Blue’s first Sierra adventure

Blue-San Joaquin

Blue along the Middle Fork San Joaquin River, near Upper Soda Springs Campground.

Guest post from Blue, the pit mix rescue we first heard from in May…

Hi again, everyone. Just wanted to report on an awesome trip I took to this place with really big rocks and lots of water. My folks call it the Sierra Nevada. I call it a bit overwhelming but really cool. The hiking I really dug; the water kind of scared me, frankly.

First we hiked along a big river and stopped a bunch of times so my humans could do this really boring thing called fly-fishing. It’s where you stick a big pole in the water and just stand there. There were lots of great smells so I was on high alert, but boy, watching them do that fishing thing was really dull. The water was cold and fast, so I didn’t get too close but did take a couple drinks and wow did it taste good.

Another day we took a really long walk (note from editor: 3 miles each way along the River Trail out of Agnew Meadows) to a place called Shadow Lake. I was really excited about this hike. It had all the canine requirements: tons of trees to sniff, water to keep an eye on and nice cool temperatures so I didn’t pant too much. Here I am telling everyone which way to go:

Blue-Shadow sign

We walked and walked and walked some more until we got to this part that went back and forth straight uphill. I think they’re called switchbacks. Sometimes there were even stairs built out of rock:

Blue-Shadow steps

You mean I have to climb up those?

When we finally got toward the top I could see a creek and waterfall (scary) that was coming out of Shadow Lake:

Then we got to the lake, which was sooooo pretty. All sparkly and stuff. I got so excited but had no interest in hopping in the water. Very cold. And of course, scary. My humans did some more of that fishing thing:


Then it was time to head back down. I really don’t understand the whole switchback thing. How come you can’t just run straight across the rocks?


Here I am on the trail. Yeah, I have that “Don’t mess with me” look, but I’m actually very friendly:


Anyway, I was really tired that night and didn’t even worry too much about any of the other dog smells and barking back at the condo. That usually gets me really upset but I was so frickin’ tired, I was like, whatever.

The next day it was time to go home, but on the way back we stopped at another cool place called Bishop Creek. My peeps had to yet again do the stick in the water thing (this time fish were actually caught, which I found mildly entertaining). My bro’ Sammy and I just hung out and took a snooze:


Time to, yawn, plan our next trip.

Lawn care and dog health

Fertilizer pic

Here’s something that drives me nuts: In some neighborhoods here in Southern California, having a perfectly green lawn is a matter of civic pride. But at what cost to our pets?

I’ve had the photo above in my iPhone for awhile now and finally had to share it. How ironic is it that the pesticide manufacturer chose to show a dog on the bag of a lawn-care insecticide product, when studies have linked use of such chemicals with canine cancer?

The primary bug-killing ingredient in this product is bifenthrin, a pyrethroid that is a possible carcinogen. People: is obliterating bugs and having a green lawn worth it when it means possibly sickening your pets? “Protect your lawn from invading bugs”? How about protect your pets from harmful pesticides.

Dogs walking and rolling on treated grass pick up traces of these chemicals. Studies have shown links between risk of canine lymphoma and bladder cancer with certain herbicides and pesticides. And cancer isn’t the only concern. According to the Pesticide Action Network, pyrethroids are listed as possible carcinogens by the EPA, and can affect the central and peripheral nervous system. Poisoning symptoms include muscle tremors, hyperexcitability, depression, ataxia, vomiting, seizures, anorexia and death.

If wiping out bugs and having an emerald green lawn is that important, a group called Pesticide Watch based in Sacramento offers these chemical-free alternatives:

  1. Adjust the pH so that your soil is at peak pH for grass to grow (around 6.5).
  2. Use organic, slow-release fertilizer.
  3. Overseed to encourage more  grass to grow. Spread seed especially in the spring and fall.
  4. Mow high (around 3 inches) to crowd out weeds.

The group also recommends spreading the word about dangerous lawn chemicals by putting “pesticide free” lawn signs up and talking to neighbors about their use of lawn care products. Wind can carry herbicides about 50 feet from the application site, according to an expert at Purdue University, so what your neighbors do can affect your animals’ health. You can read up on canine cancer research at Morris Animal Foundation.

