Of course, Donner Pass and Donner Lake are named for the Donner Party. If you are not familiar with American history, this was a group heading west that got trapped in the pass in winter and many did not make it out alive. Those that survived had to do some harsh things to make it. The tale is a sad one and there is a memorial to the party near one end of the lake at the location in which they camped. There is a visitors’ center and a number of trails. The focal point is a large memorial. The base of the memorial is as high as the snow was reportedly deep that winter. It is a lot of snow! On top is a group of hardy travelers. When you think what people went through to get across the country in those days, they were truly hardy types.
I have shot Ano Nuevo Island a few times on previous visits. It is out of bounds to visitors and very popular with the wildlife. In the past, it has been a bit gray or misty and not so easy to get a good shot of. On this visit, the conditions were very nice and I got some of the better shots I have managed there. It certainly looks like a place that it would be pretty cool to explore.
Earlier in the year, I took a trip to Ano Nuevo State Park to photograph the elephant seals. This was a photo tour early in the morning in the middle of the mating season and you can read more about it here. Nancy and I decided to make a second trip out there more recently. This was a normal day at the park but there were plenty of males back on the beaches including both immature ones and some of the larger guys.
Most of the action was taking place on the beach furthest from the center. While a few seals were dozing on the beaches closer in, a lot had gathered to play. They were sparring both on the beach and in the water. Initially, it looked as if they were fighting but, as you watched further, it became clear that they were really going through the motions. Having seen the real fights, there was none of the true violence in these encounters. Moreover, one of the docents pointed out that males of very different stature were sparring with each other. The large males would never even bother to engage the smaller males if it were for real. However, in this environment, they were all just getting some practice in.
Out in the bay is an island that is no longer occupied by humans. I made a panorama of it but I was hoping to see some of the wildlife that is out there. At that time of year, Steller sea lions were out on the island. Sadly, they rarely come ashore but the males of this species are absolutely huge. We could actually see the outline of some of them out on the island. They looked like huge boulders but then you could make out their shape. Quite an impressive creature! I also shot some video while I was there and you can see the result of that below.
Having trekked along the trails on one side of Mt Diablo, we decided to finish the day off by heading to the summit. This time we took a more motorized form of transportation and drove up there. We passed many cyclists heading the same way how all made me feel a bit guilty. I had just finished a hike, though, so didn’t feel quite so bad about my lazy route to the top.
The summit has a tower and lookout station which we took a look around. The views were very good, even if the haze was a bit of a problem further away. We aren’t terribly familiar with all of the area yet so we spent some time trying to work out exactly where we were in relation to the places we do know. It is a long drive to the top but worth doing. Soon the Amgen Tour of California will be making the climb too. I suspect they will head up there at a fair old pace!
We may have lived in Dublin for over six months now but, for some reason, we had yet to go and stretch our legs on Mt Diablo. Such a large mountain so close to us, it is hard to miss when you are in this area but we hadn’t got around to going there. It was time for a change and time to get a good hike in since we haven’t been out for a while.
Our hike started out in Clayton on the opposite side of the mountain from us. It wasn’t a terribly long hike since we haven’t exactly been keeping in shape. However, while it was only just under 6 miles, the terrain was a bit more interesting than we had expected. We certainly got some climbing in as well as some descents that had footing that took a little practice to master. The aim was to get to a trail that loops around some falls. We weren’t expecting to see anything at the falls since it has been a very dry winter but they were still flowing although not with any great force. The top of the valley provided a great view of the land below as well as the terrain around the falls and Mt Diablo above us.
It is hard to give a sense of scale in images like this. As I look at them, it reminds me of how cool it looks but also of how an image on the screed is no reflection of the grand vista I saw at the time. It was really lovely even if we were a bit hot and tired by the end of it. It will be interesting to see it at different times of year.
Sometimes you find yourself doing something that you hadn’t planned but that turns out to be far more interesting than you had envisaged. That is certainly the case with Bale Grist Mill. We were taking a day trip up to Napa Valley with my Mum while she was staying. As we drove down towards St Helena, Nancy remembered seeing something about this place so, as we came upon it, we decided to stop in and have a look around.
It is a restored water mill that is used for grinding wheat and corn. It is a state park controlled location with a great selection of volunteers helping to keep the place working. The mill wheel is a huge affair fed by an aqueduct that used to come from the mill ponds up the hill. Now they are under someone else’s control so the aqueduct has been shorted and they feed it with water in a continuous cycle. Not quite the same thing but nothing to complain about.
Inside the mill, they give a great tour explaining the history of the mill itself and the guy it is named for. They demonstrate how the farmers’ crop would be delivered and the processes it would go through to clean it, grind it and then hand it back to the farmer. All of this culminates in a live demonstration of the grinding process. The mill wheel drives a series of belts and gear throughout the mill that control all of the processes whether it is the cleaning of the grain, the grinding, the elevators to move it around or the sifting that separates the different grades of milled product. You get to see them grind some corn (as it was when we were there) and adjust the stones to get just the right texture of product.
Interestingly, while they sell the flour or polenta in the mill, they mark it as not fit for human consumption. Since there is bare wood in the process rather than stainless steel everywhere and they let public members watch it being ground, they do not conform to the food hygiene laws. Therefore, they cannot sell it as food. That does not, of course, stop you from using it as food. We bought some flour which has made some excellent bread. The volunteers all eat it too so you can make your own choice if you visit.