Thursday, November 05, 2009

New York to Toronto

August 15, 2009

Crown Point lighthouse

Following about a week at home, I again set out. Herself and I had planned several days in Toronto; the plan was that I would drive and she would fly. I left on August 15, and drove to Crown Point, New York, only 15 miles or so from Ticonderoga, where I was recently.

Besides being on beautiful Lake Champlain, Crown Point is the site of more colonial history. It is the site of two ruined forts: Fort St. Frédéric, constructed by the French in the 1730s, and Fort Crown Point, built by the British in 1759, late in the French and Indian War. Neither fort was ever attacked militarily; both forts were largely destroyed by defenders before withdrawing from them before superior forces, although buildings in Fort Crown Point were destroyed by fire in 1773. The remains of both forts are now part of a New York state historical site, and there is an attached campground, where I spent the night. The area's first European explorer was Samuel de Champlain, who modestly named the lake for himself. On the tercentenary of his exploration, a lighthouse was erected at Crown Point to mark the occasion. It features a sculpture depicting Champlain and his native (probably Huron) guide, as well as a small bronze by Auguste Rodin, representing France.

The following day was spent in a somewhat leisurely drive across the center of the Adirondack Mountains to Watertown, and then north to Cape Vincent, where Horne's ferry took me to the Canadian Wolfe Island, and another took me to Kingston, Ontario. A drive along the Loyalist Highway (so named because the area was settled during and after the Revolution by colonists Loyal to the Crown) brought me to Carrying Place, Ontario, where I pitched my tent in a commercial campground otherwise full of RVs semi-permanently ensconced in their lots.

On the morning of August 17, I drove to the Toronto airport and picked Herself up, after which we made our way to the hotel in the city.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Vermont: High peaks of the Green Mountains

August 8, 2009

The next morning, after visiting Mount Defiance on the New York side, I crossed over Lake Champlain into Vermont at the Ticonderoga ferry (which has recently been overwhelmed by traffic due to the closure of the Lake Champlain Bridge at Crown Point). From there I drove to the Mount Independence State Historic Site, where I went for a lovely hike through the woods, reading the occasional interpretive sign about the military uses and history of the archaeology of the area. I then drove on to the Hubbardton Battlefield State Historic Site, continuing the theme of Revolutionary War history.

From there, after pausing in Middlebury, Vermont for lunch and a stroll through the farmer's market, I made my way back into the Green Mountains and Lincoln Gap, where I left the car and took to my feet for an overnight backpack.

The portion of the Long Trail I embarked on is known as the Monroe Skyline, after one of the prime movers behind the establishment of the Long Trail. There are two peaks over 4,000 feet on this section, and Mount Abraham was about 3 miles from the gap. Even though it is just over 4,000 feet, it has a bare summit with 360-degree views, including spectacular views of Lake Champlain to the west. After stopping at the summit for a rest, I hiked about 10 minutes further along the trail, and located a suitable spot off the trail to pitch my tent. After an early dinner I climbed back to the summit to observe the sunset.

August 9, 2009

Leaving most of my gear near my campsite, I got an early start, and hiked further along the ridge until I reached the summit of Mount Ellen. There are a number of intervening peaks that are only modest bumps above the ridgeline, and the upper ends of ski lifts punctuate the ridge and provide opportunities for views. Shortly after heading on my way back from Mount Ellen, the sky began to cloud over; by the time I recovered my gear and got back to the top of Mount Abraham, the view had noticeably disappeared...

I returned to my car by early afternoon, and headed off for Waterbury, Vermont, where I made myself comfortable at the campground of the Little River State Park.

August 10, 2009

My plan for this day was to enjoy a climb of Vermont's second-highest peak, Camel's Hump. While I succeeded in climbing it, the weather was difficult, and the higher reaches were entirely socked in with clouds and subjected to period rain. This put a definite damper in Bear's desire to take pictures, and made the mountain's supposedly great views less than stellar.

The weather was somewhat better down in the valley. I took a leisurely drive south until I reached Killington, where I set up camp at Gifford Woods State Park, and dried out my gear.

