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!

Clouds over Grassland

I’ve been trying to complete another post from our winter trip to Organ Pipe Cactus NM but my hotspot is sooooo incredibly slow today – so I gave up! Here’s a shot from Lava Beds NM a week ago when some storms were moving through the area. The clouds here are extremely dramatic!

OC&E Woods Line State Trail

Walking part of the OC&E rail trail

The Oregon, California and Eastern Railroad bed was converted to the OC&E Woods Line State Trail starting in the early 1990’s and is a 109-mile rail trail that runs from Klamath Falls to Bly, Oregon with an extension to Sycan Marsh. Along the way, it passes through small rural communities, ranch and farmland country and national forest land. There are numerous access points along the trail to choose from depending on where you want to bike. On our first trip to the rail trail we parked at the Pine Grove Trailhead just east of Klamath Falls and biked to a point just before the Dairy Y Trailhead for a round-trip total of over 12 miles. The section from Klamath Falls to the town of Olene is paved. The rest of the trail is packed gravel and in relatively good condition.

Pine Grove Trailhead

Along the Lost River east of Olene
A bridge carrying water from the canal above the river
There are numerous gates along the way that need to be passed through due to ranching operations adjacent to the trail
Farm Country!
The trail along the Klamath – Dairy Section parallels scenic Route 140 and crosses the road at one junction

Switchbacks Trailhead

On another day, we decided to visit a section of the trail accessed via the Switchbacks Trailhead near the town of Sprague River. Our intent was to bike but, since I was not feeling quite up to par that day, we just hiked some of the switchback section. It was so beautiful and green here! I cannot wait to come back and bike this area so we can cover more ground!

The trailhead area has a nice picnic area, pit toilet and magnificent views!

There was an interpretive display in the picnic area that described the use of switchbacks by the railroad industry. A switchback was used as a means to climb steep grades without having to endure the expense of building tunnels or employ heavy earth-moving equipment. We hiked the switchback area and some of the former railway bed to the south.

Along the switchback

There were lots of wildflowers blooming along the trail including penstemon, lupine, daisies and buckwheat.

Penstemon speciosa – Showy Penstemon
Another close-up of the Penstemon – stunning, vibrant color!
Sulfur Buckwheat – Eriogonum umbellatum
Lupinus argenteus – Silvery Lupine
Erigeron tener – Slender Fleabane

When the OC&E Railway was being shut down as a railroad corridor and the rails were being dismantled, there was one railroad car that could not be removed easily because the brakes had locked up. I was determined to see this car as we had not passed it on the trail. We found it on a section near the parking lot that we had not hiked.

Abandoned rail car disappearing into the landscape!
Jim inspecting the car, of course!
Looking out across the valley from the trail
The bright green leaves of deciduous trees in the valley created a brilliant contrast to the pines

Thoroughly recommend exploring all or parts of this amazing rail trail! Each section has unique qualities and landscapes. Camping is allowed only in designated places so plan ahead or simply enjoy day trips. We do not have a second vehicle to do a one-way shuttle but that would be a great way to explore the trail without backtracking.

Before leaving the area, we drove some of the national forest gravel road back into the Fremont-Winema NF and noticed a few spots where it is possible to do some dispersed camping that seemed trailer-friendly. Something to keep in mind for the future!

Lava Beds Desert Bloom

Salvia dorrii – Dorr’s Sage on Gillems Bluff

From a distance, the Lava Beds NM landscape looks fairly barren and harsh. But, up close and personal, there are many wildflowers blooming right now along the trails and roadways. On my travels in and around Gillems Bluff the other day, the sagebrush and juniper landscape was ablaze in color. (from a high-desert perspective that is!)

An amazing deep blue Penstemon – not sure of the species – possibly Showy Penstemon – Penstemon speciosus
Common Woolly Sunflower – Eriophyllum lanatum
Coyote Tobacco – Nicotiana attenuata
Threadleaf Phacelia – Phacelia linearis – this is carpeting the sagebrush floor all over the monument!
Cryptantha intermedia – Common Cryptantha

Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway – Part I

Burney Falls

The Volcanic Legacy Scenic Byway is one of 42 “All American Roads” established in the United States.  The entire route is nearly 500 miles in length and is easily divided up into leisurely day trips.  We are fortunate to be working right smack in the middle of this byway that extends from its southern terminus near Lassen Volcanic National Park in North-Central California to its northern boundary at Crater Lake National Park in South-Central Oregon.  The route passes through the fiery, dramatic landscape of four National Park Service properties and numerous state parks, wildlife refuges and national forests with an eclectic assortment of small town communities to explore along the way. 

Last week on one of our days off, we decided to embark on a road trip and complete part of this scenic byway.  Leaving the Tulelake area, we made a brief stop in Merrill, OR to fuel up (diesel is more than $1 cheaper in Oregon than California) and then headed west on Route 161. 

We travel Route 161 often since it’s our major path to Klamath Falls for all amenities and it passes by the Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge.  We discovered an eagle’s nest in the refuge a while ago and visit it often to see how the babies are progressing!

