Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Mt. Umunhum

Waxing Crescent Moon

Summit plaque.
I know what you are thinking. You are thinking that word up there in the title of this post sure is funny. You might also be wondering exactly how do you say that funny word, so my job, which I take very seriously, is to straighten this thing out.

First of all, let's rule out a few common mispronunciations. It is not "ooo-moon-hoom." Nor is it "you-moo-noom." It is not 'human-hum." Nor is it "um'n-hum" (although that's pretty close).

The correct way to say Umunhum is without the "h" or, as my stodgy old nun in the fourth grade used to say, "the 'h' remains silent." In addition, all of the "u's" are short u's, as in "tummy" or "mummy" or "The Man from U.N.C.L.E.," not long u's as in "obtuse" or "spruce" or "Bruce Wayne Manor." And definitely not that creepy "u" sound as in "muse" or "excuse" or "Metamucil."

You say "Umunhum" as though it were spelled "Um'n-um." And if you say it over and over, rapidly, urgently, with a purpose, like "Um'n-um-Um'n-um-Um'n-um-Um'n-um-Um'n-um-Um'n-um-Um'n-um," you may notice that you are starting to sound very much like a hummingbird. (Please...practice this exercise in the privacy of your home).

View from the top.
Making this humming sound would be very apropos, seeing as how Umunhum is the Amah Mutsun tribal word to describe the (sacred to them) hummingbird. Who doesn't love a hummingbird? The Amah Mutsun were among the seventy or so tribes of the Ohlone people who lived along the coast and in the region now called Silicon Valley in northern California from about 8,000 B.C. (maybe even earlier than that) right up until the insanity hit the fan in the 1770s.

Mt. Umunhum rises above these places just south of the town of Los Gatos. The insanity left its mark on this beautiful mountain in the form of an ugly grey concrete block which was once the base of a radar tower during the Cold War from 1957 to 1980. The tower was part of the nationwide Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE) defense system which was designed to alert fourth graders that they were about to be incinerated any minute now. I guess it worked?

What's left of the radar tower. Ugh.
There is still a lot of insanity, of course, but yesterday, I and my erstwhile hiking brother Captain Chem escaped most of it by hiking to the summit of Mt. Umunhum from the Bald Mountain trail head in the Sierra Azul Open Space Preserve. There was a thick fog down in the sprawling Silicon Valley wasteland, but the view from above was absolutely exquisite.

Great effort and dinero has been expended in the last couple of years to clean up much of the damage done to the mountain by our balley-hooed  military industrial complex. A lot of the junk has been replaced by beautifully landscaped access to the summit both from the trail and from Mt. Umunhum Road. Our trail up to the summit ended at the parking area. From there, we climbed the 159 stairs the rest of the way to the eerie concrete block. A gazebo-like shelter sits at its base, housing a set of poster displays documenting the history of the mountain and maps identifying the surrounding peaks. There are remarkably striking solid oak benches from which to soak in the 360-degree views, plus a circular central ceremony ring for Amah Mutsun and others to hold court.

Sanity is making a comeback in the Bay Area. It has a long way to go, but on Mt. Umunhum, you can feel it. It never left. It is standing its ground.

Peace, Love, and Viewpoint,

Sunday, November 25, 2018

Accomplishments Afoot

Waning Gibbous Moon

This year I have noted three accomplishments in hiking that I think just about anybody would consider world class crazy. I mean crazy in a good way, of course.

Here they are in no particular order.

Heather "Anish" Anderson became the first woman (wowman?) to complete the Triple Crown of American hiking in one calendar year. That's the Pacific Crest Trail (2,650 miles), the Continental Divide Trail (3,100 miles), and the Appalachian Trail (2,190 miles). In one swell foop. Backpacker Magazine did a write-up on her. Supergirl, Wonder Woman, Uma in Kill Bill, etc. - you name the super hero, Anish matches up.

Jeff "Legend" Garmire just finished his Great Western Loop of ~ 7,000 miles this week. I followed his daily blog on Instagram, amazed by his stamina (frequent, in fact, common 40+ mile days) and relentless positivism, if that's a word. What did he eat to keep all this up? Read the GQ article here. Oh, and sometimes it was cold.

