What Color Would a Death Valley Artist Paint a Pupfish in Love?

The rocks at Death Valley’s Artist’s Palette are world famous for their color.

Geology is up close and personal at Death Valley. The Valley floor and sides, stripped free of most vegetation, can’t help but show their true colors. The most colorful place to check out these colors is along the paved one-way Artist’s Palette’s drive, which is near the Devil’s Golf Course, Gold Canyon, and Bad Water basin, other treasures of the Valley.

The colors you see are the result of oxidation of various metals. One example of oxidation that everyone is familiar with is the formation of rust on iron. Along Artist’s Drive, iron compounds create the red, pink and yellow you see. Mica derived from tuff, produces the green. Manganese produces the purple. (Tuff is a light, porous rock created from volcanic ash.)

A close up of the rocks at Artist’s Palette.

While visiting the Artist’s Palette overlook is the objective, the drive itself is worth the trip. I took the following photos while Peggy was driving. (It was her turn.) In addition to the scenery, there were fun curves and roller coaster ups and downs!

Road shot one.
Road shot two.
Road shot number three featuring the nose of Iorek the truck.

Of course the fun road also has beautiful scenery along it. Artist’s Palate has hardly cornered the market on color, as Peggy’s photos demonstrate.

Photo by Peggy Mekemson.
Photo by Peggy Mekemson.
Photo by Peggy Mekemson.

Now, let’s get back to the question raised in the Headline: Assuming an artist is in Death Valley has a full palette of colors, which one would he choose to paint a pupfish in love? Enquiring minds want to know.

But first, some background. You’ve probably heard of pupfish. There are several species scattered in locations around the National Park. Once upon a time they were happy residents of a huge lake that filled Death Valley. Lake Manly was a result of the Glacial Age. When the glaciers retreated to the far north and mountain tops 10,000 years ago, the lake was left to dry up and the pupfish were left scrambling for any remaining bits of water left, like individual springs. Lack of any contact created a number of subspecies.

The ones I will feature today live in Salt Creek. Their much more famous cousins live outside of the the Valley proper in what is known as Devil’s Hole, a 430 foot deep hole in the ground filled with water. What makes them so famous is that they are a critically endangered species. Today, there are less than 100 left. There were more in the 1960s but even then they were rare enough to be declared an endangered species, one of the first species to be so, seven years before the bipartisan passage of the Endangered Species Act of 1973.

Environmentalists the world over were ecstatic. The business people not so much. Nearby ranchers were limited in how much water they could pump out of the ground and developers in what land they could sell. Profits would be reduced. All that to save a tiny fish from extinction. A “Kill the Pupfish,” “Save the Pupfish” bumper sticker war ensued. National headlines were created and people across the country became aware of the pupfish. It is still a symbol of the ongoing battle between those who see objects primarily in terms of money and those who see them primarily in terms of inherent value. Being a lifelong environmentalist, I come down on the side of the pupfish, but I feel empathy for those whose livelihood was impacted.

Now join Peggy and me as we go in search of the ‘illusive’ pupfish of salt creek, whose males turn bright blue when they are in love, or is that lust. Either way, I’m glad that isn’t an infliction of human males.

A road sign some 15 minutes west of the Furnace Creek Visitor’s Center points you down a short, but bumpy dirt road to Salt Creek. The first thing you notice is that there is indeed a creek, which is a rare site in Death Valley. We were lucky to be there in April when it was still flowing. The second thing we noticed was that a well-built board walk followed along the creek.We eagerly set out with our eyes pealed on the water, searching. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

No fish here. But I enjoyed the dapples of bright sunlight…

Again, no fish. I was stuck with admiring the ripple patterns caught by the sun. But where were the pupfish?

Again, nice riparian habitat, but for what. And then…
There they were. Busy male pupfish protecting their territory and looking for love! They didn’t appear blue to us, however. Maybe they weren’t ready for prime time. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Right next to it was a pool absolutely teeming with the little fellows. Apparently they hadn’t received the message about being endangered. We learned that the word prolific hardly fit when describing the baby producing capacity of the females. And the males were more than willing to do their share. The literature used the word ‘millions’ when describing a season’s production. Unfortunately, when the creek dries up most of these offspring are lost. Only those that live near the spring in year around water survive— and wait for the next year so they can one again start their frenzy of propagating. (Photo buy Peggy Mekemson.)
An information panel gave an artist’s rendition of a happy couple. “But where’s the blue?” went dashing through my head. Remember the old “Where’s the beef?” commercials. Okay, I admit that there is some blue, and it is on the male. The panel described the mating process. And it isn’t even R-rated. A female arrives in the males territory, swims over to him, and snuggles up to his side. They start shivering in anticipation, and zoom, she’s pregnant. Just like that. I’d say something about being premature but apparently, that’s how it’s done. “Was it good for you, honey?”

When you watch pupfish for a while they appear to be playful, dashing around, chasing each other, and plowing up the dirt with their noses. That’s where they get the name pupfish. We wished this year’s crop good luck and I took a final photo of the creek as we headed off for out next adventure: exploring Mosaic Canyon, which will be our next post.

Water is precious in the desert and the pupfish is only one of a number of animals and birds that take advantage of Salt Creek as is makes its way out into the desert to disappear into the sand.

