Kyle’s Weekend of Solitude

Jess, Heather, and Corinne went down to Texas to visit with her family for about a week.  This left me in the unprecedented situation of having a weekend with no one home.  I decided to take the opportunity to go do something that no one else in the family would want to do with me.  So I drove up in to the forest and hiked a mountain.

There are a handful of old fire lookouts scattered across the American West that you can rent out.  I thought that’d be fun to do, but when I was making these plans a couple months ago everything was already booked.  So I thought it would still be fun to hike up to one anyways.  Turns out the one I was looking at is closed for repairs so I could hike up and not bother anyone.  I found a little hidden gem of a cabin nearby.  I wasn’t sure it really existed as I could find no information about it except the one Recreation.gov information page.

Hirz Cabin

I’m a bit reluctant to share my find because right now it’s basically unused and easily booked.  But that runs the risk of it being closed down due to inactivity and it could use a few repairs.  So, here it is: Hirz Cabin on Shasta Lake.

It is fully off grid with solar panels and a battery bank to provide electricity.  It has a propane tank for heat, hot water, and refrigerator.  I had never seen a propane refrigerator before; didn’t know they even existed.

It has two bathrooms, three bedrooms, a full kitchen, dining table, living area, and deck.  Nothing else around it with a private gated driveway.  The introvert’s dream.

Finding it is not easy–even with directions.  So I’ll help out with that.  Here are the geo-coordinates of the cabin: 40.868194, -122.255826.

Here are some pictures.  You should find all these same pictures on the Recreation.gov page (once they’re approved) as I uploaded them all to their site as well.

Driveway and gate, coordinates 40.86750, -122.25534
Front of cabin. 2 picnic tables. Grill.
Back of cabin. Deck with Adirondack chairs.
1 of 2 bathrooms. Mirror images of each other. Shower stall, toilet, sink, heater.
Kitchen
Dining / Living Area
Downstairs bedroom
Upstairs Bedroom 1
Upstairs Bedroom 2

I arrived Friday evening and hiked along the lake for a couple of hours before heading to bed.  On Saturday I slept in, ate breakfast, and swept and mopped the floors downstairs as they really needed it.  I did some reading and preparing of my gear.  I cooked myself a nice dinner to load up for my hike.

The Hike to Hirz Mountain Lookout

As sunset approached it was time to head up the mountain.  Since the day was about 109F my plan to was to take off in time to reach the top before sunset and then hang out and cool down before returning after dark.  The location of this lookout was also not entirely clear.  Some Google-maps sleuthing led me to correct location of the trailhead, but I wasn’t able to identify the location of the lookout.

So, here’s the geo-coordinates of the trailhead: 40.873803, -122.292095.  You can drive up the dirt access road using a 2-wheel-drive vehicle until you reach 40.886311, -122.287697.  At that point the road becomes 4-wheel-drive / high-clearance only.  The lookout itself is at 40.897022, -122.245674.

Trailhead to Hirz Mountain Lookout

I drastically underestimated how long it would take me to get up the mountain (5 miles with a 36-pound backpack) so I did not make it up in time for sunset.  I took a picture with my phone along the way, but it does not do it justice, it was a really nice sunset:

I did, however, get up in time to catch moonset–which was awesome:

Moonset from Hirz Lookout. July 14, 2018.

Venus, I believe, was hanging out with the Moon that evening:

Venus and the Moon from Hirz Lookout. July 14, 2018.

Since it was dark I wasn’t able to get a picture of the lookout itself, but here’s the plaque at the base as proof I did make it up:

Hirz Mountain Lookout Plaque

And the last full view of the moon before it slipped below the mountains:

I had originally intended to hang out at the lookout past sunset and take some pictures of the stars.  But, I discovered that during my 3-hour hike up I had drunk all but a cup of my 100 ounces of water.  So I figured I better start heading down again while that water was still in my system as I had no way to replenish it.

2 hours and 40 minutes later I was back down the mountain and my legs ready to collapse.  I drove back to the cabin and dropped in to bed.

Shasta Dam

Eventually I got up the next morning and while my legs were not happy about it, they did support me.  I packed up my car and locked up the cabin and headed in to Redding to find a whole pile of food to eat.  Pancakes, bacon, eggs, and hash browns from a Country waffles made for a nice breakfast (and lunch).

