Arches of the Alabama Hills

Following up from my previous post, after our Christmas morning breakfast of quiche, we broke camp and went about to explore some of the arches in the Alabama Hills. The Alabama Hills are  a collection of rocks and hills at the foot of the Sierra Nevada Mountains just west of the town of Lone Pine just off of US Route 395. The rocks here have eroded in such a way as to form some fantastic shapes and arches which lend themselves to some amazing photo opportunities with the background of the Sierra. This was a popular spot for filming movies in the 1940s and 50s and there is a Museum of Western Film History located in Lone Pine.

Our explorations took us on a short dog-friendly hike that went past several arches including the Mobius Arch, perhaps the most notable arch. This is an ideal location for early morning photography, with the morning light catching the Sierra.  By afternoon when the sun crosses the crest of the Sierra the mountains are back lit making photography more of a challenge.  If you wish to visit the arches you can find an on-line map here.  There are apparently hundreds of arches scattered throughout the area, but a handful are easy to access. A Google search also found a guidebook to 72 of the arches. You can also view more of the photos I captured here.


Bishop Tableland Petroglyps

With family together in Big Pine for a few days we decided to take a hike yesterday, December 22 to explore some of the petroglyphs on the volcanic tablelands near Bishop, California. Much of the tablelands are managed by BLM and and this suited us as a dog-friendly hike since we had three dogs among the six of us. This area is sprinkled with petroglyphs. Some are readily accessible by car, others require some rock scrambling and local knowledge. We visited two sites. I hesitate to say much about the locations since some of these rock art features have been vandalized or ripped off in recent years. A sorry state on the lack of respect we seem to have for the environment, our cultural treasures and our public lands. There is little known about when these artworks were created.  If you wish to find information on the tablelands and the petroglyphs, please contact the Bishop Visitor’s Center.

Holiday Getaway


Wednesday, December 20, after working a long day and into the night to keep my clients happy, we pointed our rig to the mountains for a holiday getaway. Part of our plan was to see how our camper performed under winter conditions, camping in a Sno Park for the night. Our drive took us through Sacramento and up highway 50 heading towards Hope Valley, one of our favorite mountain destinations. For many years we’ve visited Sorensen’s Resort in Hope Valley just south of Lake Tahoe; a delightful place to stay any time of year. Along the way we stopped at the Silver Fork Store in Kyburz to buy a Sno Park Permit; a requirement for parking in a designated Sno Park. We bought an annual pass for $25, figuring we may be doing exploring other winter wonderlands this winter.  We had the camper up, snug inside just as it was getting dark and the temperature was starting to drop.  A dinner of hot soup and bread felt good and we turned on the propane heater, and pulled our our books to read. It was snowing lightly as we settled in but it cleared in the night. I got up at 4:30 for a quick rest stop and stepped out into a crystal clear night, with stars shining above and sparking off the snow. The thermometer was recording an outdoor temperature of 10 degrees F and inside the propane heater was keeping the cabin at 50 degrees or so, a temperature that we decided was a bit warm for our winter sleeping bags. In the morning we woke up to a sunny day. Popped the top down and headed for breakfast a Sorensen’s Resort, three miles down the road. After a hearty and delicious breakfast and fresh coffee, we continued our journey down the East Side towards Bishop.


Quick Trip to the Coast

Sunday, June 25th found us packing our camping gear for a quick trip to the Sonoma coast. One of our goals was to look for dog friendly beaches. We had reserved a campsite at Gualala Point Regional Park, a walk-in site, since that was what was available at the late date we decided to go camping; a lovely site on the river and quiet.  This park is managed by the Sonoma County Regional Parks. Unlike the state parks that are not open to dogs on trails, most of the Sonoma County Regional Parks are open to dogs on a leash. There is also beach access at a number of places along Sea Ranch. Our beach explorations took us through redwoods and along fern lined trails and out to the coast. A refreshing get-away for two humans and a dog.

Getting Lost in our Own Backyard

With family in town we decided to take the dogs for a walk in our local regional park, Tilden Park, heading to a familiar spot along Lake Anza. As many times as we’ve hiked locally, we found a trail today that we have never walked before.  Several of us tried to find a trail map on our iPhones. With little reception though, we didn’t have much luck with our digital trail finding. Not that we were at much risk of getting lost. Lake Anza is a small lake and it’s a short hike. Gorgeous day to be outdoors. Felt like we discovered a hidden jewel of a hike right in our own back yard.

