Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Richmond Bridge Sunrise - 2/28/12

          A quick stop off before getting on the Richmond Bridge on my way to work resulted in capturing some images of a stunning sunrise.

Richmond Bridge at Dawn

Neon Rays

Richmond Bridge Twilight

Morning Commute

Rod & Gun Club Pier

          I can't complain about my reverse commute with killer views!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Point Reyes - Arch Rock to Mt. Wittenberg Hike - 2/26/12

          I left my house fairly early in route to Point Reyes without any particular hike in mind. I stopped by the Bear Valley Visitor Center and was surprised to see that there were only a few parked cars, so I decided to start my hike there. Perhaps the temperature being in the thirties had something to do with the lack of early morning visitors.
          After referring to my map I settled on a loop hike that I had not done since 1998. The loop includes a trip to the top of Mt. Wittenberg and a journey to Arch Rock. This time I decided to hike the loop in the opposite direction as before because I imagined Arch Rock gets popular around mid day. My plan was to get to Arch Rock early and beat the crowds and then climb Mt. Wittenberg before returning to the trailhead. Most people would probably choose to get the uphill out of the way first and then come back on the mellow Bear Valley Trail, so by going the opposite direction I’d likely miss most of the other hikers.
          The Bear Valley Trail is quite possibly the most heavily used and hectic trail in all of Point Reyes. It is a well maintained multi-use fire road open to hikers bikers and equestrians (no horses on weekends or holidays). For this reason, as well as the attraction at the end of the trail at Arch Rock, this trail sees a lot of action.
          From the parking lot I set off along the Bear Valley Trail hiking briskly as the valley acted like a cold sink, trapping the frigid air. At .2 miles I passed the junction with the Mt. Wittenberg trail which I would be returning on roughly 12 miles later.
          The trail parallels a year round creek, winding through a dense forest of Douglas firs choked by a lush carpet of ferns. At around 1.6 miles, after a slight incline, the trail opened up as I arrived at the Divide Meadow. I contemplated taking a break and watching for wildlife, but I knew hoards of hikers would be approaching soon and any rest would sacrifice my solitude. I continued hiking, soon crossing paths with a father and son carrying large packs who said they had spent a cold night up at the Glen Camp.

Shady section of Trail near Coast Creek

          Coast Creek soon comes into view, paralleling the trail all the way to the coast. About a mile and a half from Divide Meadow I came to a large junction and the end of the road for any bicycles. There is a rack provided to lock up bikes which Sarah and I have taken advantage of in the past. Riding out early is a good way to beat the crowds as well, but it is no fun winding your way through the masses of hikers on your way back.
After passing the bike rack the path narrows to an actual trail for the final mile before reaching Arch Rock. I arrived at the overlook at Arch Rock which affords great views of the Point Reyes coastline.

View From Arch Rock Overlook

          Picking my footing carefully I scrambled down a rough use trail leading to a small beach and the Arch of Arch Rock.

Arch Rock

Archway at Arch Rock

          I was happy to see that the tide was low enough for me to cross Coast Creek and pass through the arch to the south side of Kelham Beach. Every other time I’ve been here the tide has prohibited such an exploration. I took off my shoes and stashed them up against the cliffs then took a stroll north along the sandy stretch of beach.
          A magnificent sea stack juts out of the ocean just off shore which held my attention for a while, trying to capture the right image.

Sea Stack Serenity

          The serenity was surreal while it lasted, but before long the first of many hikers were starting to arrive at the overlook above. With several more miles of hiking in front of me I decided to head back through the Arch and continue on my way.

Northside of the Arch

          From the Arch Rock Overlook I backtracked a short distance before breaking off and heading north on the Coast Trail.

View Towards Mt. Wittenberg From Arch Rock

          The Coast Trail remained flat for a half mile before reaching the junction with the Sky Trail where I began climbing in earnest. I followed the switchbacks up the ridge enjoying views of the ocean and various trail side wildflowers.