After filling up I drove out to Shasta Dam to catch a tour.

You can catch the resident ospreys in one the nests near the visitor’s center:

I like this sign because it reminds of something that would have appeared in a late-1990s / early-2000s video game set in the future.  And now we live in the future:

Shasta Dam is one of the largest in the country.  Not as tall as Hoover, but larger overall.

On this tour you do get to go through the generator room.

After my tour I loaded back up in the Civic and drove back home.  It was a fun little trip.  I think we’ll have to take a family trip up to the cabin some fall when it’s not too hot and maybe rent a 4WD vehicle to drive everyone up to the fire lookout to watch sunset.

 

Never Turn Your Back on the Ocean

To celebrate our anniversary this year Jess and I went out to Sea Ranch Lodge while our friend Sarah watched Heather and Corinne.

It’s out on the coast near nothing and away from everything.  Pretty much perfect.  There are several signs warning of the danger of the ocean and the constant threat of sudden erosion of the cliffs.  These were headlined with “Never Turn Your Back on the Ocean,” hence the title of this post.  Sadly, we didn’t take a picture of the signs.

Jess found this fire hydrant humorous:

On our way home we stopped at this bakery/shop for breakfast (cinnamon roll and sticky bun) and lunch (ham & cheese biscuit and BLT).  It was really good.

And here’s a snapshot of a section of highway 1 you have to drive:

Out to Fort Bragg

During Heather’s Spring Break we took a short trip out to the Mendocino coast at Fort Bragg.  We drove out on April 1st after our Easter Egg Hunt.

We stayed at a hotel right on the beach, so we were able to walk down and play until tired or cold and then walk back and get cleaned up and warm.  It worked out well for casual beaching.

It was also right next to the Pudding Creek Trestle Bridge which is kind of neat.  It used to have logging trains drive over it, but it’s since been converted to a pedestrian bridge.

I went out to take some pictures as night.  None of them came out amazingly well, but they’re interesting as they are.

On Monday, April 2nd we rode the Skunk Train (so named because of the smell the old coal-powered, oil-heated trains used to make).  It runs up in to the hills from the coast and back.  The station has a large model train display which we enjoyed looking at.  I’m not convinced the people running it completely believed us when we reported a derailment but said we had nothing to do with it.  But we really didn’t, the girls were a good 10 feet away when we saw it happen.

On Tuesday April 3 we went to Point Cabrillo Light Station.  This old, though still functioning, lighthouse has a few buildings on the property.  You can actually rent the 3 keepers’ houses (keeper and assistants) to stay in.  It looks quite well maintained.  Unlike at Battery Point, however, you can’t go up into the light room.

It was actually rather busy there.  I had to wait a fair while to snap the above picture with no one in it.  I managed to snap it in a short window of just a few minutes before people wandered through the shot again.

On our last day, before heading back, we went to the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens which worked out better than our trip to the Sonoma Horticultural Gardens (of Doom) back in 2011.

 

3 Deer
Corinne watches as Heather enters the light.
The girls hatching some giant eggs.
Heather found a comfortable place to grow.

Then it was back in the van for the drive home.

Lick Observatory

Lick Observatory is a University of California observatory nearby us on the mountains above San Jose.

After Thanksgiving we tried to drive out to the observatory.  Despite countermeasures, carsickness killed the trip about a fifth of the way there.  After Christmas we tried again, but instead of driving the mountain road all the way from Livermore we drove the highway route around in to San Jose and then up the shorter mountain road.  This time we made it.

Corinne was a demon in the visitor’s center and had to be taken outside.  She did manage to stay quiet on the Lick Refractor tour for about 10 minutes before she had to be taken out.

The Lick Refractor is mostly a historical relic.  They use it for tours, public viewing nights, and training students.

This is the same road at the top and bottom of the picture.  The biker went across the bottom just a minute or so before taking that switch back.  That’s the kind of driving you have to do to visit the observatory.

The haze was settled in to the valleys and I thought the way the ridges stacked up looked pretty neat, but I don’t think my pictures do it justice.

