Nature

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This is a photographic compilation of some of my travels, not all with Callie, but with Michael for sure. He has been quite supportive all these years. He bought me a Polaroid camera when my daughter Lara was born 32 years ago, and I haven’t stopped since!

A Day Trip to Yosemite & Drive through Tioga Pass in a Snowstorm

Michael, Lara and I had an impulsive brainstorm that we could somehow find a way to camp overnight in Yosemite Valley without a reservation. We spent the morning making an effort to be put on a waiting list and then drove over to the one available spot to park in order to hike up to Mirror Lake.

Once we parked the RV and piled out, the three of us crossed the gorgeous meadow over the lovely boardwalk and headed to the lake. Callie stayed behind in the RV and took a much-needed nap. All the fun and excitement of travel takes it out of her, and the chance to get some sleep mid-morning is a treat for her.

Leaving her safely behind, we meandered along Tenaya Creek and I spent a couple of hours taking photographs and walking through the woods with Lara and Michael. It was a beautiful, crisp afternoon, and because Mirror Lake is no longer dredged and pillaged for its ice like it was in the past, it is more of a puddle than a lake. I was still able to capture incredible, reflective images in spite of the low water level, and felt that the hike was more than worth it.

The view was incredible, with light and shadow passing over the rock formations and changing dramatically with each minute. The leaves on the broadleaf trees were just starting to turn golden in color, and there was a hint of autumn in the air. The path is paved and cyclists can now bike up to a parking area before walking the rest of the way to the lake. Rental bikes are available and a lot of people took advantage of the opportunity.

Once we returned to the RV and made an effort to see more of the Valley, we were entangled in one traffic jam after another. Michael was never able to find a place to park after that, and we decided collectively to head over to Lee Vinning and find a camping site at Mono Lake. Little did I know that Tioga Pass was experiencing an early, fall blizzard and that Callie was going to be able to watch the snow blow past on the dash. She didn’t know whether to be excited or freaked out as the windshield wipers were activated.

In spite of the crowds in Yosemite, it is still a beautiful place to visit. I recommend taking the time to get a reservation though, and I don’t recommend driving an RV around. Take advantage of the numerous shuttles that are available and plan a long day of exploring. It was just too difficult this time to find a place to park, and maneuvering the RV from one spot to the next, became a chore! Fortunately, Michael, Callie had I had visited the valley last summer and didn’t feel too disappointed, and Lara was a good sport about it and didn’t complain.

Yosemite Valley- Beautiful but too Crowded

We got up early this morning, skipped showers and breakfast, and left Mariposa in hopes of nabbing an RV site today in Yosemite Valley. With first come first serve to be our only option, we put our name down at 9:00- we were #28- and headed out on a hike to Mirror Lake.

Mirror Lake is a seasonal lake which was dredged in the past in order to keep the silt from filling up and clogging the water. Today, naturalists understand the importance of leaving nature alone and do not dredge it anymore. Because of this, the lake is more of a puddle due to the build-up of sandy deposits. It still has spectacular views of gigantic rocks and the hike into the lake is now a paved bicycle trail. What little water that is left standing is still capable of reflecting the landscape behind it- hence the name: Mirror Lake. Yosemite is very pro-bike and rental bikes are available for individual use. Our daughter didn’t bring her bike, so we decided to hike in on foot.

We then tried to go to Bridal Falls, but because the park was so crowded, we couldn’t find any place to park, and because we couldn’t find any place to park, we decided to give it up and head to Lee Vining and Mono Lake. It isn’t any fun when you are battling crowds and noisy road construction the whole time. I was able to take a fair amount of photographs in spite of visiting the park for only 4 hours and I am very relieved to get out of there. We all left Yosemite Valley with headaches and people fatigue but are still glad we went. Someone else can have our spot if they are lucky enough to even get one.

The weather was perfect though and the leaves are just starting to turn golden and burgundy. Most of the campsites are closed already, and unfortunately, Yosemite had a very short season due to heavy snowpack last winter. We saw many roadsides, rock slides, and repair construction was going on everywhere. A couple of weeks ago, El Capitan had a major rock slide, killing one British man, and injuring his wife, as it swept down the mountain and buried many cars in its path. Some of the bridges have suffered damage too. You could tell the construction workers were working overtime in order to get as much work done before the snow starts to fall again.

