After getting home Sunday night I woke up Monday morning at 6:30 and headed down to the Marina to see what was stirring. Turns out that the place is lousy with grebes, which have apparently converged here in huge numbers for the winter.
Today ended up as a meandering journey through the hills and mountains of Southern California. Wake-up preceded the sunrise in the Carrizo Plain, and I wandered about in the early light enjoying the quiet. Following a short hike along the San Andreas Fault the path led in a roundabout way to the Tule Elk State Reserve, which was home to the last of the species when it was formed in 1932, and which has been the source of nearly all of the 4000 tule elk that today roam numerous locations throughout California. From there it was off to the Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge, which is where much of the protection efforts for the California Condor have been focused. Sadly access to the refuge is closed to the public, and since no birds were visible from the highway I settled for enjoying the mountain scenery and the many hawks that managed to outsmart my photographic attempts.
From there all paths seemed to require crossing Los Angeles County, so despite the inner voice telling me to deal with the traffic and highways of LA and then visit the Salton Sea, I decided to make this year’s trip shorter than in years past and explored the backroads of the Los Padres National Forest while heading in a generally-homeward direction – we’ve got some surprisingly cool mountains within a two hour drive of the Culver City abode. Tonight’s sleeping place will either be back in my own bed, or in the back of the Subaru if an interesting option presents itself along the way.
It’s quiet here. Utterly still. I stood on a hillside this morning and could hear the footsteps of people walking on a trail more than a half mile away, and that was one of the few times that I was around other people. I probably needed to get away to a place like this one.
The Carrizo Plain protects one of the last undeveloped stretches of California grassland, a famous set of petroglyphs, the largest concentration of endangered plants and animals in California, and a stretch of the San Andreas fault that shifted nearly thirty feet during an earthquake in the 1800s. To my eyes the area looks like it needs time to recover from centuries of heavy grazing, but with the relatively recent designation as a national monument hopefully it will get there. As a travel destination it is suffering from the third straight dry year – Soda Lake, known as a good winter wetland spot, is a dry salt flat – but it’s still a great location for getting away from everyone. It seems bizarre to be only about one hundred miles from Los Angeles, but to feel like this is the absolute middle of nowhere. The roads here are almost all unpaved old ranch roads, so I spent the day roaming about before parking for the night in a corner of the park with a view of the plain and absolute silence, aside from the occasional bird flying by. This journal entry is being written from the back of the Subaru with stars blazing, the cell phone showing “No service”, and the nearest town an hour’s drive away.
Audrey has dubbed the annual post-Christmas road-trip the “man-trip”, and this year’s adventure started off in much the same way as last year’s: a visit to the Cosumnes River Preserve followed by a sunrise trip to the Merced National Wildlife Refuge. The Pacific Flyway is busy this time of year, and it’s invigorating for the soul to stand on the edge of a wetland while tens of thousands of ducks, geese and cranes are calling out.
A big part of the fun of these trips is that I generally have no idea where I’m going to end up, and while the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest was considered, the closure of Tioga Pass sent me in the opposite direction, and it looks like I may be spending some time roaming the Carrizo Plain. The area became a national monument in 2001, but shockingly since my road atlas is out-of-date it’s a green dot within California that I’ve somehow never visited, an oversight that will hopefully be corrected tomorrow.
December totally flew by. Wow. Here’s the recap for everything prior to the current road trip:
I haven’t had to make the trek out to Boise since October, so work has consisted of the bedroom-to-kitchen commute, eight work hours that may or may not involve getting dressed, and the agonizing decision over what to eat for lunch – there is a good sushi restaurant that delivers in our neighborhood, which is a very, very dangerous option to have available. On paper, my life is extraordinarily good, and in reality it’s pretty swell, too.
Christmas and birthday gifts are usually something I do only when there’s something good to give, and 2013 was such a year – if you haven’t been to beardhead.com then you are a more mature person than me. The Holliday men spent Christmas Eve sporting new looks and laughing a lot. Aaron’s contribution to the madness was nerf dart guns, so Ma and Pa got to endure their 33 and 38 year old boys rampaging through the house with plastic guns and fake beards.
