A Man’s Got To Know His Limitations

Reading Time: 9 minutes

We backpacked forty miles in four days, with an elevation gain of five-thousand-five-hundred feet, and in many ways, I consider it a failure, or at least more of an ordeal than an adventure. I suffered dehydration, hit the wall, and failed to complete the originally planned Rae lake loop trail.

We drove up the day before to Sheep Creek campground, listening to Kim Stanley Robinson’s (KSR) “The High Sierra: A Love Story” to pass the time and set the mood. One thing I know for sure, the title of this article will not include the words “A Love Story.”


The following day began discovering that a bear had violated my Prius. I heard something loud in the early night that woke me. I cowboy camped the whole trip, so I glanced over to look in the car’s direction, but a bear container obstructed my line of sight. I chalked it up to something at one of the other campsites in the distance. In the morning, the trunk was open. The doors were opened. The heavy battery charger was on the road, and the access to the spare tire was strewn about. But my expensive camera and my buddy’s cell phone and wallet were unmolested. I was lying in the open just twenty feet away. I’m curious what I would have done if I had seen a bear sniffing around in the trunk of my car. We reported the bear incident to Morgan, the Park Ranger that checked us in at Road’s End. She told us to act big and yell, “Bear Away!” They are trying to condition the bears to recognize the word bear as a warning. Although we heard reports of a bear on the trail on the last stretch just below Mist Falls, we never had a sighting of a bear.


The first-day hike began at 5000 feet altitude and ended nine hours and ten miles later at 7000 feet. Mist Falls put on a great show at the four-mile marker, with mist drifting down the river for hundreds of yards raining on everything in its path. During the last visit, another buddy reclined dry and comfortably on a stone in front of the falls. With significantly more volume in June than in late August, the rock was barely visible through the volume of water and spray.


KSR introduced us to psycho-geology as a way to explain the love of backpacking. KSR informed us that the Sierras are written in the language of glaciers. The whole valley is the remnants of glacial action. Aside from all the problems mentioned below, there is something special about looking down a glacier-carved canyon surrounded by spires three thousand feet over your head. One of the prominent features in the main valley is the horns left by a melted glacier.


The hike above Mist Falls is a stair-climbing and exposed grind. I stopped to talk with a girl and two guys sitting on a rock on the way up because that is what you do when you are getting your ass kicked by the hike. She complained about her short legs and climbing over the two-foot stone stairs. I told her I would trade my old body for her short legs. She asked about our backpacking experience. When my buddy mentioned this was his first one, she told us it was a hell of a hike on which to pop your backpacking cherry. Indeed.


By the time we reached Upper Paradise Valley, my ass was officially kicked. The heat wave had something to do with my dehydration, but so did the thirty-five-pound backpack, the exposed trail, the 2000 feet of elevation gain, old age, and the simple failure to drink enough. By the time we reached Upper Paradise Valley camp at the end of the day, my red shirt was stained with white salt streaks, and I hadn’t pissed since I left the campground and experienced mild cramping in my feet while trying to sleep. I wasn’t the only victim. Later, one of the guys of the cherry-popping trio, an experienced backpacker we were told, was puking but still made it all the way to Woods Creek. A couple of women hikers told me they lost a buddy to the heat and wasted most of the day waiting to figure out if their friend would make the hike or not. On the flip side, we passed by an older lady with more wrinkles than the canyon itself, covered from head to toe in clothing, making her way up to Woods Creek. Either she was more dehydrated than a raisin, or one tough old cookie. I am humbled.


I had already dug a deep hole for the rest of my trip, not the kind you take a crap in. I didn’t expect eighty-degree heat in the June mountains, but dehydration was mainly on me. After that first day, I forced myself to drink more, even when drinking water became almost repulsive.


