Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Eastern Sierra, California and Alicante, Spain

Whenever I explore places, I try also to imagine some places that may share some similarity. Doing this makes me feel like I have been to many places at one time. Having not enough time, resources and energy to explore all places in the world, when I take a hike, I close my eyes and transport myself to another place sometimes. Perhaps, very similar to the contrasting geography and weather in California is Alicante, Spain. Most of the province of Alicante has semi-arid environment such as the deserts of Eastern Sierra, East of the central and southern part of California.
   Dawn at Mono Lake South Tufa State Reserve, Lee Vining, CA
Whereas the Northeastern part of Alicante bordered by the sea has true Mediterranean weather like the coastal region of Southern California. Their mountain regions are also not spared from snow just as California mountains. 
 Desert and Snow, The Geographical Diversity in Eastern Sierra, CA
The Mediterranean weather closer to the ocean, the sand dunes in arid valleys and four seasons mountains provide so much geographical diversity in Alicante.  Since getting to Alicante has been made easier by the region's excellent transport networks, its natural features and culture make it one of the most surprising and visited provinces in Spain.
The similarity of the geographical contrasts in California, Alicante, and in most other places remind us that Earth is beautiful wherever we may be if we open ourselves to the beauty of the natural world that surrounds us. 
Because I have not been to Alicante yet, let me share with you our recent California get-away, in the Eastern Sierra. What makes the Eastern Sierra so unique is that this desert environment has so much small streams from the snow covered mountains that creates a vast desert landscape with surprising regions of riparian green habitat that provides a refuge to a diverse wildlife. 
From the lowest point in Northern America to the highest point in the contiguous US, there is so much diversity in the Eastern Sierra that is a geological wonderland to a keen observer.          
 Lowest Point in Northern America at  Badwater Basin, Death Valley National Park, CA                
 Highest Point in Contiguous US, Mt Whitney, Sequoia National Park, CA
(but photographed from Alabama Hills, Lone Pine, CA)
There are so many geological features in Eastern Sierra and so many trails that vary from desert to alpine environment. What I will share in this post is a glimpse to our 4-day unplanned getaway just recently. 

Day 1: From San Diego to Lone Pine via Death Valley National Park.                                         
Darwin Falls, Panamint Springs, Death Valley National Park
Day 2: Lone Pine to Bishop                                      
  Sunrise at Lone Pine, Eastern Sierra, CA                                       
 Manzanar National Historical Site, Eastern Sierra, CA                                        
Day 3: Bishop to Lee Vining                                      
Pleasant Valley Dam, Owens River, Bishop, CA
   Bishop Creek Canyon                                      
 Contrasting landscape, Bishop                                         
 Dusk at Mono Lake, Lee Vining, CA
Day 4: Lee Vining to Lone Pine                                      
Mono Lake, dawn                                      
  Hot Creek Hot Springs, Mammoth Lakes, CA                                      
 Eureka Sand Dunes, Death Valley National Park, CA
Day 5: Trip back to San Diego from Lone Pine.
Home Sweet San Diego
Now, back to enjoying the sea.
I am just glad that though the ocean is our backyard in San Diego, but the mountains and the desert is just nearby.

Just like Alicante, Spain!

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Quick Post From The Desert

Darwin Falls, Death Valley National Park, CA
Although Darwin Falls is not as impressive as those we saw in Yosemite and Mt. Rainier, but what makes Darwin Falls meaningful and special is that it creates a rare collection of riparian greenery in the vast 3 million acre desert of Death Valley National Park.  
Scrambling To Darwin Falls
The waterfall above is just a few miles from this Exposed Earth at Father Crowley Point, Death Valley National Park