View of Point Reyes from the Sky Trail

          The Sky Trail takes one through a variety of different ecosystems from open sunny hillsides covered with coyote brush and other shrubs, to the deep shade of the forest with swaths of sword ferns lining the hillside and delicate pink petals emerging from the many flowering currants.

Flowering Currant

          I greatly enjoyed this section of the Sky Trail as I still had the trail to myself, and it gave me the feeling of really being out there. About a mile and a half from the Coast Trail the Baldy Trail appears on your right leading back down to the Bear Valley Trail. Continuing on the Sky Trail, the climbing eases up and the terrain levels a bit while following a ridge line to the next junction with the Old Pine Trail.

Satyr Anglewing

          By this time my stomach was growling and I contemplated stopping for lunch, but the sight of Mt. Wittenberg not far off kept me moving.
          I soon arrived at another junction, this one with the Woodward Valley Trail leading back down to the coast near Coast Camp. The junction is in the middle of a small grassy clearing with the perfect balance of sunlight and tree cover, making it a good resting spot. The summit was calling however and so I left the picturesque setting for more hiking and elevation gain.
          Resuming my summit march I soon passed the Meadow Trail and arrived at an open area with the short but steep path leading to the peak of Mt. Wittenberg. From my past hike I recall the summit not being all that interesting, lacking views and any sense of a summit at all. I made a quick jaunt to the peak nonetheless just to say I did it, and then returned to the open dry meadow-like area just below the summit.

Clearing Below Summit of Mt. Wittenberg

          I sat and enjoyed lunch while taking in views of Point Reyes to the west, though barely visible through the hazy skies.
After lunch I made a quick decent on the Mt. Wittenberg Trail which drops steeply 1.8 miles to the valley floor below. Although steep, the trail is outfitted with many switchbacks and I can happily say I was glad to be going down as opposed to up. At the same time I was nearing the end of my hike and my knees were starting to get soar; the downhill greatly adding to the pain. The switchbacks came to an end and the path let back out onto the Bear Valley Trail where I strolled back to the parking lot among the other intrepid hikers returning from their explorations.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Muir Beach Sunset - Celestial Alignment - 2/25/12

          After returning from a great trip at Salt Point State Park I was still craving a colorful sunset. Late in the afternoon there was scattered cloud cover in the sky and so I ventured out to Muir Beach to catch sunset. I parked in the bustling dirt lot and set off across Redwood Creek and onto Muir Beach.
          The beach was as busy as usual so I trudged south to the more secluded rocky shoreline where I had the place to myself. I’m sometimes amazed how a place can be so crowded and yet just a few hundred yards away one can find complete isolation.
          I scouted around before settling down a top a rock outcropping and watched as sets of waves rolled in and the sun dipped closer to the horizon.
Going... Going


          Like Autumn leaves the few remaining wisps of clouds began to change colors. As dusk turned to twilight the clouds continued their transformation until the last hue of pink dissipated into the prevailing darkness.
          I hung around for a while as I knew that Jupiter and Venus would be aligning with the Moon, a short lived celestial display lasting only a couple of days, and I hoped to capture an image.

Celestial Surf

          Back at the beach most of the crowds had dispersed apart from a couple of groups gathered around two blazing campfires. I couldn’t resist stopping and warming up my hands as well as firing off a few long exposure frames.

Campfire Stories

Campfire Romance

Monday, February 20, 2012

Sonoma Coast Drive - Whale Migration - 2/20/12

          After an enjoyable weekend at Salt Point State Park we reluctantly packed up camp and left the Gerstle Cove Campground behind us as we journeyed south on the ever windy Highway One and Sonoma Coast. A couple miles before Jenner we pulled off the road at a pullout with a view and proceeded to make lunch. Enjoying our sandwiches, Sarah spotted a whale off the coast. We pulled out the Binoculars and sure enough there was a pod slowly drifting north, spouting their blowholes and flipping their tales as they emerged briefly from their underwater world.