The second day started with a river crossing. I watched Amanda cross with her backpack, poles, and swimsuit. While my buddy explored for a dry crossing downstream, I stripped to my skivvies, donned my water shoes, and followed her lead. Even at the widest point, the current was strong and the water cold, but I prevailed. When he saw me on the other side, he flipped the bird at me but found his dry log bridge.


After, we hiked the fifteen-hundred-foot climb from the Upper Paradise campground to the dully named Woods Creek, most of the ascent occurring in the first three miles. We trekked through pure KSR psycho-geology swallowed in the immenseness of the canyon. Vertical rivers cascaded down the sheer sides of mountains. A spire towered over, reminiscent of the Matterhorn. The distant mountains had a hazy view as if from an airplane window.


At about the end of the three miles, I hit the wall for the first time. If I were hiking solo, I would have turned back at this point, but my buddy said he wouldn’t make the decision for me. So stubbornness trumped common sense, and I pushed on. I wasn’t eating enough. In retrospect, my meal planning was downright foolish. I figured on two packs of dehydrated food daily and some snack bars. My total (un)planned packed calorie count was about fifteen hundred calories. I didn’t really do the math until after the fact. In reality, I should have planned on something like four-thousand calories for each day of the ascent. I don’t offer a defense for my abysmal planning, but those packets of dehydrated food are essentially worthless. They pack five hundred or so calories per meal. The containers claim to contain two servings. That joke is on me.


Two packets a day is only a thousand and some calories. Using those numbers, I should have packed eight packets per day for the ascent and four packages per day for the descent. I stuffed my bear canister full with only six meals and eight energy bars. If I had packed appropriately, at ten dollars a pop, I would have paid two-hundred and forty dollars for a four-day outing. On previous one or two-night backpacking trips, a couple of meals per day worked out fine, considering that I started the one-day uphills on a big-bought breakfast, spent the next day at location, and the last day coming down. My novice was showing, and it was embarrassing. The lack of proper food planning was entirely on me.


I suspect another downside of the heat was a mosquito and gnat bloom. I choked down a handful of gnats that got caught on deep inhales. On the upside, I’ve never seen so many bugs. Butterflies alighted two, three, and four to a flowerhead. Bees, flies, and bee flies buzzed about. Lizards sunned themselves on rocks and the trail, narrowly avoiding the tips of poles. If there is a psycho-geology, there ought to be a psycho-biology brought about by immersion in the wildflowers, insects, pine-scented trees, and animals. I was fortunate to spot deer, marmots, grouse, and a pika.


Having made it to Woods Creek at 5.1 miles and eighty-five-hundred feet elevation and eating a meal, I decided to shoot for Dollar Lake, a mere (haha) four miles and two-thousand-foot climb. My buddy took on my bear canister to lighten my load. Embarrassing.

On a four-foot creek crossing, I managed to step on a log that gave way and I ended up soaking my right leg. About a mile and a half up, I hit the wall again. For the first mile and a half, I would take a hundred steps and then stop to check my heart rate and take a second to get my breathing back to a normal rhythm. For the last two-and-a-half miles, I would take about twenty-five steps before being forced to stop to catch my breath. The air became thinner. The pauses became longer and the sit-downs more frequent. We passed a sign that said no fires above ten thousand feet. Near the top, when my buddy disappeared out of sight, I took a full-on, sprawled-out lay down on the rocks, entirely spent. My buddy reappeared a few minutes later without his backpack, bearing the good news that I was only a few minutes from Dollar Lake. He carried my backpack the rest of the way. Double embarrassing. The four miles from Woods Creek to Dollar Lake took five hours.


We made camp at the trout-leaping and beautiful but mosquito-infested lake donning the netting and Deet to ward off the blood-sucking brutes that wanted to drain what little energy I had left. Strangely, I had to force myself to eat my chicken and rice packet, the tastiest meal in my grocery bag of dehydrated food.


