Archive for May, 2012

The grand vistas of the Rose Peak hike

May 28, 2012

The out-and-back hike from Sunol to Rose Peak was the original inspiration for my term Killer hikes. I have recently expanded the category by stitching together trails from adjoining open space areas, but even though it’s less than 20 miles (19.00 according to the GPS), Rose Peak is still the classic (5004 feet of climb).

I haven’t been there for a couple months; time to do it again. The wildflower season is fading fast: quite a bit of green, but already fading to the white of new grass seeds and the golden hills of summer.

This little wildflower is about the size of a smallish pea. Flowers like California poppies grow pretty much everywhere, but this species showed up only in a stretch of maybe 100 meters of trail. Dark enough that you might not even realize they were flowers, if you weren’t keeping an eye out.

Cloudy and chilly. I left my jacket in the car, expecting to warm up as soon as I started uphill (true) and to break out into the sunlight fairly soon (not true). Lots of backpackers on the way down from last night’s camping, probably thirty or more by the time they had all straggled past. I kept thinking each new one or two represented the lanterns rouges, and then I would meet yet another one or two.

Because the day remained cloudy, there was a lot of dew on the vegetation.

I programmed the image processors in my brain to match against mantis. No hits among the millions of images that flowed past, all day, but the filter did pick up one of these pretty little orange spiders.

He figures that, if he can’t see me, I can’t see him.

The filter spotted a wolf spider. I like the 747 upper deck, complete with rear window, as well as the four parking lights just below the headlights.

I noticed a second wolf spider, so small it could have gotten lost on the nail of my little finger. The one above would have sprawled well beyond the nail of my thumb, but if it does well this season, it will be twice as big (8x as massy) by fall.

This little guy was almost invisible on a stalk of milkweed. I am delighted with the fine detail visible in the photo (and this is the low-res version!).

Near the top, a bobcat, something we don’t see very often. No photo, sorry; it didn’t want to stay around and pose for me.

On the way back, I stopped for calories at the little pools where McCorkle trail crosses the W-tree rock scramble. Water striders, and the opportunity for almost abstract photos.

And under water, a larva of some kind, very likely preying on an even smaller larva under its left foreleg, while just under its tail section, another larve would be breathing a sigh of relief, if only it could breathe.

As I drove out, late afternoon, I saw a car stopped off the road ahead, people out in the traffic lanes. I slowed and passed in the left lane, and saw that they were protecting a large gopher snake as it crossed the road. Good for them!

Kasha-Katuwe tent rocks, New Mexico

May 26, 2012

My flight home departed at 3:55. I had rather thought to go to the airport mid-morning and stand by for something earlier. My pal Denis had a car, and hoped to convince me to do something around the Albuquerque area; he proposed visiting pueblos, some of which don’t welcome visitors, others of which charge a photography fee for gussied-up touristic trash. Not very interested, thanks. He suggested the petroglyphs, which are basically old graffiti on random rocks, not very interesting. After a week, I’m ready to go home.

Then he proposed we visit the Kasha-Katuwe tent rocks national monument (thanks to remote research by his wife). What? Never heard of it.

I researched it on the web: it’s an area of eroded volcanic ash, managed by the BLM, and not too far from Albuquerque. And there’s a steep 600-foot climb on one of the trails (photo above: Dave at the top). All right, let’s do it.

From the parking lot, we see a few columns topped with capstones, above. This already looks interesting. The trail goes back toward one of the ridges, coarse white sand that is in fact the volcanic ash.

The interest here is in the texture, not the colour. I’m reminded of Munich, the contrast of the white Theatinerkirche with all of its elaborately coloured Bavarian baroque neighbors. (But I would still take Bryce canyon national park if I had the choice!)

A row of sentries on the skyline.

Time was, I thought these smoothed out avalanche chutes were evidence of substantial water flows sometime during geological history, but I think just rockslides would also polish the surfaces pretty smooth.

There is a slot canyon that eventually widens out as the trail begins the steep ascent to a knife-edge observation ridge.