Christmas day saw Ma and Pa receive a new TV from the boys, and saw some very happy folks from craigslist getting the old TV – everyone won. Ma made a scrumtrillescent turkey dinner, and following that Pa nearly cracked a rib from laughing during a game of Balderdash – it got to the point where if anyone even began to read a definition he would go into spasms, so this game may need to be revisited frequently during future visits. Meanwhile, back in Culver City Audrey hosted her mom, sister, and three others in our fully-decorated house. I’m told the highlight of the meal was her pie with a likeness of Cthulhu made out of crust on top, since it’s not a Wiechman Christmas unless there is dough made into the shape of a human (or part thereof), animal, or mythical cosmic entity.
Post-Christmas, Ma and Pa took me to the Lafayette Reservoir to look for white pelicans since I’ve been chasing all over California trying to get a glimpse of these odd birds. After numerous road trips and no success, of course there were a dozen pelicans twenty minutes from my folks that were practically swimming up to people. Following the visit with the birds and a delicious lunch it was time to depart on the annual post-Christmas road trip, which barring surprises will be covered in subsequent entries.
The Thanksgiving holiday started with Audrey and I making the long drive up to the Bay and paying a visit to my brother at his brand-new townhome. While it was distressing to see a guy who once scored three Turkey Bowl touchdowns with a busted head now enthusiastically discussing window coverings and throw rugs, he saved face somewhat by putting snowboarding videos on repeat on his new giant flatscreen. The following day we arrived at Ma & Pa’s, and Aaron and I immediately set off on a hike on Mt. Diablo followed by some basketball and a photo op on the giant digger that was parked next to the court. Ma did her usual stellar job with the Thanksgiving dinner, and pants had to be loosened before the night was over.
The next day Audrey and I set off for Moss Beach to see her friend Kris. Along the way we got to make a trip over the ridiculously cool new Bay Bridge, and while Audrey was better about containing her excitement than I was, I have no doubt that somewhere deep down inside her inner engineer was jumping and cheering. We paid a quick visit to the sea lions at Pier 39, checked into our posh room at the Seal Cove Inn, then joined her friends for drinks on the coast followed by dinner. Sadly, at some point towards the end of dinner the men in the brain sent a sudden signal that something had gone very wrong, and things reached defcon five just before I could pull into the hotel parking lot, and I had to make a mad dash to refund my dinner on the side of the road. Audrey spent the remainder of the evening with her friends, while I slept off the after-effects of my forced weight loss.
The following day was Audrey’s birthday, and after a fancy breakfast at the hotel we joined her on her annual birthday trip to the library before embarking on a tour of the peninsula. She flew home late that night, while I shacked up in the back of the Subaru and woke up before sunrise to head off for a return visit to the cranes, hawks, and geese at the Merced National Wildlife Refuge. That was followed by a quick trip to the San Luis National Wildlife Refuge, and then lots of time to partake in the joy of stop-and-go Thanksgiving traffic on the long route back to LA.
- This year’s big addition was a well with images of a ghost projected into it – imagine the freaky angels at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, but flying up from a well. Too many people walked by not realizing what was inside, but for those who looked it was pretty creepy.
- Audrey added a new set of teeth to her costume. “They’re really horrific” was her enthusiastic endorsement after trying them on for the first time.
- I again got the best job in the world as I was dressed in all black and stationed inside of our blacked-out entryway, with my sole responsibility being to be invisible, wait until someone got close, and then growl. At the end of the night we found a pile of candy next to where I was stationed – I apparently literally scared the candy out of a few people.
- The proof that our efforts were worth it came early in the evening when a kid stood in our driveway for a good thirty seconds loudly repeating “it’s not worth the candy… it’s not worth the candy”. He didn’t make it to the door, but gets the honor of being a part of Scare the Children lore for years to come.
- Others who participated in the scaring this year included a guy dressed as a clown with an axe (“that’s really disturbing” was the initial assessment), Audrey’s current boss who made a surprise appearance and was later found hovering in a tree over the sidewalk, her friend Monty who stood completely still, looking fake, and got a few screams when he reached out at folks walking by, longtime participants Gina and Shelly, Meghen in the coffin, an executioner who didn’t take kindly to the many kids who mistook him for a ninja, and Audrey’s friend Stephanie doing logistics.
