Archive for November, 2008

Joseph D. Grant Ranch County Park.

Tuesday, November 25th, 2008

For those of you who read my blog here instead of that other, more embarrassing URL, I’m adding this post I forgot to put in both places a couple weeks ago:

Joseph D. Grand Ranch County Park is seven miles from me up Mount Hamilton road. The road first snakes along the tops of the hills that edge the valley, climbing higher and higher above the city below until it reaches a pass where it switches to the west side of the hills, climbing up to 1900 feet before descending gently back to 1600 feet as it enters the park. On a crisp Saturday morning with the top down, the first half is a vista of blue skies, waking city and golden grass slowly turning green, the land rising impressively to the left and falling away alarmingly to the right. The second half is a sun-dappled cruise down a country road repleat with family farms and ranches.

Hawk Fox II
Crazy Oak. Windy trail.

The park itself is 9553 acres of undulating hills covered in oak trees and trees of almost every other description. The tops of the hills are sparsely populated with trees, instead covered in ideal grazing pasture. In summer the grass goes dormant under the dryness and heat, and in the winter pokes green shoots up from the ground. The cattle that graze here have worn tiny terraced paths in the hill sides, criss-crossed in places by the paths of the communal ground squirrels between their burrows and followed by the feet of the foxes who search for them. Falcons swoop overhead, searching for squirrels as well. The squirrels are hard to catch by surprise, rarely far from their holes and quick to scurry to them. They are fascinating, quick, curious creatures, and the hillsides are thick with them.

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The hills are also alive with tiny green birds too quick and nervous to get a good look at, and tiny budgies that hop around the trails looking for food. Larger birds costantly root through the leafy undergrowth in the valleys, creating a constant rustle of movement from all sides. Stellar’s jays give a raucous call whenever you cross their path.

Grant lake.

I hiked a little over eight miles on Saturday, starting out near Grant Lake, the lowest part of the park at 1600 feet, and making my way to the second-highest point in it, at 1950 feet or so. The walk out was a little longer, and wound down through Hall’s Valley before climbing inexorably upward for three miles or more. Near the top there were fewer trees, and more prairie. The sky was so blue cerulean doesn’t really do it justice. Milky white clouds splayed across it, as if to set off the gold grass that covered the hills. I could see for a mile or more in some directions, and I could see no one, just an vast expanse of fall foliage and titanic rolling hills.

Grass and Sky

Grant ranch is a vast expanse of emptiness and awesome.

Hilltop View

When I got to the top I was greeted with a stunning vista; if the day had been clearer, I think I might have seen San Francisco. I could certainly see as far as the south end of the bay; downtown San Jose lurked blue in the background, and the Santa Cruz mountains wafted off, layer after layer, into the south.

Top of the hill.

House on a hill.

Santa Cruz mountains from the foot of the Diablos.

I With the help of my camera, I could just see my car in the parking lot, several miles away. For the trip back down, instead of turning back, I took Washburn trail. The park has 52 miles of trail, and because it was a working ranch, the trails are actually drivable dirt roads of varying degrees of impressiveness. Large parts of the Washburn trail, in particular, are wide enough for at least two lanes of traffic with a wide shoulder on either side, and wer obviously carved through the hills with bulldozers and explosives. It is also very, very, very steep, and hard on my knees. I made it back down, though, and walked a mile along Hamilton road back to my car, past a ranch and farm or two along the way.

Cow pasture.
Mirror Bulls

I got back to my house by before 2PM. It was a way more peaceful way to spend a morning and afternoon even than I’d thought it would be, maybe more than I even thought possible. I feel better now.

Yosemite!

Monday, November 17th, 2008

I got up early Saturday morning and drove to Yosemite National Park
with Travis. I’d only been there once before, just before returning to
Texas, but it was one of the main reasons I wanted to move back to
California.

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It
was everything I remembered it as. Also, more. We left just before
eight in the morning, and arrived just after noon. We spent the
afternoon driving lazily in, stopping to gape at every new impossibly
vast vista we encountered.

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The
pictures I took don’t do justice to the place, but no pictures really
can. National Geographic gets one hell of a lot closer, though. I took
several panoramas and a few other pics not in the linked set, but it
will take me some time to get those cleaned up enough to post. I’ll put
a link here when I get them done.

Carter Point Panorama

I’m also posting some pictures of the trip we took to Big Basin our first day in California.

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Finally, there’s also some pics from the trip we took to San Francisco on our second day here.

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I went out to Mount Hamilton and Alum Rock park.

