Monday, November 22, 2010

To the Valley of Death

My neighbor Amir, newly arrived from Iran, asked me last night what my plans were for the Thanksgiving holiday. The expression [of shock, horror, and sheer bewilderment] on his face when I said "I'm going camping in Death Valley" was pretty classic. "Death Valley?!" After an explanation that Death Valley was a national park, he seemed much more settled, though I still wonder what those from arid places must think of the idea that people would voluntarily go to the desert and sleep in a tent for leisure.

The thing is, I can't wait to get out of LA.

Prepared for Death (Valley)

The car is loaded and ready to go, complete with 19,000+ kcal of nourishment for the week. This is not including two planned Thanksgiving feasts with a large group of extended family who will join me for the trip. I'm most excited about the prospect of having Thanksgiving dinner with my mom for the first time in 14 years.

I'm also looking forward to some great hiking, stargazing, sunrises, and sunsets. Plus I hear there are a ton of ravens, and given my recent fascination with their crow brethren, I'm definitely gonna have to check them out.

Back with a report in a week...

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Genius Crows

For the last three days, I've been saying "holy crap crows are freaking smart!" I've told practically everybody I've seen during that time.

As evidence, you should definitely watch this whole episode of Nature, perhaps after the wolverine episode.

But, if nothing else, check out 12:45-18:00:

Watch the full episode. See more Nature.

I know many people who would not perform as well as the crow. It's only a matter of time before these guys master nuclear fission. And then, my friends, we are in trouble.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


...approach with caution.

I keep getting great nature photos/videos from friends lately. This one courtesy of my buddy Rhino:


Sunday, November 14, 2010

Favorite Nature show...

...of all time:

Watch the full episode. See more Nature.

Gulo Gulo!

Journey to (Not Really) Sandstone Peak

The view was good

I've been pushing it pretty hard at [school]work lately, and in combination with a touch of the bug that's going around, I was pretty exhausted when this weekend arrived. After a full slate of Fri-Sat Trojan sports events, I fell into a blissfully deep sleep early on Saturday night, and found myself in the midst of a flying dream when Sunday morning arrived. As an aside, flying dreams are awesome, and according to this source (which may or may not have any real credibility) indicate that I am "on top of a situation," "have risen above something," and/or "have gained a new and different perspective on things." Or it could be my subconscious telling me to buy a paraglider:

La Jolla, March 2006. This looks fun.

Anyhow, I dragged myself out of bed and into the kitchen to cook some breakfast, because my friend Tad was about to show up for a Sunday hiking adventure. I really glad he did, because I really needed to get out and about, and without the extra motivation probably would have kept flying all morning.

After some banana and blackberry pancakes (friends know I don't play games with breakfast), we hit the road for the Santa Monica Mountains and Sandstone Peak. As previously documented here, Sandstone is the highest point in the Santa Monicas, albeit at a modest 3111'.

What hasn't been previously documented is that Sandstone Peak in fact is not made out of sandstone. Turns out it's actually part of the Conejo Volcanics, a ... wait for it ... volcanic formation dating to around 15 million years ago. Geo nerds can read more here. This reminds me of giant, snowy volcanoes.

While I'd been there before, it was foggy and so I hadn't seen the advertised 360deg, panoramic views (well actually I guess I had; it's just that it looked panoramically gray for all 360 degrees). With the windstorms of the last few days, the air was relatively clear and we figured our chances were better.

In a little over 40 minutes (~1.5mi, +1100') from the trailhead, we arrived at the summit and indeed found a spectacular vista. I took this panoramic photo as an attempt to capture the scene, but of course it doesn't do it justice:

Sandstone Summit Pano - download full size

The most striking part of the scene was the clear visibility of seven of the eight Channel Islands, including (south to north) Santa Catalina, San Clemente, Santa Barbara, San Nicholas, Anacapa, Santa Cruz, and Santa Rosa (just barely, hiding behind Santa Cruz). Again as an aside, some claim that a missile was launched from San Nicholas last Monday night, while others think it was just an airplane contrail. Had I been at this spot, I'd be able to tell you for sure. As an aside to the aside, Cal State Channel Islands has one of my favorite college mascots, a fighting dolphin - certain to be formidable in swimming and water polo. Maybe not so much volleyball and tennis. Nonetheless, here's some information on "Becoming a Dolphin."