Cabin in the Woods

Last weekend we spent a few nights in a cabin in Calaveras Big Trees State Park.  We drove up on Thursday (Heather had no school on Friday) and stayed until Sunday.

Our confirmation email said to arrive by 5pm.  We pulled up about 4:45pm to find the entrance kiosk closed up and the park just about empty.  As we considered what to do next we saw a park employee locking up the visitor center so I quickly went over to her to see if she could help us.  She didn’t have access to the kiosk where the cabin keys are kept, but stuck with us to help us out.

She went to check around the kiosk to see if the person who was supposed to still be there had left any information available and sent us to go look for the park ranger.  We never found the ranger, but ran across another employee closing up for the day who also joined our party.  He tried to raise the ranger on the radio without any success.  The girls danced about in the rain and we ate apple-cider donuts we had picked up on the way while both employees tried to come up with a good next step.

Diane, the first employee we had found, decided to take us up to the cabin to see if it had been left unlocked for us which would have been the standard procedure for late check-ins.

The cabin was not unlocked.

Diane’s cell phone didn’t get any signal out there, but mine had enough to make a spotty call.  So I let Diane use it to start calling numbers in her contact list to figure out who she could get to show up who would be able to get us in to the cabin.

While she did that we poked around the area.  Next to the cabin was a storage shed.  With nothing better to do I checked the door on the storage shed and found it unlocked.  It was full of firewood, repair materials, and cleaning supplies.  The cleaning supplies made me suspicious that it just might be possible there would be cabin keys around for whomever would do the cleaning.

Looking around on shelves, along wall studs, and behind electrical cords I hit the jackpot and found a ring of keys.  One labeled for each cabin–except ours.  But!  There was 1 unlabeled key!  Up the steps to the cabin door, key in the lock, and woohoo–the key turned–and we were in.

Diane apologized profusely throughout this process for the inconvenience (though accommodations was not her responsibility).

We brought in all of our stuff, turned the heat up, and then took off to town to grab a quick dinner.  I think it had been about an hour and a half from when we arrived until we managed to get in to the cabin.  There are 4 cabins together there that used to be used for rangers to live in (I believe).  They could use a little work, but they’re decent overall.  Larger than we expected, big enough you could live an extended period of time there fairly comfortably.  It had 2 bedrooms (one with 2 twin beds, the other with a queen bed), a living area, a kitchen, a mudroom, and a bunch of closet space.

The cabin living room with wood stove (there’s also a wall heater)

The next day we went back to the park entrance to get our actual key and saw Diane again.  We had been the talk of the park that morning when the employees arrived.  I got the impression that the employee who was supposed to be at the kiosk had left early without permission and was now in a fair bit of trouble for leaving us in the lurch.

Anyway, that’s the end of the drama regarding accessing the cabin.  The ranger eventually stopped by to also apologize for our trouble and that he hadn’t been available to help.

Breakfast in the cabin

On Friday we drove down to the South Grove and hiked about a mile in before turning around to hike back out–without ever having reached any of the sequoias.  At the beginning the trail crossed over a creek and I stopped to take some pictures.

We cooked dinner in the cabin and then had a campfire for s’mores.

On Saturday we headed out to Moaning Cavern.  Heather does not like caves.  They make her very anxious.  Moaning Cavern involves climbing down 235 steps (and back up, of course).  Many of the steps are around this ~100-year-old spiral staircase:

I carried Corinne all the way down and almost all the way back up.  After we finished climbing the spiral staircase she wanted to get down, so I let her climb up the remaining wood steps herself.

After the cavern we grabbed lunch at a local pizza place, which I thought was pretty good.  Then we headed off to find the Sutter Creek Ice Cream Emporium.  Along the way we ran across a glass-blowing shop with lots of neat, but very expensive art pieces.  We did not buy anything, but the girls enjoyed feeding the two chickens that live in the shop.  The dog took one look at us when we came in and wisely disappeared.

After dark that night I sent Heather out into the field with a flashlight to play with long shutter times on the camera:

On Sunday we packed up and walked the North Grove trail to actually see some sequoias before heading home.

I enjoyed the quiet of the cabin (as quiet as you can get with the 2 nutters jabbering constantly anyway).  There’s no TV, no Internet, no phone, and just about no people.  It was nice.