Up 6,500 feet over Palm Springs in a Tram


From desert to sub-alpine this tram really changes your world. At $24 per adult ticket it can also empty your wallet pretty quickly. Still, as an occasional treat it’s easy to justify the cost.

A JazzTrax festivals used to be held each year at the top of this cable system in the San Jacinto mountains. Starting in Palm Springs at 2,000 ft elevation this tram takes you to 8,500 feet in just a few minutes. When you arrive you find it’s 30 degrees cooler and has subalpine vegetation. 

Knowing this is one thing but today I was going to experience it for myself.

Sure enough … brrrrr … Palm Springs sure seemed small from up here.


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The Loop at Tehachapi


This is not a picture of two trains passing one another. No, this is the same train passing itself. Strange as it may sound that’s what happens many times a day as trains take this loop to gain elevation.

I’ve visited the Tehachapi Loop before but I didn’t find it very interesting. This time however was quite a different experience. Today I had an absolutely fabulous visit because my timing was perfect. I arrived in time to see a very long train enter the loop and circle over itself. Crazy!

To understand what you’re about to see you need an overview. The first picture below is a satellite view of the Tehachapi Loop from Google Maps. I’ve annotated it with details which should put the subsequent pictures into perspective. Flow through them and see why it’s such a fascinating spot.

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Red Rock Canyon

Red Rock

Such an odd formation carved from red rock. This region of desert is about 130 miles from Los Angeles in a desert with occasional Joshua Trees. It’s a State Park; in cooler weather it would be work hiking.

I’m a weak man when it comes to red rock, especially if it’s accompanied by blue sky and tall green pine trees. If all I can get is two out of three then I’ll still go out of my way to shoot it. While it’s somewhat disparaging to call a place “the middle of nowhere” I’d have to say that where Red Rock Canyon State Park is located is at least right-close to there.

To find anything else of interest you have to drive great distances and I did. I went to see the Tehachepi Loop. Isabella Lake has a few small attractions. Certainly China Lake was of interest and Boron had some history. However, we’re talking about a few sites in hundreds of square miles of desert. I’m not complaining, no. I’m making the point that I’ll go a long way to see red rock.

Did I get red rock, blue sky & green trees? No, but trees are over rated.  Continue reading

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Climbing, Climbing Yosemite Falls and Point

Yosemite Falls

As I write this I realize that the top of Yosemite Falls and Yosemite Point are really, really far off and very high. As I write this I’m thinking to myself “Just exactly what was I thinking to hike up there?”

The park is Yosemite National Park. The river is Yosemite River. The falls are Yosemite Falls. Given the prominence of these fixtures in this park. Given I’d taken pictures of them during each visit. How was it that I still hadn’t climbed the trail leading to these sites called, appropriately enough, Yosemite Falls Trail? It was time to right this wrong!

To be fair, during some visits the river was hardly flowing making the walls barely wet. To be fair, during other visits, just visiting where the falls landed in the valley floor was a satisfying, bone-rattling excitation. Still, I couldn’t be in love with this park and not experience its namesake sites. Today I did.

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A Lighthouse Hostel: Point Montara

Point Montara

How cool is it to spend the night at a lighthouse? If I have to tell you then you lack romance in your heart! It’s awesome!!! Happily I’ve done it several times and twice along the California coast.

The appeal lighthouses hold for me is complicated. Do I understand it?!

First, they’re usually at land’s end overlooking the sea and typically in a tortured locale. The waters are rough or weather tends to be wild and/or the waters nearby are riddles with obstructions. Second, it was often a remote, isolated and hard working life that accompanied the choice of managing a lighthouse. Neighbors were few, towns were distant, and life was lonely. Still, there is a sense of romance in being alone on land and fighting the elements with light to keep safe those men at sea. 

I’m sure it wasn’t romantic in life but from a distance it seems special. Work was physical and hard, the hours and conditions were terrible, and the never ending boredom  must have been mind numbing. Perhaps I’d have found it a romantic life it I’d had automated equipment, a broadband connection and FedEx delivery. Then again, if I had those things they wouldn’t need a lighthouse tender. Darn!

This lighthouse is at Point Montara just south of San Francisco on the coast. It is the second I’ve stayed at in the area. Pigeon Point Lighthouse is the other. Within the Hosteling International network there are many lighthouse hostels but along California’s coast I’ve now stayed in both.

Perhaps I should set as a goal to stay in all of HI’s lighthouse hostels? 

Hmmm … that’s food for thought!  Continue reading

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Views from Mt. Tamalpias

Mt Tam

How can San Francisco be made to look small? Take a picture from far away, from way up high, and use a long lens. From atop Mount Tamalpias in Marin County, the City can become just a feature.