Who’s Smarter: A Mule Or a Horse? Plus Death Valley’s Beautiful 20 Mule Team Canyon

Who’s smarter? This girl with her wild eyes and gorgeous eyelids…
Or this fellow with a large nose and impressive nose hairs?

Or, the question going through your mind might be, “Why in the heck is Curt asking this question when his post is on Death Valley?”

Well, it started when I was doing research on Death Valley’s well-know, historic 20 Mule Team. Given that I am featuring the 20 Mule Canyon on my post today, I wanted to provide some background information, which I will. But the first thing I learned (or relearned) was that it wasn’t a 20 mule team that was used to haul borax out of Death Valley from 1893-96. It actually consisted of 18 mules and 2 horses. All of the animals had very specific tasks. Some required more intelligence than others.

Luckily for me, the town just up the road from where we camped near Bryce Canyon (Tropic) had a Mules Days event going on and there was a horse corral just across the road from us in Cannonville. I was able to persuade a mule and a horse to pose for me.

There is a ton of information on the twenty mule teams. This may seem like a lot until you take into consideration that the 18 mules and 2 horses were actually hauling close to 9 tons of Borax at a time out of Death Valley in temperatures that sometimes exceeded a 100 degrees F. (Operations were halted over the hot summer months.) They started their epic journey from the Harmony Borax Works near Furnace Creek and traveled for 165 miles over primitive roads to the railhead near Mohave. As you might imagine, it was quite the challenge. It required close to a heroic effort on the part of the mules, the horses and the muleskinners. Millions of dollars could be made if the venture was successful, however, and it was. Borax has lots of uses.

Still, all of this would be a mere note in the history books except for a couple of factors. One, Borax Soap featured the mules in a very extensive advertising campaign. The second was the radio and TV program, Death Valley Days. For those of you who are old enough to remember the 50s and 60s TV show, you may also remember that Ronald Reagan hosted the show in the mid 60s just before he jumped into his campaign for California Governor.

I think this 20 mule team traveling through 20 Mule Canyon is a team that Borax Soap used to promote its product. The photo is from the US Borax’s Visitor Center in Boron, which is well worth a stop. The two large wagons were for hauling the borax. The last wagon contained water for the mules since water holes were few and far between on the long, dry 10-day journey— and it was very thirsty work. The man at the back of the line is riding one of the two horses. The two lead mules, both female, have bells.
This historic photo provides a good perspective on just how big the wagons were. The large wheel is seven feet tall. The man on the left is the muleskinner who was in charge. On his right was his swamper who carried out a number of supportive jobs including handling a back up brake to be used if the wagon decided to run away going down hill.The muleskinner earned $4 per day, his swamper, $2, and the Chinese laborers who did the hardest work of digging out the borax, $1.25

I found a rather amusing, imaginary discussion with a muleskinner on the Death Valley National Park site. The greatest challenge he noted was in getting around corners. He used a diagram to describe the operation. An 80 foot chain connects the lead mules to the wagon.

Here’s what he had to say about the process: “Now I’ll tell you just how smart my mules is: it’s one thing drivin’ along a straight road; it’s a whole nother thing turnin’ corners on a mountain pass. My 2 lead mules, both mares, are about 80 feet ahead of me–so far away I can’t even begin to use my 9-foot long whip on ‘em. I’ve been known to throw pebbles at ‘em to get their attention. Aim’s good too. Back to gettin’ around corners. The next 5 pairs of mules are my “swing teams”, they ain’t real smart, they just know their names and what ‘pull’ and ‘stop’ means. Now the next 3 sets of mules behind the swings are my “pointers”. These mules are trained special to jump over that 80-foot chain and side-step away from the curve to keep that chain tight and my wagons goin’ ‘round that corner right. Next comes the 2 big horses. They’re strong enough to start my wagons rollin’, but that’s all they’re good for. A dumb mule (and I ain’t seen one yet) is a whole lot smarter than a smart horse.”

So, there you have it— which animal is smarter. At least from the perspective of a muleskinner. I’ll allow that a horse lover might have a different point of view. Grin. And now, it’s time to get away from all of the words and take you through 20 Mule Canyon in photos. The canyon starts no more than a mile above Zabriskie Point. And even though the road is dirt, cars with two wheel drive seem to handle it easily.

The dirt road.
Photo by Peggy Mekemson.
Photo by Peggy Mekemson.
Photo by Peggy Mekemson.
Peggy caught a photo of me hiking up a trail. There are a number of stops along the road where you can get out, stretch your legs and take photos, if you want.
I captured this photo of Peggy Woohoo! And the next two photos.
I’ll conclude today with this photo of a very colorful place along the road. The colors are created by the oxidation of minerals/metals. I cover which metals cause which colors in my next post. It will be on the even more colorful drive to the Artists Palette. I am going to feature pup fish as well. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

To bring you up to date, Peggy and I have now spent a week in Zion Canyon National Park and a week in Bryce. We are now in the small, but fun community of Kanab, perched on the border between Utah and Arizona. Here’s a photo we took last week to give you a view of things to come.

A pair of hoodoos we found near Bryce Canyon. The name hoodoo is derived from a Paiute Indian name meaning scary. I think I can see why.

