Capricious Captures 8.13.22

Yes – I see you!

This mule deer decided to hang out in our campsite the other day totally oblivious to our presence. There was something at the base of the Western Juniper tree that seemed very tasty to him!

Lava Beds Full Moon

Waiting for the moonrise…..

The view from our campsite in Lava Beds National Monument shows how stark the landscape is here. Last night, the full moon was rising just to the right of the above photo behind one of the cinder cones to the south of us. It was a blustery evening. The tree branches in the foreground show that with their blurry twigs blowing in the wind!

Capricious Captures 8.6.22

Pelicans catching the wind currents

I was in heaven when we came upon an area in the northern part of Big Sur where loads and loads of pelicans congregate! We spent quite a bit of time hiking along the cliffs here and watching these fascinating birds!

Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway Part III Vol. 2

Mount Scott summit

On our second day trip to Crater Lake a week later, the weather was considerably different. There was a heat advisory in effect and the sky was very hazy with lots of thunderstorms moving through the Cascades. Unfortunately, we did not get an early start to the day and ended up hiking during the heat of the day.

We had a small mishap with the Airstream trailer when we were trying to leave in the morning that delayed our departure. Funny now – but not so much at the time! As we were packing up the truck for our day trip, my husband inadvertently locked the trailer door with the keys inside 😦 We do have a couple of spare sets and this should not have been a problem. We did need to get back inside before we left for the day to double-check things and we wanted to leave the door unlocked anyway in case of an emergency given the fire warnings in the area. So, we grabbed the spare set out of the truck and tried to unlock the door. For those who do not own an Airstream, it is worth mentioning that the Airstream doors have 2 locks – a top lock and a bottom lock for extra security (I’m guessing for traveling down the road). We “thought” we were using the key for the top lock, which is the mechanism that can inadvertently get locked by accident, but the lock seemed jammed and the key was not working.

I won’t go into details on how we got into the trailer but it was not an easy feat! Once we unlocked the door from the inside, we realized there was nothing wrong with the lock. We were simply not using the proper key! How embarrassing! Why we did not test other keys in the set remains a mystery to us both! With the extra time involved in finally getting the door unlocked, we did not arrive in Crater Lake until after noon. We had planned on hiking the highest peak in the park – Mount Scott – and then completing the entire Rim Drive afterwards.

Start of the trail

So even though it was very hot when we got to the park, we did not alter our plans. Mount Scott is accessed via the trailhead on the East Rim Drive. This is a narrow, winding road with many steep drop-offs – not for the faint of heart! Just past the trailhead parking area, there is a picnic area and we stopped off there first to eat lunch. Mount Scott is a 4.5-mile out-and-back hike with an elevation gain of over 1,200 feet. Carrying plenty of water, we persevered up the steep trail – taking breaks often to drink and rest from the heat in the shade of the trees along the trail. The predominant tree species here at this altitude are Mountain Hemlock and Whitebark Pine.

The hike started with a traverse through this meadow

The trail climbs moderately through the hemlock forest before starting a number of steeper switchbacks that lead to the ridgeline along the summit. With views of Crater Lake and the Cascades in the distance, it was an awesome experience even with the hazy skies.

Um…no problem – will do!
View from the top of Mount Scott

We watched thunder clouds in the distance throughout our hike, hoping to get to the summit and back without encountering any lightening and thunder! Luckily, they stayed off in the distance while we were hiking.

Looking through part of the fire tower at the summit

The fire tower at the summit is a very dilapidated building that was obviously not in use anymore. Unlike the fully restored CCC fire tower at Lava Beds NM, this one is very much in need of a facelift. The awful condition of many park service buildings and structures is sad. I see it throughout the country and wish that we had more funding and human resources for projects to restore the many buildings that need repair.

Taking in the view!

As we started our descent from the summit, I thought the ridgeline part of the trail was pretty cool. It dropped off fairly steeply on either side – making for a great photograph!

Dark clouds in the distance!
Nice wildflower display!!
Love this dead tree – what character!
Layers upon layers….in the distance

After our hike, we continued on the East Rim Drive and stopped at the Cleetwood Cove trailhead. This is the only trail in the park that takes you to the lake itself. It is a steep 1-mile descent to the shoreline. We opted not to do this hike on this trip but did grab a photograph from the top of the trail.

From the top of Cleetwood Cove trail

We drove on to the junction with the West Rim Drive and stopped at several turn-outs along this side of the lake before heading south towards home. We noticed signs for the Rim Trail that runs along the west ridge of the crater and decided that we would be back to tackle that trail next!

