A Unique Rock Hounding Trip

11 Feb

Every year on the second weekend in October, the Searles Lake Gem & Mineral Society in Trona puts on the Trona Gem-O-Rama in conjunction with the nice people from Searles Valley Minerals (who mine the lakes for borax and other minerals), who open their property to collectors from all over the country to collect evaporite minerals. After seeing fabulous big slabs slathered with pink and white halite at the local rock and gem shows, I wanted to get in on this opportunity.

Fellow Ventura Gem and Mineral Society members Maria Flores and her husband Raul Barraza had never been and wanted to go too, so we hatched a plan to go together to the 2013 Gem-O-Rama, two or three hours northeast into the desert. The Trona adventure takes place on Saturday and Sunday, so we decided to drive up Thursday and use Friday to do a little sightseeing. The nice thing about sharing rides on long trips like this is that you get a chance to know each other. We talked the whole time and before we knew it we were approaching Red Rocks State Park, a short distance from our final destination. We wanted to stop and see the beautiful red and buff sedimentary formations. The soft cliffs erode into fantastic shapes. This park has a lot to offer, including petroglyphs, and I’d like to return next time and see more of it.

Red Rocks State Park

Red Rocks State Park

We rolled past China Lake and into Ridgecrest as the sun was going down, and checked into the Motel 6. (We considered dry camping, but given the muddy collecting conditions, decided $35-ish a night sounded a lot more fun.) Friday morning the three of us headed east on 178 to take in the sights. We passed through Trona where people from the local gem society were busy setting things up, then decided to look at the dry camping area on the other side of town to see if anybody was there yet. There were a few people set up, but I was more interested in seeing what was behind the Trona Golf Club sign at the turnoff. Remember, this is the Mojave Desert. Beyond the camp was a chain link fence with a beat up sign and a few buildings. Not really believing this was anything more than an overgrown relic from the boom days of Borax mining, I checked the satellite view on my phone’s map, and sure enough, it looked like a golf course, albeit a brown one. We got out to take pictures and darned if there weren’t a couple of guys actually teeing off not far from the fence. We went inside for a closer look at a real desert golf course. The tees consisted of pieces of carpet and the greens were actual grass with sprinkler systems to keep them going, but the rest of the place was natural gritty desert. If you’re a golfer, pack your clubs. It’s a public 9-hole course with a $5 green fee.

Trona Golf Club

Trona Golf Club. Sign on honor box warns of rattlesnakes.

We continued east toward the Panamints, ignoring the big “Road Closed 17 Miles Ahead” sign. This road ultimately takes you to Death Valley, but we weren’t going that far. Right at the turnoff for the ghost town of Ballarat, the road was indeed closed with big piles of dirt (and a well worn track going around them). We turned right, passed over a dry salt flat, and ended up in Ballarat, parking in front of a closed general store to have a look around. We inspected some old tumble-down adobe structures, picked up bits of broken purple desert glass while a wild donkey flirted with Maria and me, and then settled on the shady junked-up porch of the general store for lunch. Raul became the de facto local as car after car stopped asking him for directions to Death Valley (because of the road closure). He confidently sent them ahead on the same lonely road (and luckily nobody came back).

Wild Donkey

Wild Donkey

The last site of the day was the Trona Pinnacles. These tufa pinnacles, south west of Trona, are the result of some fantastic underwater voodoo involving calcium carbonate that happened dozens of millennia ago. Many movies, TV shows and commercials have been filmed among these striking formations. Back in Ridgecrest, we had a great Mexican dinner at the Golden Ox, catty-corner from the Motel 6. Even though they didn’t have chile rellenos that night because the owner’s mother was out of town, I’d highly recommend this place.

Trona Pinnacles

Trona Pinnacles

We got up bright and early Saturday morning to get good positioning in the parking lot. You line up your cars in a laned parking lot so they can lead the 100 or so cars to the collecting area in an orderly fashion. We arrived around 6:30 and ended up about 10th in line, parked, then walked over to the local church for pancakes. The breakfast was pretty simple – pancakes and sausage, hot drinks and OJ. (Note to self: pack a container of real maple syrup and some real butter next year. If I’m going to eat pancakes, I want to go all the way.) Then back at the parking area we got our tickets for the 3 trips and milled around until the 9 am kickoff.

