Category Archives: needs fixing

Calaveras Big Trees

As I mentioned in my previous post, there have been lots of metaphorically big events in my life lately. I’ll get around to posting more about them eventually. But now, I’m going to focus on some literally big things: giant sequoias.

Giant Sequoia

Giant Sequoia

A couple of months ago, we went with friends Monika and Derrick to Calaveras Big Trees State Park. The park lies about eighty miles east-northeast of Stockton in the Sierra Nevadas. The area has served as a tourist attraction for a surprisingly long time (although native peoples like the Miwok have, of course, known about the giant trees for a very long time). A white hunter named Augustus Dowd happened upon what is now known as the Discovery Tree in the spring of 1852, and people soon started looking for ways to make money from the behemoths. Some early schemes involved taking the trees to the people; the tree Dowd first saw was cut down and sections of its trunk and bark were shipped to New York (by way of San Francisco and Cape Horn) and put on display. Another tree was left standing but stripped completely of its bark. But once the Mammoth Grove Hotel was built nearby in 1861, the public began to travel to see the giants in their natural state.

Roots of a Fallen Tree

Roots of a Fallen Tree

There are two types of huge trees in California: the Coast Redwood (Sequoia sempervirens), which is the sort found in Redwood National Park and Muir Woods, and the giant sequoia (Sequoiadendron giganteum), which is found in the western Sierras. Redwoods are the tallest living trees, with the current record holder at 379 feet tall. But giant sequoias are the largest, with diameters up to 32 feet or more. Redwoods live up to 1,800 years or so, but the oldest living giant sequoias are more than 3,000 years old. When these elders of the forest first sprouted, the iron age was just getting under way in Eurasia, King Tut was relatively fresh in his grave, and the Olmec culture was flourishing in Mesoamerica.

Fallen Trunk

Fallen Trunk

“Big Trees” is a truly apt name for the park, and not just because it accurately describes the place’s draw. The name’s succinct simplicity is a reflection of the effect the giant sequoias have on the visitor. For the first few trees spotted, my mind was awash with florid language: colossal, gargantuan, Brobdingnagian; majestic, regal, magnificent; ancient, venerable, primordial. But, my mind seemed to regard these initial sightings as flukes. The more trees I encountered, the less I was able to comprehend the combination of sheer size and sheer numbers – to accept that this wasn’t just a few genetic freaks, but an entire population of giants. Pretty soon, my internal monologue was reduced to a troglodytic “Big. Trees.”

Pioneer Cabin Tree

Pioneer Cabin Tree

The park contains two clusters of giant sequoias. The North Grove is the more often visited group, and contains the trees that first drew tourists to the area. This section of the park is right off Highway 4 and has short, wide, and level trail that makes many trees very accessible. When we were there, it was packed – a parking lot full of cars and the almost constant presence of others along the path. The North Grove contains a hundred or so large trees, many with names like the Pioneer Cabin Tree, the Abraham Lincoln tree, the Father of the Forest, and the Siamese Twins. But the main concentration of trees – and the real draw of the park, as far as I’m concerned – lies an eight-mile drive away (three as the crow flies) in the South Grove.

A Quartet

A Quartet

The South Grove’s four-mile loop trail is pretty well developed, but is a far cry from the wheelchair-accessible North Grove path. This, along with its distance from the highway, keeps the South Grove much less busy. We only met a few people on the trail, and mostly were alone with the birds, small woodland mammals, and the trees. The South Grove has about a thousand large giant sequoias, and contains the park’s largest specimens. The experience of walking amongst the trees isn’t quite one of having been shrunk to the size of an ant. In a way it is more jarring, because the arboreal titans are interspersed with other species of “normal” trees and, of course, smaller immature sequoias.

Next to a Sequoia

Next to a Sequoia

We ended up spending quite a bit of time at the South Grove. Without the crush of crowds like at the North Grove, we were inclined to spend more time investigating and simply contemplating individual trees. We sat for awhile at the Agassiz Tree, which at almost 250 feet tall and 22 feet in diameter is the largest in the park. In addition to the hikes at the two groves, we stopped for a nice picnic lunch on the banks of the Stanislaus River. The trip as a whole was quite fun, and I look forward to seeing big trees elsewhere – especially the Coast Redwoods. I took quite a few pictures, mainly of the trees but also some of wildlife we happened upon. Click any of the photos above to see the whole gallery.

