Saturday, March 3, 2018

Adventure Has a Name, Part 2

 Now, where were we? Ah, yes, I had just come down from Angel's Landing, missing a few things, but otherwise intact.
  Before I could go back to the hotel for some much needed rest and a hot beverage, I had to drop by Zion Adventure Company to rent some gear for the next day's excursion. I'm putting them here as a link in case any of you other intrepid adventurers need some gear when you're in the area. I highly recommend them.
  I watched a short film on The Narrows, my destination for Saturday, which discussed the very real possibility of hypothermia. Protection can only go so far, and you're pretty much done if you end up submerged in the icy waters of the Virgin River. Stay upright. Got it.
  The guide at ZAC gave me river shoes that were two sizes too big so we could double up on the neoprene "socks" that I'd be wearing to protect my feet. After explaining the ins and outs of how to suit up, she rang up my rental package: drysuit, shoes, neoprene socks, walking pole. Have it back before 6:00.


Missed Connections

  After wolfing down another free breakfast, just after 7:00am, I went back to my room to get ready for the day. It was 22 degrees.
  Putting the drysuit on was a little tricky. The rubber gaskets at the ankles were very tight and hard to get over my feet. As was recommended, I left the top half off and simply tied it around my waist. It would eventually go over all my layers and my jacket, once I got to the river's edge. I imagined I was going to look like a very colorful Michelin Man when all was said and done.
  The only kink in the morning was that I was being forced to ride the park shuttle. Friday had been open to private vehicles, but on the weekends, guests had to ride the shuttle into the park. I checked the map and saw there were several stops right there in town.
  So, into the morning air I went, hiking through the town toward Zion. It seemed to take forever, and I wasn't finding the stop. After a good 25 minutes, I happened upon a construction worker. "Do you know where the shuttle stop is?" I asked, huffing out steamy breath. "Shuttles don't run in town yet. You gotta catch it inside the park," he said. Might've been good to know ahead of time.
  Once I was Jeeping down the road, minus about 45 minutes of my morning, things got back on track. I parked at the visitor's center and caught the shuttle immediately. Hardly anybody was aboard. I mean, what kind of maniac would go hiking in this cold? Especially in a river?
  The shuttle, which stops at every single spot in the park, took a while to get me to my stop, which was last on the route.

The Temple of Sinawava

  This last stop had a really cool name: The Temple of Sinawava. It sounded like something from Indiana Jones, and it kind of was. Eventually.
  First, though, was a long and rather boring "riverwalk" trail that, while I'm sure is very beautiful in springtime, was kind of unremarkable on that day. Maybe it was just me. Maybe I was just really in a hurry to get to the river. Probably. Definitely.
  Finally, I arrived. The trail abruptly stopped, and there were a few stairs down to the rocky shore. Only a husband and wife were there, and they were just taking pictures.

Entry point into the river
  I untied my drysuit and attempted to slip it up over my shoulders. There was a gasket at the neck as well as the wrists, and they were all just as tight as the ankles. The suit was so difficult to get into (likely because of my bulky jacket) that I began to wonder if I was going to be able to get into it at all.
  After much struggling (and some odd looks from the photo couple), I eventually poked my head through the opening and managed to get my shoulders planted into the suit. The heavy duty gasketed zipper that ran diagonally across the chest was also quite difficult, but I struggled until I got it.
  Time to step into the river. It was 18 degrees out, and the water temp was a brisk 39.

Stepping in

  I wasn't tentative with those first few steps. I figured I might as well wade right in. To my surprise, though, I felt my shoes immediately fill with water. "Uh oh," I thought. I waited for the pain or numbness in my toes, but it never came. The water wasn't shockingly cold as I had expected. It was merely cool. I figured that what I was feeling was just the temperature of the water against the neoprene, and that my skin was safely dry beneath the layers.

Phone selfie

  Hiking in the river was difficult. The bottom was rocky and uneven most of the time, with only a couple rare instances of a sandy bottom. Most of the time, the water was about knee deep, which was tiring to walk in. Between the depth and pushing against the current, it felt like I had weights strapped to my ankles. I was very glad for the pole, though, because without it, I would surely have fallen.

