Sunday, November 30, 2008

Return to the desert

I just spent a week in Texas. It's nice to spend some time on the farm and to visit with family. I had to go in to Houston a couple of times, though, and that isn't fun.

I always tell people in Texas about how nice and dry it is out here. I hear that it rained here almost the whole time I was gone, though. It was pretty humid today. I could see evidence of all the rain on the hike. Looked like lots of grass was sprouting.

I hiked on a trail at the end of Idaho road that I haven't been on for a couple of years. The scenery is pretty along the way. There's a mysterious radio transmitter at the end.

@trip has a new feature. You can view the hike in 3D. It's really cool. Today's hike looks a little boring in 3D, but the hike to the top of Lone Mountain looks good.


Friday, November 21, 2008

Yesterday's hike

On yesterday's hike, I had the GPS data logger set to 6 second intervals. The track looks much better. I'm not sure if the logging interval is the only factor, though. I was also on a mountain instead of in a canyon, so more of the sky was visible.

As I was standing on the peak, a plane flew by, far below me. The pictures of it aren't very good for several reasons but mostly because I grabbed the wrong camera. I guess that's the problem with carrying so many. Anyway, I don't think that plane should have been that low.

As usual, it's late and I'm tired. Here's the map and pictures. I think some of the pictures turned out pretty nice.


Thursday, November 20, 2008

Sunset from Lone Mountain

Wow, it's been a busy week. So much going on. I got a Spot Satellite Messenger for me for Suzanne's early Christmas present. It's a GPS receiver that uses communications satellites to relay your position. Works when cell phones don't. Great for solitary hikers. I'll get into more details later. Anyway, I wanted to try it out in tracking mode, and I really had to go for a hike today (long story), so I raced the sunset up Lone Mountain. (I won, and the sunset even had a head start!)

I have lots of pictures to process and tracks to generate, etc., etc., but I'm too tired now. Maybe I'll have a chance tomorrow. In the mean time, here are a few pictures. The first is a view of the Fountain Hills fountain from near the peak of Lone Mountain.


Next, a couple of pictures of the Superstition Mountains.



And finally, the setting sun.

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One quick story about something funny that happened on the way down the mountain. I was getting close to the bottom of the mountain. It was pretty dark by then. I was having a little trouble seeing the trail even though it's well worn (almost got a flashlight out). I was mostly watching where I was putting my feet (didn't want to step on a rattler in the dark) but would glance ahead now and then. Once when I looked up, there was a teddy bear cholla just to the side of the trail, at a spot where the trail curved, so with a quick glance it looked like the cholla was on the trail. Under certain lighting conditions (twilight, stormy weather), the needles of teddy bear chollas almost seem to glow. Their trunks are usually dark brown or black. So I glanced up and saw this thing on the trail. It's shape made it look like a man wearing a white shirt dark pants. I was slightly surprised to see somebody coming up the trail in the dark.

Have you ever noticed how, if you don't get a very good look at something, your brain will try to help you out by filling in the details? My brain had already filled in a lot of details by turning this indistinct, almost glowing shape into a hiker, but it didn't stop there. Nope, it's got more imagination than that. I also believed that I saw the hiker's left leg moving forward, and his right arm swinging forward. Wow, such detail from just a glance in the dark. Well, my brain must have been so busy filling in visual details that it neglected to do anything about sound. Here's a hiker walking up a rocky trail (crunch, crunch, crunch), uphill (pant, pant), lots of movement in baggy clothes (swish, swish), but I heard absolutely nothing. Nothing * at * all. That's what freaked me out. As soon as I had moved my eyes back to the trail, my brain had filled in loads of visual detail but left out the sound. I immediately looked up to figure out how he could be so utterly and completely silent and saw the cholla. Whew! I don't have to run back up the mountain.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Guess where ...

Yep, Bulldog Canyon. This morning I was looking at some pictures from yesterday and it looked like it would be easy to get up on a ridge to the northeast. Well, I just proved that you can't tell how hard it will be to go somewhere from so far away. I didn't get on top of the ridge, but my legs were tired from yesterday. Maybe I could have done it if I'd been fresh. I was standing there looking across a ravine and thinking "I should have gone that way", but I was too tired to do it.

I sat at the base of a cliff taking pictures for several minutes. During that time, my GPS data logger seems to have wandered around by itself. Suzanne said that maybe one of the hawks took it for a ride. The trip statistics say that my average speed was 8 kph and my maximum speed was 5 kph. I don't know how that's possible. Maybe because I was moving so much when I wasn't moving. Also, my minimum altitude was 91 meters below sea level. Blub, blub. Maybe being next to a cliff in a canyon blocked most of the GPS satellite signals.

