Author Archive for tmangan

Trying out the new camera at Yosemite

We were out in the hustings anyway and decided to wander over to Yosemite to see if my new camera could capture anything interesting. I figured I could get to the high country by dusk and catch the light on the granite faces of the peaks along the Tioga Highway. The plan worked out pretty well; any failures in the photography were not fault of the camera.

Ideally, what you’ do is stake out one mountain, wait till the light was just right and shoot it eighteen ways to Sunday and hope an image or two are keepers. Well, I never was much for waiting for fish to bite and I guess I’m not much for waiting on the sunset, either. I’d rather have a bunch of OK-by-me pix to help tell my stories here. But anyway: the pictures:

Yosemite Falls

We actually started out in the valley, which was so mobbed with tourists (funny how that happens on sunny Saturdays) that we made one lap through and bolted for the higher elevations, but not before I nabbed this shot of Yosemite Falls, which dries up in the summer. The new cam’s combination of 6x zoom and image stabilization came in handy here. I don’t think I’d have gotten the shot with my old cam.

Clouds, peaks

I saw this excellent thunderhead in the distance and hoped I could get close enough for a good shot, but the fates didn’t cooperate. This is at Tuolumne Meadows.

Snow, sky

Lots o’ snow on the peaks at Tioga Pass. That puff of white in the background is all I could see of the thunderhead. Anybody camping on the other side would’ve had an awesome view (but also: a bone-chilling night in the tent).

Last of the winter's snow

The sun was lighting this peak up nicely.

Cold, cold water

Snowmelt from its headwaters in those peaks in the distance.

Raging snowmelt

More water running near the road on the way back to Tuolumne Meadows.

Early evening light

A stretch of Tioga Highway is so close to these peaks that you can stop along the road, stick your camera out the window and click. The evening light really brings out the details of the craggy granite surface.

The same peak

The same peak, reflected in the Hiker Hauler’s windows.

Tenaya Lake and a peak beyond

Tenaya Lake is gorgeous, as always.

Half Dome from Olmstead Point

Half Dome from Olmstead Point. Another one helped immensely by the cam’s zoom. Half Dome is nature’s Mona Lisa, beguiling and charismatic. It’s like it has its own gravity that pulls on the eyes.

Water on road

A waterfall like this would draw throngs of hikers to a Bay Area park. At Yosemite, it’s more of a nuisance, evidenced by the “Water on Road” sign in the bottom right corner.

A river runs through here

The south fork of the Tuolumne River tumbles down this hillside near Highway 120. Just a hint of yellowish alpenglow happening here.

Sunset, Tioga Highway

One last pic before sunset and I had to put the camera way for the night. This was taken at the same place as the previous shot, along highway 120, but facing in the opposite direction.

Dowdy Ranch Visitor Center opens at Henry Coe State Park

Henry Coe State Park is like a supermodel girlfriend. Difficult, at times impossible, yet impossible to stop looking at. And gorgeous from every angle.

I found another of those angles on Saturday at the grand opening of the Dowdy Ranch Visitors Center. Getting there requires an hour’s drive south from San Jose, crossing one of the deadliest highways in the region and rattling one’s ribs for another half-hour along 7.3 miles of curvy, hilly, dusty gravel road. But of course, it was worth it.

The visitor center has been in the works for over two decades. First the state parks people had to buy the last couple miles of road to Dowdy Ranch, then it had to find funding to build the visitors center, then it had to find volunteers to staff the center, since the state generously provided money to build it and ingeniously provided no money to staff it. In any case, all the ducks were in a row on Saturday when then the ribbon was cut.

So let’s take us a look at some pictures:

Big cat country

Upon arrival, we notice this cool sign cautioning people that big cats roam these hills.

Here we are

Melissa scopes out the countryside. Having Melissa along gave me an excellent excuse to hike here on another day (like, say, November, when the weather starts to cool down).

The new visitors center

Behold the Visitors Center. I’m told it was built a year ago but it took all this time to make the final adjustments to get it ready for public consumption. It has running water and flush toilets — borderline plush for these parts.


A horse named Secret await a rider. Equestrians will probably be the most frequent users of this end of the park, I’m guessing.

