Dan's Outside

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

Wildflower Hike at Almaden Quicksilver

Knowing that the central California wildflower season is just about at its peak, I went out for a short hike this morning at Almaden Quicksilver County park and photographed wildflowers along a few of my old favorite trails.

Quicksilver Wildflowers Purple Wildflowers Three Purple Wildflowers
Three Purple Wildflowers. Almaden Quicksilver Park, California. April 12, 2008. © Copyright G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

April 12, 2008 Posted by | Commentary, Trails, Trips | Comments Off on Wildflower Hike at Almaden Quicksilver

A Brand New State Park…

… to me anyway. This morning I visited Pacheco State Park at the summit of Pacheco Pass between Los Banos and Gilroy. I’ve driven past here for years on my way to/from the Sierra, Death Valley, Los Angeles, but only turned off the road here briefly once a few years ago. This past week I read a post about wildflowers at this park, and I decided to check it out.

I was on the road early enough this morning that I arrived at the park before the sun was up – so I decided to first take a quick trip down to the shoreline of San Luis Reservoir to check out a photo I’ve had in mind. Didn’t work, so I headed back up to the pass and turned off to the park. A short distance up the road from Hiway 152 I took the turn-off onto the short dirt road to the parking lot at the start of the trail to Spikes Peak and many other places. There was only one other car there when I arrived!. This trailhead is – at this time of year – in a beautiful green meadow area with wildflowers just coming up.

Because I was carrying my camera equipment my hike was rather slow since I needed to stop frequently to unload and set up my tripod and camera and various lenses. Before I topped the small saddle at the far end of the meadow I had already stopped two or three times to photograph oak trees catching the first morning light.


Two Oak Trees, Morning. Pacheco State Park, California. March 16, 2008. © Copyright G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Although the hills and grasslands of central California have been starting to turn green for a few weeks now, the impossibly green season is now underway, with grasses coming up like crazy along with all sorts of other vegetation and many wildflowers. I stopped frequently to check out loads of flowers, though it wasn’t easy to photograph them due to extreme winds.

Eventually I wound my way up onto a high ridge along the crest of this portion of the Diablo Range, with extensive views in all directions. To the south there was a bit of snow on somewhat higher peaks; to the west I could see a few clouds forming under the marine air influence; to the north the burned areas of Coe Park were visible with Mt. Hamilton beyond. But the real treat was to the east – green, folded, oak covered ridges in front of me, the San Luis Reservoir beyond them, and then across the wide Central Valley almost the whole Sierra Nevada range was visible on the horizon.


From Pacheco to the Sierra. Pacheco State Park, California. March 16, 2008. © Copyright G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

I continued on along the ridge – in astonishingly strong winds – until I finally reached the “summit” of Spikes Peak. It is the tallest spot on this ridge, and it affords quite a view – but there were higher peaks in several directions. After a quick jaunt back along the ridge and then down to the parking lot the way I had come, I was back at my car by noon.

March 16, 2008 Posted by | Places, Trails | , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Castle Rock Hike

After that last post, I’ll start this one with a bit of a more pleasant photograph:


Monterey Bay and the Santa Cruz Range – Castle Rock Park. December 2, 2007. © Copyright G Dan Mitchell.

In most ways (more on that in a moment) this was a really great hike. I started out at about 10:00 a.m. and it was quite cold and very windy. In fact, it was the sort of wind that causes a sound almost like jet engines – very impressive! Leaves and twigs were flying everywhere, and I didn’t get warmed up until I finally did some uphill hiking. For the first time it actually felt like winter is perhaps beginning around here.

Although it was cloudy on the ridge – due, I imagine, to the clouds lifting as they blew in from the coast – it was apparently sunny out over the ocean. As the photograph shows, not only was it clear enough to see all the way across the bay to the Monterey Peninsula, but the sun was reflecting brightly off of the surface of the water.

About that “most ways” comment above… As I headed back up the trail to the car a bug – a fly, I thought – started buzzing around my head. Annoying. I tried to brush it away, but it was persistent – actually landing on my head and in my hair a couple times. The last time I took a moment too long to swat it away, and discovered the hard way that it was a bee! Ouch! It has been years since I’ve been stung by a bee, and this is the first time I’ve ever had one actually pursue me. Double ouch!

December 2, 2007 Posted by | Commentary, Trails | Comments Off on A Castle Rock Hike

An Almaden Quicksilver Hike…

… or, Who Has Been Plowing Up The Park?

After not going there for some time, yesterday I made it back to Almaden Quicksilver County Park for a hike up the Deep Gulch Trail to the ridge near the old mine buildings. I like this trail because it is a very direct route, heading pretty much straight up to the old English Camp site. I was surprised by light rain – not in the forecast – but it cleared as I neared the ridge.