I used to have the data logger set up to log my position every 6 seconds. I bumped it up to 10 seconds and that seemed to double how long the battery should last. I was thinking that might be because it doesn't write to EEPROM as often, but maybe it's because it shuts down the receiver for longer logging intervals and doesn't get as good of a fix when it comes back on. Anyway, I set it back to 6 seconds and we'll see how it does on my next adventure.


Saturday, November 15, 2008

Back to Bulldog Canyon

It was another absolutely gorgeous Saturday afternoon, and I spent it in an absolutely gorgeous place. There was a lot of traffic on the drive to our parking spot. There must have been some church group that had spent Friday night there. There was a ranger on the road checking passes of everybody that went by. He was writing a ticket for a guy driving a Suburban. There was no traffic once we got past the intersection of 10 and 3554, though. This time, I was able to drive up the hill I could not drive up last weekend. It was nice being able to park a little closer to where we were going to hike.

I keep saying "we". A friend and coworker went hiking with me today. We used to hike together a couple of years ago, but he got too busy with school to hike for a while. Paul is taking a break from classes now, though.

I was looking at Google Earth a couple of days ago and saw what looked like it might be a route to the top of a ridge I've been trying to get to for a few years. That's where we went today. I don't think we even got halfway up to the top of the ridge, though. That's OK. The view was terrific where we were.

Near the beginning of the hike, a couple of hawks kept flying over us and screeching. I don't know if they were screeching at us or at each other. Here's one.

From BC_2008_11_15

After a while, one of them perched on this rock and watched us for a long time.

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We stopped climbing when the trail got uncomfortably steep. This is looking up towards the ridge. It looks too steep to walk up.

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It looks like I could walk up this way, though.

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Or maybe over that way.

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You can see Spooky Hill, Horse Shoe Mountain, Red Mountain, Fountain Hills, and a bunch of other stuff in this picture.

From BC_2008_11_15

My GPS data logger seemed to work OK. At least I didn't have any trouble downloading the data this time. My position seemed to jump around a lot, though. I think the military must have been messing with the signals or data.


Monday, November 10, 2008

Small cave video

While I was hiking on Saturday, I made a short video of one of the small caves. I uploaded it to YouTube on Saturday, but it didn't show until today. OK, I didn't look for it until today. Here it is.

Fixed (maybe)

I got my @trip PC software working again late last night. I'm sure that the problem is with it and not the data logger, because I tried loading tracks saved on the PC and the software still crashed. The second time that I un-installed and reinstalled the software (I know, definition of insanity, but I was dealing with Windows so you never know, and it worked), it started working. Whew. I was really bummed about not being able to use the data logger, but I'm back in business now.

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Looks scary from here.

See the white circle in the picture below? That's about where I was on September 1 of this year. Looking at this picture, I can't figure out how I got up there or why I didn't fall off. It must not look as bad when you are actually up there, though. I remember that the route I could take was very restricted. I do not hike on steep slopes that have a cliff or drop off within about 50 feet below where I will be walking. If I fall for some reason, I don't want to slide off a cliff. I stopped where I did in September because the only direction I could go from there was to my right (to the right in the picture, too). That would have put me on a steep slope that ends in a cliff. Forget that nonsense. I'll take some pictures and go home. And that's what I did.

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Bulldog Canyon is so pretty...

Wow, what a hike. It started out with a couple of obstacles, but I couldn't have asked for a better result. I just wish that my pictures could convey what I saw.

I haven't spent much time in Bulldog Canyon lately, so I decided I would hike up to the first mountain ridge I ever climbed there. I've driven to that general area several times in the past. I headed out there at about 2 in the afternoon. Along the way, there are a couple of rough spots in the road that are difficult to climb. Usually, I just lock the rear axle and drive up. That didn't work yesterday, though. I even tried getting a little bit of a run up. All I did was stir up dust. It doesn't look as steep or rocky in this picture as it does when you are driving on it.

From BC_2008_11_08

No problem, though. I was within easy walking distance of my destination. I parked and before I even opened the door, I realized that I had forgotten my backpack. Dangit. Can I even go for a hike? Well, I've got 3 bottles of water, and I can carry them in a Walgreen's bag. OK, less water than I had planned on, so I can't go as far, so I can't go to the ridge I was planning to visit. Well, I'll just wander around and maybe I'll see something interesting. As I meandered aimlessly in a generally southward direction, I glanced up here and halfway thought about seeing if I could find a way up there.

From BC_2008_11_08

It wasn't long before I had forgotten about the little hindrances and was enjoying the view.

