Homer's Travels: April 2007

Sunday, April 29, 2007


Sunday was a mixed day of chores and afternoon school appearances. Sunday was the Fiesta celebration at the wife's job. The "J" came by and together we headed to school. The parking lot was full of inflatable things - Jolly Jumpers, Slides, that kind of stuff. There was also a mechanical bull ride and a reverse bungee (scaled down to high school size, of course). Everything worked on the Ticket system. You bought tickets and you could use them for any of the booths or games.

We started with some lunch. I had eaten before we went since I was starving after grocery shopping. The wife and "J" ate Lumpia and the Mexican plate. With the remainder of our tickets, the wife bought some really cool sunflowers and a plant for the front of the house. We have an old birdbath by the front door and the plant is sitting there.

Now, the wife had said that the "J" wanted me to join her in the jolly jumper but I was never invited by the "J". I did think about suggesting it myself but I spent all my tickets bailing the wife and the "J" out of jail - you know, the charity jail where people pay for you to be held hostage in a crepe paper jail cell and they can only get out by someone paying the bail. I was a little disappointed about not being able to bounce in the jolly jumper but I was a little tired from our Festival of Books trip on Saturday (an event described by one of the wife's students as a Nerd Activity - I think she was jealous) and I probably didn't have much bounce in me anyway.

2007 Los Angeles Times Festival Of Books

On Saturday the wife and I went to the 2007 Los Angeles Times Festival Of Books on the UCLA campus. I'd been wanting to go to this for quite awhile but I just never got around to doing it. This year I suggested it to the wife and she talked to a co-worker and she found out that it was a lot of fun so we decided to go.

It was foggy on the drive down but the skies cleared out once we arrived at the UCLA campus. We had tickets for Jared Diamond, Mitch Albom with Frank McCourt, and Ray Bradbury (all the tickets are free and are used to control who gets one of the limited seats in the venue). Our first author, Jared Diamond ( Guns, Germs, and Steel and Collapse ) was at 2:00 pm. It was still early so we started out by walking through the vendor stalls seeing what they had to offer.

Most of the stalls were run by publishers and booksellers. There were a few religious stalls - mostly new age religions. The first stall we stopped at was for vacations in Alberta, Canada. Tending the booth were two genuine Alberta park rangers. This excited the wife to no end. You see, her friend taught her the Alberty Ranger song and here was a chance to have her picture taken with a genuine Alberty Ranger. So, as we were posing with Ranger Roger (Yep ... that's his name) the wife broke out in song:

"I want to be an Alberty Ranger ... Live a life of Sex and Danger ... In the morning ... In the evening ... aaannnnddd at night! ... Ranger Roger wants to be an Alberty Ranger ... Live a life of Sex and Danger ..."
Well, you get the picture. My eyes were rolling and I'm sure my face was turning red. Meanwhile, Ranger Roger seemed to enjoy it - especially the Sex and Danger part.

After the picture taking we went on a food quest. We ended up with some Tri-Tip sandwiches that hit the spot. It was noon and the sun was really starting to beat down. As we walked around looking at the stalls and stuff, we noticed that lines were forming in front of the venues. Doing some investigations we found that the lines for ticket holders usually start up to two hours before the venue opens. This limited our options. There was no way we could see Jared Diamond and Mitch Albom/Frank McCourt because the times of the events overlapped. We decided that Mitch Albom and Frank McCourt were a higher priority. The wife had even brought a copy of Frank McCourt's book to get signed ( Teacher Man ). The wife had reached her heat limit and took her place in front of Royce Hall (our third time here - The First and The Second) where the event was going to take place. I decided to walk around a little more.

There were a lot of people at this thing. About one third of the booths and events were aimed at children. My favorite was The World of Mr. Toast. I saw something that really weirded me out. A guy was pushing a stroller. Attached to the front of the stroller was a boom where a video camera was attached. The camera was pointed squarely at the kid in the stroller apparently recording every drop of drool that ran down the kid's chin while they strolled. Weird. I guess the guy was trying to prepare his kid for a world with no privacy.

I continued to walk around from one shady spot to another. I walked the Impeach Bush/Stop The Genocide gauntlet and eventually made my way back to Royce Hall and the wife. It turned out the wife and I were the first in line - possible the first time I have ever been first in line for an event like this.

The doors opened and we went in and found a good spot not too far from the stage. Mitch Albom ( Tuesdays With Morrie, Five People You Meet In Heaven, and For One More Day ) and Frank McCourt ( Angela's Ashes and Teacher Man ) came on the stage and sat in some comfy chairs and the show started. Frank McCourt interviewed Mitch Albom. Apparently, last year at the 2006 Festival of Books, Mitch Albom had interviewed Frank McCourt. Mitch Albom was very interesting. He had great stories of his life as a piano player/lounge singer in a small island off Crete, a journalist, a sports writer, and a best selling author. They went on for about 30-40 minutes and then they took some questions from the audience.

The event ended and as people headed for the door, the wife noticed that the authors were signing autographs for the people in the front row. The wife made her way to the front. A lady - probably the author's handlers - was trying to get the authors to stop autographing. The wife said: "I've been a teacher for 22 years, please ..." and the lady looked at her and said: "OK, but your the last." The wife was so happy. She now has an autographed copy of Teacher Man.

