Tag Archives: Santa Cruz

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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Santa Cruz Rainbow

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

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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.

Click through for the full gallery.

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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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Joslyn’s Visit

Darlene’s niece, Joslyn, came out from Wisconsin for her spring break from school and I think we managed to fill her time here.  We visited Shark Fin Cove, Pigeon Point Lighthouse, the Seymour Marine Discovery Center and saw dolphins while flying the drone from the sea cliffs near Pescadero.  We spent one morning to see the redwood trees at Henry Cowell State Park and a deserted Roaring Camp Railroads.  We introduced her to the sea otters at Moss Landing and got in a guided walk at Año Nuevo to see the elephant seals (lots of weaned pups at this time of year) and she and Darlene stayed overnight at the Monterey Zoo and fed the elephants.  Besides a couple of movie nights and several interesting board games, we also went up to Tahoe for three days so she could learn to ski – and she was careening down the mountain in no time!

Click through for the full gallery:

     

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Flying Over Humpbacks

I saw this news article in the Santa Cruz Sentinel this morning talking about how active the humpback whales have been near shore off of Santa Cruz and Aptos these past few weeks.  So Darlene and I grabbed the drone and dashed down to Seacliff State Beach.  I’ve been wanting to try flying the drone to get nice, aerial views of the whales.  (A lot of the coastline is protected via the Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuary but flying in this area is allowed.)

There were probably a dozen of them near shore – you could see them popping up every which way!  The lighting wasn’t great (completely overcast) as the marine layer had yet to burn off but it was still very fun to hang around with the drone waiting for them to appear.

It’s quite the challenge to find them and stay with them using the narrow view of the drone’s camera – even when you can easily see them from shore.  Darlene was helping by watching the feed with the goggles because it’s also hard to see small/distant details on the iPhone or iPad screen, particularly when you’re outside. It’s much easier to see with the goggles but then of course all you can see is what the drone sees.

It was hard tracking them too because once they go under it’s hard to predict where to be looking when they come back up. You want to get closer for more detail but if you’re too close you won’t see them at all when they resurface off camera (which happened repeatedly) – and of course not so close as to harass them.  I should point out that the limited view angle of the drone’s camera makes them appear closer than they really are and yet I still had to heavily crop every one of these clips to make the whales appear large enough in the frame – even in the most distant shots.

I did put a polarizer on the drone camera to try to cut through the reflection of the water surface but it didn’t work that well with the diffuse overcast light so it might work better in directed sunlight.

Need more practice! ;-)

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Hoan and Quyen’s Family Visit

Hoan and Quyen returned with their kids to visit over the 4th of July weekend.  This time we visited the surfers and sea lions along Cliff Drive, the juvenile elephant seals out at Año Nuevo, the lighthouse at Pigeon Point, the sea cliffs near Pescadero Beach, the whale skeletons at the Seymour Marine Discovery Center and the crabs and sea stars in the tide pools near Natural Bridges State Park.

Click through for the full gallery of pictures and videos:

     


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Cindy and Travis Visit

Darlene brought over Cindy and Travis to visit for the weekend again in late May.  We played around with the drone, visited Seacliff State Beach in Capitola, went out to Año Nuevo to see what the elephant seals were up to and found a hidden park nearby on the edge of Scotts Valley while geocaching.

Click through for the gallery of pictures and videos:

      

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Darlene’s Family Comes to Visit

In celebration of Darlene’s 50th birthday, Alice, Kathy, Shel and Vicky came to visit and we gave them a tour of some Santa Cruz sights: Natural Bridges State Beach and the Monarch butterfly grove, the Seymour Marine Discovery Center, Lighthouse Point overlooking Steamer Lane, the Santa Cruz Pier, Henry Cowell Redwoods State Park and Roaring Camp Railroads.  Earlier we also took Darlene’s mom, Alice, to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, the Monterey Zoo and the Santa Cruz Boardwalk.

Click through for pictures and video:

          

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A Gray Whale Threesome

Darlene and her mom and I took a whale watching tour out of Santa Cruz on March 23rd with Stagnaro Charters.  (I didn’t know whale tours were available out of town here in Santa Cruz – super convenient as opposed to driving down to Monterey.)  We were very lucky to get to first come across a threesome of gray whales in the midst of their courtship/mating – something that apparently gray whales do in groups of three or more:

What appears to be mating, however, is simply an elaborate courtship in which two males can be seen attempting to mate with a female.

