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.

 

Solar Eclipse 2017

We had fun watching the eclipse today.  Livermore had ~75% occlusion at peak.  It was also Heather’s first day of school (separate post coming).  They took the kids outside to watch pinhole cameras and then let them use eclipse glasses one-at-a-time so they could ensure they were being worn properly.

Heather helped me make eclipse cookies yesterday.

My sugar cookie skills could use some work…

Corinne got a kick out of the eclipse proclaiming, “Moon! I see the moon!” (by which she, of course, meant sun).

We used the colander to get pinhole-camera-style shadows.

And I had my camera set up with filters taking pictures.  I just kind of guessed at settings.  Some came out better than others.  Here’s the picture from the peak eclipse:

And here’s one I got as it was ending where you can see a line of spots.  I don’t know if they’re technically sunspots, but they weren’t just dust on my lens–they stayed with the sun throughout the event.

My weather station noticed the eclipse too:

The variations in the readings are due to varying cloud cover that, thankfully, almost completely cleared out during the eclipse.

The temperature even dropped a hair:

Another Round of Summer Soccer

Heather is doing soccer again this year on Saturday mornings.  This week was her first week and it was hot.  Soccer starts at 10:50am and it was already over 90 degrees and climbing.  But she stayed hydrated and I used the time to work on my action photography skills.

It’s interesting how a small change in camera settings can result in a dramatic change in image presentation.

I started with the shutter set to 1/100th of a second, which captured images like this:

The scene is representative, and fairly sharp.  You can see some motion in her hands and feet, but overall it is a static image.

Stretching the shutter to 1/25th of a second gives you a totally different result:

She’s clearly moving, the background distractions are reduced via the motion blur and she becomes the uncontested focus of attention.  It’s a much more interesting, dynamic image.

You can try using a wider aperture to reduce your depth of field to achieve similar separation between subject and background (which I’ve tried in the past), but that’s tough in full sunlight.  You’ll need filters to stop down the light and then capturing the subject in focus becomes difficult as your depth of field shrinks.

The trick here is to pan the camera with the subject throughout the shutter release.  It takes practice, but the results are worth it–which is why I’ve been practicing it.

Here’s a couple more shots that came out decently.  In the first one, Heather is jumping over the pile of balls.  And in the second she is dribbling across the field.

A Hike up Brushy Peak

I went for a hike at Brushy Peak Regional Preserve today.  Water is still just coming out of the hills and turning trails into mud, but it was only a few places that were really bad.  I made it about 3.5 miles before I couldn’t keep my feet dry anymore.  Luckily, I only had another half mile to go so I didn’t end up with massive blisters.  But my shoes were covered with mud.

The path runs through cattle grazing land up in the hills above Livermore.  I started taking pictures of the cows.  They became quite interested in me and started forming a circle around me.  I was getting a little concerned, but they shooed away when I got up to leave.

Several times I came across a few cows just hanging out on the path daring you to approach them.

I started on the West Loop Trail and then transferred to the Brushy Peak Trail where I found a copse of trees growing around the stream as it tumbled down the hill.  So I took a rest and then pulled out my tripod to take some more “smooth” water pictures.

Once I packed up and got moving again I reached the highest part of the path (it doesn’t actually go to the peak as far as I could tell).  Some nice views of Livermore from up in the hills, especially while everything is still green.

Then it was down again and through the mud to get back to the parking lot.  I hiked a little over 4 miles and it took me about 4 hours.  I wasn’t intending to hike that far or be out that long, but there weren’t a lot of options for trails and hiking a trail and then just turning around is lame.  My legs are going to be sore tomorrow though.  Surprisingly I don’t seem to have a sunburn.