Ray Bradbury was scheduled right after the Albom/McCourt event but we were both too tired and we had seen him live before at a bookstore where the wife had several copies of "Fahrenheit 451" signed so we decided to skip him this time. We stopped to get some ice cream from the Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory booth before heading for the Fowler Museum to use the facilities before hitting the road. We stopped at the museum store to see if they had anything interesting. As we were leaving, I heard one of the museum employees talking to a cashier - Her shaved head a canvas for her bright blue mohawk. She was lamenting not having tickets for Ray Bradbury. I turned to the museum employee and confirmed that they were talking about Ray Bradbury, called the wife over so I could get a Bradbury ticket out of our backpack, and handed it to the cashier. Her eyes widened and said something like "are you kidding me?!?" I assured her I wasn't. She thanked us profusely. The perfect end to a near perfect day.

It was fun. We are thinking of going back next year. Well worth the drive. Next time though, if the weather is the same, a hat, sunglasses, and shorts will be on the list. A few pictures can be found here.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Out Of Town This Week

I'm going to Norfolk, VA for three days of business meetings this week. I won't be back until Friday so I won't be posting. The wife and Homer have the house to themselves.

Hiking Ventura County #14: Piedra Blanca With A Side Trip To Rose Valley Falls

Piedra Blanca (Spanish for White Rock) is named for the large outcroppings of white rock. I had been here before but I never really walked this trail. I did do a now defunct geocache in the area. This time I was going to hike out to the rocks to see them up close. As I drove to the trailhead I could see that the rain the day before had left snow on the mountains. There wasn't very much and I'm sure it won't last for long in the California sun. Rose Valley road passes by two odd neighbors - The Rose Valley Work Camp (as in juvenile work camp) and the Ojai Valley Gun Club firing range.

The hike is a down-up-down-up there-n-back.
The trail starts up near a gate. The gate, which is often closed, was open and people were parking down by the Piedra Blanca Camp. I considered doing this myself but one of the reasons I hike is for the exercise. Taking a short cut seemed to be counterproductive. If you park down by the campsite then the hike becomes an up-down there-n-back.
I started with a cache that was supposed to be in the area of the trailhead. "What a Toad" was supposed to be near a sign that talked about the Arroyo Toad that lives in the area. I looked and looked but could not find it. I suspect it is not there anymore. It hasn't been logged since July 2006.

After failing to find the cache, I headed down the trail. It had rained the day before and the trail was a little muddy. My new hiking shoes were getting heavier as the mud accumulated. Eventually I arrived at the camp and the trail dried up. There was a horse trailer or two parked here and several cars. I figured the trail would be crowded but it turned out not to be the case. I suspect most of the car occupants were camping in one of the various campgrounds further down on the trails in the area since I only ran into a handful of people.

Early on the trail, there are three river crossings. Two of them are small and feed into the wider Sespe Creek. This was the widest river crossing that I had ever done. The creek was swollen with rain runoff. I carefully made my way across the river stepping from one small stone to another. I paused halfway across on a stone 18-20 inches across and took a picture down the creek. I noticed the low battery symbol flashing on my camera so, being the silly guy that I am, I changed the battery while precariously balancing on the river stone. I am lucky that I didn't drop the batteries in the water. I managed to get across the river with only one wet toe.

After the creek crossings, the trail heads up to the rocks. Once the trail hits the rocks, the trail became hard to follow. A faded orange ribbon, similar to the Potrero John ribbons, led the way to the trail. The trails winds through the rocks. At the 2.25 miles mark I arrived at a decision point. The trail continues for several miles and at this point, the trail goes down, down, down to the creek far below. I decided to not continue on the trail and headed up to explore the rocks instead.

Did I take the best way up to the top? I doubted it on the way up but I think I did. The rock protrudes from a ridge. To get up to the top of the biggest rock, you have to climb up to the top of the ridge. In the picture at the top of this post, I climbed to the top of the round lump of rock on the right side of the formation. I had to bushwhack up the ridge passing a large cave on the way. I looked for animal prints but the water dripping from the roof obliterated any prints. I did see something that could have been deer prints.

Eventually, huffing and puffing, I made it to the top. Rock climbing is not my forte. The sun was out and hot but the wind was chill and I ended up resting on the shore of a large rain pool sheltered out of the wind. There was a small tree living a meager life at the edge of the puddle. It looked like a miniature tree on the shore of a mountain lake. Here I broke out the water and protein bar. I was wearing new shoes and I was feeling a sore spot on my heel. I took off my shoes and sure enough - a dime sized blister, ripped open. After a brief rest, I put my shoes back on, this time cinching them tight, and started looking for a way down.

The way up had been tough so I figured I'd look for a way down of the opposite side that I came up on. I walked to the other side and stopped at an abrupt drop. I moved further up the rock towards the ridge line periodically moving to the edge to see if there was a way down. I ended up climbing all the way up the the top of the ridge and making my way through burnt trees (There had been a fire in the past like most of southern California - my hands were black from the soot), scratchy scrub, and sharp thorn bushes. Thank god I was wearing jeans - shorts would have been a killer. I'd hoped to find a path but there turned out not to be one. I had to bushwhack my way all the way down. I'm actually surprised that I wasn't scratched up more then I was. On the way down I ran into a stand of poison oak (At least I think it was poison oak). I did my best to avoid it but I'm sure my arm rubbed against the leaves several times with no ill effect.

