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Saturday, December 28, 2013

2013: A Year in Review

 The year is coming to a close and as is our tradition around here I ask: 
Where the heck did it go?

To remind myself, I've been flipping through our photos from the past year. The nice thing about digital photography is having the time and date stamps that accompany them; we don't have to pick up a photo and turn it over to discover we (yet again) forgot to mark it, wondering aloud "when was this again?" Some of my favorites aren't necessarily the most artistic or well composed shots, but the ones that bring back the best memories.

Here are a few along with the stories behind them:

We started the year with our annual trip out to Point Reyes National Seashore. Our first date was a trip to the lighthouse there, and every year we make the trek down all 300 stairs to watch for whales off the western-most point in the contiguous US. We got lucky this year with marvelous weather and some whales that were in the mood to be photographed. It was a great trip, beautiful blue skies and clear air cooperated to mark the 25th anniversary of our first date.

Down the 300 stairs leading to the Point Reyes lighthouse.

Red lichen decorates the signal house at the base of the cliff.
Gray whales on their annual migration to Mexico.
Waves roll in on North Beach, Pt. Reyes National Seashore

We spent a lot of time out at the family vacation house in Bodega Bay this year. It's the best place to go when you want to take some time off but don't have the time or money to go far. There's no cable or internet (for a while there was no cell service), so there is no excuse not to relax and have fun. We like to hang out and read magazines and, of course, practice photography. Here are a few shots from over the last year:

Salmon Creek, Sonoma Coast
Rosette succulent in the sand
Snail shell on the sand dune in black & white
Naked Lady against an old fence, Bodega Bay
Waves on the Sonoma Coast

April brought the most traumatic experience of the year. Our dog Tiga spied a cat through a crack in the fence in the backyard, got overly excited and smashed through a loose board. Off like a shot after the cat, she raced through our neighbor's yard with me on her tail, then decided she'd really rather not go back home. I chased her through the neighborhood for blocks, almost catching up to her several times just to have her lunge away as soon as I was within collar grabbing distance. Having more stamina than I, she raced around to one of the busiest streets in the city, rounding the corner and disappearing from view before I could catch up. At some point in those few seconds she must have run into the street and gotten hit by a car. When I rounded the corner she was limping and bleeding on the sidewalk, one of her hind legs hanging off at a weird angle. It was then that she finally decided to obey me as I yelled "Wait! WAIT!" (which is our command to stop.)  She did allow me to carry her home and from there, take her straight to the emergency vet. A four day hospital stay and over $3000 later she was home and on the mend, a dislocated hip surgically repaired with artificial ligaments to hold it in place. The lucky bugger didn't have any internal injuries aside from the dislocation, just scrapes on her legs. She has now topped out as the most expensive mutt we have owned to date. She was up and running on three legs within the week, against doctor's orders.

Stupid dog...
(She has since fully recovered, with some minor stiffness on cold mornings.)
Happiness for us is finding a new place to explore, and May was chock full of new places. Our annual Overland Expo trip started out in the Mojave National Preserve at Hole in the Wall campground. We must have passed right by the place twenty times before finally choosing to stop this year. What a spot! The perfect first night of the camping season; great trails, empty campground, beautiful weather. Decompressing from the winter/spring rainy season has never been better:

Along the cliff sides on the Rings Trail

Mark looking through one of the many holes in the wall.
One of my favorite photos of the trip. After a cold, wet winter and spring Mark is finally able to relax,
beer and snacks in hand in front of his custom built adventure vehicle. 
The sun sets on the Mojave Desert Preserve.

Not that it was a surprise, but Mesa Verde and Sand Dunes National Parks in Colorado were a few of the highlights of our May trip. The cliff dwellings were spectacular, and the quiet grandeur of the sand and surrounding mountains of Great Sand Dunes were enough to make us want to return every year. We had a great time touring the cliff dwellings and were pleasantly surprised at how uncrowded all the parks were at that time of year.

Spectacular sculpture in front of the Visitor's Center
at Mesa Verde National Park

Gambel Oaks in Morefield Campground, Mesa Verde NP

Inside a Kiva at Cliff Palace, Mesa Verde NP

We must have spent an hour staring at the creek along the base of the sand dunes, mesmerized by the ebb and flow through the fine sand in Sand Dunes National Park.
While we were dreading the long drive across the plains to get to Omaha, it turned out to be a wonderful place to visit. The Midwest sometimes gets a bad rap from the rest of the country; I've heard it referred to as white-bread, boring and flat. While it is a bit more homogenous than the Bay Area, and it's certainly not mountainous, it has a beauty all it's own. We had a great time visiting with our friends and getting to know the middle part of the country a little better. I really enjoyed the long vistas and never ending fields of corn and soybeans--we have those in the central valley of California, but not quite to that scale. And the Omaha Zoo was a big surprise; what a great place to visit!