The Narrows

  As I hiked on, turn by turn, hour by hour, the canyon got increasingly narrow and dark. It was really something to behold. Sadly, pictures cannot do it justice. You get no sense of how it felt, how it sounded (I purposefully didn't have headphones in) or how impressively tall those walls were. Just amazing. 
  In some places, the water was waist deep. I passed by others that looked to be about shoulder deep, and I steered well clear of them. I still felt very comfortable, temperature-wise. In fact, I eventually took my wool hat off and put on my ballcap, because I was sweating so much.

  I did run into a man and his son at one point. They only had waders on, not full drysuits like I did. They were in good spirits, though, even though the father complained that his hands were freezing. It was only long after I left them that I realized I had some handwarmers in my backpack. Bad neighbor.


  After passing through many beautiful bends in the river, snowy shores, giant icicles clinging to the rockface, and never a trace of sun, I finally reached my predetermined turnaround spot. I could have gone further, but I had already traversed the narrowest part of the river, and felt no need.
  I took my pack off, drank what little water I had that wasn't turning to icy slush, and ate two granola bars, which were frozen solid. Sitting there, in the shade of the canyon, relatively still, I got cold for the first time.

The Return

  On the way back, I could tell that fatigue was starting to get to me. My hip joints were getting tight from dragging my legs against the water, and my feet were getting a little achey from constantly stepping on uneven surfaces. I had also started to slip more when crossing swifter portions of the river, and almost fell a couple times. Each slip wore me down a little more.

  I was able to quench my thirst, though, when I ran across a large ice shelf that was melting and dribbling water into the edge of the river. I held my bottle underneath the ice for a few seconds and was rewarded with clean, clear, crisp water. It did the trick and helped perk me right up.
  Toward the end/start of the trail, I ran into a handful of other industrious folks just beginning their trek upstream. Other than that group, there really didn't seem to be a lot of interest in The Narrows during those chilly conditions.

Back to Civilization

  Finally, I made it ashore, where there were considerably more people. A few of them gawked at me climbing out of the river like I was some kind of creature of the deep. I had less struggle getting out of my suit than I had getting in, but it still wasn't at all easy.
  After catching the shuttle and making all the stops, then Jeeping back to the hotel, I was finally able to fully un-gear my body. It felt great to get unbundled, and I was shocked to find that my shoes AND the neoprene booties were full of water. My feet had indeed been wet the entire time. Amazingly, though, they were so well insulated, that it only felt moderately cool and not frostbitingly cold.
  And so, I returned the gear, thanked the shop, and came back to the hotel for a nice, warm, relaxing evening.

The End 

  Just like that, the Zion experience was over. There was still so much more of the park to explore, but I felt very accomplished at having conquered Angel's Landing and The Narrows, both during some pretty harsh conditions.

It had been a beautiful adventure, and I knew, as I drove away the next morning, watching the first golden rays of sun play across those tall peaks, that I'd be back someday.


Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Adventure Has a Name

  And that name is Mukuntuweap. At least, it was, until it was changed in 1918 to "Zion." Apparently, the acting director of the National Park Service thought the moniker, which was the original Paiute name, was too foreign and hard to pronounce. At least the name he chose reflected the great reverence for the area that every single group of folks held for it since it was first inhabited.

  But I digress. Let's to the adventure part, shall we?

Getting there

  Since my trip to Zion National Park was going to take me very close to Nevada's Valley of Fire State Park, I just had to add it into my itinerary. It absolutely did NOT disappoint.
  After a long, winding road through a fairly unremarkable parcel of desert, I came over a hill, at the bottom of which stood the entrance gate to the park. Beyond it was my first glimpse at the valley's "fire." A huge swath of gorgeously bright red rock jutted out of the earth, reaching jaggedly skyward. "WOW," I said aloud.

  I paid my entry fee, drove a short way in, and then began a long series of constant pulling off the road to shoot the fascinating landscape. I had seen red rock before- plenty of it in Utah, in fact. This was somehow different.
  I knew that somewhere in the park was a famously photographed stretch of road that cut right through the middle of the rough, tumbled terrain. I wanted that picture, or one like it. Soon enough, I found that stretch of road, just on the other side of the visitor's center.

