Yosemite Day #3 was not the usual in any sense.

First off, we awoke to rain. That pretty much never happens. Afternoon thunderstorms, sure, but morning rain is unusual. We decided to hang in the lodge for awhile to see if it was going to clear. It did not. So Peter and I played more gin rummy.

(Wait, did I mention that in yesterday’s blog?! I taught Peter to play gin rummy last night and we are now off to the races! Grandma’s going to be besides herself… another card player in the family!)


After a set of three games, we decided to head out of the park and down to Mono Lake.

First up, the famed Tioga Pass Road. This was maybe the first time we’d driven it that Peter had an awareness for its exposure and feat of engineering. He was actually kind of nervous.

Will this bridge hold?


It held.

For a lot of the (about) eight miles, the road is carved right into a very steep cliff comprising nothing but gravel and what appear to be precariously perched boulders :


It looks a lot worse from a distance. Still, the parts that cling to the cliff make you wonder…

Got down, drove through Lee Vining, and parked at the Visitor’s Center. We had lunch on a bench overlooking Mono Lake. It’s cloudy over on the east side, too.


The exhibits at the Visitor’s Center were fascinating. Mono Lake, one of the oldest lakes in North America, and the basin in which it sits are unique for a number of reasons. 1. The basin is rife with volcanos (see photos/explanations below). 2. The lake has no outlet. Streams feed water into the lake, the water evaporates, and what’s left is water with a super high concentration of minerals. The water is very salty. 3. The volume of water in the lake is greatly reduced because at one point Los Angeles was allowed to divert water from streams that would have fed the lake and sustained healthy lake levels. Water policy and new regulations, starting in 1994, have begun to turn this around. 4. In the meantime, tufas–limestone towers–which generally grow underwater, are visible and line many of the now exposed shores (also see below).

A ranger pumped us full of rapidly fired facts and suggested a few places to visit.

Off we went.

This picture shows the level of the Great Basin when it was at its highest. The LV (Lee Vining) letters on the hill represent the high water mark. This is shot from Highway 395; the lake, currently, is well below that!


Then on to the so-called South Tufas. Here’s what the literature says about tufas:

The strange spires and knobs are formed when fresh water springs containing calcium bubble up through the carbonate-rich lake water. The combing of these waters forms calcium carbonate, a whitish limestone deposit that forms the basis of the tufa formations. Tufa is found in many alkaline lakes throughout the world. 

 Tufa towers grow exclusively underwater, and some grow to heights of over 30 feet. The reason visitors see so much tufa around Mono Lake today is because the lake level fell dramatically after water diversions began in 1941.

Here are a few pictures:

Peter’s tasting the salty water and checking out the lake’s critters: the lake supports no fish, but it does have gazillions of brine shrimp and alkali flies..


Here are closeups of the tufas…



It was one of the weirder things I’ve ever seen, geologically speaking. Perhaps one day they’ll all be under water again.

Down along the lake’s edge, one is surrounded by towers….


Then onto volcanos. There are lots, and the area has an impressive volcanic history. The Mono Craters–the youngest mountain range in North America, are just a bit south and east of 395. The Panum Crater, northern-most on this range, erupted only 640 years ago. We opted to go the plug route, into the center of the crater.


Walking up (and a view of Mono Lake in the background):


And walking in:


Here’s a spot up at the top; Jim’s looking toward Mono Lake:


Peter’s throwing rocks–pumice, obsidian, rhyolite… you know…


Another view, this one of the road in, from the other side on the way down:


The mountains on the left are part of the Mono Craters range.

Then we headed south to find the remnants of another volcano, the Devil’s Punch Bowl. On the way… a nice road shot:


And cool barn:


We tried to find the Devil’s Punch Bowl, but seemed lost. Here’s Jim trying to figure out where it is:


This could be it:


We gave up and headed back to Yosemite… back up Tioga Road and through the Tioga gate…

The rangers here are also nice:


And the views.. wonderful. Like coming home… this just inside the gate…


By the time we got back, the John Frames had arrived. They brought with them two bottles of celebration wine: This is their tenth year!  Happy to celebrate!

Hip Hip Mostly Hooray

July 30, 2015

Not to be too dramatic, but this was kind of a big day for me. It was the test-driving of my hip after seven months of sorta-rehab. The hike we took today was the first real exercise I’ve had since messing up my hip last January. I’ve not walked more than about a half mile (the distance to downtown Davis) in all this time and wasn’t really sure what a hike would do to me. I’ve been okay with the idea of forgoing serious hiking in Yosemite this year, but I’ve been hell-bent on ensuring that I can hike like a real person in Norway and Switzerland (next week!).

