Posted from Lancaster, California at 8:53 pm, December 30th, 2012
I hiked a couple of miles out into the Badwater salt flats early this morning, sat down in the snow-white crystals of a dried up salt pool, and the desolation was glorious.
After a good night’s rest the morning featured some sunrise photography, a hike through the Badwater salt flats, and a delicious burger for a hungry boy. Post-burger the itinerary included a visit to the yellow formations of Zabriskie Point, and a drive up to Dante’s View. I thought I’d been to this overlook before, but I don’t remember it, and it’s a memorable spot with a five thousand foot sheer drop down to the valley floor and a ridiculously great view of the awesome geology of the surrounding landscape – since that’s three superlatives, odds are that my memory is faulty and this is a spot that has not been on a past trip itinerary.
After leaving Dante’s View the trail led towards home via the eastern Sierra, with a brief stop to enjoy the Milky Way, and the current stop to try to get a journal entry written before it gets too late (aka 9PM) and my brain starts getting mushier than normal. Tonight will be spent in a real bed as this end-of-year trip sadly comes to its end.
Badwater Basin sunrise. The color on the mountains was also impressive, although you wouldn’t know it from the pictures I took.
Badwater Basin salt flats. See all the people? No? Glorious!
Off roading is apparently a much bigger deal than I realized. While roaming dirt roads in the desert I passed hundreds of RVs organized into camps of 5-20 vehicles, each camp home to dozens of ATVs and dirt bikes. One of the RVs in every camp was always flying a giant flag, and I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that these same folks show up in force for Nascar.
The craggy, primordial landscapes in the deserts of the Eastern Sierra are the types that require the internal narrator to assume a deep voice and say things like “and thus did God create the EARTH”, with backing music from a booming timpani drum. Driving through this area, it really does feel like this is how the Earth looked a couple billion years ago.
Despite many past visits to Death Valley the Wildrose portion of the park is somewhere I’d never been before today. That part of the park is at a higher elevation and featured a bit of snow, along with a landscape through tiny canyons and vistas that kept making me think how crazy it was that they even built a road here. This area is now officially Ryan approved.
I debated spending the night car camping in the campground at Furnace Creek, but instead of spending the evening wedged between RVs I decided to haul the Suby a few miles up a “road” (*cough* rocky gully *cough*) and am camped for the evening with a view that includes the entire Badwater Basin and has no neighbors. Provided I don’t wake up in the morning with one or more flat tires this appears to be a far better sleeping option.
Posted from near Buttonwillow, California at 7:39 pm, December 28th, 2012
In the 1800s there was wetland from Sacramento to Bakersfield, and a person could travel the entire route by boat. Today ninety-five percent of that has been converted to farmland or cities, so one can only imagine how insanely awesome the wildlife must once have been.
Wakeup was at 6AM to catch sunrise at the Merced NWR and to hopefully see the cranes before they dispersed for the day. It was ridiculously foggy, but the calls of several hundred cranes helped with locating the birds and I managed to grab a few shots as they departed to their favorite breakfast spots. Unfortunately the elusive “money shot” was not to be had today, so a crane photo remains on the bucket list.
The entire day was spent at the refuge, with a brief intermission to eat a massive biscuit and take a shower. Hawks, herons, and a few thousand snow geese were among the day’s other sights – if what I saw represents five percent of the historic abundance, the Central Valley must have been a wonder in its wildlife prime. Tonight will most likely again be spent sleeping in the glorious confines of the Subaru, with tomorrow’s plan (subject to change) being to meander along a route to Death Valley that I’ve never tried before.
A flock of about two hundred cranes dispersed in a matter of minutes when the sun came up, making for a frantic and fun photo shoot.
A shot from yesterday of white-fronted geese flying past the full moon. I thought this was a neat shot although perhaps a bit too odd for the journal, but Audrey gave her approval.
Posted from Merced, California at 10:06 pm, December 27th, 2012
After a bird-themed Christmas, waffles, a game involving trains (a recurring activity this holiday season, apparently), and hiking in the mud with Aaron I took leave of Ma & Pa’s house and returned to the road. Today’s stop was at the Cosumnes River Preserve, home to (literally) tens of thousands of geese and numerous other feathered critters. Having flocks of thousands of geese and the occasional sandhill crane passing overhead as the sun set was not a bad way to finish the day.
Several thousand white-fronted geese take to the skies as the sun sets. Turn up the volume for maximum enjoyment.
Posted from Concord, California at 10:46 pm, December 24th, 2012
Last night was spent sleeping in the back of the car on the side of the road. It felt good to be a vagabond again.
Today’s adventure was a tour of several wildlife refuges to scout possible locations for the sandhill crane picture that has eluded me for so long. While the birds were again uncooperative, there’s hope. The morning’s first visit was to Merced National Wildlife Refuge, home to a ridiculous number of cranes and the new number one contender on the crane photography list. Arrival was too late for good light, but this is a place that will be re-visited.
The second planned stop was the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge, but Apple’s new map tool calculated a route that went from sketchy country road to potholed mess to muddy quagmire. I was skidding all over the place, tearing up clay, doing my best to avoid sliding into the irrigation ditch next to the road without reducing speed to the point where I’d get trapped in the muck. When eventually I found a place wide enough to turn around I was absolutely positive that the car would get stuck, but a Christmas miracle occurred and the Suby dug its way out and I escaped without a call to AAA. After this mini adventure there were disconcerting squealing noises coming from the front of the vehicle, so I headed to the nearest town where it took a full twelve minutes of power washing to get all of the clay/mud out of the wheel wells and axles.
After finding a new route that followed actual roads I arrived at San Luis NWR, which was scenic, as was the day’s final stop at the Isenberg Crane Reserve. However, Merced NWR was clearly the winner and a spot that will see another visit on the post-Christmas trip. In the interim the plan calls for spending a couple of days at Ma & Pa’s for the annual family Christmas, feasting, and misadventures with my brother.
Red-tailed hawk at Merced National Wildlife Refuge. My copy of the Sibley guide is at home, so I’m basing this identification on the fact that I generally assume all big hawks are red-tails.
Posted from Culver City, California at 10:07 am, December 23rd, 2012
As of the 21st I have twelve glorious, work-free days. Life is quite good at the moment.
To start the vacation extravaganza Audrey and I went down to San Diego to greet the Mayan end of the world with her sister, mom, and mother’s husband. We drove down Thursday night, woke up to find the world still in existence Friday morning, then roamed La Jolla for a bit before joining her family members for lounging and steak in a three bedroom bungalow at the very cool (both figuratively and literally) Lafayette boutique Hotel. There was a game involving dominoes and Mexican trains that I confess to not fully understanding, a broken heater, a hairy cousin, and plenty of other shenanigans to make for a fun journey.
Tonight will begin the annual holiday trip, with a few nature stops planned before a Christmas spectacular with the family in Concord, followed by the annual post-Christmas road trip – there should be much car camping, early rising, and random journeying to end the year.
Brown pelican in La Jolla. This was one of the few birds who agreed to stay in focus and in frame.
Pile o’ sea lions in La Jolla. Despite the fact that this may look like a morbid heap of deceased pinniped, all of these guys were very much alive.