On the way up I noticed a few areas that looked like they had been worked over by some heavy equipment. I wasn’t quite sure what this meant, but it did look like the non-native and quite invasive (Spanish? Scotch?) Broom plants had been cut way back. About time!

I didn’t think much more about this until near the high point of my hike. At English Camp, instead of ascending to the main ridge on the Castillero trail I took the foot trail that cuts off to the left and arrives on the ridge a bit lower. Arriving here I briefly looked around before starting back down – I was running a bit late. As I started back down the trail I looked to my right and saw two large road cuts through a grove of trees on a nearby ridge – and I decided to investigate. After hiking up one of them, it looks like whoever maintains the high tension power transmission lines that cross that park has seen fit to bulldoze what amounts to a two-lane dirt road straight through the brush to their towers. Pretty ugly stuff.

The following photo is what I think of as an “ironic landscape,” since it is the view one currently sees from the ridgeline trail of this park.


Newly Gouged Dirt Road and Tower of Power. Almaden Quicksilver County Park. December 1, 2007. © Copyright G Dan Mitchell.

Lovely view, huh?

December 2, 2007 Posted by | Commentary, Places, Trails | Comments Off on An Almaden Quicksilver Hike…

Sunday's Trip: Muir Woods

It has been a very long time since I’ve really visited Muir Woods north of San Francisco. Well, I did go a few years back with a group of friends, but we were really there to sample beers at the “guest house” in the hills above the park. In any case, yesterday I decided to combine a bit of photography in the Marin Headlands area with a visit to Muir Woods.

Since I had been at the Golden Gate Bridge early enough to do some sunrise photography, even though I made a short stop near Fort Cronkite first, I still was at Muir Woods quite early. Even with my early arrival the close-in parking lot was already full, so I went down the road a few hundred yards to the overflow lot.

The main section of this park is a redwood forest surrounding a creek that flows through the bottom of a small valley. Trails meander up and down this valley from the entrance. Actually, for someone accustomed to cross-country travel above timberline, “trail” seems like the wrong word. A good number of the paths are boardwalk, in places separated from the forest by fences. I generally don’t like being separated from my “wilderness,” but some protection from the hordes of visitors is no doubt necessary.

About the visitors… There are tons of them. By the time I finished my little photographic amble through the park around noon the place was crawling with people, and not only was the overflow parking lot (where mine had been the only car when I arrived) now completely full, but cars were lining the roadway for a good distance beyond. It didn’t take long to figure out that Muir Woods is on the San Francisco tourist loop, as there were quite a few people arriving by tour bus, and I heard accents and languages from most of the planet.

Even though the crowds are not to my liking, I do understand that areas like this are necessary and, in fact, do serve to expose some people who would not otherwise have the experience to something that feels a bit like wilderness. Among the visitors I saw quite a few who seemed truly impressed by the tall trees and the quiet stillness of this patch of forest.

Of course, I also saw a few humorous things as well. It appeared that some people, wearing clothing and shoes more appropriate for shopping in downtown San Francisco, might have accidentally left the boardwalk trail and ended up on real trails. Good for them for being a bit more adventurous, but some looked more than a bit uncomfortable stepping over downed branches and mud. Since I was in full photographer mode (biggish camera, large lenses, backpack, full size tripod) I also had to endure (enjoy? suffer? laugh at? laugh with?) the comments/antics of people reacting to me and my equipment: “Are you a photographer?” “Did you get a good picture?” It is all in good fun though – I often ask if they would like me to use their camera to take a photo of their whole group for them.

October 22, 2007 Posted by | Commentary, Places, Trails | 1 Comment

A Two-Heel Drive to Mt. Madonna

Tom (at Two-Heel Drive) has just posted a piece on his recent hiking trip at Mt. Madonna park south of the San Jose Area.

I used to go there many years ago to use their field archery range, but I have to say I’ve never hiked in that park. From Tom’s description, it seems like it might well be worth another look.

October 16, 2007 Posted by | Places, Trails | Comments Off on A Two-Heel Drive to Mt. Madonna

A Cross-country Route: Young Lakes to the Dog Lake Trail


Lower Young Lake, Mount Conness. Yosemite National Park, California. September 11, 2007. © Copyright G Dan Mitchell.

I have hiked the well-travelled path from Tuolumne Meadows past Dog Lake to Young Lakes several times. Every time I’ve crossed Dingley Creek, about 3.5 miles out on this trail, I’ve thought of two things: that the view of the Cathedral Range from here is one of the most astonishing vistas in Yosemite, and that it would be interesting to explore the open basin of Dingley Creek above the trail. On this past week’s short pack trip I got my chance.