I finally made it out of the brush and back on the rocks. I came across some cans and, since Sunday is Earth Day, I picked them up and put them in a grocery bag I had and clipped it to my belt. I got back to the trail and headed back to the trailhead. On the way back I passed more people going the other way. Some had dogs. Some rode mountain bikes. As I walked I heard a clank - one of the cans had fallen out of the bag. As I reached down to pick it up, I notices a large hole in the grocery bag and all the cans were gone ...Sigh. Oh well, it's the thought that counts. Next time I will bring a tougher bag.

I got back to the Sespe and I swear the water level had risen an inch or two and the stepping stones were harder to find. I managed to make it across and I stopped to washed off all the soot from my hands and forearms. The water was ice cold. At this point I noticed that my GPS had turned off at the 3.22 mile point. This sucks since I like to compare my actual hike length with what is "advertised." I have to assume that the total hike was around 5 miles.

I had debated visiting the Rose Valley Falls which is not too far from where I was. After I got back to the car, I decided to think about it as I did the "Rose Valley Quick Stop" cache. I dropped off the "Tabisbast, Algeria" Unite for Diabetes Travel Bug. I decided that I still had some time and energy left so I headed for the Rose Valley Falls campground.

There was a new cache hidden recently on the trail to the falls. Several previous caches disappeared as this is a well traveled trail. GPS reception sucked. I reached what I thought was the location but couldn't find it and muggles were approaching so I continued on to the falls figuring that I would get the cache on the way back.

There were little patches of snow and ice along the shaded trail. The falls were beautiful as always. Lot's of dripping water and emerald green moss. I took this cool picture in 2003 on my first of now four visits to the falls. I have climbed to the top of this falls before. At the top you can rock/tree hop up to another higher falls. When I was there in the past there was no water coming over the falls but there was water running from the base. Apparently the rock is so porous that it seeps through the rock and comes out the bottom. I thought about climbing up to the upper falls but I was tired from the 5 miles I had just finished and the hillside was muddy. I will be back - Rose Valley Falls is one of my favorite places.

On the way back I managed to find the cache: "No Bridge Over Troubled Waters." I had to wait for all the muggles to go by before I re-hid it. I was the first to find it - my second FTF. There was another cache on the Rose Valley road but my GPS just wasn't getting a signal so I had to skip it.

All-in-all, a good day. My left knee, the one I twisted on the Potrero John Trail, was a little sore when I got home. Piedra Blanca and Rose Valley combined is about 6 miles. Pictures of Piedra Blanca are here. Pictures of Rose Valley Falls are here.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Poppies Pooped Out

This weekend is the California Poppy Festival. I was planning to go but my enthusiasm is waning. First, the "J" couldn't go. Then the wife expressed her lack of interest. This was followed by rain ... Yes, rain - a rare event this time of year. The rain should be over before the festival starts but the last straw was when I went to the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve site. I quote: "Wildflower Update as of 4/16/07: Pretty Much Over." Yep, the poppies and other wildflowers are done for the season. It appears the drought (the reserve received only 15% of their normal rainfall this season) shortened the wildflower season. The Poppy Reserve site continues on to say:
"There are about a half-dozen 2-inch tall poppies in front of the visitor center, a small fiddleneck along the entrance walkway, and an occasional ground-level filaree. The beavertail in front of the visitor center is about to open at least 5 blooms, but that's otherwise about it for the whole park. Yes, the whole park. The blooms that we do have are not very impressive- the few wildflower sprouts that could pull it together enough to bloom aren't wasting any water or time on growth so they're stunted and going to seed as fast as possible, making a hasty exit." - California State Park Service
Oh, well. I am planning to replace the poppy festival with a hike. Maybe next year we'll get more rain and the poppy festival will be worth the drive to Lancaster.

Monday, April 16, 2007

I Like Cartoons. Am I Normal?

I'm a 43 year old man and I like to watch cartoons. I remember getting up early Saturday morning to watch cartoons. This continued into college. This habit continued into my young adulthood. Eventually the Saturday cartoons lost their punch to the more interesting Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network fair. My cartoon watching has suffered since I married the wife. It's not her fault, it's just that my life is busier with the house and all and it is often hard to find time to watch. Then came the DVR.

The first thing I did when we got our DVR was record Futurama (I've watched them all) and Invader Zim (Still working of them). Next is Ren & Stimpy (though I've seen most of them already). Modern cartoons are not produced solely for the amusement of minors. Cartoon producers realize that parents often watch cartoons with their children and often insert humor aimed squarely at the adult in the room. The humor is often beyond children's comprehension and are dead on for the adult. I like this adult undertone but I secretly (well not so secretly now) like the childish humor as well. There is something about the innocence of it. Cartoons are an escape from the stress of the modern world. It is simple. It is absurd. It is logic defying. It is bounded by no rigid rules. If humor is the best medicine, then cartoons are pure morphine.

The wife does not share my interest in cartoon watching but, in the rare occasion that she is in the room while I am watching cartoons, I have caught her muffling a chortle.