- Finally, in what may not have been the best move for building relations with the neighbors, our across-the-street neighbor came by and chatted with Stephanie at the door for three minutes before asking “where’s Ryan”. Unseen and six inches behind her, I whispered “Boo”. She immediately retreated back across the street, and word has it that “Ryan’s dead”.
If you haven’t “liked” the Scare the Children Facebook page then you should do so to ensure you don’t miss out on important future scaring updates.
Following the recap of events from 1975 through 1996, here’s a sampling of further major events during the second half of my lifetime. It’s weird how you sort of feel like things haven’t really changed, and then you look at what has happened and realize that computers and cell phones only showed up recently, while things that dominated everyday life for decades like Communism and Pan-American Airlines disappeared only a short time ago and now seem solely like subjects for the history books.
- April 13, 1997 – Tiger Woods wins his first major golf championship at the Masters, setting records for youngest winner (21), lowest score (-18), and largest margin of victory (12 strokes).
- May 11, 1997 – IBM’s Deep Blue computer beat chess grand master Gary Kasparov in a six game match, the first time that a computer defeated a chess world champion.
- July 9, 1997 – Eleven years after being ousted as CEO of Apple Computer and only months after his return to the company, Steve Jobs is named interim CEO. At that time Apple was losing money and had to negotiate a $150 million investment from Microsoft; in 2012 the company would report a yearly profit of $41.66 billion on $156.5 billion in sales and would have $121.25 billion in cash on hand.
- August 31, 1997 – Princess Diana dies after a high-speed car chase in Paris. Her funeral on September 6 was watched by over two billion people.
- September 4, 1998 – Google is founded in Palo Alto by two Stanford PhD candidates.
- November 25, 1998 – The first module of the International Space Station is launched into orbit from Russia. Humans take up permanent residence on November 2, 2000, meaning that for over thirteen years there has been a continuous human presence in space.
- December 31, 1999 – The US transfers control of the Panama Canal to Panama after 85 years of American operation.
- January 10, 2000 – America Online (AOL) announces an agreement to purchase Time Warner for $164 billion in what was, at that time, the largest-ever corporate merger. In 2002 the failing of AOL would result in a write-off of $99 billion, which was also a record for its time as the largest loss ever reported by a company.
- July 25, 2000 – The Concorde crashes after take-off in Paris, leading to the end of supersonic passenger transport in 2003.
- December 12, 2000 – Thirty-five days after the election, the Bush v Gore Supreme Court decision is announced, leading to George W. Bush being declared the winner of Florida by 537 votes (out of almost six million cast), and thus the next President of the United States.
- January 15, 2001 – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit, launches.
- September 11, 2001 – September 11 terrorist attacks.
- October 7, 2001 – The War in Afghanistan begins.
- October 23, 2001 – Apple introduces the iPod.
- January 1, 2002 – Euro notes and coins go into circulation in France, Spain, Germany, Italy, Portugal, Greece, Finland, Luxembourg, Belgium, Austria, Ireland and the Netherlands.
- February 1, 2003 – Space Shuttle Columbia and its seven member crew is lost during re-entry after sustaining damage to its protective tiles during launch. This accident would lead to the end of the shuttle program in 2011.
- March 19, 2003 – The Iraq War begins. US forces would seize Baghdad on April 9, but the war would continue until the last personnel left Iraq in December 2011.
- February 4, 2004 – Facebook launches with membership initially limited to students of Harvard College.
- June 21, 2004 – Spaceship One successfully completes the first privately funded human spaceflight.
- December 26, 2004 – A magnitude 9.3 earthquake in the Indian Ocean spawns a massive tsunami that impacts countries around the world and kills over 180,000 people.
- April 2, 2005 – Pope John Paul II dies. He is succeeded seventeen days later by Pope Benedict XVI.
- August 29, 2005 – Hurricane Katrina makes landfall along the Gulf Coast, killing at least 1,833 people and doing $81 billion in damage.
- January 9, 2007 – Apple introduces the iPhone; it goes on sale June 29, 2007.