Finally: We Are on the Road… Did You Miss Us?

The book cases are gone, as are the books, and almost everything else. Packed up and shipped east or given away. The house feels lonely now, but soon it will be occupied by someone who is excited to have a home in the woods. The sale is pending!

My blogging friends Linda and Karen from Texas called yesterday and wanted to know where in the world were we. It was special for them to check up on us. They caught us between Death Valley and Las Vegas.

Peggy and I hadn’t dropped into a black hole and simply disappeared from WordPress as people sometimes do. We had forgotten how much work goes into moving and selling a house. It’s number three on the top-five list of stress producers— right after the death of a loved one or divorce, and before having a major illness or losing a job! There was no time for blogging during the day, and by night, I had reached zombie status. Sitting and vegging were about all I could muster. I had gone beyond couch potato; I was a couch turnip.

Anyway, long story short, two weeks ago, Peggy and I made a final walk around our house, hooked up Serafina, the trailer, to Iorek, the truck, and drove up our road, honking as we had promised our neighbors we would in a final farewell. Beep, Beep, Beep-Beep, BEEP—BEEP. 

Peggy and I took a final walk around our house and said goodbye to the Red Buttes, the Oregon pioneer rose, Peggy’s garden, the deer and so many other things that we had taken joy in.

Saying goodbye wasn’t easy. We had lived in our little home in the woods for 11 years— longer than either of us had ever lived anywhere since heading off to college. We had come to love the five acres we were responsible for with its irrepressible wildlife and even gotten used to the deer pressing their noses up against our windows to see what we were doing inside. Or leaving their babies sleeping on our porch as the moms went off to browse. That speaks to how much the deer trusted us. It gave a whole new meaning to baby-sitting. Then there were the squirrels and foxes and bob cats and cougars and bears. Oh my! Bald eagles flew up and down the canyon and soared into the air where they were joined by osprey and hawks. Numerous other birds lived on our property or stopped by on their way elsewhere. Watching them gather at our bird feeder and determine who was boss provided endless entertainment. Having a national forest in our backyard and a river in the front yard wasn’t half-bad either. Nor were the views of the Siskiyou mountains, a scant ten miles away with their snow-covered peaks and incredible sunsets. 

Last, but certainly not least, Peggy and I had great neighbors. They were a diverse group that came from widely different backgrounds but genuinely liked each other, almost a miracle in this age of irreconcilable differences.  On Friday we had them all over for a going away potlatch party, which, in case you don’t know, was a tradition of the Northwestern American natives where the chief would call everyone together and give away most of what he owned at an opulent feast. 

Our potlatch didn’t quite qualify. For one, we weren’t chiefs; for two, our opulent feast was a beer, wine, booze and pizza party. Papa Murphy’s did the honors on pizza and we cleaned out our liquor cabinet for the beer, wine, and more serious alcohol, like 98 proof rum and Tom’s Blackberry Surprise. The surprise was the amount of vodka he added to juice from the five-gallons of blackberrys we had picked last summer. Drink a little and it tastes good; drink enough and it is the best concoction you had ever downed. There was plenty of alcohol to make everyone happy. An opulent feast wasn’t necessary and the pizza was scarfed down. 

And finally, we didn’t give everything away. Hardly. We’d already sent a 16’ x 8’ packed moving pod off to our daughter’s home in Virginia with our treasures— mainly books, book cases, a buffet, art, a couple of comfy chairs and some heirlooms. We had also made numerous trips to Goodwill and the dump. And, while we had shipped 30 boxes of books to Virginia, we had also given 15 to Friends of the Ruch Library to sell to benefit the library. Peggy had been the president of FORL for six years. To top it off, Serafina and Iorek were loaded to the gills with everything we might need for the road— Plus. Peggy kept stuffing things into Serafina or showing up with bins for me to find room for in Iorek. Even with all of that, none of our neighbors went home empty handed. There were still couches and beds and chairs, and kitchen supplies, and lamps, and food, and sporting equipment and left over alcohol. There was even a 24 roll pack of TP from Costco. That would have brought a fortune at the beginning of the pandemic. People would have killed for it. We could hardly give it away.

As tough as saying goodbye was, Peggy and I were more than ready for our new life of full-timing. After all, the name of this blog is Wandering Through Time and Place!

With two weeks on the road behind us, we are almost human again. What we did, actually, was drive down to Reno where we camped out for a week while we relaxed and reacquainted ourselves with life on the road and our new trailer. And then we drove on to Death Valley, getting there four days before they closed the campgrounds for the season. A blog is coming.

A teaser from my next blog. This was taken along the 20 Mule Canyon Road. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

We’ve now moved on to Las Vegas and are getting ready for our next National Park, Zion Canyon. We have four travelling companions along: Bone and Eeyore of course. They’ve travelled with us for over a quarter of a million miles. This time, however, they have been joined by Goofy and Iorek’s avatar. Goofy has been hanging out with me since the 70’s when a friend learned that one of my in-law relatives had been responsible for the creation of Goofy and, I might add, Bozo the Clown. I identified more closely with Goofy. Yuk, yuk. Iorek’s avatar was sent to us by Chrystal Trulove, one of our close blogging friends, as a Christmas Tree ornament. He told us that he would much prefer to be on the road with us than be packed away in a moving pod.