Oak, sign

An old oak tree and a sign directing hikers, bikers and horse riders to share the trails and register at the headquarters so they’ll know where to send rescue teams.

Overlooking the center

The view from a knoll overlooking the visitors center.

Old-timers checking the Coe map

Guys look over the map and discuss the good old days when they could ride horses back here to their hearts content. I couldn’t help noticing 80-90 percent of the crowd looked to be over 50, which sorta makes me wonder who’s going to take care of this park after they’re gone.

Full parking lot

I’m hazarding a guess this is the last time this parking lot will ever be this full.

Ranger Guy

A ranger reads from a prepared speech to dedicate the visitors center. If anybody got lost in a California state park yesterday and couldn’t find a ranger, it might’ve been because they were all here for the grand opening. “I’ve never seen so many rangers,” somebody told me.

May I have a show of hands?

Ranger asks for a show of hands. This is one of them.

Cutting the ribbon

Finally, the ribbon-cutting. These two girls performed admirably, though I couldn’t help noticing the bigger of the two had an exasperated “geeze, the things my parents put me through” look on her face after it was over.

J.T., hearty hiker

J.T. is a hiker we met; he had been camping in the park since Wednesday and hiked over here for the grand opening.

While J.T. and I were gabbing and watching the opening ceremonies, Melissa was sitting on a park bench in a shady glade, just checking out the scenery. When J.T. and I approached, she shushed us: she was watching a big snake make its way through the brush about 15 feet away. Before that she’d seen a deer trot through, and a bunch of quail dash across the hillside in that way only quail can dash.

Henry Coe is dependable for delivering moments like that, in ways no other park in the Bay Area can.

(For you Coe-philes, here’s a page by a guy who tried to hike all the trails in the park in 40 days. He did all but 50.)

New camera alert

I had to replace my Canon A520, which had developed an annoying tic of not opening its lens cover without assistance from yours truly. Naturally, two years later its replacement, a Canon A710 IS has all sorts of features unavailable on the previous cam — most notably image stabilization, which is designed to reduce shake caused by the hands of incompetent photographers. It appears to work pretty well. I tried it out at Castle Rock State Park and Sanborn-Skyline County Park on Friday. Among the highlights:

Sun fills flower

This is one of my faves: I shot the sun filling this wildflower — called, you guessed it, a sun cup, — by shooting it from behind.

A clearing

It gets the color of the sky right.

Live madrones

Madrones are one of the great challenges for shutter-bugs. They grow in clumps in the forest, where seemingly infinite variations of lighting make it hard for a camera to make up its mind and settle on a shutter/aperture setting. This is one of the better ones, but it still gets the lighter areas washed out a bit.

Shadow of the bug

Another shot from behind — note the bug shadow.

Dead trees

A good dead tree picture pretty much takes itself.

Goat Rock

A climber at Goat Rock.

Nice clouds

Pretty clouds. These were fairly faint but the cam picked them up pretty well.

An iris

An iris: note the capillaries in the leaves. I’m not sure if this its original color or if it’s been bleached in the sun.

Summit Rock

Summit Rock at Sanborn-Skyline County Park. This immense hunk o’ sandstone has been thoughtfully decorated by local high school hooligans.

Hollow tree

A flash might’ve served this image well. It feels kinda flat.

Pretty orange flowers.

Orange flowers shot in macro mode, handheld. Note the bug crawling among them.

Crimson columbine

Another macro shot. This is a crimson columbine … note the fuzz.

Overall it’s a pretty good camera; my previous one never let me shoot any wildflowers in macro mode without a tripod; this one’s pretty good with handheld shots.

I’m sticking with my insistence on using inexpensive point-and-shoots — the A710 street price is about $250 … it uses double-a batteries and SD memory cards. I bought an option package deal with two two-gig cards, a five year extended warranty, a battery charger (with batteries) and a case that fattened the final purchase price by another hundred bucks. Normally I never buy extended warranties but both of my previous Canons have developed malfunctions after the regular warranty had expired; I’m sure this purchase will guarantee a long and healthy life for this latest cam.

Why not just suck it up and buy a digital SLR? Mainly because those have a bunch of features I’d have to learn how to use, and I don’t want to have to haul around all the extra weight. Plus I like the challenge of plucking good pictures from the dross these smaller, less ambitious cams produce.