The first trip is mud collecting. From beneath the brine, they dredge up mud studded with jumbo hanksite crystals, and spread it out for everyone to muck through. Turns out, this is the only one of the 3 trips where it really pays to get in line early. We got to park on the first row, and got to the mud before the onslaught of fourth-graders on their field trips. Right off the bat, Raul found a beautiful cluster of crystals that was one of the day’s big prizes. I immediately grabbed a few quart-sized crystals before hoards of people descended. The hanksite is abundant so you can get in and out quickly. I washed my finds in one of the brine troughs provided and bought a jug of brine later so I could finish off the job at home. Plain water will dissolve the crystals, so you really do need the brine from the lake.

HanksiteMud BrineTrough

Hanksite

Hanksite

Back at the gathering area, we parked near the front of the lineup for the afternoon trip to the blowholes. The second trip involves the blowholes, where they drill down 40 feet and set off a charge to loosen hanksite, sulfohalite, borax and halite crystals. Then they shoot compressed air down one pipe to force crystals and brine up the other, spraying the slush into semicircles. The crystals come out pretty clean, so the challenge is to find the somewhat rare sulfohalite double pyramids (octohedrons) and nicely formed double-terminated hanksites (hexagonal). We all came away with nice specimens.

Sunday morning we weren’t as frenzied about getting in line first, but as it turns out, we got good placement anyway. The collecting area for the pink halite was extensive, so everybody got to park close. However, chance had it that we parked right next to a small deposit of blue-green halite, so that was the first thing stashed into the truck. There were dozens, if not hundreds, of pink brine pools in the playa. The brine needs heat and sun to encourage the bacteria to thrive, then when they die and the water evaporates, their little bodies turn red and get trapped in the growing salt crystals forming on the underside of the salt shelf. We trudged out with our buckets and settled into a random area and hacked away. Mostly I collected very pale pink to white crystals on a pink base (not pink crystals per se, but quite attractive overall).

Halite (ordinary salt)

Halite (ordinary salt)

PinkPools

Pink Brine Pool

Pink Brine Pool

After a last run through the gem show and lunch of awesome pulled pork on nachos from the local club’s food concession, we headed out. A pleasant drive back to Ventura with my new friends Maria and Raul wrapped up a wonderful trip.

Christmas 2013 in San Diego

31 Dec

Last year’s Christmas trip to the central coast was so much fun, my mom and I decided to do a road trip again, this time to San Diego. Mother had a bunch of ideas, and I had at least one beach location I was dying to check out in La Jolla. So on Christmas Eve we set out to our first area, Encinitas. Mother had visited a poinsettia farm several years back but didn’t remember any details. The best Google and I could figure out was Sunshine Gardens, just down the road from the San Diego Botanical Gardens. We stopped there first and scratched our heads. It was great little nursery with some interesting features (birds, wooden sculptures, an inviting cafe), but no greenhouses full of poinsettias. The proprietor explained that we were thinking about the Ecke Ranch which has since moved its poinsettia operations to Guatemala. Okay then, on to the Botanical Gardens.

Poinsettia Cart at Sunshine Gardens

Poinsettia Cart at Sunshine Gardens

The San Diego Botanical Gardens were amazing. Besides the plants arranged in areas by world region, they feature changing sculpture installations throughout. Mother walked a little ways then settled on a bench with a book while I took off to look at the myriad tropical trees, flowers, ferns, palms, tropical fruits and so on. But the best thing there is a set of life sized topiaries depicting Mexican life (e.g., dancer, wedding couple, mariachis), decorated with succulents. Just beautiful.

San Diego Botanical Gardens Topiary

San Diego Botanical Gardens Topiary

We were ready to eat a late lunch/early dinner, so we checked into our motel and found a Mexican place with counter service down the street for a wonderful and cheap meal of chile rellenos and enchiladas. We finished up just in time to catch a sunset.

We loved this decorated tree in Encinitas.

We loved this decorated tree in Encinitas.

The next morning I had identified a few more beach locations on the way to La Jolla that I thought would make good quick scenic stops. Well. Turns out that every surfer and dog owner had the same idea, and instead of going to church and then unwrapping Christmas presents, they were going to take up all the parking places for blocks around. So we admired from the road at 30 mph instead. We did find parking at the Torrey Pines Gliderport. Nobody was jumping off the cliff this day, but people were parking here and walking down a mile and a half path to the clothing optional Black’s Beach 300 feet below.

After this, La Jolla’s Hospitals beach with its crazy rock formations more than made up for not stopping at the other ones. We managed to find parking and a gazebo where Mother sat and enjoyed the scenery and made chit chat with other people sharing the benches while I took my camera gear down among the rocks.  I think a colorful sunset would be perfect for the reflections. Next time, and there WILL be a next time for this beach. This was more of a recconnaisance visit.

Unusual formations in the reef at Hospitals Beach are caused by boulders that were trapped and have been released.