Migrating Whale off the Sonoma Coast

          A great blue heron flew by, landing in a field across the street from our pullout. It proceeded to stalk the hillside for prey.
Great Blue Heron

          The whales kept our attention for some time before we continued south to Jenner and eventually Goat Rock Beach. The Russian River spills into the ocean at the north end of the beach and the mouth of the river is habitat for a colony of harbor seals. We trudged through the sand heading north towards the dozens of seals sprawled out along the river bank. A ranger yielding a large spotting scope and tripod brisked by us in a hurry. I wondered if he was on his way to tell some of the folks to keep their distance from the seals and offer a closer look from his scope. The ranger soon broke out into a sprint which further supported my theory. I arrived expecting to find a disgruntled ranger and disappointed bystanders but my theory was all wrong from the get go. As it turns out the ranger had thought he had seen a rare type of gull from the road above and was rushing to further id the bird. He enjoyed his time with his fellow birding companions with whom he obviously had spoken with at length in times past. Talk about job perks!

In spring time seals have their pups and the mouth of the Russian River is a superb location to watch the family dynamics and sheer playfulness of the harbor seals.

Seals in the Russian River

          Sarah was disheartened at the sight of a seal pup desperately trying to keep up with its mother gone ashore as it repeatedly got washed back to sea by the barrage of incoming waves. That's not to say there were no happy reunions.

Blowing Kisses

Lazy Days

          The seals entertained us for a while before we plodded back to the car contemplating our next step. A quilt work of clouds filled the sky and I imagined a colorful sunset from blind beach with arch rock in the distance. That sunset will have to wait for another evening as we opted to slowly drive home instead. As we pulled up to the house the clouds were ablaze in a magnificent crimson, a perfect ending to another fun filled trip.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Salt Point Prairie - Philips Gulch Falls - Day 3 - 2/19/12

          I got up early once again and hiked out to South Gerstle Point to watch sunrise. The tide was high and the surf was ruff. As I walked around the cliffs of South Gerstle Point I had to be very alert as every now and then a pounding wave would spray its white water high into the air, some blasting just a foot or two away, and raining down upon the sandstone. Temporary waterfalls were being created left and right but I was too slow to capture any images.

South Gerstle Point Sunrise

          The sky never did show any color save for a faint glow behind the fog as the sun rose.
          I explored a bit looking for any particularly unique formations. Most of the extraordinary fretwork presented itself in precarious places making viewing difficult.
          After walking back to camp we prepared ourselves for a hike to the Salt Point Prairie which is located in the parks' higher elevation terrain.
                    We set off hiking south along Highway One to the south entrance of Salt Point State Park and the Woodside Campground which is closed for the season. Shortly after the entrance booth is a parking lot and trailhead for the Central Trail. Although they are called trails on the Salt Point State Park Map most of them are actually fire roads and are open to mountain biking as well. I've ridden here in the past and had a blast but I must say there was an abundance of needle like thorns (similar to goatheads) along the trails that caused Sarah and I both to get flat tires.
          We began hiking up Central Trail which starts out at a steep grade with interpretive panels at intervals along the way. Right away I spotted a Trillium blooming on the forest floor.


          A few steps later revealed several blooming Calypso Orchids which love to reside beneath Douglas Fir trees.

Calypso Orchids

          The trail comes to its first junction with the Huckleberry Trail which veers off to the left and connects with the North Trail in .3 miles. We continued climbing up Central Trail which took us through a densely vegetated area including masses of Huckleberry, Manzanita, Madrone, and Rhododendrons to name a few. Small yellow blooms of Redwood Violet were nestled by the trailside.
Redwood Violet