Back to the subject, the view extended from Pt. Conception, some 90 miles to the north to the peaks of San Gorgonio and San Jacinto (120-140 miles to the east), including the Sierra Madre, Topatopa, Santa Susana, San Gabriel, San Bernardino and Santa Ana mountain ranges. The Oxnard Plain and Las Virgines Reservoir were also prominent, along of course with the many peaks, canyons, and P.O. groves of the Santa Monicas. It was definitely one of the most sweeping views I've seen in southern CA.

So we stayed and enjoyed it for a while, until the crowds arrived. Then we bailed. Enroute back down the trail, we spotted this precariously perched rock:

Balanced rock

I was impressed by the rock, but even more so by the hovering, crooked moon. How does it do that?!

Our round trip distance/elevation for the day was a modest 6.5mi/1100'. More important was the great scenery, great company, and pure joy of being outdoors. Now for some dinner, and to get back to that flying dream...

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Beach Reunion

20+ years ago, when I was a little rugrat running around good ol' Blacksburg, VA, I had a really good friend named Krishna. Alongside our partners in crime, Christopher (later Chris) and David (later Nathaniel), we bounced happily between the athletic fields and courts of the town (where epic battles were staged), the Piedmont Pool (where lifeguards were tormented), the playgrounds of Margaret Beeks Elementary (where Top Gun was recreated, ad nauseum), and the gnarly, snowcovered hills of Shelor and Gardenspring (where we invented snowboarding). Somehow we managed to squeeze in being the class nerds. Here's a typical period snapshot:

Piedmont Pool, circa 1990

Shortly after this photo was taken, my family relocated to the west coast, and Krishna and I lost contact for some years. In parallel, we independently pursued promising athletic careers, went through horrendous health sagas in 1999-2000, emerged with new perspective on life, embraced a love for nature, and found our way to graduate school. After reconnecting in 2006, we vowed to find a way to meet up again, and finally this past weekend managed to pull it off.

Krishna and his wife Lara (both wildlife biologists) were in San Diego for a conference, and wanted to check out the beach. As luck would have it, once upon a time I lived in the San Diego area, where I spent the better part of 3 years hanging out on the beach. As evidence, here's a photo of the time I turned a seashell into an eating utensil:

Oceanside, 2005

Another typical period shot:

Encinitas, 2005

So I volunteered to play tour guide. We started at San Elijo Lagoon, where we enjoyed an easy little hike, checked out some birds and lizards, and caught up on old times:

San Elijo Lagoon (photo credit Lara P)

Afterward, we grabbed some tasty lunch at Swami's, and enjoyed the view over the famous surf break of the same name:

Swami's lunch (photo credit Lara P)

Next, we cruised up to Moonlight and Stone Steps for a little stroll on the beach:

Beach Studs (photo credit Lara P)

The low-tide, high-cloud scenery was pretty good:

Cloud reflections are cool

Finally, after cruising around town for a bit, we caught the sunset at Seaside in Cardiff. It was a nice one, made better by the company:

Group photo, taken using Shawn's thingee

Seaside sunset

Capping the night off with dinner in Little Italy,
I was really struck by what great people Krishna and Lara are, how much we had to talk about after all that time (remarkably we both independently developed an affinity for statistics...weird), and how influential those early childhood years can be in forming bonds and common ground between people. I was also really happy to know that such capable and well-intentioned people are working with wildlife (though sometimes remotely, right Krish?)

One of the year's best days in the outdoors, for sure! Aloha.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Buffalo Outruns Grizzly Bear

My friend (and original SCCC founder) Tim just sent me these pictures and story from Yellowstone, wherein a photographer captured some unbelievable photos of a wildlife footrace. A few comments:
  1. Do you see how much bigger the (young) bison is than the grizzly bear?
  2. Holy crap!
  3. Does this mean I'm faster than a grizzly bear?