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Back in late April, (yes, we are behind on our posts) we headed to the Channel Islands for another attempt at kayaking in the island caves.  Our first attempt was last spring with a bunch of coworkers and Nathan’s parents, but the swell was too high so we couldn’t go in the caves.

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Although we had a great time on that trip, we really wanted to get the full cave experience. So this time we figured we would hedge our bets with two days of kayaking with Aqua Sports, which meant camping on Santa Cruz island for one night. This time we also just went with Nathan’s parents since the logistics were more complicated with camping.

The early morning ride to the island (via Island Packers) was rough with a very high swell between the California coast and the islands (causing many people some sea sickness), so we were not too optimistic about the kayaking condistions.  As we entered the channel’s marine sanctuary we were greeted by a humpback whale with her calf, which distracted us from the lurching boat for a bit.

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As we arrived at the island we were lucky to find very calm water (protected by the island) and low tide, giving us nearly perfect conditions!

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We spent the day kayaking in and out of caves with our own personal guide Andy who is very knowledgeable about the ocean conditions, caves, and island history.

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The water was so clear we saw hundreds of sea stars, urchins, a few seals, and even an abalone!

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We must have explored a dozen different caves, so many that it became difficult to remember them individually. Some caves were actually more like tunnels that you could paddle all the way through while others just went straight deep into the island.

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A couple of the caves extended hundreds of yards into the island and it felt a bit disconcerting when the ceiling began to lower and the light from outside disappeared. We had headlamps but weren’t always prepared to battle the ocean swell inside a dark cave while trying to avoid brushing up against the sharp barnacle-covered walls.

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Every cave had its challenges and we were extremely glad to have a knowledgeable guide with us who could judge our abilities and check out the safety of the caves before we would venture in.  Set waves can quickly rush into a cave reducing the ceiling height from 6 feet to 2 feet in a matter of seconds.  Also timing was critical when riding waves through small gaps with rocky bottoms. But Andy kept us mostly calm and confident, and made sure we were always having fun.

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The pictures just can’t quite capture the feeling of going in and out of the caves, it was a really unique experience

After 4 hours of kayaking we had covered a few miles of coast and returned to the launch. We had a quick lunch before hauling our camping gear a mile to the campsite.  There is a nice clearing with large eucalyptus trees that shade many campsites that you can reserve on the NPS website.

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We setup camp and walked up and along the ridge-line of the coast for sunset.

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Camping on the island is close to backpacking because there is no electricity, campfires, or cars.  Luckily the island does have bathrooms and fresh drinking water.  Nathan’s parents got a taste of our traditional Mountain House freeze dried meals we are used to eating while backpacking.  By 10 pm everyone in the campsite was asleep except Nathan and his mom, who spent the evening playing with the headlamps and long exposure photos.

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The next morning Nathan spent the morning chasing island foxes around trying to get the perfect photo.  Although the foxes are wild they are used to people and have very few predators. Campers spend a lot of time chasing off the foxes and keeping them out of the food.

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The next day we started kayaking earlier heading out along the coast toward Potato Harbor.  The tide was much higher keeping us out of a lot of the caves but the wind was at our backs making the kayaking a breeze.  At one point though, Nathan’s dad was struggling to keep up and after a 1/4 mile of frustrated paddling we finally noticed he had snagged a 20 foot long piece of kelp and had been dragging it all this time!

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We stopped at lunch at Potato Harbor, a beautiful cove that looks more like a tropical island with white sand a clear shallow water than what you’d expect in SoCal.  Around the corner we kayaked near a sea lion rookery and watched the curious sea lions swim under our kayaks and play with each other.  We have some videos of our kayaking trip which include some underwater video of the sea lions playing under our kayaks, we’ll have to post that soon.

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As we headed back after another beautiful day of kayaking, the wind changed direction and pushed us back.  It was a successful, memorable, and exciting weekend! We highly recommend it as a unique must-do activity for any one in LA!

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Most family events involve large hectic dinners so it’s nice to get some one on one time and do something we both enjoy.  During a weekend visit in March to San Diego, Katharine, my mom, and I booked an afternoon watercolor class, which I knew my mom would love.  

