Archive for November, 2014

Giving thanks for the 4-day holiday

November 30, 2014

Sunday, 30 November, 2014

Thursday, a little killer hike. Friday, volunteer work, chasing broom at Windy Hill. 5 hours, out there gratuitously killing plants (I love being politically incorrect!), and I feel as if I’m making real progress. Mother Nature took her revenge by inflicting poison oak on me.

Saturday, more broom, this time at Purisima in the rain. Wearing shorts, I stayed near the trail. I don’t need more poison oak.

This morning, Sunday, I was thinking of another killer hike. It wasn’t raining… so I checked the weather radar. There was a massive storm out over the Pacific, moving this way. Hmmm… maybe I won’t go for a killer hike today after all. While it rained and rained and rained, I spent the morning evaluating drought-tolerant plants for the yard make-over. By noon the storm had gone through — I hope it sits over the Sierra Nevada and dumps 20 feet of snow! But it’s time to go out and get some fresh air.

I haven’t hiked the Stanford dish loop for a while. About 10 miles, 500 feet of climb, short and easy.


A block from home, leaves brought down by the storm. And yes, that’s a 58 Olds in the background. Its owner comes out with a feather duster every day and spiffs it up a little.


In the Dish preserve, a raptor atop a utility pole. Another one sat a few hundred yards away and called, but in vain.


Nice day, but no sun, not until later. Few people out on the trail; everyone thought it was to be a rainy day, and stayed home.

I wandered home by way of the Gamble Gardens.


Now the sun was out, back-lighting some of the leaves. Very nice.


I have probably walked past this tree a hundred times, and never before noticed its bark. Classy!




And a typical street scene — really! — for this time of year in Palo Alto. Nice.

Being thankful

November 27, 2014

Thursday, 27 November 2014

Happy thanksgiving. Naturally, this is a day to be outdoors. How about a little killer hike, maybe the 20 mile loop from Montebello parking to Saratoga summit and back!

A cool, pleasant day that turned out to be very quiet in terms of trail traffic. A fair bit of deadfall to remove, and one deadfallen madrone that was too big to move, so I reported it for someone with a chainsaw.


Horseshoe lake, mid-afternoon. The coots spash around chasing each other, but otherwise the place is deserted.


Home by 4 or so, happy to have a brew.

I bought a leg of lamb early in the week, and we’ve been working on it ever since. This evening, I cut up some of the scraps and made moussaka, of which we could only eat about half. There is still enough for a round of, say, lamb vindaloo, but I put it in the freezer so we can take a break for a few days before resuming the battle. Good stuff, but it turns out to be a major commitment!

Outdoors and Brahms

November 23, 2014

Saturday, 22 November 2014

I flew back from Stockholm Friday, so Saturday was for collecting anti-jetlag daylight and getting a little exercise. No matter that it was raining. Went to Windy Hill with the idea of both hiking and uprooting weeds. Found some purple star thistle on Spring Ridge trail, the carcasses of which must be carried out — it cannot be left where it lies, because it will go ahead and develop seed. I carry a flimsy bag in my backpack for eventualities such as this, so it wasn’t a problem.

Over on the other side of the preserve, I went off trail and attacked broom for almost three hours, a total of about 7 hours outdoors. Thoroughly wet, tired, dirty — a great day. The sun had come out, and I was happy.

Sunday, 23 November

My gloves were still soaked from yesterday, so I just went hiking today. Short hike, because the late afternoon is committed. Parked at Arastradero and went up the hill, through Foothills park and Los Trancos open space preserve, 15 miles total, the Los Trancos part counting as a volunteer trail patrol contribution because it’s a Mid-Pen preserve.



Looking into the sun in Wildhorse valley, mist rising from the wet grass of yesterday’s rain as the sun hits it. The exposure makes it look like a snowy scene, very pretty if I do say so myself.


Back in the woods, it was good to find the colourful and interesting fungi getting started, now that the rains have begun.


Los Trancos, where you would not be well-advised to rely on the mossy side of the tree to determine north.


More Los Trancos, fallen leaves, a beautiful time of year.


And speaking of fungi … I have never seen anything like this before.




Tilt-a-world. No, the camera is not off-vertical; these trees really are growing off to the left, leaning into the open space of the stream valley below. Bay laurel especially does this, sometimes resulting in trunks growing completely horizontal with new trunks sprouting vertically from them. In other cases, the trunk bows over far enough to reach the ground on the other side of the stream and form an arch. But sometimes, the torque is too much and the trunk breaks off. I found such a break during my trail patrol, noted its GPS coordinates, photographed it, and included it in my trail report.

Home in time for a quick nap before we went out again.

For my birthday a few weeks ago, Jacky got us tickets to Brahms’ Requiem, whose performance was today. It had no orchestra, rather four hands of piano, an arrangement done by Brahms himself. Goose bumps, tears in the eyes. More than once. A superb performance of a superb piece of music. Quite possibly the best birthday present I have ever had.