Unusual formations in the reef at Hospitals Beach are caused by boulders that were trapped and have been released.

More wonderful contours. Slow shutter speed of 5 seconds puts more emphasis on the rocks and less on the water, without destroying the wave in the background.

More wonderful contours. Slow shutter speed of 5 seconds puts more emphasis on the rocks and less on the water, without destroying the wave in the background.

Crashing wave at Hospitals Beach

Crashing wave at Hospitals Beach

We carried on to our next motel in San Diego, checked in, and figured out what to do next. We ended up going to Sunset Cliffs along with a bunch of other people to see a so-so sunset. On the way back to the motel we wandered around and found ourselves in a marina with a view of San Diego reflected in the bay. I took some night skyline reflection photos, but the next night I had a closer location. Not sure if that made it better or not though. I got longer reflections here.

San Diego reflections from marina

San Diego reflections from marina

The next day we went to Coronado, home of the famous and historical Hotel del Coronado. First stop was a waterfront park with the closest view of downtown possible, across water. We decided to return at sunset for pictures. The Hotel del Coronado was amazing with the red roofs and turrets. We didn’t really want to stop and do lunch just yet, so we decided to revisit at night and see how the buildings were lit up. We continued south along the narrow spit of land that makes this a peninsula, not an island. At the southern end, just a few miles from Mexico, we stopped at Imperial Beach to see what goes on there. They have a nice little seaside park with beautiful mosaics in the pavement.

Mother posing with part of a bronze sculpture at Imperial Beach

Mother posing with part of a bronze sculpture at Imperial Beach

I hadn’t actually done any beach combing yet, and it looked like there were rocks or shells here, so walked up and down the beach hoping for a whole sand dollar. I picked up some pretty shells, and just before finishing the loop back, sure enough I found a dark and discolored sandollar that was perfectly intact. We were hungry now and ended up at a new seafood restaurant in town. It was a ‘less is more’ type of place, and while the food was good and the cocktails interesting, we agreed that we probably wouldn’t go back.

The dark sand and sparkling mica make interesting patterns when the waves recede

The dark sand and sparkling mica make interesting patterns when the waves recede

We got back to the motel in time to turn around and head back to Coronado for sunset. The sunset itself didn’t really cast the light I thought it would (hills cut off the light too soon), but it was enjoyable shooting the skyline from a relatively close position. I don’t have any monster lenses so I need all the help I can get.

This is a closer view at twilight. We often get a nice aplenglow at sunset.

This is a closer view at twilight. We often get a nice aplenglow at sunset.

San Diego from Coronado. Closer definitely gets more details, but the earlier shot works on a different level.

San Diego from Coronado. Closer definitely gets more details, but the earlier shot works on a different level. OF course it also has more lights since it was taken later in the evening.

Afterwards we drove over to the Hotel del Coronado and I wandered around inside and out while mother stayed in the car. She is such a good sport!

The next day we decided to visit Cabrillo National Monument on Point Loma, which has tidepools and a lighthouse. On the way we discovered that the road went right through Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery with great views of San Diego. The park at the visitor center had good views too. We drove down the road leading to tidepools and the light house, but never made it to the lighthouse. We parked in one of the lots for the tidepools, which was on  a 300′ bluff. (The one at the bottom was full). Like so much of the rocky California coastline, the layers and cracks and shapes and colors and powerful waves were amazing. I descended the path and steps down almost to the bottom, but spent all my  time behind the camera and never made it the last 20 or 30 feet to the tidepools themselves. Next time.

These rocks begged for slow motion and video, so I climbed back up to get my tripod and filters. This is 10 seconds to capture the water washing over the rock creating a little cascade.

These rocks begged for slow motion and video, so I climbed back up to get my tripod and filters. This is 10 seconds to capture the water washing over the rock creating a little cascade.

On the way out we stopped at the cemetery. There was even a funeral going on over the hill. I didn’t see it, but I heard it. A great counterpoint when reflecting on all the veterans buried there.

Rosecrans National Cemetery with San Diego backdrop

Rosecrans National Cemetery with San Diego backdrop

The next day we checked out of the motel and decided to just drive around and see Old Town, a re-creation of early San Diego, and  Balboa Park, where the zoo and a lot of other attractions hold the paying tourist captive. Between the two attractions, we decided to catch lunch, something seafood, something regular, like fish and chips. Nothing fancy. We found a place called Blue Water Seafood Market and Grill with a handicapped parking space waiting for us (a perk of travelling with mother), but then discovered that it was the kind of place where you stand in line, order, pay, then sit down. I don’t know what it’s normally like but on this Friday afternoon at 3 pm, I stood in line for an entire hour. Okay, granted it was during Christmas week. But still, I can’t imagine what lunch, dinner or weekends must be like. Fortunately, they accomodate people who can’t stand that long, and seated Mother near the order counter. She’s a good sport! No complaints at all. She got fish and chips and I got a Buffalo sandwich (fish with buffalo-type fixings, i.e., chipoltle marinade, blue cheese, avocado). After we finally placed our order and sat down, it was another half hour wait. But I have to say, the wait was worth it. Fantastic food. Recommended. Since this killed the rest of the day, no Balboa Park.