Goofy is patting Bone on the head. Bone is dressed to travel in his quilt. Usually, he runs around naked. Iorek, who is new to our menagerie, peaks out from under Eeyore’s ear.
And finally, me, happily settled into Serafina, the trailer, and back at blogging. Our Murphy bed morphs into a comfy couch, only a part of our Africa quilt is showing! (Photo by Peggy.)

MacKerricher State Park… and Moving On

Peggy and I were ‘getting the look’ when she snapped this photo at MacKerricher State Park just north of Fort Brag, California. The concern the seal had was whether we would come closer and disturb his snooze in the warm sun, i.e. would he have to get up and jump in the icy ocean? The answer was ‘of course not.’ I’m not happy when someone disturbs my afternoon siesta. So why should I disturb his. You know, “do unto others…”

This is the last post from our not-so-recent trip to the North Coast of California last November. Tempus Fugit. Indeed. My posts have been so rare lately they are close to being put on the endangered species list. But more on that later. MacKerricher State Park begins 3 miles north of Fort Bragg, California and continues for 9 miles up the coast. It features a wide variety of habitats ranging from sandy beaches to rocky headlands. There are tide pools, wetlands, a fresh water lake, and even a sea-glass beach. The ocean took an ugly dump and ground the glass up into attractive baubles that people like to collect. Our daughter-in-law Cammie used to turn sea glass she gathered in Alaska into beautiful jewelry.

We were at the park for a couple of hours and only walked a mile or two along the 9 mile beach. We were impressed, however. The area deserves much more of our time. I’ll let the photos that Peggy and I took speak for it. I included some of the these in an earlier post.

Looking south and capturing the sun reflecting off of the incoming tide.
There was plenty of action as the waves rolled in.
The bright green moss captured our attention…
As did this tide pool outlined in green
The ever-present ice plants continued the green-theme as they climbed up the ancient sand dunes in their unceasing effort to replace native plants. And be pretty.
Plus there was seaweed to admire and wonder about. I’m thinking that this would make a great whip for the Devil.
I wondered why someone had trimmed the roots off of this gorgeous driftwood.
All too soon, it was time for us to leave. For a brief moment, my footprints were captured by the sand before the next wave rolled in. I was amused to see how they wandered, never traveling in a straight line, always willing to detour toward anything that was of interest, always ready for a new adventure— wherever it might lead. Like Peggy and I are. And that’s my next subject.

MOVING ON

As you may recall, Peggy and I are preparing to hit the road full-time in mid to late March. That’s one reason why my posts have been so few and far between. But there is more. We are also selling our house and moving East. Our daughter has an empty apartment in Virginia that we will be using for our base as we travel North America. She and her husband Clay have been lobbying for years that we should move closer to them. The apartment is small, however. We are using it as a reason to seriously downsize. It’s called donate, give away and toss. If we haven’t touched something in a couple of years, it goes. (Books and heirlooms are the exception— and even they are subject to scrutiny.) A moving pod sits outside our backdoor to collect what remains. In a few weeks it will arrive on our kid’s doorstep. We’ll take three months to get there.

We will miss our cozy home with its great views and entertaining wildlife. No doubt about it. Living out in the woods had always been a dream of mine. But it is time to move on. I turn 79 in a couple of weeks. While not necessarily old (from my perspective), it is definitely not young. My sense of humor on doing all of the work involved in maintaining five acres isn’t what it once was. And, there are more serious reminders of our age: the passing of family members and friends.

My sister died a couple of weeks ago, leaving me with a thousand happy memories and a large blank spot. She was my first baby sitter and forever friend. While we didn’t see each other often, we were always close. You may recall the posts I did on our annual pumpkin carving contests. They started in the late 90s and went on for 15 years. And you may also remember my blog on Nancy Jo and the Attack of the Graveyard Ghost, a prank my brother Marshall and I played on her when we were kids. Marsh passed away couple of years ago while staying in his RV at our house. I was with him when he died. I am now the last living member of our family. It’s a strange feeling.

A number of friends have passed on as well over the past few years. I attended a memorial/life celebration in Sacramento last weekend for one of my early backpacking Trekkers, Don Augustine. I first met Don in 1981 when he went on a hundred mile trek I was leading through the Sierras. It was a tough year with lots of snow still on the ground. I was kicking footsteps in it over a steep pass leading into the Granite Chief Wilderness when he hustled up to where I was working and offered to help. He would continue to offer a hand whenever needed for the next 40 years as both a trekker and as a volunteer. His generosity was close to legendary. His specialty was encouraging newbies as they struggled to meet the challenges of long distance backpacking and bicycling. I told a story about it to the some 200 people who had gathered to wish Don goodbye.