Anyway, sorry for the rant. It’s almost time for manure-on-the-lawn season, another pet peeve (ahem) of mine, so to speak. Time to walk the dog…




Is Olympus EM-5 the perfect outdoors camera?

View of the Alabama Hills and White Mountains taken with new Olympus E-M5.

View of the Alabama Hills and White Mountains taken with new Olympus E-M5.

My hunt for a new camera for outdoor pursuits ended recently when I (and my bank account) broke down and bought an Olympus EM-5 mirrorless camera. I’ve had it a few weeks now, and the switch from a point-and-shoot camera to one with interchangeable lenses has been eye-opening, to say the least.

Camera outsideI wanted to step up in image quality without sacrificing too much in weight and size, so decided mirrorless cameras were the way to go. Their sensors are smaller than those in DSLRs, and in a downsized body, but much bigger than those in compact cameras. And size matters when it comes to sensors and image quality. For all you camera tech geek wannabes, here’s a good explanation on micro four-thirds technology.

After a few weeks of research on sites like Digital Photography Review, I was frankly driving myself nuts. I narrowed it down to the Olympus OM-D cameras, and what eventually sealed the deal for me (along with a no-tax special at Samy’s Camera) was the EM-5’s splash- , dust- and freeze-proof weather sealing. My previous cameras have always managed to attract whatever environment they’re in — sand, water, dirt, dog hair — so I figured the extra bucks were worth it. We shall see.

So far, I’m very happy with the EM-5, but I haven’t ventured much beyond the automatic setting. I’ve played a bit with exposure compensation and the art filters, but I have a lot of studying to do on all the camera’s functions.

Mountains above Bishop Creek, using Olympus EM-5's diorama art filter setting.

Mountains above Bishop Creek, using Olympus EM-5’s diorama art filter setting.

My one rap on Olympus is the totally lame owner’s manual that came with the EM-5. The functioning of this camera isn’t exactly intuitive, a complaint I’d read about. Luckily an online FAQ from Olympus is providing some answers.

Camera bagThe Olympus came with a 12-50 mm telephoto, so I knew my old habit of shoving my camera in a pocket would be a thing of the past. Luckily REI was having a 20% off sale, so I picked up a fabulous new camera sling from Lowepro that worked out great on a recent trip to the Eastern Sierra.





Bag pocketThe sling has a zipped camera chamber that provides easy accessibility. And there are plenty of pockets for extra lenses, keys, wallet, water, etc. I was even able to fit the water bladder from my Camelback in the top of the pack.

Below are some more shots with the new Olympus from a recent trip we took to the Eastern Sierra right after Memorial Day:

Gardisky Lake, near Yosemite National Park, in early June.

Gardisky Lake, near Yosemite National Park, in early June.

Old cabin on Pine Creek Road, using the EM-5's sepia art filter.

Old cabin on Pine Creek Road, using the EM-5’s sepia art filter. A bit under-exposed.

Blue waiting patiently while her companions fly-fish at Bishop Creek.

Blue waiting patiently while her companions fly-fish at Bishop Creek.

Heading back south on Interstate 395.

Heading back south on Interstate 395.

The West Coast’s wandering wolf

Remote camera photo of OR7 captured on 5/3/2014 in eastern Jackson County, Ore. Photo courtesy of USFWS.

Remote camera photo of OR7 on 5/3/2014 in eastern Jackson County, Ore. Photo courtesy of USFWS.

Gray wolves were quite the media beasts last week. Wildlife officials approved protection of the wolf as an endangered species in California — where wolves aren’t known to exist. Except for the lone gray from Oregon, who spent a bit of time in the Golden State a few years ago. And had some news of his own.

Anyone who follows wolf news in the West knows by now about OR-7, the GPS-collared young fellow from a pack in northeast Oregon who traveled across the state and was spotted in California in 2011. I can’t say I blame him — Oregon’s great, but who wouldn’t want to hang in the Golden State for awhile? It was the first time since the 1920s that a wolf was spotted in Cali.

It was only a matter of time before OR-7 tried to find a mate. Pickin’s were slim in California, but 7 appears to have found love back in Oregon. The Dept. of Fish & Wildlife there reported on May 12 that he hooked up with a female wolf in southwest Oregon’s Cascade Mountains, where he’s spent most of his time since March 2013.

And lo and behold, babies make four (and possibly more…the average litter size is 4-7): on June 2, two pups were spotted in the same area — the Rogue River-Siskiyou National Forest. Oregon DFW reported that they and U.S. Fish & Wildlife spotted the pups close to where a remote camera spotted the female.

Wolf pups spotted by remote camera in southwestern Oregon. Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Wolf pups spotted by remote camera in southwestern Oregon. Photo courtesy of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Oregon is no stranger to wolves. There are 64 known canis lupus there, most in the remote northeastern part of the state; OR-7 was originally from the Imnaha Pack:


It’s interesting that gray wolves will be protected in California, while their status in other Western states hangs in the balance. A decision to remove wolves nationwide from the endangered species list has been delayed until the end of 2014. I wrote about this contentious issue a few months ago. See more about gray wolves here. It’s been reported that with wolves in neighboring states, it’s just a matter of time before they become established in California. That’s an exciting prospect, and one I’m sure that will get some hackles up.

Winter drought equals early Sierra summer

Red's sign

Ahhh, summer in spring. That’s the Eastern Sierra right now, thanks to an exceptionally low snowpack — 18% of normal as of the final seasonal measurement on May 1. At Tioga Pass in Yosemite National Park, the April 1 figure was 33% of normal. Right now, everything below 10,000 feet is pretty much snow-free.

Tioga Road opened on May 2 — the earliest opening since 1987. We drove it right after Memorial Day and snow was sparse in the park at about 9,000 feet, but still clung to the upper-elevation slopes. Tioga Lake was a gorgeous mosaic of breaking-up ice:


We stopped at Tuolumne Meadows to fish and snap some photos. The Tuolumne River was flowing mightily, flooding over its banks in some spots. We took the obligatory pix of deer in the meadow and Lembert Dome:



It’s such a gorgeous time of year at Yosemite. We usually visit Tuolumne in the fall, when the river’s low and vegetation is changing color. It was nice to see plenty of water in the river and green grass instead of brown.

Back in Mammoth Lakes, it was typical spring shoulder season weather: warmish (60s-70s), sunny days and cool nights in the 40s. In other words, perfect hiking and fishing weather. We had easy access to the Lakes Basin and the Red’s Meadow area, but as a story in the Mammoth Times reported, some areas weren’t open yet due to a bureaucratic snafu between the Inyo National Forest and its concessionaire who runs some facilities. Apparently the Forest Service hasn’t adjusted its opening schedule to account for climate change.

We tried getting to Horseshoe Lake and were surprised to see a locked gate restricting access. With our new rescue dog Blue in tow (more on her first Sierra trip in a future post), we didn’t feel like sharing the road to Horseshoe on foot with so many off-leash dogs, so we opted for Plan B: a hike from Upper Soda Springs campground (closed) to fish along the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River:

San Joaquin

The fishing could’ve been better — we need to brush up on our early-season/high-water technique — but we had the trail to ourselves and the weather was fabulous. We returned to the Red’s Meadow area a couple days later to hike to Shadow Lake from Agnew Meadows, again seeing hardly anyone on the trail. I think Blue will be doing a guest post on this hike in a future installment:

Blue on Shadow Lake trail

It can be tough to get a handle on what’s open and what’s not at this time of year, but calling the Inyo National Forest for updates is a good idea because their online report isn’t always up-to-date. Their visitor center is right on Main Street in Mammoth Lakes and can be reached at 760-924-5500.

For a look at Tioga Road’s (and Glacier Point Road’s) opening dates and April 1 snowpack since 1980, check out this page on Yosemite’s site, which isn’t always easy to find. The park’s current conditions are online and their information number is 209-372-0200.

Cheeseboro Canyon: Spring north of the 101

Palo Camado view

View of Palo Comado Canyon from the Ranch Center Connector Trail

Although this hasn’t been the greenest of springs in Southern California, one of the lushest hikes around (usually) is Cheeseboro Canyon, near Agoura Hills. Forget hiking here in the summer when it’s Dante’s Inferno. Late winter and spring is when Cheeseboro shines like an emerald gem.

Cheeseboro track copy

We usually do an out-and-back hike about three miles in on the Cheeseboro Canyon Trail to Sulphur Springs — which is great if time is of the essence — but a few weeks ago we opted for an 8.3-mile loop incorporating Cheeseboro and Palo Comado canyons. The canyons are in the northernmost section of the National Park Service’s Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area, technically part of the Simi Hills. It was a great trek but, um, took a bit longer than I thought it would.

Cheeseboro trees

After an initial gentle ascent, the first mile of trail/fire road is mostly level. If you’re an oak tree lover, you’ll find this canyon heavenly. The grass-covered hillsides are peppered with valley oaks and coast live oaks. The slopes were just greening up when we were there, and in a good-rain year they’re vibrant yellow with black mustard, the nonnative plant that’s so well adapted to our Mediterranean climate. We blamed the paltry winter rains on the complete lack of mustard, but parts of the valley floor and hill grasses were verdant green.

We headed 2.5 miles on Cheeseboro Canyon Trail and turned left on to the Ranch Center Connector trail. This 1.1-mile trail is moderately steep and connects the two canyons, offering up gorgeous views, including the Baleen Wall rock formation, directly northeast.


These canyons were once home to cattle ranches and were grazed for more than 150 years. Hence the abundance of nonnative plants, which took over when native plants couldn’t adapt to the overgrazing. Ranchers eventually killed off the grizzlies that once roamed the hillsides here. Today, the area is a mecca for birdwatchers — keep your eyes peeled for hawks and other raptors, which prey on the canyon’s small mammals and reptiles.

From the Ranch Center Connector, we headed left (south) on Palo Comado Canyon Trail, which eventually bends east (called Palo Comado Connector on the NPS trail map). The views felt more primitive and less expansive in Palo Comado, the trail undulating past a horse property near a turnoff to Smoketree Avenue — an alternative route that eventually leads to Kanan Road.

Cheeseboro sunset

We stayed on Palo Comado as light faded and coyotes began to howl. Palo Comado Connector — an old ranch road — lead to Modelo Trail, which provided views of both canyons. By now it was nearly dark and we skedaddled along the Modelo Spur back to the parking area.

This is one of the NPS areas where dogs are allowed and you won’t wander on to dog-restricted state park land. Keep in mind that horses and particularly mountain bikers also frequent these canyons, so be sure to keep Fido on-leash (plus, it’s a big ticket if a ranger catches you off-leash).

Guest post from Blue, straight outta the shelter

Blue outside

Hi everyone. Name’s Blue and I just arrived at my forever home after spending about 6 weeks at the Pasadena Humane Society. Boy, did that suck living in a concrete kennel. But I made some great friends there and will really miss the volunteers who loved on me. And when they all came out to say goodbye, I knew they’d miss me too.

My new parents have been taking me on lots of neighborhood walks and I even got to check out Lower Arroyo Nature Park and the Pasadena Casting Pond. Wow, what great sniffs. My folks keep talking about taking me to do something called “hiking,” which sounds like it might be alot of fun.

But I get really, um, excited when I see other dogs…and squirrels…and birds…and anything (other than humans) that moves. Except for my new brother Sammy the elder Lab, who’s super chill. I’m still getting used to my new surroundings, so I gotta say, it’s pretty scary when I see other dogs walking around — who knows what they might do to me? 

So my peeps are gonna take me for something they call “reactive rovers,” training. I think that means I gotta calm the f- down so everyone knows what a good girl-dog I can be. My mom thinks my theme song should be “The Walker” by Fitz and the Tantrums (one of those spin class songs that bores into your brain…it’s true that 99 miles per hour baby, is how fast that I like to go) but my dad hates that song. 

So, maybe I’ll see you around the ‘hood. Word of warning: I’m a big-time kisser. And I’ll do some more posts in the future….yeah, I’m kind of like that Dog with a Blog. But more bad-ass.

Here are some pix of me. I don’t wanna brag or anything but…am I a looker or what?

I was really good getting my first bath…

And at my first vet visit…

Blue at vet

Do you like my spots and my long neck? My coloring really matches the furniture!

Blue neck and spots


Caltech has high-quality grass for rolling….and I really really really like to roll…

I’m pretty high-octane, but when I crash, I crash. My mom calls this “Study in Blue.”

Study in BlueSome photos here courtesy of