On the way home we recounted the places we went and couldn’t get over how perfect the weather was (in the 70s). We took the trip without much specific agenda, just like the trip last year, and discovered a lot more than we had imagined. Another great Christmas trip!

Lois in San Diego

Lois in San Diego

On the Move Again!

22 Dec

In May of 2012, Scott and Rochelle’s son Dustin, along with his girlfriend Michelle, came back home to live. They moved into his old bedroom in the main house, got jobs, and settled in. A year later, they had pretty much decided to stay, and everyone started making noise about how long I had planned to live in the guest house. Well, at first I was there for the long haul, but over time the heat of the summers, the constant dust and bugs, the remoteness of Ojai, and even the tight space (which I actually do appreciate), were started to get to me. (I do miss my chickens though.) Couple that with Mother’s age (91 now), and it made sense to move in with her.

Of course there’s the matter of all my “stuff”. Since the line between my work and my hobbies is blurred, most of my belongings relate to each other and need to be together. I couldn’t see taking over Mother’s house with boxes of supplies, equipment, sewing machines, computers, light stands, cabinets, etc., so I got on Craig’s list to explore the possibility of taking out an office for the first time ever. I’ve been self-employed nearly my entire adult life, always working out of the home. My first decision was easy: to keep it in the Ventura area. I love it here —  far enough from Los Angeles to be relaxed with open spaces, yet close enough to go there whenever you want. I also have made friends locally and love the coastal climate and proximity to the Central Coast.

After watching Craig’s List for a while, I finally found a couple of places with promise. One was too good to be true, but it was indeed, true. I jumped on it as soon as saw it and a few weeks later I was making plans to move it. It’s in mid-town Ventura, handy to the freeways and shopping, but slightly off the main drag in an industrial area that carries little traffic. This area has proven ideal for jumping on the bike and taking off to the beach, avoiding the big streets.

This Oxnard beach park is about a 30 minute ride from the office (there are closer beaches though).

This Oxnard beach park is about a 25-30 minute bike ride from the office (there are closer beaches though).

The space itself has 3 large rooms and off a hallway, two closets, one with a sink. The rent is amazingly affordable and the building itself, although surrounded by industrial type businesses, is an attractive well maintained and landscaped small office building. The upstairs/no elevator doesn’t bother me, nor does the lack of windows in the first room. These things might be a concern for a more traditional office-type business, but for my light manufacturing, photography and internet business, where I don’t receive clients anyway, it’s just fine.

office

The place was very clean and recently painted and carpeted. I moved a lot of things myself and took clothing, gardening supplies, rocks, and some storable items down to my mother’s over a month’s time. I still have a storage unit, and put a few more things in there too, like most of my kitchen supplies. I did hire movers to take the bulk of my things to the new office though, and by early August 2013 I was moved out of Scott’s and into Mother’s and my Ventura office studio.

Since Mother lives in Downey, 75 miles south, just how does this work? I come to Ventura 3 or 4 times a month for several days each time. One of the things I do while there is sew tool cases to build inventory, which I keep in the car. If an order comes in, where ever I am, I can ship. Also while in Ventura, I participate in my rock hound group’s activities, where I have made new friends. Since the office doesn’t have a shower (there are men’s and women’s restrooms shared among the tenants), I go the YMCA to swim and shower. Usually I sleep in the office on the couch.  At first I was going to sleep over at Scott’s, but that’s 20 minutes away and it just doesn’t happen very often.

I bought a refrigerator and unfinished cabinets and put together a little kitchen area. Originally I was going to get a small fridge like the one at Scott’s, but discovered that for about a hundred more, I could have a standard-type small refrigerator with a separate freezer instead. In December I finally painted the cabinets, got everything put together in the front room to display the products I make, hung photos on the walls, and made a sign for the blank spot by the door outside. Then I announced an open house and declared myself moved in.

This is the computer/craft room with an alcove that was obviously meant to hold a little kitchen, because of the two outlets mounted at the right height, the ceiling light, and the width, which is perfect for  stock cabinets.