- September 15, 2008 – Lehman Brothers files for bankruptcy, a major catalyst of the Great Recession.
- September 28, 2008 – The SpaceX Falcon 1 rocket reaches orbit, becoming the first privately developed space launch vehicle to do so.
- January 20, 2009 – Barack Obama is sworn in as the 44th president of the United States.
- February 17, 2009 – President Obama signs a $787 billion stimulus package into law as an effort to address the Great Recession.
- June 25, 2009 – Michael Jackson dies just before his 51st birthday, and just prior to a scheduled fifty show tour at London’s O2 Arena.
- January 27, 2010 – Apple announces the iPad.
- March 23, 2010 – President Obama signs the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) into law.
- April 20, 2010 – The Deepwater Horizon oil platform explodes in the Gulf of Mexico, leading to an estimated 4.9 million barrels of oil being released (compared with between 260,000 and 750,000 barrels released during the Exxon Valdez spill) over a period of 87 days.
- January 14, 2011 – After twenty-three years in power the President of Tunisia flees the country following protests. Before the end of the Arab Spring the longtime rulers of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen would all be forced from office.
- March 11, 2011 – A magnitude 9.0 earthquake strikes Japan (the fifth strongest in recorded history) and causes a tsunami that decimates the coast and cripples the Fukushima nuclear reactor.
- July 21, 2011 – Shuttle Atlantis lands following the completion of its mission to the International Space Station, marking the end of the shuttle program after 135 flights.
- March 13, 2013 – Following the resignation of Pope Benedict, Cardinal Bergoglio of Argentina is elected as the 266th pope, becoming the first pope from the Americas.
I wrote about rat eradication efforts on South Georgia Island back in March. While it is too soon to know for sure what the result of that effort will be (note: things look really good so far), an older effort is worth examining.
Rat Island, a ten square mile island in the Aleutian Islands, has had to be renamed.
Rats arrived on the island during a shipwreck in 1780, and since that time they have wiped out nearly all of the native bird life. In 2008 efforts were made to remove rats from the island, and today a once silent island is described as “…hardly recognizable among the cacophony of birds calling everywhere; it’s alive with bird fledglings – teals, eiders, wrens, sparrows, eagles, peregrine falcons, gulls, sandpipers.“
As of today there have been over 1100 successful removals of invasive species from islands, including 500 rat removals, worldwide. I’ve seen firsthand how removal of invasive species impacts the native plants and animals in the Galapagos and on the Channel Islands, and hopefully some day I’ll get to see the results on South Georgia.
We live in a world where news about nature always seems to be negative, but there is reason for optimism. Invasive species removal continues on other islands, governments are beginning to look to things like dune, wetland, and floodplain restoration as a cost-effective way to combat flooding, obsolete dams are being torn down to increase fish stocks, and numerous other positive developments are going on around the world. Not all of the news is good, but there is definitely reason to think that the outlook for our future isn’t as bleak as the news might lead us to believe.
The world has changed a lot since I was born – in November 1975 no American craft had visited Mars, Mount St Helens was still intact, communism was very much a thing, no one knew what it meant to “use the Force”, and Michael Jordan was a twelve year old. While reading through Wikipedia’s yearly summaries of important events the following stood out – part two will follow at some point when there is time to review the next eighteen years.
- November 10, 1975 – The Edmund Fitzgerald sinks on Lake Superior.
- July 20, 1976 – Viking 1 becomes the first American craft to land on Mars.
- May 25, 1977 – Star Wars opens in theaters.
- August 16, 1977 – Elvis Presley dies.
- September 7, 1979 – ESPN is launched.
- November 4, 1979 – The Iran hostage crisis begins.
- May 18, 1980 – Mount St. Helens erupts.
- April 12, 1981 – The first shuttle, Space Shuttle Columbia launches on its first orbital flight.
- November 18, 1981 – IBM introduces the PC computer.
- October 1, 1982 – Epcot Center opens in Orlando.
- November 30, 1982 – Michael Jackson’s Thriller album is released.
- January 3, 1983 – Kīlauea volcano begins erupting in Hawaii; the eruption continues today.
- October 26, 1984 – Michael Jordan plays his first NBA regular season game, scoring 16 points against Washington.