This brings me to my original mistake. I should have planned on a five-day trip instead of four. I overestimated the value of my training. I was routinely hiking eight to ten miles a weekend in my peak-a-week training hikes but at sea level and with a light ten to fifteen-pound pack. Of course, I expected the backpacking trip at altitude would be more difficult, but I did not expect it to push me beyond my limits. Given that I corrected my other mistakes, a five-day trip with one major climb per day might have been manageable for me. A good trip would be from Road’s End to Middle Paradise Valley on day one, from Middle Paradise Valley to Woods Creek on day two, and finally from Wood Creek to Rae Lakes on day three. Each segment is about seven miles and includes one major climb per day, leaving two days of ten miles downhill each.


In the morning, my buddy wanted to go back the way we came. Thank god. Just squatting to take an outdoor crap left me breathless. I don’t see how I would have survived the one-thousand-plus feet ascent over Glen’s Pass. If I did manage it, it would have taken me four or five hours to make the two miles with another seventeen miles of travel. Extending the trip to five days was out of the question because I would be out of food and out of TP.


We packed up and headed down the way we came. We met the two healthy members of the cherry-popping trio headed up as we were headed down. They left their puking buddy down at Woods Creek while they made a long day hike with light packs to Rae Lakes. She told me the whole point was to see the beauty of the lakes. Thanks. Yes, I have a regret. It was a disappointment to not make the round trip and see the lakes, but it was the right decision.


As it was, we made the trek back to Woods Creek in just over three hours, down to Upper Paradise Valley in another four, and to Middle Paradise Valley in less than two for a total downhill distance of thirteen miles in yet another nine-hour day. On the last day, we hiked out the remaining 6.8 miles in less than four hours, stopping briefly again at Mist Falls, powered by the self-promise of a Diet Coke at Grant Grove Market and a burrito in Visalia.


Of course, downhill was much easier than up, but it was not without pain beyond mere fatigue for me. During my training hikes, I suffered from sprains and foot issues. On one hike, in particular, I experienced a knife-cutting pain in my right knee. I wore a double layer of socks, a knee brace, and ankle supports to combat these mechanical problems. I had no issues at all, possibly owing to my countermeasures. But on the ups and downs, I experienced burning pain in my hips. I tried to counter this with an Ibuprofen diet starting at two pills a day and increasing to six. Even though I had the energy and stamina to make it out, I still found myself frequently breaking to let the burning subside, to make the walking bearable, if only for a short distance.


We finally made it out. My buddy’s backpacking cherry was popped, and my backpacking naivete was exposed. Grant Grove Market didn’t have a Diet Coke, so I settled on a quart of Gatorade, which I made short work of. It turns out I hate plain water as a drink. Visalia came through with the best burrito. And I ended up at home, back to wearing my comfortable blue jeans, which KSR says are absolutely worthless. And loving it.

Pura Vida

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Pura Vida: being happy where you are at in the present moment and finding life as precious for precisely what it has served you. 

Author’s Note: I don’t entirely agree with the definition. Read the Im-Pura Vida entry. But I would go along with appreciating the bright spots no matter how bright or dark the times.

Pura Vida is…

… riding with flashlights on a golf cart for an improvised night tour of the resort property led by Andresen. It is photographing the coveted red-eyed tree frog, an armadillo, a sleeping bird perched on one leg in a tree, and a dozen other frogs in the ponds and creek.

… walking five kilometers in the misty shadow of the volcano on the El Cabo trail in the Parque Nacional Volcan Arenal to the overlook of Lake Arenal from the top of a lava flow. It is poking your head over the extended roots of a 400-year-old ceiba tree looking for velociraptors. It is finding pixels of color in the flowers of the otherwise dark and gloomy canopy. It is an orange butterfly and a red-striped butterfly sipping nectar with their nose straws from red berry-like flowers. It is hearing howler monkeys barking in distant trees. It is seeing my brother get insufferably pleased with himself when we walk by the re-parked car, letting us think it is still parked in its original spot at the end of a long lot. It is seeing cautionary crocodile signs of Peligro at the terminus of the Los Miradores trail on the shores of Lake Arenal.

