Sunday, August 25, 2013

Crab Cove

A Day in the Park

August 24, 2013

I wouldn't normally post a blog about a trip across the island.  I mean, it's not the grandest of adventures, after all.  I had a pretty good day with the camera and the local inhabitants, though, so a post seemed in order.

Gull & Double-crested Cormorants -- Crab Cove, Alameda, CA
Crab Cove faces the San Francisco Bay.  Candlestick Park is easily seen across the water.  Crown Beach runs down this side of the island, with Crab Cove set at its Northwest end.  It's not much of a beach.  It'll get crowded during the summer and there always seem to be a lot of kite surfers around, but it's on the bay so there's no actual surf.  It seems weird to me that people flock to a beach without crashing waves.
Least Tern -- Crab Cove, Alameda, CA
Yoshika's dog rescue organization was hosting a fund raising picnic.  A lot of people showed up, which was nice.  I'm not too comfortable in large social gatherings, though, so I spent most of the afternoon driving around picking up missing supplies and walking around the park looking for things to photograph.  I got some pretty good pictures of birds in flight.  Good for me and my cheap camera, anyway.
California Ground Squirrels -- Crab Cove, Alameda, CA
Most of the animals aren't skittish.  I guess they wouldn't be here if people bothered them much.  I got a good look at the ground squirrels that live in the rocks that bound the beach.  Pongo loves chasing the squirrels back into their dens when we go for walks out here.  Charlie tends to be more interested in smelling the grass.  Some of the other boxers were really into that at the picnic as well.  Boxers are weird dogs.
Domestic Mallard Duck -- Crab Cove, Alameda, CA
Yoshika has been telling me I need to get a better camera.  There are times when I look at pictures online and wonder if I couldn't do better with something a little nicer than my point and shoot.  Then again, it's got a 35x zoom on it and seems to do pretty well, aside from being a bit slow.  I don't know if I want to get into chasing the perfect gear set up.  We'll see, I may upgrade in a year or two.
Snowy Egret -- Crab Cove, Alameda, CA

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Point Lobos State Nature Reserve

August 18, 2013


  • The National -- Trouble Will Find Me
  • Ryan Adams & the Cardinals -- Easy Tiger
When my parents came down for a weekend in March, I took them to my two favorite weekend adventure spots.  On Sunday we went to Yosemite Valley.  They had never been there before.  On Saturday we went to Point Lobos.  They'd never been there before, either.  I'd put these two small plots of land up against any as the finest examples of natural beauty this country has to offer.  For me, these are two spots that guarantee to restore a peacefulness to my soul.
Whaler's Cove, Point Lobos State Nature Reserve, CA
I hadn't been back to Point Lobos since taking my parents there in March.  I got a bit of a late start and didn't actually get to the reserve until 4:30.  I had been planning on hiking the entire loop around the reserve, but there was no way that was going to happen given my late arrival, so I just did what I normally do and drove to a few spots and walked around a bit at each spot.
Whaler's Cove, Point Lobos State Nature Reserve, CA
There was a huge fog bank rolling in on Sunday.  If you've never seen one, these things can be dramatic from outside the bank.  A huge wall of fog will come in from the ocean.  It might be a hundred feet high and will span the entire horizon looking out the the ocean as far as you can see to the North and to the South.  It's an amazing sight from outside.  Once the fog overtakes you, though, well, it's just fog. 
Coal Chute Cove, Point Lobos State Nature Reserve, CA
I started out at Whaler's Cove.  I've never actually walked around the cove.  It's a shorter walk than it appears to be from the parking lot.  Well worth it, too.  From the parking lot, the first thing encountered is the Whaler's Cove Museum.  There are  a bunch of whale bones outside the museum that I'd never noticed before.  That's what I get for just driving by, I guess.  I saw a number of seals as well as a great blue heron eating fish from a log floating in the cove.
Harbor Seal -- Moss Cove, Point Lobos State Nature Reserve, CA
Moss Cove and Coal Chute Cove are located to the East of Whaler's Cove, which is where the trail around Whaler's Cove leads.  It's easy to get right down to the water in either of those smaller inlets.  I didn't bother.  There were a couple of families with kids I kind of wanted to avoid.  I know, I know, I'm a crotchety old man.  So be it.
Weston Beach, Point Lobos State Nature Reserve, CA
After walking back to my car, I drove out to Weston Beach.  Sometimes that can be a good spot to see sea otters.  There weren't any inside the little cove there, though.  I saw one just outside the inlet.  It was the only otter I saw all day.  I drove to the Southern tip of the reserve after that to the aptly named Bird Island.
Bird Island, Point Lobos State Nature Reserve, CA
Cormorants.  Gulls.  Pelicans.  Herons.  You name it, it's probably out there if it's a bird that likes being around water.  Cormorants seem to rule the island, though.  I'm sure they numbered in the thousands out there on Sunday.  I overstayed my welcome.  Walking back to my car, a ranger met me and told me I was the last person in the park.  They close the place at 7:30.  Oops.  He was really nice, though.  He wasn't mean or anything, said he enjoyed the short walk out to find me.  We had a nice conversation on the way back.  I think park rangers probably have the best jobs in the world.  They all seem so nice.  I haven't met a cranky one yet.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Pinnacles National Park