On our way out, we spotted a black bear rummaging around for grubs fairly close to the road. It brought traffic to a halt and some idiots were even getting out of their car in order to take photographs. I got a teeny tiny photo from the window of the RV. Driving over Tioga Pass and Route 120, we hit a snowstorm. It has taken Callie a little getting use to when the windshield wipers have to be turned on! She toughed it out this time and didn’t jump down.

Who knows where we will head to next. We are road weary today and Lee Vining and Mono Lake will have to do!

A Tale too Tall to Tell

This tale is almost too tall to tell! I can hardly believe it happened myself. I was walking Callie yesterday morning, a beautiful Friday morning, when two young children by the name of Joaquin and Catalina came to join me. Joaquin, the older brother was 8 years old and Catalina, the younger sister was 7. They had witnessed Callie climbing a tree the day before and were hoping to see her do it again. It is really quite comical to watch because she is attached to my hand with the leash and halter. She can only go so far up the tree before she runs out of leash line and has to come to an abrupt halt. It takes us both by surprise and she is frequently stopped before she wants to be. The leash has a bungee cord, elastic texture to it, so it doesn’t hurt her, but it sure does the trick.

So Joaquin and Catalina decided to walk alongside me as we attempted to guess which tree Callie would choose to climb. She always stops at the base of a tree and looks it up and down before hesitating for a second or two before dashing swiftly up the trunk. We were having so much fun laughing together and joking about Callie, that I just had to ask them if they had a cat of their own? They responded with an emphatic “No, but they did have a Beta fish named Purple Fin that was a brilliant blue with shiny red fins!” “Red and blue make purple!” they exclaimed. I then asked them why they knew so much about cats? “Our cousin has a cat that lets us play with it!” both brother and sister chorused with enthusiasm.

We gave up on Callie ever picking out the right tree to climb because she had nestled down in a clump of grass and was doing her “wild jungle cat” routine, when a cheeky, brownish colored bird, sitting on a rock about 10 feet away caught our attention. I assured the two of them right away that I would not let Callie attack the bird. With Callie crouched down low in an attack, prey-model, style, I tugged on her leash as I said this, just to reinforce my control of the situation. The bird seemed to be staring at Callie and Callie had honed in on it too, because her tail was twitching spastically as the stare-down began.

After what seemed to be about 5 minutes or so, and while the 4 of us stood by quietly watching, it suddenly swooped down, and taking us all by surprise, tried to attack Callie right in the face. Callie defended herself by pouncing up with both front legs and claws extended in the air, she slapped at her attacker and flattening it to the ground. The pathetic thing started screaming and flapping its wings frantically while I was yanking on the leash and swatting at Callie’s head. It all happened in a blur but with a fluttering of wing feathers, the poor bird was finally able to make its escape and took flight with feathers slightly askew, and a little shaken for sure, but otherwise, unhurt.

The kids and I had all witnessed something really crazy and we were laughing hysterically and doubled over that a bird had just attacked a cat and not the other way around! We thought it was the funniest, most crazy thing we had ever seen! They then raced over to tell the wild story to their mother and father. This had more than made up for Callie not climbing a tree. As a matter of fact, this was better than Callie climbing a tree! After the kids ran off, I happened to look down at her by my feet and the poor thing was still in a crouched position, with eyes closed shut and in a state of shock. She wasn’t sure about what had just happened and seemed a little dazed and confused.

I picked her up right away, hugging her tightly to my chest, and while comforting her, headed to the RV to tell Michael all about it. She was chewing nervously like she sometimes does when she is frightened or hungry. Apparently, it was stressful for her too! (either that or she was really upset that she hadn’t killed the damn bird for having the nerve to attack her first!) She wanted to taste victory! Michael, of course, wanted to know if there was any proof in this outrageous story, and I had to tell him that there was simply no time to take a photograph. It had happened all too fast and I needed to rescue the bird in spite of it having attacked Callie first! I had 2 witnesses though! A brother and sister who would be sharing this tall tale with friends and family of their own for years to come. They too would be questioned about the truth of such an outlandish tale. I really wish I had taken a photograph!

Later that day, two rangers drove past in their truck while I was out walking Callie, and I flagged them down and asked them about what kind of bird it was and how it had attacked my cat! They both turned to each other and one of them thought that it might be a female starling. “Starlings are known for attacking dogs on leashes!” they replied with a laugh. Starlings have also been known to swoop down on people too if they are so inclined. They couldn’t believe a starling had attacked a cat though! The silly bird had probably never seen a cat on a leash before because neither of the Rangers had ever seen one either. “Is that really a cat on a leash?” they both asked incredulously while laughing loudly. They too were going to have to share this unbelievable story with their friends, and couldn’t wait to get back to share it.