At the time, I had gone to Alaska as the Executive Director of the Alaska Lung Association. Don and a couple of other good friends had come up to join me on a backpacking trek I was leading across the Alaska Range. We had a particularly difficult young woman along who was always last getting into camp and whined a lot. It was the unpleasant job of our trail sweep/rear guard to walk with her and bring her in. I took my turn and by the end of the day my patience was running thin. That’s when she threw her pack on the ground and declared, “I am not going another step. I am camping right here!” I responded, “Do you see that hill crest? “Yes,” she pouted. It was maybe a quarter of a mile away. “The Trekkers are setting up camp on the other side. We can be there in 15 minutes.” “I don’t care,” she answered. “Okay,” I said, “pull out your whistle.” (We required that all of our trekkers carry one.) “I have to hike over the hill and check on the group. I saw a grizzly bear about a mile back. If you see him heading your way, blow loudly on your whistle three times and I’ll come back.” She was up in a flash, had thrown her pack on, and was leading me over the hill at a hefty pace.

I took Don aside in camp and asked if he couldn’t use a bit of his magic on the young woman. “I’ve got you covered, Curt,” he said. “I’ve got candy.” He reached into his pack and pulled out a gallon ziplock filled to the brim. (There were reasons why Don always had the heaviest pack in the group.) And Don was right. On being introduced to Don’s ziplock and his charm, the girl’s attitude improved immensely and she started hiking faster to keep up with him and his candy. It was a much better solution than my making up grizzly bear stories.

Don playing his guitar on one of our Sierra Treks. He often carried his guitar and the camp chair he is seated in. And Pop Tarts. Nancy Pape, lying down and listening, was also at the memorial.

It’s always hard to lose a family member or friend, and even more so when he or she has been close. It is like closing a chapter in your life— the laughter and good times, the tears, the adventures and so much more. But it is also an important reminder that life is short, whether you are 79 or 29. Life should be lived to the fullest whatever your age. Peggy and I believe this totally. That’s why we moved to Oregon and that’s why we are now moving on now, doing what we love to do, wandering to our hearts content. Until it is time to do something else.

We will be sharing our adventures on this blog. As always, you are invited to join us. We hope you do.

My next post on Friday will be different: It will serve as a detailed description of our house, property and the surrounding region for those who may be interested in having their own ‘home in the woods.’ –Curt and Peggy

The Point Cabrillo Lighthouse, a Poet, and a Bookstore Cat

Most people love lighthouses. And what’s not to love? They are usually found in beautiful locations, feature attractive buildings, and include an element of romance. Their location is part of the romance, but even more so, I find the life of lighthouse keepers romantic. I picture them living on the edge of the ocean, facing ferocious storms with towering waves, and working heroically to save lives in areas that are often remote, far removed from the lives most of us lead. While such a life might not seem attractive to most, I like remote. I’m not so sure about the long hours, repetitious work, and being tethered to a 24/7 job.

I’ll never have the opportunity to find out, however.

The possibility of being a lighthouse keeper in the US today is close to zero. Of the 700 lighthouses presently functioning in the country, only one has a lighthouse keeper. It is located on Little Brewster Island overlooking Boston Harbor and has been in operation since being repaired after the British blew it up during the Revolutionary War. It had originally been built in 1716 on a pile of rubble stone with candles providing the light.

The rest of America’s lighthouses have become automated. When our son, Tony, was flying helicopters for the Coast Guard off of Kodiak Island in Alaska, one of his jobs was servicing the lighthouse in Cordova. As I recall, the salmon fishing was great in the area. He loved the assignment. And we benefited at Christmas with yummy halibut and salmon. (BTW… this past week he was flying a helicopter over Antartica in his new job.)

Today, many of the original lighthouses have been turned into museums. That’s the situation with the Point Cabrillo Lighthouse which is now part of the California State Park system. The lighthouse got its official start with a party in 1909. The head lighthouse keeper invited all of the neighbors within a mile over for its official opening at midnight. It was a pea soup night with the fog so thick that the light couldn’t escape. That wasn’t a problem for the loud new fog horns that started blasting out their warning on the dot at 12, probably waking up everyone who lived further away and wasn’t invited to the party. The lighthouse operated happily until 1961 when one of the towering waves I mentioned above rolled over the top. The third order Fresnel lens wasn’t damaged, however, and the lighthouse was returned to working order until 1973 when the US Coast Guard replaced it with a rotating beacon on a metal stand and the original lens was covered.

It was volunteers that brought the lighthouse back to life. With permission from the state and approval from the Coast Guard, they rebuilt the lighthouse and other structures including the homes of the lighthouse keeper and the assistant back to their 1930 condition when electricity was brought in. The Fresnel lens was cleaned, updated, and returned to service, being one of 70 that still operate in the US.

An attractive trail leads from the right side of the parking lot to the Lighthouse. You can also hike the road, but why would you? This is a view of wind-sculpted brush along the way.
Our first view of the Lighthouse. A bit of morning fog still hung over it. The Fresnel lens was shining. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
It didn’t last long. A few minutes later the sun came out and burned the fog away. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
The trail took us over to the ocean on our way to the Lighthouse. Sun lit up the waves.
The Pacific Ocean crashed into an inlet. Can you spot the Cormorant?
It was hiding down among the rocks. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
We wandered around the lighthouse, admiring it.
A side view included the fog horns located on the back. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Peggy focused in on the lens. It can be seen 22 nautical miles out to sea. The third order Fresnel lens is made up of four panels which contain 90 lead glass prisms and weighs 6800 pounds. It is maintained by the volunteer Point Cabrillo Lighthouse Keepers’ Association. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

We entered the small store and museum at the lighthouse and found this. Do you know what it is? It is whale baleen that whales use to strain their food out of ocean water.
We followed the road out since it led by the attractively refurbished lighthouse keepers’ homes. One serves as a museum. Visitors can rent the other for an overnight stay.