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Folklife 2010

Zydeco Fiddler

Zydeco Fiddler

Last weekend, I returned from Seattle, where I’d been working at the Northwest Folklife Festival. For the last eight years, I’ve worked as the festival’s Signage Coordinator (see posts from previous festivals here). The weather this year was pretty crappy – unseasonably cold and rainy, even for Seattle. But, I still managed to have a great time. Many of my coworkers have been at the festival for many years as well, so I was happy to get to hang out with many of them again. As always, most of my work takes place before and after the festival, and while the event is happening I have plenty of time to listen to music and take pictures. I’ve posted my best shots here; click on the photo above to see the whole gallery.

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Christmas Out West

Veronica and I just got back from a trip to visit my Mom out west. I flew to Nevada a few days before Christmas. My original flight was greatly delayed, but an adept United ticket agent rebooked me on a US Air flight that left Milwaukee and arrived in Reno slightly earlier than my original itinerary. Other than the airline, the only other differences were that I flew through Phoenix rather than Denver, and the the second leg of my trip was in first class (merry Christmas to me!). On Christmas Eve day, we spent much of our time prepping food for a repeat of last year’s big dinner party – between us we made three pies, a big salad, roasted vegetables, and a baked brie. The dinner itself was quite a success; I think we had thirteen people for the meal and a couple more for dessert.

Tule Plants

Tule Plants

We didn’t celebrate on Christmas Day itself, as Veronica wasn’t flying into Reno until that evening. Instead, my mom and I drove out to the Stillwater Wildlife Refuge east of Fallon, hoping to see some migrating Tundra Swans. We only saw one other person at the refuge, and that was only briefly. Most of the time, the only evidence of civilization we could see was the very road on which we were driving. Unfortunately, there weren’t any swans to see, either. The refuge comprises a network of lakes and wetlands, but on the day we were there they were all frozen over. So, no open water to attract migrating birds. We did see a few hawks, some Prairie Falcons, a couple of Great Blue Herons, and one Bald Eagle, but all from a distance. That evening, Veronica arrived following a relatively smooth trip.

Soaring Hawk at Washoe Lake

Soaring Hawk at Washoe Lake

We had our Christmas on Boxing Day, emptying our overstuffed stockings, unwrapping presents, and eating my mom’s delicious crème brûlée French toast. Then, we headed up to Reno (stopping at Washoe Lake along the way) for some shopping and a visit to the Nevada Museum of Art. The Museum isn’t huge, but it always seems to have very interesting exhibits. The featured exhibition this time was a collection of more than 100 of Rembrandt’s prints. Although he’s known primarily for his paintings, the Dutchman was also a prolific printmaker. Since many of the works are small and have very fine details, the museum provided magnifying glasses to carry around the gallery with you. Not knowing much about printmaking, I appreciated that the curators provided good explanations of the processes, often showing multiple versions of the same print to show how changes in technique can alter the final product.

Us on the Marin Headlands

Us on the Marin Headlands

The next day, we headed over the mountains to the Bay Area to stay with our friends David and Francesca. We had a pretty relaxing visit – one day hanging out in Berkeley, and one in San Francisco. Among other things, we made a pilgrimage to the original Peet’s, drove across the Golden Gate Bridge, shopped at the City Lights Bookstore (where many of the beat poets hung out, and one of the best bookstores I’ve ever been to), and visited the Legion of Honor Art Museum (more on that in another post). Our one scheduled event while we were in California was a great one – my mom took us to see Wicked. Veronica had seen it before, but the other two of us hadn’t. The pseudo-clockwork set was very cool, the show was funny, and the singers were amazing. The lead roles were being played by the standbys, but they were great; except for the program, I wouldn’t have known they weren’t the regulars.

I didn’t take all that many photos on the trip, but click the thumbnails above to see my smallish gallery. I’ll leave you with a picture of Veronica behind bars at Battery Spencer, overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge:

Veronica Behind Bars

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Cave of the Mounds

Entering the Cave

Entering the Cave

Over labor day weekend, my dad drove up to Wisconsin for a visit. Among other things, we hit the farmers’ market, went for a bike ride, and attempted to tour the Capital Brewery (but, they were closed for a private event). But, one of the coolest things we did was a visit to the Cave of the Mounds in Blue Mounds, Wisconsin. The cave, which has no natural openings of significant size, was discovered in 1939 during a limestone quarrying operation. Quarrying was halted, the cave was quickly developed, and public tours began the following year. Though not a huge cave, the tour took about an hour. Highlights included a six-foot long cephalopod fossil in the cave’s ceiling and some interesting multicolored cave formations.

