Posted from Culver City, California at 9:46 pm, Friday, December 30th, 2016
The 2016 Man Trip finished up yesterday with a morning visit to the Carrizo Plain National Monument, a virtually unknown national monument west of Bakersfield. The park is home to Soda Lake, which is supposedly an internationally-known area for birds, but the last time I visited it was completely dry. This time I left Bakersfield and spent an hour and a half meandering through the hills, oil fields and solar farms of Kern County before arriving at Soda Lake, which despite several recent storms was still bone dry; I think I heard the universe laughing at me.
Despite the dry lake it was still nice to be reminded how nice silence is – the modern world is constantly filled with the sound of cars or appliances or planes, but you don’t realize it until you’re in a place that is just completely still, and I sat at the end of a boardwalk for about an hour just enjoying the peace. Afterwards I wandered a bit more before pointing the car towards home, where I’ll hopefully get some rest and recharge before starting off the 2017 work year.
Posted from Bakersfield, California at 8:39 pm, Wednesday, December 28th, 2016
I’m pretty sure that the entire San Joaquin Valley reeks of cow manure. Someone really needs to look into it, because it can’t be benefiting tourism to have things smelling poopy.
Woke up at 5:30 this morning, an hour before my alarm, since the universe likes it when you see the sun come up. Merced National Wildlife Refuge was the sunrise destination, and Kern National Wildlife Refuge was the sunset destination, and both were chock full of birds and people shooting at birds (duck stamps help pay for wildlife refuges). Wedged in between those two visits was a giant biscuit at the Black Bear Diner, because it wouldn’t be a man trip without a manly breakfast.
I zoomed in on the full resolution image, and so far as I can tell not a single one of these snow geese is bumping into his neighbor. Taken in Merced NWR.
Posted from Merced, California at 8:47 pm, Tuesday, December 27th, 2016
Like most years, I started this year’s post-Christmas man trip with no real destination in mind. Since we don’t get much time together anymore it seemed like a good idea to spend the start of the trip with my brother, and on the way to his place I stopped to see the birds at the Cosumnes River Preserve. Upon arriving I discovered that all of my camera batteries were dead; the cranes flying low overhead had a mocking tone to their calls.
This morning after departing Sacramento I pointed the car towards the mountains and did some exploring in Gold County, one of the only parts of California I haven’t really wandered around in. The route began with a visit to Placerville, which is home to the oldest continually-operated hardware store west of the Mississippi; it’s actually cooler than it sounds, and I spent a while admiring the old-timey bins and beams and such. From there I meandered down to Murphys, taking in the rolling hills and small town scenery along the way. After a lunch in the historic Murphys Hotel I almost booked a room so I could spend a night in a building built in the 1850s, but instead decided to get a nature fix and headed up to Big Trees State Park to see sequoias in the snow, since snow obviously makes giant trees even better. While continuing along Highway 49 I passed a bizarre group of buildings, and sensing that the universe wanted me to stop I spent a short time exploring Columbia State Historic Park, which has a super-weird Williamsburg-wannabe-in-the-middle-of-nowhere vibe. I left the place almost as confused about it as when I arrived, but later learned that the state bought the town in the 1940s and now runs it as a living museum. From there it was on to Merced, where I’ll be making the seemingly annual pilgrimage to see the birds at the Merced National Wildlife Refuge tomorrow morning at sunrise.
Posted from Shasta National Forest, California at 8:17 pm, Sunday, May 10th, 2015
Lava Beds National Monument is a pretty cool spot. By 1PM I’d explored five of the park’s caves, all of them very different. Golden Dome Cave had me on my belly at one point pushing between rocks, Sentinel Cave was an easy 1000 meter underground stroll, Skull Cave was a short yet ENORMOUS cavern, with a lava tube passage large enough to fit an airplane. Valentine Cave and Sunshine Cave offered a bit of everything, with some scrambling and some easy bits. I lucked out and had every cave almost completely to myself – being in absolute darkness with only the sounds of dripping water is a stupendous environment for sitting and thinking.
Following the below-ground explorations I did a bit of above-ground exploration, then returned to the Tule Lake Wildlife Refuge before moving on. Now I’m parked in the forest under Mount Shasta as thunderstorms intermittently pass by. So far this has been a much-needed break from life in the city.