And this brings us to the bookstore cat. The attractive, historic town of Mendocino is located a mile and a half south of Point Cabrillo. It is another one of our favorite coastal towns. One of the reasons is its excellent bookstore: The Gallery Bookshop. The store’s logo is a cat reading a book. We went there to buy books, meet friends, and visit with the cat.

Every nook and cranny of the bookstore is filled with quality books. We could spend hours there.
The owner’s philosophy was posted in the window…
We hadn’t seen our friend David McElroy for quite some time. David is an Alaska bush pilot and a talented poet, a combination that has always fascinated me. He was traveling with his friend Susan, who among her many accomplishments, had been the first director of the Nature Conservancy in Alaska. They originally met in 1979 when Susan had hired David to fly her while she filmed the Iditarod, the first film of the event to ever be televised nationally. They met again after David’s wife of many years (and one of Peggy’s best friends from high school, Edith Barrowclough) passed away from cancer. Susan and David were on their way to Paris and then Portugal for a few months.
This sign greeted us at the bookstore door.
Catsby was sitting on the counter next to the cash register when I snapped his photo.

As I have noted before when I have blogged about my favorite independent bookstores, many of them have cats. I think that they all should. Here’s what the Gallery Bookshop’s website has to say about Catsby:

“The Great Catsby joined Gallery Bookshop in the fall of 2012. He was seen wandering on the streets of a neighboring town, darting in and out of businesses. One day, he found a car with an open window and hitchhiked (without the driver’s knowledge) to the village of Mendocino. There, he was picked up by a friend of the bookshop and offered the job of bookstore cat. His duties include sleeping atop card racks, greeting dogs with a glare and a flick of his tail, and occasionally allowing customers to scratch him behind the ears. He can usually be found sitting in the window, warming himself in a patch of sunlight.”

That does it for today. My next post will be on MacKerricher State Park, which is located just north of Fort Bragg. I should note: When I find time to do it. Our life continues to be insane as we rush into creating a new lifestyle for ourselves. More on that after the post on MacKerricher.

Is It Pomo Bluff— or Chicken Point… Fort Bragg, California

I see a massive wave like this and I remember the wise advice of old sailors: Never turn your back to the ocean. Even now when I look at this photo, I think, run! Fortunately, I was happily ensconced on a high cliff at Pomo Bluff when this big fellow came rolling in.

I laughed when I read the information sign posted up on Pomo Bluff in Fort Bragg. Sailors, fisherman, and other boaters of yore making their way out of Noyo Harbor would go out on the overlook to check how the Pacific Ocean was behaving. It could be calm and welcoming or it could be ferocious and dangerous. Checking was an opportunity to chicken out, to remember there was a cold beer that required quaffing at the local pub. Thus the name. Modern technology and weather forecasting have reduced the need to do a visual check.

We wandered around on the Bluff, admiring the ocean, checking out ice plants, watching rowdy crows, and wondering who owned the mansion hidden behind a tall fence.

In spite of the big waves, it was a beautiful day on the ocean. We watched as the charter boat, the Telstar, made its way back into Noyo Harbor. It’s available for sport fishing and whale watching. Apparently some folks had been out to try their luck. We didn’t wonder about what they caught or saw, we wondered how their stomachs had tolerated the rolling sea. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Looking back toward the entry into the protected Noyo Harbor.
A close up of the sea stack seen above.
Looking out to sea from Pomo Bluff. Go far enough and you will end up in Asia.
Peggy captures a photo.
And then goes in search of another. The sign is a common one along the coast, warning of the dire consequences of getting too close to a cliff’s sheer drop. But does this woman casually strolling along seem worried?
How can one resist when the best photos are often on the edge?
Such as this. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Ice plants provide an attractive foreground for photos on the coast. But there is a problem. It is an invasive species that replaces native plants.
I was surprised to find that the ice plant had adopted fall colors, something that I had never noticed before.
This crow took a break from its aerial display of chasing other crows to steal their food, to rest among the ice plants.
Peggy captured one carrying something delectable, like a long dead snail. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
From her perch out on the point, Peggy was also able to catch a photo of this mansion. Otherwise, it was hidden behind a tall fence.
So I took a photo of it through a knothole.
A seagull showed us the way. I liked its feet. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
And finally we came to the end. It was time to head on to our next adventure and my next post: The Point Cabrillo Lighthouse.

Escapism: Or Is the Word— Balance… Happy New Year

This cormorant at MacKerricher State Park near Fort Bragg, California seems to be saying, “Bring it on! Show me what you’ve got!” It’s a New Year’s type of message. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

When Peggy and I were seeking an escape in 2021, we headed for the Oregon and Northern California Coast. It seemed like a reasonable answer to what was happening in the world. There is something calming about the ocean, a balance if you will— a reminder of the past, a welcome to the present, and a glimpse of the future. The waves continue to roll in. Worries tend to fade away under such circumstances and the spirit is renewed. Bring it on. Show us what you’ve got.