Then there is Mary "Medicare Pastor" Davidson. She completed her mission of section hiking the Triple Crown at the ripe young age of 76! I just finished reading her book Old Lady on the Trail: Triple Crown at 76 yesterday. This gutsy gal is wired together with titanium and plastic replacement parts and still going. The stories about her adventures are fun and serious at the same time. She didn't even start this thing until she was 60! A real retired pastor from Washington state, Mary inspires without being preachy. Check out her book on Amazon. The rest of us have no excuses.

Peace, Love, and Move It,

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Fremont Peak State Park Monday

Waning Crescent Moon

One of the many under-utilized hiking venues in San Benito County is Fremont Peak State Park, just eleven miles up the San Juan Canyon Road from San Juan Bautista. Click on the link above to see the park brochure which includes a map of the hiking trails and more info than you ever knew you needed.

Yesterday, blessed with nearly perfect sunny, mild weather, I parked at campsite #24 in the Oak Grove campground (after paying my $5 Senior rate day use fee). I paused to take in the view before heading north through the woods down the connector path to the Cold Springs Trail.

I was happy to see that the trail was in such good condition. Last year things had become pretty overgrown, but apparently the California Conservation Crew came over the summer and they really did a great job. I saw the following wildlife on this section of my hike: a deer, a roadrunner, a few lizards, several flying insects which I will generalize with the scientific term "gnats", and a human couple who looked like they had time traveled from Santa Cruz circa 1971. Nice folks. A little bit dazed and confused, but nice. I failed to photograph any of these critters, but I did get some shots of the trail that winds through the oak and madrone forest.

Many of the madrones seemed to be shedding their outer layers of "skin" or bark. I asked Dr. Maynard Moe for an explanation via Facebook and here is what Maynard had to say.

 In tree (shrub) bark there is a cork cambium that makes "cork" that prevents water from leaving the plant through the secondary phloem (tissue that transports sugars). the tissue on the outside of the cork dies and eventually sloughs off. These cork cambia have various 3D shapes and are thus responsible for the structure of the bark. For example, recall the "puzzle piece" bark of yellow pines (ponderosa, Jeffrey). The puzzle shapes reflect the shapes of the underlying cork cambium. So, in Madrones and manzanitas, the cork cambium is large and nearly all around the stem. Thus all the outer bark peels off.

Dr. Moe is a retired Professor of Biology and author from California State University, Bakersfield who grew up in Yosemite National Park. That's right, in Yosemite National Park. He is my go-to authority on all things botanical, since I pretty much cannot retain any info on the topic whatsoever. 

I really wanted to stop at this point on the trail and see if I could go ahead and get beamed straight up to heaven to visit my ancestors. Maybe I could plead for some mercy for when my time comes. I settled for a quick picture instead.

At the end of the Cold Spring Trail near the park entrance, I crossed the road to Jack's Trail which led me to the Fremont Peak Observatory (star parties held here). Then I switched to Carmen's Trail (come on, let's go downtown...) for a roller coaster walk through the oaks past crystalline marble outcrops with a view of the peak above.

I also stumbled upon this biggo mushroom. I don't know anything about mushrooms, either, so don't ask me what kind it is. It's big, though, bigger than my hand. 

At the end of Carmen's Trail, I looped through the parking lot back to my truck and headed home. On the way down the canyon, I stopped to check out the old limestone mine scar. For a long time back in the 20th century, this mine was the lifeblood of San Juan Bautista, providing jobs for locals and building materials for the surrounding area. Now what?

For a random Monday in November, this was a remarkably pleasant day. I liked it.

Peace, Love, and Footpaths,

Monday, October 29, 2018

Blood from the Mummy's Tomb

Waning Gibbous Moon

If you are looking for a spooky, possibly campy, Halloween movie with a different twist on the mummy theme, you could do worse than Blood from the Mummy's Tomb.