Monday, November 17th, 2008

Money’s wearing a little thing winding down to my first full paycheck, so I decided I should probably continue my California make-myself-glad-I-moved-here tour with something a little closer to home. Yesterday I went out to Alum Rock Park. Alum Rock is the oldest municipal park in California, and is the namesake of next-to-last major road on the way to my house, the one you take when you exit the freeway. It’s basically a section of Upper Penitencia Creek canyon and surrounding hills; it’s 720 acres of hilly goodness, with trails along the north and south rims of the canyon. I parked near some picnic tables in the center of the park and walked to the nearest trail head. There was leaflet warning about mountain lions (last sighting 10/29) and a short history of rail in the park, but no map or anything. I could see a rocky prominence with people on it about 400 feet north of me, and about 400 feet higher in elevation, as well. I figured the trail I was on probably went there, so I started uphill until I found a sign that said Eagle Rock Overlook, .4 miles. I was there pretty soon, just in time to watch the sunset turn the valley red and gold. It was actually only maybe 360 feet higher, but it was quite a view, anyway.

Eagle Rock Road at Sunset

I come the cross timbers region of Texas, specifically the western cross timbers and the grand prairie. It’s a fairly flat place of low, gently rolling hills and dales. It’s nowhere near as flat as California’s central valley, but the furthest thing you see is generally the next hill higher than yours. There are very few places where you can see more than five or six miles.

California’s not like that, at all. Most of the Santa Clara Valley is like that–it’s a very flat valley, and mostly what you see are mountains rising on all sides of you, except for a bay to your north. The edges of the valley, though, like where I live, you can see quite a way. Or, at least, you think you can see quite a way, until you go somewhere where you really can. The furthest I can see from my front porch is the Santa Cruz mountains, maybe twenty-some-odd miles away.

The road I live on is called Mount Hamilton Road. It was build in the late 1800s in preparation for a project by the University of California to build the first year-round mountain-top observatory, at the very summit of, of course, Mount Hamilton. It’s a twenty-mile long road that starts at Alum Rock Road. I live about two miles up it, which means that I’m about 18 twisty miles from Lick Observatory. It famously has 365 turns, one for each day of the year, and you pass fourteen before you get to my house. That leaves 341, or just about nineteen per mile. This is a lot twistier than it sounds; you basically just spend the whole trip with the wheel crossed up one way or the other.

That’s where I went on Sunday. To get back to my earlier point a bit, once you do get there, assuming you don’t at any point let your concentration slip for the half-second or so it would take to send you hurtling over the edge to an untimely demise, you get one helluva view, as well as a large complex of telescopes and telescope buildings, with information displays and tours. On a clear day they say you can see clear to the Sierra Nevada, the mountain range where Yosemite is located.

Today was not a particularly clear day, and if I saw the Sierra Nevadas, it was only as an indistict, blurry haze slightly darker than the blurry haze above it. Nonetheless, you could see for miles and miles and miles in any direction, and I took me some pictures to try to convey what that’s like. The thing that blows my mind is that this place is eighteen miles from my home. I live on the road that goes to it. There’s also a big-ass county park (ten thousand acres) on the way, but I haven’t had a chance to check that out yet. Sounds like a project for next weekend.

Diablo Mountains Panorama

Another thing that’s crazy to me is that the grass here is green in the winter, not the summer. I took this picture three weeks ago, but I might as well have taken it last weekend, for all the difference it would have made:

Our deer

If this looks like a gigantic fire hazard, it is. The whole mountain range is covered in This is what it looked like a week later:

Green Hillside

The whole hillside is covered in new blades of green grass, two or three inches long and growing at least a half-inch a day. It’s not just my place, either. The reclaimed landfill next to my work has pulled the same trick. In fact, the whole Diablo mountains and foothills are starting to turn green, even from a distance, before my very eyes.

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This is very different from home.

Everything here is different. The deer are different; their tails aren’t white. The squirrels are different: some of them are gray, and some of them live in holes in the ground. The birds are subtly different. The oak trees are different. The pine trees are different. I guess none of this should be any surprise whatsoever, but the combined affect is to make the whole place seem a little alien.

Keepin’ On Keepin’ On

Sunday, November 2nd, 2008

Finally got my stuff in, on Friday, after spending both Thursday and Friday working from home. I’ve got the second bedroom upstairs converted to my personal office and study, until I find a good roommate for it (you hear that, Austonians?* When’s somebody gonna sack up and move out here with us?), and have most of my stuff unpacked. It’s probably going to take a week or so to finish the job.

Work is everything I’d hoped it would be, so far. It’s located literally directly south of San Francisco Bay, with a park next door where there was a mountain lion sighting a few weeks ago. The people I work with are old-school Unix geeks and cool peeps of uniformly high caliber. I have a MacBook Pro and a Linux-based HP desktop to work with, both hooked up to a shiny 24″ flat panel that has become my new vision of God. The Espresso drinks are free, the gourmet lunches are cheap, and there’s a nice gym with free yoga classes.

Now all I have to do is be worth it. I’m pretty confident I can do that. The peeps out here are sharp, but I’m no rusty edge myself.