Pongo Returns to Pinnacles
August 10, 2013


  • The Magnetic Fields -- 69 Love Songs
Pongo has been wound up the last couple of days.  He's a high strung dog by nature, but he's been especially tight for some reason.  He was in need of an adventure and I hadn't had time to plan something different, so I took him down to Pinnacles again.  He does seem to love that place.
Black-tailed Deer -- Pinnacles National Park, CA
The campground was crowded.  I guess I've never been there before at this time of year.  We're not talking Yellowstone or Yosemite crowds, mind you, but I didn't see too many empty camp sites on our stroll. One or two, perhaps.  Just a couple of months ago we made the same pass through the camground and most spots were empty.

Turkey Vulture -- Pinnacles National Park, CA
I was reminded of what camping was like when I was a kid.  We often went to places around Oregon.  We'd often take our bikes.  For some reason, there's something cool about riding a bike around a campground.  There were a number of little kids doing just that at Pinnacles.  The swimming pool was packed there, too.  It was a beautiful day, hot but not overbearingly so, just about perfect for a swim day.  The one thing Pinnacles is lacking is a large natural body of water.
Turkey Vultures -- Pinnacles National Park, CA
I don't know what it is about this place that attracts all the vultures.  They're common sights just about everywhere in California, but Pinnacles seems to draw more than its fair share of the carreon.  They're not the most graceful things.  They soar on broad wings, but they wobble as they fly.  I saw a golden eagle a couple of weeks ago, and they're similar in size and color to vultures.  I knew almost immediately I wasn't looking at a vulture, though, 'cause eagles don't wobble.  The eagle was fast, too.  He seemed to have a destination in mind.  Vultures never seem to have somewhere they need to be.  Even when they're circling, more often than not they don't seem to be all that interested in landing.  Malingerers and malcontents.
Black-tailed Deer -- Pinnacles National Park, CA
As usual, we saw a lot of deer and other little critters.  Pongo spent a lot of his energy searching through the bushes along the sides of the roads for little beasts.  Last time we were in the campground it seemed like every bush he poked his nose into had a couple of brush rabbits or squirrels underneath.  Not so today.  The crowd has driven them into deeper hiding, I guess.  Pongo found a few things scare out of the shrubbery, but he had to work a lot harder at it this time.  Outside of the campground, though, there was a lot of activity.
California Quail -- Pinnacles National Park, CA

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Year in Review, Part 3

Death Valley
April 7-10, 2013

I spent three nights in Death Valley in April.  I went alone and camped in my car.  It was an amazing experience.
Mosaic Canyon, Death Valley National Park, CA
I stayed in Panamint Springs.  It rained a bit while I was there.  The wind never stopped blowing, often gusting at 60+ mph.  Wind howls even when it's got nothing to blow through, guaranteeing that the desert was never quiet while I was there.

