Eureka Dunes Blowout
By Wesley Peck
As we left the campground at the corner of Rt. 395 & 168 in Big Pine and headed up the desert canyon toward Eureka Dunes, little did we realize the problems that would plague us.
The road to the dunes winds up a picturesque canyon to a high grassy ridge with Pinyon pines. From the ridge we sidetracked to the Saline valley road, a steep and twisty dirt path, to Marble canyon. There we explored several abandoned mines in the canyon dry wash. On the way out, stopping for an overview of the high desert canyon terrain, I detected a hissing sound coming from the rear tire Our first flat tire. We tried a can of fix-a-flat but the hole was too big. Stopping at the junction of the Saline and Eureka roads we decided to have lunch while Steve changed the tire. The view across the ridge and down the canyon to the Sierra's, across the Owens valley, somewhat compensated for our problems.
The road continues across grass and pine covered ridges, then descends to Eureka valley. The dirt road to the dunes has one short sandy section that caused the cars to through up a shower of fine sand thereby making sure everyone got their cars appropriately dirty. The dunes sit in a U shaped valley that has a large playa in its center with the dunes at the south end, and striped, multicolored cliffs enclosing it. Approaching, the dunes stand out sharply against the darker rock of the surrounding mountains. Arriving at the dunes we found the two picnic tables full so several people went looking for a camping spot while others started up the dunes.
Upon reaching the apparent top, the dune hikers realized that it was only a false top, the true peak lay further on. From our final camping area on the east side of the dunes, we had a straight shot to the peak and views westward across the entire dune ridge. An after dinner sunset and a cozy fire rounded out the first day.
The second day dawned with a clear sunrise that illuminated the dunes. An investigation of our campsite seemed to indicate we were on the remains of an old tufa formation. An analysis of the rocks we found (by Steve after the trip) proved this was correct indicating that the whole valley was under water in ancient times. Heading out we wound our way up and down multicolored canyons to Crankshaft Crossing. There, artfully arraigned, old car engine guts punctuate the name. We decided to head down into Death Valley along the rough but fairly straight dirt road. Upon reaching the main paved Death valley road we stopped to regroup and once again I noticed a hissing sound. Another flat tire!! With no spare we tried another can of fix-a-flat that one of the other participants had and luckily it held. But as our group gathered we realized that another member had not only had a flat, but had completely shredded his tire. A relaxing lunch on the lawn of Scotty's Castle left everyone in a good, if cautious, mood for the trip back to civilization.
Cautionary note: As far as we could tell, none of the flats was caused by the ordinary culprits (nails, glass, etc). They were caused by plain old rocks! When driving on dirt roads be sure to have a good spare and either a can or two of fix-a-flat and/or a tire patch kit and air pump.
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By Wesley Peck
As we gathered at Grandview campground (El 8500 ft) we realized it was unfortunately going to be another of those clear blue, cloudless days that occur frequently in the summer. After driving to Schulman grove we hiked the short (1mi) discovery trail through the Bristlecone pines. In addition to discovering the weathered, twisted and gnarled pines we also found that hiking up hill at over 10,000 ft is hard work. Afterwards we drove up to the Patriarch grove where we had lunch and spent the rest of the day.
The pines on this high ridge (11,000 ft) are exposed to all the storms that come through the White mountains and have developed much character. The Bristlecone pines survive in this harsh environment by conserving energy and growing slowly. This produces trees that are partially hard, dense, dead wood that weathers into sharp ridges and golden red colors and living bark and branches that produce dark green, bottle brush needles with purplish, spiked cones and glistening drops of sap. These trees grow either in notches in white dolomite outcroppings (a form of marble) or on ground that is composed of disintegrating dolomite. Adding the deep blue sky makes for some dramatic photos. The views from the ridge are sweeping taking in the local mountains and into Nevada. Here and there on the ground small patches of growth provide small but colorful flowers. For the B&W; photographer the fantastic forms of the trees contrasted with the sky and ground make for outstanding pictures.
On Sunday we drove back to Schulman grove and took the longer (4mi) Methuselah trail. The trail climbs through mixed pines till it crosses a ridge and drops into two canyons that contain Bristlecone pines. Climbing another ridge, you have sweeping views of both the Sierra's and Deep springs lake (dry and glistening white at this time of year) on the east side of Westgard pass. As you wind through the canyons the groves of Bristlecone become more dense. Somewhere in these groves is the oldest tree yet found, though it is not marked.