- March 1, 1985 – Mikhail Gorbachev becomes Secretary General of the Soviet Communist Party.
- May 16, 1985 – The ozone hole is discovered by British scientists in Antarctica.
- November 18, 1985 – Calvin and Hobbes debuts in 35 newspapers.
- March 14, 1986 – Microsoft holds its initial public offering. By July 2010 the stock had risen to 288 times its IPO price.
- April 26, 1986 – The Chernoybl nuclear reactor explodes, resulting in the worst nuclear power plant disaster of the twentieth century.
- November 22, 1986 – Mike Tyson beats Trevor Berbick to become heavyweight champion.
- March 24, 1989 – The Exxon Valdez runs aground in Alaska’s Prince William Sound, spilling 240,000 barrels of oil.
- June 4, 1989 – The Tiananmen Square square protests end with thousands of casualties as the Chinese military clears the square after six weeks of occupation by students.
- November 9, 1989 – Fall of the Berlin Wall.
- April 24, 1990 – The Hubble Space Telescope is launched aboard Space Shuttle Discovery. Shortly after launch the telescope’s mirror is determined to be flawed, and it will not be fixed until a servicing mission in 1993.
- November 13, 1990 – The first known web page is written.
- January 16, 1991 – Operation Desert Storm begins with air strikes and eventually involves over 500,000 US troops.
- December 4, 1991 – Pan American World Airways ceases operations after 64 years.
- December 26, 1991 – The Soviet Union is formally dissolved by the Supreme Soviet.
- May 22, 1992 – Johnny Carson’s final appearance as host of the Tonight Show.
- October 31, 1992 – Pope John Paul II issues an apology, and lifts the edict of the Inquisition against Galileo Galilei.
- June 12, 1994 – Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Lyle Goldman are murdered outside the Simpson home in Los Angeles, California.
- March 1, 1995 – Yahoo is founded.
- September 4, 1995 – eBay is founded.
- December 31, 1995 – The final Calvin and Hobbes comic strip is published.
Less than two miles from the house is a shockingly good place for wildlife – birds, sea lions, dolphins, and random crawly things like crabs. These photos were all taken in past two months within walking distance of where I get to live.
Last day of the trip, and the best one by far. I woke up at 5:30 and went out to take another look at the squid and take in the stars, although unfortunately the latter were hidden by clouds. At around six we began a really pretty navigation around the east end of the island before embarking on my favorite hike thus far. With no wind (a first on this trip) and blue skies we set off along the sea cliffs near Scorpion Anchorage with an army of ravens making all manner of weird sounds to send us on our way. The views were spectacular, a peregrine falcon made a brief appearance, and we also saw our first island fox. The destination – the confusingly named Potato Harbor – was home to sheer sea cliffs of many colors and the sounds of sea lions echoing from below.
The return trip was via a slightly different route with the destination being what we had been advised was the best place in the entire island chain for seeing foxes – the campground. And sure enough, we arrived to find a fox sniffing around campsites. These foxes nearly went extinct within the last couple of decades, but heroic efforts led to one of the fastest recoveries in the history of the endangered species act. I followed one mangled old fellow around the campground for about an hour apparently without him caring at all – twice he wandered to within 10-20 feet of me.
The last activity of the trip was a snorkel in the kelp forest next to the pier, and in addition to a ton of decent-sized (1-2 foot) fish I saw three rays. The second ray swam right next to Audrey without her seeing it, prompting the girl to display her sad face. Luckily, a short time later a MASSIVE (3-4 foot) stingray swam by, and I made enough noise to get the girl’s attention. The stingray settled on the bottom, showing off for us for a bit before moving on.
The navigation back through the Santa Barbara Channel started out a bit rough but calmed noticeably, and I don’t think anyone refunded their lunch. As a last farewell the ocean sent us school after school of dolphin – for a good 15-20 minutes they were following along and playing in the bow wave, an experience that feels very akin to sharing pure joy with another animal as they leap and twirl.
We should be home later this evening, and while no further adventures are planned I’ve got three more days off to recover from these two excellent vacations.
I slept ten hours last night but still woke up in time for sunrise. This may be an unprecedented sleep event.