The mountains and hills look like they were painted.  I never expected to see so many different colors on what are essentially mounds of barren rock.  I also didn't expect to see as much wildlife as I did.  I saw all sorts of birds (including waterfowl), a number of lizards and even got up close to a coyote.  Well, she got close to me.
Artists' Loop, Death Valley National Park, CA
I ended the trip to Death Valley by driving up 395 to Lake Tahoe then crossing the Sierras on 50.  What an amazing drive.  The Sierra Mountains were on the left for the entire drive up 395.  Imagine, for 200+ miles driving at the foot of a 10,000 to 15,000 foot granite wall with no visible breaks or passes through.  I cannot imagine how disheartening that must have been to early settlers.  Then again, the Eastern side of the Sierras didn't seem like a bad place to settle down.
Mono Lake, CA

Redwood National Park and the Oregon Coast
November 19 & 20, 2012

Avenue of the Giants, CA
Roosevelt Elk, Redwood National Park, CA
I drove up Highway 101 and the Oregon coast on my way up for Thanksgiving last year.  That's always a nice way to get there, but it was particularly interesting on that drive because it came in the middle of a big storm.  The Oregon Coast is at its best in bad weather.  I stayed in Crescent City overnight.  It was one of the windiest nights I've ever experienced.  I heard from the locals that a truck was blown onto its side while crossing a bridge.  It's funny because my car is shaped like a toaster and I'd expect it to handle side winds poorly, but it actually does quite well.
Pistol River State Park, OR

Point Reyes National Seashore
September 23, 2012 & May 19, 2013

Columbian Black-tailed Deer, Point Reyes National Seashore, CA
The California coastline is an exceptional place to see wildlife, with Point Reyes being one of the premier sites.  Sea lions, black-tailed deer, red-tailed hawks, turkey vultures, elephant seals and various other birds and small mammals can be seen in abundance at Point Reyes.  Taking the four and a half mile hike to the tip of Tomales Point will take one through the Tule Elk Preserve, where dozens of elk will likely be seen.  These elk are accustomed to the presence of people, which allows for some fine photo ops.
Tule Elk Reserve, Point Reyes National Seashore, CA

Big Sur

Pfeiffer Beach, CA

Hearst Castle, San Simeon, CA
The Big Sur coasline is stunning.  It has a small mountain range that disappears directly into the ocean.  It was a waterfall in a protected cove that falls into the sea.  It has a beach with purple sand.  It has pelicans and sea otters and condors and giant coastal redwoods.  Driving Highway 1 in Big Sur doesn't require a destination, it is the destination.  I've been there a handful of times over the last year, and it never disappoints.

Just below Big Sur sits Hearst Castle.  Driving down the coast to take one of the guided tours of the old estate makes for a great day trip.

Big Sur, CA
Silver Falls State Park & Multnomah Falls
November 21 & 23, 2012

Silver Falls State Park, OR
Silver Creek Falls may not have waterfalls that are particularly tall, but they make up for it in drama.  The park has a nine mile hike called the Trail of Ten Falls, and I'll take this hike up against anything Yosemite has to offer when it comes to falling water.  These aren't waterfalls to just look at, they're waterfalls one can actually feel.  Parts of the trail lead behind a few of the bigger falls.  I remember hiking there once in winter with my friend and his dad.  We were in junior high, and ice covered the trail behind the falls.  That didn't stop us from covering that section, mind you, but one slip was all it would have taken to send any one of us down.  I was there in November after a huge storm and the water was running high.  It rained during most of the hike, leaving me with the park pretty much to myself.  What a great day that was.
Silver Falls State Park, OR
Multnomah Falls, OR
The day after Thanksgiving I went with Sam, my brother and his family up to Multnomah Falls on the Columbia Gorge.  Multnomah Falls is one of the prettier waterfalls I've seen.  It's about 600 feet tall, putting it on par with Bridalveil Fall in Yosemite in terms of height.  They're different in every other way, though.  Bridalveil is a jewel of the Yosemite Valley, one in a number of amazing sightes to be seen there.  Multnomah Falls stands on its own, a destination unto itself.  I'm not saying one is better than the other, mind you, I like 'em both, they're just different enough to make the comparison easy in my mind.
Silver Falls State Park, OR

