Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 Year in Review


My outdoor adventuring this year was spurred by a simple goal:

"get out and about in the outdoors"

Struggling with a chronic back/hip injury for the past 4½ years, for a long time I avoided hiking and camping in fear of aggravating things. Last year, when a friend inspired and challenged me to do it anyway, my world opened up again. I discovered that most of the time being outdoors seemed to help, often physically and almost always mentally and emotionally. Even when I did have trouble (most often along the way in the car or airplane), the journey proved to be well worth it.

Rediscovering the great outdoors, Lopez Island, July 2009

In January, at a very difficult juncture in my life, I decided this year would be one of rebuilding, of investment in personal growth. My explorations in the outdoors were an important part and external symbol of that journey. Through them I found time for deep introspection, reflection, rejuvenation, and dreaming. I got so much joy, fulfillment, and growth from these experiences. Being outside in wild, quiet places provides a perspective, centering, and sensory recalibration that is so important for me. I arrive at the end of the year in a much better place than I was to start, in so many ways better, stronger, and happier.

Sunrise on the first hike of the year

When I began this blog in January, following a trip to Ladyface Mountain, it was meant as an accessory to my personal, handwritten journal. I didn't write it for an audience so much as to document the journey for myself, thereby providing a record for subsequent re-visitation and further reflection. Like the outdoor adventures themselves, the value was in the journey, in the creation of the record, as opposed to the destination or the record itself. Along the way I found a small but loyal following whose comments, questions, and perspective further enriched the process.

Volume II

I believe that the outdoor experience is best focused on that process, on the moment and the journey. To understand that journey in its entirety requires reading the whole story (I dare you to start from the beginning). Any attempt to summarize will almost certainly fall short. Nonetheless, I present some summary statistics and superlatives:

Summary Statistics

In the spring I established a set of milestones to document my progress, and give me something to shoot for:

Cumulative Hiking Mileage: 250 miles (about 5mi/week)
Cumulative Hiking Elevation: 29,029 feet (sea level to Mt. Everest summit)
Cumulative Camping Nights: 1 month (30 days)

By August I'd reached both of the hiking milestones, and subsequently updated them as follows:

Cumulative Hiking Mileage: 365 miles (1 mile/day)
Cumulative Hiking Elevation: 65,023 feet

The latter represents the elevation difference between the lowest point on Earth (the Mariana Trench, nearly 7 miles below the surface of the south Pacific), and the highest (Mount Everest, nearly 6 miles above):

I reached all three goals during my last major trip of the year, a Thanksgiving adventure to Death Valley:

Mile 365, at Badwater Basin

65,023', somewhere in Golden Canyon

Following Night 30 at Furnace Creek

Here are the final year-end statistics...
  • 79 hikes, covering 394.5 cumulative miles, with 71,690' of cumulative elevation gain
  • 10 camping trips, including 31 nights at 12 unique campsites
...along with some visuals:

My average hike was 5 miles roundtrip, with 907' of net elevation gain. Since all hikes eventually looped back to the starting point, the average steepness was 344'/mile, or a 6.5% grade. Compare this to your favorite hike to calibrate. I personally consider anything above 10% or so over any sustained distance steep. 15%+ is pretty intense.

Here are a few more charts to illustrate the year's hikes:


Elevation Gain



Longest Hike: October 4, Pear Lake (Sequoia NP), 13.5 miles

Shortest Hike: November 24, Salt Creek (Death Valley NP), 0.5 miles

Largest Elevation Gain: July 10, Mt. San Antonio (Baldy), 3900'

Steepest Hike: January 9, Ladyface Mountain, 1000'/mile (20% grade)

Highest Elevation: July 10, Mt. San Antonio, 10,064'

Lowest Elevation: November 24, Badwater Basin, -282'

Highest Temperature: July 17, Oat Mountain, 103 degF

Lowest Temperature: November 27, Death Valley, 29 degF

Wettest Day: January 18, Paseo Miramar

Stormiest Day: October 4, Sequoia NP

Scariest Moment: Around 6:30pm, January 29

Noteworthy Wildlife Encounters

Black bears like trees

January 29: Bison
April 24: California Sea Lion
May 11: Sea Weirdo
June 14: Red Fox, Hoary Marmot
June 15: Banana Slug
June 16: Blue Grouse
June 17: North American Beaver
July 22: Mosquitoes
August 22: American Black Bear
August 23: Albino Red-tailed Hawk
September 3: American Black Bear
September 12: Hummingbird
October 4: American Black Bears
October 6: Mule Deer, more Black Bears
November 27: American Coot
November 28: Greater Roadrunner

2010 Favorites:

Favorite Photo

There were so many great adventures that these are really tough to call, but if pressed...

