25 January 2015

Exploring Death Valley National Park

Dec 2014

Death Valley National Park (DVNP) has been on my 'most wanted' list for some time.  From early Spring until late Autumn temperature often stays on unbearable level. December being announced as a 'low season' offered good reason to spend a long weekend there (among motivation in low temperature). Overall it was not too far away, some 5 hours by car.

It's a wast, really large area to explore all interesting point of sights at one visit. During the first trip wanted to explore the most important places there to get overall understanding of the nature and rank some importance of sights. This (among long distances, unknown distances of lack of water, high vertical differences etc.) excluded hiking trip being the very first visit the National Park (NP) overall.

Long road trip from San Diego, Highway 15 to Las Vegas. At Baker, off from 15 to 127 north. Fancy road. Still some 200km to go up north. Driving the first time the road itself felt nice in addition to naked scenery. High mountains everywhere. Some snowy top mountains far off north east, obviously in Nevada (Charleston Peak in NV, obviously?).

At Amargosa (village/city), a junction to 190, still some 50km to go. At first glimpse of being nowhere, a sign of ''Opera House" at Amargosa CA,  appeared to be really good one Opera House. Just, Wow!

Last three days there's been heavy rain in the DVNP. Floods been obvious in so many places within the NP. Was expecting closures, which became very true.

The Death Valley National Park was, and still is, the home of Shoshone Indian Tribe. They've been living there over thousand years. Hope they going to live there at least another thousand years.


Highway 190 towards Panamint Springs


Dante's View

Once arriving at a border of the NP, decided to see the whole Death Valley, Salt Sea etc. on one sight. Dante's View was perfect for it. Being over a mile above on a peak (nearly 1700m above the sea level) the valley offered great view. Some clouds hung in the valley, as well as along the mountain tops near by.

Telescope Peak (3366m above sea level) on Panamint Range mountains across the Basewater Basin appeared few times as clouds ran in fast speed. Great view.

Clouds covered most of mountains on Panamint Range in the west. The sun brought short appearance every now and then.  It was surreal to think and see Basewater Basin (292ft below sea level), the lowest point of America, was just under your feet, 1700m namely. Lots of 'white something' was down there. Couldn't distinct humans on valley. Following days revealed what it was actually.

Panamint Range at Sunset

Dante's View at Sunset

Furnace Creek

The heart of civilization of the park, so to speak. Meaning Visitor Center of the NP, gas station, a store, Pubs and a Ranch offering classy rooms for staying.  Kind of mandatory place if one is on a vehicle. Visitor Centers at NPs are often offering crucial information for visitors, as well as background information and history of the NP itself. Really appreciated this one too, presuming paid by tax payers money. This was the place to rent a Jeep for the real Backcountry roads.

The Ranch at Furnace Creek

Basewater Basin

292ft below the sea level, being the lowest point of North America. Absurd feeling there as had just passed mountains before reaching there. Vast flat valley, Death Valley. Bright white something in the valley. Thick, polygon formed white salt. A dried lake. Heavy rains had brought floods which had broken polygons into random formed objects. Most of the dry salty land was grey coloured, not pure white. This was (one of) the most visited place within the DVNP. No wonder. Worth walk on salt.  Had a lucky day, premier snow had just come overnight and covered Telescope Peak, providing a nice view from the Basin in the morning.

Badwater Basin (-292ft) seen from Dante's View (5476ft)

Telescope Peak (11050ft) got snow last night.
Salt polygons on Badwater Basin (-292ft)

Devil's Golf Course

Closed. Floods.

Zabriskie Point

Perhaps the most wanted place to see was a Zabriskie Point. A classic view. Antonioni's film, another classic. Closed for nature renovation until Mar 2015. Hard to describe disappointment not to allow to walk around and shoot photos from there. Well, perhaps high motivation to return? Well, from Golden Canyon one could have walked up to Badlands. Didn't do it, being lazy, sort of. Would have been number one visiting point.

Natural Bridge

A mile rough backcountry road and a 5min walk. Didn't raise wow level. Next.

Artist's Palette

Didn't know what to expect. Appeared to be a twisted road with all sort of forms of rocks. Their colours were striking, red, amber, magenta, cyan. Really strange. From sand stone to sort of granite. Got better understanding of the titles within the DVNP, well thought. Absolutely worth drive through and walk.