This is the computer/craft room with an alcove that was obviously meant to hold a little kitchen because of the two outlets mounted at counter height, the ceiling light, and the width, which is perfect for stock cabinets.

Before and after. I went a little crazy with the color but I like it.

Before and after. I went a little crazy with the color but I like it.

This a panorama taken with a pano app on the iPhone, looking from the front door.

This is a panorama taken with a pano app on the iPhone, looking from the front door.

This one is looking from the hallway, where the kitchenette it.

This is the craft/computer/photo studio looking in from the door.

This is the sewing room, which looks a little chaotic but it really isn't.

This is the sewing room, which doesn’t really go all around. I have photos of my cases on the wall not shown. A real window is in this room!

I arrnaged these shelves to show my products, but I need to rethink things. It's pretty crowded and confusing.

I arrnaged these shelves to show my products, but I need to rethink things. It’s pretty crowded and confusing.

Meanwhile, life at my mom’s is working out well too. We go the Y together for swimming and aqua exercise, and watch TV and movies a lot. I do computer work here and some production work on my double reed widgets. I have some gardening activities of my own out back and have enjoyed working on some of mother’s gardens. It’s nice to have a real kitchen again and it’s fun to cook meals for more than one person. Mother just got her driver’s license renewed for another 5 years, and when I’m not there she gets along fine. But I’ll be in place and available if it becomes necessary for me to curtail my Ventura visits.

Mother's house, courtesy of Google Maps

Mother’s house, courtesy of Google Maps

The location also puts me closer to Orange County, where I lived before I moved to New Jersey, so I plan to reconnect with my old friends down there. The move has turned out great. We’re all happy to have someone living  with Mother, I’m happy to still have a foothold in Ventura and a place dedicated to work,  Dustin and Michelle are happy in their new cottage in Ojai, and Scott and Rochelle are happy to have their house back to themselves.

February Road Trip to Bay Area

11 Jul

For the past several years, I’ve been attending a 3D tech conference in the Bay Area, and participating by showing and selling phantograms. Since moving to California, I’ve been able to drive to it. Last year my drive back down the coast was interrupted by a landslide, so I had to detour to an inland route, and only got to see a fraction of the coast. This year everything looked okay, and I decided to reverse it and do the coastal trip on the way up, and inland on the way back.

Leaving the local mountains, I drove through St. Ynez Valley where the vineyards start. This view includes both olive orchards and grape vineyards. Not as much green as I had hoped, but not too bad.

Olives and Grapes in St. Ynez Valley

Olives and grapes in St. Ynez Valley

My first real stop was Montana de Oro State Beach, which I scoped out at Christmas on a trip my mother and I made. I timed my trip so I’d take two days to drive up, and land in good places at sunset both days.  The clouds were great on this first day and gave way to a very nice sunset. I had a lot of time to move around and get different kinds of shots of the water washing onto the shore, and around rock outcrops. That evening, even the people at the motel desk commented on what a great sunset we had had.

Montana de Oro Fan

Montana de Oro ocean fan

Montana de Oro Boulders

Montana de Oro rock swirl

That night, I stayed at a Motel 6 in Cambria. Very cheap and basic. No coffee maker, no nothing. But it was cheap, and in the morning I took off to the Elephant Seal area. The population had about quadrupled since Christmas. While there were occasional births happening, the main event by now was mating. Horny male elephant seals everywhere, moving in on the young mothers.

Elephant Seals Everywhere!

Elephant seals everywhere! Compare this to the last blog post.

Elephant Seal Love

Elephant seal love. Yep, the wrinkled area “down there”, is what you think it is. He even has his arm around her; how sweet.

Mother with Babies. Not all of them hers.

Mother with babies. Not all of them hers; they just have one.

The drive up the coast was breathtaking. Cliffs, rocks, bridges, coves, crashing waves, nothing but wild scenery. Eventually I reached the southern edge of Big Sur, which I timed so I could shoot one of the most intriguing sections of the coast at sunset. McWay Falls is a thin waterfall that drops onto the beach. It is part of Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park, and the beach itself is inaccessible (and you aren’t allowed to figure out a way to get there by swimming, kayaking, etc.). The park consists of a vast tract of former ranch land donated to the state, with hiking trails going inland. Toward the ocean, there’s a single trail leading to the site of the Burns mansion (since demolished), from which you get a view of the magical McWay Falls. Unfortunately, the sunset was a flop. I did get some direct light on the rocks and waves which was pretty good, but no wild colors.

