Paddling Big Break

 

While tradition seems to support ringing in the new year with a celebration as the clock turns over on New Years eve, I prefer to wake up to the New Year well rested with an early start, a clear head, and an opportunity to get out doors.  So today we strapped our kayaks on top of our rig and headed east to one of our local regional parks, Big Break Regional Shoreline. Local is a relative term, since it’s a 50 mile drive, but having recently heard that this is a good spot for a flat-water paddle we decided to check it out. We had very calm weather with mild temperatures and no wind. Big Break is located in the delta region of the the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers, an area that is noted for rich farm land, with farming established at the time of the California Gold Rush. As time progressed, farmland that was originally above the level of the river has subsided and levees were built to protect the farms. In 1928 a big break occurred in the levee and the resulting flooded farmland is now a waterway with a variety of islands and wildlife. On today’s paddle we saw seals, otters,  egrets, herons, ducks and scoters. There were thousands of scoters scattered in a number of flocks and as they took to the air, flying in formation, they produced a sound like a loud wind, with thousands of wings flapping the water.

At one point in our paddle, I spotted a flock of ducks and I was curious to see how close I could get in my kayak. They seemed unperturbed as I approached, and I was paddling stealthily hoping not to upset them. As I drifted close I was surprised to discover that they were decoys. I had been sneaking up on some fake birds! A duck blind not far away should have been a clue.

We had hoped to land on one of the islands for lunch, but with the extreme high tide and the thick reeds we found that landing was not feasible, so we rafted up and ate on the water as we drifted lazily with the current.

If you plan on paddling here bring a dolly for your boat. The kayak launch is 1/4 miles from the parking area. We paddled a little over six miles over the course of the afternoon. You can view a track or our course here. You can view additional photos from our trip here.

 

 

 

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Holiday Road Trip: Last Leg

Our return trip from the Eastern Sierra took us South down the Owens Valley and then west over Walker Pass on Highway 178. We opted for this route rather than retrace the route we had taken earlier on our trip, coming over Echo Summit on Highway 50. At 5,246 feet, Walker Pass is lower than the northern passes and less likely to have snow, although for this trip snow was not an issue on either route. One of our favorite stops on this route is the Onyx Store, in the little town of Onyx. It was closed when we passed by, not surprising since it was Christmas day. Some years ago I set my panoramic camera up in the store and captured a panorama. A framed print was hanging in the store the last time I looked.

We were tempted to camp at the BLM campsite near the pass, which is in the Joshua Trees. Fascinating subjects for photography.  We pressed on though, hoping to find a spot at the Keyesville Special Recreation Management Area (SRMA). As we set up camp we were surprised to find some fall color remaining on the willow trees along the Kern River. From this point home in the San Francisco Bay area there is not much available for camping, at least not the kind of camping we like.  We found plenty of campsites available with a few campers scattered here and there. In the summertime this is a popular place for mountain bikers and off road recreational vehicles. Fortunately we had a quiet camp.

Walking around camp the next morning I found a reminder that it is good to be “Alive,” a stone somebody had painted and left in camp. I had to stop and smile. Not that I needed a reminder, being in the outdoors and admiring God’s creation is reminder enough.

 

 

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.

Christmas in the Alabama Hills

Christmas eve found us in the Eastern Sierra setting up camp in the Alabama Hills. There were four of us and two campers. Our son Aaron and his wife Serena joined us for the overnight camping trip, about 45 minutes south of their place in Big Pine. Part of our mission was to see if we could create a photo of our two campers worthy for Truck Camper Magazine’s calendar. It will remain to be seen if our photos make it into the calendar but we had fun scouting a location, setting up camp and creating photos. The location we picked had a view of the crest of the Sierra’s with the peak of Mount Whitney visible to the west and an outcropping of granite boulders to the east, hiding some of the other campers in the area.

The Alabama Hills is a recreation area managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Open to camping year round. Dog friendly and free of charge. There are no facilities though, so bring your own water.  Inclined to be hot in summer, we had mild winter temperatures, with the thermometer recording a low of 39 degrees overnight.

We’ve recently discovered Dutch Oven cooking and we put our oven to use cooking a savory Christmas eve dinner of chicken and rice. with chunks of chicken breast wrapped in thinly sliced ham and bacon. Breakfast was quiche with ham left over from an early Christmas dinner a couple of days earlier when our daughter and her husband rendezvoused with us on their way to Utah.

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.

 

Out the Gate with BASK

On Saturday, December 7, I joined fellow BASK (Bay Area Sea Kayakers) members for a paddle “Out the Gate,” meaning a paddle out from the relatively protected waters on San Francisco Bay , out under the Golden Gate Bridge onto the Pacific Ocean. Tides and currents under the Golden Gate Bridge can be a challenge, not to mention the wind. This is not a place for novice paddlers, but for those that have the skill and knowledge of the risks, it is an awesome adventure.

Our launch point was Horseshoe Bay on the Marin Headlands, and with 27 paddlers we were quiet a fleet. We formed small pods of two to three paddlers, using a buddy system, and those again formed into two larger groups; those that wanted to play in the rocks and waves; an activity referred to as rock gardening; and those that were more interested in paddling in the calmer waters away from the rocks. I chose the latter group, since I don’t think my wooden boat will fare well bashing into rocks.

We launched our kayaks at 9:45 am and paddled along Marin Headlands. There is plenty to see along the headlands; sheer cliffs come down to the water, and in some places it’s easy to paddle along the cliff watching for sea stars and birds.  There were also plenty of harbor seals and a few sea lions.

Paddling a little further out the gate, we began to feel the ocean swell. One moment I’ll be up in the air looking down at the waves crashing on the rocks, the next moment, in the trough of a wave looking up at the back of the wave that just passed.

We paddled about four miles out to Point Bonita. Our plan was to land on a beach for lunch, but it seems there was a fierce wind blowing offshore,  straight out the Golden Gate. We were faced with the challenge of paddling into a strong headwind. Rather than dally around we decided to head back to Kirby Cove, a relatively protected cove.

It was a bit of a slog back to Kirby Cove and we hugged the coast as much as possible to try to get some protection from the wind.  Once on the beach, we broke our our lunches, eventually climbing back into our boats to paddle back to our launch point. If the water in the photos looks calm, it’s  because when I’m paddling hard, I want to keep both hands on the paddle. Putting the paddle down long enough to take a photo could have dire consequences.

You can view a track log of our paddle here.