Artist's Palette

Titus Canyon

Closed. Floods and preparation to becoming marathon race.  However, its west side was open for walking. Straight vertical rocks narrowed tiny road to even more tiny. This would certainly be on the agenda (as well as its neighbor, Fall Canyon).

Devil's Cornfield

Strange looking bushes here and there.  Didn't dare to walk there, not sure if it was allowed. Photographic.

Devil's Cornfield

Mesquite Sand Dunes

One of (at least) three sand dunes in the DVNP (Eureka and Panamint dunes). Fantastic looking dunes, which wind forms every day. Nice to walk around few hours. Very photographic, at sunrise and sunset and at night (had a full moon so no milky way shooting this time).  The Eureka Sand Dunes was on the list but experiencing these backcountry roads made plans impossible.

Mesquite Sand Dunes and Grapevine Mountains

Charcoal Kilns

West side of the Panamint Range, or within the range. Fantastic looking old site where wood was burn to make char coils. Swiss design.  It was unbelievable but the Kilns were in the middle of the pine forest. Tough needles and short trees. From here the trail started to the top of Telescope Peak.  Low hanging clouds and -2C weather stopped plans to reach the top. Visibility was about 200 meters.  One of the best places in the DVNP.

Charcoal Kilns

Scotty's Castle

Short stop. Beautiful.

Ubehebe Crater

A crater. Interesting to see and walk around. Fantastic views 360 degrees.

The Racetrack Playa

On Wanted-to-see list, top of it.

A long backcountry road, about 30 miles. They called it a Dirt Road.  Really tough drive. Interesting scenery, different one than in any other valley.  Cactus forest. Coyotes. High mountains, Cottonwood Mountains on east and mountains within Last Chance Range on west. Cannot recommend any other vehicle than a Jeep (with special tires and low pressure in them).

Cactus Forest


The Racetrack Playa

Teakettle Junction

Fancy road junction where people have left their tea kettle pans. From there one could see snowy top Sierra Nevada mountains far in the west. Pretty place.

Teakettle Junction

The Grandstand

Range of rocks in northern part of the Racetrack Playa.  Beautiful, black formed rocks on flat dry lake.  Nice place to walk (when the lake is dry. If it isn't, one shouldn't walk there as steps leave traces which will take ages to get vanished).

The Grandstand

Moving/Sliding/Gliding Rocks (you name it)

They looked amazing. How on earth? There's no logic in direction they had moved.  Again, one can walk on Playa only if the lake is dry.   Walked quite a while on the lake.  It was hard to believe what eyes had seen.  Absolute favorite of the DVNP.  Like a coincidence, San Diego Scientists solved their mystery some time ago.  There was a camping site near. Would have been fantastic to stay there overnight. Perhaps one day.

Sliding Rocks on the Racetrack Playa


Such a diversity place; dry salt lake, high snowy top mountains, even some waterfall, sand dunes, colourful rock formed canyons, thick pine forest, cactus forest, wildlife etc.  Sceneries were great. No wonder why some people return there year after year.

03 January 2015

Summing Up My Outdoor Year 2014

Jan 2015


Slow start as previous year. Not much activities on weekdays, weekends filled with cycling, either mountain biking or on the road.

NHL Winter Classic arrived at the LA. Saw TeemuS playing at Dodgers Stadium under starry sky with 55000 other spectators.

Long walks on beaches, Gray Whale watching, bird watching and cycling filled weekends.

Jan - Grey Whale watching, CA


Hiking and cycling. Did hiking trips to Santa Ysabel, Wilderness Gardens and Cuyamaca State Park, all in San Diego County.

High season for oranges. Always an inspiring sight when seeing fields full of bright and fresh oranges. And they tasted good, too!

Feb - Hiking on Santa Ysabel trails, CA


Walks on beaches continued. From Torrey Pines to La Jolla Shores and back being absolute favorite, barefeet.

Hiking trips to Mount Laguna and Sequoia National Park.  Spring well in progress around southern California.

A hiking trip on southern Sierra Nevada, in Sequoia NP, was the most interesting trip. Big snowy top mountains and huge sequoia trees were simply magnificent to see and experience at once. Lack of snow (under 3000m) was a slight disappointment.

