California: Palomar Observatory

Palomar Observatory

Palomar Observatory

Model of Telescope

Model of Telescope

Celestial Lamp

Celestial Lamp

Palomar Mountain View

Palomar Mountain View

Big Berry Manzanita Flowers

Big Berry Manzanita Flowers

Purple Lupine Flowers

Purple Lupine Flowers

Scarlet Bugler Flowers

Scarlet Bugler Flowers

The drive up to Palomar Observatory is especially beautiful in spring (near San Diego, California).  The wildflowers and mountain scenery are gorgeous!  The telescopes at Palomar have discovered quasars, brown dwarfs, and Comet Shoemaker-Levy 9.   Read more about Palomar at:  http://www.astro.caltech.edu/palomar/homepage.html

Anza Borrego: Native Palm Oases and Carizzo Badlands Overlook

Native Palm Groves Sign

Native Palm Groves Sign

Pygmy Grove Oasis

Pygmy Grove Oasis

Washington Fan Palm with Skirt of Dead Fronds

Washington Fan Palm with Skirt of Dead Fronds

Cholla Cactus Growing on Mica-Studded Granite Rock Slopes

Cholla Cactus Growing on Mica-Studded Granite Rock Slopes

Barrel Cactus Surviving with Few Roots

Barrel Cactus Surviving with Few Roots

Flowering Barrel Cactus

Flowering Barrel Cactus

Panorama at Carizzo Badlands Overlook (click on picture to enlarge)

Panorama at Carizzo Badlands Overlook (click on picture to enlarge)

Carizzo Badlands Landscape

Carizzo Badlands Landscape

Close-up of Carizzo Badlands and San Jacinto Fault Zone

Close-up of Carizzo Badlands and San Jacinto Fault Zone

The southern region of Anza Borrego Desert State Park contains many treasures. We especially enjoyed hiking on Mountain Palm Springs trail, which leads to several native palm oases.  The oases here form where groundwater seeps up to the surface along the Elsinore fault zone. The trail begins up a dry wash leading past cholla and barrel cactus.  The landscape’s white granite rock contains mica that sparkles in the sun.  The first group of palms encountered along the trail is the Pygmy Grove. The “skirts” of dead fronds on the palms provide shelter to owls, bats, snakes, and many other creatures. In Fall and early winter, animals feast on the palms’ sweet sticky dates.

A little further south is a spectacular vista overlooking the Carizzo Badlands. As you look out at the Coyote Mountains, you are looking at the active San Jacinto earthquake fault zone. These mountains are rich in fossils of mastodons, camels, zebras, and sabertooth tigers from a million years ago. What was really amazing was that no one else was around when we visited – the only sound we could hear was the wind. Not a car, not a plane, only silence. It was magical. More info about the geology and natural history of Anza Borrego is at: http://www.abdnha.org/anza-borrego-desert-geology.htm

 

California: Palm Springs Wind Turbines

Wind Turbines Along Highway 10

Wind Turbines Along Highway 10

Wind Turbines on Ridge

Wind Turbines on Ridge

Wind Turbines Among Sand Dunes

Wind Turbines Among Sand Dunes

Wind Turbines in Front of Mount San Jacinto

Wind Turbines in Front of Mount San Jacinto

Palm Springs, California, is home to the oldest wind farm in the United States.  Visitors can’t miss the wind turbines – it is surreal driving on Highway 10 among them.  The oldest wind turbines were built in the 1980s and stand 65 feet tall, with 15 foot blades, rotating up to 700 times per minute.  Newer models stand 300 feet tall, with blades half the length of a football field, rotating up to 45 times per minute.   Thousands of these wind turbines line the San Gorgonio Pass, producing electricity for the Coachella Valley.  This area has abundant wind energy because the air funnels through the mountain pass between the cool ocean and hot desert – sometimes reaching 80 mph!  There are even special dune buggy tours among the wind turbines.  A fun television episode of California’s Gold includes a visit by Huell Howser to the top of a wind turbine and can be viewed here:  https://blogs.chapman.edu/huell-howser-archives/2001/01/08/windmills-californias-gold-3012/