Trip: June 12-17, Pacific NW
Day Hike: July 24, Alice Lake
Campsite: That's a secret
View: The one that wasn't
People Watching: April 18, Icehouse Canyon
Historical Site: May 2, Mandeville Canyon missile radar
Pop Culture Reference: May 9, Bronson (Bat) Caves
Surprise: The many cool strangers I met along the way


To those loyal readers who have been following through the year, thanks for your interest and support. I haven't decided yet whether or not to continue the blog in 2011. There is at least one more journey that needs to be charted. Regardless, the outdoor adventures are sure to continue...stay tuned...


Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Lowe Peak Summit Attempt

I've been eyeing Lowe Peak for about 10 years, thinking about climbing it for about 5, and seriously considering it for the last 2 or 3. At 10,589', it's the second highest peak in the Oquirrh Mountains, the range to the west of the Salt Lake Valley. More importantly, it has that classic pyramid mountain look that makes you look up and say "I wanna sit on top of that," and it really jumps out of the western skyline as viewed from my mom's front yard:

Lowe Peak, Tuesday AM

The path up the mountain's SW side is not particularly intimidating, approximately 5mi (depending upon route) and 4000' vertical feet from the end of a paved road. However, these mountains are rarely visited compared to the Wasatch to the east, established trails are few and far between, and in winter avalanche danger (made worse by the remoteness of the mountain) is a serious consideration. Bottom line, my visits to Utah over the last few years (usually during snowy season) haven't presented a reasonable chance to have a go at it.

Arriving in SLC on Monday, I recognized a window of opportunity. It's early in the season, without much snow accumulation, and it had been several weeks since the last storm. With the snow relatively settled, possibly quite a bit of melt from the previous week's warming, and the next storm scheduled to arrive Tuesday night, I knew Tuesday was the best shot I'd see for a while. I knew I was physically prepared, the weather forecast looked good, so I made plans to go.

After checking out trip reports on Summitpost and WillhiteWeb (a great website I just discovered), consulting with the respective authors, refreshing my avalanche preparedness, and studying the topo map, I was set to go. The only thing I needed was a travel companion. Fortunately my dad's friend Bill, a saavy and experienced outdoor adventurer, was up for the expedition on short notice.

The planned route was 3.2mi/3500' from the trailhead, including roughly 1.2mi up Ophir Canyon, a 1mi routefind up to Dead Ox Pass, and another mile along a N-S ridgeline to the peak. I knew we may have up to an additional 1.5mi/500' walking up a dirt road, depending upon road/snow conditions. As it turned out, we made it about halfway up the dirt road before parking the car and setting off on foot.

The first couple miles passed without incident in a little over an hour as we worked our way up the canyon, crossing the stream a number of times along the way. There was a well-worn path indicating that others had recently traversed the route, and no need for snowshoes. Arriving at a small meadow, the footprints ended, so we strapped on our snowshoes and continued along. There was some question as to whether we should continue upcanyon, or peel off to the east and start heading for the ridgeline toward Dead Ox Pass. We decided to head east, working our way up a steep hill:

Sagebrush- and snow-covered slopes

A few more feet of snow would have been welcome, as the exposed sagebrush presented a challenge. Postholeing through the deep snow made for slow progress, yet the brush would easily catch snowshoes. We opted for snowshoes. The steep grade (later estimated at 1800'/mi) was no joke, and our progress slowed considerably.

A lone fir, with Rocky Peak in the background

2:30 in, we were still an estimated 500 vertical feet below the ridgeline, and it became clear that the summit was not within reach, allowing time for return before dark. Furthermore, I suspected we were off course, and had drifted south of the planned route. The view, however, was great, so we stopped to have lunch:

Looking west toward Bald Mountain, with the Stansburys in the distance

Lowe Peak and Dead Ox Pass, to the NE

With time short and heavy legs, we made our way back to the car without incident in about 2 hours, spotting a mule deer doe along the way. Upon arriving home, I studied the topo some more, trying to figure out exactly where we'd ended up. Using google earth, I was able to pinpoint our lunch spot, as matched to the photo above:

Google Earth is cool!