So, am I normal? I like to think that adults who aren't watching cartoons in their spare time are missing out. Then again, I may just be trying to rationalize my weirdness. Sometimes you just got to get away from things. Hiking is one way I do this. Cartoons is another.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

That Itchy, Paranoid, Creepy Crawly Feeling

This year there's been a bumper crop of that dreaded trail pest - the Tick. I have to say that I have had Tick encounters on at least 50% of my hikes. I talked about the first encounter here. Since then I have found ticks crawling up my pant leg and crawling up my shirt. After any such encounter, you get this itchy, paranoid, creepy crawly feeling that lasts the rest of the day. Before each hike I spray my pants and shirt down with insect repellent (25% DEET) that apparently does nothing to deture the blood sucking monsters. The last hike to Potrero John was no different except for quantity - Three ... count them, Three Ticks. One - I caught it on my shoulder while I was still on the trail. Two - found it while I was driving home. It was crawling into my hairline at the back of my head. I flung it out of the car window while yelling OOOO, GAAHHH, $%&*^%^&^!! Three - When I got home I took off my t-shirt and put it on the bed. Later that night I picked up the shirt and put it in the hamper. The wife, getting ready for bed, saw the third tick making its way across the blanket. It must of crawled off my shirt onto the blanket. She pointed this out to me and I promptly picked it up in a Kleenex and flushed it. We spent the rest of the night itchy, paranoid with a creepy crawly feeling.

The wife thinks I should undress in the garage from now on. She may be right.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Hiking Ventura County #13: Potrero John Creek

I did my thirteenth hike on Friday the 13th. The Potrero John Creek Trail starts off of highway 33 and follows the Potrero John Creek. It is an up-down there-n-back. This was the best hike I have done so far this year. The weather was perfect and I was the only one on the trail. If you like creek crossings, this is the trail for you. The trail crisscrosses the creek several times - I stopped counting at 16 crosses. If your doing this trail make sure you have a hiking staff for the creek crossings. The trail starts in a narrow, pine forested, canyon. The pine trees precariously climb the steep and rocky canyon walls.

The trail exits the narrow portion of the canyon and, after creek crossing #8, enters a meadow and briefly moves away from the creek before returning to the sound of running water. A camp site, (creek crossing #11) complete with a large rock lined fire pit, a rusty metal barbecue, and stone and log benches, can be found at the 1.51 mile point. The trail continues on, becoming narrower, the grass encroaching on the path as it crosses the meadow. Here evidence of a past fire is apparent and the dead husks of trees rise like skeletons amongst the grass and scrub.

The trail leaves the meadow and winds through an Oak and Pine forest as the canyon narrows once again. At the 1.9 mile point (creek crossing #12) I sat on a tree stump and rested. I cracked open a water bottle and ate a protein bar. The ground was strewn with acorn caps. The sound of the running water was relaxing.

As I looked around I noticed a bright orange nylon ribbon tied to a tree branch. I had seen this before where trails are marked using bright ribbons.
I started back on the trail using the ribbons as a guide. As I continued on the trail, the trail became wilder and harder to follow. Each time I started loosing the trail I would stop and look around and I would see an orange ribbon up ahead pointing me in the right direction. Thank you to the hiker or park ranger who tied those ribbons.

I reached the designated turn around point of 2.2 miles. This was a primitive camp with a stone lined fire pit and a log bench. I didn't want to stop yet as I still felt good. Also, as I researched the trail, I had came across an article in the Los Angeles Times about a guy who was a waterfall hunter. The guy described a falls on the Potrero John Creek this way:
"It's a Yosemite waterfall that somebody forgot to tell it's supposed to be in Yosemite."
Unfortunately the article didn't say how far up the trail the falls were. At this point I set a goal of the falls, 3 miles, or 1:00 PM, whichever came first.

I followed the orange ribbons further along the creek. The trail alternated from rock hoping to tree hoping to creek hoping. I imagine the number of fallen trees tells of past flash floods through this area. I came across a rock with a message painted on it in black paint. Much of the message was gone but I could make out:
"... left our footprints, took only our memories." Red Crow
This sounds like what a cacher would right in a log but I couldn't find any reference to a Red Crow at geocaching.com.

I continue following the ribbons until I reached an 8 foot waterfall. Looking around, I see a ribbon on the other side of the creek. I cross the creek at a narrow crevasse and followed the ribbons up a short hill and ... there is was. The falls were 50-70 feet tall (I'm a terrible judge of height). Water was flowing pretty good. I was so happy I yelled "HELLOOOO!!!" and listened to the echo. I was elated! The falls were at the 2.6 miles mark. I sat down on a fallen log and rested by the pool at the base of the falls. Looking up I thought that it would be cool to get up to the top of the falls. I'm sure the views would be spectacular. I looked to either side of the falls - on one side a shear rock wall and the other a steep, scree covered slope. I thought you had to be crazy to tackle this climb. I thought you had to be an experienced rock climber to tackle this climb. I thought I was too tired to tackle this climb. All these thoughts went through my head as I was climbing the slope. I reached the half way point and came to two realizations -there was a lot more scree then I expected and a lot of the hand and foot holds were a gentle nudge away from becoming scree themselves. Here are the views looking up and down. Two quotes went through my mind:
"Discretion is the better part of valor." (A proverb attributed to Shakespeare's "Falstaff")

"A man's got to know his limitations." (Dirty Harry in "Magnum Force", 1973)
At this point I made the right decision and slowly (very slowly) made my way back down to the pool.

