Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Hike 2016.005 -- Joe Davies Heritage Airpark, Blackbird Airpark, and Saddleback Butte State Park, Palmdale, CA

I have as somewhat short attention span. A lot of the time, I'll read something, which will remind me of something, which will remind me of something else. In this case, I think I came across a story about this place in Houston, where they have a full-sized shuttle mock up, mounted on top of one of the actual 747s that they used to transport the space shuttle around the country.
So then I read that the other 747 shuttle transport was in not-too-far-away Palmdale, in a place called, Joe Davies Heritage Airpark. Well, you may recall that, a little less than 3 1/2 years ago, the space shuttle Endeavour was flown around the Los Angeles area, and is now on exhibit at the California Science Center, in south Los Angeles.
So now, having read that one of the shuttle carriers was in Palmdale? Road trip!

So I decided to combine the trip to Joe Davies with a short hike, to the top of Saddleback Butte. That way, it wouldn't just be a long drive for a short wander in a park. It was a long drive, followed by a short walk, then a short drive, followed by a modest hike, then another long drive. ;D
Probably about two dozen aircraft on exhibit at Joe Davies, plus three in the adjacent Blackbird Airpark. In addition to the shuttle carrier, there's a B-52, sitting right next to the 747. Nice to be able to put both in context of size.
The composite transport was also fun, just to tap, and feel that, yes, that's not metal.
Most planes on exhibit (possibly all of them) were developed by Lockheed's Skunk Works, and many were assembled at the nearby manufacturing plant. Nearly all were jets, from the 1960s on forward.
The F-14 (previous shot) was funny, because they had those little spokes on the top of the tail fins, to keep birds from alighting and pooping on the plane.
Across from the T-38 (previous shot) was an F-5 (not pictured), which is basically the same plane, except the T-38 was a trainer version, with two seats. There's also an F-4, directly beyond the T-38, and a lot of 100-series fighter jets, from 100 on to 105.
On the Blackbird Airpark section, there were only three jets: An SR-71, an A-12, and a U-2. There was also a small, unmanned drone.

The A-12 and SR-71 are, to my untrained eye, largely identical; the A-12 was an earlier version of the SR-71.
This shot, and the next one, are of the A-12. The previous one is of the SR-71.
After that, there's the two planes; the one on the left is the SR-71, and the one on the right is the A-12. There's also an A-12 on exhibit outside of the California Science Center, by the way.
These jets are just so sleek. Despite being 1960s technology (though probably the internal sensors were updated numerous times during their operational lives), these planes still look futuristic.
They've also been superseded by either newer planes or newer satellites, which is why these planes are now on static display, here. Meanwhile, to our north, modern aircraft still flew test flights.
From the Airparks, I headed, first east, then north a few blocks, to Avenue J. According to Google Maps, they're about 26 miles apart, and 37-40 minutes to drive on surface streets. So it's a bit of a drive, but not far, if you're already here, in the Antelope Valley. You can certainly both in a decent half-day. In fact, the drive seemed shorter than that. Don't expect to pass much in the way of retail options along the way, however.
Because I forgot my free State Park passes, I parked on 170th Street, which runs along the park's western boundary. That added a slight amount of distance. But the hike up to Saddleback Butte from the campground area is only 1.6 miles each way, so we're talking a total of less than 3.5 miles, roundtrip.
Nice hike because you get such a panoramic view. It's not very high, but it's higher than most that's around you.
San Gabriel Mountains are far to your south. The desert stretches around you. Some Joshua Tree. In the spring, sometimes, a lot of wildflowers.
It's also got running water, flush toilets, and convenient camping. I've done a few nights of astronomy from out here, though not much, recently. For various reasons, I just haven't had as many dark sky nights the past year as I had in the past.

Earlier in the week, I had half a mind to turn this day into an overnight stay. But it was so cloudy during the day, I didn't even bother packing my telescopes.
It's short, and not very steep to the summit, at least not until after the saddle. And, even then, it's just a short 1/8th of a mile or so from there to the summit. A little bit of care is necessary to pick your way to the top. By the time I got there, the broken clouds had turned to gusty and dark. I enjoyed my view, then returned the way I came.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Hike 2016.004B -- Huntington Library and Gardens, San Marino, CA

Hiked Monday, January 18. Spent a lazy day at home with my wife. But you can only watch so much Netflix. So, finally, late afternoon, I decided we needed to go for a walk. A nice, easy walk, but something to get us on our feet for a little while. And since we've got a Huntington Library and Gardens membership that she doesn't get to use very often, here's where we went.
Having just gone to Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Garden the day before (still not blogged--I'll stick a link in here, after I've blogged it), I was not expecting much to be in bloom here, either. That's part of why I shot the brown seed pod; I thought the theme was going to be, "Winter." Yet, as we made our way to the Chinese Garden, I was surprised by the sight of cherry blossoms. What? In mid-January? Yep.