  Just a short distance further was a small parking lot that was the jumping off point for several trails. I pulled in a took about a billion pictures of the area. Some of the best shots I got were from high atop a narrow piece of rock, where the views stretched deep across the desert. All sorts of shapes, sizes, and colors of rock collided in glorious ways.

  A couple more miles down the road, I did a short hike to a feature called "fire wave." It was an area where erosion had exposed alternating red and pink bands of sedimentary layers in the rock, giving it a fiery, flowing appearance. Like much of this landscape, it looked like something from another planet.

  The day was wearing on, and I still had a good couple hours drive to make it to Zion, so I skipped a lot of the park and headed out. Still a lot left to explore there if I'm ever passing through again.

  By about 6:00, I made it into Springdale, Utah, and checked into my hotel for a good night's sleep before the big day.

The First Morning

  It was below freezing that morning, as I knew it would be from weather forecasts. It had also snowed, as predicted. I drew the curtain back for my first daytime look at the canyon. The sun had yet to make it very high, but I could see the soft blanket of white covering the tops of the towering rock faces. Gorgeous.

  I almost fell down a couple of times on my way across the parking lot to have breakfast. Before the snow fell, it seems, a nice coating of ice had been laid down by freezing rains. It didn't portend good news for my climb to Angel's Landing.
  After a quick and delicious (free!) breakfast, I jumped in my frosty Jeep and headed out to see what was what.

Into the Park 

  At the entrance gate, I asked the ranger if anything was closed due to the conditions. She said that all the upper trails were not advised, as they had been hit hardest with ice and snow. That included Angel's Landing. 

A Snowy Detour

  So, I thought, she didn't specifically say "closed." Just not advised. Well, I decided I would judge that for myself.
  I drove on into the park, marveling at the snowy wonderland all around. There were so many times I wanted to stop and take a picture, but I really just wanted to get to the trailhead and figure out what I was going to do.
  The road took me on and on, winding back and forth up the side of the mountain. Strange, as I would have imagined the trail to start on the valley floor. I became too preoccupied though, with finally giving in and getting some photos to give it much thought. The sunlight was just starting to peek in, and it was undeniably a photo bonanza.

  Once I reached the Zion-Mount Carmel Tunnel, I realized I had indeed taken a wrong turn somewhere. There had been a fork in the road a couple miles back, and I probably missed the sign while taking in all the beauty around. I wasn't upset, though. It had been a fantastic detour.

  Once I was back on track, I was presented with even more photo opportunities. The beautiful Virgin River wound its way down the canyon to my left, surrounded by snow covered trees and boulders. I desperately wanted to stop, but I was already behind.
  I also passed by a rafter of wild turkeys. Not as majestic as a landscape photo, but I still wish I could've grabbed a shot of them.

The Trail to Angel's Landing

  Finally, I arrived at The Grotto parking area, which was the starting point for the Angel's Landing trail as well as several others. There were only about four cars in the lot, which wasn't surprising. It was only 27 degrees, and hazardous conditions.
  I suited up, stuck my headphones in (adventure playlist, of course), headed across a bridge, and entered the trail.
  It was really easy going at first, but, naturally, it got steeper and steeper the further I went. Looming in front of me was all 1500 feet of Angel's Landing. I was determined to see the top of that enormous piece of rock today. Safely determined.

  There was nobody on the trail. Total quiet. Someone had been there, though, because there were a couple sets of tracks in the fresh snow. Maybe three sets?
  About halfway up the switchbacks, I heard someone approaching me from the rear. I looked below and saw that a guy was gaining on me. One of these "fast hikers," or at least someone in better shape than me. Soon enough, he caught up to me as I was catching my breath in a little nook. We introduced ourselves and commented on how nice it was to have the trail so empty. He, like me, was going to go make his own judgement about how sound the trail was toward the top. "See you up there," I said, and he went on.
  Mercifully, the switchbacks ended, and I was back on relatively flat ground. I thought I must be getting close to Scout Lookout, which was the last stop before the beginning of the Angel's Landing ascent. But, then, surprise! MORE switchbacks. A lot more.