          A few large water tanks come into view at the junction with the Water Tank Trail which also leads to North Trail. Continuing on Central Trail the terrain levels out and was moist and muddy during this time of year. We passed a trail on our left leading to the Pygmy Forest. We've visited the Pygmy Forest before and were not that impressed. The rough soil conditions limit plant and tree growth hence creating a Pygmy Forest. It is similar to the Sargent Cypress Forests on San Geronimo Ridge and along the Simmons Trail on Mt. Tam, but not nearly as interesting.
          We soon arrived at the Prairie which is a large dry grass meadow that invokes a feeling of comfort and serentiy. We found a nice flat area off the trail to sit down and have lunch. Sarah nodded off while I sauntered around the meadow taking photos.
Nap Time

Salt Point Prairie

          As the afternoon wore on we hiked back to camp taking the same route we ascended on. We relaxed at camp and when early evening came we drove north a few miles and parked at a pullout, setting off on an unmarked path leading across the coastal bluffs to Philips Gulch Falls. Rain has been minimal this season and I expected the falls to be barely trickling, but I was delighted to see a healthy surge of water spilling over the cliffs.

Philips Gulch Falls

          It is hard to believe that although these falls are on Salt Point State Park Property, they do not appear on any map or brochure. Most parks tout their waterfalls as the main attraction. I really like how they've left the falls off the maps making it more of a hidden gem. There is another smaller waterfall a little farther north at Chinese Gulch but because I wanted to wait at Philips Gulch for sunset, I'd save that hike for the future.
          Steep cliffs hem in the falls on both sides with no immediate visible route to the base. Looking down I could see that the tide was low enough to walk around below if I could just find a way down. I started walking north along the bluffs looking for any sign of a way down and quickly realized that even if I had, there was no dry approach along the shore from the north. I turned around and walked south, ascending a steep hillside scattered with blooming irises. I continued along the edge of the cliff until I came across a depression which I followed down a rock face, zigzagging my way through the tafoni and barnacle laden boulders until I bottomed out at the waters edge. I hopped and skipped across the slippery shoreline and made my way over a few smaller gulches until I reached the base of the falls. The two plummeting cataracts of Philips Gulch Falls were far more defined from this angle, as the view from above is quite limited.

Philips Gulch Falls

Philips Gulch Falls with Small Rainbow

          I tried diligently to climb a large sea stack adjacent the falls but the tide was just high enough so that I couldn't make a safe attempt. I scrambled back along the shore and climbed up onto the bluffs to catch sunset above the falls. By the time I got back the clouds had come in, eliminating my chance for any golden light.

Sonoma Coast Sunset

          The area on top of the waterfalls consists of many small pools and rivulets resembling a Japanese tea garden.

Japanese Tea Garden on top of Philips Gulch Falls

          We ended up driving back to camp and relaxing the rest of the evening.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Gerstle Cove - Salt Point State Park - Day 2 - 2/18/12

          I awoke before dawn to a fogged in sky and figured sunrise wouldn't be very interesting so I went back to sleep. When I lifted my head up next and looked out of the van window, the sky was glowing pink. I quickly got some warm clothes on, grabbed my camera and made a break for the coast. I set off down a trail that leaves from near site #10 and travels about a quarter mile through a thick pine forest and out onto a dirt road leading to the picnic area at Gerstle Cove. It was fairly dark under the pine trees as I charged at a full sprint to catch the fading colors. By the time I reached the cliffs edge at Gerstle Cove most of the color had disappeared from the sky.

Gerstle Cove Sunrise at Salt Point State Park

Gerstle Cove Sunrise

          Scaling the intricate rock formations throughout the sandstone was fascinating and eventually I just sat on the edge of the cliff to soak in the calm saline air.
          Back at camp we had an extremely slow and relaxing morning observing various birds. A Northern Flicker pecked away at the grass searching for insects and beetles as a Varied Thrush scampered nearby. A fallen pine at the edge of camp hosted what looked to be a pair of Hairy Woodpeckers.

Varied Thrush

          Eventually we got our itch to go hiking and set off down the path to Gerstle Cove and from there we continued south along a well defined trail traversing the prairie bluffs above the sea. At a certain point we veered off trail toward the edge of the ocean where we followed the contours of the cliffs, admiring every nook and cranny, and walking out onto each overlook.