From the west side of Crater Lake

Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway Part III Vol. 1

The next leg of our journey exploring the entire Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway took us to the amazing Crater Lake National Park. We picked up the byway in Fort Klamath and traveled Route 62 to the turn off for Crater Lake. The byway circumnavigates Crater Lake via the West Rim and East Rim Drive.

Our return to Crater Lake was bittersweet. The first time we visited the park was in 2014 on our road trip from Vermont to pick up our “new to us” Airstream travel trailer. We purchased the trailer from a private seller in Eugene, Oregon and our first day on the road with the trailer had us cruising the West Rim Drive around Crater Lake. We did not linger in the park on this visit – only pulling into overlooks along the way that would accommodate the truck and trailer (at a length of 45′ overall). I was excited to return and explore the park more closely. We have visited Crater Lake twice in two weeks since it is only a 2 hour drive from our current location.

On Route 62 heading towards Crater Lake, there’s a scenic vista turn-out with an interpretive display. Looking at the photograph below, imagine an enormous, snow-capped mountain rising up into the sky from the far vista that would take up almost the entire skyline. That would have been Mount Mazama – the volcanic peak that erupted 7,700 years ago and ultimately collapsed – forming what is now Crater Lake.

Crater Lake is the deepest lake in the United States at 1,943 feet. There are no streams flowing into or out of the lake. The water level is totally maintained by rain, winter snow melt (averaging 528 inches per year) and evaporation. Arguably one of the most outstanding features of the lake is its deep, blue color. Three factors contribute to this remarkable hue – the depth of the lake, its purity and the effects of solar radiation.

Looking towards Wizard Island – a cinder cone emerging from the water

My goal on our first day trip to Crater Lake was to hike Garfield Peak. One of the taller peaks in the park at 8,061 feet , it rises up right along the rim of the crater and offers some outstanding views of the lake during the moderately challenging hike to the summit. It’s a 3.6-mile out-and-back with an elevation climb of just over 1,000 feet – short but steep! 🙂 The trailhead starts just past the Crater Lake Lodge at the Rim Village area of the park. The biggest challenge on the hike was dealing with the wind! We kept having to hold onto our sun hats along the trail so they did not get blown down to the lake! They would not have been retrievable!

Steep terrain on either side of the trail…

There were so many wildflowers blooming along the trail including my favorites – Indian Paintbrush and Penstemon. Also, some phlox, stonecrop, columbine and balsamroot…a very good flower day!!

Near the top there are still some areas of snow – it was a record snowfall this year and Crater Lake experienced some very late spring snows as well. Parts of the Rim Drive and many trails never opened up until mid-June.

Almost to the top!

The views of the lake from the summit were spectacular! We hung out a bit and had a snack before starting our descent.

Garfield Peak summit
Alpine meadows along the rim of the crater as seen from the summit
Amazing view of the steep crater walls – Jim’s perch looks more precarious than it was!
Twisted old whitebark pine on the top of Garfield Peak

We had some nice views of the surrounding forests on our descent from the summit.

Mt. McLoughlin in the distance…
Although a hot day, there were plenty of shady spots along the trail!!
The lower section of the trail – almost done!

After a day’s adventure on the trail, we were looking at a 2-hour drive back to our “home for the summer” so we popped in to the Mazama Village cafe for a couple of coffees to go. As I waited in line to make my order, I noticed some very nice-looking food being delivered to patrons who were seated. Might be a good spot to have a meal next time. 🙂

Tomorrow I’ll share our second day trip to Crater Lake! 🙂

Capricious Captures 7.28.22

Point Reyes Fog Rainbow

Mystical fog rainbow appeared along the coast of Point Reyes National Seashore as the fog was lifting. I just know there must be a pot of gold out there! 🙂

Capricious Captures 7.27.22

Smoothstem Blazing Star – Mentzelia laevicaulis 

In between more lengthy posts, I’ve decided on a new strategy that will allow me to share more photographs regularly without a lot of time devoted to prose! I’ll be posting random, whimsical photographs both old and new.

The Smoothstem Blazing Star is providing much need color in Lava Beds National Monument right now – blooming along roadsides and along hiking trails. I liked this photo because of the “bug” who appears to be hanging on for dear life! 🙂

Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway Part II

Lassen Peak

Several weeks ago we decided to embark on another section of the Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway. Our goal was to explore Lassen Volcanic National Park. While I recommend spending more than one day here, that’s all we had so we made the most of it! We picked up the byway via Route 299 west of Burney and headed south on Route 89 towards Lassen. After entering the park, our first stop was the visitor center by Manzanita Lake. Located in the Loomis Museum building, the visitor center contained a small gift shop, a ranger-staffed information counter and a small museum that seemed to be devoid of many of the exhibits. I suppose maybe they were re-modelling??