… walking the five hundred steps down the side of a canyon wall to see La Fortuna falls. It is admiring the falls from a distance, then the mid-distance, and again right in our faces. It is swimming in the mildly chilly pool with falling water pounding its way to the bottom. It is spotting a school of fish stationery in the current hovering in the crystal clear water of the river. It is climbing back up the five-hundred stairs counting each one along the way.

… sitting under the roof of an outdoor patio listening to the rain change the notes from isolated drops to the orchestra of a downpour.

… drinking hot-pressed Costa Rican coffee for breakfast and eating fried ripe plantains.

… trying to figure out how to answer my niece’s poignant questions like, “When are you going to die?” and “Do you have any friends?”

… finding a moss-covered sloth up close instead of a distant clump of brown high up in the canopy.

Perisosa moves so slow an entire algal ecosystem grows on it.

… sitting in hot springs with the family drinking Imperials under cover of night.

… seeing the bright yellow flower foliage of the “Cortez Amarillo” dot the hillside on the frustratingly sluggish descent down the Pan-American Highway from San Ramone to the coast.

… driving up the twenty-five percent grade to get to the Casa Latte. It is talking to the two housekeepers in broken Spanish. It is checking out the incredible view overlooking the Pacific Ocean, watching yellow-billed black-bodied toucans fly from tree to tree, and once even right over our heads while stretched out on lounge chairs.  

… swimming in the Nauyaca waterfall-created pool after a treacherously steep and hot descent on a slippery dusty road booby-trapped with marble-sized rocks. It is admiring the two-tiered waterfalls from the steeply-cascaded lower tier. It is watching cliff divers flip into the lower pool without maiming themselves. It is about not making lethal choices at a river crossing on Google Map’s proposed shorter route to get back to the main road.

… returning to the property each night to watch and photograph an incredible sunset replete with dramatic clouds and horizon-banded sunset bows.

A Horizon Bow at Sunset.

… taking an hour and a half ride from Uvita to the beaches of Corcovado on a boat with two outboard 200 horsepower engines, stopping along the way to see white-spotted dolphins, squid-catching boobies, and leaping rays. 

Boobie with a Squid Catch

… satisfying my niece’s ambition to see monkeys as we watch spider monkeys migrate through the canopy in quest of mangoes even though one of the pits hit me in the head (aimed or dropped?) It is watching an anteater swing from limb to limb with its prehensile tail negotiating the canopy almost like it was a monkey. It is watching macaws chatter back and forth in a tree at the edge of the rain forest overlooking the rocky beach. It is seeing two Jurassic Park compies scampering on their two hind legs. It is sitting in a pool downstream of the waterfall, getting a nice back massage from a small cascade while admiring bottomless bikinis.

Find a Mango Tree, You’ll Find a Monkey

… leaving Corcovado as two Macaws fly wing tip to wing tip over the sandy beach to the backdrop of palm trees in the near distance and cloud-shrouded mountains in the far distance.

… walking out onto the sand and rock fluke of a whale at low tide for a swim in the salty, warm water of Parque Nacional Marino Ballena. Oh yes, and to surreptitiously look at bottomless bikinis.

Fluke of the Imagination

… imbibing a 750 ml bottle of Imperial at Las Delicias Bar Y Restaurante.

… seeing the other three kinds of New World monkeys at Parque Nacional Manuel Antonio: white-faced, howler, and squirrel monkeys. It is listening to a white-faced monkey crunching on the bones of an identified and unfortunate rodent. It is watching brazen white-faced monkeys put on a show close up in the shade of Manuel Antonio Beach. It is observing an iguana sunning itself in the sand, a helmeted basilisk clinging to the trunk of a tree, leaf-cutter ants marching in line waving their green flags, and a tree frog peering out of a knot in a tree. Let’s not forget to mention surreptitiously looking at bottomless bikinis.