We knew we were on the Great Plains when we saw this giant plow.

Turtles line up for a place in the sun, Missouri River

Who knew? Jellyfish in Nebraska at the Omaha Zoo.
A chimpanzee rests on the viewing window at the Omaha Zoo
A panorama of the fields surrounding Blair Nebraska

Summer wouldn't be summer without our annual trip to Yosemite National Park. Just as there's no bad time to be there, there are no bad pictures from that magical place. We've been there at all times of the year, in all sorts of weather, and we will never get tired of it. Here's a few of this year's shots:

Wallpaper in the Ahwahnee Hotel
Yellow flowers growing alongside the Merced River
Mirror Lake

Fall came around quickly this year and we decided to get away to the mountains one more time before the snow started. A trip to Tahoe capped the end of the camping season for us and the mountains didn't disappoint. We had a great time roaming the shores of Tahoe with the dogs.

Rocky beach along the shores of Lake Tahoe
A dog's perspective

A sign outside an exhibit cabin at Tallac Historic Park

With the camper tucked away for the winter, we're in planning mode now for the year ahead. 2014 is just a few days away and before you know it I'll be asking Mark: Where the heck did it go?

Happy New Year from the Running From Moose Team:

The Troublemaker
Mark and Kelly

The Good One

Monday, December 23, 2013

All I Want for Christmas

"All I want for Christmas is my two front teeth..."

That song was all too true for me this year. I had some dental work done and had temporary front teeth for a month, just getting the permanent ones put in place yesterday. That required not biting into anything over the crucial eating period of Thanksgiving weekend through the run up to Christmas. Thank goodness I got my new choppers in time for Christmas dinner or the season would have been much less bright for me.

So my first wish already came true. Now to work through the rest of my list:

I would like for people to stop littering. I have to say, it's improved greatly since I was a kid (either that or more people pick up after the slobs.) But I'd really like to take a long hike and not see one plastic water bottle or beer can the entire length of the trail.

I would like for the National, State and local parks to be fully funded. I think the parks are responsible for my sanity, and wouldn't it be great if they were always open so everyone could cure their mental tics? Hey, there's the campaign slogan: Trade Your Tics for Ticks!

I would like people to stop being afraid of things they don't understand. I had a co-worker who told me he would never go camping in Yosemite because he wasn't allowed to bring his gun (this was before they reversed themselves on firearms in National Parks.) He would never admit it to me, but I know this to be true: he was terrified of bears. Take some time, learn about whatever it is you are afraid of. Knowledge is power--don't let fear keep you from doing something you want to do.

And most of all, I would like for everyone to take a break at some point in the coming year and get up off the couch, walk out the door and enjoy the outdoors. Breath some real air, maybe smile and nod when you pass someone else along the way. You'll feel better, the person you passed will feel better and maybe, just maybe, the world will be a little bit better for it.

Merry Christmas everyone, and a very Happy New Year to you all.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Staying Out of the Picture

My mom likes to look over the photos we've taken after we come home from a trip. If she has any criticism it's usually "Why aren't there any pictures with people in them?"

I've never been comfortable in front of the camera; I'd much rather be behind it.  Here's proof that I should really stay behind it:
Fourth Grade was very cruel to me...

Yup. That's me in fourth grade, sporting what I thought was the coolest outfit my mom ever made for me. My hair, alas, has not improved with the years (it refuses to comb itself) and there are only more freckles now. At least my teeth have gotten better: three years of braces and a cap over the left tooth (that I broke when I fell off a bike trying to do tricks and literally bit the curb) have greatly straightened my smile.

There were hundreds of people at the lake that day.  I was able to get them out by waiting, then maneuvering so they were hidden from view behind the trees.

But it's not just my unwillingness to be photographed that keeps me out of the picture. I really enjoy vast open landscapes and like to imagine what it was like before we all showed up to trample the view. So I sit, sometimes for a long time, waiting for people to clear out before I snap the shutter. I like to get up earlier than the crowds in Yosemite just to get a shot devoid of hikers and tourists. There's something distracting about Aunt Edna's hot pink track suit popping up in the middle of the neutral shades of Yosemite valley. Sometimes it's necessary to get some perspective in a shot, and that's when I make Mark walk ahead so he can be my "Mark-o-Meter." He's a good sport.

Here's an example of the Mark-o-Meter at work:

Figure A: Tenaya Lake
Figure B: Mark's Rock in Tenaya Lake

It would be hard to figure out how big that boulder is without the second shot. I liked the way his blue shirt blended with the colors of the scene. This particular Mark shot always reminds me of why we go to Yosemite: it's one of the few places on earth where we can completely relax and be happy. Our annual trip to Yosemite always starts with a swim in Tenaya Lake; it's where we rinse off the worries (I'm pretty sure we're not polluting--I think the cold water neutralizes them.)