About all I can say is I hiked, my hip was fairly sore, but nothing really bad happened. I limited myself to a modest hike to Spillway Lake (and back). Jim and Peter went on to explore the Kuna Crest–Lakes Helen, Bingeman and Kuna. They did all that and got back to the car just 45 minutes after me… that’s how slowly I went on the way back down. Stopped a lot to stretch, too.

We’ll see….  I’m hopeful.

Here are the particulars:

Trailhead Elevation:  9,700 feet
Spillway Lake Elevation:  10,480 feet

Distance: 8 miles 
Elevation Gain:  800 feet 

Here are some pics from a very lovely first hike day…

The crossing here has been a lot more challenging in years past… the water’s very low:


There were a smattering of wild flowers left:


Remains from a miner’s cabin from long ago..


View across the meadow to Mammoth Peak (12,117′), the eastern-most of the peaks along the Kuna Crest (we climbed this about seven years ago):


The outflow from Spillway. This will flow into the Dana Fork of the Tuolumne River. The Kuna Crest is to the right, Parker Pass just off to the left, and Mono Pass to the left of that (through Mono Pass, you can see Mono Lake.. of course).


I just love this area. I am pretty sure this was our absolute first hike when we first came to Tuolumne Meadows in 2000 with Rick and Gigi (and Peter, just 2 years old, in a backpack they gave us). I remember tearing up because it was so beautiful along this particular stretch of trail. I remember the water was roaring at numerous points in the climb up to the lake and the wlld flowers were dense. Bigger water years, for sure.

Here is a picture Jim took of Peter and me up at Spillway Lake (the lake is behind Jim):


At this point, we’d seen only one other person, and that was just beyond the trailhead. Over the course of the whole day, I saw and spoke to about 4-5 people.

Jim divided the food since we were splitting up… here’s my half:


Then they took off for the crest and I ambled slowly back. The weather’s looking iffy, but they got in before any rain fell. They are headed around the end of Spillway, which is almost visible to the right, and then up the ridge, also on the right.


Here is a shot Jim took of Spillway from the crest.. and the arrow points to the rock where Peter and I were standing/sitting above. You can see Mono Lake in the distance.

spillway from atop

Here is another picture Jim took, this one of Peter at Bingeman Lake. That is Mammoth Peak off to the right!


They had a great day up there.


July 29, 2015

Year #16

Got a 10:00am start, usually the goal. Stopped for car food–me: Mishka’s; Jim: Starbucks iced tea; Peter: Subway.

Commute’s familiar, and great.

The always picture-worthy Highway 4:


Stops in Copperopolis and Groveland (PJ’s).  Moods are high.

This was new this year… see way down the list.. the Senior Pass!


Once you reach the grand old age of 62, you pay ONCE… $10… and FOREVER AFTER you are admitted into all National Parks (and lots of other official places) simply by showing your Senior Pass. 

senior pass

We are golden.

Here is the view driving into the Tuolumne Meadows Tent Cabins and Lodge…


And here is the welcoming committee:


She was gnawing on what looked like a twig on a boulder in the parking lot.

Checked in, settled into cabin #4, as per request. The cabin has four beds… one for each of us, and one for all our suitcases and clothes duffles. This is my quarters..



Cement floors, stained canvas sides, squeaky screen door… about 14 x 14′? There is a funky card table for stuff we need handy, a single sturdy plastic chair, never enough hooks to hang stuff on, a nice wood burning stove, and about three years ago, they added this goofy wooden shelf, which is where we put our makeshift charging station:


But we do love it.

We had some time to chill, breathe in the glorious pine-infused mountain air… and read a bit before dinner at 7:30:


Jim read (and, by the time we’d left, finished) All The Light We Cannot See. Peter was reading Richard Feyman’s Six Easy Pieces (“essentials of physics explained by its most brillliant teacher”), and I brought these:


Let the fun begin.

Seems Like Old Times

July 28, 2015

Look who’s almost, almost back in town!  Here’s Aqua:


And here she is with her pal, Lorilyn:


I just can’t tell you how nice it was sitting outside at Davis Commons on a 102 degree day slurping a Berry Bicycle and catching up. Sweet, sweet, sweet!

I could get used to this.

…. to hiking. And then more hiking. And then more hiking.

If my gimpy hip cooperates.

Giving it my all, trying to beat this inflamed arthritic flare thing into submission. Hoping that after six months of rehab work–following that series of unfortunate semi-athletic maneuvers last January–I’ll actually be able to log some trail miles on these upcoming trips we’ve got planned. Or not. I hear Yosemite and Norway and Switzerland are nice this time of year, whether hiking or kicking back and letting others do the hiking.

Here are a few shots taken a couple days ago by Scott the Kaiser PT. He actually had a good reason for taking them which had nothing to do with my blog. It’s all about proper alignment when you’re training muscles back to health; the pictures were his idea so I could check my position later and make sure I was doing things right.

You know.

