Tag Archives: California

Fire and Smoke and Evacuations


Leaving heavy smoke in Tahoe on Wednesday 8/19

We headed back home on Wednesday, leaving the heavy smoke in Tahoe from the Loyalton Fire, through the smoke filling the Central Valley to reach the heavy smoke in the Santa Cruz Mountains from the CZU Lightning Complex fires.


Looking south and west from the house  (Wednesday evening, 8/19)

 
Ash and charred leaves deposited around the house (8/19)

As we came through Vacaville and Fairfield on I-80, we slipped through just before the LNU Lightning Complex fire jumped I-80 and even saw flames from the interstate:

 
LNU Lightning Complex Fire about to cross I-80 near Fairfield on 8/19

On Wednesday and Thursday we prepped for evacuation, loading up the cars with necessities and some irreplaceables, prepping the house as per wildfire pre-evacuation recommendations (moving furniture away from windows, etc).  Sure enough, the mandatory evacuation zones were expanded Thursday evening to include everything west of highway 17 (including downtown Scotts Valley).  We’re a little south of Scotts Valley and just east of highway 17, but we decided to go ahead and evacuate Thursday night – heading back to Tahoe.

The evacuation areas are expected to remain in effect for a few weeks.  Darlene will be renting a place near Stanford Hospital in Palo Alto as she’ll be returning to work next week.

So far, it looks like they’ve been able to mostly hold the fire west of highway 9 and north of Santa Cruz and Davenport.  Unfortunately, we’ve got the potential for more fire starts due to more dry thunderstorms expected around the Bay Area from Sunday (8/22) through Tuesday morning (8/24).

Here’s a combined, interactive map showing both the perimeter of the ZCU Lightning Complex fire and the evacuation area.  63,000 acres burned, 77,000 people evacuated – snapshot as of Saturday, 8/22:

Here’s a really nice mapping tool (CalTopo) that can overlay various satellite data (like VIIRS) on a map source of your choice and plot additional weather data like wind patterns.  You can even zoom in to see individual temperature sample numbers showing where the fire is hotter and cooler or no longer present:

For more info on the Santa Cruz Mountains fires, here’s some resources:

Update (Thursday, 8/27):  81,000 acres affected as of this morning but they’re continuing to get good control of the fires across the Santa Cruz Mountains.  As the mandatory evac area was never extended to where we are (just east of highway 17), Darlene headed back on Monday evening since she had to go into work at the hospital on Tuesday and I headed back with the cats on Wednesday evening as things seemed to be continuing to go well.  As of 3 pm Thursday, they’ve lifted the evacuation order on Scotts Valley and surrounding areas.

Update (late September): As the number and size of the wildfires continue to grow across the western states, we get a taste of our potential future norm, including days that look like night and seemingly right out of “Blade Runner 2049”:

And when we ventured up through Oregon to pick up the Transit campervan in mid-September, we encountered some of the worst air yet: PM2.5 counts of well over 500.

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Just A Smidge of the Pacific Crest Trail

Darlene and I enjoyed a little three-day backpacking excursion along a tiny bit of the Pacific Crest Trail last week.  We started at the Donner Pass trailhead and headed south for 10 miles towards Granite Chief (near Squaw Valley).  Most of this section is walking a ridge line with wide open views in every direction.  It was pretty windy the whole day but that seemed to keep away any threat of afternoon thunderstorms – which would be a bigger concern along this long, very exposed crest.

It’s actually a nice, gentle climb most of the way, climbing up from Donner Pass through the Sugarbowl ski area, past Anderson Peak and Tinker Knob before dropping down to the first potential opportunities for water between Tinker Knob and Granite Chief after about 9 miles.  As it turns out, both Darlene and I had issues along the way that led to us moving super slow (me favoring a twinging knee and her with leg and hip troubles).  As for water, the most reliable looking source turned out to be dry. With a bit of scouting, I found a tiny little spring hidden in the creek bed not too far from the trail crossing and so we camped nearby.  (For any one looking for info on “California Section K” of the PCT, it was the stream coming off teeny Mountain Meadow Lake near the PCT intersection with Painted Rock Trail.  The creek just south of Tinker Knob was still flowing though.)

 

Feeling much more sore and stiff than usual, neither of us felt up for doing much of a day hike or any peak climbing the next day so we just spent it hanging out and recuperating.  Our return hike on the third day to Donner Pass went easily though (aside from a minor slip and fall and bloodied knee) and we enjoyed a gorgeous day with little wind on the ridge.