November 17, 2014

Monday, 17 November 2014

As always, getting from home to Stockholm was a superb approximation of sheer physical torture, but as always I made it. Very little sleep for well over 24 hours. Colleague Joel was on the same flight from Newark. It landed at 7:30, and we had a meeting at 9:30, so we took a taxi direct from the airport to Kista. Gray, cloudy day. We passed a thermometer somewhere that said +5 (degrees C, that would be), which is within 2 or 3 degrees of the day’s high and the overnight low, predicted for all week. ‘Tis okay.

Several meetings, worth while, even though I can hardly see straight. Lunch at the Kista Galleria food court with Stefan, Nick and Joel. But by 2, it was time to go off to the nearby Pressbyran, buy a week of transit pass, take the T-Bana subway to Gamla Stan (old town) and seek out my hotel. Along the Riddarsholmen waterfront, not that far.


My room. Yes, the hotel is a ship, a yacht that was once owned by Barbara Hutton. I came across it while searching for hotel reservations, and thought it would be a bit different from the usual.


The portholes look out over the water, but they are high enough that I have to stand on tiptoe to see anything but sky.


This is the last cabin in the stern, the shape of the ship clearly tapering off.


After a nap, I’m up for a walk around somewhere. I may just end up at the hotel bar… we’ll see.

Later …


I didn’t bring my real camera along this time. The iPhone camera is not up to the same standards, but it is surprisingly good, better than one would have a right to expect, given the minuscule lens and depth.


I wandered Gamla Stan looking for maybe an interesting place to eat. Lots of kebab places, but that’s what I had for lunch, and it was a big lunch. I stood looking at one menu, and decided I was not hungry. Thai restaurant for later this week, but I really am not hungry now. I have been eating too much, that’s what! But a brew would not be amiss.


Ended up at Liffey pub, where they steadfastly ignored me until I went to the bar, where I ordered a Paulaner Hefe. There was a space on the charge slip for a tip, but why?


Tried for a night picture of the Riddarsholmen Kirk on the way back. That miniscopic cell phone camera really is pretty, pretty good.


Even its flash isn’t bad.


Baylanding and the new library

November 9, 2014

Sunday, 9 November 2014

Now that I have completed the anvil trails challenge, I get to kick back and take it easy for one weekend (hard work on yesterday’s volunteer project notwithstanding). I had agreed to go out to the Ravenswood open space preserve to photograph and geo-tag actual and potential artifacts that might turn into memorials for various people associated with the open space district. Especially donors, of course.

Cooley landing, N viewing platform

Did it on my bike. Found a number of pretty classy places, although the one above is a long way out on an unpaved dead-end trail.

Cooley landing Bench 5

This one is fifty feet from the parking lot. Much easier to auction off!

Dumbarton overlook 2

The preserve exists in two non-contiguous chunks; the first two photos are from Cooley Landing; this one comes from the old Cargill salt pond SF2 near the Dumbarton bridge. It has been extensively reworked as a wildlife refuge.

Then I went on up the shore past Menlo Park. The salt ponds further up are still mined, but I contented myself with a look at the old one that may someday be actively reclaimed as wildlife refuge, and meanwhile is just a place where the wildlife takes refuge without benefit of taxpayer dollars, the Ravenswood slough.


Salt crystallized along the shore. The buildings of Sun Quentin in the background (that’s a local joke).


Beautiful in its own way. The reddish streaks would be algae.



A tumbleweed lands along the shore and is preserved forever in a shell of salt!


Brine flies. I can’t tell whether the little green specks are also insects, but they might be.

Home for lunch.

Mitchell park library

Then I decided to visit the newly opened Mitchell Park library. The official grand opening is planned for December, but they informally opened the doors early to shake the bugs out. Or something. This is a $28 million dollar boondoggle ($4M over budget, 2 years late — and why should a library cost $24M in the first place?). Ought to be pretty nice.

It takes an hour to walk there. That is hardly their fault! I walk past the parking lot, looking for the main entrance. Go around the side in the other parking area, to discover it’s just service access. The main entrance is off the first parking lot. Of course! How could I have expected it to be pedestrian oriented?

Some of the exterior walls are really attractive, flowing dark red, looking like slate. Tap them with a knuckle, and they reveal themselves to be anodized panels. Had they actually been slate, I suppose there would have been another $4M overrun.

In the entry courtyard, there is a slot for book return. There are also two screens where you can… what? … return your books? That’s how it looks: I can’t imagine why dropping books in the slot is somehow less than sufficient. That’s what I did, anyway!

Indoors: lots and lots of open space. No crowding here. The ground floor is dedicated to children, including teens, and to media (by observation, we see that paper is not a medium). It would appear to be dumbed down to get people to at least come in the door. This would be in Palo Alto, the alleged intellectual center of the world?

Upstairs, where we actually find books, we don’t find many. The aisles are short and wide, the shelves are maybe half full. We hope this is just because the staff hasn’t had time to move all the books from storage and from the temporary library yet.

And then there’s the other half of the building, a community centre and a cafe. I saved those for later, or maybe never.

Count me underwhelmed.