What an odd bit of weather we've been having. A few weeks ago, we had a stretch of days when the highs were in the 50s or maybe the lowest of low 60s, and the lows were down in the 40s. Naturally, by the way, that was when my furnace was dead. I spent several nights waking up to general inside-the-house temperatures down at 58-60 degrees (but warmer in the bedroom, where I had a space heater).

Yeah, that sucked. But then, a string of days in the mid-70s. So, apparently, some of the trees there didn't need much chilling, and much of a stretch of warmer days, to decide that it was time to bloom.

Most of the plants are still in hibernation-mode, but those cherry trees were well on their way.

At the same time, the heavenly bamboo was a mixture of fall reds and spring light greens. As I said, weird.
Fruit blossom are often hard to photograph because their colors are usually pretty subtle. They're mostly just white, though I see the first tree I encountered was pinkish (looking sort of like peach blossoms, except I'm pretty sure the sign had them in the "prunus" family, so a cherry of some sort).

Both were of the double-blossom sort--instead of just five petals, they had ten or so. Double-density. Ornamental.
In addition to the cherry, there was also quince in bloom. They're always striking, and also usually an early bloomer.

Somewhere along the way, I passed some daffodil, as well.
The was also a section with numerous "bonsai forests" -- on trays, collections of small "trees." They were fully in hibernation, and presented very wintery appearances.
The water features of the Chinese garden make it an easy place to spend time. It can be very peaceful. There are also often waterfowl visiting. Canada geese and mallard ducks are both common.
Plenty of very large koi in the water, as well. So you can add that to the bridges, the trees, the blooming flowers, etc. Lots of things to attract your attention. It's probably one of the more popular sections of the gardens, even among non-Chinese.
So probably half the time at the garden (out of a stay of maybe 90 minutes) was just wandering around a very small area, taking pictures of and around the water features.

I had a ball, shooting the area, then reviewing my shots, after the fact. I was happy that, despite my many trips here before, I managed to capture something different.

People might wonder, "How can you enjoy something when you're always looking through your camera?" It may take me out of the moment. It may cause my actual memories of a place to be replaced by my photos of the place. Could be.
For me, I like taking pictures because it's about picking out the moment--focusing on the small things, or the fleeting things, and trying to capture a feeling or a representation of one particular moment.
I do know that when I feel like I have succeeded, like, "Yeah, that's it," perfectly-timed, catching something as it happened, where two seconds earlier or later, or ten feet to the left or right, and the moment would have passed, unnoticed. But I *was* there, at just the right time, in all the history of the universe, and all of human existence, I got something.
Yeah, that sounds pompous. I don't mean it to be. In fact, it's not supposed to be about me, at all. It's supposed to be about the moment: The moment when the colors mesh just right, or the shadows and light create an aesthetic pattern, when a couple pauses at the bottom of the stairs for a moment, or the seemingly-hyperactive child stops for just a few seconds and appears lost in contemplation, even if only for a few seconds. And, so, there's that moment, that never happened before and never will happen again, that no one else will ever be able to experience directly, but they can still experience that moment, second hand.
Anyway, that's how I feel when I'm walking around a place like this, and shooting literally hundreds of frames, trying to capture little moments that tell little stories, or fleeting emotions, or interesting colors and patterns.
So, on that afternoon, it was a short bit of walking. Not much of a hike, by itself. But nice to stretch my legs. Nice to be able to experience a little slice of time in San Marino. And, undoubtedly, a place I'll visit, again.
This year seems to be unfolding as a different sort of hiking year. Well, I still intend to do some "real" hikes. But a lot of my time recently (and possibly during at least part of the coming year) is walking around these very highly modified parks: Here, at the Huntington. Further east on Huntington Drive, at the Los Angeles County Arboretum. Descanso Gardens, in La Canada. Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Gardens. Those are the places I've already been to, this year, and it's only a little over a month old.
I also plan to visit South Coast Botanical Gardens. Probably go back to the so-called "Springs Preserve," in Las Vegas. Probably keep looking for other places that my Arboretum membership will let me visit for free. Just spending some tie enjoying a different sort of walk in the park.
Still having trouble setting time aside for my blogging. Still much to catch up for on last year, never mind the three or four I'm behind this year, too.
Next week, I'm hoping to make it out to Death Valley, so maybe a few hikes from out that way, next week. Probably heading out there again, in April. Probably Mojave Preserve, in May. Probably Red Rock and Lake Mead, a few more times this winter and spring. So it won't all be these manicured gardens. Just some, as a different sort of experience, for me.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Hike 2016.003 -- Rubio Canyon and Echo Mountain

Hiked Saturday, January 16. 5 miles. Wandering route, today. I started from the lower Rubio Canyon access, near the "corner" of Loma Alta Drive and Rubio Canyon Road. I parked on nearby Rubio Crest Drive and walked the 1/10th of a mile or so east, to the access. Headed up canyon, past the old and decaying cabin.
Actually, I don't know if the cabin is actually old. Given its continual decay, I'm assuming it's got no significant historical value, or they'd have stabilized it, by now.

