December 30, 2011

Cabrillo National Monument in San Diego

Cabrillo National Monument sits out at the end of Point Loma, marking the northern entrance to San Diego Bay. This was the first place in what is now United States territory, that a European set foot on the Pacific Coast when Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo landed here in 1542. Woodrow Wilson set this area at the end of Point Loma aside in 1913 to commemorate his landing here. Today it serves as a rare island of preserved coastal sage scrub and rocky tidepools in a sea of urban development that is now San Diego.

Extreme low tide at Cabrillo National Monument

When we arrived, it was extreme low tide along the coast, exposing huge sections of boulders and tide pools. There were tons of people out there playing amongst the seaweed and pools. I spoke to a park ranger who was out on patrol. She explained to me that while they want people to experience and appreciate these tidepools, the sheer number of them is having an affect. They have seen the populations of a variety of coastal species decline dramatically in the last 20 years, abalone being the hardest hit. They have been discussing what can be done to mitigate the impacts of so many shoes and fingers on these creatures.

Hilina examining some creatures in a tidepool

However, the good news is that the tip of Point Loma, out by the lighthouse is closed to the public and thus those pools have not been affected. So, they do have some direct comparisons they can show between the two main areas. Unfortunately, for reasons not entirely explainable, abalones have all but disappeared from that area too. Some speculate it could be illegal poaching to sell on the Asian markets.

The lighthouse at the tip of Point Loma with exposed tidepools

The geology of Point Loma is equally fascinating. The rocks at the lower levels are near horizontal layers of rocks laid down in an underwater canyon some 70 million years ago. They are called turbidites and they represent silt and sand that flowed down and accumulated in the canyon crevices, almost like a slow-moving river of sediment. Within those layers are fossils of clams and other marine organisms. Above those horizontal layers are weakly cemented sandstones that are much more recent. These sandstones erode easily into deep gullies and steep cliffs. Without the fragile coastal sage scrub holding it together, it virtually melts into the sea.

Cliffs along the coast of Point Loma
The area that this sandstone exists in (across much of Southern California) has experienced a great deal of erosion over the decades, first by the grazing of animals like sheep and later by urban development. Only protecting these sage scrub ecosystems, which thrive in the dry, hot, salty environment of this region, keeps the entire hillside of melting away.

Turbidite layers along the tidepools
At the top of Point Loma is the visitor center with spectacular views out across San Diego Bay to downtown and off to the Laguna Mountains beyond, south into Mexico, and out across the Pacific Ocean.

A view out toward Tijuana (white area in distance) with Cabrillo status on right
There is also a whale watching platform facing the ocean, where we saw several gray whales spouting offshore. They are just beginning their slow migration northward to Alaska, although the prime month of migration is in February.

Downtown San Diego across the bay from Cabrillo National Monument
Being up here gave us a real idea of the topography and geography of the region. We could see Cayamaca Peak (the highest mountain in San Diego County) to the east, the snow-capped San Gabriel Mountains north of Los Angeles way off to the north, Otay Mesa and mountains of northern Baja to the south, the Coronado Islands off Baja to the southwest, and San Clemente and San Nicholas island to the northwest.

Hilina catching a breeze by the whale viewing platform

December 4, 2011

The Canyonlands of Moab, Utah

Over Thanksgiving weekend, the Taylor-Lenz family headed up to do some exploring up in the Canyonlands area of Moab, Utah. Way back in 2002, Linda and I went up there on a whirlwind trip from Page for Thanksgiving, which included Natural Bridges National Monument, Canyonlands National Park (Needles and Island in the Sky Districts), Arches National Park, and Capitol Reef National Park.

Colorado River Gorge just northeast of Moab

This time we decided to settle ourselves into Moab for 4 night and just explore the immediate area and hit some sites we had never seen before. This will be the first in a series of posts about what we saw.

Our first day in Moab, we headed up the Colorado River Gorge about 25 miles to an area known as Fisher Towers. This BLM site has a 2.3 mile trail out-and-around these towers, which eroded out of the cliffs, and then out onto a ridge to view up the narrow Fisher Valley.

Hiking up toward Fisher Towers

What shocked us more than the spectacular red rock cliffs and narrow towers, was that somehow there were people climbing them! We noticed that the handful of climbers who went up one of them would stand on the top (maybe a 1-foot square horizontal space) to get a picture taken and then immediately start working its way down. Funny thing is that when we got back to the hotel that night and watched a little TV, we saw a commercial with a climber standing on that very tower.

Base Jumpers flying by the towers with the Colorado River in the distance

The other thing we first heard and then saw were BASE jumpers flying off the cliffs high above the towers and then swinging dangerously close the towers as they tried to get a close look. At one point I heard a jumper yelling "TURN! TURN NOW!" as two parachutes were heading directly for each other in a collision course. Luckily, one of them maneuvered away just in time.