Purple Asters with Bugs

Purple Asters with Bugs

Cave of the Mounds also offers a couple of short above-ground trails, which we walked after emerging from the cavern. The trails offered myriad beautiful plant life, lots of insects and spiders, and not a few birds. I wasn’t able to get any decent bird pictures, but I did get a few good flower and bug photos. Veronica gets the buf-spotting prize for the day; she found a katydid blending in with leaves, a couple of sizable grasshoppers, and a bunch of daddy-long legs, all of which seemed quite content to stay put long enough to be photographed. Click here to see all of my above and below-ground photos from Cave of the Mounds.

Also, here are some of my previous wild caving pictures taken in Tennessee caves: Camp’s Gulf Cave, Indian Grave Point Cave, Cave of the Skulls, and Christmas Cave.

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Devil’s Challenge

Team 701 - Musicology Mayhem

Team 701: Musicology Mayhem

Yesterday morning, Veronica, our friend Patrick, and I participated in the Devil’s Challenge Triathlon at Devil’s Lake State Park, about an hour northwest of Madison. We entered as a relay team — I swam (quarter mile), Patrick biked (15 miles), and Veronica ran (3 miles). We decided earlier this summer that we wanted to attempt a relay triathlon, and had been more or less training since then. We took a trip to Devil’s Lake last weekend to scout out the course and to do a dry run. Still, having never done this sort of thing before, we weren’t quite sure what to expect on the actual day of the race. We left Madison at a quarter to 6 yesterday morning so that we’d have plenty of time to park, pickup our registration packet, and warm up before the 8 a.m. start. We got there with plenty of time to spare, and set about mentally and physically preparing ourselves.

A Later Swim Start

A Later Swim Start

At the race, individual triathletes were organized into starting waves, largely by age and sex divisions. A funny thing about relay teams like ours, though: we were put in the very first wave, which is otherwise reserved for elite competitors. So, you have the fast, hardcore, experienced people grouped with people who aren’t up to doing the whole triathlon themselves. I suppose this makes a certain amount of sense; relayers are free to expend all their energy on each leg of the race, whereas individuals have to pace themselves.

Swimmers Exiting the Water

Swimmers Exiting the Water

So, I lined up on the beach with the elite athletes and the other relay swimmers. Since we were the first ones to go, all the other athletes and many spectators were behind us, cheering and making noise. When the starter horn went off, we all ran out into the water towards the first buoy. Not having had the chance to observe any starts, I just followed the people in front of me. The lake was very shallow (I could have walked the whole swim course), so the decision of when to switch from running to swimming was an important one. There was a big crush getting around the first buoy, then the pack started to thin out somewhat. Through most of the swim, I had plenty of room to maneuver. After rounding the second buoy, I swam shorewards until the water became too shallow to get a good stroke. Once on shore, I had to run up a short flight of stairs and sprint a fair distance to where Patrick was waiting with his bike.

Patrick Rounding the Last Curve

Patrick Rounding the Last Curve

I made pretty good time in the water, so much so that Patrick wasn’t quite ready when I arrived. While he threw on his helmet, I transferred the neoprene timing chip anklet from my leg to his and ducked out of the transition area to find Veronica and my towel. After drying off and changing, I grabbed my camera, and started shooting pictures of other competitors. When the first cyclist came roaring down the final hill into the park, I wished Veronica good luck and set off to catch Patrick. From the spot I picked, I couldn’t see very far up the last downhill curve. But, a couple of pro photographers were standing farther up the hill, and I used them as an early warning system; when they reached for their cameras, I knew a cyclist was approaching.

Veronica Running

Veronica Running

After Patrick came tearing by, I went to try to catch Veronica at the start of her run. I didn’t get any good pics then, but I managed to catch her later at the finish. Once she’d run across the line, we all hung out for awhile waiting for the results to be posted. We ended up doing pretty well for our first time out: 9th out of 38 relay teams. We were 6th in our division (co-ed relays). I beat my target time (8:00) by more than a minute, Veronica beat her target by nearly three minutes, and Patrick came very close to his target (he would’ve beaten it if his front derailleur hadn’t malfunctioned mid-race, leaving him with only his big chain ring for climbing hills). Our final time was 1:26:43. You can see all the results here (they put us under Veronica’s name, rather than that of our team: Musicology Mayhem). All in all, it was a lot of fun, even if we did have to wake up at 5 a.m.

Click here to see all of my photos from the race. Soon, we should get a link to the pictures taken by the pro photographers. If there are any good ones, I’ll link to them as well.

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