Priceless Cable TV Moment

The History Channel is showing a documentary called “The Hippies.” It’s Sponsor: The AARP.

Priceless irony of history: California declared LSD illegal. A massive event called the Human Be-In launched on the day the new law went into effect — in defiance of the anti-LSD law — essentially launches the hippy movement, virtually guaranteeing kids across the country would become entranced with the idea of tripping on the newly criminalized psychedelic drug.

One of my favorite words of late


Here’s the definition:

Exceeding a limit or boundary, especially of social acceptability. 2. Of or relating to a genre of fiction, filmmaking, or art characterized by graphic depictions of behavior that violates socially acceptable norms, often involving violence, drug use, and sexual deviancy.

Two classes of people are most notorious for transgressive behavior — talk-radio hosts and “gangsta” rappers. To turn a buck, they brazenly commit transgressions the rest of us could never get away with. Consumers rain attention on transgressive behavior, which causes advertisers and record executives to sprout up like spring wildflowers. You’ll never go broke selling sin.

What Don Imus did the other day was classic talk-radio transgression. This week he found out there are boundaries for transgressive behavior, particularly in regards to what rich graying white guys can say about innocent black female college basketball players. Imus’s defenders are all about the “well, how come all those black rappers are getting way with much worse day in day out?” Try that in court next time you get a speeding ticket. “But your honor, everybody else was speeding too.”

Rappers selling records while denigrating women is noxious behavior; same is true of the rich-ridiculing-the-poor vibe of right-ring radio. But as long as these transgressions can turn a buck, it means this crap is still a transgression against the norms of acceptable behavior.

Heck, that’s almost something to be optimistic about.

Change of address report

There’s a saying in the news biz that freedom of the press is reserved for those who own one.

Renting a place in the country has a similar vibe. No matter how good the view is, or how clean the air is, or how sweet the sound of crickets after sunset is, it’ll always feel like it belongs to somebody else. Well, these are the thoughts that spring to mind after a couple years if you’ve been born with ants in your pants.

Bottom line being, the Green Acres experiment is over. We’ve moved to a nice little one-bedroom flat in a well-designed complex right on the trolley line that goes into San Jose, out to Mountain View and other potentially interesting places. Fuel efficient, close to work, small carbon footprint, as Citizen Gore would call it.

The time in the country served its its purpose: reminded me how much I liked to get out into the outdoors. And now that I’m back in town I’ll be able to appreciate a good tromp through the woods just that much more.

The new place is a fairly standard apartment in a fairly standard complex, in a flat-as-a-pancake sector of Silicon Valley.

A bit of open space

Those are the friendly East Bay hills that I’ve spent so much time in. One of the last citrus orchards in the area is off in the distance.

While the buildings look pretty much like all the other apartment buildings in these parts, the landscaping is another matter.

More blooms

Lots of flowers, for one thing.

Flowered trellises

These trellises run under our place … when the wind’s just right the aroma of the flowers wafts up to our balcony.

Nice fountain

There’s no practical purpose for a fountain, it’s just cool to have around. We’ve got bunches of them.


And check this out: Bamboo!

Tree lined sidewalk

Trees line one of the sidewalks.

Village green

This big village green is actually a San Jose city park. Good place to go practice pitching my tent!

For the heck of it, I took the trolley downtown to see what was shaking. Not much, truth be told, because it’s San Jose, which shakes during earthquakes and not much else. Got a chance to practice some architectural photography.

A light rail stop

Can’t complain about the trolley stop: at least it’s got trees!

San Jose's Basilica

Here’s one of the spires of the old Catholic church in downtown San Jose.

Knight Ridder Building

All that remains of the once-great Knight Ridder newspaper chain is the sign on this tower in downtown San Jose. And the hundreds of millions of dollars lining the pockets of the folks who sold it down the river. Not that I’m bitter or anything.

City Hall rotunda

Here’s the rotunda of the new San Jose City Hall. I think it was built purely for the glorification of the previous mayor, who had big ideas but managed to piss off just about everybody in town getting them implemented, with the final result being he barely avoided leaving office in handcuffs.

Flags are always cool

You know me, I’m a sucker for a good flag picture.