Indeed we had peeled east off the main canyon too early, ending up around 8900' on a ridge to the SW of Dead Ox. This view illustrates the intended path as compared to the actual:


It's clear to me after this experience that I need more practice with my routefinding navigation, particularly in snowy terrain. But the good news is that we used good prudence and judgment, returning safely instead of pressing on toward what could have become a dangerous situation. It's also clear to me upon review that the route via Dead Ox is longer than 3.2mi from the trailhead. I estimate it's actually about 4mi. The 3.2mi route heads more directly up the drainage on the SW face of Lowe (as described by Willhite), and would be the preferred summer route. However, it looked like the snow on that face was relatively unstable, and I don't think I'd try it in winter.

This was a great scouting trip, and I look forward to returning to Lowe next time conditions allow!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Winter Adventure Time

Daypack and snowshoe bag - ready to go!

It's time to leave sunny Southern California for my (pretty much) annual trip home to see my folks in Utah and play in the snow. Judging from previous years' adventures, there are some good times to come! A sampling...

Snowshoe Adventuring, January 2007

Extreme Sledding, January 2008

Heber, January 2009

My mom says avalanche conditions are dicey, but I hope things improve to give me a shot at climbing this peak that I'm always scouting from the front yard:

Lowe Peak

There will almost certainly be some form of holiday snow sculpting as well...

Snow Cat, January 2005

Snow Seal, December 2008

Snow "Creature", December 2008

Stay tuned!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Hiking Hollywood

Looking south from Mt. Hollywood

It was a typical December day here in Southern California - 74 degrees and sunny - so I took the opportunity to bail out of work a little early and go for a short, sunset hike up Mt. Hollywood in Griffith Park.

After battling traffic for half an hour to go 8 miles (this sort of thing makes me absolutely hate LA), I was relieved to park the car and scamper quickly up the short but steep (~0.5mi/600') trail to the peak. I arrived just in time for sunset, and shared the view with some obviously hardcore outdoor enthusiasts who were busy taking iPhone snapshots for their Facebook page. Their mere presence honestly was kind of annoying, but it is LA after all, and I knew they wouldn't last long. True to form, as soon as the sun had dipped below the horizon, everybody bailed ("Alright dude, let's kill it!").

Too bad for them, for as those who have watched many sunsets know, the best scenery usually shows up once the sun's gone down:

Post-sunset view

I stayed to enjoy the view for a while and eat some leftover spaghetti. Tragically, I'd forgotten to bring a fork or spoon, so once again I had to improvise. For future reference:

Should you ever find yourself in the [admittedly unlikely] situation of being in the wilderness without a fork and wanting to eat some spaghetti, the Leatherman file tool is serviceable.

I was feeling pretty smug about having the spot to myself when some dingbats came gasping up the hill blasting bad pop music out of their phone. What the hell - who wants to hear Beyonce when they're sitting on a mountaintop? Seriously. I patiently tolerated it for a few minutes before realizing they had no intention of turning it off, nor any apparent awareness that the behavior in itself might be strange. So I politely asked them if they'd mind turning the music down. They mumbled something back in Korean, then walked away. Whatever, works for me. I really don't understand what the deal is with public music on the trail.

Dude, trail foul.

Anyhow, I enjoyed the view for a little while longer before making my way back down to the observatory and taking a few more pictures:

Griffith Observatory

Observatory walkway

This will probably be my last snow-free December hike. Soon, to Utah!

Monday, December 6, 2010

Death Valley Wanderings

Deadly Pretty

I recently returned from my last big camping trip of the year - a Thanksgiving adventure to Death Valley. This went a lot better than my foray into desert camping last December at Joshua Tree, which ended in a middle-of-the-night evacuation from a fierce, windy icestorm. While temperatures were cool and winds were high on this trip as well, the scenery was great, the company superb, and the escape from LA everything I hoped it would be.

Day One - Enroute

On the recommendation of my friend Brian, I peeled off of Hwy 14 north of Red Rock Canyon, and took a southwesterly approach to Death Valley via Hwy 178 through the Searles Valley and the thriving metropolis of Trona, home of "Searles Valley Minerals", from which comes Borax, and - well - not a lot else. The views of the Panamint Mountains to the east, however, were quite scenic, and I passed signs for several ghost towns.