Christopher Fitzsimmons, an education specialist at the Birch Aquarium at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, explained that mating in pods of three, with two males and a female, is entirely common among gray whales.

“This rolling and rubbing we see is believed to be the whales familiarizing themselves with one another and making sure the female is receptive to mating,” said Fitzsimmons.

Gray whales engage in often elaborate courtship practices before mating. Males will use their pectoral fins to coerce and align females into mating positions. Females have even been observed avoiding the attempts of males for days.

And then later we came across four more gray whales, one of whom did several breaches in front of us. All very cool!

    

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Monarch Butterflies at Natural Bridges

Some pictures and video from a December visit to see the Monarch butterflies wintering at Natural Bridges State Park in Santa Cruz:

They winter here from November through February, depending on the weather.  If you go, choose to get here during the warmth of the middle of the day or they won’t be very active.  And bring binoculars and a long telephoto because they’ll be mostly way up in the eucalyptus trees.

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Polynesian Festival and Races

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Darlene and I dropped in to see the Polynesian Festival and Outrigger Races at the Santa Cruz Wharf on Sunday morning.  Apparently anyone can sign up as teams in advance and compete in the races.  We also stopped into the free Monterey Bay Marine Sanctuary Visitor Center.  It’s a small center with some nice exhibits and videos, including a tank where you can drive around a remote-operated submersible.

IMG_4865 DSC04764 IMG_4871 IMG_4869 IMG_4873 DSC04765

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Hoan and Quyen’s Family Visit

Hoan and Quyen came up to visit for a few days with their kids Samantha, Sebastien and Sarah.  We went to Moss Landing to kayak on Elkhorn Slough, to the Santa Cruz wharf and boardwalk, to the farmer’s market in Aptos (plus a quick stop to see the dancing chickens at the Glaum Egg Ranch), to hike in Big Basin and then hang out at Four Mile Beach in Wilder Ranch State Park.

Click through for the full gallery:

   

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Kathy’s Visit

Pictures from a visit of Darlene’s friend Kathy and her daughter Jordan and friend Adrienne – we went kayaking at Moss Landing/Elkhorn Slough, visited the Santa Cruz wharf and boardwalk and visited the redwoods at Big Basin State Park.  Click through for the gallery:

  

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Bed and Breakfast and Elephants

Two weeks ago, Darlene and I enjoyed a weekend stay at the Vision Quest Ranch in Salinas, CA.  It’s a facility that keeps and cares for a host of 100+ various exotic and domestic animals.  Their prime business used to be training and providing animals for use in the film and television industry, but with the increasing use of computer-generated, all-digital animals, they’ve turned more to adopting at-risk or retired animals, doing more educational programs and training programs and transforming the facility into a fully, open-to-the-public zoo, “The  Monterey Zoo”.  This effort is still in progress and so they’re now only open for short, daily, guided tours while they build out larger, more engaging enclosures for their animals.  However, they also run a bed and breakfast service based on several cabin-like tents situated on the property and provide a number of up close encounters with various animals, particularly a couple of retired circus elephants who greet you at your cabin as your breakfast is served.

You can read more about the history of the facility, stories about their numerous animals and information about their various educational efforts on their web site.

A video montage of our visit.

Click through for the full gallery of pictures:

  

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Epic Santa Cruz Ride

It was just one day’s ride… but it turned out to be something of an epic ride: from the bottom of Pogonip in Santa Cruz, up the Emma McCrary trail and the U-Con trail to the UCSC campus trails winding this way and that and up and back around, then all the way down through Wilder Ranch and over via Old Cabin trail, round Enchanted, a short stop for lunch on the bluffs and then down and around Zane Gray’s Cutoff before starting the climb back up Twin Oaks, past the eucalyptus grove, back around behind campus and all the way back down Pogonip.

Mostly single-track but thirty-two miles in all!  Whew!  Who’s idea was this again?? (I had in mind a full day with lunch along the way like doing Hole in the Ground up in Tahoe… but I see that’s *only* 16 miles!  Though, at altitude of course.)  Anyway, we all survived to ride another day!

I put together a little video montage from the ride:

 

Also, check out our attempt to create a new sport: Disk Golf Biking!

Click through below for the full gallery from the day, mostly courtesy of Rick – thanks, Rick!

  

 

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