03 August 2014

Exploring San Elijo Lagoon

July 2013

On San Diego North County, at the city of Encinitas, there's a preserve area called San Elijo Lagoon Ecological Reserve. It's namely a lagoon or a kind of salt marsh, which provides peaceful living conditions of variety of animals, mostly for various species of birds (some information told there's 300 different species of birds in there ...).

It's a pretty good place for human beings, too. There's a Nature Center, some self-guided trails, and especially over 5 miles of trails on the edge of the lagoon (trail map here). It seems to be popular for trail runners (no wonder it's quite flat and there aren't many flat sections near by).

Been few times there, at Nature Center and on its guided paths, but mainly on trails at lagoon itself. Going back and forth, one gets easily 15-20km at one go (plus two memory cards full of photos if one stays too long).

The east side trailhead is shadowed by massive eucalyptus trees. Trees and bushes there offer good shelter for various species of birds. Soon terrain changes and one start to see pine trees, very similar to ones at Torrey Pines.

The trail goes slightly higher than the lagoon, giving good sights across of it. Fairly easy to spot white Snowy Egrets or Great Blue Herons on grassland.

For birdwatching it's almost a paradise. As long as you've got patience staying calm and wait, you'll usually be awarded. From Hummingbirds to Ospreys, all sizes between them, various tones from almost screaming like, Woodpecker's monotonic knocking to beautiful singing.

There seems to live other species as well, signs at trailheads warn about Mountain Lions and Rattlesnakes. Former haven't met yet on live, though latter ones on multiple occasion.  A Raccoon being the latest mammal on the met-once-list.

Though thousands of cars, which roar on Interstate 5 by crossing the lagoon, bring huge noise, one doesn't notice noise once you start to observe nature there. That's an unscientific fact.

All in all, it's a pretty good place to relax, get in better shape, charge your batteries or observe nature (or do all of them). Worth visiting (every now and then). And hey, gorgeous beaches on Solana Beach and Encinitas are just a couple of minutes away.

Some random photos

More snapshots here.


Self-guided trail at Nature Center

2x bzzzzz

Opened up

Singing lessons

Twisted neck

Cormorant drying wings

Lunch captured!

Building a nest


And you think all mammals can read this? 

Police, Police,  egg's stolen!


A demo of Trail Running

Mourning Cloak

Anna's Hummingbird

Cooper's Hawk


Forced time-out

Approaching landing

Great Blue Heron

Finch in pair

Lunch in mind






Got it

21 July 2014

Hiking trip to Tahquitz Peak

July 2013

Did finally an overnight hiking trip. This was just a preparation trip to bit a longer one coming soon.

Tahquitz Peak and Tahquitz Valley belong to San Bernardino National Forest, just neighboring San Jacinto State Park. Permission for overnights were given by US Forest. The peak was about 2700 meters, whereas neighboring San Jacinto was on above 3000 meters.  Snow was all gone a long time ago.

Starting point was at Humber Park on Idyllwild, about 1900 meters high. At trailhead, a Ranger checked our permission about a) to allow to hike on Devils Slide Trail, b) overnight permission (and specifically on which region) and c) wrote another form to allow using a stove. All these on paper. Stamps and signatures and off we went.

Temperature was above 20C early in the morning and promised to go up to nearly 30C, cooling down again below 20C during the night. What's more, it was a super moon night.

This trip was about to test some new equipment, therefore backpack felt a bit too heavy.  Another bad thing regarding weight was the fact to carry all liquid, there were no creeks or ponds up there to filter some water.  These things limited trip to two days only.  This was not a bear neighborhood so bear canisters were left at home.

Devils Slide Trail was in good condition but closely looking steeper sections on slopes there were lots of lose rocks and dead trees. Felt a bit dangerous, some might roll down.

Once arrived at Saddle Junction, continued Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) towards south to Tahquitz Peak.

Helicopter circled near Lily Rock, a massive rock famous for rock climbing. That couldn't be good news. Continued straight to a Lookout, a cabin occupied by volunteer Rangers on Tahquitz Peak.

Friendly Rangers guided history of the hut, equipment they used and explained tasks they usually did while staying there. It's more or less about spotting wild fires on time.  New technology hadn't arrived there either, as old school equipment stayed in the middle of the floor.

Snacks and other easy stuff filled lunch.

Back on trail and continued Chinquapin Flat. Descending first towards Little Tahquitz Valley and then Tahquitz Valley. Live pine forest with some really tall pine trees changed to a dead tree forest.  Surprisingly the dead forest was most alive what came to animals. Birds competing in singing, hundreds of ground squirrels and some other mammals.

Both valleys had some green grass but no source of water. The PCT water source www-site hinted these creeks having some water until end of May.