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My parents are both artists and when given the chance to shine they blow people away!  This class was an intro to watercolors and the idea was to learn new techniques while painting greeting cards.  The teacher started by going on and on about her credentials and galleries then the teacher asked about people previous experience in which my mom humbly said “some a long time ago.”  Ha, I thought to my self be prepared to be surprised.  It’s like the excitement in a movie when the unassuming character takes on the loud mouth braggart and you already know the ending.

My mom picked this complicated magazine photo that included an ornate china coffee cup and rose.  The teacher hesitate and almost talked my mom out of it.  Then the teacher with some more doubt suggested she spend sometime sketching it out after a minute of sketching my mom said “eh lets just give it a try.”  After 5 minutes she painted the ornate design and everyone in the class noticed how good it was looking already.

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After many oohs and awes from the other students, teacher, and another artist working on oil paintings nearby, the greeting card developed into a nice piece of afternoon art.

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The card itself went to good use a couple months later when she presented to her mom for Mother’s Day this weekend.

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I know every parent wants their kids to exceed and be better than themselves, but as a child it’s fun to be impressed by your parents.  Even though my mom is formally trained in the arts, she rarely paints these days, but you can tell she has raw talent when she does.

Happy Mother’s Day!

 

Another card she painted that afternoon

 

Potato Chip Rock has been on our hiking list for over a year (since seeing it on California Through my Lens) and we finally had the chance to tackle the 8 mile round trip hike to the unique sliver of a rock.  The rock is located on Mt. Woodson near Lake Poway in San Diego, which made it a perfect hike to do with Nathan’s parents.

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The trail is completely exposed with only boulders scattered through out the chaparral, but luckily the day started out foggy which kept us out of the sun during the strenuous climb to the top.

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During the hike to the top Nathan’s Dad Victor, who is a guide for Cabrillo National Monument, gave us a informative walk pointing out various flowers, plants and their uses by earlier civilizations.

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We reached the top and found the rock to be overrun with people, which apparently is actually unusual.  It was over a 30 minute wait before we had our turn on the ‘diving board’.

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Crossing the small gap onto the rock and scrambing down between the boulders can be interesting and chaotic as you can see in below.

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The rock is 5 to 6 feet wide, but becomes less than a inch thick at the end of the chip.  When you’re standing on the rock and someone else jumps you can feel the rock vibrate!

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Although our jumping photo gives some people anxiety, others were even more bold when we were there. We watched a couple groups hang off the edge and one person even attempt a handstand, which got a mixed reaction from the crowd.

This was a fun hike with a well deserved noteworthy summit, but it can be crowded and you definitely have to be prepared for the lack of shade. A couple weeks later Nathan happened to be at Lake Poway Park and saw the fire department airlift a girl off the mountain and land in a nearby baseball field, luckily it looked like she was ok, likely sprained her ankle or something.

It’s officially an annual tradition!  Second year in a row that my dad and I have left sunny southern California for a wintry Iowa to do some pheasant hunting.

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Last year we tried to visit some old hunting grounds that we used to cover while I was a kid, but recently there has been a sudden decline in the pheasant population so we ended up at a pheasant reserve.  This year we decided to stack the deck in our favor and just head for the reserve for two half day hunts.  This allowed us to go in early March, which is a nice time after all the holidays, but if you know Iowa the weather doesn’t always cooperate.  Some how we got lucky picking a weekend with 40 degree temperatures, a few inches of snow on the ground and blue skies!

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We arrived late Friday night/ Saturday morning got a few hours of sleep before we picked up Ken and headed to the reserve!  Ken is an old friend, local Iowan, and avid big game hunter, but is always up for the challenge of knocking down a pheasant.

Ken taking his best shot at a passing rooster

The reserve guarantees birds in the field, but Paul Wehr our professional guide and his dogs guarantees birds within range. Although it wasn’t guaranteed we got our limit both days and gave the meat to a couple local friends.

Paul Wehr and his German short-haired pointers

Can you spot the hen in the brushes?