Hiking The Wave

The idea of hiking to the Wave has captivated me for years. This is a rock formation on the Utah-Arizona border and photos of the formation are awe inspiring.  That said, the idea of making the hike has intimidated me. To begin with there is the heat and the risk of getting lost or perishing in the desert. Second is the difficulty in obtaining a permit. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issues permits for 30 people a day, and those permits are hard to obtain. And third is the location; the trail head is 800 miles from home.

This year we managed to make our way to Kanab, Utah, on a road trip to explore Southern Utah. We decided we’d take a chance on obtaining a permit to hike the Wave by taking part in the “walk-in-lottery.” We set up camp just out of town so that we could make the 8:30 AM lottery. There were over 100 people applying for permits so the chances of getting a spot were slim. I was dumbfounded though when they called number “29.” That was my number, and low and behold we were on to do the hike on the next day, May 5.

The next morning, we broke camp early and headed to the Kanab Creek Bakery for breakfast arriving at about 6:45 AM. Great food and good coffee and then we were on our way to the trail head. From Kanab, it’s still a bit of a drive. We were on the trail at 9:45. I had prepared ahead of time by downloading the hike to my iPhone navigation app, GaiaGPS, and I had a copy of detailed hiking instructions I had found on the Internet. The BLM folks caution against using GPS or other tail finding methods. They provide an excellent guide that consists of photographs with instructions. The photos feature landmarks and you simply have to look for the landmark in the photo and hike from landmark to landmark. The hike took us two hours to cover the three miles, on par with what the BLM suggests. We carried plenty of water for the two of us and our dog Carson. As it turned out there were several pools of water on the hike, and Carson took advantage of the water to drink and cool off.  I wouldn’t want to count on any water being available later in the season. We spent an hour at The Wave, taking photos and eating lunch in the shade of on of the canyon walls. The return hike took an additional two hours, with temperatures in the mid-eighties by mid-afternoon when we returned to the car.

The photos speak for themselves. I’ve posted additional photos in a separate gallery and you can view our actual track log here.

I can imagine the hike might be difficult if the weather had been any warmer, and I’m glad we had relatively mild weather. We saw many wildflowers on the hike, cactus, yucca, paintbrush and a number of others. The desert was in full bloom.

The Carrizo Plain

This year’s rain produced a spectacular display of wildflowers on the Carrizo Plain. Here’s a small sampling from the thousand-plus photos I captured on visit. You can see more photos here.

We spent three days on the Carrizo Plain arriving on Sunday afternoon April 9 and leaving the afternoon of April 11. There were two of us and our dog. Yes, the Carrizo is dog friendly. Our first order of business on arriving was to locate a camp site. With the all the press the wildflower bloom has received we were not surprised to find our preferred camp ground, Selby Camp, full. We did manage to squeeze in on the fringes, and the next morning, moved our camp to a regular site with a table, fire pit and awning when it became available. Selby Camp also has water. Monday we set out to explore Elkhorn Road and the wildflowers on the Temblor range, stopping at Wallace Creek to do a short hike to explore the San Andreas Fault. There are few places in the world where you can see the effects of a fault that are as dramatic as Wallace Creek. From there we drove south a few miles and found a spot we could hike up into the hills. The array of wildflowers is just astounding. On Tuesday we spent our time around Soda Lake.

The park is a bit off the beaten path. It’s situated at 2000 feet of elevation between the Caliente and Temblor Mountain ranges. From the west you can approach from Highway 101 or from the East from Interstate 5. There is not much in the valley in the way of services, so make sure you top off your gas tank before entering the valley, perhaps on Highway 101 or I5. It’s 50 miles from the park headquarters to the nearest gas station, and you can easily run up your mileage while exploring the park. It’s an expansive park. I carry food and water for my stay in the valley. There is water at the park visitor center and at Selby Camp, but in years past water hasn’t always been available. Besides Selby Camp there is another camp ground, KCL camp further south. There is also dispersed camping off the valley floor in areas that were previously disturbed. There is also a motel, the California Valley Motel on Soda Lake Rd North of the park.

While the Carrizo Plain is noted for spring wildflower displays, there are also other sites to visit when the wildflowers are not in bloom. There are several rock formations with displays of Indian petrographs (images painted on rock). Most of these rocks, including Painted Rock are off limits in the spring when birds are nesting. Pronghorn antelope, coyotes, and a number other birds and animals inhabit the plain also.

The Carrizo Plain has been called California’s Serengeti It’s a broad plain, most of which has not been disturbed by modern agriculture and irrigation. It represents what the Central Valley May have looked like before agriculture.

I made my first visit to the Carrizo Plain in 1988 when The Nature Conservancy hired me to photograph, what was then ranch land, and since then it’s become one of my favorite places to visit. Untrammeled, broad open spaces and remote.