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Explore: March 2011


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19 posts from March 2011

03/31/2011

Across California: Zzyzx

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Clean clothes for Tom after 11 days.

On Wednesday, we left Zzyzx, where we have rested a day to learn about its fascinating history. You can find out a lot about Zzyzx from the Wikipedia article. Tom's wife Madeleine will join us. She is full of trepidation, never having done any desert backpacking.

We're planning to reach  Afton Canyon campground in two days. The Union Pacific RR, the Mojave River, the old Government Road, and an off-road-vehicle open area all use this corridor. I hope there is room for us.

-- Calvin French

Cal, 74, a member of the Sierra Club for 42 years, is trekking 530 miles to highlight the threatened natural corridors between the Colorado River and the Pacific Ocean. Cal sits on the Sierra Club Santa Lucia Chapter Board. He is blogging from his BlackBerry.

03/30/2011

Across California: Pictures

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On March 29, Tom and I crossed Soda Lake, south of Baker.

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Me and Tom Landis enjoying the evening.

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Tom Landis, Spencer Berman, and me figuring out which way to go.

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Me and Stacy Goss at Hole-in-the-Wall, Mojave National Preserve.

-- Calvin French

Cal, 74, a member of the Sierra Club for 42 years, is trekking 530 miles to highlight the threatened natural corridors between the Colorado River and the Pacific Ocean. Cal sits on the Sierra Club Santa Lucia Chapter Board. He is blogging from his BlackBerry.

03/28/2011

Across California: Kelso

First, sorry for the gap in posting. We have had 2 days of no cell reception.

Lots of distance today, maybe 14 miles, 31,221 steps on my simple pedometer. We made it to Kelso by 11 am, picked up our food cache from the rangers, ate lunch at the beanery, and stocked up on H2O. Stacy lent me her 2 2.5 qt. Platypus water carriers because my other four-liter Platy leaked. (Don't use the type with a grip seal on top).

With food for three days and 9 quarts of H2O, my pack is too heavy.

For two days we saw no creosote bushes up in the mountains at 4 to 5,000 feet, but plenty of Mojave yucca. From north of Hackberry Mountain to lower Macedonia Canyon, we crossed the charred remains of yuccas, then pinyons and junipers, victims of the 2005 Hackberry Fire. It was good to see that some yuccas are crown sprouting.

-- Calvin French

Cal, 74, a member of the Sierra Club for 42 years, is trekking 530 miles to highlight the threatened natural corridors between the Colorado River and the Pacific Ocean. Cal sits on the Sierra Club Santa Lucia Chapter Board. He is blogging from his BlackBerry.

Year in Yosemite: It's Cold Out There

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Photos credit: John Jay

Eighteen months ago, my family and I moved to Yosemite National Park. The absolute quiet of the place was something I prized; I couldn't get enough of it. But, over time, I've come to realize that Yosemite isn't silent, there's just an absence of city noise. So while there's no drone of freeway traffic, no blare of car horns or whine of helicopters, it does come with its own unique sounds. Most of these I love—like the roar of the Merced River that flows just yards from our door; the howl of coyotes on the prowl; the wind powering through the trees. There is, however, one sound that makes my blood (soon followed by the rest of me) turn cold. It's the sound of our telephone beeping, an early warning that the electricity is about to go down.

A week ago Sunday, my husband and I woke to this beeping at 6 am. We didn't panic. In fact, we just turned over and went back to sleep. Electricity in Yosemite goes out on a regular basis, usually for a day or two. And while everything in our home—from the heat to the stove to the pump that provides our water—runs off electricity, losing it is inconvenient and cold, but not the end of the world. At the time, last Sunday's storm seemed so insignificant that we decided to keep a bowling date with friends and drive the 25 miles to Oakhurst.

That ride to Oakhurst was one of the most beautiful rides of my life. If white signals the presence of all color; then, thanks to the frosting-thick snow that covered every tree, road, house, creek, stream and gully, every color in the universe was present and accounted for. I may have been raised in Minnesota, gone to college in northern New York and lived for a while in Canada, but until that day, I'd never seen anything like it. Unfortunately, thick dollops of falling snow aren't just beautiful; they are also fearsome. By the time we woke up Monday morning, the electricity wasn't just out, the electric lines were lying all over the ground along with scores of trees.