This is a sort of swivel thing I do against a wall, or lying on the floor, or standing awkwardly at a bar. Goal is to engage the joint without stressing it. Keep things moving. Joints like circulation and light use.


I was demonstrating the various re-strengthening exercises and stretches I do. My strategy has been to gently manipulate the hip every which-way. I had a good one, I thought, for adductors and abductors, but he preferred these. He says doing these this way stabilizes the hips and focuses more productively on the target muscles.  Fair enough.

For the adds:


For the abs:


Looks a little instrument-of-torture-ish doesn’t it?

All for the cause.

I’ve got a million more exercises I do; I spend an inordinate amount of time on this. But only have these three photos to share. If you wanna see my list, just ask.

The big, giant, overall objective here in the world of osteoarthritis is to eliminate, as best you can, the inflammation that results from the irritation caused by age-related bone degeneration (and spurs and other random bone bits). This arthritic condition is likely present in many people of a certain age (especially with a genetic predisposition). Even mild bone degeneration (like I have) can lead to a low and chronic level of inflammation. We can probably live okay with that. But if you traumatize this poor vulnerable joint through some kind of over use (who would do that?) it gets more inflamed. The more inflamed, the less able is blood to flow. Whatever micro tears resulted from your weekend athletic forays, cannot heal because the joint got too inflamed and blood can’t get in and out. Everything just bunches up and stiffens for lack of blood supply. Lack of mobility due to inflammation and lack of blood flow are just terrible conditions for our soft tissue.

And if you don’t respect the pain (even if it’s kind of minor), if you don’t ease up, soften up, open up and address it, it just gets worse; it flares to a horrible, tender, unhappy mess. Feels like your muscle’s coming right off the bone. Inactivity and immobility exacerbate the problem. Then there are infinite ways in which our bodies compensate for the pain and discomfort–like a compromised gait, or poor posture, for example–causing even more stress to the joint and all the related muscles, ligaments, tendons, bands and bones, and it becomes a ridiculous domino effect. It is SO HARD to unravel all the damage caused by these compensatory responses to the original trauma .. it’s just insane. And frustrating.

Moral of the story: deal immediately with little pains and inflammation. Take it easy. Let stuff heal. Get body work, drink lots of water. Open that sucker up and let the blood flow. Maybe take some ibuprofen.

At least this is what I think is going on and what the solution is. It’s been a long six months of wrong turns.

This is what I’ve been doing to slow this down and turn it around and get back to my usual (apparently), relatively minor level of handlable arthritis… these are the things that seem to be working:

Physical therapy, strengthening, stretching (this Scott fellow and Hideshi)

Deep tissue body work (the incomparable Kellie)

Rolling and writhing (foam rollers, roller sticks, lacrosse balls)

Heat and/or ice (would somebody decide which it is, please?)

Mega doses of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (Ibuprofen and only for a few weeks at a time)

Rest (or at least significantly reduced activity)

I’ve done all this stuff, too, but the jury’s out on whether any of these work:

Cortisone shot (seemed good for a few days, then what happened?!)

Heat and/or ice (again… figure this out and let me know)

Chryotherapy (sublime, extraordinary, exhilarating… but really?)

TENS machine (a satisfying jolt of pulsing electricity, right to the point of pain and fatigue)

Kinesio tape (a la Hideshi)

High doses of Turmeric (in the pill form)

An anti-inflammatory diet (omega 3s, certain fruits and vegetables, but not others)

Anti-inflammatory creams (honestly, everyone’s got their favorite)

Gin and golden raisins (best of show in the crazy remedies category)

There are some things I haven’t tried (yet):

Acupuncture (curious, for sure)

Chiropractic (some like this)

Maybe more diet and supplement stuff (Adele?)

Glucosamine and chondroitin (Jim’s favorite)

Hip replacement (Kaiser’s recommendation)

What am I missing?

Sooooooo… leave in a couple days for high country hiking and climbing. Right. We’ll see. Then a few weeks of same in Norway and the Alps.

Wish us luck.

As I write this, I’m all relaxed and confident and waiting for Peter to arrive… fresh off his second backpacking trip in a week. A slight contrast to how I felt last week when he took off for his first ever no-adults trip.

(Occurs to me, I’ll only be able to say that for about another year, as this time next summer he’ll be an adult, as will most of his friends.)

What a difference a week makes, huh? Last week, it was his first solo trip and it seemed huge. This week, old hat. I could easily imagine them driving safely up to and home from the mountains. I could imagine them making their way up the trail, setting up their camp, preparing meals, problem solving, goofing off… and I was a lot less worried because he’d done it before and knew what to expect. So I figured, anyway.  Seemed a lot more of a known.  For whatever reason: less worry.

My biggest thrill in these trips is the certainty that the independence (and trust) is requiring him (and friends) to rise to all manner of occasions and situations. Sure they’re making lots of mistakes, and making lots of mental notes for the next time. You know, as we do. **

And having fun with his buds.

