Rainbow Canyon (a.k.a: Jedi Transition; Star Wars Canyon) Death Valley

Just a bit west of Panamint Springs, up a long, steep hill, is an observation point, officially known as “Father Crowley Point”, overlooking Rainbow Canyon. Informally, it’s known as “The Jedi Transition” or “Star Wars Canyon”


It’s named as such, because the area is an official military “low altitude flight training area”. The aircraft will come in low, over the higher elevation plateau, and dip into the canyon below.


It’s called the “Jedi Transition”, as the planes tip their wings one way, then another, to navigate between the canyon walls. The reddish mineralized canyon also looks like “Tatooine”, in Star Wars. (My photos don’t show the colors well.) One of the vantage points, a short walk from the parking area, attracts photographers from all over the world. It’s one of the only places where you can look down upon military aircraft, at close range. The spectators love it, and I suspect the pilots like showing-off (besides the realistic training for low-level radar-evading flight) We saw two F-18s and an awkwardly slow V-22 Osprey.



We took a hike to the upper end of the canyon. Below, is a circuit board from a few decades ago. My hiking buddy says it was part of a weather balloon, from his prior research. I Googled some numbers off the board, without success.


Tree hugger! The dead spines of the Joshua Tree are quite soft, but the live ones can puncture a car tire!


The very top of Rainbow Canyon, which starts with a steep ~300 foot drop, right next to that guy taking a selfie!


There was an old encampment, of some sort, we found on our hike. It included the outline of some rectangular stone foundations…too big for a cabin, but just right for a bunkhouse or dormitory. Based on the junk we found, we guessed it was a CCC camp, or roadbuilding crew from ~1930-1940.IMG_0107

Another shot of the upper canyon.


…and an occasional photogenic cactus, but not many…


That’s it! Bring a big lens, and be patient, if you like aviation photos. If not, “take a hike” and enjoy the photos that other people have posted on-line!

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Coit Horse Camp @ Henry Coe State Park

Beautiful weekend in Henry Coe State Park! I just came back from a quick overnight backpack to Coit Horse Camp. (I have some friends planning a five day, high altitude, trip in the Sierra. I haven’t done much backpacking in recent years, so this was a little test.)

Strangely, while sleeping at Coit Horse Camp, I woke up several times during the night to faint techno/rave dance music!?! I listened for someone coming down the trail, and also tried to figure out where there are nearby private lands, closer than Coyote Lake. It seemed to be very distant, to the south or west, fading in and out. Puzzling!!

This morning, on my way back to Hunting Hollow, I found the answer at the green bridge, ~4 miles down the valley: a box from a turntable/media player, a new campfire site at the bridge, and assorted litter and beer cans. 😢 (see last photos).



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Hiking Mitchell Canyon to Mount Diablo, with the SoCal Hiker

Nobody told me you could DRIVE to the top! 😉


“Yours truly” accompanied Jeff Hester on his scouting trip to Mt Diablo a few weeks back. It was a great hike, and an opportunity to meet Jeff. I’m in three pictures, and my name is credited at the bottom! https://socalhiker.net/hiking-mitchell-canyon-to-mount-diablo/

A link to our track. https://www.strava.com/activities/1376750115/embed/482c74b126023f50ee2f023a21fe2b8d8e1373de

That’s all I have to say! Jeff did a great job detailing our trip. Will YOU be signing-up for his NorCal Six Pack of Peaks Challenge?



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Gilroy Yamato Hot Springs (Henry Coe State Park)


Located at the edge of Henry Coe State Park, Gilroy Yamato Hot Springs has a long and interesting history. Located on the appropriately named “Gilroy Hot Springs Road”, visitors to the Coyote Creek entrance notice the green bridge, with the gate on the other side.

I won’t repeat all of the historical background. You can find that on the plaque above, and Wikipedia also does a good job. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gilroy_Yamato_Hot_Springs

What you may not know, is that there is an understaffed and underappreciated “Friends of Gilroy Yamato Hot Springs” that looks after these buildings and is slowly working to improve the area. http://gilroyhotsprings.net/

I’ve been to GYHS a few times, most recently in December 2017. On that day, Laura Dominguez-Yon held Docent training and a prearranged guided tour (which can be arranged via the website above). What I found while there, and from the most recent Pine Ridge Association newsletter, is that they need more helpers! (page 15: http://coepark.net/pineridgeassociation/documents/Fall_2017.pdf ) I found that I was the only one to express interest in helping at GYHS following that article!