After a last look at the falls, I started back to the trailhead. I missed the trail on a portion of the way down and went though another stand of oaks, acorns littering the ground. The new trail eventually met back up with the other trail. On the way down I saw a relative of the prancing possum that the wife whacked - This one's prancing days were over.

The rest of the hike was uneventful. I've been a little disappointed that I am not seeing more wildlife. Lizards are common. Birds are all over the place. That's about it. I always hope to see deer, or coyotes or even a bear (at a safe distance of course) but I haven't had any luck so far.

Another successful hike.
The description said a 400 foot rise but my GPS, from the trailhead to my turn around point, said over 900 feet. The hike I did was a little farther then the description. The total distance was about 5.5 miles. I have to say that I was looking forward to this hike. The week at work was a little crappy and this hike hit the spot. I did roll my ankle once which wrenched by left knee. It's a little sore today. But I have never felt so alive as on this hike. Pictures can be found here.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

TV: Enough Already ... Time For Him To Go!

We watch American Idol. It's one of the many, so-called, reality shows that we watch. I am tired of Sanjaya Malakar. His singing is mediocre at best. He should have been voted out four weeks ago. Before Gina Glocksen. Before Chris Sligh. Before Stephanie Edwards. Even before Haley Scarnato though that is debatable. Conspiracy theories abound - Indian call center workers are voting for him; Howard Stern's listeners are voting for him; Vote For The Worst web sites are voting for him. I don't know what it is. I do know that I've had enough already!!! Stop voting for Sanjaya already!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Short, Unenthusiastic, Sub-Par

Last night, after reading my latest post about our Notre Dame vacation, the wife said she was a little disappointed. To loosely paraphrase: I used a lot of short sentences, there was a lack on enthusiasm, and the post was generally sub-par. I have to agree with her assessment - I have written better. Lately I have been in a rut. All my posts seems to be about hiking (which I am enjoying very much) or past vacations. I have been suffering from two things: -1- lack of activities outside the house. We haven't been doing much since the beginning of the year. We had a week or two of cool stuff and twelve weeks of nothing. Our life is a little dull right now and my writing reflects this. -2- Writer's block. I have had few good ideas about what to post.

I hope this will change soon. Currently my life is dominated by work. I will not talk about work in Homer's Travels. We do have a few things planned for the next couple months so I hope to have something to post soon.

Until then ... a Haiku:
Sub-Par Disappointing Words
Chipping Away at the Block
We are Antsy for a Vacation

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Past Vacations #16: Notre Dame 2004

The wife is a Notre Dame grad. This automatically makes her a Notre Dame football fan. In 2004 we got tickets to the Notre Dame-Purdue game.

We flew into South Bend, IN on Friday and were picked up at the airport by my father in law and one of the wife's nieces. They had driven in earlier from Iowa. We checked into a hotel where we were going to share a room. That evening we met with some of the wife's ex-students before going to the pep rally.

On Saturday we drove in and parked our car and tailgated. We then walked into the campus and the wife gave us a tour. I took a few pictures that can be found here. The campus is beautiful. Students and fans were milling about. Bagpipers played. Food was served and consumed. Souvenirs were bought at the bookstore. A grand time for all.

Before the game we listened to the Notre Dame marching band and followed them into the stadium. Unfortunately, the game was confirmation of my curse - Notre Dame lost. I don't remember the score. I think I blocked it out of my memory. After the game we went to Mass on campus. The church was packed. After Mass we went to a sports bar where I had one of the best chicken sandwiches I've ever had.

The next day we flew home. This was a short one but we had fun with the Father in Law and Niece.

Monday, April 09, 2007

A New Address For Homer's Travels

I never thought this blog would survive this long. You may remember that this is my second attempt - the first lasting only a week or two and never going public. Homer's Travels can be a chore to maintain at times but I'm enjoying it and I am looking forward to continue posting about my travels, hikes, and random musings. This is post number one hundred and fifty four. To celebrate passing the 150 mark, I decided to purchase a domain address for Homers Travels. You can now reach the blog at homerstravels.com - a much easier address to remember (The old address, valevue.blogspot.com, still works). I hope you are enjoying reading Homer's Travels and I hope to improve my posting as time goes on.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Hiking Ventura County #12: Tar Creek Trail

On Saturday I did my 12th hike of the year - the Tar Creek Trail. The trail is north of Fillmore. You take Goodenough Road until it dead ends and then follow an oil rig service road up into the hills. The road is more potholes then asphalt and, as the road winds up into the mountains, becoming narrower and narrower, the asphalt just gives up and the road turns to dirt. Weather was overcast and foggy and as the road went up the visibility went down.

I stopped at the "Oak Flat" Cache on the way to the trailhead. A simple roadside cache that, if it weren't foggy, would have some great views of the canyons and mountains.

After the cache I continued up the road and further into the pea soup. The road was narrow - one lane - with a sharp rocky rise on one side and a sharp, plummet to you death cliff on the other so I was hoping, wishing, and praying that I wouldn't meet oncoming traffic. The road showed lots of evidence of falling rocks - piles of scree along the side of the road and bulldozer tracks. I was lucky and made it to the trailhead without incident.

