Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Spring Arrives in Spectacular Style

I hope you, too, were fortunate enough to witness our spectacular vernal equinox lunar event. As a man who was watching nearby said:

"This is a once in a lifetime event."

Well, I'm not sure about that, but it's pretty darn rare to have this combination: a full moon setting in the morning alpenglow behind the snow-covered Olympic Mountains, under clear skies. On the first day of Spring no less!

I rose early and dashed west to Sunset Hill Park (which is indeed a great place to watch sunsets) in north Seattle with camera and zoom lense ready. I expected a hoard of other photographers there with tripods, but no, I just saw a one other guy shooting and no tripods.

It was still dusky predawn when I arrived and started snapping the first shots.

As it lightened and the moon sank closer to the knife-edged line of the mountaintops, I had to remind myself to stop and just enjoy the view every few minutes.  It's easy to get so hung up on getting the perfect shot that you miss what's happening before your eyes.

And really, there are only so many similar shots you can take.

But also sweet on this magnificent morning (besides the killer lunar show) were the breezy fresh air and ebullient people stopping to watch. Because we all live under the same sun, moon, and sky.

Within about 20 minutes it was over, but the lovely first day of Spring was just beginning, full of promise. I snapped a few more shots and headed to morning tea/coffee with the regulars at Preserve & Gather, where I showed them some shots on my camera.

Did you get to watch the moon setting on the Spring equinox? I've love to hear in a comment below.

Happy Spring and Happy trails! Thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons.

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Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Beyond the Pacific Northwest: Joshua Tree Rocks

In early March, I traded Pacific Northwest snow for a few days of sun in Southern California's Joshua Tree National Park.

On this, my first trip to Joshua Tree National Park, the striking combination of blue sky, dry desert, golden granite boulders, and otherworldy plants was a feast for the senses.  

This was definitely nothing like western Washington and Oregon.

After walking off the rear of the plane in Palm Springs onto the tarmac, I was immediately struck by the dry warmth, which is Southern California doing what it does best.

From Palm Springs, it was about an hour drive up to Joshua Tree through the rugged, mountainous, arid SoCal landscape. 

Some of our group of 11 guys 'n gals stayed in Yucca Valley in a motel, 
but a few of us camped up in the park at Hidden Valley campground, surrounded by huge boulders and striking rock formations. Cold nights with brilliant starry skies brought frosty mornings and glowing sunrises. 

It was glorious.

Before sunrise quiet.

While my motivation was to see somewhere I've never been before, the goal of the group overall was rock climbing. These formerly hard-core climbers and mountaineers (think Half Dome and El Capitan ascents and Himalayan summits) have mellowed with age, but still, the climbing was for real.

Don made scary (to me) look easy. The Tombstone.

My much easier route.

Dave, an experienced and accomplished climber, was patient and took me to much smaller boulders and rocks for climbing and belay practice. After a scary climbing experience in high school, I discovered it was actually fun and pretty safe. 

I'm hooked. Now I want more.

However, there was also hiking and exploring to do. One morning we hiked up nearby Ryan Mountain, the second highest point in the park and a very popular trail. 

This 3-mile round-trip hike is listed in the park guide as strenuous, but really, if you're a hiker in decent shape, it's not tough. Just don't go when it's too hot and bring plenty of water and sunscreen. We gained a little over 1,000 feet to a summit elevation just under 5,500 feet.

Pirickly cactus near summit of Ryan Mountain
Another morning we got up before sunrise to hike the Real Hidden Valley, a lovely little rock-enclosed "valley" near our campground. This easy 1-mile loop also gets tons of traffic, but we had the place to ourselves, which I considered a gift. 

I stopped briefly to sit and meditate just after the sun crested the surrounding rocks, grateful to be in and experience such a beautiful place during the early morning quiet.

Before Joshua Tree was a national park, cattle rustlers used to hide their stolen livestock here in what was then a secret hideaway. 

Another short (1.3-mile) afternoon hike we did was the Barker Dam loop, a pre-park impoundment that remains an oasis in the desert.

With all the extra rain and snow along the West Coast recently, the Joshua trees were starting to bloom and the cholla cactus glowed white with new growth. We were just ahead of a major desert bloom. Nevertheless, it was all lovely and enchanting.

NOT an artichoke :)
Cholla cactus

After Hike/Climb Eats
We did a little cooking (hot drinks in the morning, granola and fruit for breakfast) but drove down to the nearby towns of Joshua Tree and Yucca Valley several times to grab group dinners and snacks. 

We had pretty standard but decent and tasty Mexican at La Casita Neuva in Yucca Valley one night, and what I thought was quite good Thai food in Joshua Tree at the Royal Siam Cuisine Thai Restaurant. Just pass on the deep-fried eggrolls; everything else was fresh and well-prepared. 

But our favorite was the healthy fresh fruit smoothies at the Natural Sisters Cafe, a corner cafe/coffee shop in Joshua Tree near the park entrance turnoff. Oh, and I loved the excellent arugula salad at the Crossroads Cafe, where we had lunch before heading to the airport (sigh).

So I'm back in the land of cold rain (although they're predicting temps up to 70 degrees next week!), but images of Joshua Tree are lingering. I know I'll have to return someday for more.

How about you? Have you spent time there, climbing, hiking, or just sightseeing? Would love to hear in a comment below.

Happy trails and thanks for visiting Pacific Northwest Seasons! 

In between blog posts, visit Pacific NW Seasons on FaceBook, Twitter, and Instagram for more Northwest photos and outdoors news.


When You Go

Joshua Tree National Park is in Southern California just north and east of Palm Springs, which is about 100 miles east of Los Angeles. We flew Alaska Air from Seattle, which has plenty of daily flights, but a few in our group drove south in camper vans. They say the summer is beastly hot and the best times to be there are the spring and fall. We had temps in the low 60s in early March, but it rained and even snowed at higher elevations the day after I left.