I am reminded of the entranceway to some gothic cathedral somewhere. I heard someone talking about the architecture of Barcelona, and when Jacky saw the pictures, she thought of Turkish dancers.

And the grunt is worth it, as we look down and out at these strange formations.

This little point (below) is opposite the end of trail lookout area. I was ahead of Denis on the way down, waited near here for him to catch up with me. No Denis.

I figured he had stopped to take some more pictures up top, but after a while, that explanation didn’t work. I went back out on the ridge, no Denis.

I don’t know how he got ahead of me, but as I started down, I met several people who told me that my friend was further down. I went down the steep part as quickly as I could, and when I got into the slot canyon, started running. Caught Denis about a hundred meters before the parking lot.

There is another trailhead two or three miles further down, but we thought we had used up about as much time as we could afford. Denis is only flying tomorrow, but I want to get home today.

There was a sign promoting a restaurant at a nearby golf course. It was around mid-day, so we thought we might get some lunch. I was a little concerned that in our dusty hiking gear, we might be too grubby for a classy restaurant. Not to worry: it was an order at the counter hamburger joint. We bought a couple bottles of water and went on without eating.

There is a large dam (a really large dam) across the Rio Grande here, and Denis thought it might be interesting to drive across it. We turned off at the Corps of Engineers visitors’ site but the dam road was closed, so that didn’t work.

Back to Albuquerque, where Denis dropped me off at the airport for my flight home. A good thing to do; thanks for the adventure: a site I had never heard of, and well worth the seeing.

Albuquerque botanical gardens, aquarium

May 26, 2012

If I had to pick a single picture that captures the flavor of the southwest, it might be this one:

Here’s a nicely done statue at the entrance to the old town. Never mind that it’s completely silly; it’s nicely done.

Well, the old town is about three blocks one direction by two blocks in the other direction. We get to it and through it pretty quickly.

I explored the parks along the Rio Grande, which include a botanical garden. The price of admission to the botanical garden also includes the aquarium, so I went there, too. There’s also a zoo somewhere around, but I didn’t see it, didn’t go there.

Jacky remarks that Georgia O’Keefe just used the colors she saw every day. There’s something to that thought…

One section of the park is a Japanese garden, a little waterfall and a pond, a bridge, a few side paths, and Japanese stone lanterns. Rather nice, although it bears mentioning that the bridge and some of the other places are roped off from pedestrian access. That would *never* happen in a real Japanese garden!

To the left of the picture, a heron perched on the rock. One of the gardeners told me the heron is an old friend.

But when I got back to the hotel and blew up the pictures, I discovered that our old friend here has swallowed a fishhook, and is encumbered with a substantial length of fishline.

I sent the photo and its description to the botanical gardens people, and got a thank-you response. No idea whether they can do anything to help it or not; just cutting the fishline would surely make its life a lot easier.

I was impressed by the layered fabic texture of this little guy’s wings.

And this is the top-side of the same butterfly. Very classy!

I shot a lot of photos in the aquarium, but as expected, they mostly didn’t turn  out very well, so I’ll only include a few of them.

Above, a nest of pipefish, and well camouflaged they are, too!

Nice place, well worth the visit.


May 20, 2012

Well? Well? That’s how it’s pronounced, isn’t it! Bigger town than I would have thought, maybe a million or so.

The flight from San Francisco landed just about the time the solar eclipse was beginning. I shared a taxi with Navid to the hotel; we found many colleagues (and others) watching through heavily tinted sunglasses. One or two of them lent their sunglasses to us, and I have to admit, it really was worth seeing. Having checked in and dropped our things off in our rooms, we were outdoors just about the time the eclipse was at its maximum. Cool!

The taxi driver had recommended the St Clair Winery and Bistro, only a block or two from the hotel, so we decided to give it a try. As those who know me can attest, I’m more of a beer guy than a wine aficionado, but the menu listed an oatmeal stout that was pretty good. A lamb stew sprinkled with feta cheese, and once again, I’m pretty spoiled.