California: Return to Palm Springs Aerial Tramway

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway Sign

Palm Springs Aerial Tramway Sign

Rotating Aerial Tramway Car

Rotating Aerial Tramway Car

View Looking Down

View Looking Down

View Looking Up

View Looking Up

Viewing Platform at Mountain Station

Viewing Platform at Mountain Station

View of Coachella Valley

View of Coachella Valley

Mount San Jacinto State Park Forest at Top

Mount San Jacinto State Park Forest at Top

Old Style Tram Car at Base

Old Style Tram Car at Base

One of our favorite things to do in Palm Springs, California, is to ride the aerial tram car up to Mountain Station near the top of Mount San Jacinto (8,516 feet).  The distance between the mountaintop and the desert floor is over 2 miles one way, and the journey takes about 15 minutes.  The circular rotating tram cars are state-of-the-art and were built by Switzerland.  The temperature difference between the top and bottom is quite dramatic.  There aren’t many places where you can hike beside cactus and play in the winter snow – all in the same afternoon!  More info is at: https://www.pstramway.com/about-us/history/  A previous post from 2012 is at: https://naturetime.wordpress.com/2012/03/18/palm-springs-aerial-tramway/

California: Beautiful Yosemite National Park

Yosemite's Granite Mountains

Yosemite’s Granite Mountains

Granite Boulders on Mountaintop

Granite Boulders on Mountaintop

Tree Growing in Crack of Rock (Half Dome in Background)

Tree Growing in Crack of Rock (Half Dome in Background)

Ancient Stunted Juniper Tree

Ancient Stunted Juniper Tree

Deer at Tuolumne Meadows

Deer at Tuolumne Meadows

Golden Mantled Ground Squirrel

Golden Mantled Ground Squirrel

Yosemite Fall Color

Yosemite Fall Color

Vintage Firefall Postcards

Vintage Firefall Postcards

Yosemite National Park is one of our country’s oldest and most beautiful parks.  Its 1,200 square mile wilderness is famous for soaring granite mountains, spectacular waterfalls, and giant sequoias.  Glaciers shaped and polished the granite rocks long ago.  This park is a real treasure – it is one of our nation’s best! 

Summer visitors at Yosemite between 1872-1968 watched the dramatic Firefall Show at Camp Curry every evening.  A fiery “waterfall” was created by slowly and continuously pushing glowing wood embers off Glacier Point to the valley below.  The experience of watching that flowing river of fire while listening to the Indian Love Call song was unforgettable!  Even President Kennedy came by to watch.  Visitor remembrances of the Firefall are at:  http://firefall.info/readers.html.   A fun show about the Firefall by Huell Howser on “California’s Gold” is at:  http://blogs.chapman.edu/huell-howser-archives/1996/01/08/firewall-californias-gold-706/  Info about visiting Yosemite is at:   http://www.nps.gov/yose/index.htm

Walking Among the Oldest Trees on Earth

Drive to Bristlecone Pine Forest

Scenic Overlook near Bristlecone Pine Forest

Bristlecone Pine Forest on Mountaintop

Photographing a 3,000-year-old Bristlecone Pine

Bristlecone Pine and Sky

Bristlecone Pine and Icy Bluff

Bristlecone Pine and Storm

Gnarly Bristlecone Pine

Tall Bristlecone Pine

Bristlecone Pine Sapling

Bristlecone Pine Covered with Cones

Purple Pine Cone with Sap

Polished Wood of Bristlecone Pines on Rocky Slope

Magic is the word to describe the feeling you have walking among the oldest trees on Earth!  Bristlecone pines grow in the White Mountains of California on white dolomite (limestone) slopes at 10,000-12,000 feet.  The oldest (unmarked) tree is “Methuselah”, which is 4,844 years old.  Just imagine – this tree was growing when the Pyramids were being built!