Stock photo of Walter's Wiggles

  This was the part of the trail known as "Walter's Wiggles." I thought the switchbacks I had already come up were Walter's Wiggles. Nope. These 21 steep inclines I was looking up at were the famous wiggles. And they were covered in a thick layer of ice.
  I took my time, stepping very carefully. I made sure every plant of my feet had good purchase before putting weight on it. Even so, about two thirds of the way up, the ice got the better of me and I fell. I fell all the way to the ground and slid on my ass to the bottom of the switchback. It wasn't a dangerous fall, as there was nowhere to go. It was just frustrating. I re-climbed the slippery slope and continued on, eventually topping out the wiggles.

Scout Lookout

  The ground then leveled out once more, and I found myself at Scout Lookout. A small sign showed the way to Angel's Landing, which, even at this high point, still towered above. The sign also warned of the potentially fatal risks involved with the climb, moreso during conditions like the ones we were facing today. I say we, because there was my fast hiking trail pal up ahead, talking to a couple who had just come down from Angel's Landing.

  I joined the conversation as they were discussing how they only managed to go a slight way up the exposed rock trail before deciding it was too risky. They said there was only a single set of footprints leading up from there. One brave/foolish soul.
  So the two of us big dreamers were left there. As I took another moment to rest up before the challenge ahead, he went to check it out. He came back just a couple minutes later and said "Yeah, that looks pretty sketchy."
  Now, my idea of sketchy and your idea of sketchy might not necessarily match, so I decided to go have a look for myself.

  It looked daunting, yes. It looked challenging. It did not look impossible to me at all. "I'm gonna go for it," I told my companion. "If it gets too bad up there, I'll just turn around." He decided to join, and so off/up we went.

The Ascent

  It really wasn't too bad at first. There was a chain bolted into the rock to hold on to in most places. I say MOST. There were a couple of less than ideal spots where a chain would have been nice. The dropoffs on either side of the trail kept getting taller and taller. Some of the sections were so steep, I was relying much more on upper body strength and using the chain like a climbing rope.
  Slowly but surely, step by step, foot by foot, we made our way up the narrow fin of snow covered rock. I'm not sure how much time passed, but then...

Angel's Landing

  The trail suddenly flattened out. We had made it to the top. We walked across the summit to the northeast face, which overlooks the entire valley.

  That view.

  I could definitely understand why they called it "Angel's Landing." The view was indescribable, especially with the layer of snow coating everything. Absolutely stunning.
  I stayed up there for quite a while, soaking it up, eating some snacks, drinking a little water. Just before I got ready to head down, another group arrived. They all had crampons on their boots and were aghast that we had attempted this climb without them.

The Return

  As predicted, the descent was trickier. Putting all my weight on the steep, snowy, now tracked-over and packed down trail made for some unsure footing. I ran into a couple on the trail and managed to find a spot wide enough to stand aside as they passed.
  A short distance down from there, though, I fell. A good, solid fall, on a fairly narrow section. I had taken my gloves off, because I was sweating pretty profusely, and my skin had shrunken closer to my bones. This was just enough room for my already slightly loose wedding ring to become extremely loose. It sailed off my hand and into parts unknown. I dug around in the snow for a good long time before I sadly consigned it to oblivion.

  At Scout Lookout, a few more people had arrived and were trying to decide whether or not to go on up. The small amount of people who had now ascended had made the entire trail worse. Walter's Wiggles was even more of a packed down icy mess than before. Some folks who had already turned back were opting to just sit down on each leg and slide on their butts. That wasn't helping conditions, either.
  Nonetheless, I made it down without incident, past the wiggles, over the flat section, and down the other switchbacks, feeling accomplished the whole way. Toward the valley floor, I saw a herd of elk in the distance. A second snowstorm had begun to move in, and a few tiny flakes began to fall from the sky.
  I stopped at the bottom of the trail, on the bridge that crossed the Virgin River, to snap a couple photos. As I pulled out my camera, I somehow knocked the lens cap off, and it fell into the river and was swept away. I cursed the luck, then went to switch lenses for a wider shot. As I did, I dropped the OTHER lens cap, and it, too, rolled right into the river.
  Aside from the major loss of the ring, and the minor loss of the lens caps, it had been a rousing success, and I had some gorgeous photos to prove it. Tomorrow, I'd hike The Narrows, another challenging trail.