… watching the lights of Alajuela from our patio at the Xandari Hotel while finishing off the second bottle of wine.

Leaving Costa Rica through the Worm Hole

… having the good fortune to break down in front of the Casa Antigua Hotel, where Henri and his Chinese partner (woman) helped us get ahold of the rental car agency, held onto the key until the repair truck arrived so we could get to the airport before our flights departed, and called a taxi to take us for the airport. It is returning later after a missed flight to get served a late-night dinner and beer after the kitchen was closed. It is sitting around a scenic outdoor garden and pool instead of in a stuffy airport with no access to a restaurant or bar. It is finding a ray of light in an otherwise miserable couple of days.

http://www.casaantiguahotelcr.com/

… reading the entire “Ice Crash: Antarctica” novel while stuck in airports in two different countries. It is chatting with Jeany who chose to return to LAX by way of Panama City instead of Aeromexico.

Muskoxen

Reading Time: 2 minutes

From my youth, I remember the photos of snow-bearded muskox huddled together in an outward-facing circle to protect one another from the arctic blizzards. They are to the cow as the wooly mammoth is to the elephant, a stringy-haired relic of the ice age that didn’t get the memo to go extinct. They only live in the tundra of the far north latitudes surviving on lichen and moss during the harsh long winters.  

One of my ambitions was to watch and photograph these beasts in their native habitat on our trip to Deadhorse, Alaska.  From our ship container(-ish) hotel room, the hotel manager told me that they were on the river’s edge earlier in the day before we arrived. He peered out the window across the road and toward the river but didn’t see any. He said they might come back later in the day, although that might have been a trick answer because the day in the Arctic summer is two months long. So I checked every couple of hours through the course of the nightless day during our twelve-hour stay and on the trip in and out, but the ice age creatures failed to reveal themselves.

Two days later, back at Fairbanks, we overnighted in an Air BNB place that was interestingly called the Musk Ox house. In the morning, looking out the back window onto a field behind the house, I saw a large black mass of fur which I guessed to be a grizzly bear. So I bravely or foolishly grabbed my camera and ran out to capture a photo trophy. You have probably guessed already that the grizzly bear was in fact a muskox. It turns out one of the few herds of captive muskox live at the U of Alaska Fairbanks Large Animal Research Station which just happened to be in the backyard of the overnight rental.

So I saw muskoxen although not really on my terms. Which now that I think about it, might actually be the underlying theme of our trip. Hashtag on #prudhoe for more on the trip, if you are interested.

Author’s note: subsequent research tells me that muskoxen are more closely related to goats and sheep than cows. (https://uaf.edu/lars/animals/muskox.php)

Photo Finish

Reading Time: 2 minutes

The two racing rocks rush towards the finish, nose-to-nose, bump-to-bump, head-to-head, toe-to-toe, or whatever feature one ascribes to bowling ball size rocks engaged in a heated race over a temporarily undry, ice-glazed lake. All that we spectators get to see is the final moment frozen in time in the wind-eroded tracks in the rehardened and now dried mud, stretching back to the starting point seemingly out of nowhere. Not every rock at the race track is hell-bent on winning. Some have an artistic bent painting lazy loops or perhaps engaging in the calligraphy of secret rock words.

The excitement of the events takes place largely in my mind, which is in stark contrast to the rest of the sights of Death Valley. The ruggedness of the mountains expresses itself in folded contours of chocolate brown, rust red, sandy tans, lava blacks, and bruised purples. The ruggedness of the valley expresses itself in a snowfield of salt flats, a lone creosote bush defying every effort to squelch its life, a naked caldera reminding us that Death Valley can add injury to insult at its whim and ever-shifting sand dunes that quickly erase all traces of its visitors.

