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...