Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Great American Eclipse

Sometime over a year ago I realized that the "Great American Eclipse" was happening in August 2017 and that the path of totality would be only a couple of hundred miles from our house. At that time, the hype had not begun and people looked at me kind of weird when I said we were planning to spend a weekend that was over a year away in Wyoming in order secure a spot to watch this event. In the following months the promotion of the event became mainstream, and it became clear that this was going to be a big darn deal for Wyoming. Luckily we have Byron, the perfect vehicle to get off the beaten path if required!

In July 2016 we attended an event as part of the NCAR Explorer Series at NCAR just up the hill from our house. We came home from that talk excited to see a total solar eclipse, and realizing that it would really be something special. I think that's when Rebecca became convinced that was an event worth committing to. 

In the coming months we began some more detailed planning; inviting friends, dropping 'pins', and circulating ideas about where to be. We discovered interesting Wyoming facts, such as one of the first spots we targeted was the area where the DOW relocates 'problem' bears from Teton and Yellowstone. In the end, we decide to target the east side of Wyoming along US85. On the satellite view it appeared that lots of side dirt roads would lead to potential camp sites as small reservoirs or in the buttes. In reality, almost all of the land in the area is private, and few easements exist that allow access to the public lands. We figured some business-savvy ranchers would be capitalizing on the event and renting space in their fields, so we stuck with the plan and went up with the attitude 'I've been thrown out of worse places' (which we [okay, I] have). 

We set out on Saturday morning expecting to encounter some significant traffic enroute even then. To our relief, that was not the case. It was smooth driving up I-25 and beyond. We arranged to meet up with our friends Liz, Jesse and Keaton at the Wyoming border in their red travel van, 'Clifford'. They said they had a surprise for us. While I was thinking 'mmmmh donuts', Liz and Jesse had something else in mind:

Jesse & Keaton in 'Merlin'
Byron got a nifty new sticker, courtesy of the State of Wyoming!
After a brief stop to meet up, share some Santiago's breakfast burritos with our friends, and take a quick tour of the Earth Roamer, we were on the road for eastern Wyoming! The ride was scenic,and uneventful. We fueled up in Torrington, including filling our auxiliary gas can as there were some predictions of the apocalypse in Wyoming, and having no ability to buy gas or food after the masses arrived. Luckily, neither seemed to play out that way in the end.

After the stop, we meandered up US85 past Lingle and headed for Lusk, the entirety of which would be in the eclipse path of totality. Keeping a keen eye out for opportunities on side roads, we were disappointed only to encounter inaccessible roads due to fencing, and plenty of 'no trespassing' signs. Near the middle of this stretch we saw a sign for eclipse camping in a farmer's pasture and pulled in to check it out. This pasture was just south of the town of Jay Em, and just about on the centerline of the eclipse path. They had spaces available, so we decided to be legal and secure a great spot. 

We pretty well had the place to ourselves on Saturday!

Over the next couple of days, we explored the region a bit, met up with some other friends at their camp, and enjoyed the local public pool in Lusk. We were taking some bets among the group whether the field would fill up, but by Sunday night the place was hopping!

Panoramic shot of the pasture / campground

Eclipse Day!

Monday morning we awoke to a beautiful day and cooked a full breakfast of bacon, eggs, bacon, pancakes, fruit, and bacon. It was a great way to start the day! Excitement was certainly building around the pasture.
Some things were beyond explanation

Rebecca checking out a device Meghan made at school

Liz and Jesse checking out another

As the eclipse began, we were mostly viewing through our eclipse glasses, experimenting with different positioning and places to view from. 
Liz was getting stoked at about 50% occulded

Meghan was enjoying the rooftop deck experience

Taking it all in

From another camper on Facebook: This is an aerial view of the field where we watched the eclipse (a) about 5 minutes before totality and (b) about 30 seconds before totality.
During the leadup to totality we tried various ways of taking photos with the limited 'filters' we had (that is, eclipse glasses placed over our camera lenses). I won't bother posting any of those. During the 2m20s we had of totality, I wanted to enjoy the experience and not be consumed with taking photos or managing devices. I took a few, but Meghan got some great shots with the DSLR. 

Horizon during totality. Despite how it looks, it was dark above us.

This was the killer shot by Meghan. Two clearly visible flares, and the corona. 

The above is a cell phone video during totality. The purpose was to show the 360° twilight during the eclipse. Strangely, the cell camera 'fills in' the light from the corona to make the sun appear somewhat normal. It was a dark sky, and the sun appeared as in the still photo above.

As I write this I am still in awe at the experience. I didn't know that viewing an eclipse in the path of totality would be so amazing. There is really no way to describe the feeling of being there. If you have not done this before, add this to your bucket list! I am so glad that we braved the crowds and the traffic to do this. It was worth it and we all agree we'll do it again. It's not as if the Barnes' needed more excuses to travel, but I think that you'll see future posts from total solar eclipses, perhaps in some faraway places! 