City Hall plaza

An overall look at the City Hall plaza. Apparently somebody decided that a completely paved-over look would complement the rugged outdoor scenery of the distant hills. Or something.

So anyway: The hiking pictures should continue, though now that I live within trolley range of downtown I might find my way back to some of the cool stuff that happens down there, like Jazz Fest and the Grand Prix. The old place had its charms, but it got old. The new place has its charms, too, but it’ll get old one day as well. I’ve moved every two to three years for all my adult life … there’s just too many other places I could be to remain satisfied staying in one place.

No hikes to report this weekend

I’ve been such a blogging fiend lately that I’ve gotten out of the habit of just playing around with my computer. Well, this weekend was mostly about goofing off, so I have no hikes to report, no road trips, no flashes of insight on the state of the world.

I have Garage Band, iMovie and iTunes, and my digicam has rudimentary video/recording capabilities, so I’ve been noodling around making little videos and sound tracks and other stuff that would immediately reveal my utter ineptitude with all this stuff, if I were to post anything. There’s enough junk out here already, no need in my adding to the pile. But if genius strikes in coming days I’ll be sure to post something here. After I call the paper and tell them to hold page one, because if I’m ever stricken with sudden genius it’ll be news of earthquake-rerouting-the-Mississippi magnitude.

I have a long weekend planned from Thursday through Monday which should yield some interesting possibilities.

(Mostly I’m posting in the absence of having done anything so I’ll have something above the cat pictures on my home page. The cat is adorable — she even plays fetch! — but cat pix at the top of one’s homepage are a bit of an embarrassment.)

New arrival of the four-pawed variety

Well, we have a new cat. We lost her predecessor, Floyd, to illness back in September and we thought we might remain catless because Melissa’s a bit allergic to them. Her resolve lasted five months, which is impressive, given that she’s lived almost all her life in the company of the furry felines.

We’ve named this one Hildy after the intrepid reporter in “His Girl Friday,” my all-time favorite newspaper movie. Rosalind Russell plays the indefatigable Hildy Johnson and Cary Grant is her boss who will not let her shirk her duty to The Paper. For you purists out there, I realize Hildy is a guy in “The Front Page,” the basis for “His Girl Friday.” Didn’t matter to Howard Hawks; doesn’t matter to me.

May as well look at some pictures:


Hildy’s coat is called a tortoise pattern. She’s much faster than a shelled reptile. Took her about 30 seconds, for instance, to declare are whole apartment her new domain. She likes the digs — much more spacious than her digs at the SPCA in Dublin — but she’s taking her time getting used to her new human neighbors.

Don't worry...

She’s checking out the smells of everything, including empty Super Bowl beer bottles. (Too bad about the Bears .. I think there’s a clause in their union contract which forbids proper passing, blocking and receiving on Sundays in February. Of all the luck. )

Making a stand

The living room’s her new fitness center and the couch is her obstacle course.


Where will she go next?

Sorry no mice...

Ah yes, over to make sure no mice are partying down under the stove.


A moment’s pause after declaring the kitchen mouse-free.


Oh, wait, something else must be explored.

What's that over here?

Pausing between explorations.

What u lookin at?

A slightly flirtatious glance, I do believe.

The look...

This is her “look, bucko, there are limits to how much flash photography I accept before shredding a roll of toilet paper” look.

... outa here

Got something on your mind? Talk to the tail, she says.

Yosemite in winter

Day One: Getting there

“Can we go to Yosemite?”

“Sure. Like, when?”


Monday was the first of five vacation days I was taking. I had no real plans, but Melissa was formulating a few. She had just finished checking the Web site of the inn we haunted a couple summers back. They don’t do much business during the week in the winter. Yeah, there were vacancies. Just like there were last week when I checked.

Married minds think alike.

There was no reason not to go. No blizzards in the forecast … smaller winter weekday crowds … the chance to try out the snowshoes I bought last winter and never got around to using.

We were packed and on the road in three hours. By nightfall we were moving into a condo for three nights at Yosemite West, a private development down the road from Badger Pass ski area at Yosemite National Park. I got in a couple of excellent hikes and many excellent pictures, and she got a couple days of kicking back and letting somebody else attend to the domestic drudgery.

Day Two: Yosemite Valley, Falls Trail

Tuesday morning dawned cold and clear. I left the condo early, hoping to catch the first rays of the sun illuminating the Yosemite Valley canyon walls.

