29 May, 2016

Stalking Oregon's Waterfalls

Location: Umpqua National Forest

Last year our plans to wander around in Oregon for a while before heading further south were put on hold due to the RV's blown head gasket. We finally had a chance to go exploring and guess what we found?

Waterfalls!! Lots of waterfalls!

On our way we stopped in at Crater Lake.  We went there a few years ago but didn't see anything but fog and snow - it was a lot different this time.

On a whim, we headed over to the Umpqua forest to do some exploring. We picked up a brochure that listed all of the waterfalls in the area and decided to see as many as we could while we were there.
Clearwater Falls
We voted Watson Falls at 293 ft. the most spectacular.
Watson Falls
 Miles of hiking later, we are happy to report that the falls are still there and, thanks to the wet winter, were at or near their best. We saw bald eagles and listened to frogs croaking at dusk, had campfires, and spent a lot of time outdoors. One night we were woken by some wild animals making loud noises. We don't know what they were, and don't really want to.
Toketee Falls
 The 12 foot diameter redwood Toketee Pipeline diverts much of the volume of the North Umpqua River to a powerhouse downstream. It typically sprouts a few leaks as the wood contracts and expands.

Steamboat Falls

Fall Creek Falls

Susan Creek Falls

As you can see a waterfall is not 'just a waterfall'. There are several different kinds: block, fan, tiered, segmented, plunge, punch bowl, and horsetail, among others. They are all so different - some wider, some taller, some dropping for hundreds of feet, some falling in a series of steps.
Wildflowers manage to find a home in the tiniest cracks

This was hard to capture at exactly the right time, good job nobody was following too close behind

Tiny delicate iris
We had to skip a few of the Umpqua waterfalls due to trails being closed by landslides. So, not having quite seen enough, we drove a little further north to the Row River. We spent a few days here at a great free campground right beside the river. The trails are much steeper here but the waterfalls are still beautiful.

Parker Falls from the top

Brice Creek Falls

Spirit Falls

Rocks covered with ferns and flowers

more wildflowers

Captivating spiral fern

All in all it was an impressive and fun outing.

20 April, 2016

California National Parks

We wanted to see some of California's National Parks but timing was of the essence. Every day we checked the weather - we needed it to be not too hot for Death Valley and yet no snow in the higher elevations for Pinnacles, Sequoia, and Yosemite. This is hard to do when the elevations vary from 280 ft below sea level to 8,000 ft above sea level. We didn't quite achieve our goal but got close enough to still have a great time

Our first stop was Death Valley. It was 102 F (about 39 C) at the visitor centre the day we arrived! We decided to delay our exploring until the following cooler morning and lay low in the afternoon. Repeat until done. Amazing scenery.
We took this picture to make postcards for the grandkids.  Why do you think Julie is wearing her snorkel gear?

We weren't expecting to see a bog in Death Valley

The Trona Pinnacles are an unusual geological feature in the California Desert. The unusual landscape consists of more than 500 spires of porous rock, some as high as 140 feet, rising from the bed of the Searles Lake dry basin. Quite a few films are shot here every year.

Next stop Sequoia National Park, elevation 6,500ft. We had a 2 day window before snow was forecast. After being in the desert all year so far we were in heaven to be back in the forest with these magnificently enormous trees. We both got cricks in our necks from looking up.

This is looking back over the road into Sequoia

It's nippy in the snow

Mark is so glad to be back in the forest he's hugging the Sequoia

Yosemite was still scheduled to receive snow so we diverted to Pinnacles National Park. But first we had to wait out 3 days of rain. We lucked out and and found an amazing free campground just 20 miles south where we rested, walked, and enjoyed the beautiful scenery.

Pinnacles was great - we walked through tight rock formations and caves and enjoyed many more wildflowers. Sorry - we seem to have misplaced our photos for this stop.

Another 2 day window so see Yosemite, it's at 8,000 feet elevation and still had snow on the ground. The plus side of this is that the waterfalls, for which this park is famous, were more profuse than they've been for the last several years. We see why everyone raves about this park. The valley is probably ½ mile wide and the sides are sheer rock, creating amazing sunrises and sunsets, very dramatic waterfalls, and steep trails. There was a lot of wildlife available for viewing in the valley floor. We consider ourselves very lucky to have come here while it was warm enough to enjoy, yet before the high season with it's hordes of tourists from around the world.

Upper & Lower Yosemite Falls

Bridalveil Fall

It's a good job Mark suggested bringing or raincoats when we walked to the bottom of Bridalveil Fall

The view of Yosemite Valley

All this only took 11 days, a bit on the fast-track side for us, who normally travel at the speed of parked. We look forward to returning at a more leisurely pace with fewer weather constraints.