          As is common along the coast the wind was whipping steadily as we slowly pondered along. We reached South Gerstle Point and walked a little further before settling on a rare windless area nestled amongst nature's extravagant masonry where we had lunch.

Tafoni Rocks!

          Northbound we walked back along the trail to the Gerstle Cove Picnic area, spotting some Harbor Seals sunning on some rocks, and then followed the bluffs toward the visitor center.

Sunning Seals

          The trail got a bit hard to follow at some points as things have become overgrown but we soon made it to the visitor center above Gerstle Cove. From there we contemplated hiking out onto the Salt Point Trail but it was fairly crowded and we were feeling lazy and so returned to camp via a different short but steep unnamed spur trail.
          We enjoyed the quiet late afternoon atmosphere which I must say I wasn't expecting. I always envision a large RV having pulled up next door and running a generator at all hours. When evening came and sunset was upon us, I took off again for South Gerstle Point to enjoy twilight and take some photos. I had seen some nice formations on our hike earlier that I hoped to find again.
          At a slight jog I was at Gerstle Point in roughly 15 minutes where I awaited sunset. As the tides change and waves pound the rocky cliffs, pools of water are left standing on the cliff tops. I was particularly taken by a circular pool with some type of vibrant green algae growing inside.

Very Cool Pool

          I found the "needle eye" rock formation that I had seen earlier just as the sun was reaching the horizon.

Needle Eye

          I worked my way around the tafoni as the rosy pink sky was quickly eaten up by a foggy haze.

Gerstle Point Sunset

Tafoni Sunset at Gerstle Point

South Gerstle Point Sunset

          After the show I walked back to camp barely able to discern my way without means of artificial light.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Salt Point State Park - Trip Report Day 1 - 2/17/12

          With hopes of snagging a campsite at Salt Point State Park we left work early on Friday and hit the road by 3PM. There are no reservations this time of year and only the Gerstle Cove campground is open. We lucked out and beat the traffic up to Petaluma where we drove west towards HWY 1 and Bodega. The countryside is beautiful as soon as you leave Petaluma and gets more interesting as you approach the coast. We followed the very windy HWY 1 along the Sonoma Coast taking in the scenery as much as we could without making ourselves car sick. At one bend in the road we spotted a bobcat on the hillside and there happened to be a perfect pullout for us to stop at.

Sonoma Coast Bobcat

          As soon as I got out of the car to get my camera from the backseat, the cat crouched next to a rock as seen above. A few moments later it took of at a full sprint up the hillside and into the scrubs.
          After Jenner the road gets even more windy as well as more precarious. Thirteen miles later we pulled into Salt Point State Park and were happy to see several vacant campsites. We drove the loop a couple of times before settling on site #15. The campsite is a little bit higher up than the others and offers a slight view of the ocean.
          Since we were lucky enough to be borrowing a Eurovan from a kind family member there was really no setting up of camp, so we decided to head down to Salt Point just in time to catch sunset. We pulled up near the A frame visitor center and set off along the Salt Point Trail where tafoni formations are abundant. The gusting wind blew salt spray everywhere and it was pretty intense. Their was a brief moment of color at the horizon before it fizzled out as the sun got snuffed out by a heavy bank of clouds.

Salt Point Sunset

Salt Point Sunset

          There were a couple hundred seagulls perched on the many rocks jutting up out of the ruff sea. Wind and waves pounded persistently yet the gulls held firm. Walking back to the car a woman commented on the beauty of the gulls perched in unison and I responded about how windy it was. She must have been local because her response was "this is nothing" as a gale nearly blew me over!
          Back at camp we got situated as the stars began to come out. We went for a short walk to go stargazing and when we got back I got my camera out and captured what I could. I was planning on going back out a bit later when more stars were visible but my plan backfired as the fog soon rolled in.

Nor Cal Night Sky