From BC_2008_11_08

From BC_2008_11_08

I had been cold in the morning so I was wearing a black T-shirt on the hike. It was close to 80, though, so I felt a little warm in the sun. I took advantage of what shade there was.

From BC_2008_11_08

I finally got a picture of the most dangerous animal in the desert (I was attacked by them 3 times on this hike) today. They look so cute and cuddly, but don't be fooled. They lay traps all over the desert, usually in places that you might think you can finally relax, trying to twist your ankles and leave you stranded out in the middle of nowhere. I've seen coyotes, javelinas, deer, wild horses, centipedes, tarantulas, scorpions, gila monsters, and rattlesnakes on hikes. Some of them have warned me away, but none of them have laid traps for me the way this devious little fur ball does.

From BC_2008_11_08

Before long, I found myself at the top of the cliffs I had half heartedly thought about climbing as I started out on this hike. It was so pretty, I got goosebumps as I stood there looking around. I knew I wouldn't be able to get a picture of it, but I had to try.

From BC_2008_11_08

I could have walked along, taking 360 degreee panoramas every 20 or 30 feet, and still not have begun to capture what I saw. With 2D pictures, the viewer can't tell that there's a large rock in the foreground with cliffs behind it. Without something for reference (such as people) there's no sense of scale or distance. I think of saguaros as the standard candle of the desert, but they aren't always where you want them to be, and their height can vary quite a bit.

Once I got to the tops of the cliffs, it was easy to find shade. There was a light breeze up there. At first I avoided the shade, though. As soon as I would step into it, my skin would feel icy cold. Once my sweat dried, though, the shade was comfortable. People that live on the Gulf coast of Texas have no idea what I'm talking about here.

I wandered around up there for about an hour. There are a lot of small "caves" in the rock.

From BC_2008_11_08

The floors of the caves are covered in powdery dirt, and that's where ant lions live.

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Some rocks look almost hollow.

From BC_2008_11_08

After a while I noticed that the sun was getting low. There would probably be enough moonlight to walk, but not enough to pick a route, and I was in an unfamiliar place. I had to start back. A lot of people that are "lost" in the desert aren't really lost in the traditional sense of the word. They know about where they are, and they know where they want to be. They just can't figure out how to get to there from here. You usually can't go in a straight line. The route you pick may be blocked by cliffs. If you don't have the provisions or stamina to explore for a route, you're doomed. From up on the cliffs, I thought I could see a couple of quick routes back to the truck. Since it would be dark soon and I had no food, flashlight, or warm clothes (all in my backback, in the garage), I had to take the path with no unknowns; the way I came up. Even doing that, I made a couple of wrong turns, but I didn't wander far from my intended route before I figured it out. I got back to the truck before it was dark and still had a bottle of water left.

When I downloaded the pictures I was, of course, disappointed. The pictures look so blah compared to being there. You'll just have to go out there with me some time.

I was planning to make a trip map as I had for my last few hikes, but I ran into problems there, too. I was able to get most of the pictures geotagged, but the @trip PC software keeps crashing when I download the track. I need to write to their tech support. Their software also has a bug that corrupts file extensions of random pictures. At first I thought it was deleting my pictures, but I figured out how to recover them. There were a lot of pictures that I didn't think were worth putting on the web album, but it has 75 pictures anyway.


Thursday, November 06, 2008

Sunset at the end of Meridian Road

It was a beautiful day today. I had to get out in the desert after work. I couldn't go far, though. The sun sets pretty early these days. I went to the end of Meridian road to watch the sunset. I took a lot of pictures with the plan to put a well-documented trip on @trip. If I can get a gold star for every second or third trip I put on there, I'll never run out of web space for trips.

It was not a remarkable hike. Short and quick. It was kind of cool out there. I was wearing a T-shirt. I was warm from hiking but my arms were cold and getting stiff so that it was hard to mess with the camera. It's time to find a sweatshirt to keep in my backpack.

The pictures I put on the web album are not all the same as the pictures I put in the trip. They serve different purposes, so I put different pictures on each, so you have to look at both. Sorry.


Tuesday, November 04, 2008

A pretty day

It was much cooler today than it has been for a while. It only got up the the mid 70's or so. There were no lines when I went to vote, so when I got home I decided to go for a short ride. I went out to the Broadway trailhead and took a few pictures of the mountains and clouds. I wasn't planning to make HDRI's, but I reviewed some of the pictures I took and with the bright clouds and mountains in shadows, HDRI was the only way to go. Here are a couple of examples showing the best plain vanilla picture and the HDRI of the same view.

From 2008_11_04

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Here's what most of the pictures turned out like. Yuck.