McWay Falls

McWay Falls

I did the conference for three days and it was nice, but nothing to report. My friend Leslie (the one who drove to California with me) lives in the bay area, so I headed to her house when the conference was over and spent a day there. She had things to do in the morning, so I busied myself taking pictures of some cool things she has. Her great uncle was a pharmacist, and when he retired and closed up his drugstore, he bottled up all his old leftover pills and gave each of the nieces and nephews one. I had a good time photographing it, but the flask was sealed with wax, so I couldn’t open it and do any photo styling. She also has some old microscopes and an hour glass (actually a half hour glass), so I had some fun with them too. It was great to catch up with her.

Vintage Pills

Vintage Pills

I left the next morning heading straight down Interstate 5 through the agricultural center of the state. When I drove to California, I took the same route and pulled off at a random exit and found some nice scenery (in the fall when everything was golden). I wanted to do that all over again in a different season, when the hills are green.

Velvet Folds

Velvet Folds

Smooth Mountain

Smooth Mountain

Remote Farm

Remote Farm

Winter Orchard

Winter Orchard

There were dramatic skies to the south all day long – huge dark clouds with sunbeams breaking through. I didn’t stop to think of what that really meant until I encountered my first “Road Closed” sign. This was my planned back road through the mountains into Ojai that I thought I’d take, just for the scenery. Turns out, it was closed due to an all day major news-making rain storm, which manifested itself as snow in the mountains. These mountains. So I retraced my steps and headed east back to the main road, meaning Interstate 5. An hour later, I got back on I5, but a few miles in, I discovered that Californians don’t figure out anything special with snow. They just close the freakin’ roads where they rise into snowy altitudes. Including interstates. After an hour inching towards an escape from I5, I retraced again and turned back to the west, and went all the way past the first road closure, and continued towards the coast, then south on 101. I rolled into home around midnight (when I should have been home around 8). It was quite an adventure and now I know to check these things in the winter. Despite the end game, this was a fantastic trip.

Christmas on California’s Central Coast

11 Jul

(Let’s see if I can play catch up. Lots of things happened already in 2013, and this is still something from 2012.)

Mother hasn’t had a bona fide vacation in several years; airports are just too unwieldy for her now. So with this thought in mind, I suggested she and I take a road trip over Christmas. We decided to head a few hours up the central coast of California. The spectacular views are reason enough to go, so I figured we’d play it by ear, and catch anything else going on.

Marion brought Mother up to Ojai and we all had a little Christmas gathering with Scott and Rochelle. The next day, Christmas Eve, we headed north. I didn’t bother making motel reservations; it looked like there was plenty available on Moonstone Beach Drive in Cambria.

On the way up we stopped at Montana de Oro State Beach because I wanted to check it out for future photographic possibilities. The last few miles before the park entrance took us down into an ecosystem of dense eucalyptus trees. The California coast has several pockets of rain forest environments that seem so out of place in the typical grassy hills. The beach itself was a cove with California’s signature rocks jutting out into the surf. We stayed a few minutes, long enough to decide to return on my trip coming up in February, then continued north.

Next stop was the Morro Bay area, featuring the famous Morro Rock, and we got there just in time for sunset. Actually a little later than I would have preferred, but I had already scoped out the location I wanted, so I was able to go straight there.  I scurried from the parking area undoing my tripod as I went. I got some nice shots with what color that was left in the sky.

Shorebird at sunset.

Shorebird at sunset

Morro Rock sunset

Morro Rock sunset

By the time we got to Cambria it was quite dark, and the first turn we took to Moonstone Beach was a wrong turn. When we were figuring out the right road, sitting in the car in a quiet wooded residential area on the beach, we noticed 5 or 6 deer milling about. We carefully eased out and found the motels a few minutes later. The first couple of places had no vacancy, but we hit paydirt with the Castle Inn, which also happened to be the cheapest of the lot. It is part of a local group that includes high end hotels, so the amenities (breakfast room, toiletries) were pretty darn nice. And all of these places face the beach with easy access.

After reading the local brochures and doing a little internet digging, we decided to see what the elephant seal rookery up the road a bit was all about. On Christmas day, there were dozens of people watching the activity from viewing platforms. Elephant seals almost went extinct in the northern hemisphere until the 1960s, when the seals discovered this perfect breeding ground just north of Cambria, and started showing up one by one. They’ve since rebounded and now this is a popular attraction for nature lovers. (There’s another spot just south of San Francisco.) We weren’t lucky enough to catch a live birth, which is the main event during the winter months, but it was fun to watch the males fighting for territory and the females nursing their young.

other and Baby Elephant Seals

Mother and Baby Elephant Seal

Lois Wilson at Elephant Seal Rookery

Lois Wilson with her Super Duper Sunglasses at the Elephant Seal Rookery

The next day we stopped in at nearby Hearst Castle and wanted to do the handicapped tour, which is necessary if you want to avoid the couple hundred steps. But it was sold out, so we just went through their museum instead. Mother had been to Hearst Castle a few times already, so no big deal.