14 March, 2016

Bye Bye Baja, Hello Hawks

Location: Borrego Springs, California

 Our plans are usually a bit on the fluid side (you should probably be used to that by now). For example we had planned three stops in as many days – some cave paintings near Catavina (where we saw our first flowering cactus), an old onyx mine, and the ruins of an abandoned mission. 

Unfortunately, due to poor road conditions two of the three were washouts (get it? Hahahaha)

But then a short stop in Bahia de Los Angeles ended up being 5 days because it was so beautiful there and we found a great camping spot right on the beach with a palapa, complete with wonderful hosts and neighbors.

Julie learned how to cook cactus while in Mexico
 One last excellent Mexican breakfast just south of Tecate, and, after an hour and a quarter of crawling in the line to the border station, we were passed through easily and were back home in the USA. A nice end to a wonderful visit.  Adios y gracias, Baja California!

We'd heard that the wildflowers in California's Anzo-Borrego Desert State Park were awesome this year, and, since we were already nearby, decided to spend 3 or 4 days hiking around and playing tourist.

We got to visit a slot canyon, saw many beautiful cactus and wildflower blooms, and a most unexpected and pleasant surprise, hung out with some avid birders to watch some of the Swainson's Hawk migration. These hawks migrate from as far south as Argentina to as far north as Alaska and back again every year. It turns out that Borrego Springs is one of their favorite stops along the way – the valley has the largest spring concentration of migrating Swainson's hawks in North America. 
One very important food for the hawks is the springtime abundance of sphinx moth caterpillars. Yum!

This was taken on a trail that wound up a canyon and ended at a Palm oasis.  If you look closely you can see the water, we haven't seen much of that in the last few months

We attended two evening hawk migration viewing sessions and one pretty much non-event morning count (only some of the birds migrated that day, and those few waited until 1:30 in the afternoon - we'd lost interest and left hours earlier.)

Not being birders, and not really planning to become birders, we came more to watch the watchers than the birds. Like any group of people with a keen interest in something, birders can get a bit “geeky” when talking among themselves. There were times we had absolutely no idea what they were talking about – sort of like our first ham radio club meeting back before we took off on Rachel.

But, not only did we find them gentle and entertaining, we also inadvertently learned a great deal during these sessions. For example, did you know that during a migration hawks can “stream”, “kettle”, “tornado”, and form a “migratory bow”? Or that there are three primary genetic types in the Swainson's Hawk population – light, medium, and dark “morphs”?

Many hawks didn't leave that day, so there were something like 400 or 500 “locals” who had spent the day there, and more new arrivals coming in. Hopes were raised for a good count in the morning. Only 2 mornings earlier they'd counted 1400 birds as they left to migrate further north!

 We ended up really enjoying ourselves. The “hawkaholics” were very welcoming and sooo enthusiastic! Here are some snippets of conversation that took place while we were there during our first evening viewing”:

Oh, my goodness!” (repeated nearly continuously through the evening from one group or another)

There must be 400 of them. Do you think there are 400? Oh, maybe it's 450. I think it's got to be at least 450. Or even 500.”

Oh! Look at them rise. Something spooked them. I hope it wasn't any of our people!”

Oh! They're kettling.”

Ooh – I think they're going to form a tornado!”

This is a once in a lifetime opportunity! You could do this every day for years and not see this!”

Oh, maybe I'll go ahead and cancel my Dr.'s appointment tomorrow morning so I can help with the count. This is just too exciting!”

Oh! Is this who I think it is pulling up? ANNE! ANNE! Drop whatever you're doing and get up here right now! You've got to see this!”

I'm going to try and count them.” <starts clicking one of those silver hand held counters – clickety clicky clicky clickety clickety click click click....> “Oh, I just can't keep up!”

At this point we both say “I think you already counted that one.” Silence.

Those hawks are coming from the potato fields. The insecticides they use kill the insects and the hawks feed on them. It's awful. Did you know they spray 26 different chemicals on potatoes? If you're only going to eat one organic vegetable, let it be potatoes.“

 We really enjoyed listening to and chatting with them – quite entertaining. The second evening wasn't as exciting, but it gave them a chance to loan us several different types of binoculars so we could see the differences between them. As a result, we were able to get up close and personal with the hawks that flew right overhead (”Oh! Look! A young male light morph!! Beautiful!”). Before we left they also gave us a “binoculars 101” lesson and a coupon worth a 10% discount from an online optics store.

A lenticular cloud, in all our years of sailing we've never seen one of these before

Another pleasant surprise in Borrego Springs was the art. We were treated to a great 2 day Art Show at the town center, and discovered that the town sports 130 full sized steel welded sculptures, created by Ricardo Breceda, dotted around. They are inspired by creatures that roamed this same desert, the piece de resitance being a 350 foot long serpent.