Beth talks fondly about Mt. Tamalpias from the days before we married. She lived and worked for a time in Marin County just north of San Francisco. While climbing Mt Tam has been (and remains) on my list of things to do, I did drive up today and took the short hike around the peak.

The reason I didn’t hike it today was for lack of a trail. For a short few years there existed a tourist train which made the steep ascent via many switch backs up to the peak. It railway started service in 1896 but by 1930 was closed due to a tragic fire that burned down the facility, competition from the new fangled automotive, and the onset of the Great Depression. However, the path of the original tracks exists to be hiked and next time I’ll find them!  Continue reading

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North Peninsula Seashore: Point Reyes

Point Reyes

My hunt for lighthouses will never end. Why? Because invariably I’ll find another gem like Point Reyes Lighthouse. It’s perched high on a cliff, is stunningly beautiful and is in the engagingly wild.

One reason I am passionately in love with the Bay Area peninsulas is the natural beauty preserved in the Golden Gate National Recreational Area. This may be the single largest set of parks in one geography managed by the National Park Service. The variety, the extreme beauty, and the wonderful accessibility of it all is very appealing. Recently I finished visiting all these parks so it was time to branch outward … or should I say upward.

Today’s outing was to the next park north of the GGNRA cluster. My destination was Point Reyes National Seashore. When it comes to national and state parks it’s remarkable how quickly you can leave civilization; how soon you can lose cell coverage, be among farms, drive on slow remote roads. When you enter Point Reyes you want to have a full tank of gas!

This park has a distinct geography which is heavily influenced by the San Andreas Fault. Rarely can you see the fault as vividly as along Point Reyes. To the west of the fault are rolling hills and amazing seashore. I made a point of visiting every corner of the park and believe me, it took time. The area is vast and progress can be quite slow but after you arrive you have no doubt but that it was worth every minute of effort. (Recheck gas gauge.)  Continue reading

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From Atop Coit Tower


The Ferry Building sits at the end of Market Street in San Francisco and has been the primary fixture of the Embarcadero forever. The clock tower highlights it on the waterfront. Behind is the Bay Bridge.

Special things stand out and catch your eye. If it’s a tower on top of a hill then it grabs your attention any time you’re near by. Coit Tower is such a place and it stood within easy walking distance of where I disembarked from Alcatraz. 

Coit Tower stands in Pioneer Park atop Telegraph Hill in San Francisco.  (For me, that last sentence was loaded with place names from my youth.) 

The tower itself was built with a $100,000 donation from Lillie Hitchcock Coit to be used by the city to beautify San Francsico. The interior of the tower is lined with 1930s paintings promoting California agriculture; the work was funded by the WPA to support the arts during the Depression. I’m not sure the tower ever served much of a practical purpose but it certainly achieves its funder’s ambition. It is beautiful and views from the top are remarkable. A tiny elevator takes a few people at a time to the observation level and below are examples of what can be seen.

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Prison in the Bay: Alcatraz


Isolated a mile off shore from San Francisco and separated by cold, rapidly flowing waters, Alcatraz was supposed to be inescapable. How amazing that now every year there’s a swim meet with hundreds of participants; it starts on Alcatraz and ends at Fisherman’s Wharf.

Alcatraz was first a U.S. fort guarding the Golden Gate and in the 1930s was converted to the nation’s maximum security prison which it remained for 30 years. After that it suffered neglect and an Indian land-rights kerfuffle before being taken over by the National Park Service. It’s now one of San Francisco’s most popular tourist attractions. 

This little island is a pretty special piece of land. While it has almost no resources, its position in view of the bay entry and its isolation from nearby populations gives it distinct attributes. How Alcatraz could be used was nicely summed up in its history: fort, prison, protest platform and national treasure. 

My ambition for visiting was just to wrap my head around its character and to take pictures of those things that interested me from the period. It’s the prison period which stands out most and with good reason, that’s the last extended purpose the island was put to. A few pictures are shown below. 

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Where East Met West


No plans existed for this historic engine so the Jupiter was rebuilt using only references designs developed from pictures and postcards. It is now very similar to the original train engine and it is in immaculate condition.

Every day, east meets west in a recreation of the event that made this huge country small. On May 10, 1869, two railways joined tracks at a place called Promontory Summit in Utah and created the first transcontinental rail line. For the first time it was possible to buy goods on one coast and have them efficiently delivered to the other, the west could sell to Europe and the east could sell through to asia. The world got smaller too.

The reason the railroads met here was chance. The two companies who accepted the government’s contract started from opposite directions: one in Omaha heading west, the other in Sacramento heading east. Progress across the plains was fast and easy but laying track out of California over the Sierra Nevada mountains was slow progress.  Continue reading

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