The next day we went to see the seals again, and afterwards had lunch at a Mexican restaurant  facing the ocean. A woman at the next table asked us if we’d seen any zebras. No not yet, but on the way out, we did spy a couple of them on the Hearst Ranch, which borders the coast highway for miles and miles. The Hearst Ranch once had a zoo, but it was disbanded decades ago. The zebras can survive in the local environment, so they got to stay and have naturalized here. We were also treated to a couple of rainbows that day.

Rainbow on the Central Coast

Rainbow on the Central Coast

We left the area after lunch and retraced our steps back to Ojai, enjoying the seasonally green hills and dramatic skies the whole way. It was one of the best Christmases ever.

Thanksgiving 2012 in the Desert

26 Mar

WileysWellCamp

I swore I wasn’t going to join anything out here, but I couldn’t resist the local rock and mineral club (Ventura Gem and Mineral Society). They have a clubhouse right in Ojai, tricked out with lapidary equipment, a library and a museum. (More about that in a future post.) California’s volcanic origins give rise to lots of colorful rocks, and coupled with BLM desert land and rocky beaches, rock/fossil collecting trips abound.

One of the recurring field trips is a Thanksgiving weekend campout in the Wiley’s Well area of the Colorado Desert, the area in the extreme southeast of the state. I couldn’t wait to go on the 2012 trip.

It’s quite a distance from Ojai, and since the first collecting trip started at 8 Thanksgiving morning on the Arizona side of the Colorado River, I decided to drive to my mother’s in Downey on Wednesday, hang out for a while, then head to the meetup location and sleep in the car. I left her house around 10 p.m., pulled over after a few hours for a nap, then finally arrived around 2 in the morning at a big truck stop just over the AZ border.

We all met as planned in the morning and drove down a dusty road past cotton fields and along the wide Colorado River to a spot by some low mountains to collect petrified wood. There were some impressive ant hills here and lots of palo verde trees, with their distinctive green bark and tiny leaves. The petrified wood was hard to distinguish at first, but I did manage to snag a couple of nice pieces. Not as nice as Lorin and Rob found though.
ColoradoRiver

PetWood

PetWoodRob

Afterwards we busied ourselves at the campground and prepared for our Thanksgiving potluck, which was delicious. The campground is simply a patch of desert floor. It is not any official campground, and as such there’s no water, no toilets, no fees, no nothing. Just BLM land, with a few shallow gullies and an assortment of desert vegetation. There were about 30 of us, some with tents, some with campers and RVs, and one deluxe RV in a class by itself. For next time, I’ll pick up a shower tent to use as a desert bathroom so I don’t have to wait until dark to do my business. Other than that, dry camping was easy and I was quite cozy in my tent.

Friday morning we took off into the mountains on jeep trails to hunt for rocks. My Subaru sedan isn’t built for such trails, so I joined a woman with a powerful pickup truck. Another person, Linda, joined us and we had a great time. Our destination was a mountain with lava rock and associated weathered chalcedony nodules. Some of these had small crystalline pockets.

ChuckawallaMtns

On Saturday, my ride-share friends were heading home, so I joined Chuck, all the way from northern California, in his Jeep. This time we went to the famous Hauser Geode Beds, which make this area popular for rockhounding. I still haven’t cut any open, but I did come home with a big bag of them. They aren’t terribly exciting inside, but there are patterns of browns and dark reds, with quartz. I guess that’s why I haven’t bothered cutting any apart yet.

HauserBeds

After collecting geodes in two different locations, the day was still young, so Chuck and I decided to go to the long established rock shop, Kinney’s Rocks, south of Blythe in Palo Verde to see what that was all about. The property around the building overflowed with local petrified wood, geodes and other material, as well as rocks from other parts of the world. The 3rd generation proprietor was sitting outside relaxing. Inside, he had all kinds of fossils and minerals. I bought about $10 worth of slabs. Heading back to camp, we cut across the desert and mountains on the historic Bradshaw Trail (a maintained dirt road).

Kinneys

That night Rob and Deb, the trip leaders, built a campfire and people sat around talking and waiting for it to get late enough to go to bed. When it gets dark at 6, what else are you going to for the next 3 or 4 hours? Everyone marveled at how perfect the weather had been. People doing this trip for years had never seen it so pleasant. Usually there’s wind, sometimes rain, and it’s colder.