The first weekend we were out here, we went to Big Basin on Saturday afternoon, and San Francisco on Sunday. I took some pictures in both places, but haven’t had the time or equipment to get them ready to upload. I’ll get right on that, and post here when I get it done.

Yesterday I went and found my closest Whole Foods, which is 12 miles away, and a small, relatively tawdry affair compared to the Taj Mafoods at sixth and Lamar. Here’s the thing about it, though: the food is the same price as it is in Austin. Ever since I’ve moved out here, I’ve been paying–I’m not exaggerating–like 50% more for food at Safeway than I did in Austin. Loaf of bread? $1.50. Hillshire Farms honey roasted turkey breast? $5.00. Six fucking ounces of domestic Havarti? $6.00. I shit you not. Whole foods, on the other hand, still has soup for $7.99 for a quart, Pastrami for $12 a pound, ground beef for $4.00 a pound, etc. etc.

The ridiculous upshot here is that it’s cheaper to shop at Whole Foods than it is to shop at fucking Safeway. The meals I’ve bought at Safeway have averaged $8. Back home, the HEB cost me about $4.50 a meal, Central Market $6, and Whole Foods $7. Yesterday I bought 11 meals and two snacks at Whole Foods for $85, so that’s like about $7.50 a meal. My advice if you ever come to California is this: Fuck Safeway. Fuck them and their fucking Safeway card. Eat at Whole Foods or one of the Mexican grocery stores.

Anyway, one last thing I did find time to do: make some panoramas. The other day I posted some pics I said didn’t do justice to the view from my place. The two below still don’t (I miss you, Rebel-XT-take-pictures-in-the-dark-super-awesome-camera! Sob!) but they come a lot closer. They look better larger than they are below; click on the links to view them at the original size (warning: they’re pretty large..

Sunset Panorama

Nighttime Panorama copy

*–Yeah, I know. I always liked Austonians better.

Keepin’ On Keepin’ On

Sunday, November 2nd, 2008

Finally got my stuff in, on Friday, after spending both Thursday and Friday working from home. I’ve got the second bedroom upstairs converted to my personal office and study, until I find a good roommate for it (you hear that, Austonians?* When’s somebody gonna sack up and move out here with us?), and have most of my stuff unpacked. It’s probably going to take a week or so to finish the job.

Work is everything I’d hoped it would be, so far. It’s located literally directly south of San Francisco Bay, with a park next door where there was a mountain lion sighting a few weeks ago. The people I work with are old-school Unix geeks and cool peeps of uniformly high caliber. I have a MacBook Pro and a Linux-based HP desktop to work with, both hooked up to a shiny 24″ flat panel that has become my new vision of God. The Espresso drinks are free, the gourmet lunches are cheap, and there’s a nice gym with free yoga classes.

Now all I have to do is be worth it. I’m pretty confident I can do that. The peeps out here are sharp, but I’m no rusty edge myself.

The first weekend we were out here, we went to Big Basin on Saturday afternoon, and San Francisco on Sunday. I took some pictures in both places, but haven’t had the time or equipment to get them ready to upload. I’ll get right on that, and post here when I get it done.

Yesterday I went and found my closest Whole Foods, which is 12 miles away, and a small, relatively tawdry affair compared to the Taj Mafoods at sixth and Lamar. Here’s the thing about it, though: the food is the same price as it is in Austin. Ever since I’ve moved out here, I’ve been paying–I’m not exaggerating–like 50% more for food at Safeway than I did in Austin. Loaf of bread? $1.50. Hillshire Farms honey roasted turkey breast? $5.00. Six fucking ounces of domestic Havarti? $6.00. I shit you not. Whole foods, on the other hand, still has soup for $7.99 for a quart, Pastrami for $12 a pound, ground beef for $4.00 a pound, etc. etc.

The ridiculous upshot here is that it’s cheaper to shop at Whole Foods than it is to shop at fucking Safeway. The meals I’ve bought at Safeway have averaged $8. Back home, the HEB cost me about $4.50 a meal, Central Market $6, and Whole Foods $7. Yesterday I bought 11 meals and two snacks at Whole Foods for $85, so that’s like about $7.50 a meal. My advice if you ever come to California is this: Fuck Safeway. Fuck them and their fucking Safeway card. Eat at Whole Foods or one of the Mexican grocery stores.

Anyway, one last thing I did find time to do: make some panoramas. The other day I posted some pics I said didn’t do justice to the view from my place. The two below still don’t (I miss you, Rebel-XT-take-pictures-in-the-dark-super-awesome-camera! Sob!) but they come a lot closer. They look better larger than they are below; click on the links to view them at the original size (warning: they’re pretty large..

Sunset Panorama

Nighttime Panorama copy

*–Yeah, I know. I always liked Austonians better.