Mountainous desert, near Ballarat

The highlight of this portion of the trip was the long, straight, rather new and well-maintained road where 65mph didn't really seem like an appropriate speed limit. Let's just say some of this ground got covered pretty quickly. Coming up over Towne Pass, I really appreciated my Saab turbo, which effortlessly ate up the grade at 75mph. Heading down was even more fun, though prudence was required to avoid going "Dukes of Hazzard" over numerous zero-G dips in the road (good call, Brian).

Eventually I made my way into the park, and stopped for a short hike and lunch at the Mesquite Sand Dunes. More on this spot later:

Mesquite Dunes

I arrived at Furnace Creek campground just in time to get set up before dark. This was definitely the most effort I've gone to in order to set my tent up this year. It turns out that the stakes required to hold my tent up can't penetrate solid rock (see previous attempts here). So I had to improvise. Fortunately there were a handy tamarisk bush and some big rocks handy:

The tree- and rock-anchored tent would prove sturdy

Shortly after I finished setting up, my great aunt and uncle arrived, and I was treated to a fine, home-cooked meal before settling in for the evening. It was the first of many great feasts I'd enjoy on this trip.

Day Two - Exploring the Sights

Overnight, temperatures dropped into the 40s, and the wind howled like a banshee (which according to Irish folklore is a female spirit who wails as an omen of impending death - I love mythology). The tent flapped around quite a bit, but as it has done all year long, through rain, wildlife visits (exhibits A and B), and pounding Sierra thunderstorms, it kept me warm, safe, and dry. After a quick breakfast, I hit the road to see some local sights:

On the road, Wednesday morning

The first stop was Death Valley Buttes, a small ridge toward the eastern end of the park:

Death Valley Buttes

A 2mi hike took me up 700' to the westernmost peak at roughly 3000' elevation. From here there were great views south into the valley, north to the Grapevine Mountains, southeast to the Funerals, and southwest to the Panamints.

Enjoying the view

The wind had kicked up quite a bit of dust, as you can see in this shot looking toward the Panamint range:

It should be noted that while most of this hike was straightforward, the last portion of the climb was pretty gnarly, not technically-speaking, but due to of a combination of exposure and lots of loose, volcanic rock. I was confident I could make it up, but stopped about 50 vertical feet short of the summit upon realizing how dodgy the return trip would be. Better to play it cautiously, I think, especially when traveling solo.

My next stop was Salt Creek, where seemingly miraculously, I found a little oasis of running water in the middle of the desert:

Salt Creek

This is a neat little spot where groundwater percolates out due to fault uplift, and produces a little creek with vegetation and animal life amidst the barren desert. I thought the succulent plants were especially cool. I didn't find the interpretive signs indicating the presence of sidewinder rattlesnakes to be cool at all, but they didn't show themselves, so we're still good.

The final stop of the day was the Badwater salt flats, which at elevation -282' is the lowest point in the western hemisphere:

Badwater Salt Flats

This is a pretty popular tourist spot, which is evident by the well-worn path that obscures the natural, "polygon" contours of the ground. So, I tried out a theory:

Theory: If one walks for 10 minutes from the parking lot, one will escape 90% of the human traffic. If one walks for another 10 minutes, one will escape 9 of the remaining 10%.

Just keep walking

There were probably about 40 people at the beginning of my journey, and after 10' I'd lost all but a handful, so about right. 10 minutes later I was absolutely, completely alone. It really doesn't take much effort to escape the masses. I'd only walked about 20% of the way across the massive flats.

Along the way I paused for a moment to recognize the first of two major annual milestones that I reached on this 365th mile of hiking:

Mile 365

This mileage goal was an informal update to my previous annual goal of 250 cumulative miles. A mile for every day of the year. I'm pretty stoked!

As I sat on the flats enjoying the view, I looked to the east at 11,049' Telescope Peak, and wondered to myself:

"I wonder which national park has the largest elevation differential within its boundaries."

I had a few guesses, and throughout the trip polled family members and park rangers (and a park ranger family member) for their take on the question. Nobody had an authoritative answer, but I thought the discussion was pretty cool. It occurred to me that had I been at home, this sort of thing would just be immediately looked up on the internet, the value of the exploratory thought process being lost. So fitting with that theme, I'm not going to tell you the answer until the end of this post...ruminate on it a bit...


Enroute back to camp, I stopped off at the Golden Canyon trailhead for a few sunset photos. I like this one with the shadow...

...but the bluffs are pretty scenic in and of themselves:

Back at the campground, a number of cousins had arrived, and I had a great night chowing down on salmon stew (a variation on the familiar tuna stew) and swapping stories around the campfire.