Last year I tried to juggle a shotgun and a 5 pound camera and ended up missing a lot of good photos.  So this year I made the tough decision, on the first sweep of the field to leave the gun in the truck and head out into the field with only my camera.  The photos that I got this year were well worth the sacrifice.

Dogs on Point

My Dad Knocking Down a Rooster (full sequence in the gallery below)

Retrieving A Chukar

The second time out in the field I traded my Canon for a Beretta and had no problem knocking down my limit of birds.  The first day was perfect; good weather, lots of roosters and good company.  We spent every hour out of the field traveling house to house seeing old friends and catching up on the local news.

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The second day my Dad and I spent the day shooting birds over Paul’s dogs.  I’m guessing we were the most dedicated photographers Paul has ever guided in the field, but luckily he’s also a photographer and was patient with us as we traded the shotgun for the camera back and forth getting some great action shots, we could have only wished for more roosters.  Although it’s legal to shoot hens on a reserve the feeling and photos just aren’t the same.

Hen Busting Through the Weeds

Hen Jumping Out in Front

You have to click on this picture to see the hen flying up behind me!

Leaving No Tree Line Untouched

We kept the tradition of hiking mile after mile leaving no bush or tree line untouched and after returning to the lodge we were teased by the elusive rooster that always knows when the hunt is over.  I think next year if there are more roosters in the field I might have a chance at a Pheasants Forever photo submission!

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Even though we traveled thousands of miles and spent lots of money to recreate a weekend past time the memory for this year is the hours spent in the airports.  Of course the plane delays and layovers were miserable, but if anyone knows my parents they are goofy and when goofy is mixed with hours of waiting and an audience, hilarity will ensue.

This time it was my dad and I playing on the moving walkways in the Denver airport.  We theorized, could two long-lost friends see each other on opposing moving walkways and some how maintain a conversation?  We soon found ourselves walking in-place on opposing treadmills trying to keep a conversation while weaving between confused stationary travelers.  I’m sure we got a few looks, but it was hard to tell trying to look to the side while dodging people.

Per usual my dad wanted to see if he could get a reaction out of any of the serious travelers so he briskly walked against the flow of traffic on the moving walkway with serious, but worried look on his face mumbling “I’m not going to make my flight” as he kept looking at his watch.  He got a couple puzzled glances, but in today’s society most people are trained not to show any expression.  All was not lost as we boarded our plane and while standing in the plane’s aisle a lady pointed at us and said “you two are hilarious and made my day!”  We smiled and thanked her as we loaded ourselves in the last row of the sardine can.

Some of the photos in the gallery are a series of shots and are best viewed in order, enjoy!

Late January my parents visited for my brother’s birthday so we used the opportunity to also visit the Wildlife Learning Center in Sylmar. The learning center is a small wildlife way-station that has taken in many animals due to injuries or illegal pets.  We took the deluxe tour with a personal guide allowing us to touch and interact with some of the animals.

My brother feeding a N. American Porcupine

There were 5 porcupines in the enclosure and they seemed very curious and friendly, but they made us nervous as they crawled around our feet.  We got to feed them and they were very cute standing on two feet and grabbing the food with their hands.  I could see how people might think they would make good pets until a loud noise startled one and he pulled back the soft quills exposing the razor sharp ones…not cool.

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We also got to hold an owl, which was pretty cool.  I wish we could have let him fly, but i don’t think he was able to because of an injury.

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We also got to touch a sloth, desert fox, flying squirrel, and various reptiles!

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The deluxe tour made the visit worth it.  The facility is pretty small in comparison to some of the large zoos in the area, but the hands on interactive approach was worth every penny.

I tried out my new Canon 70-300L lens while the guys spent their Christmas afternoon fishing.

 

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 Fish on the Line

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Robins Taking a Bath

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70-300L @140mm, ISO 800, f/5.6, 1/250, 7D Body

I took this photo handheld, standing 10 yards away, knee high in a running creek… gotta love image stabilization.

Cropped from the photo above.

