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:

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.

Pretty Eucalyptus Flowers and Seed Pods

Eucalyptus White Flowers

Eucalyptus Yellow Flowers

Eucalyptus Red Flowers

Eucalyptus Seed Pod

Cover of “The Story of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie” by May Gibbs

Eucalyptus trees grow throughout the San Francisco Bay Area and bloom in spring.  The blooms are featured as flower people in a popular children’s book in Australia called “The Story of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie” by May Gibbs.  After it rains, Eucalyptus trees smell just like a Hall’s cough drop!

Sea Lions and Seals Have Sensitive Whiskers

Sea Lion at San Francisco

Sea Lion at Moss Landing

Harbor Seal at Moss Landing

Harbor Seal at Monterey

Scientists have discovered that sea lions and seals have whiskers that are much more sensitive than previously thought.  They found that the animals can find and track fish from hundreds of feet away!  The whiskers (vibrissae) detect eddies left by the fish as they swim.  Harbor seals are thought to have the most sensitive whiskers all the animal kingdom.  Each whisker has up to 1,600 nerve fibers per single hair!

Monterey: Stunning Pink Flower Carpet

Pink Carpet Trailing Ice Plants at Monterey

Closeup of Pink Carpet Trailing Ice Plants

Pink Carpet Trailing Ice Plants Along Coast at Monterey

The first time I saw a picture of the pink carpet trailing ice plants blooming in Monterey, I simply could not believe it was true.  But the stunning flower bloom is real, and it usually peaks in May.  These pictures of the pink carpet trailing ice plants were taken at Lover’s Point.  This oceanside walk near the Monterey Bay Aquarium is truly spectacular!

Our Favorite California Quail Photo

California Quail on Banksia Flower

We saw this California Quail at the University of California – Santa Cruz Arboretum.  The bird is sitting on a Banksia bush in full bloom.  Banksia flowers smell just like buttered popcorn!  Because quail are so cute, they have been featured in many Disney movies (including Bambi). Although the topknot looks like a single feather, it is actually six feathers clustered together as one.

Cute Western Seagull and Chicks

Western Seagull and Chicks

We saw this cute Western seagull and her spotted chicks at Moss Landing Marina, California.  Western gulls crack open tough shells by dropping them from high in the air onto a hard surface far below.

Pacific Tidepools: Emerald Green Anemones

Emerald Green Anemone and Pink Coralline Seaweed

Emerald Green "Sunburst" Anemone

Emerald Green “Sunburst” Anemone

Emerald green anemones are among the prettiest animals in Pacific coast tidepools.  Microscopic green algae give them their spectacular color.  They can grow up to a foot high, and get as big around as a dinner plate! 

Colorful San Francisco Salt Ponds

View of San Francisco Salt Pond From Hiking Trail

Closeup View of Salt Pond

View of Salt Ponds From Jet on Approach to San Francisco Airport

View of Salt Pond Patterns From Jet on Approach to San Francisco Airport

San Francisco is one of two places in the United States where salt is harvested naturally from ocean water.  It takes 5 years for the sun and wind to evaporate the water and crystallize the salt.  The color of the evaporating ponds varies from bright green to brilliant red, depending upon algae and salinity of the water.  The view of the salt ponds is spectacular!

Ring Mountain: Rare Tiburon Mariposa Lily

Ring Mountain: Rare Tiburon Mariposa Lily

Ring Mountain: Climbing Up the Trail

Ring Mountain: Serpentine Boulder

Ring Mountain: View of Marin County

Ring Mountain is located north of San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge.  Geologists and botanists travel there from around the world to study its  blue/green serpentine rock and unique plant life.  We hiked to the top of Ring Mountain (elevation 602 feet) to see the extremely rare Tiburon Mariposa Lily.  It is found nowhere else in the world, and only blooms in May and June.   At the summit is a 360 degree panoramic view of San Francisco Bay, Marin County, and Napa Valley.

Seagull with a Mouthful of Starfish!

Seagull Eating a Starfish

I wouldn’t believe it, if I hadn’t seen it myself!  This seagull reached into a tidepool, came up with a starfish, and swallowed it in one giant gulp! 

Spider Web with Dew Drops on a Misty Morning

Spider Web with Dew Drops

This photograph shows a spider web covered with dew drops on a misty morning.  The design is dazzling!  Spider silk is the strongest natural fiber in the world. At one time the U.S. military considered making bullet-proof vests from it.  If silk strands were as thick as a pencil, then webbing could stop a 747 in flight!  A spider and its web were featured in the popular children’s book “Charlotte’s Web”. 