With this in mind, I decided to dedicate my first post of 2022 to the beauty and the wildness of the ocean using photos that Peggy and I took in 2021.

The sheer power of the ocean can make you stop, and say “ahhh.”

The ocean is much more than crashing waves, however. There is incredible beauty…

And an abundance of plants and animals uniquely adapted to life on and in the ocean.

I’ll conclude this first day of 2022 with a photo of the Cabrillo Point Light House, which has a beauty of its own. I rendered the lighthouse in black and white to reflect historical photos found in the lighthouse museum.

HAPPY NEW YEAR— Curt and Peggy

Are Your Ducks in a Row? Are You Ready for Prime Time? Or Are You Rudderless?

Are your ducks in a row? Peggy and I just returned from a trip to the small town of Waldport on the Oregon Coast. While there, we kayaked up Beaver Creek in Brian Booth State Park. It’s a beautiful area known for its wildlife. Mainly, we saw lots of ducks. Peggy, who was sitting in the front of our two person kayak, was the prime photographer. She captured these ducks behaving in a fashion that even Miss Manners would approve.
Or maybe an even more important question: Are you ready for prime time? We came on this duck who wasn’t quite sure as she checked out her tail feathers.
She quickly preened (oiled her feathers)as we approached.
And then said, “Okay, I’m beautiful. Take my photo.”
A nearby mallard duck said, “Ha”… (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
“I’m the prettiest duck on the river!” (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
This duck absolutely refused to allow us to take a close up. I understood. Say you were standing in the creek with your head under the water and your butt up in the air. Would you want your photo taken?
Most of the ducks we approached were trying to hide their heads under their wings. We assumed that it had something to do with the state of the world. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Another example. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
Normally we paddle our 12 foot inflatable Innova kayak with a rudder attached. This time, we were up the creek without a rudder. We were rudderless. While Beaver Creek looks perfectly calm, there was a current accompanied by an occasional gust of wind. Big Green enjoyed the freedom while we paddled like mad to keep her going where we wanted. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
There were those perfect moments, however, where we could simply relax and enjoy the gorgeous scenery, which was in abundance.
Including impressive wood sculptures, such as this. Peggy insisted that we kayak around it.
She thought climbing off the kayak and on to the sculpture would be a great photo op. Something to send the grandkids. Then, she thought better of it. There was a significant chance that she would fall in the water, which I would have considered an amusing photo. Peggy? Not so much.
Peggy, who is quite tactile, decided feeling the wood was enough.
Circling the driftwood provided several different views, including this garden growing on one side.
I decided it would be interesting to depict the driftwood in black and white. It looks a bit ominous.
Not as ominous as this old dead tree hanging out over the water, however. I thought it might reach out and grab us and we wisely gave it a wide berth.
The riparian habitat next to the river made a fun contrast to the the surrounding forest.
Peggy even found some early fall-colored leaves.
As we paddled back toward our starting point, mist from the ocean added a magical element to our journey. Peggy and I will be back.

This is one my occasional blogs I am posting as I have taken a break from blogging over the summer. Next up, I will do a post on the impressive Alsea Bridge across Alsea Bay in Waldport. Let me just say here, Oregon takes its bridges seriously. After that I’ll touch on what Peggy and I have decided over the summer. It will include our being on the road much more exploring North America. Change is in the wind.

Kayaking in Florida One Week and Oregon the Next… A Photo Blog

Two weeks ago we were kayaking through mangroves along the Gulf Coast of Florida. Last week we were kayaking on the edge of the Oregon Dunes National Recreation area next to the Pacific Ocean. Are we jet-setters or what? You are looking at Peggy’s hat in the foreground. Our grandson Cody is next. Our son Tony was leading on a paddle board. We were making our way through a mangrove tunnel.
Peggy’s wearing a cap this time as we make our way through Honeyman Lake near Florence, Oregon last week.
We had traveled to Florida to join a celebration and party for our son Tony who was retiring from his position as a Lieutenant Commander and helicopter pilot with the Coast Guard. Prior to his stint in the Coast Guard, he had been a helicopter pilot in the Marine Corps including three tours to Iraq. He has earned quite a few medals for bravery, being wounded, and saving lives along the way. The lower one is for being one of the best pistol shots in the Coast Guard. He was captain of the pistol team at Annapolis. Peggy was once recognized as being the best pistol shot among teenagers in America. I’ve been known to hit the broadside of a barn.
Tony arranged a kayak trip for visiting family members at Weedon Island Preserve near St. Petersburg.
Like Tony, his wife, Cammie, was operating a paddle board. Their youngest son, Cooper, was hitching a ride.
Here we are entering the mangrove tunnel that the Weedon Island Preserve is noted for. Our paddles proved to be too long, so we took them apart and operated with half a paddle.
Docked at lunch. Tony is tying a rope to the kayaks to make sure they don’t go wandering off.
One of the things I always love about Florida is the bird life. This is an ibis.
Another view. I think he was stalking something.
While mangrove tunnels and birds caught our attention in Florida, water lilies became our focus while kayaking on Honeyman Lake.
White and pink were the colors of the day.
Peggy caught these three pink water lilies in a row…
While two white water lilies lined up for me.
Honeyman Lake is located at the northern end of the Oregon Dunes National Recreational Area.
Another view of the dunes along the lake.
A final view of Honeyman Lake. I took this photo from where we had parked, Quivera, our small RV. We kayaked down to the opposite end of the lake taking a detour into a feeder creek that provided our up-close encounter with water lilies. Fog over the Pacific Ocean can be seen in the distance.