If you’re interested in the history of GYHS, then by all means contact Laura, as mentioned in the PRA Newsletter above. They are looking for helpers for the Volunteer Work Days, as well as those interested in becoming a Uniformed State Park Volunteer and GYHS Docent.

Below: The Kitaji Cabin, where the Kitaji Bible, now preserved at Stanford, was written https://www.mercurynews.com/2017/10/21/how-bay-area-family-reclaimed-its-85000-bibles/ 


A temple, or shrine, on the upper part of the grounds:


One of the many cabins:


A news clipping, when this was a popular place to visit


The main bath house building is on the right, and the spring on the left (or where the spring water is piped to, from uphill)


This little bridge, which has completely fallen now, was part of the 1939 World’s Fair exhibit.


One of several bilingual signs, in the main bath house (changing rooms and restrooms)


Where the water arrives from uphill:


The back of the main bath house, with the former soaking pool at the bottom:


The former “Tea House” deck, which has now fallen and crumbled, due to erosion of the hillside.


Lower view of the Tea House, where it has now fallen:


That’s the quick introduction! It is my hope that this area will one day receive a big infusion of restoration money and be professionally staffed for daily public access. The history is that important, in my opinion.

There are a few analogies: The Colonel Allensworth State Historical Park is a similarly remote State Park, which was a place of importance for African-Americans, and was crumbling and ignored for a long time. Isn’t GYHS a similar situation? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Colonel_Allensworth_State_Historic_Park and http://www.parks.ca.gov/?page_id=583

Secondly, Manzanar was underappreciated for many years, as well. It’s now a very well-done, and frequently visited place. (Don’t miss the movie in the Visitor’s Center! https://www.nps.gov/manz/index.htm ). GYHS is not of the same magnitude as Manzanar, but as a local/regional site, it doesn’t deserve to decay any further.

If you’d like to arrange a scheduled tour of Gilroy Yamato Hot Springs, or offer help to Laura as a Uniformed State Park Volunteer or Volunteer Work Days, contact her through the website http://gilroyhotsprings.net/ or at info@GilroyYamatoHotSprings.org

Note that GYHS is only open by special arrangement. There are fences, cameras, and a resident caretaker to reduce vandalism and protect the area. Soaking in the water is not available.



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Mono Pass & White Sierra Clothing (Rock Creek Lake)


A few weeks back, on Labor Day weekend, I joined some friends on a mountain getaway, to the Bishop and Mammoth area. It was beautiful seeing bits of leftover snow at the top of Sonora Pass, after our record-breaking winter. (I did not see any Pacific Crest Trail hikers, like I did the previous July.)



On our first night we met at one of the campgrounds in the June Lake area. June Lake offers some great scenery, a swimming lake, a few stores, and some high-altitude acclimation (acclimitization?), without the crowds of Mammoth Lakes.

Mom, and two babies behind her, visited the our campsite


The next morning we had a great “diner style” breakfast, at the nearby Silver Lake Resort. http://silverlakeresort.net/


After breakfast, we headed up the highest paved road in California, past Rock Creek Lake. The lake is at 9695 foot elevation, and we drove a bit past that to the trailhead, for an awesome hike.

We parked at the end of the road, along with many other cars, on this busy Labor Day weekend, and soon entered the “John Muir Wilderness”


No, the trail was not flat, but thank you for asking!


Up we go, higher above that lake down there…


That’s “Ruby Lake” at 11,121 feet, and we’re heading westbound, just above the lake, towards Mono Pass:


In the picture below, the 13,125 foot wall to our left, is on the edge of the map, SW of Mono Pass. We’re heading up to the right of the wall to Mono Pass:



Here’s the top:


This is the crest of the Sierra. The snow, where we are standing, drains NE towards Nevada, while the snow just up ahead drains to the Pacific Ocean


Map and GPS track of the hike: https://www.strava.com/activities/1163602110

Later that weekend we enjoyed a visit to Coppertop BBQ, in Big Pine. http://coppertopbbq.com/ It was (oddly) rated as the best restaurant in America on a Yelp poll a few years back. I would say that was a bit skewed, but it’s very good, and definitely the best post-hiking food for 50 miles in either direction.   http://www.businessinsider.com/this-california-bbq-joint-was-just-named-the-best-restaurant-in-america-by-yelp-2015-1


On our last night of camping, after it got too dark to take pictures, I started getting really chilly. I started thinking what I had packed (and not packed) in the car. After all, wasn’t it 95F degrees in Bishop just yesterday? Oops!

Oh! I have two new items from White Sierra, which were provided for my review.