Long-Billed Curlews Like to Eat Crabs

Long-Billed Curlew with a Crab

Long-Billed Curlew Eating a Crab

Long-Billed Curlew Walking

The long-billed curlew is the largest shorebird in North America.  These sandpipers nest in grasslands of the west in spring, and spend the rest of the year along the coast or water.  The curlew’s extra-long down-curved bill is perfectly suited to catching crabs in their mud burrows.  Our picture of a curlew with a crab in its bill is on a wildlife interpretive sign at San Pablo Park along San Francisco Bay.

California Wildflowers: Colorful Favorites

Blue-Eyed Grass

Scarlet Pimpernel

Hound's Tongue

Clarkia or Farewell-to-Spring

Indian Paintbrush

Owl's Clover

California is famous for its wildflowers.  In the San Francisco Bay Area, spring wildflowers generally peak about the 3rd week of April.  Click on a picture if you want more detailed information about these colorful wildflowers. 

California Wildflowers: Yellow and White Favorites

Bristly Fiddleneck


Tidy Tips

Mariposa or Butterfly Lily

Cream Cups

Blazing Star or Star Lily

California is famous for its wildflowers.  In the San Francisco Bay Area, spring wildflowers generally peak about the 3rd week of April.  Click on a picture if you want more information about these white and yellow wildflowers. 

Our Biggest Pieces of Sea Glass

Cobalt Blue San Francisco Sodawater Bottle Bottom

Clear Frosted Palo Alto Creamery Milk Bottle Shard

Saratoga Springs Mineral Water Bottle Bottom

Our biggest pieces of sea glass were collected on the beaches south of San Francisco.  The cobalt blue round bottom probably came from a bottle made by the Bay City Sodawater Company in the late 1800’s in San Francisco.  The bottle would have contained mineral water, and would have had a cork stopper held in place with wire (called a blob top closure).  The clear frosted glass probably came from a pre-1930 milk bottle from a Palo Alto Creamery (back when cows grazed on the fields surrounding Stanford University).  The green sea glass probably came from a Saratoga Springs mineral water bottle from the early 1900s.  An excellent web site about bottles by the Society for Historical Archaeology is at:

Our Favorite Starfish Photo

Pacific Sea Star at Pebble Beach

This picture shows a Pacific Sea Star at Pebble Beach in California.  We took a long exposure to soften the ocean waves in the background.  UPDATE:  This photograph is featured for the month of July in the 2016 Ocean Wildlife Calendar by the Ocean Conservancy.

Colorful Surf Scoters

Surf Scoter

Surf scoters are sea ducks that spend winter along the California coast.  They use their colorful bills to scoop up shellfish from the sea bottom and swallow it whole.

Mojave Desert Cacti Flowers

Yellow Barrel Cactus Flowers

Orange Mound Cacti Flowers

Green Cholla Cactus Flower

Pink Beavertail Cactus Flower

Cacti are adapted to life in the desert.  They can survive temperature extremes with very little water.  Spines protect them from hungry animals.  If the rains come, they bloom in spring.  Mojave Desert cacti flowers are very colorful!

Anza Borrego Time Travel

Wind God Bird in Nest Bringing Babies a Snake

Wind God Bird Baby in Infrared

Columbian Mammoth

Columbian Mammoth in Infrared


Harlan’s Ground Sloth and Baby

Sculpture Installation Map by Galleta Meadows

Sculpture Installation Map by Galleta Meadows

You feel like you’ve stepped back in time when you see the prehistoric metalworks creatures on the desert plain at Anza Borrego Springs.  All of the animals roamed the area millions of years ago. 

Ricardo Breceda positions each piece of his Sky Art carefully at Galleta Meadows for realism. Breceda hopes that his Sky Art creates a sense of fun and whimsy, and connection to the landscape.  Apparently it does, because people have weekly picnics by the sculptures, and decorate them for the holidays!

