Monday, February 23, 2015

Hiking the EBMUD Trails in the Oakland Hills, California

Tall trees at the canyon trail head
Recently, we spent a warm Saturday afternoon hiking on one of the many beautiful trails in the Oakland Hills. The expedition had two purposes: one, to make use of our son Matt’s recently acquired permit for hiking on East Bay Municipal Utilities District (EBMUD) land; and two, to try out our new, or newly adapted, cameras.
Infrared, left; Infrared colorswap, right
We had three cameras to play with. I had a new pocket camera, Art had upgraded his SLR camera with a new model, and Matt had refitted one of his cameras to take infrared pictures. For our hike we chose the King Canyon Loop and Riche Trail, which offered ample opportunity for photos.  We started in tall trees at the bottom of the canyon, hiked up through oak woodland, before reaching the part of the trail that opened up to broad vistas.
Blackberry leaves
A surprising variety of fungi, moss, ferns, leaves and other plants provided the chance for close-ups along the way.
Looking East toward Mount Diablo
We had packed a picnic lunch and ate it at the staging area where there were picnic tables and portapotties. As we ate, we heard a tap, tap in the tree just above our heads. When we looked up we saw a  woodpecker drilling a hole in search of sap and insects. After I got home and looked it up in my bird guide, I discovered that it was a red-breasted sapsucker, a kind of woodpecker native to the western U.S.
"Red-breasted" sapsucker
The EBMUD manages 27,000 acres of open space and 80 miles of horseback and hiking trails just a short distance from downtown Oakland. I am always amazed how quickly one can be surrounded by nature and still be close to the city. We passed only a few people along the trail. It was wonderful to be out in the fresh air enjoying nature just a few miles from home.
Using focus effect to blur edges of picture

Monday, February 16, 2015

PARIS CLOSE-UPS, Guest Post by Kathryn Mohrman

My friend, Kathryn Mohrman, an avid and excellent photographer, went to Paris recently.  She has graciously agreed to share some of her photos and impressions of her trip. Kathryn is a professor at Arizona State University and travels widely for her job as director of several projects with partner universities in China and Vietnam. You can see photos from her trips to Morocco, Lalibela, Ethiopia, and Turkey elsewhere on this blog.  I have known Kathryn since we were students together at Grinnell College in Iowa. Here is her report: 

My most recent adventure was another photo workshop, New Year’s in Paris. What could be better than that! The focus was on street photography—every picture had to have a person in it. Our instructor, an experienced news photographer with dozens of Newsweek cover photos to his credit, pushed us to use a wide-angle lens and get close to people, get closer to people, get even closer! You can see the results of our class at It was inspiring to be with terrific photographers who challenged me to look differently…and get closer.

Note: I asked Kathryn why she chose to shoot her pictures in black and white.  Here is her answer: "I chose to do B&W (as did most of the eight students in the workshop) because the instructor shoots only in B&W.  It was street photography, every photo had to include humans, so akin to photojournalism. We were told to shoot at 20-35mm, so wide angle--no sneaking pictures with a telephoto!  Shooting in B&W was also a challenge for myself, because B&W photos require more attention to composition and contrast--no color to attract the viewer."

Monday, February 9, 2015

NEW ZEALAND's FIORDLAND: Part 3, Cruise on Milford Sound, Guest Post by Owen Floody

View of the fiords from a helicopter
Our friend Owen Floody did a trekking and photo tour of New Zealand's South Island this past fall (the Southern Hemisphere spring.)  Owen recently retired from a career of teaching and research at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania. He has always been an avid photographer and in his retirement has taken numerous trips that allow him to pursue his passion. Here is the third part of a short reflection on his trip to New Zealand and some of his excellent photographs.

At the end of my trekking, I wandered Queenstown for a day before returning to Fiordland with Real Journeys for a 7-day Discovery Cruise on the 32-passenger Milford Wanderer.  Getting to our departure point required us to travel by bus from Queenstown to Manapouri, by boat across Lake Manapouri, and again by bus from the lake to Deep Cove, at the eastern end of Doubtful Sound.  Upon boarding, we settled into our cabins, met our 6-person crew, learned about the ship's safety features, and soon began to sail westward along beautiful Doubtful Sound.  What makes this and the other fiords so appealing?  Common features include steep high rock walls that somehow manage to support vegetation resembling a vertical rainforest, a plethora of tall waterfalls, and a complex, often very colorful, shoreline.   
Eventually I realized that the colonization of the walls by trees and other plants depends on the presence of thick mats of moss that can be very attractive and so continued to catch my eye the rest of the cruise.  We did not see a lot of wildlife, but possible sightings include whales, dolphins, seals, Fiordland-crested or blue penguins, and many species of seabirds.

Having sailed the length of Doubtful Sound, we reached the Tasman Sea and turned southwest to parallel the Fiordland coast.  Upon arriving at Breaksea Sound, we followed it westward to a protected cove where we anchored for our first night, consistent with a pattern in which the ship always stopped moving whenever we were eating or sleeping.

Though much of our time was spent enjoying the views of one after another fiord (Doubtful, Breaksea and Dusky Sounds, Chalky and Preservation Inlets) as we cruised, this was broken up by two-per-day landings.  These gave us the opportunity to stretch our legs on short hikes.  Some  included stretches of rainforest resembling those from my treks.   

