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Notes and Photos.

The character of Yosemite Valley reveals itself best when falling snow muffels all sounds but the wind in the pines, clouds seep through the crags, and water polishes the vertical granite as it plunges down to the Merced River in hurried rivulets. The snow wasn't as deep as I expected - it is early in the season - but in the open spaces there were several feet of it topped by a few inches of fresh powder and that was more than enough for happy snowshoeing. Our walk took all day and we were further delayed at Badger Pass until the road was made passable. Back at the cabin, complete with a hot tub and fireplace and sattelite tv, we sealed out the rain and prepared meal after meal in the well-appointed kitchen. On the way home we located an excellent coffee shop in Coarsegold and then veered off course to explore Road 246 and the lush grassy oak-filled, rock-strewn hills at the edge of the central valley plain. That terrain only lasts for about five miles but to me it seems the quintessential California landscape. There's rain in Los Angeles and people are panicking, probably because their cars are floating away and streams are eroding bits and pieces of half-million dollar real estate. Hopefully things will clear up for the Rose Parade saturday. Also there are many feet of new snow in the mountains so I and the new truck will have to go investigate later in the week.

    yosemite valley     Foresta sunset     Steve and Corey     snowshoeing     Joanna     sunlight through trees     Dewey Point     Misty valley     in the meadow     view to the East     Cherokee on the range     the quintessential dirt road     Joanna in the rain, flooded river

    by J. Lai     by J. Lai     by J. Lai     by J. Lai     by J. Lai     by J. Lai     by J. Lai     by J. Lai     by J. Lai     by J. Lai     by J. Lai     by J. Lai     by J. Lai     by J. Lai     by J. Lai     by J. Lai     by J. Lai     by J. Lai     by J. Lai     by J. Lai     by J. Lai     by J. Lai     by J. Lai     by J. Lai     by J. Lai     by J. Lai

    by C. Harmon     by C. Harmon     by C. Harmon     by C. Harmon     by C. Harmon     by C. Harmon     by C. Harmon     by C. Harmon     by C. Harmon     by C. Harmon     by C. Harmon     by C. Harmon     by C. Harmon     by C. Harmon     by C. Harmon     by C. Harmon     by C. Harmon     by C. Harmon     by C. Harmon     by C. Harmon     by C. Harmon

    round aquarium     aquarium wall

The aquarium is complete! Fifteen gallons of cold fresh water is home to four goldfish, to be increased to seven soon once the tank chemistry balances. I got a heater since the house gets down to the low 50s in the morning (we're too tough to need heat) but even on the lowest setting it cooks up to 23C or maybe more so I'll just use it on cold nights. The sales people at the pet store act like goldfish are boring but I'm quite content to keep them. Orange looks good in the tank and they're easier to care for; I don't really want to check the chemistry every day. It's been a bit of work and a lot of cash but it sure looks nice.

Originally the aquarium was planned for a wall between the kitchen and living room, but upon inspection of our lease I thought it best not to risk the deposit by "altering the structure" so I added a wall rather than remove and relocate studs to install the tank. Most aquariums are mundane boxes of water sitting on thirty inch high tables so one can't see much but the lid. A better way to keep fish would be a tank embedded in the wall and viewable from both sides, with tank utilities hidden from view, so I acquired acrylic and epoxy and scrap lumber and set out to build a tank. I wanted a circular tank; there are no corners in a lake and there should be none in an aquarium. Acrylic softens at 400 degrees F so I was able to slump sheets over a plywood mandrel in my kitchen oven, pressing them by hand while they cooled to prevent curling. I bonded them over several weeks, layer by layer, using a U-shaped wooden form. The innermost layer I painted pale blue on the outside so the epoxy bonded acrylic to paint (and dissolved some of the paint, though it looks ok still). I bonded the faces, sealed the joints, bolted on the support plates and brackets, then built a wall extending into the living room and installed electrical utilities for the pump, filter, heater, and light. The round cutouts are galvanzed steel; one side is permanently mounted to the wall and the other hangs on magnets so it can be removed to access the tank. The tank tilts out so I can just barely reach the bottom to arrange rocks and clean. I assembled a bubble tube and covered it with stones from Jalama Beach and shells from San Felipe. The tree root is an import from Massachusetts, where it was probably collected twenty-five years ago and put in a closet until I boxed it and flew it back with me. It's perfect for the tank. The aquatic grass completes the appearance which the goldfish appear excited about, at least in comparison with their crowded pet store tank. They're very mesmerising to watch.