A simple driving tour map is pictured above, and a detailed interactive Google map is at:   Maps are also available around town in Borrego Springs.  An interesting article is at

All metal sculpture posts are at:


Mojave Desert Wildflowers

Datura Flowers


Desert Tortoise beside Purple Chia and Desert Dandelion

Sand Verbena

Dune Evening Primrose

Blue Phacelia/Wild Heliotrope

White Desert Star and Purplemat

Canterbury Bells

Desert Candle

Although the Mojave Desert has been dry in 2012 and the wildflower season is minimal, other years have been spectacular!  Keep up with current wildflower reports at:  When the rains come and the flowers bloom, you don’t want to miss it!

Anza Borrego Desert State Park

Anza Borrego Barrel Cactus

Anza Borrego Earthquake Fault

Anza Borrego Ocatillo Trail

Anza Borrego Spring Flowers

Anza Borrego Desert State Park in Southern California is a World Biosphere Reserve, and National Natural Landmark.  Borrego is Spanish for bighorn sheep.  It is the largest desert park in the United States!  More than 650,000 acres have been set aside for future generations.  More information for visitors is at:  and

Joshua Tree: “Sticky” Cholla Gardens Trail

Cholla Cactus Gardens Sign

Cholla Cactus Gardens Trail

Cholla Cactus in Bloom

Cholla "Teddy Bear" Cactus

You must walk very carefully on the Cholla Gardens Trail at Joshua Tree National Park.  Teddy bear cholla cacti are far from cuddly!  The cacti are so spiny and sticky that small animals use them for defense around their burrows.

Joshua Tree National Park

Joshua Tree and Giant Boulders

Joshua Tree and Mojave Desert

Rounded Boulders in Mojave Desert

Joshua Tree Infrared Landscape

Joshua Tree is one of our nation’s newest national parks.  Joshua trees are giant yucca plants that survive extreme heat and cold in California’s Mojave desert.  The park’s classic Western landscape has been filmed extensively for movies and television.  The desert scenery is spectacular!

Palm Springs: Big Horn Sheep Statues

Big Horn Sheep – Desert Theme

Big Horn Sheep at Airport

Big Horn Sheep at Aerial Tram

Big Horn Sheep at Living Desert

Palm Springs was named for the palm trees growing around the bubbling springs in town.  Street names reflect famous people who lived there – Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, Gene Autry, and Gerald Ford.  Sonny Bono was the town’s mayor in the 1980s.  Palm Springs is surrounded by the Mojave Desert and San Jacinto mountains.  This dramatic landscape allows you to enjoy a green oasis, play in the snow on a mountaintop, and hike in the desert – all in one day!  The bighorn sheep statues displayed around town  were painted by local artists.  Bighorn sheep have eyesight similar to 8 x 10 binoculars!

Mossy Rocks at Castle Rock State Park

Mossy Rock Face at Castle Rock State Park

Tafoni Rock at Castle Rock State Park

Castle Rock State Park in the San Francisco Bay Area is famous for its moss-covered rocks.  The park’s gigantic sandstone boulders have fantastic tafoni shapes.  Amazingly, the rocks started off as a sandy sea floor in Southern California over 30 million years ago.  Geologic fault zones carried the sandstone north to its present location.  This lush Pacific rainforest is very beautiful!

Mammoth Rubbing Rocks

Mammoth Rubbing Rocks, California

Polished Surface of Mammoth Rubbing Rock

Sonoma Coast State Beach Coastline

Pussy Paws Wildflower at Sonoma Coast State Beach

Sonoma Coast State Beach in northern California is famous for its Mammoth Rubbing Rocks.  The rocks were polished smooth by the wooly hair of mammoths over 10,000 years ago.  Mammoths used the rocks as a scratching post, the same way that elephants rub against tree trunks today.  It was incredible to touch the spot that a living mammoth rubbed against so long ago!

Mustard Flowers Along the California Coast

Mustard Grass Along the California Coast

Hillside and Mustard Grass Flowers

Mustard grass blooms along the California coast in early spring.  The flowers are as bright as a yellow highlighter!  The young leaves of the plant can be eaten as greens, and the seeds can be used to make mustard.

Rare Albino Redwood Tree

Albino Redwood Tree

Contrast in Albino and Green Needles

Albino Redwood Needles

Albino redwoods are the only white evergreens in the world, and are extremely rare.  Their locations are closely guarded secrets, except for two public instances.  We saw this albino tree at Big Sur, California.  Since albino redwoods lack chlorophyll and can’t make their own energy, they always grow as a sprout from a mother trunk.  It was a privilege to see such a unique and special tree!  Read more about this tree at Fernwood Campground at:

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