Day Three - Thanksgiving (Part One)

After another windy night, I awoke just after sunrise, had breakfast, and played a little desert bocce with the family before setting off for a couple morning hikes. We hit Mosaic Canyon first, which featured some fascinating geology that collectively we tried to figure out. There were a bunch of smart people along, but none of us really had training in geology, so we had modest success. I thought of my friend Joe, and how he always seemed to know the answers to these sorts of questions. Wish you could have been there, buddy!

Ken, Shelby, Ashley, Neal, Russell, Kevin, Leslie, Shawn, and Tank the dog at the Mosaic Canyon dry fall

Next I went back to the Mesquite Dunes, this time accompanied by cousins Neal, Ben, and George. Being a trained biologist, George was quick to point out some cool tracks in the sand from kangaroo rats and beetles. Meanwhile, Ben wrote messages in the sand:

This should be a postcard

The triumphant artist

I was most fascinated by the patchwork of stones that formed in the sand...

...and couldn't resist the temptation to do a little materials testing:

My wiser, younger cousins went about getting some exercise:

This was a good plan, because when we got back to camp, it was time to eat. The main family feast was planned for Friday, but this prequel potluck warm-up meal was nothing to sneeze at. After gorging on turkey and lasagna and Bill's famous mashed potatoes, we had another great family night around the campfire, highlighted for by the arrival of my parents, with whom I hadn't spent a Thanksgiving since 1996. It was pretty awesome. After checking out some of what cousin Ben advises me is a nearly infinite sea of stars in the sky, I retired to a very restful, but decidedly cooler night in the tent (overnight low 34deg).

Day Four - Thanksgiving (Part Two)

I finally made it up in time for sunrise this morning. One of my favorite things about camping is that it naturally resets your internal clock. When it gets dark, you go to sleep. When it gets light, you wake up. I really love it.

Cousin Kevin recommended a short hike to a hill nearby the campground where I caught both the sun rising over the mountains to the southeast, and the moon descending over those to the west:

After breakfast, a crew set out to hike up Golden Canyon. I was really pleasantly surprised by this hike, which features some steep canyon walls...

A jet (Southwest 737) flies over Golden Canyon

but most memorably a vast network of golden, badland hills:

Golden Canyon badlands, with Manly Beacon in the distance

At the urging of Ashley and Raul, we crossed a very narrow, loose dirt ridgeline that gave me some very nervous memories of this spot in Kaua`i. But I'm really glad they urged me, because after crossing it we got a sweet view looking back toward the valley:

Looking west to the valley from Golden Canyon

We returned via the Gower Gulch loop, along which we came upon an abandoned, old mine with this ominous warning sign:

Top 5 reasons to avoid abandoned mines

Judging by the well-worn path immediately behind leading to the mine entrance, somehow I think the sign actually just encourages people. I'm not going to lie - I took a peek inside too, but you probably shouldn't.

We got back just in time for another Thanksgiving feast, this time featuring turkeys (baked and BBQed), hams, yams, ribs, cobbler, salads, veggies, pies, casseroles, coyote soup, cranberries, and big piles of bread. Ok, there was no coyote soup, but it was still epic. A definite step (or ten) up from my usual camping gruel. I think Kevin summed it up best when he said that he remembers always having eaten well at Thanksgiving. I thought to myself that I could say the same, and that it must mean we've lived pretty good lives. With such a fine meal, good health, the company of family, and beautiful surroundings, I had a lot to be thankful for on this day. One thing I didn't have though was skill at Mancala, a sweet game that Ashley and Raul introduced me to. I definitely need to practice up for the next family get-together!

Day (and Night) Five

I woke up even earlier on Saturday, in time to catch the beautiful pre-dawn glow of sunlight off the morning clouds:

Saturday predawn

I roused up Oskar the dog, who required little encouragement to join me on another trek to nearby "Sunrise Hill":

Oskar checks out the sunrise

It was good to get the blood flowing since it had dropped to a brisk 29deg overnight. We were all sitting around having breakfast when this crazy coot came wandering into camp:

The American Coot, Fulica americana

You may be saying to yourself, "so what, it's just some bird." The thing is, coots are aquatic, water-loving birds usually found in places like wetlands and ponds. Death valley, with its average 1.6" of annual precipitation, isn't exactly an aquatic wonderland. I mean look at the feet on that thing! Built to walk on water, not rocks. Weird, huh? We concluded that it must have lost its way from the nearby golf course. Yeah, that's weird too.