Released in October of 1971, this colorful, imaginatively shot horror classic features the magnificent cleavage of British actress Valerie Leon. You could say that Ms. Leon, who plays both of the lead characters  (the most unfortunately named Margaret Fuchs plus the Egyptian pharaoh temptress Queen Tara) puts the "boo!" in "boobies!"

During a brief break from the cleavage cam, there is a terrific asylum scene in which a crazed archaeologist played by George Coulouris goes completely ape when Margaret comes to see him to retrieve a very important/magical cobra statue. This scene does not rise to the frenzied level of Hitchcockian cinema-psychosis but it is close. It is straight-jacketed, bug-eyed, sweaty, shrieking stardom for old George in this one, asylum fans. Awesome! Here's a shot of George from Midnight on the Orient Express. When it comes to crazy, this guy can bring it.

This movie (let's just call it Blood for short) was shot ten years before Raiders of the Lost Ark, but the whole archaeologist garb thing was already set in stone. The bit characters, who do not have magnificent protruding boobies, gathered for this photo. George, pictured here before he was carted off to the loony bin and assassinated by a jackal, I think, is second from the left.

The gratuitous egghead science woman seen way back in the back was only in a few scenes and had no observable boobies whatsoever. Margaret's incomparable chest pretty much stole the show from beginning to end. That and the severed hand, which belonged to Margaret's ancient soul sister Queen Tara. It was stolen from the tomb and kept in a cigar box by that nut job on the far right. He was doomed by ambition, a soulless, amoral bastard.

Oh, and that biggo ring played a big role, too, given to Margaret by her archaeologist father to protect her during an uncomfortably tender, quasi-incestuous moment early on. Geez! I am not sure the amulet worked as intended. 

As a fun, scary, fast-paced, Halloween-season thriller, Blood from the Mummy's Tomb worked for me. Even with the obvious horn-dog Hollywood director skin exploitation, I liked it a lot better than the stuff that came out in the 80s and 90s and since then. 

Peace, Love, and Titillation,

Sunday, October 28, 2018

Mission Farm Spooky Potluck

Waning Gibbous Moon

Every year the best party in San Juan Bautista that nobody in town knows about happens on or near Halloween in the Mission Farm Campground barn. I love it, even though I happen to be the least social, most anhedonistic creature within a hundred miles. I can only stay long enough to take pictures, eat a big plate of delicious vittles, drink a bottle of water, and thank the gracious hosts, but that doesn't mean I don't appreciate greatness when I see it.

Missing this year was Alan the DJ, whose choice in beats gets funkier and louder by the hour. But a pretty interesting mix tape jammed together by the lovely and talented duo of Yo and Susan was nearly as good and audible from anywhere on the Farm. I left  before the dancing began so I can't vouch for the hilarity of this year's staggering beauty of Boomers (and others) drunk off their ass on moonshine. If it was anything like last year, though, it will be an exceptional memory for the lucky few who retain functional brain cells haha.

I love the people here, but I go to the party to see and record the decorations. They are awesome. It takes a few weeks of preparation for Yo and Susan and the crew to get the barn ready.

Susan, the camp manager, is the ringleader of this operation.

People from outside of California actually reserve campsites for this weekend every year and bring their families to the Farm for this event. Some of the young ones are grandchildren of campers who have been showing up since before the wee ones were born.

Do I want you to plan ahead for next year and come to see for yourself? Hell, no. Be brave or nuts or creative or whatever it is that these folks are and throw a party wherever you live. I like the Mission Farm Halloween Potluck just the way it is.

Peace, Love, and the Barn Bash,

Friday, October 12, 2018

The Giant Forest Trip: Spugly Heal Thyself

Waxing Crescent Moon

Not content with just a little taste of the Giant Forest last month, I was compelled to return this week for a loop hike between Crescent Meadow and the General Sherman Tree. I read an account of one person's walk online and decided to do one of my own. I figured it was do it now or wait until next July when this winter's snow will finally melt. But first I had to get there, a drive of just less than two hundred miles, over the Diablo Range, across the Great Central Valley, and up into the Sierra Nevada.