Mark and John Muir, hanging out.
I'm hardly a professional photographer; Mark is my go-to guy when I have questions about the camera features and settings. But I really enjoy trying to get the camera to see what I'm seeing, and nature has the best stuff to practice on. I could never do portraits. I feel so uncomfortable in front of the camera I think it would rub off on my subjects. I can't even get a decent picture of the dog most of the time.

Mark will sneak in a photo of me once in a while, and I guess I'm glad there's proof that I actually made the trip. But I'd really just rather look at the view...

Resting on Stanford Point, camera equipment on my back.
Yosemite NP

Thursday, December 12, 2013

That's It. I Quit. I'm Moving On...

This morning I could see my breath in the warehouse at work. All day.

It's been cold in our neck of the woods this last week, and I know I come off as a whiner when I complain about it. Temps in the 20's are highly unusual for our area, and we've had them several days in a row now. I realize this is balmy weather compared to the below zero temps they've been getting in the midwest and back east. But, geez louise, what the heck are our exorbitant taxes paying for if not good weather?

It was a combination of the cold, and Adele's version of Sam Cooke's "That's It, I Quit..." song on the radio that took me back to the worst camping trip we've ever taken.

It was 1997, and work had been crazy all summer. When we finally got an opening in the schedule to take a vacation it was already well into September, an iffy month to go camping in the mountains. We looked at the map and settled on going north, but opted to stay out of the higher altitudes. We figured with a little luck we could catch the end of the good weather we had been having that year.

It started out so promising: we packed up the truck (pre-camper days), loaded up our two dogs and headed north. First stop was McArthur-Burney Falls State Park, one of our favorite places. It takes just five hours to get there from here, a nice drive up Highway 5 and then east on 89 from Redding. When we pulled in it was a beautiful afternoon, temps in the 70s, warm enough to sit around the picnic table eating chips and planning the rest of the week. We walked up to the falls and took a few pictures, marveling at the way the water comes right out of the cliff side.
The dogs lounging in the campground at
McArthur-Burney Falls State Park.

Burney Falls

The next morning was cool, but hey, it was September, no surprise there. We packed up and decided to take the adventure route over the mountains on our way to Lava Beds National Monument, located in the northeast corner of California. We hadn't ever been and it sounded like fun. We had plotted a course over the mountains in order to see if we could find a place I remembered as a kid: Little Glass Mountain, made almost entirely out of obsidian, was up there somewhere.

Little Glass Mountain on Google Maps.
Doesn't it look like a cool place? Yeah, we
never got there.
(Fun Fact: The railroad bridge that was featured in the movie "Stand by Me" is located just north of McArthur-Burney Falls along Hwy 89. Here's a really bad picture as viewed from the road:)
Railway bridge where the boys almost died in "Stand By Me"
There's a series of Forest Service roads that wind around the backcountry, eventually leading out the other side of the hills over to Medicine Lake and Lava Beds. We took the turn and wandered around a while, stopping in to see an ice cave, and letting the dogs run around in the stubby forest area. We had started out with sunny skies, leading us to believe it would be a warm day. As we dawdled along it became increasingly cloudy the higher we climbed, and it was getting a bit chilly.  We hopped back in the truck and decided to get up and over in case it decided to rain or something (the roads at this point were mostly dirt.)

It didn't take long until these weird clumps started coming down out of the sky. Is that? Nah. Can't be. Wait. Is that what I think it is?

Really weird looking rain...
...turned to this in just a few hundred feet.
Sure enough, it started to snow. The second day of our "summer" vacation and it was coming down pretty good.

We drove a bit faster and made it up and over before the road was closed, although I don't know how we would have known it was closed, not having seen anyone all day. We came down out of the clouds to sunny warm Lava Beds and breathed a sigh of relief. We had outsmarted Mother Nature! We had outrun the storm!

Lava Beds National Monument is a big park, packed with caves and hiking trails to explore on your own or with a tour. It's one of those out-of-the-way parks that doesn't get the visitors it deserves, but that works to our advantage; it doesn't get nearly as crowded as other parks in California. There's a nice campground there and we found a spot without having a reservation.

Dogs hanging out in the nice little campground in Lava Beds. The foliage on that side of the mountains is limited to juniper and other more hardy plants that can make it in the harsh environment.

We plopped down our chairs and went off to explore the caves. Since we had the dogs with us, we had to make short trips into the more accessible caves, leaving the dogs in the truck. It would have been fun to go down a little deeper and explore them further, but we didn't want to leave them too long. Most of the caves have bats living in them, and some of them were closed to allow the bats some privacy during hibernation.