Looping back to Saddle Junction it was about time to search for a good camping site. Few other hikers gave good tip, go up the PCT and choose a place near the edge.  Found a good spot, set up tents and circled surroundings.

Another helicopter landed on a feet of Lily Rock.  Bad news was learnt on the following day.

Exchanged sights with a Mule Deer a while until it jumped beautifully behind rocks.

Time for a dinner. Also time to taste dry meals made on new continent. Not too bad actually.  A stove was quick enough and easy to use.  Calculating the amount of water left told how long hike one could do on the next day, it was almost full day ahead.

Couldn't pitch the tent well enough. Had left better stakes at home. Luckily wind stayed calm enough during the night. Used inner net to escape from mosquitos, turned out to be good decision. Had setup the tent with two poles together with short pole jacks. Two pole system turned out to be a good solution, leaving more space in the middle.

Didn't see glimpse of the super moon in the evening and went to sleep under new bag. At first a bit too warm but soon more comfortable.

Woke at night. Rays of moonlight reached inside the tent.  Grabbed a camera and set it up on top of a small rock. 3-6 sec exposures with aperture flat open.  Not a good moment to take photos of starry sky when a too bright moon brightened the sky.  However, the moon brought nice shadows though.

Staying on 2400 meters above sea level, listening wind on pine trees, watching some city lights down in the valley, enjoying scenery on moonlight. Not bad, not bad at all.

In the morning backed up the stuff. Noticed backpack had had some damage (emailed manufacturer day after and a new pack was on post, yet another good service). Dry air proved there was no condensed in the tent, completely dry, just fantastic.

Early morning breakfast. Dark coffee, scrambled eggs and some rye bread.

Continued hiking back to Saddle Junction via the PCT. From there stayed on the PCT and ascended up to the border of the Wilderness State Park and the US Forest. At the same point, the PCT turned to left towards Strawberry Junction. Trail to right (or straight) would have continued to San Jacinto Peak.

Last check of water and started to descend.  One more stop at Saddle Junction. Dark roast coffee with some biscuits and snacks. Tall, old and massive pine trees brought some shadow. Actually temperature had stayed on reasonable level. Life was good.

Final descending on Devils Slide Trail and soon we were at the starting point on Humber Park. About 25km altogether and about 1km of ascending vertically. I like San Jacinto.

Some photos

A traffic sign, it's your choice


Along pine and spruce forest

A Lookout on Tahquitz Peak

Old School

New stuff packed

Evening sun

Tahquitz Peak on left, Lily Rock on right

Mountain slopes on moonlight, city lights of Hemet down in the valley

Starry night under (super) moon

31 May 2014

Hiking Rim-to-River and back on Grand Canyon

May 2014

Seen hundreds of pictures from Grand Canyon over the years and it's been looking nice. However, it's been said that only after seeing it live for the very first time one realizes it what it really looks like.

This in mind headed towards South Rim of the Grand Canyon on Memorial Weekend. Masses of people had made the same decision, unfortunately.

When you arrive the National Park, you see deers and pine forest, still no sneak peek of canyon.  After arriving parking lot near Visitor's Center still no clue about the canyon.

South Rim lies above 2000m above sea level and itself is pretty flat. No mountains or high peaks on the rim.  About 20 meters before Mather Point, probably the most used viewpoint on the South Rim, one sees the canyon for the first time.

At least my mouth stayed half open some time after seeing it for the very first time (few wow's, too). First reaction, it massive, no, it's bigger than massive. Next thought, all colours of different layers. One more observation, there's no (Colorado) river in sight, was it dry as it couldn't be any deeper in canyon, could it?  One more thing,  walls of the canyon looked steep, really steep.

Next, taking a bus to the trail head. There's a free bus routes along the Rim, a really great idea instead of thousands of cars.

Had decided to hike down to the Colorado river via South Kaibab Trail, and assuming to return via the very same route.  A few others started the same trail, not sure how many of them had the river in mind as warning signs everywhere told do NOT to try to hike to river and back in one day.

Took some time to get to used to steep walls and trail on edge of them. First zig zagged one side canyon until arrived at the ridge. Red dust of sand on trail covered soon hiking boots.  On ridge the canyon opened 180 degrees, from west to east, for the very first time. Very soon you noticed the South Rim being somewhere up in there and size of human being on viewpoints became tiny ones.

The sun hit straight towards some temple formed mountains there. Different variations of red colour emphasized their form.

The trail was nice staying on ridge as it allowed good scenery on every direction.  The sun started to warm more and more while descending to the bottom.  For first time it felt weird to start the hike descending first and the hike would be ended by steep ascend.