Vapor trial, Yosemite

One of the first things I saw was this vapor trail from passing travelers missing all the fun down here on terra firma.

El Capitan at dawn

I got down to the valley floor just in time to capture the sun lighting up the face of El Capitan.

Merced River, early morning

I also did a couple laps around the valley, stopping along the Merced River to see if any cool reflections showed up.

Snowcapped rock

This rock sticking up out of the river is excellent photographic fodder, especially with a frothy cap of snow.

Sunrise, Yosemite Valley

More sun-peeking-through action.

Lower Yosemite Falls

A small flow at Lower Yosemite Falls. This scene prodded me to check out the Upper Falls Trail, which goes to the valley rim some 3000 feet above. I made it just a bit more than half way; it’s a long, long way up there. The granite walls are spectacular; the trail is rocky but well maintained.

Yosemite Falls Trail

A more or less representative shot of the Yosemite Falls Trail.

The Valley

Yosemite Valley, from the Falls Trail.

Water stains

Melting snow leaves striped stains on the rock face.

Upper Yosemite Falls

There she is: Upper Yosemite Falls.

A pile of ice

Spray from the falls lands on a huge ice cone.

Half Dome in the distance

Half Dome across the valley.

In the shadow

Canyons have much shorter days of sunshine. Here’ it’s 3 in the afternoon and the sun’s already disappearing behind rock faces.

Merced River, late afternoon

The other side of the valley reflects in a pool of the Merced River in late afternoon.

Tunnel View, late afternoon

The valley, from Tunnel View.

Day Three: Dewey Point on snowshoes

Snowshoes are too heavy, too noisy, too messy, too clumsy. They ruin every patch of pristine snowfall. A mile in snowshoes is like three miles in regular shoes. Pity the cross-country skier who tries to make a go of a moonscape snowshoe trail.

There is nothing remotely pleasant about trying to travel with oblong webbed contraptions strapped to one’s lower extremities. But they do provide one pleasure that balances out the pain: the ability to stomp through hip-deep snow without sinking to your hips. It just feels like getting away with a crime or something.

I did the basic Yosemite hike for rookie snowshoers: Four miles from Badger Pass to Dewey Point, a stunning overlook of the valley below. The pix:

Dewey Point Ridge Trail

Snow does strange things to the trunks of trees. This is one along the Ridge Trail to Dewey Point. The trail’s hardly worth a mention in summer, but in winter it’s fairly challenging.

Snowshoe tracks, Yosemite

Behold, my first steps in my new showshoes! (See what a mess they leave behind? Good thing the next blizzard will clean everything up.)

Rocks, trees, snow, sky

All the stuff my camera likes: Sky, trees, rocks, snow.

Poles and shows

Poles and shoes at Dewey Point.

Dewey Point Overlook.

One of many spectacular views from Dewey Point.

Critter tracks

I returned via the Meadow Trail, where I saw evidence of a critter scampering across the snow.

Shadows in the snow

Snow drifts create excellent shadows.

Snowy creek

A creek wends its way across Summit Meadow.

Day Four: Hetch Hetchy

On Thursday morning, we checked out of the condo and headed homeward.

Raven in the morning

Quoth the Raven: “I’m ready for my close-up, Mr. DeMille.” Melissa took this picture at the Crane Flat gas station, whose proprietors had neglectfully hiked the price of a gallon of petrol by only 50 cents more than the going rate 30 miles beyond the park’s borders. In summer the sticker shock is far worse.

We stopped along the way at the Hetch Hetchy reservoir, which holds most of San Francisco’s drinking water. You have to see it to believe it.

The Dam, Hetch Hetchy

Here’s the dam holding back the waters of the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir.

Hetch Hetchy Valley

Think of this: A hundred years ago somebody came to this same spot and said “a dam would really dress up this neighborhood.” Humanity is utterly undeserving of such a fine planet.

Now some folks think the dam oughta be torn down and the valley “restored” to its original condition. If only. All I can think is that the only thing worse than putting the dam in would be to take it back out.

Trees on the cliff

Some nice trees on the steep cliffs around the reservoir.

Tunnel opening

See, there is light at the end of the tunnel.