There are various home security and no trespassing signs along the road, but the road itself is a public right of way (no parking on this road, though).
Go past a variety of water supply facilities on both sides of the path, then descend to the wash floor. A trail does head up to the right. Ignore that path, today. Instead, cross over the center of the (usually) dry waterway and head up the path that climbs the opposite bank. This path can be steep in parts. It soon joins the "regular" Rubio Canyon Trail, which starts adjacent to the corner of Rubio Vista Road and Pleasant Ridge Drive. But my way adds a bit of extra distance, which is nice, because the trail itself is pretty short; from the "regular" access point, it's less than a mile to the lower falls (Moss Grotto and Ribbon Rock Falls).

The best overview of Rubio Canyon, in general, that I am aware of is here, on Hiker Dan's hiking page.
I hiked to those lower falls, to see if any water was making it down the falls. None was. So I returned to the foundation of the old pavilion where the incline train headed from Altadena up to Echo Mountain. I followed a trail ("the Incline Trail") about halfway up that incline, at which point a trail veers to the north. ("the Middle Old Echo Mountain Trail").

Staying on that trail would eventually take you up the north side of Echo Mountain ("the Chalet Trail"). However, there are numerous use trails that veer off from it (and the trial itself is not especially obvious). I took one of those detours to a rocky outcropping that overlooks Rubio Canyon, including a reasonably close peek at where Leontine Falls would be, if water were flowing. In fact, I could hear the sound of trickling water, but, could not see any falling water.
After my peek, I headed back to the Chalet Trail, and made my way to the top of Echo Mountain. The clouds that had been around for most of the day were starting to break up, just a little. Nice, dramatic views of the peaks above Rubio Canyon.
Once at the top, I snapped a number of pictures. As is typical on a weekend, the "peak" was quite crowded. It's not really much of a "peak," but it is neat, with all the foundations and remains of the old "White City," which was once a mountain resort, in the hills above Altadena.

Lots of separate groups, enjoying the outdoors. Only one group, which I later caught up to, but which I had heard several times from quite far away, was being obnoxiously loud.

I started down the Sam Merrill Trail, the one most folks take up here, which starts at the north end of Lake Avenue, in Altadena.
Almost as soon as I started down, I was back within earshot of the loud people. "Earshot" means, basically, on the same side of the mountains, because they were really loud. I hate people like that. Music playing, shouting, screaming. Rude.
At about the halfway point (where the trail passes under the power line towers), I diverted off the Sam Merrill and on to the "Old Lower Echo Mountain Trail." All of these names, by the way, are from the little maps put together by the Arroyos and Foothills Conservancy. I don't think their maps on available on line, but they are often in a little "mailbox" at the "regular" Rubio Canyon trailhead, which is north of 1342 Rubio Vista Road, in Altadena.
This trail is steep, though not nearly as steep as the Incline Trail. After probably 3/4 of a mile, it joins with the Rubio Canyon Trail. I headed a bit upcanyon after I met that trail, to take the Lower Rubio Canyon Trail, which heads to where the canyon runs into Rubio Canyon Road. Walked from there back to my car. I'm calling it five miles, though it's possible it was more. Decent distance, anyway, and a chance to see if the water had returned to Rubio Canyon. It hadn't, so I'll have to return again after (hopefully) several more significant storms have made their way through southern California.

It's a slow start to El NiƱo.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Hike 2016.001 -- Railroad Trail, Lake Mead National Recreation Area, NV

Hiked Saturday, January 2. 10 miles. The Historic Railroad Trail follows the bed of, yes, the historic railroad tracks that brought much of the materials necessary for Hoover Dam's construction down from Boulder City to the dam construction site.

It stars near the Alan Bible Visitor Center for Lake Mead National Recreation Area. To get there, take U.S. Highway 93 south from Las Vegas and Henderson. Currently, U.S. 93 is a divided, limited access highway ("freeway") until you are about to leave Henderson. Then it becomes a non-limited access highway.
It's not unusual once the freeway ends that you'll be stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic approaching and leaving Boulder City.

