Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Driving Places...Seeing Our Beautiful World At The Backroads

Car Amidst The Sea of Rocks, Alabama Hills, California
You may ask, how did that car get in there? Are they crazy driving through rocks? Well, that's our trusted "backcountry" car and the picture above was taken from a distance looking East. In the picture below, looking West, you will see the narrow dirt road on the left side of the picture and there is a wide dirt pull out for visitors to park.
Alabama Hills, California
For us who loves to experience our beautiful world not only from the main roads, driving along narrow dirt roads is worth it! Most of the time, we don't simply have to drive, we also have to hike to see more of the natural wonders that Earth offers. 
A John Wayne Pose @ Mobius Arch framing Mt Whitney, Alabama Hills, California
Since we love exploring our beautiful world at the backroads, we do not complain about driving on narrow and sometimes rough dirt roads. From the soft soil and sand on the desert,
Monument Valley, Utah
to the winding and snowy roads on the mountains,
we are ready to explore. Our trusted Honda Pilot is more than ready to bring us to places where we would want to be. On city streets where we drive on main roads only, we use a smaller car for gas efficiency. But on road trips where we have to drive through narrow dirt mountain or desert roads, we rely more on the Pilot. There are just instances that we need a high clearance and 4-wheel drive car, where smaller cars could no longer traverse or would no longer be as safe or as comfortable. 
When we were looking for a high clearance car to purchase before, we first carefully read and researched car reviews. Thankfully, researching for different car specifications and finding comprehensive reviews is now easier to find online, such as the one we can find at TheCarConnection.com. After taking into considerations the car reviews, we limited our choices to 4: these were the Honda Pilot, Nissan Xterra, Toyota 4Runner and Toyota Highlander. After test driving our 4 choices, we chose the one that felt most comfortable for us despite driving through bumpy roads and at the same time has better gas efficiency knowing that big cars burn more gas. The Honda Pilot has driven us to many of our wilderness trips and we are very happy with the choice we made. I am glad for the online reviews we found that helped and guided us in making choices.

Now, a friend of mine is in the look-out for a car. Being new to this country, she is somewhat lost with the so many choices she can find and as to what type of car she wanted. I asked her to determine her driving needs first. If she plans to drive only in the city, then, she can look at different sedans. Being new to this country, my friend is very curious with American cars and other cars that are not very common in our country. She first mentioned about Chevy Camaro. However, we learned that though the exterior really looks sporty and impressive, but the interior has more retro looks than exterior and some may be put off by the unique center controls. Next, she asked about Dodge Caliber, so we researched on its features. We have learned from the review of TheCarConnectionReview.com that despite the aggressive appearance of a dodge caliber, it is docile on the road, that the 2.0 and 2.4-liter engines are underpowered and noisy and the over-all handling performance is disappointing. After dodge caliber, we both looked into subraru outback, she was pleased to know from the reviews that the subaru outback is a good looking car inside and out. Now, she still continues to learn more about other cars, despite she is seriously considering a Honda CR-V. I guess, like us before, even if we already have in mind what to buy, we still went through reading different car reviews to learn more about the pros and cons of different cars. For after-all, buying car is not to simply answer our whims, a car is one of our major purchases, and that we have to really carefully research the features and if the car will be able to serve well our needs.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Cactus Monday- Desert Wilderness @ Joshua Tree National Park

It's Cactus Monday, and I am moving from redwood trees to cactus. For today's post, I will be sharing a natural desert landscape scenery in Southeastern California. 
Cholla Cactus Garden Nature Trail
The Cholla Cactus Garden Nature trail is one of the attractions in Joshua Tree National Park. The trail has massive grove of cholla cactus.
Teddybear Cholla, Joshua Tree National Park, CA
Because of its papery sheaths and well barbed spines, the cactus look soft from a distance, thus the common name "teddy bear". 
Cholla Cactus Garden Nature Trail, Joshua Tree National Park
The segments of teddybear cholla are easily detached from the plant and the detached segments form new plants by rooting and growing. Because of their spines, the loose segments can easily stick to passing animals. The animals then transport the fallen segment far from the mother plant. Thus, its other common name, "jumping cholla". 
The teddybear cholla or the jumping cholla can grow from 3 ft to 5 ft tall. The lower branches often fall off and the older spines turn black with age, thus the vertical and the dark appearance of the lower trunk. Strong spines are also believed to be cacti's protection and defense mechanism against hungry and thirsty animals who would want their internal water.  
Bunny Among the Chollas
Most leafy plants cool themselves off during the day by opening their pores, however, the pores of cacti open only at night. Without transpirational cooling mechanism during the day, the cactus adapt to desert heat by internal mechanisms. Teddy bear cholla for instance can withdstand an air temperature of 138 degrees Fahnrenheit, when other leaves will cook with that kind of heat. The well barbed spines are believed to help them protect from sunlight,  providing the plants shade to protect the chlorphyll from being bleached and their DNA from being damaged by the intense heat. 
  Teddybear Cholla, Cholla Cactus Garden Nature Trail
The chollas in the above picture look like glowing in the sun because of the yellow color of the younger spines, plus, I took that above shot using the "shade" option in the white balance, giving the look some bronze glow. Though the summer in this desert is very hot, but we usually come here during winter where the temperature is from 30s-60s F. During the cooler season (late fall to early spring), visitation to this park peaks, especially during spring when the desert wildflowers bloom. 
Here are some more pictures from Joshua Tree National Park, in San Bernardino County, California.
Barker Dam, Joshua Tree National Park
Hikers @ Skull Rock Trail
Layers of Mountains from Keys View
Joshua Trees @ Hidden Valley, Sunset
The Joshua trees are the largest of the yucca family, grows naturally only in the Mojave desert and nowhere else in the world. The Joshua tree and the other members of yuccas are part of the lily family. Here are some more pictures of Joshua Trees at sunset. 
A happy Cactus Monday, everyone.
For more of Cactus Monday posts, please visit Teri's Painted Daisies. 