View out toward Castle Valley

As we continued along the sides of the cliffs, the trail got narrower and steeper and we decided at one point to stop at a nice open ledge to let Hilina play in a sandy spot as we finished the last 3/4th of a mile one-at-a-time. The views out across the Castle Valley and the Colorado River Gorge were spectacular!

Hilina playing on the rocks

More to come...

August 30, 2011

Prato Rosso, Parco Nazionale della Abruzzo, Italy

Distance: 15.2 km (9.4 mi)
Elevation: 1275-1970 m (4182 - 6461 ft)
Difficulty: Moderately Strenuous
Season: May-October

Inside the heart of the Parco Nazionale della Abruzzo in Central Italy is a wonderful town called Pescasseroli. From town look for a sign for Prato Rosso to the right. After crossing the bridge, take a left at the T-intersection and the road will soon turn to dirt (there is no sign at this turn). Follow the dirt road slowly uphill until reaching a chain link fenced area with a no car entry sign (red and white circle). Park here and begin walking up the road.

The road begins by entering a narrow notch in the rock, with beautiful large beech trees and interesting limestone formations, including boulders, grottos, and overhangs. Continue up the road through forests and occasional clearings, passing trail access for the A6 and A9, as well as, numerous smaller routes labeled with blue/white blazes that are not shown on any maps.

After about 3 km, you will read a small building on the left called refugio di Prato Rosso. Here, a dirt track will depart from the right and is labeled A4. Follow this track as it climbs up from the back of the valley toward the steep ridge. This track will continue for the next 1.4 km until reaching the beginning of the subalpine zone located at 1730 m.

Here you reach a T-intersection with another faint track. Stay right and follow the track as it heads towards a notch and alpine meadows above. Soon the view opens up into a spectacular alpine basin, with steep rocky slopes surrounding you in all directions. Continue following the track all the way to the back of the basin. Way-trails branch off in several places, but continue to the back of the valley and then follow the trail as it climbs up to the saddle at the top of the ridge.

Upon reaching the saddle, the view opens up across the expansive views most of the Abruzzi range and several valleys. If you turn right and follow the slope up to the summit, the views expand even further, taking in including Monte della Corte and Monte Marsicano, as well as, the nearby Majella range to the east.

Below the summit, it is possible to follow the ridgeline above and parallel to the way you came up. The view down into the basin you came up is incredible. Approximately 2/3 of the way back, a trail drops down the slope contouring the steep slopes until you reach the bottom of the basin once again. From here, retrace your steps back to the trailhead.

July 30, 2011

Comparing Nevada and Eastern California by Air and Land

Cedar Breaks National Monument from the air

Cedar Breaks from the rim at 10,000 feet

This is the last in my series of summer travels posts. In this one, I wanted to show some of the aerial photos I took while flying from Flagstaff to Seattle and back in July and then to compare them to when I was actually on those places on the ground.

Reno and Lake Tahoe from the air

Carson Valley and the Sierras from the ground  (April '09)

Lake Tahoe from its shores

We did a trip down Highway 395 once in March of 2004 past Lake Tahoe, through the Owens Valley, across to Death Valley, and then back to Arizona. The mountains were snow covered and a storm was approaching. It was the 2nd time we went through Death Valley and it rained on us.

Mono Lake and the eastern front of the Sierras from the air

Approaching Mono Lake on U.S. Highway 395

On the shores of the alkaline Mono Lake

Death Valley, Owens Valley (beyond), and the Sierras from the air

Owens Valley from U.S. Highway 395

Inyo Mountains (near) and Sierra Nevadas beyond

Death Valley and 11,000 foot Telescope Peak above it (Mojave Desert beyond)

Death Valley and Telescope Peak above it in December 2003

We crossed Nevada and visited Great Basin National Park in August 2003. This is a beautiful park, containing 13,000 foot Wheeler Peak (the largest mountain in the Great Basin), limestone caves, alpine lakes, ancient bristlecone pines, and the last glacier of the Great Basin (and one of the southernmost left in North America).

13,000 foot Wheeler Peak and Great Basin National Park

Wheeler Peak from the ground

Climbing into the glacially carved canyons of Wheeler Peak
The only glacier left in the Great Basin sits deep in that crack

July 21, 2011

Crater Lake National Park, Oregon

On the way down to Sedona from Washington, I swung by Crater Lake National Park in south central Oregon. In all the times I've driven up and down Oregon over the years, I had never visited Crater Lake. The main reason was because it was usually closed due to the immense snow packs that it gets. When we would go down to California for spring breaks in March and April, it was usually covered with 30-50 feet of snow.