Still no sight of the river yet when met a first group of mule riders. "Pitstop" some rider yelled, all riders halted their mules and one of them did an urgent nature call on the trail.  All happy faces within a group, though to me a bit scary on some steep sections of the trail.

Passed the first crossing of another trail, Tonto Trail, which headed in parallel of the Rim but few hundred meters down in the canyon.

Saw only few people heading more down to the canyon. Most of them had turned back, wise decision.

Stopped a couple of times to listen could one hear the river which was still not in sight. No, absolutely no sounds of floating waters. Suddenly after few turns in steeper section saw the first sight of a green river, dunes and some trees. Still far away somewhere down there. Couldn't fully see up to the Rim anymore either.

All the way down couldn't keep my finger off the shutter button of a camera. It felt more a duty than any guarantee of capturing breathtaking photos.

Zoom lens helped to spot few people down on the trail as well as on sand dunes near the river.  The Colorado River. In Grand Canyon National Park. It felt just great.

One started to feel constant descending on legs, which became heavier. The sun heat the air which felt much warmer down there than high on the Rim.

Brave steps on a narrow walking bridge and crossed the river.  The very first thing was to rush down to the sand dunes, take off the hiking boots and socks and wade to the river to cool down feet.  Boy it felt freezingly cold! Didn't the sun warm it at all (learnt the reason from a wikipedia later)?

Salty snacks, electrolyte drinks and lots of water.  All other hikers did the same steps, by nature.

The river was about 50-100m wide, having easy looking rapids every few hundred meters.

After crossing the bridge, the name of the trail changed to North Kaibab Trail.  Continued a short distance while crossed a tiny Bright Angel Creek and arrived at a small cabin. The main point to stop there was to get fresh water.  CamelBak was becoming empty so having fresh water here was kind of a mandatory task.  A mule deer watched in short distance while I filled in water bottles.

Asked few other hikers which way they'd decided to return. Most of them said Bright Angel Trail. Hmm... that's other trail than my plan was.  A quick view to the map showed that it was few miles longer but had a couple of important water sources within the trail whereas South Kaibab had none.  After considering a second or two decided to head towards Bright Angel Trail.

The trail name was now called Bright Angel Trail. It followed the river, crossed the river via another walking bridge and then followed again the river on the south side, staying quite near the water level.

After one bend came across rafting boats on a shore. People were preparing to move back to the river and its rapids there.  Mule riding and rafting were popular here, having about a year's queue to guarantee a place in them (I'd pick rafting for sure!).

The South Rim was not in sight from the river, rapids brought the sound level which covered any other sound or noise.

Arrived at the Pipe Creek and Pipe Creek Resthouse.  Now the Bright Angel Trail left the Colorado river and turned back towards South Rim.  The trail stayed on a narrow canyon. Steep zig zag trail, no wind, temperature now well above +30C, it really started to feel a heavy hiking trip.  Met other hikers and sharing heat and steepness made hiking easier.  Bighorn sheep with horns came down extremely steep wall, how on earth their braking system will work?

Soon after crossing Tonto Trail again arrived at Indian Garden Campground.  Lots of tired hikers there filling in their water bottles and staying in shadow of the sun. The trail was in a steep canyon, having a tiny creek and lots of trees. Another type of scenery, as the walls of the canyon looked so steep that it looked impossible to get out from there.

Slowly ascending with others arrived soon to the other hut, with fresh running water in there, called 3 Mile Resthouse. It laid on steep edge proving excellent view towards North Rim. No sight or sound from the river anymore.

Last kilometers were tough, really tough. It was such a relief when the South Rim was suddenly in sight again. 30 km down and up. Happy but exhausted. Very exhausted.

At least one thing had now changed forever; every single photo of Grand Canyon will now look different (and there's a burning desire to go hiking there again, or maybe rafting on Colorado River ...).

Some photos

A few of them have people in them (those tiny dots), just to help to understand the scale

The very first view to Grand Canyon, just wow!   That's what it felt

Wouldn't dare to very edge, brave people

Isis Temple

First kilometer on South Kaibab Trail

Ooh-Aah Point

On ridge

Zig zag

On edge


Local transportation


Soon on river. Not yet. Spotted hikers?

Crossing Colorado River!

Lunch company, a mule deer

Preparing for rapids

On action, paddle, paddle!

Bighorn sheep rushing down on steep edge

Spotted hikers?

Hmm... more than 500m vertical still to go

Banana Yucca

Some shade on Indian Garden

'Roadwork', only one lane in use

Last km's were toughest

Some happy hikers descending on Bright Angel Trail

The Battleship on early evening sun

Showers hit on North Rim

Through the tunnel and you're almost done