Anyhow, after breakfast cousins Russell, Neal, Tamara and I hit the trail up Fall Canyon, a really neat little slot with increasingly narrower and higher walls as one works their way upcanyon. The rock formations were sweet:

Fall Canyon

Elle the dingo pup was keen to join, and had a great time climbing all over the rocks - she's a natural mountain dog!

Elle the dingo

The 6mi/1400' round trip felt a little bit longer due to the loose rock cover all along the wash. Definitely much better coming down than going up! We speculated about how crazy it would be in the canyon when the periodic flash floods come through.

Dear Laird: Here's your next challenge.

Death Valley from the foot of the canyon

After a quick trip back to camp, we headed out to Badwater to do a little stargazing on the salt flats. Cousin Candice (the professional photographer), took a bunch of great shots of the magnificent, moonless sky:

Starry Night, Photo Credit: Candice Benjamin

We saw dozens of shooting stars, satellites, and a dense milky way. It's the best stargazing I can remember since my days traveling to White Sands, NM. Candice was literally, accidentally photographing shooting stars while playing around with light-painting shots:

Photo Credit: Candice Benjamin

From the outdoor log...

I could have spent all night just gazing into the densely populated sky, staring into the seemingly impossible infinity. Moments like these are so important for centering us, providing perspective, reminding us of our place in the universe.

Back at camp, there was a chili feast and a big bowl of mom's homemade blackberry cobbler waiting for us. Man, I ate well on this trip.

Day Six - Return of the Wind

A month in the tent!

I woke up Sunday morning to celebrate my 30th camping night, completing the last of my annual goals. It's been an awesome year in the outdoors!

For the second day in a row, a curious bird joined us for breakfast. This time it was a roadrunner, Geococcyx californianus:

Meep meep!

I resisted the urge to take vengeance on behalf of the long-suffering Wile E Coyote, who for decades has been unjusty wronged by inconsistencies of physics and impossibly poor fortune while that stupid roadrunner arrogantly grins, claps his feet together, and cheers. I kept hoping a coyote would crawl out of the bushes, chase the roadrunner down, and give me the greatest photo-op of all time, but alas, no dice.

A man must dream...

Sadly most of the family departed after breakfast, but I remained for one more night with my great aunt and uncle. Not 20 minutes after my folks left, the howling banshee of a wind returned, after what had been a 3 day reprieve. Hanging around in camp wasn't much of a good time, so I set off to explore the nearby hills:

Buttes above Texas Spring

Atop the buttes in the photo above, I'd estimate the wind was gusting to 80+ mph, which by my rough calculations would support the weight of my body leaning into the wind at a 20deg line with experimental data. It was intense, but thanks to my wind/rain shell (which really has served me well this year), I was comfy and able to enjoy the view down into the valley:

Back at camp I was treated to another home-cooked meal and game of Scrabble (I got my butt kicked), before taking a long, last glance into the starry desert night, and settling into the tent for a windy night #31.

Day Seven - On the Road Again

Along Hwy 190 near Lone Pine

Sadly most (though not necessarily all) great trips must come to an end, and after nearly a week in the Valley of Death, it was time to head back to civilization. After treating myself to a long, warm shower at the nearby resort, I bid my family farewell and set off to the west, enjoying another windy, twisty, turbocharged journey over a pair of mountain passes, and into the Owens Lake Valley.

Cresting over the second pass, I finally caught my first glimpse of the eastern Sierra Nevada, and it was grand indeed!

The Eastern Sierra

The snowcapped mountains were gorgeous in the morning light, and I found myself tempted to stay here for a while, as opposed to driving back to LA. Fortunately I had the motivation of a visit with my Uncle Grant and Aunt Laura in Palmdale to look forward to, so I popped in Laura's new CD (which you really should check out) and cruised on down the 395, vowing to return again one day soon.

Later that night, as I pulled back into the parking garage in LA, I felt rested, refreshed, and ready (well ready as one can be) to get back to the grind...if a little annoyed at the concept of a parking garage. I'll be back soon, wilderness. Stay wild.

For patient readers, here's the list:

Top Ten U.S. National Parks, by Elevation Differential:

With only 4 of the top 10 in the lower 48, kudos to anyone who successfully named all 10, regardless of order. I had 7 of the 10 on my consideration list.