Very Belated--Baja Trip Conclusion

Putting this in as a placeholder more than anything. I did return from Baja. Earlier than originally planned. The water was colder than I expected and I didn't have enough wetsuit to be out for too long. I got some good experience and got up for two rides, but definitely prefer the warmer waters of the central / southern Mexico west coast.

In my experience, Baja is safe. Everyone I interacted with is very nice and despite my VERY limited Spanish, I got along OK. Lots of asking 'how do you say...' (Cómo se dice), and enjoying the smiles and the laughs.

Next time will be a trip with family and maybe more of a caravan. Definitely farther south, and with some time on the Sea of Cortez. This will definitely be the route that we take when heading south on the big trip in several years! Ferry from La Paz to Mazatlan avoids the ugly stuff going on in the border states of the mainland.

I'll come back and post some pics on this post, but need to get on to the next...

Thursday, November 26, 2015

To Tecate and into Baja!

I traveled through the mountains of extreme southern California to stay one more night near Tecate, CA (USA side) in order stage for a morning crossing at Tecate. Potrero County Park is apparently a common place to spend a night before / after crossing based on the ranger comments. It was a pretty basic county park, but with ‘KOA’ style cabins, as well as normal camp spots with water and electric!
It was interesting being so close to the border. During the drive in I went past a secondary border patrol station, probably 25 miles from the Mexican border. I guess to check for any hitchhikers etc… picked up along the road. Additionally, there were numerous aircraft in the air most of the evening. Once I was asleep though, you’d have to land next to the van to bother me.

Here we go! Tecate California USA

Tecate is apparently a pretty quiet crossing as was suggested by Adian and Madison. There was no line of cars to cross, and a short inspection of my vehicle before I was waved through. It was good to read up a bit though, and realize that I had to go back after crossing and get a Mexican Immigration Card, which is required if you venture outside of the ‘tourist zone’ (basically along the border, as far south as Ensenada), or if your stay will be longer than 72 hours. Trouble will apparently be had if you don’t have this, and they did not make it well known as they waved me through in the vehicle.
Once through a traffic detour in Tecate Mexico, I was on the road (MEX 3) heading south toward Ensenada through the northern Baja wine country. There were some beautiful vineyards and modern wineries as the road wound through the hills toward the coast. It was not as well marketed as Napa Valley, but definitely had some of that same feel.

MEX 3 hits the coast just north of Ensenada proper. I continued south and stopped at a few placed to check out the beach. During my 2nd stop, a local approached me and asked to take a picture with Byron. He said that this was his dream vehicle. I obliged and we chatted for a bit. I gave him my card and he promised to send a couple of shots.
The beach at Ensenada, BC.

I picked up a few things at the super market and headed south of town to camp at Las Canadas, which is really a water park with a few camping spots. For my first night camping, I wanted to be around some others, and in a secure location. With this not being prime camping season, the place was actually empty, and unfortunately in view of the highway, however they did have a controlled front gate and perimeter fence. Being my first night camping in Mexico, I won’t say that it was my most comfortable experience, but all was good in the morning. As I went to the shower house in the morning, I met a couple of folks traveling in a EuroVan style VW, but with German plates! Turns out they had shipped it over and traveled up through Mexico, were heading up into and across the USA, and would ship the vehicle back from Baltimore and fly themselves home. Cool stuff!
Traveling south of Ensenada got much more laid back. Small towns, less traffic, and smaller roads. My destination was Punta San Jacinto, a reputed surf break known as ‘Shipwrecks’. Maybe the photos show why!

The ‘road sign’ to Punta San Jacinto.
After about a 10k drive on a rough dirt road, a row of houses appeared near the shore, and some fisherman were pulling a small boat out of the ocean with their take of Urchin for the day. I met a couple of American surfers watching the same and checking out the waves. They pointed me to the north of the row of houses where the camping area was, and explained that Ramon would be around to collect the $5 fee later in the evening. I got settled, setup the surfboard, and hit the waves. 

Punta San Jacinto from the road about 3k out.

Closeup view of the shipwreck.

And a wider angle…
The row houses along the shore. A couple were for sale at US$ ~50,000

I found that I’ve got just enough warmth (wetsuit etc…) with me for the water temp here. The bottom is rocky, and by the time that I got my gear ready and went out, the other surfers were done and walking back to their villa. I went out for a short bit and caught a few waves, though I did not get up this time. I decided that it would be best to not surf alone in case of whacking my head etc… and went in, however satisfied that my warmth will work here.
The surf break at Shipwrecks

Dwayne up and on a wave!

A couple of sunset shots, and the nearly full moon on Tuesday evening.

Trying for an artsy shot of Byron.

Wednesday was a semi-stormy day with lots of wind and no realistic waves for someone of my (lack of) ability. I did some long walks along the beach and met up with some nice folks. Ernie comes down every few weeks from San Diego. He was heading into town, so I caught a ride with him to pick up a few things. He’s quite a character, and is all about surfing, though he wants the condition to be prime in order to be bothered.