Pacheco Pass in the Diablos is about 25 miles from my camp in San Juan Bautista. Usually, it is only a modest challenge for Spugly the Spectacularly Ugly Palomino Transporter. On Tuesday morning, however, something was wrong. On the way up the grade, I had to downshift to 4th gear to get enough power to maintain a respectably swift velocity in the slow lane. That was weird. I can normally stay in 5th and still go 55 mph. Tuesday, I was barely going 45 and a little nervous. Shiny little SUVs were whizzing past in the fast lane, as were greasy old tractor trailers. The Check Engine light came on for the first time ever and shortly after that, Spugly started having convulsions, sputtering and losing power, shuddering its way to the top of the pass. The temperature gauge was fine. I had just paid for an oil change and the radiator was full. I flashed back to the cheapo gas station I used in Hollister to fill up the tank Monday. Was that the culprit? What was going on? Should I turn around?

I kept going past the pass and down the other side, under I-5, and into Los Banos. At a stoplight in town, Spugly was choking and vibrating violently. I pulled into the first automotive place I saw, a tire shop halfway through town. As I came to a stop, not only was the Check Engine light on, but so was the Battery light and the engine just died right there where I parked. Oh God, instead of hiking in the Giant Forest, I was going to be stuck in Los Banos. I popped the hood, did a cursory analysis of the two or three things I know about an internal combustion engine and went inside the shop to seek help.

Then is was hot potato time. Nobody now alive actually knows how to figure out what is wrong with a messed up car. They hook it up to a computer and "run the diagnostics" then they try to fix it doing what the computer says needs fixing. That is all fine as long as your particular car was made in the 21st century. But Spugly was made in 1987 when computer diagnostics was in its infancy. Nobody working in this tire shop was even alive then. They sent me to a series of nice, but similarly head-shaking mechanics on Mercey Springs Road, all of whom said the same thing.

Somewhere in this time frame, Spugly grew tired of getting passed around like a hot potato. It coughed its last cough and returned to the smooth-and-cool-running state which is its nature. I was perplexed, but pleased. After 45 minutes of talking to nice but similarly head-shaking mechanics, I blew town and headed for the Sierra. No Check Engine light, no Battery light, no full body palsy tremors, no problemo. How did Spugly, a thirty-one year old mini-truck of Japanese descent, manage to rid itself of whatever ailed it in such a reasonable time frame? Is Spugly actually an ancient Samurai warrior? A cleverly disguised Ninja?

I did a little research on the Weird Wild Web. Turns out both Samurai and Ninja legends stem from a single story featuring a character named Prince Yamato. To  summarize, the wily prince disguised himself as a woman to entice two bad guys into state, whereupon Prince Yamato hacked them to pieces with a really sharp sword. Dang! Could Spugly the Spectacularly Ugly Palomino Transporter be related to a cross-dressing swordsman/swordswoman from the 8th century A.D.? I guess that could explain the whole spectacularly ugly thing, if not the ability to heal itself from nasty, hacking, cough-spasms.

Regardless, I made it to the Lodgepole Campground in Sequoia National Park just in time to pitch my tent, eat a Mountain House Teriyaki Chicken and Rice dinner, and bundle up for a fuh-reezing night on the ground at 6,700 feet above sea level. Early on Wednesday morning, my little plastic REI key-ring thermometer read somewhere between 20 and 30 degrees Fahrenheit. Fully clothed with a fleece jacket, inside a Cocoon sleeping bag liner, inside my usually pretty warm synthetic car-camping sleeping bag, under a wool blanket, on top of a Big Agnes air mattress, on top of a Thermarest Z-rest pad, inside my bomb-proof REI Half Dome tent, I was as cold as a fudgesicle in Fairbanks.

The Sun worked its magic, though, and soon I was full of caffeine and eggs and heading south on the road to Crescent Meadow and the Giant Forest. Spugly, unphased by the cold night, posed for a photo at the touristy Tunnel Log. Zen and the Art of Mini-Truck Maintenance.