The sharp lens combined with the 7D sensor allows me to crop without losing too much quality.  The fact that you can see the scales on this fish is amazing.  I can’t wait to take some wildlife photos this year!

By Nathan

While Katharine traveled to the east coast I headed down the coast to San Diego to visit my family.  I met up with my brother, dad and grandpa for a half day of deep sea fishing of the coast.  I find most activities I enjoy require me to wake up before sunrise: fishing, hunting, long hikes, and wildlife photography.  Luckily I’m a morning person and if there is something worth waking up for I don’t even need an alarm clock.  We loaded up on the boat before sunrise and headed to the bait docks to load up on sardines.

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It was a beautiful fiery sunrise as the sky turned from purple to pink to orange and red.  The ocean was calm with no wind and a sunny forecast for the day ahead.  A couple years ago we went fishing for father’s day and it was cold and rainy. So, even if we didn’t catch much, as long as the weather was nicer we would consider it a success.

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The bait of the day was chopped up frozen squid!  We baited our hooks and dropped the lines overboard 200+ feet to the bottom.

 

(This is where my mom is grossed out and stops reading the post)

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It didn’t take long before my grandpa was hauling in the first fish of the day.

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The bright orange rock fish would only put up fight for the first 10-20 feet of line.  This was understandable once you brought the fish on board and could see their bodies couldn’t handle the rapid pressure change.

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Pretty soon we were all catching them – in fact the entire boat of 50 or so people were catching the spiny fish.  We weren’t too keen on the idea of rock fish for dinner so when the deck hands asked what bag number we had, we just picked random numbers, basically giving out fish to unsuspecting fisherman until my grandpa caught by a deck hand who remembered his first fake number.  We were busted, but to keep the boat count up the deck hands went along with the idea of distributing the fish amongst the other people.

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After catching a decent amount of fish we took a break to share jokes and stories while others kept dropping their lines over hoping for the big one.  There was some commotion from the back of the boat and as I got a closer look it was a pale looking sea monster thrashing in the water.

Wolf Eel

The fisherman broke the line and the monster slithered back to the bottom of the sea.  The eel was probably 5 feet long and it made you wonder what else was down there and I was glad to be on the boat. Later the boat jumped in excitement when a young guy next to us hooked onto a yellow fin tuna.  It gave him a good 30 minute fight and ended up being almost 30 pounds.  It was the largest fish I’ve ever seen caught in real life and was pretty amazing how the thin fishing line could have the strength to hold a fish that strong.  To top off the great story, the guy was from Arizona and this was the first time he’s seen the ocean!  I’m sure he’ll be telling that story for the rest of his life.

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After a long morning of fishing and storytelling we headed back to the docks.  While headed back to shore, the deck hands clean the fish and throw the unwanted parts overboard creating a feeding frenzy for the seagulls and pelicans.  I used the oppotunity to get some close up photos of pelicans flying next to the boat.

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That afternoon we headed to the beach to watch my dad surf with his new board.

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My dad grew up in San Diego and spent many days surfing so this was nothing new, but the last time we took photos and video it was on actual film and VHS.  The waves were okay, but it’s hard to capture a lifetime hobby in a 2 hour window.

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I’m sure I’ll be taking many photos and videos in the future and hopefully next time I’ll have a new telephotos lens!

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It was a fun weekend packed full of fishing, surfing, jokes and best of all old stories.

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We took a break from our high elevation peak climbing to spend some time hanging out with Katharine’s brother Rick.  Rick was in town for a wedding and a camping trip with old college friends so we tagged along (because we haven’t done enough camping this year).  It was definitely a change from the backpacking and hardcore hiking, but it was fun to lounge around, eat steak, drink beer, and share stories.

Next time make sure the beer is closer to the hammock

We also had a good time playing with the two dogs and wish we had the time to have a dog of our own.

The night was filled with laughter, acoustic guitar and the crackling campfire.

There was also some Jiffy Pop successfully cooked over the fire by the only two people patient enough to slowly heat the kernels.