August 11, 2009

While I had originally contemplated attacking Mount Killington, the day hike seemed a bit long to me, and it was necessary for me to return home, so I abandoned that idea and made tracks for home.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

New York: Saratoga and Ticonderoga

August 7, 2009

Having lately cultivated an interest in early American history, I decided to visit Saratoga National Historical Park and Fort Ticonderoga, scenes of colonial and Revolutionary War events.

Saratoga was the scene of a pivotal series of battles in 1777 that resulted in the formal entry of France into the American Revolutionary War (it had already been "covertly" supporting the independence movement). While the Americans had management issues in the defending army, they were able to raise both army and militia forces to defeat a British army coming from Quebec. (Pictured at right: Philip Schuyler, who led the army until August 1777, Horatio Gates, who led during the key battles, and Daniel Morgan, whose men played an important role. Not pictured, since there is no statue, is Benedict Arnold, whose valor at Saratoga on behalf of the Americans was overshadowed by his treacherous change of sides in 1780. Arnold is commemorated at Saratoga by the Boot Monument, which honors his left leg, which was severely injured in the second battle.) The national park encompasses the battlefield and the location about 10 miles to the north where John Burgoyne's army eventually surrendered. While I enjoyed a beautiful morning exploring the area, I personally find historic battlefield photos unininspiring, hence none here...

From Saratoga it's a drive north along the Hudson to Glens Falls, and then along Lake George to the small town of Ticonderoga. While portions of the NY Route 9N are scenic, the views along the southern reaches of the lake are constrained by somewhat intensive resort buildup. The fort is best known for being the scene of action both during the Revolution and the French and Indian War, when a large, incompetently-led British army was defeated by a French defense about 25% of its size. Due to strategic issues with the fort's location (it is overlooked by hills where cannons can easily be placed to fire into it), the fort itself was never actually directly attacked either in that battle, or during the 1777 campaign, when the defending Americans withdrew to avoid being surrounded and captured.

Following an afternoon at Fort Ticonderoga, which included a demonstration of musket and cannon fire, I camped at the nearby Rogers Rock Campground.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Vermont: Bennington, Stratton Mountain

August 5, 2009

This day began a six-day trip through southern Vermont and adjacent portions of New York State. My goals were two-fold: first, to explore the greener parts of Vermont, and second, to visit a few historically interesting American Revolutionary War sites.

My first goal after departing the home turf was the southern Green Mountains, where I planned to camp on the first night. I drove a leisurely route to Bennington, Vermont, where I had a nice lunch at the Madison Brewery Company.

Unbeknownst to me until I got there, Bennington was in the middle of celebrating Moosefest, marked by placing colorfully-decorated fiberglass moose around town. I did not seek all of them out, but a few caught Bear's interest.

Eventually we escaped the clutches of the moose-infested town and made our way into the mountains, where I occupied one of the road-side campsites on the Kelly Stand Road. This now-depopulated area was once the site of a speech by Daniel Webster attended by 15,000 people.

August 6, 2009

After an uneventful night, I made my way to the local trailhead for the Long Trail and headed north to the summit of Stratton Mountain (which is probably best known for having a ski area on it. It was a beautiful day, and the summit tower had stupendous views in all directions. I also chatted with other hikers, some of whom were through-hiking either the Long Trail or the Appalachian Trail. One of them was kind enough to leave us with a few photos.

As the hike to the summit was not an overly difficult one, I returned to the car by early afternoon, and headed west. Crossing into New York, I checked into a commercial campground on the Batten Kill River for the night.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Los Angeles

Los Angeles, March 7-9

I drove from Carrizo Plain over to I-5, which brought me over the Tejon Pass to the Castaic Lake State Recreation Area, just north of the San Fernando Valley. The lake is one terminus of the California Aqueduct, which supplies much of the Los Angeles area with drinking water. The recreation area serves a lot of fishermen and day-trippers, but there is camping (with amenities, but still no shower, for those keeping score), and I stayed two nights.