Sunday morning we all said our goodbyes. I really enjoyed this trip and look forward to doing it all over again next year, when we’ll go to other places, perhaps for fire agates and other desert treasures.

You pass this palm-lined prison just after exiting the freeway to the Wiley's Well area.

You pass this palm-lined prison just after exiting the freeway to the Wiley’s Well area. The sign says “California State Prison Property – No Trespassing”

Succulents!

13 Jan

Yesterday was a nice sunny day in the 50s and I was all caught up on work, so I spent the day gardening. This is the season to put things in the ground so they have the mild winter and rains to prepare them for the hot dry summer. I have a collection of succulents that have spent the last year in pots developing roots. Some were purchased plants, but most of them were started from cuttings or just single leaves. Scott and Rochelle just had a nice walkway put in that connects their parking space with the sidewalk that joins my house with theirs, and after it was all finished, a natural flower bed materialized on my side of the sidewalk.

Let's check back in a few years to see how things are going.

Let’s check back in a few years to see how things are going.

Besides filling the new flower bed, I added plants to the immediate spaces by my door and under my windows, made a new hanging basket with rick-rack cactus, moved around a few things, and planted some Epiphyllum cacti along the fence by the driveway. (Also called orchid cacti, these grow as long flat or triangular leaf-stems. Fantastically amazing flowers in a wide range of colors appear along the stems. Night blooming cereus is part of this genus, as is the rick-rack cacti mentioned above.). All this activity neatened up the garden under my windows by eliminating the clutter of mismatched plastic pots.

side

One of the surprises of the year-round growing season is that succulents go through an annual cycle, which naturally would include blooming. In New Jersey and other places with freezing winters, succulents are potted up and treated as house plants, with more or less the same climate year round, which puts them in a constant state of displaying nice foliage. Here in California just because it’s mild enough to grow just about everything outdoors year round, doesn’t mean we don’t have seasons. It still gets cold, close to freezing, in the winter.

Imagine my surprise in April when a group of common burro tails spilling over the sides of a big pot developed clusters of tiny flowers at the ends of the tails.

Burro tail flowers in April.

Burro tail flowers in April.


When I moved in, one of the first orders of business was to get cuttings from my sister Marion’s vast collection of succulents. When I lived in NJ, I mostly visited in winter when not much is blooming, and always admired the range of plant colors, from blue to green to orange to pink, throughout her yard. On Thanksgiving last year she gave me a couple of bags stuffed with succulent cuttings and starts. I potted most of them up, and planted some directly in the ground. Along with these, I scavenged more from various places and bought a few from the garden center, based on leaf patterns and colors, not expecting anything from unseen flowers. Rochelle has a number of succulents around the property, and every yard in Ojai has succulents somewhere. In October everything was pretty much a tapestry of leaves and textures.

Beginning in the spring, I had one surprise after another as these various plants sent out flower spikes that were stunning even in bud form, and totally vibrant when they opened into flowers. I was pretty happy with this echeveria’s gray-green rosette of leaves with pinkish edges. (There are hundreds of echeveria species.) That’s all I expected from it. Then the cluster of buds shot up, and it was exciting to watch the drama unfold.
rosette

Just the buds

Just the buds


The stem continued to elongate and bloom and set new buds for weeks and weeks and weeks.

The stem continued to elongate and bloom and set new buds for weeks and weeks and weeks.


These blooms really glow. The leaves are fleshy and straight, on an average plant. But when this appeared, I was stunned.

These blooms seem to glow from within. The leaves are fleshy and long, on an average plant. But when this cluster appeared, I was stunned.


Those exquisite flowers rise up from this.

Those exquisite flowers rise up from this.


A type of aloe from around the neighborhood (okay, it's in front of Reese's property).

A type of aloe from around the neighborhood (okay, it’s in front of Reese’s property).


Aloe from Rochelle's garden.

Aloe from Rochelle’s garden.


Neighborhood Epiphyllum cactus. There was a broken stem nearby that I had to take home.

Neighborhood Epiphyllum cactus. There was a broken stem nearby that I had to take home.


I love these purple cacti from the neighborhood, but haven't had a chance to score one of my own yet. I need to take a walk under the cover of darkness, I guess. With leather gloves.

I love these purple cacti from the neighborhood, but haven’t had a chance to score one of my own yet. I need to take a walk under the cover of darkness, I guess. With leather gloves.


Besides the hundreds of succulents, there is an amazing variety of cactus around town, all with showy flowers. I guess I’m slowly getting over peonies, phlox, hosta, and all those wonderful eastern perennials that don’t have a chance out here.