Dan's Outside

I go, I see, I do, I walk, I think, I like…

Fall is Here

OK, you knew that. And so did I. But a few comments and observations seem to be in order.

1. Here in the San Francisco Bay Area fall is not what you might expect. After all these years living here I still want to think that the weather will moderate when fall starts – but it doesn’t work that way. Instead, this is often one of the hottest times of the year, and the greatest California fire danger is often from now until about the middle of October. It hasn’t rained for a long time, the vegetation is dry, and it can be hot and sunny with offshore winds. (Real fall-like weather around here starts closer to the end of October.)

2. That said, there are signs that the seasons are changing. Not only are the daylight hours obviously a lot shorter now, but there are some other transitions taking place. I was at Muir Woods today where I saw bay and maple leaves turning yellow and gold, and many of the seasonal plants are starting to die away.

3. The Sierra is a different world than these coastal areas. Because of the higher elevations the first signs of the end of summer come much earlier – actually before summer ends. Weeks ago I saw the corn lily plants beginning to turn yellow and brown and fall over. Most of the flowers – but not all – were done blossoming. The creeks have lost their peak season flow and some have dried up completely. And a week or two ago I saw quite a bit of fall color in the high country – plants turning brown and yellow and golden, and the light taking on the warm quality of fall.

4. Perhaps best of all, the Sierra aspens are starting to turn. I had hoped to make a quick trip to the “east side” today, but that turned out to not be possible. However, I’m hearing from quite a few sources that the aspens have turned in a major way at some of the higher locations, and over the color show should continue and peak over the next week or two.

September 26, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Comments Off on Fall is Here

It is National Wilderness Month

Read the proclamation of National Wilderness Month… and then go out and celebrate. Alone. And quietly. I know I will.

By the way, it seems appropriate to me to time this for September when there are fewer people in the wilderness, the light becomes beautiful, the temperatures cool, and the mosquitoes go away!. All in all, this is my favorite time of the year in the Sierra.

September 8, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | Comments Off on It is National Wilderness Month

Wonderful Video About Yosemite’s Ostrander Lake Hutkeeper

Take a look at this short video about the fellow who has been the Ostrander Lake hutkeeper for something like 35 back-country winters in Yosemite.

August 12, 2010 Posted by | People, Yosemite | , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Wonderful Video About Yosemite’s Ostrander Lake Hutkeeper

What? It’s Raining!

Last weekend I decided to do one of my favorite Tuolumne Meadows area hikes – the Mono Pass trail. This trail starts below Tioga Pass, just inside the park, and goes out the Sierra crest near Mount Gibb, passing through forest and beautiful alpine meadows on the way.

As I loaded up my pack – filling with a lot of photography equipment – it was a beautiful, clear morning. The previous day I had hiked out toward North Dome and carried what turned out to be too much extra clothing. Since I usually tend to over-prepare for the weather, and was perhaps more aware of this than usual having done so only 24 hours earlier, I decided to just take what I was wearing. That’s right, no rain gear.

Is there a better way to ensure that it will rain?

About an hour into the hike, near the junction with the trail to Spillway Lake, I was pleased to see some white, fluffy clouds appear – they relieved the uniform blue sky and occasionally produced a welcome bit of shade. I began to consider how I would incorporate them in photographs near the pass.

I reached the area of the pass at about 1:00 and wandered over to the historic mine site that sits on the pass. (I had visited the mine remnants before, but this time I found out a bit more about it. The site is older than I had thought, first being used in the 1860s and abandoned in about 1890.)

I sat down on a comfortable rock to drink some water, have a snack, and look around for photographic subjects. I noticed that the fluffy white clouds had morphed into something much darker and a bit menacing to my south, in the direction of Parker Pass. I figured this meant that there might be some thunder and perhaps a few showers by late afternoon when I returned to my car. No worries!

Not five minutes later it started to sprinkle. I thought “that’s a bit surprising, but it will stop in couple of minutes.” It didn’t stop. The drops became larger. I began to think about my lack of rain gear. As I sat there munching on my snack there was a sudden clap of thunder right overhead – what I call “flash bang” thunder because it is so close that there is almost no delay between the flash of lightning and the bang of thunder. A few minutes later another clap of thunder exploded right overhead.

OK, time to leave! By the time I had the pack reloaded and on my back, the light rain was becoming steady. Two thoughts became prominent in my mind. One, I had left my tent windows open back in Tuolumne Meadows – I hoped the rain didn’t head that way! Two, I was either going to get lucky and watch the showers move on, or I was about to get very wet on the nearly two-hour walk back out.

I got lucky. Although the trail was wet all the way down, there was constant thunder, and I could see rain coming down all around… it barely sprinkled on me until I got to my car. As I loaded the car it began to come down in earnest.

My tent was not so lucky. Back in Tuolumne it had rained, and hard.

Lessons learned and relearned. Never leave camp without closing everything up and putting all of my gear away. And, what the heck, toss that lightweight parka in the pack!

July 26, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Oops! I’ll Bet You Would Like to Have the Link

I posted a short message yesterday concerning a video about Yosemite Valley rockfall – but neglected to include the link.

July 8, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Comments Off on Oops! I’ll Bet You Would Like to Have the Link

Rockfall Video at Yosemite NPS Web Site

There is a wonderful and informative video about rockfall in Yosemite Valley posted at the Yosemite National Park web site. I feel like I’m relatively aware of this situation as a long time Yosemite visitor, but I learned new stuff from this presentation.