The sky was dark and only the campfire lit up the trees until…

The full moon rose above the horizon brightening the sky.  Every once in a while the moon surprises us like this and it takes us a few moments to realize it’s the moon rising.

While everyone else slept in I headed out with my camera to see what I could find.  I found a few lone fisherman gliding through the morning fog waiting for a morning bite.

While headed back to camp I could see a covey of quail feeding under a tree.  I quickly moved toward the tree but the skittish birds took to flight with their characteristic flushing sound.

Once everyone woke up, some helped to cook another gourmet meal on the campfire while others played keep away from a Buckie, an energetic terrier.

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We had a great time and appreciated the chance to relax!

By Nathan

Katharine and I recently spent the weekend in San Diego, she attended the American Chemical Society conference while I hung out with my parents.  Saturday morning we decided to do a short day hike up Cowels Mountain, which apparently is pronounced “Coals.”  The mountain was cloaked in the morning marine layer, which blocked the view of the city, but kept the hikers cool into the late morning.

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The hike is 3 miles roundtrip and climbs almost 1,600 feet.  It is the most popular trail in San Diego County and on a nice weekend might get 800 visitors a day.  This saturday it wasn’t too crowded probably because of the fog, but you could tell there were some regulars running up and down passing us several times as they got their morning jog in.

We of course made it to the top and waited our turn to get our photo taken then quickly headed down since the view was blocked by dense fog.  We had done this hike in the past so I wasn’t as disappointed by the fog.

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On the way up we could hear a quail calling, but couldn’t see him.  On the way down we spotted him on a tall rock between the switch backs.  Considering the rare photo opportunities on this hike with the fog and even rarer animal sighting I hiked into the bushes to get a closer look.

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The quail sat there patiently while I took a couple photos every few feet I got closer.

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All in all it was a fun hike and it is always fun to share one of my hobbies with my parents.

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By Katharine

My cousins Tom and Amy had planned a desert trip to CA for a winter break trip in February and invited us to meet up with them at Joshua Tree National Park for the weekend. We were glad to see we had the weekend free and planned for a short trip (2 days, 1 night). Nathan and I have a lot of interests in common with Tom and Amy (hiking, backpacking, national parks, and photography to name a few) but we don’t often get to see each other besides for weddings and Christmas. So we were excited to finally do a camping trip together! And we hadn’t been to Joshua Tree since April 2009, which was actually my first camping trip with Nathan.

We drove out to Joshua Tree Saturday morning and headed into the park to try to snag a campsite. As we got about 15 min into the park, we were surprised to see snow!!

Patches of snow among the boulders

I think I seriously have some sort of snow curse… always plenty of snow when camping but never enough when we want to snowboard. Luckily in this case there were just small patches left, not enough to really affect campsites. Unfortunately we got there about 30 minutes too late to get a campsite, but it wasn’t a big deal though since there is plenty of BLM camping near the park (i.e. camping on a dry lake bed near a local airport runway).

We spent Saturday and Sunday doing a bunch of different hikes and exploring with Tom and Amy. We started with a short hike at Hidden Valley, which included many stops for photos of the joshua trees. We then went to see the chollo cactus and stopped at Jumbo Rocks to scramble on the boulders. We checked out Keys View around sunset and then set up camp and went to sleep pretty early.

Hidden Valley

Chollo Cactus

Nathan and Katharine at the Chollo Cactus Patch

Tom Bouldering

Katharine and Amy

Jumbo Rocks

Keys View

On Sunday we hiked out to 49 Palms Oasis (which seemed much easier than when Nathan and I hiked it 3 years ago) and did another short hike at Split Rock. Tom and Amy headed off to Death Valley and we stayed for sunset before heading back to LA.

Hike to 49 Palms Oasis (Oasis visible top left)

Red Barrel Cactus on the way to 49 Palms

Tom Climbing near Split Rock

Jack rabbit

Sunset in Joshua Tree National Park

It was a great trip and fun to return to Joshua Tree to take some better photos than last time. Tom and Amy also have Canon cameras, so Nathan got to try out a few of their lenses, including a macro one he really liked. Check out the rest of the photos:

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