You'll eventually have to make a left to stay on U.S. 93. Once you've done that, the traffic usually picks up somewhat. Then you've got a long, long, long downhill grade towards Hoover Dam. After about 3.8 miles, the left turn lane for Alan Bible Visitor Center should be on your left.
You'll now be on Lakeshore Road. The turn to the Visitor Center will be on your right, about 1/10th of a mile down the road. There's also trail parking, another 1/10th of a mile past the Visitor Center. The latter is a very small parking area, so you may find it necessary to park up at the Visitor Center. Of course, if it's really crowded, the Visitor Center lot will also be full. If so, then I'm not sure what your options are.
From the Visitor Center, looking to the east, you'll see the railroad grade run from near the trail head parking, off into the distance, and along the side of a distant hill. You'll also see a tall hotel and casino behind that hill. That's the Railroad Pass Hotel and Casino. It used to be the Gold Strike. I mention this because there's a nearby trail to hot springs that goes by the name of, "Gold Strike." Never been to this one, and it sounds a little difficult to get to, so I'm not sure if I'll make that trip.
Once on the Historic Railroad trail, it's pretty hard to get lost. Just stay on the grade, and follow the occasional sign.

There's an unsigned but obvious trail from the railroad grade to the Casino, by the way. I assume it continues all the way up to the highway, but I did not check.
The trail passes through five tunnels. After exiting the fifth, you're at a small picnic area. On the day I hiked, the pit toilet there was locked.

Passing this area, you can see the two-lane road that comes down from U.S. 93 to Hoover Dam. Cars may be backed up on that road as you walk by.

Following this scene, there's a sign indicating either one mile to the Dam via the "Historic" grade, or a "shortcut" that goes more directly to the Dam. I'm not sure, but it did not seem all that much shorter. But, there you go.

The "shortcut" also approaches to within 1/2 mile of the access point for the O'Callaghan - Tillman Memorial Bridge. If you detour there and decide to walk across the bridge, it's about 1/3 of a mile from one side to the other.
Importantly, once on the other side, you will have no choice but to retrace your steps. You can not just continue over to the Arizona-side parking and cross back over Hoover Dam. That road is no longer a thru road.

So, once you've taken the 1/2 mile to the bridge, then the 1/3 of a mile over the bridge, then retraced your steps, you've added 1 2/3 of a mile to your hike, which is supposed to be a bit under four miles from the trailhead to the dam. Cross the dam and back, and you've added about 1/2 mile. So now, what was supposed to be a four-mile trip to the dam becomes, in actuality, about 10 miles, roundtrip, especially if you add the extra 1/4 mile or so roundtrip from the Visitor Center to the trailhead. On the other hand, I took the "shortcut" on the way to the dam.
Heh. No wonder I was so tired by the time I got back!

I was actually pretty tired by the time I got there, so ate some overpriced concessionaire food. $14 for a small chicken wrap and a small soda. I mean SMALL soda. Tasted good, though.
Incidentally, had you driven to the dam, parking is $10 in the structure on the NV side of the dam, and, I believe, on the surface lot on the AZ side nearest the dam. I think there are free parking lots further away on the AZ side, if you want to save some money.

There's a dam-specific visitor center on the NV side. I did not take the time to visit that place on this trip. Too tired, and been there before.
By the way, although your hike is entirely within Lake Meade National Recreation Area, if you parked at the Alan Bible Visitor Center or the Historic Railroad trail parking area, you did not need to pay an entry fee. So there's some additional money you get to keep in your pocket.
Because I crossed both the dam and the bridge, I got some pretty out-standing views of both.

You can't walk under the bridge, but, on the NV side of the Colorado River, below the dam, you can get pretty close.
From the bridge, cables get in your view of the dam, unfortu-nately. Still, it's a pretty amazing view. The Dam is over 700 feet above the river on the backside, while the bridge is about 900 feet above the river. The bridge is also advertised as being about 1500 feet south of the dam, which is interesting, because it's about 1300 feet long. So the bridge is almost as long as it is distant from the dam. Yes, it's an engineering marvel.
Forgot to mention that, at the dam, in addition to a cafe and a visitor center, there's also a gift shop and a lot of flush restrooms. There were also vault toilets at the parking area near the start of the O'Callaghan - Tillman Memorial Bridge parking area, and a porta-potty near the small parking/waiting area for where the Historic Railroad trail spurs off to the bridge. That's in addition to the locked toilet near the picnic area, about 1/2 mile back from the turnoff, and the pit toilet at the other end of the trail, and flush toilets in the Alan Bible Visitor Center.
Also failed to mention that you've got some nice views of Lake Meade along the way. You'll also get a really dramatic view, both at the dam and along the way, of how far down the water in Lake Mead has dropped. It's now a LONG way down from the UPSTREAM side of the dam to the water, too!