After the hike we had lunch in the visitor center area along with numerous small blue butterflies and begging golden-mantle ground squirrels. We all went home tired but refreshed.
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Late Spring on the Central Coast
By Joan Schipper
Judy Molle's Morro Bay Car Camp in May was a classic Camera Committee outing. The essential elements of good location, interesting subject matter, slow photo-pacing, delicious happy hour munchies and good campfire conversation were all accounted for.
Our group gathered in time on Friday to visit the Morro Bay Estuary in the late afternoon light. We saw cormorants, herons, egrets and turkey vultures nesting or roosting in the eucalyptus trees. It was such a wonderful site that many of us returned for first light, breaking out our tripods and longest lenses to capture nestlings. Judy also introduced us to Montana de Oro, where we wandered from cove to cove, peering into tidepools and examining the distinctive rock formations. We missed the massive poppy display that gives the area its name, but along the cliff-top trail, we still found several patches of poppies and other wildflowers and beautiful grasses. We watched the late light in a delightful wetlands preserve, nestled in a quiet neighborhood and still had time to explore a sand dunes environment.
Breaking camp on Sunday, we headed for Los Osos Oak Preserve where our morning was consumed amid pigmy oaks, Spanish moss and dappled light. It was beautiful and inspirational.
Turning towards home, Judy led our caravan through the pastoral hills above Santa Barbara with occasional stops to photograph or visit a winery. We are very lucky to have Judy on the Central Coast. Hopefully, she will continue to arrange satisfying adventures like this one.
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An early California Experience
by Larry Tapper
It was billed as, "Petroglyphs and Pinnacles." It was that and more. Along the way we had good company, good food and a trip through time.
Saturday morning, December 12, sixteen souls ventured out of the Quality Inn at Ridgecrest, and congregated at the Maturango Museum where we were met by the four guides, who would lead us into to a pre-historic California. After an introductory lecture and film, we caravaned through the China Lake Naval Weapons Center to Little Petroglyph Canyon. Although entry to the base is tightly controlled, we were assured that we were guests, not targets.
The weather cooperated: sunny, clear, and calm. Perfect for viewing the petroglyphs that adorn both sides of the canyon for about two miles. These rock drawings were created centuries ago and picture sheep and other animals, people and symbols taken to be the sun, moon, stars and other elements. It was a treat not only for photographers but also archeologists and hikers, as the museum had provided us with a newly-written booklet keyed to markers explaining the petroglyphs. That evening we compared notes while enjoying a Chinese meal at the Golden Dragon.
Sunday, we drove a short distance northeast to the Trona Pinnacles for a glimpse of an even earlier California.These pinnacles are among the largest tufa formations in the world. As with those at Mono Lake, they consist of calcium carbonate exuded from underwater. No more water, but lots of wonderful forms that made us feel like we were on the moon.
After paying our respects to nature's wonders, we headed down the road and forward in time to Randsburg, a marvelous old mining town with photo opportunities galore. Lunch at the general store was both a surprise and a treat. Great healthy, creative food at old-fashioned prices. One of their many specials is a malt the way I remember it from the forties and fifties! Great finale for a great trip with great people.
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Chickenfoot Lake Backpack
by Larry Tapper
It was written up in the schedule as, "Easy backpack to E Sierra wilderness area replete with lakes, streams, and wildflowers." How true! Meeting Friday morning at Mosquito Flat, end of the road from Tom's Place, eight intrepid backpackers (including five leaders) trekked past five lakes to Chickenfoot Lake where we set up camp. It was a cloudless sky when we began, and the valley was covered with an explosion of wildflowers.
By early afternoon, the clouds had rolled in, and for the rest of the day and evening we were cooled by intermittent rain and pelted by a short spell of hail. Still, we strung a dining tarp and feasted on appetizers, soup, cold barbecued steak and turkey breast and finished with puddings for desert.
By morning, the storm had passed, and we ventured off to the Gem Lakes where I caught a couple of trout. Our second night's dinner was chef salad plus all the other goodies.
Sunday, after a leisurely morning, we packed up and walked out -- in one hour forty-five minutes. In all, we "bagged" ten lakes and thirty-seven varieties of wildflowers. Sunday night, I had trout for dinner
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