A sweet footnote.

The next morning Catalina dropped by with her mother to check on Callie and to make sure I told the story all over again! Her mom had found it difficult to believe and had thought that just possibly her children had told a tall tale indeed! I quickly assured her that her children had told the truth! Catalina is also making a Callie Doll! She is learning to embroider and will stuff it and make a leash and collar too!

These drawings were created by another young artist that was camped next to us by the name of Tanya. She is only 5 years old and her favorite animal after ponies are cats!

Tioga Pass & Tuolumne Meadow Campground

Driving up Tioga Pass and heading to Yosemite with monsoon weather building up strength in the southeast, made for a dramatic day of intense weather. Callie loved being copilot on the dashboard and tolerated the windshield wipers sliding back and forth while raindrops plopped down noisily on the windshield. The further up Tioga Pass we went, the more intense the storm became. She uses to make a run for the back of the RV whenever we needed to use the wipers at the beginning of our travels. It is now expected of her to be brave and to stay open and curious about each and every new adventure.

In 1889 John Muir and publisher, Robert Underwood Johnson, discussed ways in which to protect this wilderness area. Johnson published two articles written by Muir in his Century Magazine and a year later, Yosemite National Park was born. In 1892, John Muir started the Sierra Club in order to encourage people to appreciate and protect the park for years to come.

Tioga Pass has only been open for less than a month now, and you can see the damage that heavy snow from the past winter has done to the trees and buildings as you make your way up the road. Roofs are caved in and trees are crushed and laying on the ground, still green with the hope of making it through the next winter. Autumn is already in the air and a tree that is flattened on the ground has little chance of making it when the snows bury it again.

We didn’t have a reservation but kept our fingers crossed and our hopes high, that we would be able to nab one of the first come, first serve sites, midweek. There were so many people that had descended on Oregon for the solar eclipse, that I was pretty optimistic we would be able to get a campsite. Thank goodness we were in luck and on our first day and night, we spent watching the storm build up into a powerful force of lightning and thunder, with pounding rain and hail. It was very dramatic and a river of water passed right under our RV and out and over to the other side. It rushed down to the restrooms below, flooding and pooling up, right at the entranceway. I am so appreciative that we are in an RV and not a tent. The people in tents look forlorn, cold, wet and miserable.

The next morning Michael and I spotted an empty campsite and arranged to be moved to A-53. You can hear the roar of the river and can see it right across from where we are camped. It is much drier and a lot more private, making it a better place to stay 5 more days and nights.

On Wednesday, early afternoon, we biked over to the Soda Springs trailhead and then hiked up and behind the Parsons Memorial Lodge. (Mr. Parsons was an avid hiker who helped with trailblazing exhibitions during the founding days of Yosemite) and we ended our hike at the Tuolumne River, a distance of 6 miles round trip. Michael and I were able to cross a section of the river and sit on some boulders in the middle and watch the water race by. It was a beautiful day with clouds billowing and forming into marshmallow puffs in the distance. Every evening around 4:00, the monsoon weather builds up and finally, the heavy, saturated clouds spill forth, providing much-needed rainfall before the winter snows once again pound the region. Thank goodness the drought is somewhat over for most of California.

It was a day of intense photography and I was able to capture 2 mule deer bucks, frolicking in the meadow and drinking at one of the tributary streams feeding the river. There is an abundance of grass in the meadow and the summer has been kind to them. The moment was captured on camera and photographers don’t get these opportunities often. It left me feeling pleased as can be and because it was at the beginning of the hike, I pranced on tippy toes of delight the rest of the way.

Halfway to the river, a young woman rode past us with a young buckskin colt following behind. She was riding the mare and her 6-month-old colt was almost following behind dutifully, but with a desire to investigate every little thing in his path. He needed a drink of water and decided that the river was a fine place indeed in which to play in. It brought back memories of my little filly- Buffy Sainte Marie that I raised in my teen years with my sister’s mare- Regina Marie Anne.