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While surveying our tiny village with a neighbor, I felt a sense of wonder—massive hundred-year-old oak trees lie strewn across roadways with electric lines wrapped through their boughs—accompanied by the knowledge that we were going to be without electricity for a very long time. In typical Wawona fashion, neighbors began to plot and plan how to deal with the situation—all of the suggestions big-hearted, thoughtful and inclusive—but, ultimately, not enough. By Monday evening, the park was closed, the Valley had been evacuated and all roads in and out were either under snow or the victims of landslides.

On Tuesday morning, firemen knocked at our door to say that a convoy was leaving Wawona at noon—our last and only chance to leave. And, if we left, we couldn't come back until we got the okay. Expectations were that it would be a week. By then our house was hovering in the 40s and the gas for our generator was running low. We threw clothes in bags, packed up our food and buried it in the snow, left faucets on to drip and turned off the water main. Then we headed out to join the convoy.

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The mood there was positively festive—at least for Wawona residents—visitors to the park seemed stricken. Last year, when we had a similar snowstorm, most of us stayed for the ten days it took to restore power. Now, given a chance to leave, people took it and as the line of cars grew, neighbors went from car to car visiting like it was a tailgate party.

We've been in Sacramento now for a little less than a week doing all the things we do whenever we hit a city. Hair has been cut, stores have been visited and we're working on our fill of Thai, Vietnamese and Indian food, none of which is available in or near the park. Yet home calls. We're just waiting for the power to come back on. Then we'll turn our car east once more, eager to hear the roar of the river, the wind in the treetops and the howl of the coyotes. There is, however, one sound I'm hoping not to hear — that's the beeping of the telephone just before our world goes cold. That I could do without.

-- Jamie Simons

In May 2009, while hiking in Yosemite National Park, long-time Los Angeles resident Jamie Simons turned to her husband and said, "I want to live here." Today she and her family have made the move to live for one year in Wawona, where her daughter attends the one-room schoolhouse, Jamie writes, and her husband longs for noise, fast food, people, and the city.(Though he's learning to appreciate mountain life.)

03/25/2011

Across California: Woods Mountains

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We arrived at the National Park Service campground and visitors center at Hole in the Wall before noon today after skirting the north slopes of the Woods Mountains, going in and out of federal wilderness. We're taking the afternoon off -- even had a beer.

I saw ample signs of cattle. Yes, grazing is allowed in federal wilderness, a big concession that helped pass the Wilderness Act years ago.

We have gained elevation. Pinyon dot the slopes of the Woods Mountains and Table Mesa to the north. Creosote bushes have disappeared, but Mojave yucca, cholla cactus, and cheese bush continue. That's a Mojave yucca behind me in the photo. Indigo bushes Turpentine bush brightened the gray, green, and tan color scheme.

We saw a Northern Harrier this morning, swooping and circling, a surprising sight in this dry environment, although there are plenty of cottontails and quail. Yesterday's Red Tail has been the only other raptor, unless you count ravens of which I have seen at least ten. They are becoming common in the Mojave, feeding on garbage and even the young of desert tortoises, an endangered species. Spencer, the sharpest eye among the four of us has counted eleven dead adult tortoises and no living ones. What killed them is beyond me. It may be too early or cold for the living adults to emerge from their burrows, where they overwinter.

KelsoWell, time to package up the next four days' of food -- two packs to carry, two to send on to Kelso, our next named destination.

-- Calvin French

Cal, 74, a member of the Sierra Club for 42 years, is trekking 530 miles to highlight the threatened natural corridors between the Colorado River and the Pacific Ocean. Cal sits on the Sierra Club Santa Lucia Chapter Board, represents the Chapter to the national organization, and serves as a spokesperson for the Chapter on the Carrizo Plain National Monument.

 

Finding "Up" in our Universe

3-25-11 Milky Way ESO-S. Brunier
The Milky Way Galaxy: Which end is up? Credit: ESO/S. Brunier

The idea of which way is up is very subjective. Depending on where you are on Earth, the stars that you see overhead are going to be different, and not only for your location but also depending on when you are looking.

For Earth, the notion of "up" has come to mean the point above the North Pole, which is where Polaris, the north star, is found. This point is also called the North Celestial Pole. When the Earth spins, it seems like all the stars are circling around this spot in the sky.

Earth and the solar system are not aligned in the same plane. Earth is tilted about 23 degrees from the plane of the solar system, and this is why we have seasons. But this also means that the solar system's "north pole" is not the same as ours. The North Ecliptic Pole is the point in space above the sun about which the rest of the solar system rotates. The North Ecliptic Pole is in the constellation Draco, not far from Polaris and the North Celestial Pole. As you might guess, they are about 23 degrees apart. The constellation of Draco is shaped like a dragon and curls around the bowl of the Little Dipper. The North Ecliptic Pole is found within the first bend between the dragon's head and body.