Lower Klamath Falls National Wildlife Refuge – eagle perched on nest

The above photo was taken back in May before the leaves came out making the nest and the eagle very visible! Later in the month, we took my Canon camera with the 200mm lens back out and captured some of the photos below. Jim snapped the photos while I did the editing – just need to give credit where credit is due!! Good job Jim!

In the same area, we grabbed some shots of a Great Blue Heron and some egrets hanging out in the trees!

At the junction of Rt. 161 and Rt. 97, we headed south towards Mt. Shasta, the town.  This scenic road offers up some of the most stunning views of Mt. Shasta, the mountain, and it was a picture-perfect day for viewing this 14,000+ volcanic peak.  At some point this summer, we will venture back here to hike some of the trails on the mountain.

Mount Shasta and Shastina

At Mt. Shasta (the town), we picked up Rt. 89 and began our drive through the Shasta-Trinity National Forest.  I recently read an article touting the attributes of McCloud, CA – a small, mountain town that sits in the shadow of Mt. Shasta.  An old lumber and railroad town (designated a National Registered Historic District), the historic buildings are well-preserved and there are numerous hotels, restaurants and activities to attract visitors year-round.  Visit the McCloud Chamber of Commerce website for more information!  We hit McCloud at just the right time to take a break from driving and grab a snack.  Since it was Tuesday, unfortunately we found many eating establishments closed but the coffee shop in the historic McCloud Mercantile Hotel was open and we enjoyed a great cup of fresh brewed coffee and a blueberry scone!

Continuing south on Rt. 89, we detoured off the road to visit the McCloud River Falls area.  What a treat!!  The McCloud River is a state Wild and Scenic River that runs for over 75 miles – fed from the snowy peaks and springs of the Cascade Mountain area surrounding Mt. Shasta.  Starting at the parking area for the Middle Falls, we hiked the switch-back trail down to the base of the falls and just hung out here for awhile taking in the breathtaking beauty of this waterfall.  Jim couldn’t resist dipping his feet into the painfully cold water at the base of the falls!  The waterfall certainly commands most of the attention in this area but the diversity of the forest plants is not to be missed.  Douglas-fir, white fir, ponderosa pine and incense-cedar dominate this area and there are some magnificent specimens along the trail.

Middle Falls on the McCloud River
Another angle!

We traveled to the Upper Falls for a brief period before getting back on the road towards Burney Falls area.  The Upper Falls, while not as dramatic, had its own special charm. And the river above the falls here was so tranquil and peaceful!

McCloud River scene above the Upper Falls

Our next destination was the McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park.  It seems “waterfalls” was the theme for the day!  We hiked the Falls Loop Trail which starts at the top of the falls and descends to the base of the waterfall.  The trail continues downstream and passes over the creek via a small bridge, reversing course along the forested hillside upslope past the falls and back over the stream above the falls.  Air temperatures had climbed during the day and the hike in the forest was nice and cool!!

Burney Falls

Burney Falls is over 120’ high and 250’ wide and more than 100 million gallons of water flow over the cliff in a day!   The falls are unique in that the water emerges not just from the top where the creek overflows but through numerous cracks and springs in the face of the cliff.  Hanging gardens of ferns and other plants provide a backdrop to the tumbling water creating a stunning display.  Designated a National Natural Landmark in 1954, it is truly one of the most spectacular places in Northern California. 

From the base of Burney Falls

Notice the propensity of plants growing out of the face of the cliff!

Hanging gardens in the falls!
Burney Creek along the trail from the upper bridge

Along the trail, I noticed an unusual maple leaf that I was unfamiliar with – turns out it’s called a Vine Maple – Acer circinatum. Lovely leaf and texture!

I also was impressed with the benches that were dispersed along the Falls Loop Trail.

At the end of the trail, there was a cut-out of a log that showed where different historical events fit in with the rings of the tree. I love these displays!

A short distance from Burney Falls is another interesting attraction that I did not want to miss.   One location for some scenes from the iconic, 1986 coming-of-age movie Stand By Me was filmed in this area.   We made the detour to see the infamous railroad bridge on the Great Shasta Rail line where, in the movie, the boys had a close encounter with a train.  Cool!!   Of course, Jim always stretches the boundaries of acceptable behavior and ventured past the barriers to stand on the bridge! 😊

Perspective view of the rail bridge
Looking downstream on part of Lake Britton from railroad bridge

A great road trip. Over the course of the summer, we’ll travel all stretches of this byway and I’m looking forward to two highlights in particular – exploring Lassen Volcanic National Park and Crater Lake National Park!!

Lava Beds May Wildflowers

Small-flowered blue-eyed Mary – Collinsia parviflora

I noticed this sweet, diminutive flower blooming alongside the Big Nasty Trail near the Lava Beds National Monument border with the Modoc National Forest. This is a native annual plant found throughout the west. Apparently, it has also been present in Vermont – my home state! It thrives on disturbed soils and rocky slopes so it’s not surprising that it is found here in this rocky terrain.

Diplacus nanus (Mimulus nanus) – Dwarf Purple Monkeyflower

Another teensy plant growing in the burned out area near Mammoth Crater is the Dwarf Purple Monkeyflower. An annual plant native to California, this one also thrives in disturbed and bare soils. The plant supports both hummingbirds and several species of butterflies!