There were three other cars at the trailhead. There were two paths leaving the parking area. I wasn't sure which way to go as there were no signs pointing the way. I headed for the road to the right which, after a short distance, ended in what looked like a campsite strewn with shell and shotgun casings. Wrong path. I went around the to the other path (more a road then a path actually) and headed down.

Tar Creek trail is a down-up there-n-back trail. The trail winds down the hillsides ending at Tar Creek. The elevation change is about 700 ft. I was not sure I was on the right trail until I reached a clearing where the road ended and a narrower foot trail started. This matched a description of the hike that I had and I found a lot more confident going on. A hiker I met later on the trail explained that the clearing was where Condor Researchers and Conservationists camped out after they released the
California Condors into the wild and monitored their progress.

The trail down was interesting but visibility was only about 20-30 feet. I was hoping the the fog would burn off by the time I got to the creek so I could enjoy the views on the way back to the trailhead. I paced my walk pretty good this hike. I was careful not to walk too fast. The trail showed signs of fire damage - a lot of burned out trees. The vegetation was coming back strong so the fire was probably a while ago. I'm not sure if the Day Fire affected this area or not.

When I arrived at the creek, my GPS said about 2.2 miles and I felt pretty good. The creek was low due to the lack of rain but there was still water running and pools. The creek bed was wide and filled with a variety of rocks from beach sand up to big boulders. I decided to walk down the creek for a bit. Then I heard voices and a father and son arrived at the creek. I said hello and he explained that he was moving his family to Tennessee and he wanted to show his son all the places he enjoyed before they moved. The father knew a lot about the trails in the area. He said that there were some falls further down the creek so I followed them down the creek another 1/2 mile to the falls.

The falls were really cool. There were four tiers ending a a large reed lined pool. Most of the rocks in the area were sedimentary rocks and you could see the layers of sediment deposit. Harder stones could be seen embedded in the softer sandstone. The water erosion created fascinating textures. I decided to wait here a few minutes to see if the sun would come out. I laid down on the cool stone and used my jacket as a pillow and just chilled by the bottom falls. I ate a protein bar that I had packed in my fanny pack while I listened to the falling water. After awhile, the mist started getting heavier and I decided that it was not going to get much clearer. I got up and started taking pictures. I surprised a frog who jumped into the water. I watched a turtle stick it's head above the green water before diving down and hiding along the algae covered bottom.

I decided it was time to go so I headed back up the creek bed. The father and son had already left ahead of me which was fine. I started up the trail and, once again, carefully paced myself. The fog was lifting and I was able to see the canyons and mountains though as I got closer to the trailhead I walked back into the fog layer. I eventually caught up with father and son. I seemed to be in better shape than the father but the son, 8-10 years old I would guess, was still full of the energy of youth. I told the father of my plan to do a hike a week for the next year or so. He suggested I do the Sespe. Tar Creek feeds into the Sespe and the pools and falls are even more impressive then the one we had just visited. Maybe someday.

We got back to the trailhead and said our goodbyes. The total hike to the falls was 5.29 miles. I was tired but I felt pretty good. I drove back into Fillmore and had some lunch. As I got out of my car, my legs screamed - They are going to be sore for a day or two.

I enjoyed this one. I wish the sky had been clear but then I would have complained about being too hot. Pictures can be found here.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Past Vacations #15: Hawaii 2004

I decided that "Installment #X" was a little dreary so I am renaming this series to Past Vacations. It just took me 14 posts to figure this out. Oh well.

Our fourteenth vacation as a married couple was to Hawaii. I had been there several times as part of my job. My visits were limited to Oahu (Pearl Harbor to be exact) so I was hoping to use this vacation to broaden the experience a bit. We flew out on a Friday afternoon after work. This turned out to be perfect in that we arrived in Honolulu just in time to go to bed. I think this helped us adjust to the time change.

We were met at the airport by one of the wife's cousins who lived in Honolulu at the time. After getting lei-ed at the airport we rented a car and drove to our hotel. The hotel was an interesting place - the Hale Koa. The Hale Koa is exclusive for military, retired military, DOD, and retired DOD. It is located next to the Hilton, home of Don Ho, and is right on prime beach real estate. The hotel has a couple pools, a commissary, and a couple good restaurants - all for just over $100 a night. That's a good deal for where the hotel is located and the amenities. I was pleasantly surprised.

The next day we slept in before heading over to the 'Iolani Palace to take a tour. Afterwards we had lunch with the wife's cousin. After a nice lunch the women decided to go chat at the cousin's place. Not that interested in doing this, I optioned to do one of the geocaches that I had prepared for just such an occasion as this. I headed for the "Strangled Palm" cache. The cache was supposed to be located in an interesting area that offered a view of Honolulu. The map I had was pretty good - only a few wrong turns - and followed it up a winding road up to Pu'u 'Ualaka'a Park (I have always thought that the Hawaiians were guilty of vowel abuse and that if you combined Hawaiian and Polish you'd actually get a complete alphabet). All I can say about the view is - OH MY GOD! Spectacular. On the far left was Diamondhead and on the far right you could see Pearl Harbor. In between you could see a panorama of Waikiki, the punchbowl, and the rest on Honolulu. Truly awesome. Unfortunately it was fairly crowded and I couldn't figure out how to get to the cache without someone getting suspicious. I looked around and thought I saw a possible trail but a walker was heading down it with her dogs and I didn't think I could look for it without being seen so I headed back to the hotel to meet up with the wife.

