camping

Mammoth Weekend

Oh man, I went on the best camping trip last weekend. I can't believe all the amazing things we saw and did in under 48 hours. We left Friday night and headed back Sunday morning, but even in that short a time we covered a lot of ground: sunsets, sunrises, guns, hot spring and on and on. Every time I get away camping, I come back reinvigorated and new. I sometimes feel so overwhelmed by what I saw and experienced, when I return home I feel like my art seems so insignificant in comparison. As if there is something that draws me to be back out there and not at a desk painting. Then, that feeling goes away and I get back to work. 

Lately, I think I should have been a park ranger or professional road tripper. I think I could camp and be on the road most of the time. The textures, colors and smells are so much better than what I experience in San Jose. It isn't until you get out of town that you realize how the murky air quality is in the valley. Everything feels so big and magnificent on the open road.

The road to Mammoth Lakes

The road to Mammoth Lakes

The drive out to the Yosemite and Mammoth is actually really unpleasant. The central valley is hot, flat, dry and boring in my opinion. Once you get to about Oakdale, the landscape includes some hills and trees finally, but really doesn't get nice until you get to Yosemite, which we had to drive through to get to Mammoth. It's always beautiful there. The picture above is from the 395, past Yosemite.

School bus and cows

School bus and cows

The dirt road to our primitive backroad campsite was rocky and even had some potholes and bumps. Probably best navigated by a 4x4 and not the Honda Civic we were in, but we did ok. There was a school bus parked by the river and surrounded by cows. 

The view from the road on the way to our campsite was something else. The granite peaks are nearly as beautiful as Yosemite, but without all the crowds. I just missed shooting a pic of them lit pink by the setting sun. Still even the dusk colors and valley were really pretty. 

We stopped and caught this alien sunset. The elongated orb clouds looked like UFO's. 

On Saturday, our only full day, we drove to Convict Lake, where we had a whole beach to ourselves. The water was cold and the mountains were high. 

Later this day we drove to a makeshift shooting range and shot some of our friend's guns. It's a little scary for me since they are dangerous and I don't feel very experienced or that I have much control over them. Luckily, our friend knows a lot about them and it was super fun!

I almost skipped waking up at dawn to watch the sunrise from the hot spring, something we planned by the campfire the night before. A friend came by my tent to wake me up, but I declined at first. As I lay there looking at this I thought "What the hell am I doing?" and jumped out of the tent to head down to the hot spring. I walked alone and didn't know where it was, but had an idea. It was a little eerie. When I got to the spring, the others mentioned hearing a pack of coyotes when they woke up and on their walk down. So glad I didn't hear them! I may not have trekked down myself.

And yes, it was totally worth it. It was definitely the best natural hot spring I had been to. Only four of us made it down and we were rewarded with this. 

I'm a huge fan of watching the sunrise while camping and hiking. The colors of everything are completely different from the daytime. 

Friends weren't kidding when they said that Mono Lake is like the moon. It's a strange and still place. 

It reminded me a lot of the Salton Sea, another desolate and salty body of water. Mono Lake is a pretty fascinating place and you can read more about it here

And by the way, we never made it to Mammoth Lakes, just nearby. Next time I want to check those out and the Devil's Post Pile, an amazing rock formation in the area. I definitely want to go back next year. 

A Weekend in Tahoe National Forest

There's something about getting away from cell phone service, being under the tallest of tall trees and jumping into cold mountain waters that reinvigorates the soul like nothing else. This weekend, I went with some very good friends to camp in the Tahoe National Forest. 

Endless shades of green in  Tahoe National Forest . 

Endless shades of green in Tahoe National Forest

We basically talked about this trip loosely for a couple weeks, but we didn't even book a site until a week before. Our goal was to find some swimming holes and that's about it. We headed north on 5, then over to 80 east and finally up 49. The last time I had been camping in the area was when I backpacked to Island Lake near Grouse Ridge, which is a bit south of where we ended up. This time, we were camping between Downieville and Sierra City, two tiny towns in the mountains. If you ever head up this way, try to get all your supplies in advance. Both towns have stores, but I doubt they are open very late. 

Gurdy, being cool in the van.

Gurdy, being cool in the van.

Union Flat Campground, site 2

Union Flat Campground, site 2

Our campsite was rather cozy, but we didn't have any neighbors and basically had our own private bathrooms since there are only 11 sites at Union Flat Campground. We liked the green spiky plants growing around our site and could hear the river rushing by. There are a lot of campgrounds in the area, but we stayed here because it was reservable and we were arriving late.

North Yuba River

North Yuba River

This swimming hole was at the campsite. Bryan was brave enough to jump right into the river in the morning. The rest of us were leery of the gigantic trees shading the area, so we opted to swim later at a sunnier spot. 

Shannon and I watched.

Shannon and I watched.

We loaded up the van and headed up to find a spot closer to Sierra City that the ranger suggested for us. It was a bit of a downhill, but we scoped out a swimming hole that was just perfect.

Good times

Good times

As you can see above and below, it was the most perfect and beautiful spot. Not pictured is the waterfall to the left that you can only see when you are in the water. We all jumped off this spot and swam around for the day.

Pre-jump

Pre-jump

Log rides

Log rides

We had the place to ourselves for hours before a couple of nice families showed up. Then we headed back to make the best burgers ever with kale salad and sweet potatoes. Though we may have had some beer and wine this weekend, we kept the food tasty and healthy. If there's one thing I've learned camping this summer, it's to further simplify what you bring and what you cook. 

South Yuba River Bridge

South Yuba River Bridge

The last day, we head down to South Yuba River. Even at South Yuba River, a place fairly crowded with locals and visitors, you can find spots to yourself like we did here. Just head even a little further up or down river and you're good to go. It's super beautiful and there are natural slides into deep pools. You can see the trees aren't so tall and it's a bit more dry down here. It definitely makes for warmer waters to swim in, but of course, more people. 