Thursday, July 23, 2009

On Our Way to Lassen Volcanic National Park

Sunflower Field, 
You may wonder why I posted this way much later after I already have several posts regarding Lassen Volcanic National Park which are: Bumpass Hell, Manzanita Lake and Lake Helen. Actually, I myself don't even know the reason why :) All I know is that if I make one post of our summer trip, it would take me a very long time to write about them, and your eyes may get tired with so many pictures in one post. Thus I had to share the places we've been in installment. However, I did not want also to stay too long in one place, so what I did was to share the highlights of each park we visited first. Now that I think I am done with the highlights of our summer trip at the Klamath Region Circle of Parks , I will be sharing here some beautiful sights and places we visited during our trip.
Sunflower Field as Far as Your Eyes Can See
On our way to Lassen Volcanic National Park, somewhere in Sacramento Valley area, we pass farmlands after farmlands, and there were several acres of sunflower farms in sight as well. Since our trip is not always about the destination, we usually take our time to stop and enjoy whatever sights we see along the way. And one of those places we stopped to enjoy the scenery is at this marvelous sunflower farm. It was amazingly yellow as far as your eyes can see, on both sides of the highway. 
Field of Sunflower
How huge are these sunflowers? Here are some pictures up close, 
Sunflower Up Close
From afar, you can not see the bees, it was just all yellow, however, if you take a closer look, you will see a lot of bees enjoying the sunflower, always as busy as they can be. I can't blame them, they have wonderful flowers to feast on.
Sunflower and the Bees
Now, the pictures above really look warm and "summery". Even the two pictures that follow look as warm as they can be.
Creek We Spotted on Our Way to Lassen
Lassen Volcanic National Park Entrance
However, as we go higher in elevation inside the park, the scenery changes. 
Exposed Colored Earth, Lassen Volcanic National Park
And from afar, the coldness of Lassen Peak was greeting us.
 Lassen Peak from Afar
( Lassen Peak is the largest plug dome volcano in the world and is the Southernmost volcano in the Cascade Range )
And here was I, at the trailhead of our very first hike in Lassen Volcanic National Park, in an atmosphere so different from the warm sunflower pictures above. Only that you can tell from my attire, that despite of the snowy surrounding, well, it was still, summer!
@ Bumpass Hell Trailhead
If you miss my post on Bumpass Hell, you can find it here.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Cactus Monday - My Cactus Story

Every Monday, I am fascinated to see Diane's photographs of various cacti in her Sabino Canyon blog. I had been wanting to join since I really adore these plants that teach us survival amidst the extremes. However, I was always distracted by other things. For my first Cactus Monday post, I won't go anywhere, but just stay here right at home.
I was not really a cactus lover before, especially that in the Philippines, I was a proud collector of orchids. I saw cactus as dangerous and thorny creatures then. However, when I moved here in San Diego and visited for the first time The Desert Garden in Balboa Park, I had a complete turn around about cacti. Suddenly, I saw their interesting and magical forms, some of them twisted and spooky, yet so uniquely and hauntingly beautiful. Seeing their flowers made me realized they may be the most uniquely beautiful flowers I have ever seen. When I left the park, I was so inspired that all my thoughts were to make a little desert garden at home as well.
To accomplish my project ( that was 3.5 years ago), I bought a lot of different kind of cactus. However, the medium sized ones were expensive costing from $45 to $67 a pot. I was thinking if I will buy several of them, it will cost me several hundreds already. What I did, I bought the tiny ones which cost from $3 - $8, depending on their size and variety I guess. I pulled the ground cover in our little side yard, and started digging the soil, mulched it, and planted my little cacti. I cover the soil with rocks which we also manually picked from the ocean's shore. I thought of buying rocks at Home Depot, but the cost was $10+ a bag, I would need probably more than 20 bags, so I decided to save further by just simply enjoying picking rocks at the beach each time we boogie board :) . Me and my husband were like little kids with little pails and picking up rocks. The more beautiful rocks I saved for indoor pot arrangement. Here is an example of the result of our labor of love.
Little Desert Garden ( 3.5 years ago)
I left some of the blooming African daisies so that this little garden would look a little bit alive. I combined cacti with other succulents and drought resistant plants so that I do not have to worry about watering plants often. 
A few months later, this was how my little desert garden looked like.
Little Desert Garden A Few Months Later
Now, 3.5 years later, the little cacti in my little desert garden has grown :)
Little Desert Garden 3.5 years Later
Notice how the aenium multiplied so quick, I had to cut them often and replant at the back and in pots.
Little Desert Garden 3.5 years Later
Oh, and there is one which is almost as tall as I am now :) But this one I did not buy little, in fact, this may be the most expensive one I bought at about $20. But its size then was not even 1/5 of what it is now. If you notice it in the above picture ( a few months later), it was just a little bit taller than the flower of African Daisy. 
Little Desert Garden 3.5 years Later
In fact, I have several potted cactus now which all came from those little and medium sized ones I bought before.
One of My Potted Cacti
I love cactus, they are easy to grow and very low maintenance. Well, they may have thorns, but I have learned how to lovingly handle them and not get hurt. Now, knowing how much these cactus sell at the nurseries, and how much I have made them multiply, I can say, I am cactus rich :) One of the joys of simple life is to see what you planted grow beautifully and multiply. 
Happy Cactus Monday everyone. For more of Cactus Monday posts, please visit Teri's Painted Daisies.