Shortly after the colt finally bolted out of the stream and decided to finally follow its mother, a cowboy on a sorrel, quarter horse, that was leading 5 well-trained mules, trudged past us fully loaded down with gear. I told him to read Oregon Trail and asked him how long he had been out on the trail? He muttered “a long time” and ambled on in typical, cowboy gruffness. I bet he had a rough night, the night before, because of the rain, hail, thunder, and lightning! Horses are hit by lightning because of being shod with metal shoes and wild herds are frequently the target of such horrible deaths too! It couldn’t have been an easy night for him. His horse and mules were in fine form though and I checked out his gear as they passed by. Everything looked in good order and the mules were well behaved. Mules are much more intelligent than horses and if they don’t want to do something, they won’t. A horse can be intimidated into obeying, but not a mule! For the cowboy to have control of such a large string of mules left me feeling very impressed and I let his gruffness slide off my back. He deserved respect!

When taking pictures, photography provides me with a wonderful sense of energy, whereas painting takes it out of me. I may try to paint again someday, but for now, writing and photography will have to do. It is too difficult to set up art supplies and start a painting while on the road at this time in my life. I don’t stay in one place long enough. Maybe in the future, we will slow down. For now, it is Michael’s dream to see as much as he can before the aging process makes it too difficult to travel. I am good with that and Callie is even better. She loves the adventure of it all and wants new scenery every 3 days or so, herself. Our adventures with Callie are turning out to be a wonderful lifetime opportunity. Next week we pick up our daughter and help move her out of her apartment. She is going to take some much needed time off to reinvent herself and will join us on the next adventure in the RV.

Thursday morning, August 24th, I took Callie on a walk and she was able to choose which tree she wanted to climb up, what clump of grass she preferred to hide in, when to drink water out of the river and where to relax in the shade under my chair. Her confidence level has improved greatly, and she relishes all the attention she gets when she is with me. Several times she has bolted out of the RV door when it is being opened and I have had to yell at her to stay. She cowers down right away and lets me pick her back up and place her inside. There is just way too much danger out there for her to do it alone! Dogs alone pose a threat to her.

Early afternoon, Michael and I actually waded out in the cold water in our swimsuits to bathe, ( there are no showers in this campground) and we sat under the sun’s warming rays until noon.

After lunch, we biked over to the old fisherman’s trail that Michael and Fred had hiked last year, parked our bikes and walked to the river again. I was able to take a few nice photos of a red-shouldered hawk perched on a dead tree trunk, and on the return hike, a doe leading her fawn across the pathway and into the meadow. The clouds looked ominous when we hiked and biked back to our RV after 4, but they didn’t build up enough strength to warrant rain.

It is now dusk and I feel full after a glass of Chardonnay and a dinner of fresh ahi and salmon, rice and broccoli, with ice cream for dessert. I shall sleep well tonight, as shall Callie and Michael. You can’t beat camping like this. A large rig would not be able to park here. 24 feet is just the right size for two people and a cat!

Yosemite National Park and side trip to Convict Lake!

On June 20, 2016, Michael, Callie, a good friend, Fred and myself, drove to Yosemite Valley from Mammoth and spent the day exploring all the sights. Fred is an expert guide and his love and knowledge of waterfalls is especially delightful and informative.  Yosemite Valley was very crowded and I was dismayed to see that the pine-bore-beetle, is leaving its destructive mark on the pine trees. All in all though, there is nothing like Yosemite. Callie had a wonderful time and even got to see her first deer. When she sees something new and exciting, she has a funny way of leaning out the window and then pulling her head back in disbelief. Her body language is adorable, and it reminds me of a turtle. She also makes eye contact with me to see how I am handling the situation. If I appear excited and pleased with what I see, Callie follows my lead.  It is so rewarding to expose her to new adventures because of this lovely trait. She is trusting and curious and I would do anything to protect her. While in Mamouth, we also visited Convict Lake and Callie did her first 3 mile hike.  I had to carry her most of the way as I had yet to buy the front pack, but I will attest to the fact that she did her best to walk as much of the way as she could. We even had a 7 horse caravan clomping noisily past us, and she just looked on with amazement. It was also quite warm, and the trail was mostly in the sun, but when we reached the walkway that covers the glacier melt runoff, and we were surrounded by dancing birch trees, and a blast of fresh, cool, air…wow, what  an experience!  I seriously doubt that there has been another cat that has hiked around Convict Lake, but would love to hear from anyone who knows of such a thing!

Our good friend, Fred- best trail guide and waterfall hunter around!

Check out the deer!