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Some More Tahoe Trail Riding

While up at the Tahoe house over the past two weeks, we got in some nice rides – and avoided any crowds.  We hit up the usual Sawtooth Ridge loop (just south of Truckee), found some fun trails accessible from the house (KB Trail and Rise and Shine, etc. just above Kings Beach) and we finally, finally, made it all the way out and back from Stampede Reservoir (some 24 miles) on the Emigrant Trail starting from the amusingly named Donner Party Picnic Area (seriously?).  I was totally spent, sore and dehydrated, but no need for cannibalism.  Darlene on the other hand was all smiles – as she was riding her new pedal assist e-mtn bike!

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Santa Cruz Rainbow

A gorgeous full rainbow (and a glimpse of the secondary) from the house today:

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Last Week of Skiing

Darlene and I were up in Tahoe for ten days in early March right up until all the ski resorts decided to close down and the Bay Area counties decided to tell everyone to “shelter in place” to try to slow down the spread of Covid-19.  As it happens, Resi, Troy and Aiden joined us at the house just before that for those last two weekends – and we finally got a nice big snow storm this season – albeit on the last weekend for this unexpectedly shortened ski season.

These two weekends at Homewood (and Alpine Meadows during the week) made quite the contrast to each other: from getting pretty barren to turning warm and slushy to an overabundance of fresh heavy snow and people getting buried and digging out left and right!

On the first Sunday, Aiden finished up his “Super Sliders” season with a slalom race and awards ceremony.  On the last Sunday, with about two feet of new snow, all the major ski resorts had decided to close the night before but Homewood chose to go one more day – for a final huge powder day for passholders and advance ticket holders only.

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Who Needs New Snow?

It’s been a pretty dry January and February for snow in Tahoe, but we got the gang together at the Tahoe house for an early February weekend all the same. Darlene and I joined Greg, Erin & Merritt for a sunny Saturday at Squaw Valley and then Resi, Troy & Aiden at Homewood for a very windy Sunday.  But it would seem the wind didn’t slow down Aiden at all…

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Carrizo Plain National Monument

After getting the Traveling Cat Adventure Vehicle back from the repair shop (following my close encounter with a falling tree limb), Darlene and I decided to get in another little road trip.  I found Carrizo Plain National Monument initially as looking like a nice layover point on our planned way to Joshua Tree National Park, but we ended up deciding to spend our four days just there, exploring the hills and valley.

Carrizo Plain is probably most known for many illustrative pictures of the San Andrea fault cutting across many old creek beds and showing how quickly (geologically) the two plates are moving past each other.  It’s also home to some once elaborate Native American rock paintings, at “Painted Rock”.  Here’s some great side-by-side images showing the terrible damage these rock paintings have been subjected to over the last century.

In the spring, the valley and foothills are often covered in a brilliantly varied carpet of wildflowers.  (See this image search for examples.)

Besides these sights, we got in some hiking, drone-flying and general exploring.  I also brought along my newly acquired digital imaging telescope from Unistellar to see what it can do.

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Christmas in Tahoe

Christmas in Tahoe… fresh snow, skiing, snowshoeing, hanging a ceiling fan, playing new board games (Covert and Pandemic Legacy: Season 2).

 

But then… uh oh, my cat broke:

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Big Trees, Missing Arms and Falling Limbs

Darlene and I joined Resi, Troy & Aiden and Greg, Erin & Merritt for another camping weekend, this time in Big Basin Redwoods State Park in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Besides some hiking among lots of giant redwood trees, we got in a couple of games, Decrypto and Quacks of Quedlinburg, and we got to experience the spooky, night time reenactment of Big Basin’s last lumber mill owner’s fateful encounter with a grizzily bear and the subsequent haunting of his missing arm!

 

The weekend ended with a true scare though.  This was another weekend of hot and dry winds, setting off wildfires despite PG&E’s efforts to shutdown large portions of the electric grid across many California counties.  Just a minute or two before we were to drive out of our campsites, several redwood tree branches gave way and came tumbling down just in front of our vehicles in the roadway.

Before that dust had settled, I heard another large crack directly overhead as I was still standing in our campsite, just outside the RV, about to climb aboard.  I ran off towards our adjoining campsite where everyone had just got into their cars and spun around to see a large 20-foot long limb, maybe 8 inches in diameter, come crashing down onto the back of the RV, right where I had been standing – and where we had been hanging out in our camp chairs much of the weekend.  Darlene was inside the RV and was startled into a scream at the sound of the crash and rushed out to see what had become of me.

Everyone piled out of their cars to quickly clear the roadway so we could make an immediate departure and get the heck out of there.  Later I was able to pull off the road in a clearing and survey the damage: the edge of the roof was busted open, exposing some wiring, the awning was crushed and bent and partially torn from its mount and a couple of solar panels were damaged.

So, both lucky that no one was hurt and that it didn’t come down while everyone was sitting around camp or in their tents and unlucky that we didn’t leave just a minute or two earlier and avoid the whole mishap.