Mar - Hiking on Sequoia National Park, CA


Road cycling. Gran Fondo San Diego. 160km. Flat, up and down. 10km long contiguous climbs. Reasonably good speed. Tough.

Walks on beaches along LA, barefeet.

Followed 41st San Diego Crew Classic, a rowing event and season opener in the US.

Apr - San Diego Crew Classic, CA


Few local hiking trips, Mount Woodson, Black Mountain etc.  Only few times on a saddle.

A long waited first holiday of the year, Memorial Day and a long weekend.  Visited Grand Canyon, AZ.   Wow-effect was guaranteed after seeing the canyon for the first time. Did along the Rim hike and Rim-to-River and back hike. Latter was exhausted one.  Superb place for hiking indeed.

May - Hiking on Grand Canyon National Park, AZ


Lazy month. Walks on beaches and cities, no real hiking trips, nothing much on a saddle either.

Spent mid summer in Finland. Everything felt so green (California is a desert after all).

Jun - Walking on backcountry roads, Finland


4th of July and another long weekend. A trip to Big Sur. Hiking trips on Point Lobos, 17 Mile Drive, and State Parks in Big Sur. Huge cliffs, big redwood trees, sandy beaches, sealife etc. Extraordinary place.

More walks for bird watching.

And finally a longer hiking trip on San Jacinto Wilderness.

Jul - Hiking on Tahquiz Peak, CA


Walks on beaches and cities, bird watching.  Just commuting on bike.

On local hiking trips headed to Palomar Mountain State Park and William Heise County Park.

Had joined Sierra Club earlier. Was looking for suitable and interesting team and place for hiking. Found one, was approved and joined the team. Longest hiking trip was about to take place in Yosemite National Park.  Few days hiking on wilderness on high altitude.  Due to very dry season there's no water on waterfalls, it was such a gorgeous place anyway.

Aug - Hiking on Yosemite National Park, CA


Some city walks on San Francisco and Seattle, good ones both.

Finally a looong waited event was to take place, a sea kayaking trip.  Had a week long paddling trip on San Juan Islands, in Washington State, just on border of Canada.  Vancouver Island was pretty near.  Had some walks on the island as well as some cycling trips.  Whale watching and wildlife naturally, too.  Saw the very first time Orcas (killer whales) in the real and natural environment in Pacific Ocean.

Paddling trip felt great.  Hilly islands with confiner forests. Most islands had State Parks of their own. Even Deers lived on islands. Porpoises and Harbor Seals jumped around our kayaks.

The only real hiking trip took place on Mount Rainier National Park, WA.  Great mountain was a center point of all trails. Forests, rivers and snow. Simply fantastic place.

Sep - Paddling on Pacific Northwest, WA


Back on beaches again. Barefoot walks.  Did some bird watching as migration had already started.

Did a long weekend hiking and mountain biking trip to Big Bear Lake, CA.  Usually a Ski Resort but heard friends that it offered activities around the year, containing one of the coolest mountain bike trails. The base level was on 2000m above the sea level. The PCT crossed the region, too.  Fall foliage was at peak while visiting there.

Oct - Mountain biking on Big Bear Lake, CA


Walks on beaches and bird watching on lagoons. Lots of birds at this time of the year.

Did several hikes on Mount Laguna and Cuyamaca State Park.  Not on a saddle for some time.

End of the month headed to Arizona. Spent a long weekend there in different places, having walks around famous places (Antelope Canyon, Lake Powell, Horseshoe Bend, Monument Valley, Flagstaff, Sedona and Scottsdale). Awesome places.

Nov - Walking on Antelope Canyon, AZ



Spent a long weekend on Death Valley National Park, CA.  Didn't know what to expect, but appeared to be very interesting place, being a desert (and high mountains and ...).  Did some walks on famous places there. It's a large park having long distances. Lack of water makes hiking trips challenging. Worth visiting for sure.

Some beach and city walks before headed Finland for Winter Solstice and Christmas time. Snow arrived just before Eve bringing White Christmas even to southern Finland. Nice, especially during the darkest time of the year.