The next day we met up with the cousin, ate breakfast together, before heading up to Diamondhead. The short walk up the trail was worth it as the views from atop the extinct volcano crater are pretty cool. The waters, as seen from the top of Diamondhead, were beautiful.

After hearing about my geocaching strike out the previous day and after hearing about the great views, from Pu'u 'Ualaka'a Park, we decided to take another crack at the geocache and give the wife and cousin a chance to see the views. We get up there and I made my way into the bushes. My GPS was jumping all over the place and I couldn't pin it down. I was about to give up again when I noticed a crowd gathering on the grass near where I was - they were holding Mass!!! I couldn't walk out of the brush with a whole crowd watching so I headed further down the hill and lo and behold, I came across a trail. Soon afterward I found the cache at the base of a palm tree. I followed the trail around and sure enough it curved back around to the parking lot to where I had seen the walker and her dogs the day before. The wife and her cousin were peeing themselves expecting me to continue hiding in the bushes until the end of mass.

We ended our second day with some time on the beach, lounging by the pool, and walking through the international market. We stopped for lunch at Duke's where the wife ran into one of her students from Omaha - The wife has a knack of running into people she knows or people from places that she's lived wherever we go.

The next day we drove around the Oahu heading to the north shore. We stopped at the Pali Lookout to soak in the emerald green vistas. We visited the Byodo-In Buddhist Temple with it's 9 ft Buddha and 3 ton brass Peace Bell. We continued on to the Polynesian Cultural Center where we met up with the cousin. We enjoyed the Polynesian exhibits even though it was as hot as hades and the sun was beating down. We were able to find shade and cool drinks. After the shows we headed up further up the coast before heading back to Honolulu.

Our last day in Oahu was a busy one. We visited the Punchbowl and Queen Emma's Summer Palace before heading for Pearl Harbor and the Arizona Memorial. I am amazed at the festering hostility still surrounding Pearl Harbor. Once, when I was working in Pearl, I heard of a worker that had been approached by a Japanese tourist who asked in broken English: "Where was the Arizona?" The guy replied "Right where you left it the last time you were here." Memories run deep and feelings run deeper. The memorial does stir feelings. Standing on the memorial, looking into the water, watching the oil slowly bubble to the surface, you can't help to be moved by all the souls still entombed in the derelict battleship below. A very somber moment indeed.

We left Pearl and drove to the airport. We were catching an early evening flight to the big island of Hawaii. As I was waiting for our flight I reviewed the map of the big island. We were flying into Hilo but spending the night in Kona. My intention was to drive straight across on the island on highway 200 but, I changed my mind when the map said that four wheel drive was recommended for certain stretches of the road. What made it worse was that it was going to be dark most of the drive. We arrived in Hilo and decided to drive the north side of the island on highway 19. I think this was a better decision. The drive took about two hours. On the way we turned on the radio an came across a radio station from San Diego (!! Ducting!!). Since it was late at night the show was an interview with some wacko who thinks that Yellowstone National park is going to blow up and the west coast of the United States was going to sink into the Pacific Ocean.

We arrived in Kona and checked into our hotel. The hotel was nice enough but it was showing its age. The room needed some updating but it served its purpose - we were there for Hawaii, not the hotel room.

The next day we had two activities planned - a submarine ride off the coast and a Helicopter tour of the island including the volcanoes. The submarine was in the morning. It was a little cheesy but it served its purpose. We got to see the sea life off the coast of the island. Someday I'll have to learn how to scuba dive since the submarine didn't quite give you that amongst-the-fishys feel.

After being submerged in the morning we drove north to a hotel where we would be picked up by the Sunshine Helicopter people. We booked the longer 1 hour tour which turned out to be a little too long. The helicopter flew over the volcanoes giving us our only view of molten lava on the trip and took us around the island. We saw a lot that we couldn't have seen from the car. While the trip was a little too long and we did feel a little too dipped and twirled, it was worth it.

Back on the ground, we drove back to Hilo and continued on to Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. Our hotel was the Kilauea Military Camp. Like the Hale Koa on Oahu, this resort, the only one inside the park, is exclusively for the military and DOD employees. We were a little concerned ... the name sounded a little spartan. Boy, were we surprised. Our cabin was absolutely gorgeous. Stone fireplace, hot tub - in the room - and very roomy. The room could be divided by sliding pocket doors. There was a microwave and fridge in the room. There was a commissary for all your grocery needs and a restaurant. And, since it was in the park, the location could not be beat.

We got up the next day, had some breakfast and toured the park. Unfortunately there was not exposed lava at the time of our visit but it was still cool. We drove down to where an earlier lava flow had closed the road. I walked the half mile or so and climbed up on the lava and took some pictures.

It was still early so we drove into Hilo and had some lunch. We decide to visit Akaka Falls State Park located north of the city. The park land is beautiful. The plant life is lush and once you enter you can imagine yourself in a prehistoric jungle. The falls are spectacular in their own way. We wandered around the park and returned to the car where I promptly realized that the car keys were sitting on the driver's seat. D'OH!! We borrowed a cell phone and called the rental car agency. About an hour or so later the agency person showed up with an extra key. I was really disgusted with myself. We went back to our cabin and enjoyed a soak in the hot tub.