White Sierra is a small company, with their HQ right in Silicon Valley https://www.whitesierra.com/ They do some private label work, as well as their own brand. The story of the immigrant family that owns the company, is fascinating, yet shares a common theme with many other successful people. https://www.whitesierra.com/pages/family-heritage

The first item is a full-zip fleece, with a zipper pouch on the left arm, called the “Cloud Rest”. (A familiar name, if you’ve ventured to the less touristy parts of Yosemite.)



Comfy, stylish, and I’m a fan of full-zipper clothing.


The second item, that kept me warm at that high elevation campground, is the “Sierra Ridge II Stripe” quarter-zip (below). It’s much lighter than a fleece, and features a zipper pouch in the upper-left chest area.


They are almost the same color, but very different in terms of the material and construction.


The Sierra Ridge is light, in between a standard shirt and a sweatshirt. Soft and comfy!


If you live in Silicon Valley, near Sunnyvale, they occasionally have close-out sales at their offices. If you’re not a “local”, they have an easy-to-use website for ordering. Using code “Alpha33” will get you a 33% discount at checkout.

Thanks White Sierra! …now go plan your next trip, and remember their hashtag #MyOutdoors

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Mt. Umunhum is open!


NOTE: It has been “crazy busy” this first full weekend (Sept 23/24), with full parking lots, and motorists being turned back. You may want to consider waiting a few weekends, trying a weekday afternoon, or leaving your car at the bottom of the hill! (~7 miles and 2200 vertical feet, each way)

Thanks to the efforts of the Midpeninsula Open Space District ( https://www.openspace.org/ ) and the taxpayers of the neighboring cities, it’s now possible to drive, bicycle, and hike to the top of Mt. Umunhum.

Thanks to the efforts of the Umunhum Conservancy ( https://umunhumconservancy.org/) there’s actually something to see at the top! The historic Concrete Cube, visible from many miles away, has been saved from Mid-Pen’s bulldozers. (The work is not yet done, though. The cube needs to be sealed, or protected, to prevent long-term deterioration.)

All of the other buildings of the former Almaden Air Force Station (682nd Radar Squadron) have been removed. Some history and old photos here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Almaden_Air_Force_Station


If you’re inclined to hike or bike up, you can park at the intersection of Hicks Road and Mt Umunhum Road, or park about half-way up at the Bald Mountain parking lot.

View from Hicks Road parking:


Bald Mountain parking:


From the bottom, you can hike or mountain bike: Woods Trail > Barlow Road > Mt Umunhum Trail. Driving halfway up, you can pick up the Mt Umunhum Trail just a bit up the road from the Bald Mountain parking lot. (Mid-Pen’s page, plus a map link here: https://www.openspace.org/mount-umunhum-sierra-azul )

In all three parking areas: Hicks Road, Bald Mountain, and the summit, there are vault toilets and no drinking water. (Intrepid hikers or cyclists could bring a water filter and filter from the new horse trough at the summit. )


Arriving at the top, there’s parking for about 30 cars, then 159 steps up to the main viewing area. (Disabled vehicle tag holders can drive all the way up, and bypass the 159 steps. A quick dropoff is also OK at the very top, without a disabled tag.)


Along the side of the cube, and a few other spots at the summit, I was impressed to see benches made from solid pieces of redwood:


The new Mt Umunhum Trail is quite well done, with many switchbacks, and an even grade. It’s 3.6 miles, in length, from just above the Bald Mountain parking lot:


GPX Track: https://www.strava.com/activities/1193883351

…and if you’ve read this far, and still have time on your hands, here is a bit of what the freshly paved road looks like, followed by a portion of the new hiking trail (I took it very slow. I don’t recommend the trail on a skinny-tire road bike!)






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Big Sur – Exploring the Isolated Sections (Limekiln, Gorda, Kirk Creek)


Incredible view, just south of Limekiln. (Kirk Creek is in the fog)

I’ve been watching the Highway 1 drama for months now, feeling bad for the affected businesses and hoping to pay them visit. Kirk Creek campground was calling out to me, and I recently saw that the pedestrian trail around the damaged bridge in Big Sur was now open to tourists. http://www.mercurynews.com/2017/07/01/big-sur-island-open-to-the-public-again/ Time for a road trip!

Background: at the current time, there are 3 closures, creating two “islands” with limited access. From south to north:

(1) The HUGE slide, just south of Gorda, called “Mud Creek” or the “Mud Slide”. This will take a very long time…

(2) A minor slide, just north of Limekiln State Park, called “Paul’s Slide”. This is expected to be open by the end of this month (July 2017)

(3) The bridge, currently being rebuilt, which splits the town of Big Sur in half. This is expected to be complete in September 2017.

