Horseshoe Bend

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Five miles below Glen Canyon Dam the Colorado River makes a 270 degree turn resulting in a spectacular view. When we were planning our trip, this is one destination we put on our list of potential stops. Little did we know how many people we would find there at dusk. We made this visit on May 5, parking in the dirt parking lot and walking the .7 mile walk to the lookout point. If you have any fear of heights this will give you a good case of vertigo. It’s a straight drop 1000 feet to the water with no railing and just the jumble of sandstone rocks on the rim. Once I had my camera set up I was afraid to move. Not because of the height, but because with wall-to-wall people, if I had given up my spot there would be little chance of finding another location. Arrive early and stake your claim. This was as much a social experience as a photographic experience. While I waited for the sun to set I chatted with the folks on the rim, finding out about their trips, and attempting to give them advice when they figured I must know what I was doing. There was also a wedding going on, a couple of unruly dogs, and drones flying overhead, although the drones came down when an irate visitor started yelling at the drone pilots to warn them that they were flying illegally.

There are probably two options for the best lighting on this scene; late morning when the sun is high in the sky and shining down into the canyon, or dusk. At dusk you have the challenge of shooting into the sun with the canyon in shadow. To compensate I captured multiple exposures and blended them using a tool for high dynamic range photography (HDR). This is a good technique when a subject such as this displays an extreme range of light values from highlights (the sun) to the dark shadows of the canyon.

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.

Wind in the Rigging

Being a sea kayak, my boat doesn’t have much rigging, just a few deck lines. And today as we rounded Brooks Island a gust of wind hit, creating a howling sound as it raced over the deck. Earlier, at our appointed time of 10:30 the five of us were contemplating the weather. Small craft warnings (isn’t a kayak a small craft?), steady wind of 17 knots with gusts to 25. We decided we’d launch at Ferry Point and paddle along the Richmond waterfront, protected from the northwest wind. With the wind at our backs we paddled up the shipping channel, and across to Brooks Island where we followed the shore. We rounded brooks Island, and it became clear that we had two options, paddle back to the Richmond waterfront against a strong wind, or paddle along the south side of Brooks Island and the breakwater hoping to find a little protection from the wind. Paddling along Brooks Island was a chore, but not too intimidating. We eyed several beaches hoping for a place to stop for lunch, but Brooks Island being a nature reserve, is off limits to visitors, so we continued paddling. After rounding the jetty we headed for fellow kayaker’s house in Brickyard cove, having lunch on Gordon’s new deck, overlooking the yacht harbor.  As we were finishing lunch we noticed that one of our boats had taken off on adventure of it’s own, so we promptly jumped back in our boats, rounded up the rogue boat and paddled back to our launch point. Overall we paddled seven miles, starting out with a wind which eased up a bit as the day went on. More photos here and you can view a track of our paddle here.

Nature Remembers

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Desert Primrose (Camissonia brevipes), photographed in Death Valley, February 2016.
“Whether we and our politicians know it or not, Nature is party to all our deals and decisions, and she has more votes, a longer memory, and a sterner sense of justice than we do.” ― Wendell Berry

Plan B: Heart’s Desire Beach

With clear skies, calm wind and a mid-day high tide we decided to head for Drake’s Estero, one of our favorite places to kayak. We loaded the kayaks on the car, and headed for the Bovine Bakery in Point Reyes Station where we had breakfast. The Morning Bun Coffee Cake is something you won’t want to miss.

After a quick breakfast we headed to the Estero, only to find the gate was closed and locked. Drakes Estero is undergoing habitat restoration while the National Park Service removes the remains of the oyster farm; some seven miles of wooden racks.

So Plan B was Heart’s Desire Beach. The beach was deserted, save for a park maintenance truck. It was almost surreal having the whole park to ourselves. Without delay we launched our boats and paddled towards the ocean, stopping at a little beach for lunch, and then continuing to Marshall Beach, exploring some of the side passages that are not normally accessible at lower tides. Our journey covered six miles. You can view the track log here, and view more photos here. My wife Joann tells me that paddling a kayak on Tomales Bay is something everybody should have on there bucket list.

Book Review: The Oyster War

 

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I just finished reading The Oyster Wars by Summer Brennan. I was drawn to this book when my brother left it with me following a visit a few months ago. I’ve had some interest in this story for some time. The location where the Oyster farm was is one of my favorite locations to go kayaking. I have a brother who is himself an oyster farmer (not the one with the book), and having studied marine biology myself, I was quite interested in science behind the story.

This turns out to be quite a compelling story about the fate of the Drakes Bay Oyster company. And also an intriguing analysis of how various interests can play into commerce and environmental issues. The author provides some background, going back to the oyster pirates of 1897 and the days of Jack London.

To be honest, I have followed this issue only remotely while it was developing, aware of some of the issues, and hopeful that the oyster farm and the National Park service would find a way to live together in harmony, protecting the natural resources while permitting aquaculture to continue. After all, if you can have cattle on the land, why not ousters in the Estero? Nevertheless, Having read Summer’s book, I’m inclined to believe that the oyster farm had no future operating in a wilderness area.

If you have any interest in environmental issues, commerce and culture and how those forces might collide, I recommend this book.

The biggest lesson I learned from this book can be summed up in a quote Brennan provides from Tom Strickland:

“I think that the situation has been hijacked by interest groups with different agendas who have spun out narratives that have no relationship to the facts.”

This seems to apply to any number of issues we face.