For now I’ll skip over the first two days of the trip, saying only that I hiked, I camped, I photographed, I got rained on, and it was a good trip. On day two, I spent some time shooting the breeze with a ranger who was on patrol in the area and, among other things, he mentioned that there was a shortcut back toward the Dog Lake Trail. He confirmed what I had read elsewhere and suspected from looking at my surroundings: there is a nice little route over the saddle just to the left of Ragged Peak (as viewed from Lower Young Lake) that ends up rather high in the Dingley Creek drainage and which cuts a perhaps as much as a mile off of the hike. But that’s not the main attraction – the scenery on this short alpine route is much more exhilarating than that on the regular trail. So, on the morning of the final day of my little trip I decided to forego the trail and instead check out this alternate route.

As is the case with many Sierra Nevada cross-country routes there are many possible “right” paths to follow, and many of them are clear from the traces of earlier hikers – and both were the case on this route. I began by heading up through the lakeside forest into the rocky area below Ragged Peak, and generally angling up and to the left as I ascended. I kept quite close to the side of Ragged Peak, and soon found that there was a faint trail – at least in places – where others had gone before. It was easy climbing and route finding for the most part, and I encountered only one slightly dicey section. The steepest portion is on the first half of the climb or so; after that I arrived at a more level area with large boulders backed by a flat, sandy area that could have been a tarn if the water didn’t naturally drain away here. (The photo above was taken from more or less this spot.)

From here the approach to the saddle was very obvious, and I crossed the base of this last slope to the left before ascending on rocky, sandy terrain to the top. The saddle was broad and fairly level with the very gentle slope descending in front of me along the base of the ridge before turning left and heading into the main basin of Dingley Creek. Through this section there was a fairly obvious trail, at least until the route descended through meadow and open forest towards the flatter section of the valley. At the bottom of this slope I angled ahead and right, planning to intersect with the main trail closer to the far side of the shallow valley.

If you like a bit of cross-country travel and are in the area, this is a route that is well-worth the effort. Sometime I’d like to go back this way and bivy in upper Dingley Creek Basin – I think there are some real opportunities for great photographs of the Cathedral Range from this area.

September 14, 2007 Posted by | Trails | Comments Off on A Cross-country Route: Young Lakes to the Dog Lake Trail

Tuolumne, Here I Come

It looks like it will probably be Monday (rather than Sunday, as originally planned) but I’m going to head up to the Tuolumne/Tioga region for a few days this week to do some early summer hiking and photography. I understand that the campground is still working in first-come-first-served mode, so I’ll try to get up there early and get myself on the list. Failing that, I’ve had good luck with any of a number of Forest Service campgrounds just outside the park.

I don’t have any particular agenda – beyond doing a lot of photography – though I’m thinking about a particular hike I’ve done that provided a great panoramic view of the Cathedral range. A late afternoon and sunset photography session there, followed by a quick hike back as darkness falls might be nice.

June 30, 2007 Posted by | Trails | Comments Off on Tuolumne, Here I Come

Deadly Trek Up Half Dome

From an SFGate article: Rangers re-examining safety of popular hike after a fatal fall from cables during final ascent

Nohara didn’t have time to speak or even shout before he slid off the side of Half Dome to his death, becoming the third fatality within a year off the 4,800-foot granite dome.

The death of Nohara on Saturday is forcing Yosemite rangers to re-examine safety on the long trek to Half Dome, a grueling 17.2-mile round trip that culminates with a dizzying 400-foot climb up a ladder-like contraption made of cables and wooden steps leading to the top.

“We need to be concerned about visitor safety and look at it seriously, but the fact that it is wilderness makes it a unique situation,” said Ranger Adrienne Freeman, the park spokeswoman.

This accident is tragic but the fact is that it isn’t possible to eliminate all danger from outdoor activities, particularly those in the mountains. There is always some element of risk, even in situations where risk is not the main goal of those participating. Thousands and thousands of people have ascended the exposed Half Dome “cable route” – and they have been rewarded with an astonishing view and a powerful sense of accomplishment and connection with the natural world. There have been very, very few serious accidents or fatalities.

While the park service should look at safety issues (and has probably done so all along) it would be tragic if an accident like this one led to overly restrictive changes in trail management.

June 19, 2007 Posted by | Commentary, Trails, Yosemite | Comments Off on Deadly Trek Up Half Dome

Mitchell Peak – I Must Do This Hike!

Tom Stienstra at SFGate describes the hike to a Sierra peak that I must visit – it shares my last name!

An overlooked hike that should be on everybody’s list. From 10,365-foot Mitchell Peak, you can extend your arms and feel like the entire Sierra Nevada is within your reach. Scanning from right to left, you can see nearly 100 miles of the Sierra crest, crowned by the distant row of 14,000-foot peaks in the…
[SFGate: Tom Stienstra]

I think I’d like to organize an expedition before the summer is over!

June 19, 2007 Posted by | Sierra Nevada, Trails | Comments Off on Mitchell Peak – I Must Do This Hike!

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