I did not have a map of the internet-dude's Giant Forest Loop hike, mainly because I was too cheap to pop into the Giant Forest Museum to buy one. I had scribbled down the descriptions of his turns and twists and trails, but soon found them fairly useless. So I depended on my compass and seasoned trail senses to wind along through the Forest and have one fantastic time. There are probably easier ways to loop through the Giant Forest between Crescent Meadows and the General Sherman Tree parking area, but it just doesn't matter. In every direction there is such dynamic beauty at an overwhelming, humbling, sensational scale that you really cannot go wrong. I'm just going to post some pictures and leave it at that. This place rocks.

Just off the Crescent Meadow Loop Trail is Tharp's Log. Tharp's Log, or, as I like to call it, Thog's Larp, is a hollowed out old fallen sequoia tree in which some old guy named Tharp (or possibly Thog) fashioned himself a little in-log cabin, complete with a stone fireplace and all the comforts of a home inside a log. It is SO cool. I love the Giant Forest and I want to move to Thog's Larp for the rest of my dying days. I will consult Spugly for secret Ninja instructions on how to heal myself from pneumonia and all those weird tick bite diseases everyone seems to be worried about lately. 

Peace, Love, and Sayonara,

Sunday, October 7, 2018

Sierra Loop - Wrap-Up - Thursday, September 13, 2018

Waxing Crescent Moon

The best part of my trip around the Sierra Nevada was not Yosemite, not Convict Lake, not Big Pine Creek, not Manzanar, not Lone Pine, not Walker Pass, not Paradise Creek, not even meeting the iconic Mr. Goldie. The best part by far was the chance to re-connect with Maria B., one of my favorite kids from my P.E. teacher/Coach days in Santa Barbara in the 1980s.

Now in her early forties with a college-age daughter and years of life experience, Maria is the same bright, sassy, gritty, hard-working prankster that I remember from her pre-teen days as a happy-go-lucky multi-sport star in SB. Now working temporary "adventure" jobs in the National Parks to see the country while still making money, she took time out of her busy schedule to spend a day with me hanging out and enjoying a perfect day in the Giant Forest.

The trail from the Lodgepole Campground to the General Sherman Tree.

The teaching profession is many things to many people. One thing most of us can agree on is that very often the rewards for all the crazy hours invested in our kids and the sometimes difficult personal interactions with stressed-out adults are either unseen or long-delayed. We keep moving forward, keep sending our messages of learn, strive, love, and play to the next set of minds and hearts. 

What happens to those little shining faces with the ambitious hair-sprayed bangs after they leave our classrooms and courts? Do they retain any of those life lessons we so carefully crafted late at night? What kind of people do they become? Are they healthy, are they okay? Did the world treat them right?

Once in a great while a retired teacher like me gets to catch a glimpse of a grown-up student/athlete like Maria, as strong and resilient as a Sequoia, and he can feel his heart swell with love and pride. A teenager will rarely tell you what he or she feels. It's too personal, too embarrassing, and a teacher understands that. When a grown woman lets you know you made a difference, though, you know it's for real and your spirit soars like a hawk. This was the very best part of my long loop around the Sierra - a reward reaped from work and play so long ago - a few sunny hours with a lifelong friend in the greatest of California forests. 

I think the psychologists call it closure. I don't know what to call it, personally, but I know I can't put a price on a moment like this one. I love "my kids" and I always will.

With Maria B. at the General Sherman Tree, Sequoia National Park.

Peace, Love, and the Best Profession,
Coach Jim

Friday, September 28, 2018

Sierra Loop - A Visit with Mr. Goldie - Tuesday, September 11, 2018

We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.

Waxing Crescent Moon

Yesterday was one stroke of good luck after another. After my Paradise Creek hike, I picked up, broke camp, and headed north on the narrow winding road through the park toward the Giant Forest, where all the really big trees are. A Giant Blinking Sign informed me to expect one-hour delays due to construction on an eighteen-mile stretch of the road coming up P Darn Quick. But nope, no delay for me. I pulled up to the end of a Giant Line of Cars and was about to shut off Spugly's engine when presto, a Giant Portly Gent with a red flag started waving everybody through. Total wait time? < 10 seconds. Perhaps it was luck or perhaps it was my trusty vehicle's spectacular ugliness, I will never know for sure.