Loomis Museum and Visitor Center

I did talk with an interpretive ranger there to get some ideas on what to see since we would only have one day. He gave me some good advice and we decided to start with the 2-mile loop trail that runs along the perimeter of the lake. After our 3-hour drive to get here, we were ready to stretch our legs! The Manzanita Lake Trail is an easy trail with virtually no elevation gain or loss – making it a very popular, short hike.

View of Lassen Peak from the shoreline of Manzanita Lake

We had some awesome views of Lassen Peak and the Chaos Crags area during our hike around the lake!

View of Chaos Crags

More pictures from Lake Manzanita….there is also a large campground here which would be a great place to hang out for a few days to allow for exploring more areas of the park.

Manzanita Lake
Canadian Geese enjoying the water!

We continued on the 30-mile long scenic road through Lassen until we reached the Devastated Area pull-out. There is a short interpretive trail here that explains the eruption of Lassen Peak that occurred in the park in 1915-1916. If you need a lunch spot, there’s a nice picnic area here as well – perfect timing as we were definitely ready for a snack! There are some great views of Lassen Peak from the picnic area.

After enjoying a small lunch and walking the short trail at Devastated Area, we continued on south through the park until we reached the parking area for the Kings Creek Falls Trail. It was at this point that the effects of the Dixie Fire became evident to the east of the park road. The fire entered the park in early August 2021 and burned over 73,000 acres of park land before being contained. In all, the Dixie Fire burned over 950,000 acres resulting in the largest fire in California history. Our hike along the Upper Cascades section of the trail took us through some of the burned out area. So sad!

Burned trees!
Nothing but dead trees and ash!
Long-range view of the destruction from the Dixie Fire

As we started to approach the junction of the Upper Cascades Trail with the one-way Cascades Foot Trail, we crossed a small stream and started to see some plant life again! These tiny wildflowers were blooming along the trail.

Purple Fawn Lily – Erythronium purpurascens
Sierra Shooting Star – Primula jeffreyi

Since the Kings Creek Falls overlook was still closed due to the fire, we did not hike down there but veered to the right at the junction with the Cascade Foot Trail and ascended up the steep, one-way trail that hugs the Cascades – a series of small waterfalls that descend through the canyon. The cascades were amazing and totally worth the moderate 3-mile roundtrip hike from the parking lot. I took so many photographs of the cascades it is hard to choose which ones to share – but I’ll try to limit my choices to three photos!!

Since the day was getting shorter and we had a long drive back to our summer home, we opted for just one more stop in the park before making a long loop back. A trip to Lassen NP would not be complete without a stop to see one of the hydrothermal areas of the park. The most accessible spot is the Sulphur Works – the site of a long-gone sulfur mining company and roadside attraction. Along the way, we made quick stops at Lake Helen and Bumpass Hell parking area.

Lake Helen – still lots of snow here!
Glacial erratic at Bumpass Hell parking lot

At Sulphur Works…..

Fumarole in the distance
Bubbling hot!!
Steam emanating from the pool of water

There are so many more hiking trails I’d like to explore in Lassen Volcanic National Park! I hope that we can get down to the park for an overnight stay before the summer ends!

Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument Part 4

On one of our remaining days in the park, we decided to explore the area off the North Puerto Blanco Drive.  We drove to the trailhead for the Red Tanks and Senita Basin hikes and decided on a 7-mile route that would take us along the Red Tanks Trail bringing us to the Senita Basin Loop – which would ultimately lead us back to Red Tanks.  While the 7-mile length might seem daunting to some, it was a relatively easy, mostly level walk that followed a section of an old mining road. 

The interpretive sign at the start of the trail gave us some indication as to what to expect on our walk.  There are numerous side trails and alternatives to take that can decrease or extend your hike, including a spur that passes by some old mining sites (the Baker Mine trail spur).

I like that the trail description also shared some safety precautions including the possibility of encountering cross-border activity and how to deal with this.  We did come across some old, discarded clothing at several locations along the trail and found one of the black water bottles mentioned in the safety tips.  All of these items looked ancient and not the result of recent activity.  In our time spent wandering around the national monument, we never felt unsafe or uncomfortable in the back country. 

Much of the first part of the hike followed a dry river wash.

More scenes along the way….