Sunshine Cave in Lava Beds National Monument.
Western Grebe in Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge.
Posted from Lava Beds National Monument, California at 8:59 pm, Saturday, May 9th, 2015
I only saw one other car this morning as I was roaming around the antelope refuge, and that sort of set the tone for the day – for the most part, today was a day of little-used roads, the sort where if you see another vehicle then the drivers wave at one another. After roaming the dusty dirt roads of the antelope refuge I headed back towards California via some apparently little-used state roads. Once back in the state where pumping your own gas is legal I headed towards Goose Lake, which is a spot on the map that has always intrigued me. It’s as big as Tahoe on the map, but you never hear about it. And when I arrived, I found out why – it’s not there; a dry lakebed and plumes of dust filled the spot where a ginormous lake was supposed to be. A missing lake seems like reason #5,346 why the world needs to figure out the whole fresh water supply thing.
After the non-lake I made a brief trip through the Modoc National Wildlife Refuge, then it was on to the surprisingly awesome Lava Beds National Monument, and the neighboring Tule Lake Wildlife Refuge. I won’t do a species list since that would be boring, but the summary report is that the snake I saw today most likely was of the poisonous variety, and apparently California is home to pheasants, something I never realized despite living here for 17 years. The other attraction of this park is that it is lousy with caves, and with one half-mile long lava tube explored today, the plan for tomorrow is to see what some of the others are like.
Also, since it’s a neat thing, as I started writing this entry I could see the silhouettes of two deer next to my car, licking ash from the campground firepit; sharing a campsite with deer is not an experience I tend to have while working.
From the same people who brought you the ever-so-creatively-named “red-winged blackbird”, this is the “yellow-headed blackbird”.
Posted from Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge, Oregon at 7:52 pm, Friday, May 8th, 2015
I’ve got a couple of weeks between projects, so I put the Subaru in drive mode and went up to San Francisco to take the folks out for a nice meal, visit with Audrey, and then I took off with no particular destination in mind.
Day one took me through Feather Canyon, which is the lowest elevation pass through the Sierras, and a place I’d never visited before. A bald eagle flew by to say hello, which was nice, and a deer burst out of the bushes next to the road and tapped my front bumper, which was less nice, although she bounced back up and ran into the woods so hopefully all was well. From there I passed through Lassen Volcanic National Park, although even in the midst of a drought almost everything but the main road was still closed by snow. On a less nature-y stop I went to Starbucks in the evening and was entertained by a stoner who kept standing up in his seat every few minutes to yell out “I feel His power, man! Glory to Him!” The night was spent sleeping soundly in the back of the Subaru in a national forest campground near Lake Shasta.
The behemoth volcano Mount Shasta towered 14,162 feet overhead the next morning, and an equally large biscuit greeted me at the original Black Bear Diner, which I stumbled on while meandering through the area. Post-breakfast I was in Oregon, a state known for its fear of allowing people without proper training to pump their own gasoline. I made it up to Oregon Caves National Monument, but decided against descending into a subterranean cavern for 90 minutes when a carload of six screaming kids pulled into the parking lot behind me, each of them making their best effort to ensure that I fully appreciated how peaceful it had been prior to their arrival. After a nice hike through the forest I took the next available tour, this one mercifully with just two very well-behaved kids on it, and spent the next hour-and-a-half scrambling around underground on the rocks. After another aboveground hike I was leaving the park when one of the park’s employees flagged me down, and I ended up giving a short ride to a girl who offered to let me know what plans the universe had for me according to her astrology book. I politely declined, dropped her off at the employee housing, and spent the night camped next to a stream down some random logging road.
Today I stopped in Klamath Falls where another bald eagle was hanging out, and then made my way east to the Hart Mountain National Antelope Refuge – I saw it on the map and figured anything in the middle of nowhere and full of antelope must be worth a visit. I did some hiking, hung out with deer, pronghorn, sandhill cranes, hawks, vultures, snakes, and myriad other critters, and now I’m parked for the evening in a quiet corner of the refuge with no one around and a herd of deer staring at me from a hundred yards away as I type, they munch, and the sun sets. It’s a far cry from sitting in my kitchen working in front of a computer, and a much-needed chance to make sure life is going the way it should be and figure out what course corrections that might be needed.
