Friday, January 13, 2017


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All week I'd been looking forward to taking the day off work to hike down Mt. Tam's Cataract Trail to check out the post-storm creek and waterfalls, so I drove up this morning ready for action. Even though I didn't care about catching the sunrise since the sky was so clear, I looked forward to photographing the setting full moon. I arrived at the Pantoll gate at about 7:05 a.m., expecting to zoom past the open gate in time to find a good vantage point for the moon shot. 

Alas, I turned off Panoramic Highway to find the gate closed. Figuring the ranger was uncharacteristically tardy, I turned off the engine but kept the music playing since it was a Phil Manzanera song I like called East of Echo

Around 7:15 another car pulled in behind me, and I got out of my car to talk to the driver, who'd come up with his wife for their first visit. Unfortunately, it finally began to sink in that the ranger wasn't just tardy, but that the park was actually c-l-o-s-e-d! According to a camper I talked to over by the ranger station, the gate has been closed all week. I'd seen nothing about this closure on the Mt. Tam State Park web site, nor on the Marin IJ's home page. 

When it finally sunk in that the gate was never going to open and that I was not going to be hiking to waterfalls today, I realized it's Friday the 13th. Some say Friday the 13th is a bad-luck day, but my wife says it's actually a good-luck day. (Those are willow flowers budding in the background behind the otters.)

I'd planned to drive over to Fort Cronkhite to look for river otters after hiking the waterfalls, so I cut to Plan B and drove back down the mountain to check out Rodeo Lagoon. Luckily, I'd read in the Marin IJ earlier in the week that the Bunker Road Tunnel was closed (and will remain so until May), so I drove directly up Conzelman instead of having a second surprise disappointment of the morning.

I didn't see any sign of otters on the lagoon, but I still wanted to get out of the car and do some hiking, so I set out with my camera backpack and tripod along the lagoon trail loop. I didn't get very far before my luck changed and I spotted suspicious ripples in the water. Sure enough, three river otters were working the edge of the lagoon. I doubled back toward the car and staked out a position to wait for the otters to arrive and was able to fire off a few frames as they passed by.

After they passed me and went out of view behind a lot of willows and such, I anticipated seeing them  come into view again on the other side. It was sunny over there, and there were some colorful reflections in the water from a building at the foot of the Miwok Trail. But the otters never come out the other side. I figure they ducked under the bridge to den up for a spell, possibly among a bunch of large rocks. I didn't see any sign that they exited the water to enter the quiet eastern portion of the lagoon, and I doubt they somehow leaped over the small waterfall. I stuck around awhile but didn't see the otters again.

I wasn't ready to leave though, so I took a little stroll up the Miwok Trail to admire the light. I always love the morning light on leafless willows and alders.

A lady walking her dog asked if I was photographing birds. I'd heard some crazy-sounding bird calls, maybe Virginia rails, but I couldn't even see them much less photograph them, so I was just looking for abstracts. I was lucky to have the warm morning sun making everything so beautiful.

Although I did keep my eyes peeled for bobcats or coyotes on the nearby hillside, it was nice to just settle down and scout for compositions of subjects that aren't "things," like bobcats or mushrooms, but rather plays of light, shapes, lines, and colors.

I liked this stretch of willows so much I shot it as a panorama, although I cropped it down to standard dimensions for the blog.

I don't know what that crimson-branched bush is. There are non-native fruit trees and such in this area, so I hesitate to guess. I did see a couple flowering currant bushes, and quite a bit of the poison oak was already leafing out again. I'd thought I might find fetid adder's tongue on the Cataract Trail, but I didn't get the chance. 

Who knows if they'll open the Pantoll gate tomorrow. I just called the park information number (at 2:40 p.m. on Friday) and after it rang awhile, the standard recorded message came on, which was useless. If you Google "friends of mt. tam", the little Google box on the side says "Park Closed" in red, but if you actually go to the Friends web site the most recent "Ranger's Update" is from Jan. 9 and is noncommittal about closures. So somehow Google is more useful in that regard than either the Friends or the State Park web sites.

I haven't tried embedding a YouTube video in Blogger before. I wanted it to be larger than the usual embedded size. Here's the link to the video on YouTube.

I went back to the car and walked over to the bridge across Rodeo Lagoon to scout for otters, but there was still no sign of them, so I drove down to the beach and walked out on the bridge. A huge mat of sea foam was roiling on the water as freshwater from the lagoon tried to flow toward the ocean which was sending a few big waves up onto the beach and creating a counter-current in the lagoon. The movement of the foam was entrancing, like staring into a kind of kaleidoscope. If you ever wondered about the physics of foam, you might be surprised to find it so mysterious.

My luck held out as I drove home when another favorite mellow song came on, Sopwith Camel's Orange Peel. The song is kind of magical, like my wife, who I'd just bought a bunch of lavendar-colored roses for while doing my grocery shopping on the way home, thankful for being such a lucky guy. 

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  1. And we are so lucky to have YOU! Lee Ellen Shoemaker AKA The Tunnel Singer

    1. Thank you, Ellen! I just discovered that blog comments have been going into my gmail social tab, which I stopped checking after deleting my twitter account.