A man tells me the racetrack is the most overrated attraction in the park, hardly worth the sixty-mile off-road trip (on motorcycles battling loose scree and dehydrating ninety-degree temps. I added that last part.) Barely visible rock tracks might not have the glamor of the artist palette, or the excitement of finding pupfish in a spring-fed stream, or the challenge of summitting a dune, or the admiration for carpets of defiant flowers, but the racetrack has the challenge of the trip, the rocks have the mystery of their movement even knowing the explanation, and it doesn’t hurt to indulge your imagination in a place that absolutely inspires it.

Besuty or Not Besuty? That is the question.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

I meant to type beauty but I fat-fingered besuty, instead. I was going for the thought of subtle beauty but the sound of the malformed word seemed to capture the idea I was trying to express better than the original. Why not have an explicit word for subtle beauty? Serendipity is the bastard father of many an idea.

Well, any decent word should have an antonym and the opposite of besuty is the opposite of subtle not beauty. The phrase “raging beauty” comes to mind. So the antonym of besuty, in the interest of symmetry, must be beruty. So there you have it, besuty and beruty, my two attempts at new contributions to the English language. And as a kicker I’ve extended the grammar with the idea of an infix, meaning a change of root directly and systematically as an alternative to using a prefix or a postfix, as fitting to modify the root beaut-, a new twist on the expression of inner beauty.

But I digress and enough neology and cleverness for the moment. Let’s get to the hypothesis I originally intended. In this time when so many leaf-peepers are posting the beruty of fall foliage in four-season climates, those of us living through the hot and dry season of our two-season Mediterranean climate still have much in the way to offer with besuty, but we will have to work harder for it. It’s there. It may be small. It may be hard to see. It rarely reaches out and grabs us like the radiant colors of pre-dormant trees or the mega-blooms of spring or the majesticness of a mountain. As besuty suggests, it’s subtle and easy to miss.

Given the alternate hypothesis, I now state the null hypothesis as, “Hot and dry is not beauty. It is common and dull.” Let me see if I can change your mind. What do you say?

The first capture is a dried-out fern I found under a bush. The sunlight lit up the fern like a revelation. I post-processed it to black and white. I think black and white shows off the interplay of light and shadow better than color.

Fern Tree

How about this star-shaped flower carcass? It inspires images of weathering windmills that have lost their willpower to wait any longer for the winds.

The Windmill

The curtain hangs in Hellhole Canyon, consumed in Paradise and Witch fires in 2003 and 2007. The black char has faded to grey and new foliage grows slowly out of the base of the post-fire stumps. The wavy arms of the gray limbs could very well be the skeleton of the flames themselves.

Curtain

The dark centered circle gives this the appearance of a bush of eyes, the all-seeing tree in the chaparral. It’s quite common along the trails in the area, but does common preclude besuty? Or is it exactly the reason we fail to see it so often?

The Tree of Eyes

I love the abstract pattern of the whorl, the contrast of purple and green in the blades, and the threat of sharp-tipped barbs.

Whorl

How about the forest of fronds? The brown and gray make one last stand before crumbling back into the ground. Does it remind you of an above-water coral reef?

Frond Forest

Besuty or not besuty, that is the question? My brother would ask, art or not art? I enjoy the thrilling beruty of grand images and intoxicating colors as much as the next photographer but don’t forget to look for the besuty in the common as well.

High Rises (in a Dr. Suess book)

Poetry in a Picture

Reading Time: 2 minutes
Freeway Bird

Bird still, on a chain-link fence,
Its backyard interstate, racing whence.

Shimmy of shiny reflection exposed,
Disappears menacingly into dark holes.

Goldfinch Pair

Finch pair perches, differences abide,
Surveying the same differently, side by side.

Golden Puffball

Golden downy tuft of fluff,
A thorny thistle once sheathed it tough.

Diamond Back

Diamond-studded viper lies in wait,
serpentines away when I don’t take the bait

Scrub Jay

Jay chased from its day,
squabbles at me, “Get out of my way”

Orb Weave Spider in Web

Cross king centered on its thrown,
the threaded palace is its home.