As noted before, I am taking a break from blogging this summer to catch up on other writing chores, but I am also posting an occasional blog when I find subjects I think you might find fun. –Curt

Abbots Lagoon and Pt. Reyes Station… A Trail Hike Plus a Favorite Small Town

Abbot’s Lagoon is a great place for bird watchers. Or people watchers. This great blue heron with its neck stretched out like a rubber band had a wary eye on Peggy. Wisely so. She was stalking it with her camera. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

It’s a wrap on my Pt. Reyes series today. Peggy and I will take you for a hike out to Abbot’s Lagoon and a visit to Pt. Reyes Station, a favorite town of mine.

The hike is suitable for almost anyone. We even watched a mom and dad pushing their baby along in a stroller. How much easier can it get? The baby seemed quite happy as did the parents. Visitors can turn around whenever they want, hike out to the Lagoon, or go on a leisurely stroll all the way to the ocean. We chose the latter.

The Abbot’s Lagoon trailhead leading out from the parking lot. The Lagoon can be seen in the distance. The Pacific Ocean is out beyond the Lagoon. The narrow strip you can see on the left is the continuation of the trail.
The red marker shows the location of Abbot’s Lagoon on the Google map. Down to the right you can see Pt. Reyes Station next to the Highway 1 marker. Highway 1, BTW, follows the San Andreas fault through this area. The 1906 San Francisco Earthquake shot what is now the National Seashore over 20 feet northward. San Francisco is 30 miles to the south.
Another photo of Peggy’s great blue heron. This time he was back at work catching fish. I liked the slight hint of a reflection. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
I was impressed with the red eye on this coot. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)
We crossed a small bridge and looked back up the Lagoon toward the parking lot.
There was a drift wood structure along the trail on the beach out near the ocean. It had been cleverly woven together with kelp.
Finally we arrived at the Pacific Ocean.

The North Pacific Coast Railroad had arrived in the area 146 years earlier in 1875 and let passengers off in a cow pasture to make their way to nearby Olema and dairy ranches out on the peninsula. The cow pasture soon added a hotel and the town of Pt. Reyes station was born. It’s a story told over and over in the West. The railroad arrives and a community springs up, making land barons/developers happy and rich. This time it was a dentist in San Francisco. The railroad was making its way north to retrieve redwoods that were being cut down to build the city. Many a giant redwood gave its life to the cause.

I first arrived at Pt. Reyes Station in the late 1960s and I’ve returned again and again. The town has become somewhat yuppified and more expensive since then due to its close vicinity to San Francisco, but it still retains much of its charm. The following photos reflect some of what makes it charming.

The Pt. Reyes Book Store is one of the best small, independent bookstores we have ever been in, and we’ve been in a lot. Peggy told me to go in and spend $200 for my birthday. Boy, does she know me…
The Bovine Bakery is on one side of the book store. The buttermilk scones are to die for! I never leave town without one, or two, or three, or four.
Feeling Horsey? A saddlery is on the other side of the bookstore.
If your horse is hungry, Toby’s Feed Barn is across the street.
But what feed barn do you know that also serves gourmet coffee and freshly baked, large chocolate chip cookies. Now, that’s what I call charm!
A walk behind the the bookstore building brought us to the Cowgirl Creamery, famous for its cheeses, and I might add, its grilled cheese sandwiches. I’ve never been a fan of grilled cheese, but one bite of its aged white cheddar on sourdough bread and I was hooked. Peggy and I were back for another one the next day, which we took out and ate at the Abbot’s Lagoon parking lot.
Our view from where we chowed down on our grilled cheese sandwiches in the Abbot’s Lagoon parking lot.
A bit of living history. Cheda’s Garage is the oldest contract Triple A garage in the nation.
This was the view inside Cheda’s Garage. Putting two and two together and thinking roadside pickup of wrecked cars, I couldn’t help but irreverently think “Roadkill.” Just kidding. Old Cheda must have been one heck of a hunter.
A photo of early Pt. Reyes Station…
The building today.
The mural on the front of the building capturing some of the activities and wildlife of the area.
Just around the corner we found a sign that made us smile. A No Parking Sign had been cleverly modified to become a No Barking sign. Several cars were lined up in the no parking zone. Not one had a barking dog. A law-abiding town, for sure.
I’ll conclude my Pt. Reyes series with a historic photo of the train that gave the town its name. Join me next Friday on my travel blog as I take you on a spring walk around our property.

MONDAY’s BLOG-A-BOOK POST from Its 4 AM and a Bear Is Standing on Top of Me: I decide that doing an inventory of the local skunk population is ever so much better than being conked on the head by a Little League hardball. But have you ever faced a skunk standing on its front legs with its tail pointed toward you— ready to spray?