There are about three feet of powder snow ten thousand feet high in the mountains here. The trees were covered in wind-shaped ice and snow and drifts and cornices were fluted with exquisite patterns. Wispy layers of snow swam across the mountaintop in the steady wind, making the surface look fuzzy and out of focus. I walked up the broken trail to the bowl, left the trail, and marched straight up the west side, passing a score of people in doing so. Some were toting snowboards to make single thirty-second runs of the steep snow slope and others were just out for a hike. Most of them stopped there, at the end of the broken trail, but I was intent on summiting. The sun had softened the re-freeze crust enough that I broke through knee deep with every step. Slogging onward, I veered left towards the west summit without paying attention to where I was going. By the time I realized it, I decided to make a traverse of both summits. The view from the west side is better. Three hikers followed me and broke off for the east summit. Four others had climbed the east side of the bowl and reached the summit before us. But other than that, the whole upper mountain was a desolate frozen trackless place. I reached the east summit at about the same time as the other three and we chatted for a minute in the howling wind, then headed down. San Gorgonio and San Jacinto to the east were covered in snow, and in the San Gabriels the snow line went down to about 6500 feet. There were pools of water in the desert. The slog down was great fun: two thousand feet of 45-degree snow slope often quite exposed. The snow was deep and soft though, and there wasn't much risk of avalanche or a tumbling fall. The trail got very slushy towardsthe bottom and at the base there was the usual crowd of snow hunters zooming around honking horns and sitting on their bumpers looking at the snow. It's reassuring to know you can go in past the traffic, past the walkers, past the big groups, higher and higher through unbroken snow to a frozen wild place. Back home, thirty miles away, it's 75 degrees and sunny.

    icy tree     you can't see the wind     windy mountaintop     the san gabriel snow line     Ensenada beach camp

    interesting rock formation     shadows and a tree     round rock     contemplating life     bandit in the hills     me in a stream channel     late canyon sun     our campsite     desert view     lost palms oasis     upper palms     mike silhouette -by J.Lai     falling meteor  -by J.Lai     descending the tower -by J.Lai     valley view -by J.Lai     our shadows -by J.Lai     climbing the buttress -by J.Lai     triple palms, lost palms -by J.Lai

In southern California, the palm tree is as much an icon of the region as is the Hollywood sign. Why then would one walk eight miles through parched desert under a hot cloudless sky just to see a cluster of palm trees? If you ask Joanna, she will say it's because Mike was fixated on the idea of finding the Lost Palms Oasis regardless of how far we would have to walk, how hot and sunny it was, and how soon we wanted to be home. The hike was quite nice, actually, despite being long - endless, really - and following the same route out as in. We could see the Salton Sea and the San Bernardino mountains in the distance as we climbed over ridges and followed dry stream channels up and down and up and then down into a gully that drained to the East. Eighty minutes in, we came to a boulder-strewn gulch with tall rustling fan palms looking just as an oasis should. There was no water but the channel obviously saw floods at some times of the year. I can only imagine what the night sky would look like gazing up through the palm fronds at the spectacular Joshua Tree stars. The previous night, before the moon rose, after our fire died down, we could see the hazy splash of the galaxy across the sky and thousands more stars across the hemisphere. The boulder piles of Indian Cove cropped the sky a little and also sheltered our campsite so the only sound was occasional owls and murmurs from other campers. Steaks and a bottle of wine and some pretty decent rice with vegetables topped off our appetites which, after lunch at the Spunky Monkey in the Morongo Valley (I'd set out on a quest to find a sketchy hole-in-the-wall cafe for lunch), had been restored by a three-hour scramble towards a ridgetop tree that we lost sight of when we got close. The rocks at Indian Cove are superior for scrambling and getting into situations where life and knee ligaments are both threatened. But we survived, and I found my oasis. I still haven't decided if it is truly a beautiful place or if it's just the anticipation built by the long walk in or the thoughts of starry nights under rustling palms that make it seem so.

    hilltop     beverage break     tamales and burritos     me and jeff     start of the ride     joanna by the sea     hilltop     beach view     long hill     near the hilltop     the sag wagon

Saturday Jeff and Joanna and I cycled the 50 miles between Rosarito and Ensenada, with about nine thousand other people. After the pack got moving it wasn't crowded at all, partly because of our slip to the back after occasional stops for tacos, beer, burritos, tamales, water, and search and retrieval of wayward components of our trio. Northwest Baja is not a particularly inviting place in late summer. I'd previously been there in spring, when the hills are green and misty and the towns are uncrowded and seem a little more removed from adjacent US cities. On the same land, it's surprising how different life can be on the two sides of the border. The fastest riders rolled across the finish a two and a quarter hours after the 10am start and we arrived after about six hours, with many people still behind us. Some folks really took a beating on the course, which was low near the coast for the first part, then climbed inland for several miles before turning back down to the coast ten miles above Ensenada. Aside from a little sunburn I'm unaffected a day later (somehow the legs aren't at all sore). The fiesta in Ensenada was loud, overwhelming a wedding party finishing up at the church across the street. I felt bad that the event took away all hope of a quiet reception in the courtyard for the newlyweds. The bride looked like she was seventeen. Our shuttle buses were parked behind the church and after making the rounds through food stands at the fiesta (the roadside tacos were far better) we returned to the lot and waited for the last stragglers to clamber onto the bus. One pair of seats stayed empty: a man died of a heart attack near hilltop mile 30, and his wife was being taken home by event organizers. About half-way through the ride, after dark, the light above the man's empty seat turned on mysteriously. It was the only one lit on the bus. Everyone was sleeping or waiting dumbly to get home and despite our patience, it was still very frustrating waiting at the border and navigating back into the Quallcomm Stadium parking lot just after a game had ended. Long day, much fun, something I'd do once every few years though it's held twice yearly.

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