Big Sur Kate, a locally well known blogger, describes the closures, too. Watch her site for updated access information and maps: https://bigsurkate.blog/

My first stop, was to head to the “island” between #1 and #2, which has vehicle access on the twisty and scenic Nacimiento-Fergusson Road. Take it SLOW! Expect a construction or delivery truck in the middle of the road at every blind curve, especially weekdays. (I was there two years ago to climb Cone Peak https://alpharoaming.com/2015/01/05/cone-peak/)


The bottom of Nacimiento-Fergusson Road,

I made the long and twisty drive down the road, and arrived at Kirk Creek at 5:00PM, on monday July 3rd. I was quite happy to find that there were 3 campsites remaining, without reservations. (These are usually impossible to get, without reservation months in advance.)


Kirk Creek Campground, site 2B


Fishing Boat


Lounging in the right lane

After paying $35 for one of the best campsites in California, I cycled about 1.5 miles north, to Limekiln State Park, and closure #2 listed above. Limekiln was full, but hardly any other cars on the road. (This “Paul’s Slide” (#2) closure allows limited access for local residents and delivery trucks, heading north towards Big Sur. It’s a LONG way, via Nacimiento-Fergusson Road, but does allow supplies to get in to the residents and businesses.


Heading the other way, about 10 miles south of Limekiln, the road is blocked just south of Gorda. That’s the HUGE “Mud Creek Slide” that won’t be fixed this year. This completes the ~10 mile island between closures #1 and #2.


Gorda itself, has a cafe, gas station, and small store. They were all open, but staff outnumbered customers on the afternoon of July 3rd. I ended-up seeing a “Serving Dinner” sign. just north of Gorda, for the Treebones Resort. http://www.treebonesresort.com/


Treebones Resort was hopping!

I wandered up the hill to look around and the parking area was full! It’s a huge effort to get here for tourists, but it was doing well. I looked at the menu, and spotted an awesome seat on the deck, overlooking the ocean, and ordered a beer and an appetizer.

(I later peeked at their lodging availability on the website. They do have availability, if you want to go. They’re doing much better than the other businesses in Gorda. I suspect that’s because they are a “destination” for most visitors, rather than relying on people passing by.)


The outside deck of Treebones, in Gorda, CA

The next morning, I headed back up N-F Road and Fort Hunter Liggett (…where you also may be delayed due to Army training exercises. Where else have you seen tiny bridges with an 80 ton weight limit?)


The top of Nacimiento-Fergusson Road


It’s a tough summer in the tourist business!

After a long drive north to Carmel, then south on Highway 1 to Big Sur, I arrived at the north end of closure #3. I parked the car a few miles before the end of the road, and got on the bicycle. At the end of the road, at “Big Sur Station”, I stopped in to ask about the pedestrian trail to the south. This would take me to the ~20 mile “island” between closures #2 and #3, that has access from the south for locals and delivery trucks.

The nice guy at Big Sur Station said my bicycle was welcome if I could “shoulder it”, as the trail was steep, with many stairs. My antique Specialized bike weighs only 17 pounds, so off I went! The trail starts at site #31 of the Pfeiffer Big Sur Campground.


North end of the trail. Site 31 in Pfeiffer Big Sur Campground


About 400 vertical feet of climbing


A view from the trail

In the ~3/4 mile trail, I passed about 20 people heading the other way. They were a mix of locals and tourists. They were all friendly, except one grumpy lady who cursed at me for having a bike on the trail. I guess she doesn’t like tourists who spend money… (Oh, I had just passed two State Park Rangers, who greeted me!)

At the “Southside”, two friendly folks from Nepenthe http://www.nepenthebigsur.com/  pointed the way to the Big Sur Taproom and told me that the number of tourists had greatly exceeded expectations!


South end of the trail, 1/4 mile from the Taproom & Deli


Some local residents’ cars


I stepped inside at about 3:00PM, and had the place to myself, except for 3 local residents, and one other tourist who arrived after I did. (WiFi, too!)


4th of July at 3:00PM

I reversed my course, and headed home! Great trip!


Next time, I would consider arriving earlier to Big Sur, and cycling, or taking the shuttle service to Nepenthe. It’s a unique opportunity to visit Nepenthe, while the tourist traffic is lower and they NEED your support.

When Paul’s Slide (#2) is finished later this month, it will be possible to drive to Nepenthe and the Taphouse, via Nacimiento-Fergusson Road. A very long drive! I expect they will still be slow for the rest of the summer, until the Big Sur bridge is reopened later in the year.  GO!

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