guided walking tour guides to be very informative and rather well written.

In 2001, there was a PBS documentation made about the Methuselah Tree.

Apparently the Methuselah Tree is no longer the ‘oldest’ known living tree, as there was another that has now be dated to be over 5000 years old (it is in the same area).

We hiked 6.32 km in just over 3 hours.

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The trail had rather steep edges. It was amazing to see trees clinging to the sides:

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Looking off into the distance, you can see the hills made of dolomite with dessert sage bush and Bristlecone Pine dotting their slopes.

Few species can tolerate the nutrient-poor and highly alkaline dolomite soil. This gives the slow growing Bristlecone a chance to grow nearly competition-free.

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The North and South slopes have quite different looks to them:
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Again we see trees that may have been dead for centuries and their trunks are still standing.
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For a new bristlecone pine see to form, pollen from cones,…,must pollinate a small purple bristly seed cone. Once pollinated, the small cone closes and begins to grow before winter. Next spring, the captured pollen will fertilize the ovule and seeds will develop. The seed code then grows rapidly and matures in the fall, opening to release a tiny white winged seed into the wind.

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The Methuselah Tree itself itself is not identified, to help protect it from vandalism. Instead, there is a labelled post and some nice rocks that act as a bench which overlooks a grove of several ancient trees, any of them could be the official Methuselah Tree. I’m now wondering if one of them is the even older, as yet unnamed, tree?

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I wonder, which one of these trees is the Methuselah Tree?

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Many of these ancient trees have exposed portions of their trunks. They only need one small strip of bark to carry nutrients between the pine needles and the roots.

Bristlecones were made famous for their age, but are most important to science because of their ability to record climate trends. Because the year’s growth depends entirely on the conditions of that year, the trees are sensitive to environmental changes, unlike a tree that may grow next to a stream and have the same amount of available moisture each year. Bristlecone’s sensitive nature gives scientists records of the past. Climates, droughts, severe frost, fires, and volcanic eruptions can all be recorded in these ancient pieces of wood.

I’m amazed at how this tree is still alive. You can see how the tree sprouts long roots with “some roots reach an astounding 50 feet out away from the main trunk.”
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At one point, we stopped at a bench to enjoy the view. Scott took a little nap:
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A snag may stand for thousands of years before it will eventually fall. This dead and down wood is of particular interest to scientists. Because the wood is so slow to decay, scientists can find pieces that are over 11,000 years old! Tree ring patterns in the dead and down wood are matched to other pieces and eventually to a living tree, allowing an exact date to be determined. This is called cross-dating and it has helped to recalibrate the radiocarbon dating process, linking these trees to history all over the world.

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After the hike we headed back to Bishop to do some laundry. We found a laundromat that also had showers – the cost was a bit steep, at $5 each, but given that we had not showered since Friday, we were in need! It was convenient to be able to do laundry, shower, check the Internet, and charge devices all at the same time.

We tried to grab a light dinner at one of the Bakeries in Bishop, but the sandwich counter was closed for the day.

We decided that our next destination would be Rock Creek. Our map of the Inyo Nation Forest showed that there were several different campgrounds along Rock Creek Road. In addition, we learned that all them had drinking water!

Before setting up for the night, we followed the road to its end, and along the way passed Rock Creek Lake.

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After exploring each of the open campgrounds, we chose a spot in the Upper Pines Campground. Our plan is to spend two nights here, and do a couple of different hikes in the area. The campground is at elevation 2875m or 9432 feet.

And of course the obligatory sunset photo:

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