  I'll write about that one in Part 2.


Friday, December 1, 2017

El Escorpion Canyon Part Deux

  Today, it was time to hit the trail again, this time in temperatures about thirty degrees cooler than last time. Surely I'd make my destination this time, right? Not exactly.

  Despite the cooler temps, it was still a sweatfest. I took a different path this time, and I was really enjoying the beautiful day. Birds were out, squirrels were out, lizards were out. I was hoping the rattlesnakes weren't out, as I was warned they might indeed be. Speaking of be, I was also warned about the bees. I didn't need that warning as I had a close encounter with a colony on my first go round.
  But it was none of these that ultimately doomed my trip. It was something far worse, with more fangs.
  I could see the area I figured was the much lauded "Cave of Munits" from a pretty good distance away, so I was able to pick from the many trail options, and point myself in the right direction. A couple minutes later, I was making my way up a fairly steep and very washed out dirt trail toward a sheer rock face.
  And then, there it was, right in my face.

 It was MUCH bigger than I expected. You can't really tell from my photo, so here's one I found online that has people in it, for scale:

  Pretty impressive, right? Yeah. I was really excited to get in there and explore. I put the strap to my camera bag across my shoulders to keep my hands free and started up. It was tricky. I was warned to wear good gripping shoes, and gloves were suggested. At least once, I had trouble finding a good foothold.
  When I was about 3/4 the way up, I heard the unmistakable sound of a mountain lion. It was a warning sound. A "don't come in here, whatever you are." There are plenty of these guys on the hills around our fair city, and I found one.
  It's the second time I've run into a large predator during a hike. You longtime readers might remember my run-in with a bear on Scotchman Peak.
  So, with a little haste, I turned around, climbed back down, and made my way back down the hill. On the way, I ran into a couple, and I asked if they were headed to the cave. They were, so I told them my story. They seemed to believe me, but they went on anyway. Last I could see of them, they were at the base of the cave.
  It's disappointing to have gone twice now, and been twice denied the opportunity to explore this cave of legend. It has a long, storied past. Maybe one day I'll get to see it.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

(Mis)adventure at El Escorpion Canyon

  That peak in the background doesn't look too challenging, does it? Yeah, I didn't think so, either. I was mistaken.

  So, yesterday, I had two different doctor's appointments in the West Hills area, with a space of four hours between. Rather than drive all the way home and then all the way back again, I decided to find something to do in the area. I looked at movie theatres, but nothing I wanted to see was showing at the right time. There were malls, but... meh.
  Nearby, though, there were trails and hiking opportunities! One such opportunity was El Scorpion Canyon. According to my hasty bit of research, there was a cave on one of the hillsides there. Sold! The only problem with my plan was that it was going to be in excess of 100 degrees. Not the best for hiking. I remembered, though, that I had hiked in 118 degree temps in Death Valley and been okay. Just had to take it slow and watch the water intake. No problem.
 So, after my first appointment was over, I made my way to the trailhead, parked, put on some sunscreen, and grabbed my camera gear.
  The first part of the trail was only a mild incline. Heat wasn't too bad. Shortly, the trail dipped into a small creekbed, and then rose up on the hill. Here, there was the choice to take the long part of the loop that circled around and crossed over the entire ridge, or attack the main peak directly. I decided for the frontal assault, and began to make my way up the hillside.
  At first, it wasn't too bad. The heat started draining me a bit, and there was absolutely NO shade on the hill. As the trail went on, it became steeper and steeper, and I found myself stopping more often. I was good about water, and thought I was making progress.
  Closer to the peak, the trail became very steep and rocky, and at a couple points, I was literally climbing boulders. The exertion became quite difficult, and I was really getting winded. Every rest break, I seemed to feel worse. A slight bit of nausea set in. There was no relief from the heat when I would stop to catch my breath. Slow as I made my way, it was definitely taking a toll.
  After climbing over what I thought was the last set of boulders, I could finally see the summit. It was so close that I could have thrown a rock and hit it. However, the rest of the short distance up was almost vertical. I was feeling pretty poor, and could feel the first symptoms of heat exhaustion coming on. Rather than press on and risk a heat stroke, I decided I had better turn back and try another day when the heat index was lower.