Kit Rabbit

Wide-eyed kit sits alone,
Naive to a world, it’ll barely know.

River lake to the ocean wends,
Under a sea of fog, it ends.

Taking photos, leaving only prints,
You now have the record of my stint.

Night Splatter

Reading Time: < 1 minute

How about a whole new genre of photography? Night splatter photography. I call the abstract one you see, “Particle Chamber.” As my brother would ask, “Art or Not Art?” If it says more to you than I should invest in a better tripod, I say “Art!”

Gitten’ Any?

Reading Time: 5 minutes

In my head, I planned on a challenging hike but as the day wore thin, I settled on the familiar territory of the North Shore of Lake Hodges choosing to focus more on exercise than on photography. Nevertheless, I follow the first rule of photography, always have your camera ready, even though your expectations are low.

As I start the hike, a man passes by asking me if I am “Gitten any?” My camera is strapped over my shoulder, and I know what he means, but the immediate in-my-head response is, “not in a long time.” I actually respond with the truth from all perspectives. “Trying.”

I have a couple of hours before sunset, so I decide to walk the upper rim of the Lake Hodges Canyon to see if it meets up with the trail to the summit of Bernardo Mountain, which I know would take me back to the main trail, preferring a loop trail to an out-n-back anytime. I tried once before but ran out of daylight and had to head back the same way I came.

The problem with the overlook trail is that it is marked obsessively with “No Trespassing” signs. According to the signs, the truck trail is for access to sewage lines by the water authority people only. The tire tracks of a hundred mountain bikes say otherwise. So do other signs that say we grant you passage as long as you don’t sue the pants off us for your issues. So I pin my water authority badge to my chest and march on.

A turkey vulture circles overhead playing tag with the sun, at least from my ground perspective, as he rides the thermals. A small two-foot gopher snake, with its spotted backside, almost matching the dimpled patterns of the bike tread stretches across the truck trail. It doesn’t seem too perturbed by my presence, which is a little bit worrisome, because if it stays stretched across the road for any length of time, the patterns on its back will become an exact match to the treads of an unwary mountain bike. I try to get a picture of it forking its tongue at me but the critter is uncooperative. I held the camera in place for a hundred count a couple of times. Of course, as soon as I gave in, the uncooperative creature forked its tongue at me. I finally gave up and moved on, the day not growing any longer on my account.

A little way down the trail, the sparkling sunlight off the lake catches my eye, inspiring me to try to capture a blurred bokeh with the glint of the snaking lake in the background. Lake Hodges is a dam lake that follows the curvature of the San Dieguito River canyon.

On a previous outing, near this spot, I came upon a roadrunner being harassed by a mocking bird. Instead, I find a tree full of lesser golden finches. Lesser than what and by whose standards, I don’t know and they are not telling.

I push on. As I round a corner, I see a mule deer on the road. It surprises me to see one so out in the open. His antlers are just starting to come in. This is the second sighting of mule deer I’ve seen in two weeks. I’ve been hiking in San Diego County for forty years and I’ve seen at most twenty-five in all that time. I’ve never seen any in this area before. He lets me get a little closer before diving into the bush. He gives me one last look over the shoulder to see what my intentions are. My intentions are to take advantage of the photo op.

The sewage access road turns into a driveway but a single track trail dives into the riparian woods surrounding a small creek that feeds into the lake. I take the trail and I’m pleasantly surprised when I end up on the flank of Bernardo Mountain, not quite as far into the mountain access as I envisioned but happy when the trail emerges onto the Bernardo Mountain trail. I don’t have to do an out-and-back. I snap a few thistle remains, still photogenic in my mind, even without their brilliant neon blue day-glow flowers.

I rejoin the main trail that traverses the length of the North Shore interrupted only by a couple of crayfish, or do you say crawdaddies, at the creek re-crossing on the main trail. I didn’t expect much on the way back other than a lot of bike traffic. I stopped to take a failed photo of a very Suessian orange and white buckwheat flower shaped like a soccer ball or a flavorful dangling lollipop.