Volunteer project: Rapley ranch at Russian Ridge

November 8, 2014

Saturday, 8 November 2014

A good-sized crew of veteran volunteers met on Skyline across the road from Thomas Fogarty winery to visit the old Rapley ranch. This is property not yet open to the public, so yet another opportunity to see a new and unusual area. We ferried everyone a mile down the road, then hiked in, but accompanied by a truck with tools, water and most important: lunch.


Very pretty entry into the area. What we’re doing today is attacking pine seedlings. Some of them are close by their parent pines; some are strewn at considerable distances. The pines are not native; were presumably planted by the Rapleys. They will eventually all be taken out, but we will leave those with trunks larger than 3 or 4 inches for the chainsaw crew, whenever it may appear.

As it turned out, we cleared away the small pines fairly quickly, and continued on into the area where the old ranch buildings were, and still are, to some extent.


Not far from the house is a redwood, a lone redwood, with a stone at its base. “1931 This tree was planted by Jim Rapley.”



The old barn remains as a frame, a roof, and the north, sheltered wall covered with yellow lichen.



Having taken care of the pine seedlings pretty well, we spent a few hours working on vinca, ivy and pyracantha, had lunch, took a short hike to explore the area a bit, and called it a day. Pretty place; it will be nice if they can build some official trails and open it to general access.

Hiking El Sereno

November 2, 2014

Sunday, 2 November 2014

I need to hike all the trails in one more open space preserve to qualify for the anvil award, which recognizes having patrolled all trails in the Mid-Peninsula Open Space District. The one I haven’t visited at all is El Sereno, on the ridge between Saratoga-Los Gatos, and highway 17 and Lexington reservoir. There are 7.4 miles of trail, and they are all out and back, so I was expecting a 15-mile day, more or less (it turned out to be 15.5 miles).

There is a little disconnected corner of the preserve on Overlook road, with access through a locked gate. I got the combination, parked there about 7:30, hiked a cool, pleasant trail through the woods. I had expected to be able to walk along roads to the other section of the park, but it turns out to be all private property, fenced, gated, no trespassing. Moomph! So I went back, got the car, drove all the way around to the other side.

The other side being at the top of Montevina road, which is also at the top of Montevina ridge. This is the kind of access road I really hate: single lane, blind, and steep. And this one is 3 miles long, to boot. Not a happy camper, but I did it. Interesting that the fire-road trails at the top are marked as evacuation routes: that would be in case there was a massive earthquake or maybe fire that blocked Montevina road.


Yesterday, I was over on the opposite side of the far ridge looking this way. The radar cube is at the high point over there.


Today’s trail goes down and down forever. Only about 1300 feet, as it turns out, so it’s not really as bad as it looks. The main trail is called Aquinas; it has a reasonably constant grade that averages about 7% (mental computation to keep my brain from rotting as I hike along). And there are side trails that descend noticeably and present additional sources of climb.


The view from near the bottom, showing switchbacks forever. Yes, we really did come from the high point there, and we’re going back.

Lots of mountain bikies, very few hikers. I can see why: it’s very difficult to reach; the bikies know about it, either by word of mouth or because the Sheldon road access gate is documented on some or all of the cycling maps. It is certainly not documented by the Open Space district: and yet they complain that it doesn’t get much use.



A reasonably clear day, with views from various points pretty much in any direction you could imagine. Here is downtown San Jose.

Blue acorns on Mt Umunhum

November 1, 2014

Saturday, 1 November 2014

Yesterday was rainy, as was today. There was supposed to be a joint REI-Mid-pen trail building event today, but fresh-built trail in the rain is just mud, so it was cancelled. So I had the day to go out for a hike — who would have thought! Parked at the base of Mt Umunhum road, took Woods trail. Rain off and on, but I have adequate clothing, so it wasn’t a problem.


The picture above illustrates the beauty of Woods trail, one I have never before hiked. Very pleasant forest, mostly bay laurel with some madrone and oak, here and there a douglas fir. Further up we find pine, unusual in the bay area. Today’s wildlife: deer and newts!

This trail has very modest grades for the first two or three miles, after which it reveals its true purpose as an access road for the high-voltage towers.


We see above that the towers climb the distant ridge; that’s where I’m going. I was impressed by how deep the catenary is, and surprised that one catenary is tensioned different from the other.


After hiking the full length of Woods trail, shaking hands with the far point of my hike a week ago from the other side, I retraced my steps and turned off on the very steep Barlow trail, which takes me to Bald mountain far above, itself still far below Mt Umunhum with its radar tower.



I don’t think I have ever seen blue acorns before. I guess they must come from blue oaks?


View from the Bald mountain trail, back toward Mt Umunhum. New parking area in the midground, not yet open to vehicles, though people can park here in half a dozen roadside spots. Up there is where today’s trail-building volunteer event was supposed to have been.


The Bald mountain trail goes to an overlook with a nice view of the south and east bay area.

There were no loops in today’s hike: with 9.5 miles of trail to cover, I hiked 19 miles. With upward of 5 000 vertical feet, I was glad it was a cool day.