The trees are twisted and gnarled by the elements at this high elevation.  Blowing wind and ice sculpts and polishes the wood.  Sometimes almost all of the pine is dead, except for a single strip of bark connecting a root to a living branch.  The trees are named for the bristles or spines on their cones.  The pretty purple cones are often covered in sticky sap. 

The Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest is only open a few months of the year because of snow and ice.  This trip is worth the wait – it is unforgettable.  We felt privileged to visit such an awe-inspiring place.  More info is at:  http://www.fs.usda.gov/detail/inyo/specialplaces/?cid=stelprdb5129900

Ghost Town Bodie: Touching Cemetery

Bodie’s Fenced-In Cemetery at the Edge of Town

Granite Tombstone of Waterman Bodey (town is named after him)

Blue Tombstone of Irishman James Perry

Angel Tombstone of Evelyn Myers

Plain Wooden Tombstone

Obelisk Tombstone of Anthony Thumann

Tombstone of Bodie’s Beloved Prostitute Rosa May

Life in the 1800s in Bodie, California, was tough.  Winters were long with frequent blizzards, 20-foot snowdrifts, and 100 mph winds.  Fierce epidemics claimed many lives.  Gold mining was dangerous, and crime was rampant.  Many residents perished, and they were buried at the edge of town in Bodie’s fenced-in cemetery.  Visitors are welcome to walk through the cemetery and pay their respects to these pioneers of long ago.

Bodie – America’s Best Ghost Town!

Methodist Church

Building with Saw Blade

Fire Station with Bell

False Front Building

Wagon Wheel

Bodie’s Gold Mine

Gold Pan at Town’s Entrance

Bodie’s Historical Marker

Bodie is America’s best and most authentic ghost town!  It is located on a high desert plateau north of Mono Lake, California.  Walking down the dusty streets is like taking a step back through time.  Buildings and their contents are preserved exactly as they were when the gold rush ended.  Bodie is now a California State Park.  Because of the tough climate, it is best to visit in summer or early Fall.

During its peak in the late 1800s, Bodie’s mines produced $100 million in gold.  Lawlessness was rampant – gunfights and stagecoach holdups were frequent events.  Saloons outnumbered churches 65 to 2.  All supplies had to be transported to the town’s remote location.  Despite the hardships, people stayed until the gold ran out.  Now people come from around the world to see what life was like in the old Wild West.

California: Devil’s Postpile National Monument

Mammoth Statue at Mammoth Lakes

Monument’s High Sierra Stream with Fall Color

View of Devil’s Postpile from Bottom

Twisted Columns of Devil’s Postpile

Fallen Columns of Devil’s Postpile

“Floor Tile” Pattern at Top of Devil’s Postpile

View from Top of Devil’s Postpile

Wildlife Sightings at Devil’s Postpile

Devil’s Postpile National Monument near Mammoth Lakes, California, has some of the best rock columns in the world!  Over 10,000 years ago, the area was roamed by mammoths, ground sloths, saber-toothed tigers, and camels.  Even further back in time – 100,000 years ago – the area was filled with erupting volcanoes and a fiery lava lake.  Over time as the lake cooled, cracks formed in the lava and merged into vertical columns.  Later on, glaciers scraped over and around the lake and exposed the columns.  The symmetrical columns are equally impressive from both the bottom and top of the postpile.  Wildlife sightings by hikers at the monument include bear, marmot, and porcupine.

California: Beauty at Mono Lake

Mono Lake Sign with Volcanic Rock

Rainbow over Mono Lake

Rainbow’s End at Tufa Towers

Tufa Tower Spires

Kayaks on Mono Beach

Eared Grebe on Mono Lake

California Gull Eating Brine Flies

Mono Lake and Sky

Mono Basin

Mono Lake is located on the dry eastern side of California’s Sierra Mountains.  It is one of America’s oldest lakes – over 1,000,000 years old!  The lake covers 60 square miles in volcanic Mono Basin, and is almost 3 times saltier than the ocean.  Although no fish live in the lake, there are trillions of brine shrimp in its salty waters.  Millions of migratory and nesting birds come to feast on the shrimp.  Mono Lake is the most important migration stop for eared grebes in North America –at times over 2 million birds rest on the lake’s surface. 