The riparian habitat created by the desert spring and waterfall
Hoodo Up Close (if you take a closer look at the above picture, I just took an up close shot of this hoodo)
Wooded Trail To Darwin Falls ( does this look like in the middle of the desert?), Death Valley National Park, CA
Desert Sunrise 
I apologize for the quality of pictures above as they are all cell phone shots (except the Exposed Earth). Being on the road, it is easier and faster to share pictures using cell phone. Because of weather conditions, we cancelled our reservations in Grand Canyon, Page, Kanab and Springdale for our initial planned hikes and exploration. Last minute, we decided to stay local, and explore once again California's desert in the Eastern Sierra Nevada. 
Manzanar National Historical Site
However, weather did not also cooperate so well in our trip here in Eastern Sierra. We planned to hike to Eureka Sand Dunes today, in Death Valley National Park, however, we had to turn around because of snow and icy conditions on a very windy, treacherous mountain road. With the bad weather, we decided to explore instead lower elevation of the Sierra Nevada. We visited Manzanar National Historical Site, which relieves the painful history of how fragile is our freedom. 
Manzanar National Historical Site
I will share more detailed description about these places, Darwin Falls and Manzanar in my later posts once we get home. Because it was raining, we watched the "Remembering Manzanar" movie in the visitor center.
"the first thing we were asked to do was to fill the sack with straw. That would be our bed. Night came and I saw holes up the roof. I saw stars, so BEAUTIFUL. We woke up with sand all over us. The desert, it is so brutally hot in the summer, bone chilling cold in the winter, and there was always the WIND."- some words that haunted me watching "Remembering Manzanar".
Both the movie and our walk in Manzanar's interpretative trail left my heart feeling congested and my eyes misty from the painful mistakes of the past. But I am glad our nation's history acknowledges this mistake and now serves as a touching lesson. 
Owens River Gorge
Because of really bad weather, we had no more to explore at about 4 pm, thus I am able to spend some time here in the blogosphere. Though we did not do much today because of bad weather ( we did not go higher elevation because of snow and icy conditions on windy mountain roads), but our experience at Manzanar National Historical Site is enough for us to say that it is always so much worth it to check out the diversity of the life in the desert once a while. 
The desert, it may not be for everybody, since majority would dismiss the desert as a wasteland and could not see the beauty that is deeply hidden inside. But that is what I love most about the desert, at first glance it may not look beautiful and amazing, but you bring in the pieces together, and you will see the vastness of the desert's beauty deeply hidden inside. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Exploring North Cascades National Park

Hike to Easy Pass, North Cascades National Park, WA
North Cascades National Park is one of the places that makes me dream of going back again. A few days of exploring North Cascades was simply not enough. We were there before early July, and some of the roads were still closed for exploring due to heavy snow accumulation. 
Heather's Meadows in Summer Snow, July 2010
North Cascades National Park is defined by its jagged peaks, 
Glaciers on Jagged Peaks, North Cascades National Park
deep valleys, cascading waterfalls, and over 300 glaciers. North Cascades, also known as Alps of the West, sits on the border of US and Canada. 
Ross Lake, North Cascades National Park
The beautiful Ross Lake for example can be accessed via gravel road from Hope, British Columbia on the North. There is no road access from the US side on the South. Tourists who wish to explore more of Ross Lake on land must enter the park from the British Columbia via Canada Highway 1. There are many reliable rental cars that offer tourists to book cheap car hire in Canada to serve them in road trips and adventure such as exploring Ross Lake of North Cascades National Park. Ross Lake is the second largest lake in North Cascades, is 24 miles long, and covers 12,000 acres from the Skagit River up to and beyond the Canadian Border. From the South or US side, Ross Lake can be accessed via kayaks and canoes from Diablo Lake.
Diablo Lake, North Cascades National Park
The adventure on water will be 5 miles of kayak or boat from Diablo Lake's launch to the end of Diablo Lake to access and explore more of Ross Lake on land. 
North Cascades' steep mountains, variety of water and rock features makes this place very rich in biodiversity. 
Family Bonding, Hiking and Photography
North Cascades National Park is definitely a park of wonder worth exploring and visiting again.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Home Sweet San Diego For the Thanksgiving Holidays?