The Milky Way Galaxy, of which we are also a part, has yet another "north pole" about which the entire galaxy rotates. Just as Earth is not perfectly aligned in the same plane as the solar system, so too are Earth and the solar system not aligned in the same plane as our galaxy. The difference between the galaxy's orientation and our orientation is much larger than that between us and the solar system. To find the point in space that is above the center of the Milky Way Galaxy, you must look below the handle of the Big Dipper. This weekend, look for the Big Dipper in the northeast after sunset. If you make a triangle between the last star in the Big Dipper's handle, the bright star rising above the eastern horizon (Arcturus – remember to arc to Arcturus from the Big Dipper) and the tail star of Leo the Lion (Denebola), the spot in the middle of this triangle is the North Galactic Pole. (Ignore the two bright points of light in the east-southeast –- Saturn and the star Spica below. They are not used in the triangle.) The North Galactic Pole is in the constellation Coma Berenices, just east of the Coma Star Cluster (Melotte 111). As you may have noticed, this point is very close to the Zodiacal constellations of Leo and Virgo. This means that the North Galactic Pole is nearly on the ecliptic, and about 60 degrees from both the North Ecliptic Pole and the North Celestial Pole. Therefore, as you imagine the solar system spinning along inside the arms of the galaxy about the galactic core, you must picture us nearly on our side as we orbit.

-- Kelly Kizer Whitt loves clean, clear, and dark skies. Kelly studied English and Astronomy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and worked for Astronomy magazine. She is currently the Feature Writer for Astronomy and Space at Suite101.com. You can follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/Astronomommy.

03/23/2011

Yosemite in Eyeshadow, Redux

Last week: I spent $4.99 on a dazzling palette of eyeshadows that I tried to use as if they were pastel chalks.

This week: I paint with them by wetting a watercolor brush and rubbing it into the tiny pots of color.

First, I made a contour drawing of an image from the Yosemite Conservancy webcam. It's true: Right now Yosemite Valley is in the midst of a huge snowstorm and snow is blocking the cameras. I made my contour drawing from this photo of Ahwanee Meadow taken last March.

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My contour drawing looked like this, just the big shapes:

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Next, I dipped the wet brush into the makeup and stroked, stamped or scrumbled (rubbed wildly) it on the drawing. Paintbrushes make distinctive marks when you use regular paint, and you can use the tip of a brush to suggest the shape of trees, or use an almost dry brush to suggest rocks and sand.  

But not with eyeshadow. The colors are too pale and thin and the pigments are ground too large to control with dampness or brush size. You can just see the tops of the trees that line the meadow in my painting, below, because I had to crop it! The trees had become muddy blurs as I tried to add shadows in the woods.

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To me, the experiment was worth the cost of the eyeshadows! I'm always wondering, "What will make good paint? This clay? This charcoal? The skin of these blueberries?" I didn't find a new paint, it's true, but I do have a better understanding of what makes a good one.  

Drawing from the webcam is great practice and such fun. Try it as a warm-up before you do a more detailed painting.  

As I drew, I felt as if I were in Yosemite Valley, and that's always a good thing.

-- Sue Fierston paints and teaches just outside of Washington, D.C. in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. As a painter, she works in acrylics and watercolor and is in the middle of a series called "100 Flowers." As a teaching artist, she works with teachers to bring art into their classrooms in grades 4-8. Her posts focus on her nature-themed art collaborations. For a look at her paintings or more about her teaching, check out her website at suzannefierston.com.


Across California: Day Three

Sunrise at 6:45. No clouds. Frost on tarp and bag. I spread my arms wide turkey vulture style soaking in the sun's warmth. The trek still feels like the right thing to be doing. Using these tiny keys does not. Breakfast is a homemade protein bar and granola washed down with plenty of water. There are six liters of water left in my Platypus bags. We tacked on an extra five miles yesterday afternoon for Highway 95, so more water used, but no noise.

-- Calvin French

Cal, 74, a member of the Sierra Club for 42 years, is trekking 530 miles to highlight the threatened natural corridors between the Colorado River and the Pacific Ocean. Cal sits on the Sierra Club Santa Lucia Chapter Board, represents the Chapter to the national organization, and serves as a spokesperson for the Chapter on the Carrizo Plain National Monument.