South Yuba River

South Yuba River

South Yuba - check out that slide under the bridge!

South Yuba - check out that slide under the bridge!

The view from our tent. You can imagine all the stars we saw from here.

The view from our tent. You can imagine all the stars we saw from here.

Take me back already! Every time I head out to the woods, it makes me feel like I shouldn't leave. I get so much clarity. I even brought art supplies with me and didn't use any of them. Just spent time with good people and stared at nature. Ahhh...

Mid-Summer Work and Mid-Summer Play

It's been an interesting summer between work and this strong desire to venture out and camp or take a vacation. There's too much work to warrant a lengthy vacation, so I've gotten creative about enjoying this summer. I just went on my third one night camping trip and I have to say that it is so much better than not going at all! 

Mission Peak

Mission Peak

On July 12, a group of friends and I headed up to Fremont to hike Mission Peak. It's a hike I've done before, but not quite like this. We started at 6pm, so the skies were still blue and the sun was strong. As the evening moved on, we saw the fog roll in around the bay, city lights come on, the sunset on one side and the moonrise on the other side. A lot of other people had the same idea, so the trail was crowded, but it was a really magical experience with some good friends. 

Garden of Eden

Garden of Eden

The following week, I headed down to the Garden of Eden at the San Lorenzo River and to camp at Henry Cowell State Park with a couple of friends. As I said before, I've been spending done some one night camping trips this summer since I've been too busy to go longer. I have to recommend it! I did spend time sketching out ideas for new projects too. 

Sketching the Garden of Eden swimming hole at the Henry Cowell Campground

Sketching the Garden of Eden swimming hole at the Henry Cowell Campground

Henry Cowell overlook

Henry Cowell overlook

Camping at Henry Cowell is different from a lot of sites in the area. You are amongst oak rather than redwood trees. It's really beautiful and there's this overlook with a 360 degree view. Next time, I'm going to head up there to stargaze!

Pajaro Dunes rental

Pajaro Dunes rental

And finally last weekend, I went to Pajaro Dunes, a beach resort in Watsonville. It was so beautiful! I had work to do, so I tried to be very disciplined while I was out there. At least I had this great view!

First sketches

First sketches

I managed to get down to the beach to swim, bury Bryan and play with his nieces at the beach. It was such a blast! 

Back to work, I'm tracing over an early sketch on the window of the rental. Illustration work is much different from painting. It's much more of a planned process. 

...And back to the beach! We ate at Phil's Fish Market for dinner. Had a super bowl of cioppino. You have to eat here if you are in the area. You also have to head out back at sunset. Whales breached as the intense sky and iridescent water changed to every color imaginable. 

All in all, it's been a hard working summer, but these little breaks are needed to revive me!

2-Day Getaway: Point Reyes

Ahhhh! Taxes, art installation, deadlines, traffic school, finishing up teaching art classes...so many things to keep me busy these last few weeks. I finally had a chance to relax for a couple of days last week for a good friend's birthday.

As I sat on Caltrain, I found myself simply staring out the window quietly in a stupor after finishing all of the above. I noticed so many things I hadn't paid attention to before. I rode the train during the golden hour and into sunset. It was the best feeling I could have imagined.

Caltrain to camping. Why yes, there is a camp stove in that backpack.

Caltrain to camping. Why yes, there is a camp stove in that backpack.

I got off the train and there it was, the blood moon in all its glory floating above the industrial 22nd St. station. So far, so good. My friend Kelli picked me up from there and we were off to spend a couple of days in the North Bay. We didn't have much of a plan, except to stay at the Samuel P. Taylor campground, where we stayed for my birthday a few years ago. We were going to hike the Alamere Falls Trail, which I wrote about here and here, but we missed our turn so we just headed further north.

Blood moon rising in San Francisco

Blood moon rising in San Francisco

The wildflowers were out of control everywhere and there was not a cloud in the sky. We passed endless ranches and farms. Living in the crowded South Bay really makes you appreciate the North Bay and all the wide-open space. We did the following hikes:

All of these treks were great. They varied in length and difficulty, but all had incredible beach or ocean views. See the links above for more details.

Poppies for days

Poppies for days

McClure Beach trail

McClure Beach trail

The beaches here are definitely not good for swimming, but great for watching the waves.

The beaches here are definitely not good for swimming, but great for watching the waves.

We even saw a whale! 

We even saw a whale! 

A whale came out to wish Kelli a happy birthday! It swam back and forth in front of us while seals jumped in and out around it. Pretty magical!

Kelli on the beach

Kelli on the beach

I just love the Samuel P. Taylor campground. I stayed here about four years ago for my birthday. We got a really great site in the redwoods and watched the moon rise between the trees.

Birthday campfire

Birthday campfire

Full moon view from above the camp bathrooms

Full moon view from above the camp bathrooms

Morning view from the tent

Morning view from the tent

Kelli's post-birthday breakfast at the Pine Cone Diner

Kelli's post-birthday breakfast at the Pine Cone Diner

In the morning, we stopped at the Pine Cone Diner in Point Reyes Station on the way to the Tomales Point Trail. Amazing breakfast! We had a great meal. All the food was fresh and the coffee kept coming. We ordered mimosas from the menu, but the waitress said that they don't have them right now, but they do have a orange blossom mead made with honey from the beehive. It was so good! You can get it here. I love the North Bay, everything is homemade, homegrown and fresh.

Tomales Point Trail

Tomales Point Trail

Elk!

Elk!

Dusk at Stinson Beach on the way home

Dusk at Stinson Beach on the way home

Happy Earth Day!