Wizard Island is a cinder cone that rose after the caldera collapsed

In fact, even driving by on July 4th, they had literally just opened the north entrance a few days before and several feet of snow continued to cover the entire park. But, on this spectacular sunny day, the views of the lake and the surrounding Cascade Volcanoes were amazing! Unfortunately there was no hiking available due to the snow cover, so this ended up being a primarily drive through visit. But, perhaps we'll arrange to visit sometime in the late summer and hike up to the summit of Mount Scott (the highest point in the park) for a spectacular 360 degree panorama.

Visible from the slopes of Mount Mazama are Mount Bailey (left), Mount Thielsen (right),
Gaywas Peak (near center), Diamond Peak (distant center), and the Three Sisters (far distance)
 Of course, the story of Crater Lake dates back about 7,600 years to the massive eruption of the 12,000+ foot Mount Mazama. It was the largest volcano in Oregon at the time until a series of eruptions caused an emptying of the magma chamber. One large eruption blasted off the north-face of the volcano in a blast similar to Mount St. Helens. The vast quantity of ash released was some 42 times more powerful than the 1980 Mount St. Helens eruption.

Mount Thielsen is a highly eroded extinct stratovolcano
It rises above the "cinder desert" of Mount Mazama with the Three Sisters visible on left

With the magma chamber emptied, the entire volcano collapsed into the chamber forming this deep caldera that is some 2000 feet deep (it is the deepest lake in the United States). After some later volcanic activity that formed Wizard Island and filled in some of the gaps, rain and snow melt began filling the caldera to form Crater Lake. While there is no obvious outlet for the lake, the lake generally stays at the same level through the years. Hydrologists have identified the oxygen isotopic signature of the lake and determined that none of the springs on the outside of the caldera contain water from the lake (but rather contain just that year's snow melt). So, no one is quite sure where the water goes.

A closeup of 9,500 foot Mount McLaughlin from Crater Lake

This region of Oregon has been particularly volcanically active. There are a number of volcanoes to the north and south of Crater Lake that are visible from the rim. Mount Thielsen and Mount Bailey sit just to the north with Diamond Peak and The Three Sisters visible beyond. To the south you can see Mount McLaughlin and even Mount Shasta in the further distance.

On the southern slopes of Mount Mazama is an interesting canyon area. Here, massive layers of ash and tephra piled up after the pyroclastic flows came down the slopes of the volcano. Still partially molten and hot, steam fumeroles attempted to rise up through the ash layers forming these columns. The higher density of the material made them a bit more resistant to erosion as the stream began cutting into the soft layers.

Crater Lake is definitely a beautiful area and has a fascinating geologic history. We definitely have to get back there in the late summer when the snow melts, so we can do some hiking there!

June 21, 2011

Summer Solstice in the Northwestern Corner

It's June 21st, the Summer Solstice. It is the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere. But, as it more common than not in the Pacific Northwest, entering late June does not necessarily bring warm weather and sunshine. So, while the east coast bakes in 90+ temperatures, fires rage in the Desert Southwest, tornadoes rip across the Midwest and floods drown the northern Great Plains, Washington has been sitting in its typical 60 degrees and mostly cloudy pattern.

Late evening view of the Gray Wolf Range from Dungeness Recreation Area

But, just by chance perhaps, the clouds broke on this day and the sunshine came out. It is not a strong high pressure center clearing away all humidity and bring 70's, but it was just enough of a window between storms to go out and see the sunset on the summer solstice. On this longest day of the year, sunset is nearly 9:30pm at this high latitude (48 N) and this far west (123 west).

Fata Morgana effect

So, I was off to the Dungeness Recreation Area to see the sunset on the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Because the sun sets to the far northwest in June, it did not end up setting over the water, but rather over Vancouver Island. Now the summer will begin slowly arc'ing its way back to the southwest where in winter it will set over the Olympic Mountains.

Distance fog can also be seen on the water's surface

A temperature inversion over the water (the cold water cooling the warmer air above) caused distant and normally not visible headlands far down the Strait of Juan de Fuca to be magnified, stretched, and uplifted. This phenonmena is called Fata Morgana, named by the Italians near the Straits of Messina.

As the sun began to set over Vancouver Island, an interesting phenomena occurred. A halo (actually three of them) formed a bright candle-like glow high above the setting sun. These halos appear to have been caused by a very thin, almost invisible layer of fog droplets reflecting the sunlight.

The sun has set, but the halos remain

Since there is no high pressure over the region currently and thus humidity remains high, there is plenty of microscopic water droplets available to refract light.

It sure was nice to finally see a sunset! Happy Summer Solstice everyone!