 

03/22/2011

Across California: Over 500 to Go

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Photo credit: Stan Shebs

We had a rainy first night deep in a canyon that cuts through the Dead Mountains. I was amazed at the Native American rock art that survives here, some high up on the canyon walls. I had a cold breakfast, dried off some gear, and headed on up canyon through smoke trees as we crested into the next valley. On Highway 95 we met my wife Letty in the resupply vehicle. We'll meet her again on the afternoon of March 23 if all goes as planned -- 21 miles as the crow flies. Only 12 miles so far. Over 500 to go.

-- Calvin French

Cal, 74, a member of the Sierra Club for 42 years, is trekking 530 miles to highlight the threatened natural corridors between the Colorado River and the Pacific Ocean. Cal sits on the Sierra Club Santa Lucia Chapter Board, represents the Chapter to the national organization, and serves as a spokesperson for the Chapter on the Carrizo Plain National Monument. So, why is he doing this?

Calvin3 "To show that someone can walk across the heart of California on public and conservancy land, avoiding roads and highways, over an area that still looks natural," he says. "And it is through this personal connection with the land, during a two-month journey, that I hope to highlight the necessity of preserving and protecting what wildness remains. If the habitats within this great wildness become cordoned off and isolated, they will eventually die of starvation."

03/20/2011

Across California: A 530-Mile Trek from the Colorado River to the Pacific

In 1826, my much-removed cousin Jedediah Smith, a 27-year-old fur trapper, led a band of 16 men from Utah to California, which was then part of Mexico. Now, 186 years later, and 47 years older than he was, I will be retracing part of Smith's route -- the part where he reached the nearly dry Mojave River. He was actually looking for the mythical Buenaventura River, which supposedly would connect the interior of North America to the Pacific Ocean, serving as a vein for commerce. Of course he never found it. My goal is different: I'll be looking to see how the different ecoregions from the eastern Mojave Desert across the mountains to the Pacific connect with each other.

Cousin Jedediah had only the sketchiest of maps, if any, whereas my companions and I will have almost too much information, thanks to things like GPS, topographic maps, and Google Earth. Thousands of articles, scientific papers, and books describe the areas I plan to cross. You can drive from the start to finish in a long day. So why walk it? Aside from the personal accomplishment, my larger purpose is to show that someone can walk across the heart of California on public and conservancy land, avoiding roads and highways, over an area that still looks natural. And it is through this personal connection with the land, during a two-month, 530-mile trek, that I hope to highlight the necessity of preserving and protecting what wildness remains. Not only that: If the habitats within this great wildness become cordoned off and isolated, they will eventually die of starvation.

That starvation will come about when connections are severed. For example, biologists have told me that the San Joaquin Valley kit fox population on the Carrizo Plain National Monument -- through which I'll pass -- could die out unless it maintains connections with populations to the north and south. Another example: Joshua trees in Joshua Tree National Park are dying off due to excessive summer heat; meanwhile, other groves of these picturesque spiny plants are extending west of the hottest deserts.

The Route

Beginning at the Colorado River near Laughlin, Nevada, on March 20, four of us will cross the Dead Mountains and head for Hole in the Wall in the Mojave National Preserve, which we'll reach in six days. Spencer Berman and Stacy Goss will leave the trek there. Four days later, Tom Landis and I will be at the strangely-named Zzyzx, now a center for desert studies, where Tom's wife Madeleine will join us.

Eventually, backed up by new supplies from my wife Letty, we'll reach the Pacific Crest Trail at Jawbone Canyon and take it south to the Tejon Ranch, probably the most vital ecological link between the desert, Sierra, San Joaquin Valley, and Southern California mountains and valleys. With kind permission we'll cross the Ranch and enter the Wind Wolves Preserve, which also greatly enhances connectivity among ecoregions. Then we're on to Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge, the Carrizo Plain National Monument, the Carrizo Ecological Reserve, and the Los Padres National Forest. We'll reach the Pacific in Morro Bay on May 1 or 4 ... or whenever we get there.

-- Calvin French

Cal, 74, a member of the Sierra Club for 42 years, is trekking 530 miles to highlight the threatened natural corridors between the Colorado River and the Pacific Ocean. Cal sits on the Sierra Club Santa Lucia Chapter Board, represents the Chapter to the national organization, and serves as a spokesperson for the Chapter on the Carrizo Plain National Monument. So, why is he doing this?

"To show that someone can walk across the heart of California on public and conservancy land, avoiding roads and highways, over an area that still looks natural," he says. "And it is through this personal connection with the land, during a two-month journey, that I hope to highlight the necessity of preserving and protecting what wildness remains. If the habitats within this great wildness become cordoned off and isolated, they will eventually die of starvation."


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