July 7, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | Comments Off on Rockfall Video at Yosemite NPS Web Site

A Perverse Sight in Tuolumne Meadows

About a week ago I was in the Tuolumne Meadows/Tioga Pass area to do photography for three days. Tuolumne was at an especially wonderful point in its annual seasonal evolution: almost all of the snow was gone from the meadow, though there were still impressive patches among the trees, there was still water everywhere including in large pools in the meadow, the new grasses and meadow plants were coming up and turning the meadow green, here and there the first wildflowers of the season were starting to appear, snow still was thick on the surrounding ridges.

As I drove slowly through the meadow at one point I followed a SUV that appeared to be a “family car” with mom, dad, and kids inside. Looking more closely I noticed that above the back seat there was a large flat-panel monitor showing some movie… apparently so that the kids wouldn’t be “bored” by the very thing they drove so far to see.

Strange. And sad.

July 7, 2010 Posted by | Commentary | Comments Off on A Perverse Sight in Tuolumne Meadows

A Wet Year – But California Still Has Water Issues

An article in SF Gate reminds us that California’s water issues are not just related to the periodic drought years. In this year of above-normal precipitation the point is clearer as some areas still have to worry about insufficient water for all projected needs.

In short, California has several issues that can’t be fixed by a good rain year. They include the fact that much of the state is a desert or near desert, that the state relies (too much, in my view) on very expensive systems that move water tremendous distances, and a huge and growing population.

June 13, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , | Comments Off on A Wet Year – But California Still Has Water Issues

My Photography

It occurred to me after I moved this blog to the new URL that some new readers might arrive here without the context that some who followed the old version of the blog might have. One big chunk of that context is my photography – the thing that often takes me to the places I write about here.

While I did travel to Yosemite last weekend largely to see and experience the transition from winter to spring in the Sierra, making photographs is a very important part of such trips. I don’t post them all here, but I do post a new photograph every day at my photography blog: G Dan Mitchell Photography.

Additional photographs from opening day along Tioga Pass Road are already posted there, with more to come from TP Road and Yosemite Valley.

June 9, 2010 Posted by | Commentary, News, Photography, Site News | , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on My Photography

Over Tioga Pass on Opening Day

When I heard that a) the Merced River was about to reach its peak flow and b) Tioga Pass Road was scheduled to open on June 5 I quickly put together a one-day quick trip to Yosemite last weekend. This is a bit of a tradition for me – to get up there for at least a quick look at the spring waterfalls and to try to get over the pass as soon as possible after it opens.

For a one-day up-and-back trip (amounting to a bit more than 20 hours on the road, all told) I have to start early. So, long before dawn I was up and in the car and on the road in the dark. The sun comes up – duh! – a lot earlier this time of year, so it was getting light by the time I stopped in Oakdale for a quick on-the-run Starbucks breakfast and got right back on the road. In order to arrive in the Valley by sunrise I would have had to be driving by 2:00 a.m., and that didn’t happen, but I did arrive relatively early and before the really big crowds were out and about. I spent a few minutes at my favorite first view on El Cap and Half Dome along the road just past the turnoff to Foresta and then headed down into the Valley to make my traditional first stop for a thorough drenching under Bridalveil Fall.

I spent a bit more time in the Valley before realizing that the crowds were growing way beyond my comfort level. I don’t blame folks for flocking to the Valley for a scene like this: all of the waterfall in full flow, the sound of falling water everywhere, seasonal falls that aren’t usually seen, new green growth everywhere, flooded meadows, and a warm and clear spring day. But since I can come back on less crowded days, I decided that the drive over Tuolumne would be at least as special and much less crowded.

As I started up 120 I soon saw significant amounts of snow, and by the time the road rose to 8000′ of so the snowpack was pretty continuous. The higher peaks appeared to be in full winter mode still, and I was surprised to see lakes like little Siesta Lake completely frozen over. I’ve been over Tioga before soon after the road opened, but the amount of snow remaining from the cold and wet May and the generally wet winter was quite impressive. Tuolumne Meadows itself was completely covered with snow, excepting the large areas flooded by the surging Tuolumne River. (The entire meadow area just upstream from the bridge by the campground entrance was completely flooded and there were only a few inches between the rushing water and the underside of the bridge.

I continued on up to the pass with a goal of grabbing an early dinner at the Whoa Nelly Deli in Lee Vining. At the pass there were still several feet of snow with plow cuts being five to six feet tall in places. Tioga and Ellery Lakes were almost completely frozen over, and quite a few people were still going back-country skiing in the area. After stopping for dinner in Lee Vining (and grabbing a quick espresso at Latte Da) I headed back up the pass to shoot late afternoon and evening light before heading home.

Ice and Snow on Tioga Pass and Tioga Lake

Ice and Snow on Tioga Pass and Tioga Lake

I made this photograph at Tioga Lake as afternoon shadows from clouds and nearby peaks stretched across the frozen lake surface with Tioga Pass and Kuna Crest looming beyond. (Photograph © Copyright G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.)

June 8, 2010 Posted by | Sierra Nevada, Trips, Yosemite | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Over Tioga Pass on Opening Day

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