From 2008_11_04

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Hewitt Canyon Rd

Yesterday I said that I was going to Bulldog Canyon today to enjoy the quiet. I went out Hewitt Canyon road instead. It was much quieter that the Broadway cave trail. I wasn't planning to hike, but I couldn't resist wandering around on a mountainside. Well, you have to get out of the truck to hear the quiet, and while you're out you might as well walk around a little. It would be silly to just stand there going, "Ahhh". I went up the slope on the left edge of this picture.

From 2008_11_02

Anybody know what kind of cholla this is?

From 2008_11_02

There are a lot of pretty rocks out there. I only took pictures of this shiny one, though.

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Know what's worse than having catclaw acacia grab your forearm? Having it grab your lip after it lets go of your arm and bounces up.

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This is Roblas Butte. I'd like to climb it (because it's there, and the view has got to be great up there), but it may not be possible without violating some of my hiking rules, and I'm not going to do that.

From 2008_11_02

There were high, thin clouds and a few puffy little clouds. A polarizing filter and Photomatix made them look pretty good in the pictures.

From 2008_11_02

From 2008_11_02


Saturday, November 01, 2008

Broadway Cave, success!

Yes, I know, I said I was going to wait until it cooled off about 20 degrees before I tried that again, and it was about 90 today. Well, I kept thinking about it this week. I thought about how it's a very long hike (by my standards, anyway (6 km)). That means I have to be in reasonably good condition to do it. Well, I could do it when I'm out of shape, but it would be difficult and I would pay for it for days afterward. What if I decided to wait until it cooled off, but before it did, I sprained my ankle really bad, or broke a leg, or had a heart attack or stroke, or got lung cancer, and was never able to get back into good enough condition to hike up there? Every time I drove down 60 I would look over at the cave and think, "I could have hiked up there, but now I never will." I decided to do it while I could. You might ask why it was so important to do it. Just one reason, that same old reason. Because it's there.

While I was resting in the shade of a saguaro near the cave, Lauren texted me. She asked if the cave was as cool as I expected it to be. I told her it wasn't cool, but I didn't get into the long explanation of why it wasn't. Actually, I never expected it to be cool. I don't like the trail to the cave, and I didn't like the cave. I didn't expect to. But it was there, and I could go, so I had to go.

On the trail, you are never out of the sight of civilization. That makes for some interesting pictures sometimes, but generally I don't like it. I like to get away from the rat race when I go hiking. And it isn't just the sight of civilization that is bothersome. I find the sound even more bothersome. For the entire 3 or 4 hours that I was on the trail, I was accompanied by two sounds. First there is the constant drone of traffic, punctuated by the occasional Harley with loud pipes. Second, there are the barking dogs. Bark, bark, bark, all day long. Why do so many people get dogs and then leave them in the yard all day to annoy the neighbors with their barking? These sounds follow you all the way to the cave. There is no escaping them.

I'm not saying I didn't enjoy the hike. I did. The sights are beautiful (if you look in the right direction ;-) ). Will I do it again? Probably not. I've already been there, and I have pictures. I'm going to go to Bulldog Canyon tomorrow and listen to the silence.

Anyway, about the hike... It's long. For about 3/4 of the way, it's a gentle up hill slope. Most people like gentle slopes, but they make my hip hurt. Strolling around flat places (like a shopping mall) is painful and leaves me limping. It felt good to get to the steeper part of the trail.

Have you ever hiked a long ways and then got to a steep part and thought, "Oh great, I'm already tired and now I have to climb"? I didn't. When I started up the steep part, my legs felt fresh and strong. That's why I went today instead of putting it off for cooler weather. I knew it would be easy today, but who knows what the future holds?

The steep part wasn't extremely steep. It's still a hike and not a climb (use of hands is not necessary). I must still be short a few red blood cells. I stopped a lot to catch my breath up the steep part. There was a light breeze out of the southwest, which felt really nice. When I got to the cave, though, I found out that the breeze didn't blow there. It was stifling. Also, the cave smelled sort of like urine. Maybe it was all the bird droppings. The cave was not a pleasant place to hang out today. I took a few pictures and went back down the trail to sit in the shade of a saguaro, where there was a breeze.

It's a shallow cave. A mine has been dug into the mountain at the back of the cave. The mine is only 10 or 20 meters deep. It looks like it might have been partially filled in, but I didn't want to stay in there long enough to figure it out.

Have you ever gotten to the end of a long hike and thought you couldn't have gone much further because your legs were so wobbly? I didn't. My legs were tired but had a few miles left in them. My hip was making me limp, though. I think it's tendinitis. What if it isn't and it gets worse and I go to the doctor and he says, "You need an artificial hip, and they aren't built to withstand hiking". Well, then I'm glad I hiked to Broadway cave today.