The countdown to my week long thanksgiving week holiday begins....4...3....2.....1....then, off to our Grand Hike? Ahhhh, if only the weather would cooperate with our plans.
South Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon National Park
The slopes of Grand Canyon right now are covered with snow from the snow storm that blasted the area the past 2 weekends. Snow is very pretty. In fact, I love the desert landscape covered with snow. Snow adds more tranquility to an already quiet and beautiful desert landscape.
Navajo Loop Trail, Bryce Canyon National Park, UT ( Thanksgiving 2010 )
But hiking Grand Canyon's 16-18 miles with 6000-7000 ft change in elevation on very steep, snowy and icy trail? 
 Narrow Trail with Several Thousands Feet Drop Off at Grand Canyon
Can you imagine the narrow and steep trail above with snow? We usually do not give up hiking on snow such as our hike at Harding Icefield in Alaska.
Hike To End of Harding Icefield Trail, Kenai Fjords National Park, AK
However, despite steep, icy, snow-covered and rocky trail, there was no drop-off at Harding Icefield Trail. If we slip and fall, there was no danger of falling down the cliff. Hiking Grand Canyon is a different story, the vertical drop off greets you at the start of the trail which does not disappear in the hike until the river. Though we got snowshoes and crampons for an icy hike, but we don't feel technically equipped and knowledgeable enough to hike Grand Canyon Rim to Rim on heavy snow days :( Though my heart cries to explore this mind-boggling desert landscape at the Grand Circle once again, but then, the weather reality bites right now. 
This weekend, we are expecting more rain which means more snow at higher elevation. According to weather forecast, Grand Canyon will have snow from Saturday to Tuesday! It means my dream of hiking Grand Canyon Rim to Rim will have to wait until the trail and weather conditions get better. So, where to this thanksgiving week vacation? Is it too late now for me to change plans and look for cheap holidays? Though I must say that we actually have greater chances of finding cheaper holidays from the last minute deals. But then again, I really have no complaints staying home for the holidays in San Diego. After-all, San Diego is one of the most popular places for vacation and holidays. Being bordered by the ocean and the mountains with the desert in between, there is so much to explore. We could go hiking in the nearby pine and oak forested mountains, 
 Doane Pond, Palomar Mountain, San Diego County
or take advantage of the cooler weather to hike and explore the nearby rugged but inspiring desert landscapes, or take a 4-hr whale watching cruise, 
 Humpback Whale off the Coast of San Diego
or just simply enjoy the local amenities and be like a tourist in home sweet San Diego.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Reminiscing....Why I Blog

Hiking @ Hermit's Trail, South Rim, Grand Canyon National Park, Thanksgiving week 2006

Hiking at Grand Canyon was our very first hiking trip as a couple outside of San Diego about 5 years ago. Why I came across this old picture of mine was another story :) While I was trying to search for a reliable car shipping company, I came across a site which made my search so much easier since in one site and a few clicks, I would have various quotes for car shipping cost from different auto transport companies. Because of time saved online, I got the chance to open my very old freely hosted wordpress blog that I no longer update since I moved my blogging home here at The Joys of Simple Life more than 2 years ago. Was I surprised to see what I wrote for my first post more than 5 years ago? Let me quote what I said there:
"I love hiking. It is my most favorite form of exercise. I also love to take pictures of the places I hike. It is my wish to share the wonderful joys of hiking, of places one may not be able to enjoy unless they leave the main road, get to their feet to get more out of life. Come, let us hike……..while our legs are still strong…and while nature’s beauty are still there for us to enjoy…..for soon, we may lose them, unless we all contribute to take care of our wonderful world." - by Betchai, September 2007, in my old free-hosted wordpress blog. 
 Hiking @ Hermit's Trail, Grand Canyon National Park, AZ, Nov 2006
What has changed since then? We are five years older. :)  I still fit in the same jeans and shirts, thanks to hiking. :) The love for hiking and nature remains. The desire to spend time with the healing silence of nature stays in my heart, and yes, that love and passion for nature will always be one of my Joys of Simple Life. Nature is very enriching for me, and keeps me grounded to my faith and the values in life that my parents guided me to embrace. Nature is my playground, my teacher, my healer... in nature, I see God's love to us cannot be measured and cannot be compared to anything else. I do not seek to glorify my photography when I take pictures, but just like what I have stated more than 4 years ago in my first blog entry, I hike, I take pictures of the trails and the scenery around that touched me, then I blog to share the unexplainable joy I find in hiking, to share God's majestic artistry revealed in nature that one may not be able to see unless they get to their feet and keep on moving. Let me end this post again with my favorite quote from my favorite explorer, engineer, writer, geologist and naturalist John Muir:
"Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul."