Our last day in Hawaii we visited the Punalu'u Black Sand Beach and we drove to the southern most tip of the United States. I had seen black sand beaches before so it wasn't that special for me. The drive to the southern most tip was interesting in that it took you through rural roads. People were fishing there and the water was a beautiful turquoise blue.

On the way back to Hilo we stopped to do a geocache. "Lava Trees" cache is located in the Lava Trees State Monument. The park is neat and it was a nice, low key, end to our vacation.

We returned to Hilo airport and returned home. I have to say, I had a great time on this vacation. If anything, it was too short. We packed a lot into this one short week. At the same time it was not rushed - we had planned this vacation very well. We will have to go back to Hawaii sometime as I would like to visit one of the other islands such as Maui or Kauai. Pictures are here.

P.S. One lesson learned here. We decided to try to pack everything into one bag. This seemed like a good idea until we were charged extra for the excessive weight of the bag. We managed to get the fee waived for three of our four flights. Sometimes it's not worth trying to make things more convenient.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

NBVC Air Show 2007

This weekend (31 March - 1 April) was the Naval Base Ventura County (NBVC) air show - formerly known as the Point Mugu Air Show. The air show has been held almost every year and, after living here over 19 years, I finally got around to going.

On Saturday the wife and I headed over to NBVC - Pt. Mugu, a grueling 15 minute drive, and made our way to the parking lot. The traffic in was not as bad as I expected. I guess that a few people stayed home because of the final four tournament games on Saturday. As we entered the air show area, an A-10 was flying overhead. We walked through some of the "static displays," i.e. planes on the ground, including a couple of Russian MIGs. We stopped at a stand and bought a couple t-shirts before we found a good place to set up out folding chairs. The wife sat down to relax while I continued to walk around looking at the static displays while also taking pictures of the aerial acrobatics taking place above my head. I went over to the B-52 display. That is one large plane. After taking more pictures and checking out all the booths hawking everything from patches and pins to burgers and bratwurst, I picked up a couple of juicy cheeseburgers, a couple of bags of chips, and a couple of Diet Pepsis and sat down with the wife to have some lunch.

There were several aerobatic acts at the show. Everything from prop jobs and jets, single and biplanes. One interesting set was a small, one-seater jet, that ended with a low flight in front of an unexpected, exploding wall of fire that got the crowd really excited. In this picture, you can just make out the orange jet in front of wall of flame immediately above the pink and white umbrella. It isn't the best picture but I was surprised to get what I got.

After lunch and a few of the smaller acts, the big guns were brought out. First came the F-22 Raptor. All I can say is WOW! The F-22 is the latest and greatest in military aircraft. It took off and then turned its nose straight up - it looked like it pivoted in the air - and shot up. After breaking the sound barrier, and a few eardrums, it overflew the crowd several times. It's turns were so sharp that a cloud of vapor often formed of the surface of the wings obscuring the view of the plane. Totally awesome.

It was joined in the air by an F-18 Hornet. It too was impressive. The F-18 has been in service since 1978. The F-22 was first deployed in 2005. You could tell the difference watching these two planes. The F-22 was doing things that the F-18 only fantasized about doing. It was also unbelievable that 1978 technology was so impressive.

The last to take off and join the F-22 and F-18 was a a P-51 Mustang. While it seem a little pathetic next to the more modern jets, it was still cool. The three planes overflew the crowd in formation several times - I would guess the P-51 was going full bore and the two jets were throttled way back.

All three planes received a round of applause as they landed and taxied in.

This was going to be a hard act to follow but the Thunderbirds managed to do it nicely. They flew in several formations of two, four, five, and six planes. Some of the aerobatics appeared death defying and very well coordinated. An awesome show.

I took a total of 249 pictures. I was amazed that only about 10 or so turned out unusable. I've posted some of the best here. As you can see in the pictures, the weather was perfect for the show. The marine layer, a layer of fog that sometimes blows in off the ocean, dissipated in the sunlight before reaching the base. Quite a difference from last year when it was canceled due to bad weather. The only downside with the weather is that we are both have red faces since we didn't do a very good job with the sunscreen. My thighs and forearms are red as well. I have no excuse since we had sunscreen with us. I sprayed some on my legs but I'm sure I did it after the damage had been done.

After the Thunderbirds, everyone headed for the exits. What a fiasco. You would think the same organization that can coordinate the complex aerobatics could also direct traffic but you would be wrong. Our car moved about forty feet in about forty minutes. The Marine directing traffic didn't have a clue. At one point the wife went berserk and started unbuckling herself - she was going to give that Marine a piece of her mind. She didn't want to miss her basketball game. I grabbed her arm and managed to stop her but not before she reached over and honked the horn. Everyone else in line with us joined in. We eventually made it out of the parking lot, off the base, and made it home before the start of the game.

The day was finished off with a couple Tri-Tip sandwiches from Just Bar-B-Que (Yumm by the way). I very good day. We both enjoyed a leisurely sit in the sun watching the modern marvels of our military technology.