Eighty-five percent of the state’s California Gulls nest at Mono Lake (second largest breeding colony in the world after the Great Salt Lake).  Gulls frequently run along the shore with their mouths open scooping up brine flies!  One banded seagull returned to the lake every summer for 27 years (and on a related note, in December 2016 on Midway Atoll in the Pacific, an albatross named Wisdom laid an egg in her nest at the age of 66 years old!  http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/wisdom-66-year-old-albatross-having-another-baby-180961400/). 

Mono Lake is most famous for its striking tufa towers.  The limestone spires were created when springs bubbled up through the alkaline water.  More info about this special place is at:  http://www.monolake.org/

Mount Lassen: Wild Horse Sanctuary

Wild Horse Foal

Bay Wild Horse

Pinto Wild Horse

Wild Burro

Touching a Wild Horse

Near Mount Lassen is the Wild Horse Sanctuary.   Wild horses live throughout the West.  Sometimes the Government rounds them up for adoption, because the landscape cannot sustain their numbers.  Some of the wild horses and burros that were not adopted come to the Wild Horse Sanctuary to live out their lives in peace and freedom.  The animals have plenty of room to roam on the Sanctuary’s 5,000 acre red-lava-rock landscape.  Horses had a significant role in the history of the American West.  They were highly valued for their service with cattle and the Pony Express.  It was an incredible feeling to walk out among the untamed animals.  Sometimes if you stand quietly, a wild horse might get curious and come over to you – it is pure magic!  Visitors are always welcome at the Wild Horse Sanctuary.  More info is at:  http://www.wildhorsesanctuary.org/

Mount Lassen: World’s Longest Pine Cones!

Sugar Pine Cone

Lassen Trail to Pines

Sugar pines at Mount Lassen have the longest cones in the world – up to 2 feet long!  Sugar pines grow in the mountains of California and Oregon.  The trees were named for their sweet resin.

Mount Lassen: “Eye of Vulcan”

Mount Lassen Peak with “Eye of Vulcan”

Closeup of “Eye of Vulcan”

Lassen Slope of Wildflowers

A prominent rock feature on Mount Lassen is the “Eye of Vulcan”.   In Roman mythology, Vulcan was the God of Volcanoes and Fire.  Mount Lassen Volcano last erupted in 1915.  Mount Lassen and Mount St. Helens are the only two volcanoes on the West Coast to erupt in the 20th century.  Wildflowers thrive in the volcanic soil.

Mount Lassen: Pink “Watermelon” Snow

Mount Lassen and Snow

Snowman at Mount Lassen in Summer

Lassen Streaks of Pink “Watermelon” Snow

Lassen Slope of Pink “Watermelon” Snow

Closeup of Pink “Watermelon” Snow

Visitors at Mount Lassen sometimes see pink “watermelon” snow in early summer.  The pink color comes from algae that grows on the snow’s surface as it melts in July.  There are over 350 species of snow algae around the world, ranging in color from red, orange, yellow, to green.  The algae supports an entire miniature world of worms and insects.  Scientists study life on the snow’s surface to see how life might survive on other planets.  More info on snow crystals is at: http://snowcrystals.com/

Mount Lassen: Frozen Lake Helen in July!

Mount Lassen Peak and Frozen Lake Helen in July

Lassen Meadow of Mule’s-Ears Wildflowers

Lassen Stream

Mount Lassen Volcano National Park is a 4 hour drive north of San Francisco.  This beautiful park is perfect for hiking.  Even when temperatures top 100 degrees in the valley below, it is often a pleasant 70 degrees at the top of Mount Lassen.  Lake Helen is often still frozen in early July!  Trails lead past mountain streams and meadows of wildflowers at the lower elevations  in early summer.

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