A Day at Denali Park

Denali.... the "High One"....Denali National Park..... one of the world's last great frontiers, where its wilderness is still largely unspoiled. This was the first National Park established to conserve wildlife in 1917, and from then on, this place is known for its devotion to science, learning, and preservation of its natural and cultural heritage.- source:
A Place for Contemplation...Me in front of Mt. McKinley, in total awe of this majestic landscape
Unlike most other National Parks I have visited, driving deeper inside Denali National Park is restricted. Thankfully, it is that way, so the wildlife remains undisturbed. To be able to experience Denali National Park, visitors must either take the Denali Green Bus or pay for the bus tours. Denali Green Bus is the cheapest way to get inside the park, and for me, the best way. You can stop anywhere and explore, take a hike, and take another Green Bus to bring you to your next destination. The tour buses are more expensive, about $100 more expensive, and you can not explore on your own, you stop, where the tour bus stops.
Mama Grizzly Bear and a Cub
There is only one road inside Denali National Park, so, for me, why would I pay more when both buses have the same likeliness of seeing similar things? As our bus started to roll on the very windy narrow road of Denali National Park, the vast landscape though mostly hidden by clouds was very humbling. A valley so vast, bordered with mountains almost devoid of vegetation, yet so colorful.  Once again, I was fascinated with the colored exposed Earth.
Looking at the vast landscape as we moved inside the park, the silence was beckoning me. Everybody was in silence, all looking at the landscape, and possibly for wildlife. We were told by our bus driver before we departed that if we see wildlife and wanted to photograph, we just shout, "STOP!" Our first "STOP" shout was a moose, but too far for all of us to take pictures, so we moved on. Our second "STOP" shout was the mom grizzly and baby. Seeing them walking, communicating to each other, waiting, in the wild, was very moving! The beauty of the wilderness continues to exist here and inspires many soul.
Mom and Cub Walking
We were actually very far from these bears and spotting them was not easy. The one who saw this pair had to explain to us several times where the bears are, specific with directions. In the wilderness, though you do not know each other, but each other forms a team silently, helping each other experience the same thing so that  this joy radiates in everyone's heart. It's very inspiring always to be around people who love nature. Somehow, I can see in their eyes the same passion, admiration and care for Mother Earth and its inhabitants.
Here are more photos from our our day inside Denali National Park. We saw a lot of grizzly bears, but they were too far from us to take quality pictures. These pictures is not about photography, but about sharing with you the joy and inspiration of seeing the beauty of wildlife in still a wild land. 
Another Grizzly
This Grizzly Started Digging After It Looked Surprise, the Bus Driver Told Us It may be digging for food, a marmot, or squirrel hiding underground
Dall Sheep and Golden Eagle( we actually did not see the dall sheep here, it was the golden eagle we were following, thank you Golden Eagle)
Hikers taking in the Scenery
Another Bear enjoying the wildflowers

Frustration @ Wonder Lake ( mosquitoes feasted and partied on our poor blood)
Monkshood @ Wonderlake

Swimming Moose

Mt. McKinley in Partial clouds
A Friend Taking In the Scenery at Eielson Ridge trail
Group of Caribou
Group of Dall Sheep ( they always are high on top of the mountains because that's how they distance themselves from the bears)
Bull Moose
The gift of outdoors and nature is truly forever, it has been a month now since we've been here, but the memories still continue to move and inspire me. Let me end this quote from John Muir, a famous naturalist, author and an early advocate of wilderness preservation.
"Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul."- John Muir