Dec - Walking on backcountry roads, Finland

Summing Up

GPS recorded some 3800km of walks, hikes, cycling and even some paddling. No serious running due to injuries.  Most of the activities were purely for recreation purposes.

Really happy that had a chance to visit some awesome places like Sequoia NP, Yosemite NP, Pacific Northwest and places in Arizona e.g. Grand Canyon, and not to forget couple of short visits in Finland, experiencing both summer and winter.


Photography as a hobby has started to take more and more time. This has really grown up during various outdoor activities to record nature, landscape and wildlife. Learning theory is important in addition to keep shutter bug active. Looks like during 2015 this hobby is going to steal even more time from other outdoor activities.  Becoming photos will mainly be published under my name on different sites though most will be visible on this site, too

The best photo taken during 2014?  Difficult to bring up just one but IMHO it was this one:

El Capitan and Half Dome in morning haze
Yosemite National Park, CA

Happy New Year!

22 November 2014

Observing nature on Mount Laguna

Nov 2014

Extremely dry season has continued in Southern California. Autumn colours have not shined as they did a year ago.  Oaks and maple trees have changed their colours but lots of them have just dried out.  What about other life in nature, have birds moved off to more moisture lands? Had it rained more in near by mountains and thus been able to grow as before?  Were autumn colours more striking on mountains than near the coast?

These and other unscientific thoughts in mind headed to Mount Laguna, less than hour off east from San Diego. Mount Laguna belong to Cleveland National Forest. Its meadow lies on about 1600m above sea level and offers magnificent trails for hiking, trail running and mountain biking. Have been there multiple times during last two years, previous posts here and here.

Parked along the Sunrise Highway and started to hike via usual route, Sunset Trail towards Water-of-the-Woods pond.  Weather was +5C and partly cloudy. Max temp promised +10C. Long waited rain overnight had made ground wet. Peak of autumn colours on noble trees seemed to be over, but still some striking colours were left. Eventually it was the evergreen forest which made the place so nice.

Ground squirrels had busy time, so did all little birds. Signs of deers on trail were not so common.  Once arrived at the pond, spotted a Great Blue Heron standing still near the pond. Ducks had their own ceremonies on-going and were not bothered by others.

Four different trails left from the pond. Chose to continue the Sunset Trail towards north.  Perhaps the most common sound was a warning sign from Acorn Woodpeckers, signaling to each other that a human being was disturbing their neighborhood.

The Sunset trail had its highest point about 1km after the pond.  From there the scene opened towards west. Low hanging clouds covered some valleys. Great view.

Ascended to the north side of the meadow.  Jumped into a Big Laguna Trail, back south towards Big Laguna Lake.  The meadow was so dry. Ravens yelled somewhere near.  Few mountain biker came across. Fabulous trail.

Soon noticed that the lake was out of water. Completely dry. What a disappointment. Crossed the meadow to east side.

Followed a while trail runners. It was about Mount Laguna Trail Marathon race.

Soon spotted few Red-tailed Hawks. Watched a while their gliding above the trees. Were they hunting? Majestic look when they stayed on top of the woods.

In some places on the trail it felt like there's no life at all, where as in some other places there's full of life. Birds gathered in small areas, many species. Obviously something good to eat.  Catching these birds into photos would have taken much more patience.

Crossing the meadow last time and headed back to starting point on Sunrise Highway.


Life hasn't gone anywhere despite extremely long dry season. At least not so much when observing visually.  Of course when the lake or pond is without water, waterbirds etc. need to find a new place.  Hawks and Ravens were still there. So where many Woodpeckers and Ground Squirrels.

One the best places in San Diego County.

A few snapshot


Great Blue Heron

Spotted Towhee

Mountain Chickadee

Layered Mountains

Oak Titmouse

Look at the grip!

Downy Woodpecker

Dark-Eyed Junco

Autumn Colours I

Autumn Colours II

Northern Flicker

Big Laguna Trail

California Ground Squirrel

Red-Tailed Hawk I

Red-Tailed Hawk II

Mount Laguna Trail Marathon

In Descending Order

Hanging On

Pygmy Nuthatch


Townsend's Warbler

Autumn Colours III

Western Bluebird staying still on strong head wind

May I present, a Master Himself and His Collection, Sir Acorn Woodpecker

Autumn Colours IV