This site is no longer actively maintained, though it is monitored. My “Dan’s Outside” website was very active some years ago, but I eventually transferred much of my online material to my photography website at http://www.gdanmitchell.com/.
For now the material on this site remains for archival purposes only. Eventually it may be removed.
G Dan Mitchell
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
According to Yosemite 120 on Twitter, Old Priest Road on Route 120 into Yosemite National Park will be closed during most of July and August. This road provides a short, steep shortcut on 120 as the road begins to ascend from the lowlands. Many of us take it both to save a few minutes and to avoid being held up behind quite so many RVs and slow vehicles pulling trailers!
Another crazy bear video from Youtube:
Come to think of it, “Dancing Bear Blog” isn’t a bad title.
Coming in to work this morning, the radio station reported that snow chain requirements are up on highway 80 across Donner Summit, and that eastbound traffic is being held at Colfax! Wait a minute – this is supposed to be spring!
While reports say that the overall weather in much of the rest of the world is warmer than normal so far this year, here in northern and central California this has been anything but a warm May. One report on a Bay Area television station earlier this week suggested that by the end of the month one quarter or a third of the days of May will have seen some precipitation.
I’m not complaining though. I prefer cool and “interesting” weather to the boring and consistently beautiful and warm weather of summer in the part of the world, and I welcome the possibility of a very green and wildflower-filled summer in the Sierra this year!
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