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Camping in Pinnacles

Darlene and I met up with Greg, Erin & Merritt and Resi, Troy & Aiden for a very warm weekend of camping at Pinnacles National Park this past weekend.

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(And sorry guys, the first batch of photos are pretty messed up by my not noticing until our hiking snack break that I had left my camera set at a very high ISO.  Just think of it as an old-timey filter…)

   

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Another Weekend in Tahoe

Troy, Resi and Aiden joined us for the weekend in Tahoe, including an afternoon at Kings Beach and a hike from nearby Watson Lake to find another excellent view of Lake Tahoe.

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Sunset Dinner on Kayaks

Darlene and I met up with Nanci and Mike on Labor Day to take our kayaks out for a sunset paddle and dinner from Sand Harbor on the east shore of Lake Tahoe.  Being late in the day, the water was pretty choppy but we successfully navigated around from the beach side to the more protected cove.  And fried duck chicken for dinner!

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More Tahoe Trail Rides

Mark and Eve came up to the Tahoe house ahead of the extended Labor Day weekend, joined by their friends Matt & Lindsay for some excellent Tahoe area mountain biking.  Mike and Nanci then joined us on Sunday.

Here’s the video montage I put together for all four days of riding:

On Thursday, Mark, Eve, Matt, Darlene and I hit up the Incline Flume trail starting from highway 431.  We continued with an out-and-back on the classic Marlette Flume trail before Eve and Darlene opted to take Tunnel Creek Road down to lake level and the rest of us climbed the Incline Flume trail back to the cars.

  

On Friday, Darlene opted out and Lindsay joined us for a one-way ride from Watson Lake (above Tahoe City) on the newly completed Big Chief trail down to Sawtooth Ridge, outside of Truckee.  The upper section of Big Chief is rated expert/”black diamond” and is filled with lots of big drops – much more than what I’m comfortable with but the lower, intermediate section was fun and includes a long flow trail section too.  We finished up with Matt and Mark taking the west ridge, rocky portion of the Sawtooth Loop while Eve, Lindsay and I took the fast, flowy eastern side of the loop.

 

Matt left on Saturday, but the rest of us ended up trying a loop climbing up and around Incline Lake from the Incline Flume trailhead.  This was a mixed bag of very steep unrideable portions of trail to get up there but with some fun singletrack once we did.  Might be better to take the Old Mt. Rose Highway dirt road to get up there.  (Mike has a suggestion for another route that he uses that we’ll try sometime.)  For our return, Mark took the Tyrolean Downhill trail while he sent us to try a new trail through some recently logged terrain.

 

On Sunday, Mike and Nanci joined me and Darlene on part of the Emigrant Trail between highway 89 and Stampede Reservoir.  This trail turned out to be a lot of flowy fun through varying scenery with some nice long ascents that turned into great descents on the return.  Unfortunately, Nanci wasn’t feeling well and so she and Darlene bailed out early.  We’ll be trying this one again soon though!

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Sunshine and Hail in Desolation Wilderness

Darlene and I headed into Desolation Wilderness from the Meeks Bay trailhead on Lake Tahoe this Monday for three days, two nights of backpacking.  This turned out to be a pretty easy going climb and less than five miles to the first lake (Genevieve) and a few more miles to where we camped at Stony Ridge Lake for both nights.

On our layover day, we continued on up to Rubicon Lake and then set off cross-country to reach the saddle to the southeast in hopes of a nice view overlooking Emerald Bay.  Unfortunately, thunderclouds started coming in and we had to bail out before we could get to the overlook.  On our way back down, we were caught in a surprisingly heavy hail storm and then had to dash down off the heights in the rain as the thunder and lightning approached.  We returned to camp pretty soaked and moved everything a few hundred feet to a better location to wait out the storm.  Happily the rain let up before the sun set for the day.

Fantastic night skies too, with no moon!

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Landslides and Rope Climbs in Nisene Marks

 

Darlene and I made another attempt to hike out to Five Finger Falls in The Forest of Nisene Marks State Park on Friday, which we’ve intended to do on numerous occasions.  This time we discovered that the Aptos Creek Trail was officially closed beyond the marker sign for the Loma Prieta Epicenter historical sign due to trail damage from a bunch of severe landslides.  We forged on anyway to see how far we could get and found that other folks had set up ropes here and there to make it a little easier to traverse what was left of the trail.  However, we ran out of time again and decided to turn back after climbing the switchbacks at the midway point.  Someday we’ll get out to those falls!

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A Little Tour of Apple Park

Over a few summer weekends, Apple is allowing employees to bring friends and family to visit the new Apple Park campus and Stan invited several of us to get a little tour of this beautiful and amazing environment.  Thanks, Stan!!

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