Very spoiled.

As to names, I asked our waiter Mark whether it was Rio Grand, or Rio Grande. He had always pronounced it just English grand, but he took a poll in the kitchen and came back with mixed results. So the Spanish haven’t completely surrendered the language!

Starting a new blog

May 20, 2012

Enthusiastic followers of this blog will recognize that I often interleaf travel, hiking, and photography with more serious topics, frequently critiques of material from the Cato Institute, but including any commentary that seems appropriate on the topic of civilization: the arrangement and agreements  by which we all live peacefully together — or don’t. It makes more sense to break this material into its own thread, so I have launched a new blog to capture thoughts on Civilization.


Cato — Arnold Kling: Break up the banks

May 16, 2012

In National Review online and at Cato, Arnold Kling writes about the JP Morgan fiasco and the predictable power grab now playing out in Washington. There is a great deal here with which to agree, but Kling also writes:

… writing in National Review two years ago, I proposed breaking up the big banks. J. P. Morgan’s announced loss serves to reinforce my view. …  we should seek limits on the asset size of individual banks. J. P. Morgan today is about ten times as large as any bank ought to be.

Arnold, you know better than that! The fact that government regulation and support allowed and encouraged banks to supersize themselves is merely an argument for getting the government out of the picture. It is not an argument that the government should interfere even more.

Leaving aside your common garden-variety thug, the root of all evil is the idea that some people are qualified to run other people’s lives and property, better qualified than the owners of those lives and property, and that these better-qualified people are somehow entitled to act on that belief. I would even argue that hubris is the worst of the seven deadly sins.

Where did your 10x come from? If JP Morgan shrank to 9.9x its current size, would you be happy? Or would you insist on 9x? Or maybe 5x? If you mean your proposal to be taken seriously, these silly questions become serious questions, because your bureaucracy will either have to decide according to bright-line criteria or decide on the basis of friendship and favors. (Any bets about how that would play out?)

How big is too big? Who decides? By what criteria? And having demonstrated his Delphic wisdom, how does our philosopher king derive the right to compel compliance?

Think about it.

It’s wildflower season!

May 6, 2012

2012 May 6

Well, no, this isn’t a wildflower.

It’s one of two ringneck snakes I saw on my 20-mile Saturday hike. Question: how can it be a ringneck snake when snakes have no necks?

Notice the bright orange underbelly.

Here’s the venue, as seen just before reaching the parking lot on the return trip. The hike starts at Montebello open space preserve, whose parking lot is just off the picture to the left, goes down Stevens Canyon, which is the low area to the right (looking down the San Andreas rift zone, by the way), climbs out to Saratoga Summit and returns on the high country to the right of the picture.

And a great day it was for wildflowers. The bees agree!

Understand, of course, that wildflower viewing is a matter of appreciating the minuscule! Some of these are less than half a centimeter across, and I only saw a lot of the detail after I put the fotos up on the big screen at home.

For example, the serrated edges. You  — well, certainly I — would never have noticed that without a close-up foto.

I’m not sure this qualifies as a wildflower, but it certainly illustrates, along with the one below, that they don’t have to be colourful to be beautiful.

This is one of my favourites, the stamen peeking out from behind the petals!

Cluster flowers often appear to be just patches of (in this case) white. You usually don’t see the detail.

And these fluffy pink little guys — who would ever have guessed that they have fuzzy little clown faces?

Again, we often view something like this as a single large (2 cm or so) patch of colour, with a different-coloured center. But look at the detail in the center!

We need to be careful photographing these flowers — they’re poison oak. And speaking of oak, not the poison kind…

On Sunday, Jacky and I went to Edgewood park, which is renowned for its spring wildflowers, and found a few more to photograph.

Another California poppy, again host to an insect, some sort of leafhopper.

This one would be hard pressed to span half a centimeter!

And here’s a Las Vegas starburst that you would only think was dust until you looked closely.

A really beautiful time of year.