As I walked under the I-15 expressway, I checked under the bridge to see if any swifts were out and about from their mud nests that hang under the eaves. Instead, I had an encounter with a praying mantis hanging out on the top of a post of a chain-link fence. He thrust and parried a few times to chase me off but then went back to his praying.

With a snake, a deer, a praying mantis, some landscape, and some previously undiscovered trail, I remembered the guy I met when I started the hike. Yeah, I got me some!

Night Heron Hangout

Reading Time: 3 minutes
Radioactive!

I was standing under an oak tree trying to take pics of a Blue Heron near the shore when I heard the unmistakable sound of a bird taking a crap from overhead. Fortunately, I wasn’t right under it. I looked up and saw a Black-Crowned Night Heron perched deep in the branches near the trunk. It was getting dark out and the inside of the crown of a tree is a tough shot. I was close but not really close enough to think the flash would work. I was pleasantly surprised while examining the pictures at home when I saw the radioactive glow from his eyes.

I stepped back and still checking around in the tree, I noticed another. And then another and another and another. I found their hangout! I went back again on another day with a bit more sunlight left in the evening to see if I could get some better pictures. Sure enough, I found at least a dozen birds hanging out in a row of oak trees facing the lake.

Youngster Hipster Heron

The younger birds are easily identifiable by their mottled brown plumage with white spots. I don’t think the hangout operates as a rookery, though, as all the birds are of adult size. The metamorphosis into an adult is quite a dramatic change in appearance. Check out the differences in the pics as the plumage changes from spotted to tannish to black-capped. I also read that the bill of the adult birds is all black. Most of the ones I saw had yellow, green, and black coloration on their bills. So I think this is a pretty hipster young crowd.

Hiding Heron

Some hang out on the outer branches of the oak trees surveying Lake Hodges looking like they are ready to get about the business of the evening; others are buried deep in the trees and eye me suspiciously as I try to find an unobstructed view for a shot to permanently record their visage. They don’t seem so skittish in the protection of the trees. The ones hanging out on the shore or on the dock don’t let me get too close before flying off with an angry squawk.

Here is a link to more pictures from the Lake Hodges area. Hope you enjoy it. [https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/1yzM4PiJWfZGwXnaOSPRX6vAnbnLmRjCq?usp=sharing]

Sunsets

Reading Time: 3 minutes

A sunset set. (And I slipped in one or two sunrises).

El Nido Sunset

Who doesn’t like a sunset? Or is just old age getting the better of me? Set to John Denver’s “Sunshine on My Shoulders.” Maybe a bit sappy, but if you are of a mind to, have a listen and a look. Scroll to the lyrics.

Sunset Balloon

Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy

Sunset Blur with Sage

Sunshine in my eyes can make me cry

Del Mar Beach All Day Sunset from Smog

Sunshine on the water looks so lovely

El Nido

Sunshine almost always makes me high

El Nido, Man at Sea

If I had a day that I could give you

Palm’s Pink Halo

I’d give to you the day just like today

El Nido, Eye of God

If I had a song that I could sing for you

Boracay Roof Top

I’d sing a song to make you feel this way

Boracay

Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy

Palawan

Sunshine in my eyes can make me cry

Sunset Over the Pacific

Sunshine on the water looks so lovely

Sunset into a Fog Bank with Touch of Green

Sunshine almost always makes me high

Torrey Pines

If I had a tale that I could tell you

Crepuscular Rays


I’d tell a tale sure to make you smile

Sun Sandwich

If I had a wish that I could wish for you

Last Wave

I’d make a wish for sunshine for all the while

Sunshine on my shoulders makes me happy

Minarets

Sunshine in my eyes can make me cry

Palawan

Sunshine on the water looks so lovely

Reflections

Sunshine almost all the time makes me high

Kelso Dunes

Sunshine almost always

Allelujah!