The logical voice in my brain said “I’m 99% sure that this is not a poisonous snake and I should move him off the road so that he doesn’t get hit”. Hopefully the snake eventually got out of the road on its own, ’cause that 1% worth of doubt won the argument.
Posted from Culver City, California at 1:03 pm, Tuesday, December 31st, 2013
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.
Western grebe in Marina del Rey. As I told Audrey, the bird’s red eye is really pretty and also a clear indication of demonic possession.
Posted from Ojai, California at 6:53 pm, Sunday, December 29th, 2013
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.
Sunset over the Santa Barbara Channel. Were I better with Photoshop and less conscientious about altering photos the towers on the mountain would not be in this photo any longer.
Posted from Carrizo Plain National Monument at 6:37 pm, Saturday, December 28th, 2013
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.
Posted from Paso Robles, California at 7:32 pm, Friday, December 27th, 2013
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.
Great blue heron at the Merced National Wildlife Refuge. He sat in the water thirty feet away so long as I stayed in my car, but the second the door opened he was gone.
Sandhill cranes at sunrise. The one on the left is bad at following.
Killdeer. After the heron experience I didn’t tempt fate by even thinking about exiting my vehicle.
Aaron had two bobcat sightings on Mt. Diablo recently, and since I didn’t want to be the only Holliday child not to see a bobcat in 2013 we did a couple of twilight hikes during the Bay Area visit. After some turkeys, bats and a few deer, the bobcat made an appearance on the trail ahead of us. You haven’t seen an annoyed cat until you interrupt a bobcat on his nightly rounds, but despite the attitude we were both pretty stoked at the find. The next night we took another hike in the same place, and while the bobcat stayed hidden the turkeys and bats were out again, and we also managed to spot a skunk and a tarantula. With Aaron having spotted the tarantula (two points) I negotiated for five points if I could get it to walk across my hand. The evening’s final score: Ryan 6, Aaron 3.
With a full weekend available for the drive home, the trip back to LA was via the scenic route. I’ve done a lot of road trips through the Sierras, but after scanning the map realized I’d never been through Sonora Pass and set off for the second-highest mountain pass in the Sierra Nevadas. It’s been far too long since this grown man slept in the back of a car, so after a late-afternoon bushwhack up a small peak the evening was spent sprawled out at high elevation in an automobile. The next morning the road led over the Sierras and to the ghost town of Bodie. During the gold rush days Bodie was a den of sin and hard-living, but today the sin has mostly gone elsewhere and the California park service maintains the town in a state of “arrested decay”. Another man might have walked through the deserted streets pretending to be a cowboy, but I’m 37 and clearly too mature for such shenanigans.
After leaving the ghosts the highway led to Mono Lake, and beyond that a pilgrimage was made to Galen Rowell’s Mountain Light photo gallery in Bishop; his photos are some of my favorites of all time. After that it was a straight shot south to LA, but Mother Nature intervened to make things interesting – a dust storm brought visibility down to almost nothing for a short time, and that was immediately followed by a lightning storm that struck a town next to the highway, setting something ablaze. Lightning has been rare during my time in California, so to not only see a huge storm but to also see it set a fire was pretty insane.
There are two weeks of vacation scheduled for September, so journal entries should be plentiful as Audrey and I head out on a couple of (brief) adventures, and provided UPS delivers on time they will be done with a new camera in hand.
I decided to do some hiking in the high mountains, and pulled off the road by a smallish granite dome. My trailblazing was less-than-impressive, and I emerged three hours later with cut feet, torn pants, and this photo.
The ghost town of Bodie. The park guide notes that “by 1879 Bodie boasted a population of about 10,000 and was second to none for wickedness, badmen, and ‘the worst climate out of doors’“.
The tufa towers of Mono Lake. These should be underwater, but diversions for the city of LA have dropped the level of Mono Lake by more than thirty feet.
Posted from Lancaster, California at 8:53 pm, Sunday, 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, Friday, 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, Thursday, 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, Monday, 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.