A gorgeous full rainbow (and a glimpse of the secondary) from the house today:
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.
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!
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!
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! ;-)
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:
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.
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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.
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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!
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.
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.
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.
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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:
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.
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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:
Click through below for the full gallery from the day, mostly courtesy of Rick – thanks, Rick!
There’s been loads of humpback whales in Monterey Bay this summer and Darlene and I finally had a chance to go on a whale-watching tour by kayak out of Moss Landing this past Sunday with Dave of Venture Quest Kayaks. Thanks once again, Dave! We had a great time and encountered numerous humpback whales diving and feeding together, once even coming up between our kayaks, as well as saw plenty of others off in various directions, blowing, diving and even breaching in the distance. After a snack break back at the boat launch, we headed in to the Elkhorn Slough with the aid of some handheld kayak sails.
In addition to all the whales, we also saw plenty of other wildlife: lots of harbor seals, sea lions, otters, egg yolk jellyfish, starfish, porpoises, pelicans, gulls, terns, sandpipers, cormorants and even an egret. A couple of people saw a mola mola pass under, but we missed that. D’oh!
However, our kayak was boarded in the slough by a sea otter “patrol” – apparently inspecting us for goodies… or contraband? (Check out the video below.)
We had so much fun on Sunday that we decided to sign up to come back the very next morning. On Monday, the entire bay was incredibly calm but we really had to work to find any whales. We had to paddle out nearly three miles into the bay to find them, but find them we did! Or perhaps they found us…
Click through for the full gallery of images from both days: