Zooming in: A great little telephoto lens for outdoor pix

Morro Bay sandspit, shot with Olympus 40-150mm micro four-thirds telephoto lens.
Morro Bay sandspit, shot with Olympus 40-150mm micro four-thirds telephoto lens.

Always seeking to lighten my load when hiking, backpacking or just traveling in general, I switched cameras from Panasonic Lumix (several over the years) to an Olympus OM-D E-M5 several years ago. The little Olympus is a mirrorless micro four thirds compact SLR that rivals full-size SLRs when it comes to image quality, and certainly beats them when it comes to weight. Although I loved my Lumix, I had a bad habit of breaking them, and was looking for something lightweight with interchangeable lenses.

Nearly two years later, I’m enjoying the Olympus, even though it’s not the most user-friendly camera in the world. I kind of don’t have the patience for all the dweeby programmable functions, so I end up mostly using the automatic settings. So far, I’m very pleased with the image quality and love the weather sealing (anticipating the next kayak dumping). It takes great landscape shots. The problem was the 12-50mm kit lens that came with the camera was just not enough magnification for wildlife and other outdoor subjects. Olympus with telephoto

Luckily, Santa/domestic partner gifted me with a kickin’ Olympus 40-150-mm telephoto for Christmas, and now that I’ve had several months to play with it, I’m very happy. The equivalent of 80-300mm in a 35mm, this little Olympus 40-150mm is small but mighty.

 

 

Pelican taken from a kayak on Morro Bay. Exposure 1/800 sec., f/8; ISO 200.
Pelican taken from a kayak on Morro Bay. Exposure: 1/800 sec., f/8, ISO 200.

The lens is fast and brings wildlife in close, capturing sharp images, and, at a compact 6.7 ounces, is super lightweight. I still can’t fit it in my pocket, like I could the Lumix, but I often keep it around my neck or slung across my shoulder, with very little added weight.

Not long after I got the camera, I bought a wide-angle 17mm Olympus pancake lens, which is great for landscapes, but doesn’t do much for zooming in on distant objects. I do love the landscape images I get with this wide-angle lens:

Cayucos pier, captured with Olympus 40-150mm micro four-thirds telephoto lens.
Cayucos pier, captured with Olympus 17mm micro four-thirds pancake lens. Exposure 1/640 sec., f/11, ISO 200.

Once I got the  little 40-150mm telephoto, it was time to start zooming in. I started with finches in my backyard:

Finches at feeder, taken from across the yard with the Olympic 40-150mm telephoto. Exposure: 1/450 sec., f 5.6, ISO 640.
Taken from across the yard with the Olympus 40-150mm telephoto. Exposure: 1/450 sec., f 5.6, ISO 640.

Then it was on to the Rose Parade:

Good detail of Rose Parade float.
Up close and personal Rose Parade float. Exposure: 1/640 sec., f/8, ISO 200.
Pretty sharp image of float.
Pretty sharp image of Disney Frozen float. Exposure: 1/500, f/8, ISO 200.
L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and I don't know who else, on L.A.'s float.
L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti and I don’t know who else, on L.A.’s float. Exposure: 1/640 sec., f/9, ISO 200.
I think this was the always colorful and creative Trader Joe's float.
I think this was the always colorful and creative Trader Joe’s float. Exposure: 1/500 sec., f/8, ISO 200.

All in all, the Olympus OM-D M-5 is a great camera for shooting in the outdoors, and adding a compact telephoto lens provides sharp images without breaking (the compact) budget.

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Western road trip 4: Idaho, Wyoming

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Kayak-view of Squaretop Mountain from lower Green River Lake in Wyoming’s Wind River Range.

Holy crap. It’s been more than six months since my summer road trip and I’m finally getting around to my post on the last leg — from Ketchum, Ida. to the Wind Rivers and Jackson, Wyo. Right now this area is under a ton of snow, but we experienced everything from record-breaking heat to thunderstorms, double rainbows and bluebird skies, along with superb kayaking, great food and not-so-great fishing.

TetonsFor those not keeping track, I took a month-long West Coast/interior mountains road trip in late June and early July and chronicled the California and Oregon coasts in Road trip part 1 and part 2, and Portland and the Columbia River Gorge area in part 3.

 

I would’ve posted something sooner, but a certain equine has been monopolizing my time lately. No complaints tho. Flash, Gelding Azteca of SoCal (not exactly Spirit, Stallion of the Cimarron, but close) has been a barrel of fun

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That’s him at right…in California, not Idaho or Wyoming…but somehow I think he’d feel right at home on a Sawtooth Mountains ranch.

Speaking of the Sawtooths, these central Idaho mountains reminded us so much of our beloved home range of the Sierra Nevada that we trekked about 45 minutes there every day during our week-long stay in Ketchum.

View of Sawtooth Valley between Ketchum and Stanley.
View of Sawtooth Valley between Ketchum and Stanley.

Yeah, we got real familiar with Highway 75, which stretches about 60 miles between Ketchum and Stanley — a smidge of a town that has got to be in the most spectacular setting in the country (be sure to check out Stanley Baking Company’s amazing oatmeal pancakes). With mountains on both sides and the Salmon River winding along its length, the scenic byway is stunning pretty much the whole time and simply jaw-dropping as you go over Galena Summit, at 8,701 feet. And there’s plenty of recreation along the way, including numerous trailheads and several world-class drive-to lakes. That’s Pettit Lake shown below, with what we think is/was Bruce Willis’ house along the shoreline.

Steve kayak:Pettit L

Well-kept ranches abound in the Wood River Valley, and with Sun Valley Resort just up the road, Ketchum is kind of a rustic Aspen, but with more cowboy hats than fur coats. It makes the perfect base for outdoor adventures, with the Big Wood River, Warm Springs Creek and Trail Creek all within a fly cast. The Sawtooth Valley is the headwaters of the renowned Salmon River.

Palomino on ranch near Stanley.
Palomino on ranch near Stanley.

One day, we rented bikes at Sturtevant’s in Ketchum and rode them along the Wood River Trail to Sun Valley, stopping to fish along the way before checking out the iconic Sun Valley Lodge. The trail is a first-class example of how the county recreation district has its act together. The 32 miles of year-round paved trail has numerous river access points and connects Sun Valley and Ketchum to Hailey and Bellevue further south. And then there’s the 19-mile Harriman Trail further north near Galena Lodge. I don’t know of many areas that have their outdoor recreation shit together to this extent. It’s impressive.

Ketchum
Downtown Ketchum.

At any rate, after several weeks of stifling heat in Oregon — and even in Ketchum for a few days — a couple storms rolled through and left us with (mostly) bluebird skies and puffy clouds. And — this being early summer not long after the spring snow runoff — there were swarms of mosquitoes. On our first hike in the Sawtooths, an easy 4-mile-roundtrip to Fourth of July Lake, I made the major tactical error of not bringing a long-sleeved shirt (too hot!) and leaving my bug juice in the car. I paid the price with itchy skeeter-bitten arms that were swollen like Popeye’s for the rest of the trip.

Sawtooth Lake flowers

Sawtooths daisiesBut the upside to all that moisture was green, green meadows and tons of wildflowers, a welcome sight to us drought-weary Southern Californians.

And speaking of Fourth of July, is there any better place to spend it than a small town in the West? We’d spent the last few Independence Days enjoying the holiday in Bend, Ore., a tough act to top. I’d have to say, Hailey (Ketchum’s more down-to-earth down-valley neighbor) ranks right up there. After the Old West parade down its main street during the day, we returned that night for the rodeo — Idaho’s version of Friday Night Lights.

Hailey rodeo crowd

Hailey rodeo

Over the next few days, we kayaked, hiked and fished throughout the Stanley Basin and Sawtooths (tho scenic, we done got skunked on that front).

Steve fish:Stanley

The week’s highlight hike was the 8.5-mile roundtrip to Sawtooth Lake, which sits at an elevation of 8,430 feet just southwest of Stanley. Right from the start at the Iron Creek Trailhead, we ran into alternating rain and thunder and had to calm our frightened pit bull, Blue, who hid under a rock along the trail:

Blue/Sawtooth Lake

But luckily we persevered, and despite the weather (which cleared after we got to the lake) and 1,700 feet of elevation gain, it was well worth it. Postcard-perfect Sawtooth Lake is one of the most popular and most photographed in the Sawtooths, and for good reason:

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Sawtooth Lake

When planning this trip, we were unsure how accessible the lakes in the Sawtooths would be, but it was well worth lugging the kayaks all the way from SoCal. During our week there we also paddled at beautiful Alturas Lake and at Redfish Lake, with its funky old-time resort. (Hint: bring your own lunch).

The kayaks take a rest on the shore of Alturas Lake.
The kayaks take a rest on the shore of Alturas Lake.

After a week, it was time to head to Wyoming, and we had to tear ourselves away from Ketchum. If we didn’t have reservations in Pinedale, we’d probably still be there. Our spirits lifted on the drive to Wyoming, though. Miles and miles of hayfields eventually led to the geological wonderland of Craters of the Moon National Monument, a wild landscape of desert scrub, lava fields and cinder cones.

View of the Great Rift, a 52-mile-long series of fissures that last erupted 2,000 years ago.
View of the Great Rift, a 52-mile-long series of fissures that last erupted 2,000 years ago.

Along the way, we passed through funky towns like Arco, Idaho, the “first town to be lit by atomic power” (the mysterious-looking Idaho National Laboratory is nearby). And the photo gods blessed us with alternating bands of storms and amazing clouds:

Dark sky:Idaho rd

After countless photo stops, we finally made it to Wyoming. Following a quick stop in Jackson (the Disneyland of the Rockies, IMO), our base for a few days would be Pinedale, a no-frills western town just about the polar opposite of Ketchum. We totally lucked out as it was the weekend of the Green River Rendezvous, a celebration of all things Mountain Man (no sign of Leo, The Revenant or any man-eating grizzly, tho this guy showed up at a state fish & game wildlife display):

Grizz display:Pinedale

And of course, there was a parade:

Pinedale parade

We’d been wanting to visit the nearby Wind River Range for a long time and figured Pinedale would be a good base. We got a basic taste of the Winds, but the best way to experience these wild mountains is probably by backpack or horse pack trip, so we’re filing that away for the future. We got a history of the area after a visit to the Museum of the Mountain Man (of course), and did a day trip to Green River Lakes for more kayaking and fishing. The lakes are the headwaters of the Green River, the main tributary to the Colorado River.

Green River
Green River, en route to Green River Lakes near Pinedale, Wyo.

Trout were rising on the river as a storm rolled in, but nobody rose to our bait.

Green River fishing

We were treated, however, to an amazing double rainbow:

Wyoming rainbow

We skedaddled from that fishing spot after: A. the rain started; B. we heard gunshots; and C. a driver passing by told us he’d just spotted grizzly cubs not far from our turnout.

After a few days in Pinedale, we ended the trip grandly, at Grand Teton National Park. We lucked out yet again, meeting up with Canuckian friends on their own road trip from Ottawa to Vancouver. We spent far too little time in this amazing park of spectacular scenery and even more kayakable lakes.

Steve kayak:Jackson L
A peaceful paddle on photogenic Jackson Lake in Grand Teton National Park.

We camped a night at Jackson Lake’s Colter Bay, one of the few times we made last-minute camping reservations. And the only time we got rained on while camping during the entire trip. After a fun presentation about grizzly bears at Jackson Lodge, we squeaked in dinner before the rain started, grilling fabulous fresh kabobs from Jackson Whole Grocer.

On our way out of the park the next day, we stopped at photogenic Jenny Lake and the adjacent lodge:

Jenny Lake

And so, after a month on the road, it was time to head back to California. Logan, Utah would be our next stop, then St. George and on to SoCal. I’d love to say we drove off into the sunset shown below, but this was one of many in the Sawtooths, a fitting end of another perfect road trip day:

Sawtooths sunset

Western road trip Part 3: Oh, Oregon

View of Vista House in the Columbia River Gorge.
View of Vista House in the Columbia River Gorge.

It was all Oregon all the time on this roughly 1-week segment of the month-long road trip I took this summer. Tasty travel tidbits that week ranged from Umpqua elk and naked bike riders in Portland, to Hood River fruits and beers and Pendleton cowboys.

UmpquaAfter a blessedly cool couple of days on the Oregon coast, I headed inland via the lush Umpqua Highway (photo at right). Temperatures in the 100s awaited me in Portland. The drive along the Umpqua River — a flyfishing hotspot — was scenic but uneventful, except for a traffic-stopping herd of elk in a roadside field.

After reuniting with the significant other at PDX, it was time to sample all the artisan/locavore/craft-brewed goodies that Portland had to offer. In addition to the heat wave, the friend we stayed with alerted us to the nude bike ride going on the day we got in. Now, living in SoCal, there’s not much that shocks or surprises us about clothing choice or lack thereof. However, eating amidst buck-naked diners at a baked potato food truck was definitely a first (sorry, no photos).

Portland food trucks

Speaking of food trucks and all that is hip, the next day’s adventure had us visiting the very fun Division Street in SE and the fabulous Tidbit Food Farm cart pod— heaven on earth for foodies and lovers of all things crafted. Who knew there were so many varieties of tater tots?

And of course, the popcorn is artisan and the cupcakes saintly on NW 23rd Avenue (aka Trendy Third):

Artisan this and that on Trendy Third.
Artisan this and that on Trendy Third.

Later, we headed downtown so I could check out the Poler store, where I ended up buying a cool day pack. It’s a fun place to shop for hipster outdoor gear, tho this is not exactly the place to outfit yourself for your next ultralight backpack.

Blue checks out a local at Portland’s Poler store.

On our third and final day in the Portland area, we headed west to Astoria. After lunch at Fort George Brewery (IPA highly recommended!), we headed to Lewis and Clark National Park. This lush area is home to Fort Clatsop, the winter encampment site of the Lewis and Clark Expedition. The excellent visitor center provides all you’ll ever need to know about the Corps of Discovery. We explored a reproduction of one their winter cabins, and then took a brief hike in the adjacent forest.

Replica at Fort Clatsop of the winter cabin used by the Lewis and Clark Expedition in the early 1800s.
Trail at Ft. Clatsop.
Trail at Fort Clatsop.

Then it was on to the beach at Fort Stevens State Park (wow, this part of Oregon has a lot of forts). At this very cool spot with a huge expanse of sand at the mouth of the Columbia River, you can see a shipwreck on the beach.

Blue was happy as a clam at Fort Stevens.
Blue was happy as a clam at Fort Stevens.
Wreck of the Peter Iredale, which went aground at Fort Stevens in the early 1900s.
Wreck of the Peter Iredale, which went aground at Fort Stevens in the early 1900s.
This book at the Lewis & Clark visitor center came in handy when IDing the multitude of berries lining Oregon’s hiking trails.

The next day, after a quick tour of Sauvie Island (hello, u-pick blueberries!), we hit the road, heading east on the Columbia River Highway. This drive through the Columbia Gorge is a scenic alternative to Highway 84 and not to be missed. A 15-mile stretch known as Waterfall Alley is aptly named. My only regret is not spending enough time exploring — there are hikes to many of the 77 waterfalls along the way — but we had reservations in Hood River that night. That said, a stop at famous Multnomah Falls is a must:

Multnomah Falls is the biggest and most popular in the Columbia Gorge. And at 620 feet, only three falls in the U.S. are taller.
Multnomah Falls is the biggest and most popular in the Columbia Gorge. And at 620 feet, only three falls in the U.S. are taller.

Pacific Crest Trail hikers and fans of the movie Wild will recognize Bridge of the Gods, the distinctive steel toll bridge connecting Oregon and Washington that spans the Columbia near Cascade Locks, just east of Bonneville Dam:

Bridge of the Gods

A mere 68 miles from Portland, the cute town of Hood River is nestled along the Columbia River. Other than Bend, this is one of my favorite towns in Oregon and I keep vowing to spend more time there. The downtown area is lined with historic buildings, galleries, restaurants and outdoor shops, and a couple streets away sits Full Sail Brewing Company, one of my favorite beer pubs (why, oh why can’t I get their outstanding Pilsner in California??)

Downtown Hood River.
Downtown Hood River.
Pot and fires were big topics this summer in Oregon.
Pot and fires were big topics this summer in Oregon.

Thanks to windy conditions and its fortuitous location along the Columbia, Hood River has long been a windsurfing mecca. That sport has given way to kiteboarding and stand-up paddling. A beach at the marina is the perfect spot to exercise dogs and take in the sights:

The Columbia River, at Hood River's front door.
The Columbia River, at Hood River’s front door. That’s Washington state on the other side of the bridge.

layout of map mc 2010.qxd

The next day, we drove a portion of the Hood River “Fruit Loop,” a 35-mile scenic drive along Highway 35 through the Hood River Valley’s orchards, wineries, u-pick farms and rural towns. Farm stands are abundant, and I’m still savoring the last tidbits of cherry preserves I got at Smiley’s Red Barn (stop No. 5 on the Fruit Loop map, right).

It was not easy to leave Hood River, but alas we had reservations in Boise that night, so after our brief Fruit Loop drive, we again headed east along the Columbia.

The landscape gets much drier east of Hood River, and we said goodbye to the Columbia River as Interstate 84 turned south. You get a taste of eastern Oregon desert around these parts, and there aren’t many places for pitstops. Our next stop was Pendleton, the biggest town in the region and a big taste of the Old West.

Pendleton boot

We stumbled on the amazing Hamley & Co. store in Pendleton’s well-preserved downtown. Western riding lovers will drool over the bronze bucking bronco statue, custom-made saddles and all manner of apparel.

Hamleys statue

That’s about it for the Oregon portion of the big summer road trip, pardners. Next up: Boise, Sun Valley and the Sawtooth Range in Idaho, then the Wind Rivers and Grand Teton in Wyoming.

Tunes, trails and blooms at Joshua Tree

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Namesake trees in Joshua Tree National Park, on the Barker Dam Trail

A little late with this post, so maybe file away the info for next spring, because before long it’ll be baking in Joshua Tree National Park — a wonderland of boulders, namesake J-trees and wildlife in the transition zone of the Mojave and Colorado deserts about 140 miles east of Los Angeles and 50 miles beyond Palm Springs. And keep in mind, if you do decide to go this summer and want to camp, some campgrounds at the park are closed until October.

Pappy sign

A show at Pappy & Harriet’s in Pioneertown was all the excuse we needed to visit the desert in mid-April — lucky for us also the start of wildflower season. Jenny Lewis put on a fabulous show under the stars at Pappy’s — for SoCal music fans, this is a must-visit destination — and we combined that with some R&R at Rimrock Ranch and hiking and photography at J-Tree.

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The entrance to Rimrock Ranch.

If you’re a music fan, a bit of a desert rat AND love funky, eclectic places to hang your hat, Rimrock Ranch is the place for you. We rented one of the dog-friendly cabins and had the place pretty much to ourselves for a couple days. The owner, Jim, is an accomplished bass player and occasionally holds impromptu concerts with some pretty big names at the ranch. He’s also a big-time repurposer of found objects, and nothing seems to go to waste:

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A wall of old bottles.
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A barbed wire heart at the entrance.
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The swimming pool!

Built in 1947, Rimrock Ranch once housed actors filming westerns at nearby Pioneertown. Jim Austin, who co-owned a surfwear company, eventually bought the rundown 10-acre property and has been renovating it ever since. There are several small cabins, and he also rents out Hatch House, an eco-friendly modern structure he built with recycled materials.

License plate wall in Hatch House.
License plate wall in Hatch House.
Ocotillo outside Hatch House.
Ocotillo outside Hatch House.

Oh, and for those on a budget, there’s a funky Airstream trailer (the purple-fur-lined interior is a must-see) that rents for about $62 a night:

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Larger groups can rent The Lodge for about $230 a night:

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But back to the real reason we were there (other than music): the desert, hiking and wildflowers. It’s only about a 15-minute drive to Joshua Tree from Rimrock and we entered at the park’s West Entrance, off Highway 62.

With not a lot of time, and a dog in tow (they’re not allowed on park trails and have to stay within 100 feet of picnic areas, roads and campgrounds), we kept the hiking to a minimum for this trip, but still managed to stretch our legs and take in some of the desert beauty that J-Tree is known for:

The view from Keys View.
The, um, view from Keys View.

Climbers love Joshua Tree, and for good reason. Ever wonder why the boulders there are so fractured and blocky? Chalk that one up to volcanic activity. A form of magma called monzo-granite (yup) rose from deep within the Earth, and as it cooled, horizontal and vertical cracks formed. Voila — a climber’s paradise:

Joshua Tree National Park
See the climber?

 

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Joshua Tree National Park
A perfect climber cubbiehole.

It was cool enough to leave our pooch Blue in the car, so we decided on the one-mile Barker Dam loop trail, which passes through classic J-Tree habitat and is a perfect quick and easy hike. There’s usually a reservoir about halfway through the loop, but it’s completely dried up — thanks a LOT, drought.

Barker Dam Trail

Along the way, we passed numerous beavertail cactus in full fluorescent-pink bloom:

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We saw some rock art, but I have a feeling it was of recent vintage:

Joshua Tree pictographs

After our not-so-grueling hike, it was time for lunch, and we ate at the Hidden Valley picnic area, one of the only spots where dogs are allowed:

Blue, Joshua Tree

On our way out of town, we finally stopped at Pioneertown, the old movie set where westerns were filmed back in the day. There’s not much to it, but it’s fun to poke around the old buildings…

Pioneertown

…and try the camera’s sepia filter…yikes, not sure that works:

Pioneertown sepia

And, being the land of found objects (things do seem to preserve well in the desert’s dry heat), we came across some funky art installations:

Pioneertown typewriters

And with that, we rode into the sunset…

Pioneertown sign

 

Why did another mountain lion cross the road….?

P-32 in mid-February captured by a remote camera in the western end of the Santa Monica Mountains.
P-32 in mid-February captured by a remote camera at the western end of the Santa Monica Mountains.              Photo courtesy of National Park Service.

Why, to join his sister, of course. In March, I wrote about P-33’s risky crossing of Highway 101 from the Santa Monica Mountains to the Camarillo area in Ventura County. And now brother P-32 has made it, crossing on April 3 about one mile east of where P-33 traveled.

Both of the 17-month-old big cats are tagged and monitored by the National Park Service, which oversees the Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area and has been tracking mountain lions there since 2002 in order to study how they manage to survive in such a fragmented habitat.

There’s no evidence that P-32 has actually reunited with his sister. In fact, he’s ventured further into the Simi Hills, crossing State Route 23 and coming close to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library. Who knows, maybe he’s a Republican. Sister P-33 meanwhile turned around at Route 23 and is believed to be ranging close to where she crossed the freeway, said the NPS.

The recent journeys of these two big cats into the Simi Hills and Santa Susana Mountains is a critical step in the lion’s long-term genetic survival in SoCal, says the NPS. Providing a safe crossing of the major barrier that is the 101 may come in the form of a proposed wildlife crossing over the freeway at Liberty Canyon north of Malibu Creek State Park.

There’s been quite a bit of mountain lion news in the L.A. area recently, between the two cats crossing the 101 freeway, and another lion dubbed P-22 (even has his own Facebook page) who lives in Griffith Park and in mid-April was found holed up under a house in Los Feliz. He was eventually hazed out by wildlife officials and is being GPS-monitored once again in the nether reaches of Griffith Park.

P-22’s the famous cat whose photos were featured in National Geographic. He’s also on the second or third of nine lives, having survived a bout of mange contracted from ingesting rat poison. I had the dubious pleasure of researching an infographic on that topic:

rodent infographic041714

Why did the mountain lion cross the road?

Female lion P-33 at kill site in the western Santa Monica Mountains, where she fed by herself on a deer for about an hour before her mom and brother showed up.   Courtesy of National Park Service
Female lion P-33 at kill site in the western Santa Monica Mountains, where she fed by herself on a deer for about an hour before her mom and brother showed up.
Courtesy of National Park Service

Well, to get to the other side, of course. The “road” being the 101 Freeway, and the big cat being P-33, a 16-month-old who recently left her mother and was the star of some stunning photos from the National Park Service’s Santa Monica Mountains National Recreation Area. (Beware viewing if you’re squeamish: there are images of a dismembered deer.) The NPS has been tracking her and her two siblings since they were four weeks old.

And now big sis has miraculously made it across the Ventura Freeway. She crossed on the Conejo Grade from the Santa Monica Mountains to the Camarillo area on March 9 sometime between midnight and 2 a.m.

This is hugely significant for mountain lions and the people who research them because a successful crossing of such a huge barrier like the 101 is a sign that there’s hope for maintaining the long-term genetic health of the population.

P33_Crossing_March2015

It’s all about connectivity of habitat for these SoCal mountain lions — being stuck south of the 101 leads to inbreeding and lower genetic diversity. A number of big cats have been killed trying to cross the freeway, including one recently at Liberty Canyon, north of Malibu Creek State Park. This is also where the only other known successful crossing by a lion occurred since the NPS started started studying them in 2002, and it’s where NPS is proposing to build a wildlife crossing over the freeway.

Some Angelenos may recall the famous mountain lion in Griffith Park known as P-22, who was made famous in National Geographic photos in 2013, and was thought to have crossed the 101 and 405 Freeways heading east. He wasn’t wearing a tracking collar and he’s likely not to reproduce because he’s believed to be the only lion there and is hemmed in by so many freeways on the eastern end of the Santa Monicas.

As a hiker in these mountains, it’s always in the back of mind that cougars are in the vicinity, so I’m vigilant the trail. The area where P-33 ended is pretty agricultural but I’m guessing she’s in the mountains north of the freeway just west of Wildwood Park in Thousand Oaks. That park, by the way, has some great hiking, including a nice loop hike to Paradise Falls. It seemed like lion territory when I was there, so I’m not surprised P-33 was attracted to it. Here’s hoping she’s not too hemmed in by suburbia (aren’t we all?), avoids cars and people, and lives a long, fruitful life.

Brian Head…that other Utah ski resort

Brian Head slope

It always seems odd seeing billboards for Brian Head Resort along Interstate 395 on the way to Mammoth Mountain. Why on earth would someone detour to a dinky no-name ski area in southern Utah en route to a place that truly lives up to its name: Mammoth is more than five times the size of Brian Head, and the number of express lifts alone outnumber the total number at the Utah resort.

Brian Head condo view
The snowy view from our condo near the base of Navajo Mountain.

Um, well a couple reasons, first and foremost: price. It’s $35 for a weekday lift ticket at Brian Head, while costing a whopping three times more to ski at Mammoth. That’s for a regular season, single day ticket; both resorts offer a bit of a break for multiday tickets. We also got a great deal on a condo at Brian Head, a comfy ski in/ski out place right near the base of Navajo Mountain.

We viewed some amazing sunsets from our condo’s balcony:

Sunset from condo

Reasons 2, 3 and 4: We pretty much had the place to ourselves and rarely waited in lift lines. It was snowing when we arrived and conditions were optimal, with about six inches of fresh powder. Our only complaint was the visibility on our first day, or more like invisibility, due to fog and snow.

Fog:Brian Head

But the next few days we encountered cloudless bluebird days and, I’d have to say the grooming at Brian Head rivals Wasatch uber-resort Deer Valley. Ahhh, corduroy, how I love you so.

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Brian Head consists of two mountains: the beginner-friendly Navajo Mountain and the adjacent and more challenging slopes of Brian Head Peak. We did laps on the Giant Steps Express lift to an elevation of 10,920 feet, just below 11,307-foot Brian Head Peak, which is accessed only through backcountry gates. We stuck to the inbounds runs, which were nicely pitched and loads of fun.

That’s another thing about Brian Head: at 9,600 feet, the base elevation is the highest of any Utah ski resort. Take that, Park City (elevation 6,900 feet)! This keeps things nice and cold, perfect ingredients for powdery snow.

View of Brian Head Peak from run on Navajo Mountain.
View of Brian Head Peak from a run on Navajo Mountain.

I will say that navigating between the two mountains takes a bit of strategy in order to avoid having to take the free shuttles. But the trails are well-marked and we figured it out fairly quickly. We did lots of laps on Bear Paw from the Giant Steps chair and Ute was a favorite run from Chair 1 on the Navajo Mountain side.

On our day off from skiing, we planned to snowshoe at Cedar Breaks National Monument, just two miles south of Brian Head. A snowshoe malfunction nixed that activity, so we made it a photo outing instead. With snow piled high, access to the monument isn’t easy, but there’s a pullout along Highway 143 with a small parking lot and short trail to the North View Overlook.

Cedar Breaks view
View of Cedar Breaks Amphitheater from North View Overlook.

Gazing into the 2,000-foot deep Cedar Breaks Amphitheater is awe-inspiring. The three-mile-diameter canyon was created by erosion from rain, ice and wind, the same forces that created Grand Canyon, Zion Canyon and Bryce Amphitheater. You’ll see alot of dead trees in this part of Dixie National Forest. These are Engelmann spruce that have been decimated in recent years by spruce bark beetles.

We went back to the overlook to catch another amazing sunset:

Cedar Breaks sunset

It’s true that for most SoCalers, it takes a few more hours of driving to get to Brian Head compared to Mammoth, but I think it’s worth the drive. You can even hit Vegas (not sure that’s a good thing) and Zion National Park on the way. Just be sure to stock up on groceries in St. George or Cedar City on the way there. There’s no town to speak of once you get there, except for what locals call “the Mall,” a small strip mall near the ski resort that consists of a cafe and general store. We were glad to find Pizanos Pizzeria, a surprisingly good pie in the middle of nowhere.

Which is precisely the point: good, cheap skiing and pizza in a scenic spot in the middle of nowhere.

Paddling Alamitos Bay

Alamitos Bay pelican

Living in Southern California, you’d think finding a decent place to kayak would be a no-brainer. Ah, but not necessarily so, grasshopper!

Water, water everywhere, but oh so little safe and easy access. We usually paddle at Newport Beach’s Back Bay, which has an ecological reserve and is no slouch. But the subdivision views and near-constant traffic from John Wayne Airport get a bit tiresome.

So, we recently decided to take a chance on paddling Alamitos Bay in Long Beach. What a pleasant surprise. Even with the nearby ports — the busiest and most polluted on the West Coast — Alamitos Bay is something of a gem.

Pulling up to park near the intersection of Ocean Blvd. and Bayshore Ave., we were stunned that there was a nearly-empty parking lot and free street parking… and best of all, the put-in was mere feet from the car. Even on MLK Day (albeit in the middle of winter, such is life in sunny SoCal).

Steve kayak:canal

After finding a map online, we decided to make a loop through the canal around Naples Island, which was directly across from our put-in. It’s a pleasant paddle next to picturesque homes along the canal, but our loop ended abruptly when we were blocked by yellow construction floats.

Canal deadend

Unbeknownst to us, the seawalls that line the canal were getting a facelift. The city of Long Beach declared six years ago that the walls “were found to be in a significant state of disrepair” and after studying, and more studying, construction finally began in November and will continue until June.

So we headed back out to the bay’s main channel and paddled north, passing several restaurants and even a Ralphs supermarket along the way. There were other kayakers, some SUPers, and even people on some kind of bicycle-paddling contraptions.:

Bikes on bay

Thanks to that online map, we knew there’d be a waterski-only canal to avoid, and it was pretty obvious when we saw someone skiing donuts at full speed. We stayed far away and continued on to the “wetlands,” a generous term given to an area adjacent to field upon field of oil rigs. The array of seabirds was impressive — gulls, pelicans, cormorants, surf scoters, terns and egrets. But all that wildlife amidst the oil-industrial complex was jarring, to say the least.

Alamitos-egret

After snapping a bunch of photos, we headed back to our starting point. Next time we’ll check out the moon jellies in Spinnaker Bay Canal, which is where the Long Beach Aquarium apparently gets its supply for its touch tanks. We’ll definitely pack the fly rods and hope for some halibut. And complete our Naples Canal loop, with its nifty new seawalls.

 

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.

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 http://stevehymon.smugmug.com/.