This trip included Peter, Solly and James–the baseball contingent, minus Ray who had another commitment at the last minute, and Daniel, who was a maybe but still immersed in the final moments of the Yolo Post 77 season. Three guys figuring it all out.

They went somewhere in the Desolation Wilderness–I believe they were planning on Loon Lake. A longer hike in and he was hoping for a lot more hiking around, and maybe up.

This time, instead of avoiding nasty storm cells, they had to choose their driving route carefully to avoid fires burning off both Highway 50 (near Kyburz) and Interstate 80 (near Dutch Flat).

So far, we know Peter forgot his two water bottles, his Kaiser card, long pants and a spare pair of shoes in the event his boots were not sufficiently broken in.

It’s not like I take pictures of absolutely everything.. really.  I just happen to have a couple of photos of Peter at REI a couple days ago trying some boots on for size/fit:


And on the granite rocks…


He opted for lower profile boots this time around. I’m hoping by now his foot size is settling in and scrambling for new boots each year is a thing of the past.

We shall see how it all went shortly.

**  Postscript: Here’s one of those good mistakes to learn from: matches. Always bring matches. Without them, fires don’t start as readily, stoves don’t get lit, food doesn’t get cooked (yum… raw hot dogs, raw ramen, and raw oatmeal in cold water). Try as he might, Peter wasn’t able to generate enough of a spark with the wire from a twisty tie and headlamp battery to ignite anything. Add that to the aforementioned lack of water (they did have iodine tablets for purifying lake water, but it was more of a hassle) and you’ve got two backpacking biggies. He did have moleskin for the blister that formed from his new boots.

Amy Movies

July 25, 2015

Have seen some great Amy movies this summer so far…..

The Amy Winehouse documentary. Saw it twice. They used actual videos from throughout her life. So impressively, artfully done.

Lots of her music. Gorgeous, moving, and of course tragic.


Amy Poehler voiced Joy in Inside Out. Charming and very clever.

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 26:  Amy Poehler arrives at the "A.C.O.D." - Los Angeles Premiere at the Landmark Theater on September 26, 2013 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage)

And, funniest movie in a long time, Trainwreck with Amy Schumer. I’d see it again in a heartbeat.


(And lest I get in trouble, I borrowed these from the Huffington Post and Rolling Stone.)

House of the Rising Son

July 24, 2015

So, this afternoon, Peter and I return from an REI bender–last acquisitions before leaving on a coupla trips–and walk into the house to find Jim playing a little guitar on a Friday afternoon…


He’s working out some groovy technique on an old Animals song. We sit down and listen. After a while, Peter says, Hey, lemme see that, I think it goes like this… 


And he starts playing the same song, but with a slightly different technique…


And it sounds great! He’s really getting good.

A rising guitar talent, that boy.

Yard Super Stars

July 23, 2015

We got this very nice letter the other day from the City of Davis’ Conservation Coordinator, Jennifer Gilbert, who thanked us for our water conserving efforts (at least as far as she observed in our front yard–don’t tell her we still have a lawn in the backyard), and congratulated us on being a conservation role model.

I’d like to thank the academy for this award; I’ve dreamed of this ever since I was in my early twenties. I would like to acknowledge everybody who encouraged and inspired me along the way–my husband, my UCD biology professor, the instructors in my UCSD wilderness course, the vendors at Farmers’ Market, Don at Redwood Barn, the arboretum people, Obama, and especially Frances, because everything we do, and all the awards we will ever receive, are because of her environmental passion, commitment, diligence, gentle and diplomatic prodding, great gardening tools, and super sunny disposition. I am humbled. 


Berryessa Fire

July 22, 2015

Earlier in the day, while working in the garden, the sky over our next-door neighbor’s house looked like this:


(That would be a sparkling, clean blue, with dotted, bleached white clouds scattered about.)

This evening, I came home about 6:00 and the sky over the same neighbor’s house looked like this: IMG_7575

Here’s another shot. It’d be pretty if you put aside the fact that hundreds–or maybe now thousands–of acres are burning west of Winters in the hills surrounding Lake Berryessa.

Here’s another shot over our house… our backyard birch tree the tallest in this bunch:


But then it got really neat… in a fire kind of way.

Driving north to Woodland on 113, looking east toward Sacramento, the smoke cloud was thick and its edge very discreet… you can see clear blue horizon in the distance. I shot a lot of these out the window on the passenger side.. here are two of the ones I liked the best:



Crazy, huh?

Driving home from a game at Clark Field later this evening, we could see ash swirling in front of our headlights, and at home, we found ash on the surfaces closest to the open windows.

As of now, over 4000 acres have burned and the fire is less than 5% contained.  Very bummed about this.