Others took us along lovely beaches or to overlooks (e.g., the lighthouse at Puysegur Point) with impressive views.  But many landings revolved around more historical themes.  As this part of New Zealand was explored by Captain James Cook in 1769-1775, we were able to visit several sites that figured importantly in these voyages (e.g., Astronomers Point).  Similarly, as Fiordland experienced a flurry of gold mining in 1893-1910, we frequently encountered the remnants of mines or mining settlements. 

Fragment of stamp battery in former mining settlement
Other options for exploration were provided depending on conditions and our location.  For instance, poking along the shore in the ship's motorboat was a common activity that permitted the close inspection of otherwise inaccessible shorelines.  When the conditions were ideal, most passengers piled into one or another of the ship's nearly 30 kayaks, for self-directed and even closer looks at the coastal rock formations and vegetation.

Finally, a very special aspect of the cruise occurred at its end.  Those of us who hadn't studied our itineraries were surprised to find ourselves far from our final destination (the West Arm of Lake Manapouri) early on the seventh and last day.  And yet no one seemed anxious to get the ship moving northward.  This is because the master plan was for us to be picked up by helicopter in Preservation Inlet, compressing the return trip to 20-30 minutes of spectacular flight over the fiords.  What a fantastic climax to the trip this proved to be!  In building this feature into our trip, as indeed in all aspects of the cruise, I felt that Real Journeys did an excellent job of caring for and exposing us to the wonders of Fiordland.

Monday, February 2, 2015

NEW ZEALAND's FIORDLAND: Part 2, Milford Track and Routeburn Track, Guest Post by Owen Floody

Milford Sound, New Zealand, South Island
Our friend Owen Floody did a trekking and photo tour of New Zealand's South Island this past fall (the Southern Hemisphere spring.)  Owen recently retired from a career of teaching and research at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania. He has always been an avid photographer and in his retirement has taken numerous trips that allow him to pursue his passion. Here is the second part of a short reflection on his trip to New Zealand and some of his excellent photographs.
From Dunedin, I drove west to Queenstown, and there the real fun began.  The next week I spent under the wings of Ultimate Hikes, pursuing a Classic package of treks including the Milford and Routeburn Tracks.  A central fact regarding Fiordland is that this is a very wet place.  For example, rain can fall at Milford Sound on 200 days a year, depositing up to 10 inches of rain per fall and as much as 23 feet over the course of a year.  To hike in this environment, you must be prepared for rain.  In addition, it's nice to have a support team that knows how to deal with rain, flooded trails, and wet hikers.  Ultimate Hikes managed all of this wonderfully.  For example, all of their lodges are equipped with facilities for the hand-washing of one's clothes immediately after a hike, eliminating any need to deal with the wet by hauling pounds of clothing.  The lodges combined this feature with the availability of large drying rooms, permitting a single change of clothing to be used repeatedly.  In these and other respects, I thought that the support of my treks by Ultimate Hikes was exemplary and well worth the cost.
The Milford Track is one of the world's most famous treks.  It extends over five days, though most of the hiking is concentrated in the middle three.  On each of these, one must be able to hike for 10-13 miles in 4-10 hours.  There are some elevation changes, but nothing extreme.  Most of these are concentrated on the approach to and descent from Mackinnon Pass, at approximately 3500 feet.
A large fraction of the trek passes through beech-dominated rainforests.  At times, you break out of the forest into a clearing, where you can be confronted with 4000 foot tall rock walls, often covered by an intricate pattern of waterfalls.  
The most expansive views, however, are those from Mackinnon Pass.  It was never possible to take in such a view without being amazed at the number, depth and beauty of the glacial valleys that dominate this landscape.  Nevertheless, I think that I most enjoyed the opportunity to walk for hours through forests of a sort that would be nearly impossible to see anywhere else.
Considering our ultimate destination, it's fitting that my first trek ended with a cruise on famous Milford Sound.  And before that, we had the opportunity to view Sutherland Falls, the fifth tallest falls in the world at 1904 feet.  It creates an impressive multi-sensory experience, combining powerful blasts of water and air (alas, too much for photos), a volume of sound like that of nearby jet engines, and the sight of the falls disappearing into the mist above your head.  
After completing the Milford Track, I moved on to the Routeburn Track.  This is a shorter trek, extending over three days, each involving a hike 6-9 miles over 3-8 hours.  Whereas the Milford most impressed me with its rainforests, the Routeburn earned points for its varied landscapes.  It, too, takes you through some beautiful beech-dominated rainforests, especially on the first and third days.   
But nearly all of the second day is spent above the tree line, crossing the Hollyford Face on the way to the Harris Saddle.  This traverse offered some spectacular mountain views.  It also exposed us to some interesting weather, with one day divided into periods of clear, rain, sleet, hail, and snow.  Fortunately, we had been warned that Fiordland weather is changeable and wet!  My other highpoint on the Routeburn was a similar, but small, part of the first day's hike.  This took us to and around a nature trail on Key Summit.  Again, we enjoyed the winning combination of attractive rocks, vegetation and ponds in the foreground with beautiful views of more distant mountains and valleys. 

(Continued  next week: Part 3: Cruise on Milford Sound)