Monday, August 5, 2013

San Luis National Wildlife Refuge

August 4, 2013

Tule Elk, San Luis National Wildlife Refuge, CA

  • Nirvana -- In Utero
  • Bruce Springsteen -- The Rising
  • The National -- Trouble Will Find Me
I've never spent a lot of time in the Central Valley.  It's someplace I drive through on my way to Tahoe or Yosemite or Oregon some other interesting destination.  When Sam was playing baseball we'd spend a night or two in places like Modesto or Woodland and thank our lucky stars we didn't have to spend all of our summer days in that insane summer heat.  I've been starting to look to the valley for potential adventures, though, and San Luis National Wildlife Refuge seemed like it would make for an interesting day trip.

The first thing the refuge has going for it is that I can bring Pongo.  Their website is contradictory, on one page saying dogs aren't allowed and on others saying dogs must be kept on a leash.  I decided to take a chance, and it looks like the latter is true.  I saw a couple of signs in the park that said dags must remain on a leash and nothing saying they weren't allowed.  Fine by me, I don't think either Pongo or I are ready for him to be off leash anywhere but at home or at a dog park.
Burrow Inspector Making His Rounds
The second thing the refuge has going for it is that it has tule elk.  If you're unfamiliar with tule elk, they look pretty much like roosevelt or rocky mountain elk except smaller.  A male roosevelt elk can top 1,200 pounds while a male tule elk will generally weigh closer to 600 pounds, although I've read some bulls have topped 900 pounds on Grizzly Island which might indicate that their smaller size is due in part to nutrition.  At the turn of the nineteenth century it's estimated that there were about half a  million tule elk in California, which is the only place in the world where they are found.  In 1874 they were thought to be extinct, having been decimated by gold rush settlers, when a single pair of elk was discovered and protected by a rancher.  From that pair the current population has grown to about 2,500 head which are scattered across a number of different reserves in California.  That's a far cry from 500,000, mind you, but also a hell of a lot better than being extinct.
Tule Elk, San Luis National Wildlife Refuge, CA
San Luis isn't the best place to see tule elk.  They're in a large fenced off enclosure.  There's a dirt road that goes around the enclosure, and I imagine you're just about guaranteed to see some elk on that drive.  You won't necessarily be able to get very close, though.  If you're up for a hike, Point Reyes has an elk reserve with a four and a half mile hiking trail through the middle of the reserve.  There are no fences between you and the elk there.  I don't want to knock San Luis, though.  I had a great time there and was able to bring Pongo along, which I couldn't have done at Point Reyes.  I think for families with small kids or for people that have a hard time walking (which can be said of me at times), San Luis would still be a great place to experience tule elk in their natural habitat.  It sure as hell beats going to the zoo.
Tule Elk, San Luis National Wildlife Refuge, CA
Won't you be my neighbor?
Pongo didn't seem to give a hoot about the elk.  I don't think he could see them given the height of the grass.  His ears would perk up whenever we'd hear one bugle, though.  Pongo was much more interested in the smaller, cuter animals we saw on the side of the road.  The rabbits and squirrels weren't nearly as interested in meeting him as he was in meeting them.  Strange.

San Luis National Wildlife Refuge, CA
The third thing San Luis National Wildlife Refuge has going for it is migratory birds.  A million birds stop here as they travel North for the summer and South for the winter, with large numbers of waterfowl making this their cold-weather home.  There are plenty of birds here in August, but Pongo and I will definitely be back in January for the big show.