The turnaround point

Unfortunately, my plan had been to take the less severe trail down after the summit. I couldn't do that now, so I would have to climb back down this steep, loose trail in this overheated state. Water started to run low.
  Climbing back down one set of boulders, I reached out for a good handhold and immediately regretted my choice. I had stuck my hand into a thriving bee colony.

 Obviously angry at my intrusion, they swarmed out and began to cloud the air. I couldn't run, or even move fast to get away from them, because I was on a near vertical rock face. I took a couple of stings on my hand and my back, but it wasn't too bad. Nothing at all like my famous wasp encounter, which you can relive by clicking HERE if you like.
  Eventually, I made it down, of course, and my energy was spent. As I dropped into the creekbed again, I thought "This will be where the mountain lion attacks me." Luckily, they mostly come out at night.
  Back at the Jeep, air conditioning blasting, I was kinda bummed. I had never turned back on a summit before. This wasn't at ALL a tall peak. The steep ascent combined with the very high heat was just too much to overcome. I'll have a better plan next time, and I still need to see that cave.


Saturday, September 30, 2017

All Dressed Up with Somewhere to Go


  Well, it's that time of year again! My favorite of all holidays: Halloween.

  Last year, we celebrated by going to Mickey's Halloween Party at Disneyland, but we didn't dress up. I should expand on that by saying I didn't think we should dress up, because I thought only the kids and a few adults would get in on the fun. Boy was I wrong. So, this year, we went all in.

  For the last few weeks, we've been getting our costumes ready. I had a lot of gear to track down and work on, and I had a lot of fun with it. We decided to go as Captain America (WWII version) and his best gal, Agent Peggy Carter.

  Since we didn't have a big vacation this year, like we planned, we decided to make this a bigger trip for ourselves by staying overnight at the park's Grand Californian Hotel. We'd get to the park early in the morning, roam California Adventure (DCA) until check-in, then get our costumes on and head into Disneyland for the evening's festivites. We also snagged a dinner reservation at Blue Bayou (inside Pirates of the Caribbean).

  This was the first year that DCA went full on Halloween mode, and it was pretty epic. As expected, Radiator Springs was the most decked out.

Mater as "Van-pire"

  Mater's Junkyard Jamboree was made over into Mater's Graveyard JamBOOree, which was really cute. We were cracking up at the music during the ride, which featured songs like "One Geared, One Horned, Driving Purple Fender Bender," and "Monster Truck Mash." (video by

  The whole area was adorned with all kinds of car themed Halloween gags, including this "zombie car," that smoked every once in a while and tried to start up.

  There was also an amazing Headless Horseman statue over on Buena Vista street. When it was dusk, all the streetlamps lit up in the park and the Horseman's pumpkin head started glowing from within. His horse's eyes lit up as well, and steam billowed out of his nose. It was really creepy!

  A little after two, we were able to check into our hotel and start getting ready. It took nearly a full hour to kit up. On our way through security to get back into the park, I was told I couldn't wear my helmet in. I was pretty upset, as it was an integral part of the costume and I had worked really hard on it. We were already late for our reservations, so the wife went on, and I went back to the hotel to drop off my helmet.

  I didn't catch back up with her for quite a while, because when I finally got into Disneyland, there was a parade going, and no way around or through it. Total blockage. I had to take a very long and crazy route to eventually make my way around (and catch a sanctioned parade crossing) to Frontierland. Then, I booked it over to New Orleans Square, and finally made it to the Blue Bayou.

  The food, as expected, was delicious, and they worked around our allergies with ease. Our waitress was really accommodating and super nice. The table next to us, dressed up like Muppets, exchanged compliments with us on our costumes.

Seated right on the water, looking into Pirates of the Caribbean

 Then, we hit Disneyland with both barrels. We tricked, we treated, we rode rides. Things only got better and better as night fell. It was, however, in the mid 80's, and I was DYING of heat in my leather jacket. Everywhere we went, though, people were in love with our costumes. There was just a lot of creativity on display EVERYWHERE. I loved it.