May 8 I spent at the Getty Museum, which did not exist when I was last in Los Angeles in 1985. Any semi-avid museum-goer should come here; it is well worth the time. One interesting piece of outdoor art reminded me of another that is closer to home -- see adjacent pictures and their floating tips if you're confused.

Tne next day I went to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which is also a highly worthwhile place to visit. (I also looked in the La Brea Tar Pits on the grounds; there was no active digging going on.) That evening I checked into the Custom Hotel, a somewhat trendy-looking hotel not far from LAX, as I had an early flight the following morning. In the evening I went to Westwood, to revisit some of my old stomping ground; it had clearly changed significantly.

The hotel lobby featured an unusual type of, umm, seating? Play objects? You tell me...

The return flight was uneventful. Home again!

Friday, July 24, 2009

Carrizo Plain

Friday, March 6

The drive between Pinnacles and Carrizo Plain National Monument was a rural scenic drive, continuing up the San Benito River valley. After pausing in Paso Robles for supplies and lunch, I arrived at Carrizo Plain in early afternoon.

Carrizo Plain National Monument encompasses the largest surviving grassland in California. Much of its recent history includes ranching and farming, uses that have been significantly reduced due to California's long-running drought. The monument is administered by a partnership between a number of public and private agencies, led by the federal Bureau of Land Management and the Nature Conservancy. It has minimal services, consisting of a small visitors center. There is no publicly-available potable water anywhere within its bounds, something its official website does not emphasize strongly enough; the nearest town where you might acquire some is more than 20 miles away. There are also relatively few sources of non-potable water, due to the drought. Fortunately, I had enough water for my needs in the car; had I wanted to stay more than the roughly 24 hours I spent there, I would have needed more.

The infrastructure of the monument is minimal. One road, Soda Lake Road, runs the length of the park, and is generally passable by passenger vehicles, although it may not be so if it rains. I did drive the rental car on some of the side roads, and experienced occasional scraping on the underside of the car. Some notable portions of the park are only accessible if you have a high-clearance vehicle.

The main things that I saw at Carrizo Plain were a lot of grass, big sky, Soda Lake, and fleeting views of smaller wildlife. After an uneventful if unexpectedy chilly night, I headed south toward Los Angeles the next afternoon.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Pinnacles and condors

Thursday, March 5. It's still raining, but the forecast is looking up a bit. I head out of Monterey, aiming for the valley that represents the San Andreas Fault in this part of California. While I'm not actually looking to explore the fault, we'll get to that in the next post.

After passing through Salinas, I head northeast to pick up California Route 25, which goes south, up the San Benito River valley, toward the eastern entrance of Pinnacles National Monument. In addition to some fairly nice scenery, Pinnacles is one of the areas where California condors are released, and they are frequently seen there.

Arriving early in the afternoon, I chose a campsite in the otherwise-empty campground, and headed up into the pinnacle area. My way up was via Bear Gulch, so my traveling companion insisted on being photographed there.

When I reached the highest sections of the trail, I had some views to the wilder western side of the monument, and also apparently spooked some condors. They were apparently shy, and I was not able to get any good in-flight pictures.

Taking pictures was also affected by the weather, which turned intermittently rainy. This did not stop me from getting some really nice relatively-close-up pictures of one fellow who parked himself on a rock about 105 feet off the trail on the way down.

By the time I got back to the campground, another two spots (out of about 50) were occupied -- we were all well separated, and serenaded by a flock of wild turkey, who eluded effective photography.

The next morning I hiked out again, this time to explore an area known as The Balcony, so named because the discolored runoff trenches on the rockface sort of make it look like a giant balcony. Along the way I saw some Steller's jays. The trail took me through areas undergoing ecological restoration. It turns out that when the Civilian Conservation Corps worked on the park in the 1930s, some of their roadworks interfered with the floodplains of one stream, resulting in changes to the ecosystem that are now slowly being remedied.

That afternoon I headed off and drove south, still parallelling the San Andreas Fault.