Breakfast with a flock of pelicans nearby on the rocky beach.
One of my beach walks encountered ‘La Casa Grande’ in progress! My estimate ~6,000sf. REALLY big for down here.

Sunset on Wednesday.
It’s now Thursday and I’ll wait it out here until at least Saturday for conditions & folks to surf with. To go south in search of warmer water is a substantial undertaking that I’m not sure I want to do this trip. I’ll make that call on Saturday. For today, I’m watching the conditions and getting ready to hop in the water, while preparing for a Byron-special fish-tacos meal for my holiday meal.
Happy Thanksgiving and Hasta luego!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Baja Trip--To Joshua Tree and south!

When I left Grand Canyon I planned on a short driving day, getting a few errands done, and camping at Lake Havasu. It was a Friday, Havasu was busy and wanted $28 for a simple camp spot, and was dominated by folks with BIG power boats, ATVs, and generally did not look like a campground where a semi-hippie van would be welcome. I went on down the road and camped at a small state park just on the west side of the Colorado river.

I did see a nice sunset at Havasu!

Close to the Desert View entrance to Joshua Tree NP, you'll find the General Patton museum. Who knew?

Multiple tanks and big military vehicles at the museum too!

I've often heard that Joshua Tree is a climbers Mecca. This was the GPS screen at the exit from the I-10 to the park entrance, so I guess it's true.

I'll admit that my first impression upon driving into the park was a bit 'so what', just desert scrub. That quickly changed.

Cholla Cactus

By the acre!

This was an interesting area where granite rock is pushed up from far below and contacts other rock.

Professional explanation of the above shot...

Adult Joshua Tree

Some of the climbing mecca.

OK...climbing all over. I'll stop now.

I ended up camping semi-urban somewhere in San Diego county at an RV park. Powered up the camp batteries and filled water in anticipation of crossing into Mexico shortly. It was good to be urban as I needed to get some copies made of documents that would be good to have available in case of loss of originals in Mexico.

Last dinner in the USA was pork cutlets in an Asian / mustard sauce over the campfire. Treating myself pretty good!

Monday, November 23, 2015

Baja Trip--Grand Canyon & time with Vanajeros!

I spent the night at Homol’ovi State Park. When I woke up, the interior temperature of the van was 37⁰F.  This actually was just a warning of what was to come for the next few days. 
Before leaving, I took some time to check out some Native American ruins in the park.

I continued down the highway and took the eastern entrance into Grand Canyon South Rim and got to check out some nice scenery enroute. I learned that Arizona has a volcano that erupted only about 1,000 years ago, and got to see some cool overlooks of the Little Colorado river and its gorge. This was a much more interesting approach to the NP than the entry point directly from the south that I'd taken the last time I was here in the 1980s. In my opinion, it would be worth the extra miles even if you’re coming from the west.

Sunset Crater volcano

Little Colorado River Gorge

Little Colorado River Gorge

It was a great couple of days in Grand Canyon. While I'd hoped to be on the North Rim, that part of the park closed for the winter at the end of October. Luckily I found this out before driving there and finding a locked gate. Some did not have such luck. I got to see all the typical South Rim sites, do a little bike riding to overlooks, and most importantly got to meet up with Aidan & Madison from Vanajeros

It's always cool to meet up with fellow Vanagon folks, and these two are no exception. They are on a "dream job" assignment for Backpacker magazine, traveling the continent doing photo & video work in the parks for 9-months!

My first stop inside the park was at the Desert View overlook. Note how relatively close and visible the river is in these photos compared to those more downriver in the park. The ‘bluffs’ visible in the background of the first shot are the Vermillion Cliffs which are near the end of Glen Canyon where the river is dammed upstream of the Grand Canyon. This is where the river trips put in to run the 277 miles of the Grand.

A few miles downstream, this is the view from Lipan Point.

Grandview Point is a large viewing area where Aidan and Madison did some timelapse work at sunset more than one evening. It also has a hiking trail that goes all the way down to the river from this point. We began a hike, with no intention of going to the river and back, one morning from here. Unfortunately, the trail was just too sketchy for me to feel comfortable given the exposure involved. I went back up after about ½ mile. Aidan and Madison continued on a bit further.

A panoramic from Grandview

Madison overlooking Grandview

This is the point of the trail that I abandoned. I think that Aidan had spikes in this boots with how confident he navigated this part.

Aidan and Madison continuing on for a bit. Be safe!

Finally, here’s a photo from Mather Point, the viewing point closest to the GC Village area. If you zoom and squint real hard, you can view the bridge over the rive at Phantom Ranch, which enables the (crazy) Rim To Rim race from the north to the south rim. 

Just right and down from center is the bridge at Phantom Ranch.
 Next: Progressing south to warmer climes!