Haunted Mansion ballroom with giant gingerbread house on the table

Part of the Dia de los Muertos area of Frontierland

Pirates of the Caribbean, of course

The very fogged-in New Orleans Square

Haunted Mansion's Sally

Happy Haunts in the Haunted Mansion
Then it was time for the parade. We staked out a good spot on main street and waited about 45 minutes. It was fantastic, as usual.

The Headless Horseman opens the parade

Then came Mickey and Minnie

The Mayor of Halloweentown

Vampires from Halloweentown

Doctor Facilier

The Evil Queen

  This year, we were able to enjoy the fireworks show as well. Last year, probably due to wind conditions, it didn't go. WOW. It was really, really phenomenal.

  We hit a few more "Treat Trails," rode the Haunted Mansion again, and then packed it in for the night. My feet and neck were killing me, and I was soaked in sweat. The wife had some hellacious blisters going on her feet. It was all so worth it, though. We had an absolute ball.

  The next morning, we had a tasty breakfast (again with a very accommodating chef) at the Storytellers Cafe. I had never been there, but the wife had, and she knew what to expect. Characters! They walked around inside the restaurant, interacting with guests, and they were hilarious. Chip, Dale, Pluto, and Brother Bear were all there. We laughed so much our faces hurt.

  And just like that, it was time to come home. Short, but sweet. Can't wait til next year!!



Saturday, September 23, 2017

Desert views

  Ever since I took the drone out for its inaugural flight, I've been itching to get out with it again. Due to a very hectic schedule, I haven't been able to do that for a few weeks. Yesterday was finally the day!

  I found a great spot off the beaten path near the Red Rock area north of Mojave. It's a geologically fascinating landscape, like something out of science fiction. I got there just after 7:00 so I could have some of that beautiful low-altitude sunlight. It really makes the topography pop in pictures.

  The area I originally wanted to explore, after looking at some maps, turned out to be inaccessible, so I settled for some shots of the immediate area. As you can see in the video below, it did not disappoint!

  After I exhausted my one battery, I decided to explore the roads and see what I could find. And find I did. Amazing landscapes, canyons, rock formations. I even found a hidden spring! It was really strange to find ANY water in this parched environment. I was a little concerned that there might be some predators around that area, napping in caves, so I didn't stick around long.

  I then found a road leading to an area called Black Rock Canyon. Very shortly, the road became extremely narrow, with a huge dropoff on one side. That was about the time I went into full 4WD. The road only got worse from there! And by worse, I mean perfect for my Jeep. Been a while since I've had the opportunity to do some real, honest to goodness four-wheeling.

  Along the "road," I stopped a few times to take pictures of the amazing landscape. At the end of the trail, there was a tall, steep section of solid rock that looked like it might be a continuation, but I couldn't really tell. I grabbed my gear and hiked to the top of it. There, I did indeed find evidence of 4WD traffic. It definitely wasn't impossible, but it really called for a spotter for at least one particular hairy section. I decided that since I was alone, it wasn't worth the risk.

  All in all a very fun day of exploring and photography! Wish I could get out more often to do exactly that. Click RIGHT HERE to go the the video I shot.


Saturday, August 26, 2017

Up, Up, and AWAY

I flew today.

No, not with my body, with my hands. And a controller. And a drone.

It was awesome.

  Mind you, this new drone of mine has been collecting dust for nearly a month since it showed up on my doorstep. I haven't been able to take it out due to an overly busy and exhausting life. Until today, that is. It was SO worth the wait.
  I had, naturally, familiarized myself with the operation, tech specifics, app, and all that stuff, and I had charged the batteries and powered everything on. I hadn't ever turned the rotors, though, or tested it in any way. Part of me was worried that I would make the 45 minute drive out of town, turn everything on, and it would fly. But fly it did!
  After a short hike to the canyon you see above, I hooked everything up, powered on the controller, the app, and the drone. Pre-flight checks ran and told me I was ready for liftoff. I excitedly powered up the rotors and they whirred to life! With a big smile on my face, I pressed and held the "takeoff" button. The engines revved, and the drone rose swiftly and smoothly into the sky.
  At a modest altitude, it hovered, waiting for my commands. I took a moment to orient myself with the controls, and then ventured out over the canyon.
  I'll let the video do the rest of the speaking. Can't wait to take it out again and do more.