Monday, July 28, 2014

Pacific Coast Highway

San Francisco to Santa Cruz

July 27, 2014

Bay Bridge
It's been hot around here lately.  Saturday it got up into the high seventies.  I know.  I know.  That's not hot, right?  I don't know what to tell you.  July has felt like an incredibly hot month, but I just checked the high temperatures in Alameda.  Exactly one day was in the eighties and one day was 90 degrees, every other day was seventies, well except for those six days that topped out somewhere in the sixties (our normal days).  That's a heat wave for us, and funny thing is it actually feels like it.  We melt like popsicles when the temperatures get up into the high seventies.  I can't explain it.

Ocean Beach, San Francisco, CA
I decided to escape the 79 degree heat of Alameda by driving down the coast.  It worked like a charm.  I drove into San Francisco and as I crossed over the Bay Bridge I could see that at least part of the city was under fog.  Perfect.  I drove straight out Geary from downtown, and somewhere along the way I crossed the line from sunny to not-exactly-foggy-but-definitely-not-sunny.  I was giddy.  Bring on those high-sixties!

Ocean Beach, San Francisco, CA
I stopped to enjoy the cool summer air near the Cliff House.  The refurbished Golden Gate Park windmills make me smile every time I see them.  Ocean Beach is not the prettiest beach by any stretch of the imagination, but it's one of my favorite spots.

Ocean Beach, San Francisco, CA
I drove down the Great Highway to Highway One, continuing South while stopping at beaches here and there on the way.  The new tunnel through the Devil's Slide area was pretty sweet and certainly cut some time off the drive.

Bean Hollow State Beach, CA
Bean Hollow State Beach, CA
By the time I got to Santa Cruz I'd lost the fog.  It was sunny and warm, the perfect kind of weather for an afternoon on the Boardwalk.  I walked along the crowded beach, stuck my feet in the water for a while and had a corn dog.  Then I headed home.

Santa Cruz, CA
Santa Cruz, CA

Monday, July 21, 2014

Pinnacles National Park

Hot Dog!

July 20, 2014

I hadn't taken Pongo on a trip since going to the Grand Canyon for Memorial Day weekend.  He was due.  I decided to take him to one of his favorite places, the campground at Pinnacles National Park.

Acorn Woodpecker -- Pinnacles National Park, CA
I was wearing a sweater when we left Alameda.  The sun was hidden behind gray clouds.  When we got to Pinnacles, it was 99 degrees.  Very little was going on at the park.  It was just too damned hot.  The animals were all hunkered down except for a few birds scattered about.  The few campers that were there were at the pool.  We did our normal walk around the campground but there wasn't much to see and the heat was too much for Pongo, so we cut our visit short and headed home.

Yellow-billed Magpie -- Highway 25, San Benito County, CA
We saw a flock of yellow-billed magpies a few miles outside of the park.  I always like seeing these birds.  Not only are they colorful, they are also found only in California, and even within California their range is limited.

Highway 25, San Benito County, CA
Hot Dog
A thunder storm was rolling in during our walk around the campground.  By the time we stopped to take photos of the magpies the temperature had dropped at least twenty degrees and we were feeling drops of rain.  The storm didn't open up on us, which was a little disappointing because it's been a while since I've seen a good rain.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Yosemite National Park: Panorama Trail

Bring on the Night

July 12, 2014

Jim, Sam and I had an epic hike on the Panorama Trail in Yosemite yesterday.  An epic hike is not a good thing.  It is a hike in which one finds one has not properly prepared for but at some point there is no choice but to complete it.  An epic is not necessarily a disaster, either, but by definition it has all the makings of one.

Nevada and Vernal Falls, Yosemite National Park, CA
The Panorama Trail begins at Glacier Point and ends 2,800 feet below at Happy Isle.  It's a little over eight miles long, descending down the sides of Nevada and Vernal Falls below, both of which are clearly seen from Glacier Point and look too far away to actually believe they can be part of the day's hike when first seen.  There is also an 800 foot hill to ascent and descend between Illilouette Fall and Nevada Fall, making the total height ascended/descended 4,400 feet.  I have done a nine mile hike in just under five hours, so it seemed reasonable to assume we could finish this hike in five to six hours.  That hike was at sea level and only had a few hundred feet in elevation change, though, not over four thousand feet of change starting at over seven thousand feet.  Big difference, at least for me.

Half Dome and Nevada Fall, Yosemite National Park, CA
Everything took longer than expected on Saturday, including the bus ride from the valley floor to Glacier Point.  We were pretty sure the bus driver was drunk.  The driver made a lot of stops.  It was a tour bus, not a shuttle bus, it turned out.  That is the only bus option up to Glacier Point, though.  We saw a couple of coyote on the drive.

Half Dome, Yosemite National Park, CA
We embarked on our journey down at 3:30.  That would give us five hours of sunlight.  At worst, we figured we would have to do the last mile or so with headlamps under moonlight.  It was a full moon, a super moon in fact.  The sky was clear and the super moon shines 14% brighter than a normal full moon.  We weren't too concerned.

Half Dome, Nevada and Vernal Falls, Yosemite National Park, CA
The first stretch of the path goes two and a half miles down to Illilouette Fall.  That was the easiest part of the hike and it still took us almost two hours.  I say we, but Sam and Jim could have gotten down a lot faster on their own.  My joints just do not do well going downhill.  It was not a good sign in terms of finishing the hike in daylight.  Still, it was a beautiful stretch with amazing views of Half Dome and the surrounding area.

Illilouette Fall, Yosemite National Park, CA
The trail crosses Illilouette Creek above the waterfall.  Sam and I used the bridge, but Jim crossed over on the rocks.  Unlike Nevada and Vernal Falls, we only saw the top of Illilouette Fall from the top.  It is a beautiful creek up there.

Illilouette Creek, Yosemite National Park, CA
Illilouette Creek, Yosemite National Park, CA
After Illilouette Creek, we had to ascend and then descend 800 feet to the top of Nevada Fall.  That ascent really took it out of me.  By the time we reached Nevada Fall we were seeing the last rays of sunlight for the night.  We were way behind schedule and would have to do the rest of the hike in the dark.  What we didn't know was that there would be no easy going from here on out.

Yosemite National Park, CA
The descent down the side of Nevada Fall was steep.  There were not stairs so much as strategically placed rocks.  We never saw the bottom of Nevada Fall, it was too dark.  The stairs down the side of Vernal Falls were steep and uneven, often with no railing to hold on to.  Sam and I both struggled down the 600+ steep steps.  We made it, though.  About half way down the fall is a lookout point.  Vernal Fall is only 317 feet tall and the flow of the Merced was very low (there was no mist at all on the stairs), but glowing in the moonlight as it did that night it seemed like the most powerful and majestic waterfall that I had ever seen.  That moment made the trip for me, it is something I don't think I will ever forget.

Panorama Trail, Yosemite National Park, CA
We reached the car a little before one in the morning, and we still had the three and a half hour drive back to the Bay Area ahead of us.  I felt bad, Sam and Jim could have finished that hike a lot faster without me.  Then again, it felt like a real accomplishment for me.  I do not think I will ever want to make that hike again, but I also do not regret it.  It was one hell of an adventure.

Nevada Fall, Yosemite National Park, CA