I drove past the construction to the Lodgepole Campground, the most popular campground in Sequoia NP, and began to explain to the friendly young miss in the Giant Ranger Hat at the tiny little kiosk how difficult it is for a person of my age and disposition to plan very far ahead, far enough ahead to make and keep campground reservations for example, and how that did not necessarily make me stupid or a Giant Dufus. She was sort of amused. Then she said I was in luck because she just that minute got a cancellation notice for site #93 and furthermore I could have it for the Senior Pass rate of $11. Cool.

What followed was probably the most fortunate happening of this very fortunate day. I found my campsite, got all set up, went for a leisurely walk to get the lay of the land, and returned with the keen sense that I smelled like Giant Cow Poo. After two hikes that day, I really needed a bath. I gathered my soap and camp towel and washcloth plus a clean set of clothes and moseyed over to the restroom that serves D Loop, my local collection of sites.

I was really looking forward to not smelling like Giant Cow Poo. I made a beeline to the propped-open door on the side of the restroom nearest my camp. Inside, there were three stalls with closed doors along the back wall and two clean sinks, one on each side of the propped open door. I immediately stripped down and began my oft-practiced routine of taking a cold water hobo bath, using my washcloth to clean my body with a minimum of wasted water. I am really, really good at this. I can get very clean and refreshed in a few minutes, dry off and get dressed and out of the restroom in a few more minutes after that.

On the way out of the restroom, feeling squeaky clean, I happened to glance back and notice something that made me feel like a Giant Idiot. The sign above the restroom door read "WOMEN." Whoops! I had been bare-ass nekked in the Women's restroom for at least six minutes. I was so lucky that nobody was in one of those stalls or that nobody walked in on me while I was rinsing off the Giant Cow Poo smell in the nice clean sink. Whew!

This morning, I awoke rested and fragrant and after a bowl of gruel and a Giant Mug of coffee, I headed straight for the Tokopah Valley Trail. Actually, I stopped at the propped-open door that read "MEN" for a minute first. But then I hiked to the trail head and began the 1.7 mile easy peasy walk up toward Tokopah Falls along Tokopah Creek. It was nice!

This was a perfectly cool, sunny morning. I met very few other hikers and I enjoyed the smells and sounds of the forest and the muted water in the low-flowing creek. It was obvious that in.other seasons, the flow in Tokopah Creek was much higher, but it was still fun to be in the woods. 

Gaining elevation, soon there were fewer trees and more exposed Sierra Nevada granodiorite twinkling in the sunlight. A sign warned against leaving shoes and packs untended because marmots would probably chew on them to get a little snack of salt left behind by your perspiration. Marmots. Cool. Who doesn't love marmots?

There was no water at all up by the falls, so I was not tempted to take a dip and test the marmot shoe/pack/salt theory. I did, however, at the end of the trail below where the waterfall would be had there been water, immediately encounter a marmot. Sure enough, he (I think) was doing what marmots always do - he was licking the rocks to get that fine taste of salt from the sodium rich plagioclase feldspar in the granodiorite. A handsome specimen of marmotry was he.

I attempted to converse in English with this marmot with little success. The more I talked, the more he eyed my trail runners, like he was trying to convince me with telepathy to shed my shoes so he could give them a good chewing. He was not interested in my thoughts or advice. He was interested in my salt. In the middle of my lengthy monologue about the Sierra Nevada batholith and what he might expect rather soon from human-caused climate change, he got bored and hustled off, leaving me alone to ponder the water-less Tokopah Falls.

Subsequently, I learned from a friend who should know that this marmot is rather famous locally and that he even has a name. According to my friend who herself shall remain nameless, I had been visited by the one and only Mr. Goldie, the mascot marmot of Tokopah Falls. Man! Talk about lucky!

Now that I am home, I can state with approximately 95% confidence that Tokopah Falls a) has a marmot mascot, b) his name is Mr. Goldie, and c) I actually met Mr. Goldie and not one of his stand-in stunt doubles. Naturally, as an actual Great Big Skeptic,  I am about 5% suspicious that my friend is just pulling my leg. 

Peace, Love, and Mr. Goldie, Maybe,