This morning’s activity was a hike through a canyon on Santa Rosa island, aka the windiest island in the world (at least it seemed that way). Unlike yesterday we weren’t required to stay with the guide, so Audrey and I got to roam about on our own. The trail led along the beach, up through a canyon, and then over a ridgeline with incredible views and wind that was strong enough to nearly knock us down. It ended at a campground where they’ve had to build permanent windbreaks to prevent tents from blowing away.
Whether because of the wind, the sun, or something else I finished the trail feeling less than one hundred percent, so after the night of much sleeping I returned to the boat and took a two hour nap. The afternoon’s activity was snorkelling in the kelp with garibaldi and myriad other fish. Having only swum with tropical fish before I had no idea what I was seeing while swimming in the cold kelp forest, but nevertheless enjoyed it greatly. Back on the boat we watched the birds and a group of about one hundred sea lions chasing something that was probably delicious a few hundred feet from where we were anchored. The day’s final event began after the captain set up a floodlight on the side of the boat and thousands of small squid came up from the depths to check us out.
The Channel Islands are an interesting place – the land is pretty bleak, but the ocean is full of life and amazing to explore. Tomorrow we’ll do some hiking and hopefully get another chance for snorkelling before braving the choppy ride back to Santa Barbara.
When Audrey signed us up for this trip to the Channel Islands we had very few details about what to expect, although knowing we would have three days on a boat in the islands was a strong enough selling point to get us to send in our deposits. We were guessing that the trip would be fairly free-form, and that the trip participants might skew older and female, and so far both of those predictions appear to be true. Luckily, while some fears have materialized – nametags were distributed on the first night – as yet we haven’t had to sit in a circle and say our name, home town, and one thing we’re most excited about for the trip, and my current sense of things is that getting to live on a boat and visit the islands for several days will more than outweigh any disadvantages of group travel.
After getting on the boat last night and almost immediately heading to bed, today’s activities started early, with many passengers waking up a couple of hours after departure when the seas got rough at around 5:30. For the next two hours a parade of people visited the side of the ship, including the boat’s two cooks, although Audrey managed to keep things down while I suffered no ill effects and ate a hearty breakfast whilst surrounded by bodily fluids and carnage. Our first stop was the very remote and seldom-visited San Miguel Island, home to 30,000 pinnipeds, although unfortunately they mostly stick to the extreme northwest tip of the island and thus can only be accessed via a sixteen mile round-trip hike. Our visit consisted of a five mile hike to the top of the island, featuring various birds, petrified tree stumps, and steady wind and fog. On the rare clear days I suspect the views would be incredible, but even with the rough weather this was still an enjoyable hike.
Once back on the boat fresh brownies awaited as we motored off to spend the evening anchored in a calm harbor at Santa Rosa island.
I always consider it a sign of a good vacation when you return home completely exhausted, and by that measure this trip has been an excellent one. We’ve got a one day intermission before we head off on phase two, and both Audrey and I will sleep well. There should also be some time to review photos and post these journal entries, although time and internet access will be limited on the next adventure so entries may again get posted a few days after they are written.
For our last day I dragged Audrey out of our fancy room at 6AM and off to Moose Wilson Road in Grand Teton National Park, which numerous people had said was an amazing spot for bears and moose. Unfortunately only one bull moose made a fleeting appearance today, but it was still a pretty drive in the clearing fog, and we emerged at the base of the Tetons with some dramatic views of the mountains.
After a morning of photography we checked out of our fancy hotel and headed over to the ridiculously fancy Amangani Resort – I’m not quite ready to shell out four figures per night for a hotel room, so we settled for having lunch while enjoying their views and decor. After a week of animal watching it felt slightly wrong to eat them, but Audrey nevertheless had a bison short rib sandwich while I went for the lamb, bison and elk sliders – there were slight pangs of guilt, but the food was still pretty damn delicious.
After another animal-free journey up Moose Wilson Road we went for a short walk at Jenny Lake, then hopped on the plane for the flight home. I’m ready for a shower and a shave, and should have just enough time to get myself looking respectable again before we drive up the coast to catch our boat tomorrow night.