The next morning was warm and sunny, a perfect day for a hike. We settled on exploring Captain Jack's Stronghold. It's an area of jumbled lava rocks with a lot of nooks and crannies perfect for hiding out from the law. During 1872-1873 the US Army chased the Modoc Indians into this area, outnumbering them 10 to 1. They were able to hold the Army off by hiding in the rocks and ambushing the soldiers as they came through.

Mark in one of the crannies (or maybe it was a nook) in Captain Jack's Stronghold.
Looking out over the lava beds in Lava Beds.

We walked around the two mile loop, following the trail of interpretive signs and goofing around in the caves. In among the lava rocks it was actually hot, and we started to get a little sunburned. We could hardly believe our luck with the weather. We checked out a few more caves on the way back to camp, had a nice dinner and went to sleep.

Sometime in the middle of the night it got cold. The wind started up and if it weren't for the dogs keeping us warm we would have needed more blankets than we brought. We got up to discover ice forming in our water bottles, and had to stand to eat during breakfast because the metal picnic benches were just too cold to sit on. We shivered our way through the oatmeal and figured it would be a good day to explore some more caves, out of the wind.

Ice had formed during the night on the grass near our camp.
The photo is blurry because the wind was blowing constantly, making it hard to focus the camera.

We pulled up to the first one, got out and got halfway down the ladder when we heard a huge racket coming from the back of the truck. Back up the ladder, back to the truck to discover the dogs were fighting. Seriously fighting. We pulled them out of the truck and separated them, taking them on a little walk to let them cool off. "What the hell are you guys doing?" we kept asking. They didn't answer, but really, they didn't have to.  Miserable cold and too much togetherness does not a fun trip make.

We went back to camp and tried to make the best of it. A fire was out of the question; the wind was howling and some suspicious clouds were coming in. After consulting the map for awhile we decided the best thing we could do was head south in the morning and try to outrun the storm. The weather band guy said snow was on it's way. (This was before all the handy devices we have nowadays: we were actually functioning without GPS, cell phones, or any of the other electronic gadgetry--save for a WeatherBand radio--that's available today. The good ole days...)

That night it got colder, if that was possible, and in the morning we ate breakfast in the truck cab. The wind was so cold it blew right through every stitch of clothing we had on. And believe me, we were wearing every stitch we had packed. Our dogs were shivering and looking just as miserable as we were. It was time to leave.

We packed up and headed south on the eastern side of the Cascades, which turned into the eastern Sierra Nevada farther south. The weather was improving, but in our rearview mirror we could see the dark clouds getting darker, and following us in an ominous way. As we drove I was flipping ahead in our California Camping book, looking for promising campgrounds. We pulled into one just outside of  Susanville that looked great. Just as we pulled in we noticed all the other campers were packing up to leave. We asked a group what was happening and they told us that snow was on the way, and they didn't want to get stuck up there that night. Great.

Back in the truck, we drove all the way down to Lake Tahoe. Surely it would be nice there. It's always nice there all the way through October!

We pulled into Sugar Pine State Park just as the rain started to fall. We checked in, certain it would clear up anytime. We made camp, stringing up tarps off the back of the truck to make a dry spot over the picnic table. The light rain turned to heavy rain. Puddles formed on the tarp and would cascade down on us when we bumped the support poles. The dogs were soaking wet and looked like they might turn on us at any moment. We were soaked and chilled to the bone as we tried to make spaghetti, the pot of water filling with cold rain faster than it could boil. Mark and I tried to stay positive: Surely this will clear up. Tomorrow's got to be a better day.

That night was spent in the back of the truck, tossing a turning with two wet, muddy dogs trying to climb into our wet, muddy sleeping bags with us. By the time the sun rose (we assumed it rose, it was still pouring rain) we had both come to the conclusion that we had had as much fun as we could possibly wring out of this trip. We were done.

We threw everything in the back of the truck, not even bothering to properly pack things knowing we'd just have to open everything up to dry it out, and headed for home. It started to snow in Tahoe City and didn't stop until we got to the other side of Donner Pass.

"That's it,
baby, I quit.
I'm moving on..."

So maybe I'm a weather wuss. I know people who purposely go out in the snow for fun. I know our hearty neighbors to the north have way more rain in a month than we see in a year. But you know what? I don't care. Vacation should be enjoyable, and having cold rain run down the back of your neck, boots filling with water, is not enjoyable. I'd rather get a sunburn than frostbite any day.

That was the first and hopefully last time we ever came home from a camping trip early.  If it happens again I'm heading straight for home, where I can watch the rain come down outside the windows, a cup of hot chocolate in my hands and a neck that's dry and warm.