Monday, April 13, 2015

Prologue - El Paso and Mesilla

The main purpose of going to El Paso was to participate in the ACA Big Bend Bike Tour.  Peter Saucerman and I decided to go a few days early to visit several national parks near El Paso - White Sands, Carlsbad and Guadalupe National Parks.

We felt we should see all the notable sights we can since when will we ever return to West Texas? Probably never.

It was a very wise decision.  We started our three day visit by touring Downtown El Paso and nearby neighborhoods.

We were blown-away by some of the cool things we saw in El Paso.  Some of the impressive places  were the new downtown AAA baseball stadium for the El Paso Chihuahuas, the Bhutanese architecture of the buildings on the campus of the University of Texas El Paso (UTEP), and some of the art-work and activities near/at the convention center.

We couldn't believe our ears when we heard the crashing of bowling pins coming out of the convention center. The national bowling championships were being held on temporary lanes erected in the convention center.  Now how cool and innovative is that?!!

There are separate blog posts for White Sands and Carlsbad Caverns.

To view the album of sights in and around El Paso and Mesilla, NM, click on " Prologue El Paso and Mesilla" below photo:

From Prologue - El Paso and Mesilla

White Sands National Monument

White Sands is located about 1 1/2 hours drive north of El Paso in SE New Mexico.

Over millions of years, rain and snow in the surrounding San Andres Mountains dissolved the gypsum from the rocks and carried it to the bottom of the Tularosa Basin.  The white gypsum and other minerals are trapped since there are no rivers draining the basin.

The White Sands National Monument is unique and is the only white sand desert in the world.

Walking on the glistening white wave-like dunes is a surreal experience.  It feels like we're walking on snow but in 75-80 degree weather.

Peter and I spent a the last part of the day on the dunes catching the golden glow of the sun setting over the white sands.  It was peaceful and zen-like experience.

To view the album, click on "White Sands National Monument" below photo:

From White Sands National Monument

Carlsbad Caverns

On our last day in El Paso, we took a 2 1/2 hour drive to see Carlsbad Caverns and Guadalupe Mountain National Parks.

The journey underground was quite amazing.  We took the 1 mile trail from the natural cave opening and descended more than 750' to the Big Room.

The Cavern is an incomparable realm of gigantic subterranean chambers, fantastic formations and extraordinary features.

To view the album, click on "Carlsbad Caverns" below photo:

From Carlsbad Caverns

Friday, April 10, 2015

ACA Big Bend Bike Tour

The ACA Tour of Big Bend is a van supported tour of West Texas and completes a big 385 mile loop beginning and ending in Fort Davis.

Overnight destinations are Marathon, Stillwell RV Park, Rio Grande Village RV Park, Chisos Basin Campground, Lajitas, Presidio, and Marfa.

Rio Grande RV Park and Chisos Basin Campground are located within Big Bend National Park.

In a word, the tour was SPECTACULAR!  What made the tour special this year is the finest wildflower bloom in over 29 years.

According to a ranger at Big Bend, the park hasn't seen this much winter rain since 1986 and as a result the high desert plains were ablaze with color.

Tucked away in the corner of West Texas on the Mexico border, lies Big Bend National Park, one of the least visited national parks in the country.  Annual visitation is around 300-350,000 persons/year, lower even than Lassen National Park.

The main attraction of the park is the Chisos Mountains, a jagged ring of mountains encircling Chisos Basin which lies in a caldera-like bowl in the center of the mountain range.

Located at the west edge of the ring of mountains, is a large V-notch opening called the"Window" which offers a commanding view of Mexico.  The sunset view of Mexico through the "Window" is breathtaking.

Equally stunning is the countryside of Big Bend State Park located due west of the national park.
The tour route followed Hwy 170, aka Farm Road, which parallels the meandering Rio Grande River and canyon.

 Farm Road is a roller-coaster ride with the infamous "Big Hill" with it's 15-18% grade for a brutal one-mile long climb.

The spectacular scenery of canyons, mesas, and brilliant wildflowers on Farm Road took the sting out of the climb.

I would give the ACA Tour a 10-10-10 rating for its scenery, route and support.  Our two tour leaders - Jerry Hughs and Greg Edwards - were top-notch and we couldn't have asked for better tour guides.

There were 11 cyclists from throughout the US and Canada.  What made the tour extra special was the camaraderie developed amongst the group over the 9 days of the tour.

To view the album, click on "ACA Big Bend Bike Tour" below the photo:

From ACA Big Bend Bike Tour

Monday, March 2, 2015

Death Valley Photo Workshop

Chuck Haney, a professional photo-journalist from Whitefish, MT, sponsored a photography workshop in Death Valley in the last week of February.

With all its geologic wonders and brilliant colors, Death Valley is a visual wonderland and an ideal venue for a photo workshop.

The bonus - February is the ideal time to visit the desert.

I've known Chuck for more than a dozen years, first meeting him on the Sonoma Coast where he was on assignment to do an article for Adventure Cycling Magazine about cycle-touring the CA Northern Coast.

I and a few cycling friends were the photo subjects of the article and one of Chuck's photos graced the cover of the magazine.

Over the years, I followed Chuck's career and admired his photographic skills.  On my "to do" list was to take a photo workshop from Chuck the next time he hosted one in CA.

The February workshop was the time and two fellow photo-enthusiasts from Sacramento - Peter Saucerman and Surjit Dhillon - signed up and took the long trek to DV to attend the 5 day workshop.

We joined four other photographers from the Mid-West and Southern California.

Over 5 days, we visited Scotty's Castle, Golden Canyon, Bad Water, Artist's Palette, Jubilee Pass, and  Mequite Flat Sand Dunes.  We had two sessions per day - at sunrise and late afternoon, and one night session.

To view the album, click on "Death Valley Photo Workshop" below the photo:

From Death Valley Photo Workshop

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Marin Headlands Hike

We escaped the gloom of overcast skies in the Big Valley to the beautiful sunny hills of the Marin Headlands for the February hike of the Sac County Hikers.

Twenty-six hikers (including our hike leader Rich Blackmarr's 7 month old grandson Weston who is visiting from VT) basked in the sunny blue skies of the Marin coast.

The 5 1/2 mile loop hike started at Rodeo Beach in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) and ascended the hills to a high-point of Hill 88, elevation 960'.

This loop trail offering panoramic views of the coast and SF skyline is one of the most popular hikes for day trippers.

The route took us past a number of historic bunkers and gun placements utilized during WWII to protect the entrance to SF Bay.  The GGNRA established in 1972 encompasses 80,000 acres of prime coastal land formerly used by the US Army into one of the largest urban parks in the US.

To view the album, click on "Marin Headlands Hike" below the photo:

From Marin Headlands Hike

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Fiske Peak Hike

At 2,868', Fiske is the third highest and northern most peak on the Blue Ridge in California's north coast range.

The 4.2 mile trail to the top is quite steep and switch-backs 2,300' to the summit.  The trailhead is located at a regional park about a mile north of the Cache Creek Bridge on Hwy 16 at the north end of Capay Valley.

The best time of year to tackle this hike is during the winter or early spring when the temperatures are cool and the hills green.  The Blue Ridge Range is very hot and dry during the summer months.

Joining me on today's hike were Dick Fraschetti, Frank Gerace, Stew Patrignani, Kathy Douglas, David and Kristina Vandershaf.  For early February, the weather was spectacular.

To view the album, click on "Fiske Peak Hike" below photo:

From Fiske Peak Hike