Along the wash
Palo Verde trees provide lots of color to the desert landscape
Loved the colorful rock in the desert!
Great shot showcasing the diverse plant material that thrives in this green desert!

This area is known for some depressions called “tinajas” that form in the bedrock from spring rains or wind erosion. These carved-out depressions hold water and are an important lifeline to plants and animals in the desert.

A Tinaja depression along the trail
A red-tailed hawk soaring high above the desert!

I mentioned previously that we came across discarded clothing and water jugs along parts of the trail. It was a very sobering experience. I could not help but feel compassion for those who give up everything to travel to a foreign land in hopes of a better life.

Clothing found along the trail
One of the black water jugs that are carried by the migrants

In several locations throughout the park, we noticed these tall blue flags and, near this trail, we finally discovered just what they are marking! They identify the location of water stations. A group call Humane Borders, operating out of Tucson, distribute these 55-gallon water containers near routes along the border used by migrants. Their mission is simple: “to save desperate people from a horrible death by dehydration and exposure.” It is so very heartwarming to know there are such kind, dedicated people out there who volunteer their time to help save lives.

Humane Borders water station

This concludes my photographic and written journey recounting our trip to Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument! It was a special place equipped with one of the best national park system campgrounds I’ve ever experienced. Take the time to travel there if you can! Outstanding hikes, beautiful sunsets, lots of plants and wildlife – all in a place less-travelled and wonderfully quiet.

Big Sur Coastline San Simeon Region

Traveling the coastal Route 1 through the Big Sur region of California has been on my bucket list for years. On our multi-month road trip this past winter, I made it a priority to detour through Big Sur. Often times, when visiting new places, expectations are high and can exceed actual experiences – leading to disappointment. This was not the case with the Big Sur highway! We visited in February and the weather was absolutely perfect – cool nights and warm, sunny days. Our road tour started in the San Simeon region of Southern California. We spent a couple of nights at the Hearst San Simeon State Park and explored the area surrounding San Simeon and to the south on day trips from the campground.

On our first day, we arrived at the campground in the afternoon hours and set up camp. Once that was complete, we took a walk on the trail leading to the beach and explored the coastline. There was a little bit of fog rolling in here and there giving the whole place a mystical ambiance. It was heavenly!

Lots of seagulls were basking in the late afternoon sun!

We stayed on the beach as the sun was starting to set and were rewarded with the nice, subtle colors of a spectacular sunset!

Late afternoon sun creating a golden glow on the rock
Perfect ending to a flawless day!

The following morning we set off on a day trip south to explore an area called Moonstone Beach. I noticed this location on the map and fell in love with the name! It is a small beach community with an oceanside boardwalk path traversing the length of the town. We noticed lots of small, bohemian-style hotels lining the main drag. It looked like a very nice, laid-back atmosphere in which to enjoy a pampered vacation.

Moonstone Beach Boardwalk
This rustic sign along the path caught my eye since purple iris is one of my favorite flowers! 🙂

After strolling the boardwalk at Moonstone Beach, we drove north through the village of San Simeon in search of the Elephant Seal Vista Point! The best time to visit and view the elephant seals begins in mid-November and extends to mid-May. They frequently gather on beaches along the coast and are fascinating to watch! More information about their life cycle and behavior can be found on the Friends of the Elephant Seal website.

Elephant Seal Vista Point
Lazy days on the beach!

We could have spent the entire day with the elephant seals but we had a reservation for a wine-tasting at the Hearst Ranch Winery and had to tear ourselves away! The main ranch for the winery is located in the Paso Robles area inland from the coast but they have a tasting center in San Simeon that is situated right on the water. It was a beautiful location and we had a fantastic host who greeted us and explained the wines. He was a good storyteller and shared some history of the area and the Hearst Castle. Unfortunately, the Hearst Castle – which sits atop the mountain across the road from the winery – was closed due to road erosion from a recent rainstorm. I was disappointed that we could not take the tour of the castle and grounds but now we have a good reason to come back for another visit! We left the winetasting with 4 bottles of wine – which meant the wine tasting fee was waived – but even with that deduction I’m not even going to mention how much that set us back financially! 🙂

After leaving the winery, we headed back to the campground and enjoyed some spectacular scenery along the way. 🙂 This valley leading down to the water captured my eye and I had to stop and take a photo!

We were back at the campsite when the sun was setting and, all of a sudden, the sky was ablaze with color. I grabbed my camera and ran to a spot where I had a clear shot of the ocean and sky. Amazing!

Stayed tuned for the next leg of our journey along the Big Sur highway!