Friday, June 27, 2008

BLM Halts New Solar Power Plant Proposals

Well, this was bound to happen. The federal government is totally overwhelmed by the flood of proposals for solar power plants across the land and their response is ... (drum roll) to impose a moratorium for 2 YEARS! Those goobers!

Here's the NY Times article.

We finally have actual enthusiasm and inertia among private developers, public corporations, and power utilities, after years and years of apathy and malaise, and now our federal government calls a 2 year time-out.

This does not bode well.

Are you a lark or an owl?

I'm a lark. I learned from the Brain Rules book described in the previous post that people can be categorized (ok, labeled) based on their circadian behavior; whether they are early or late chronotypes. Simply put, based of whether they are a morning person or a night owl. I am a morning person, so I'm labeled a lark. I could not name any other morning person, among the people I know. I was beginning to think that maybe I was weird. This site has a large table outlining the differences between larks and owls.

Here's a Youtube video of John Medina explaining larks and owls.

You can take online tests to see if you're a lark or an owl: MSNBC test and BBC test.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Book Review: Brain Rules

During my latest road trip, I listened to a new audiobook: "Brain Rules" by John Medina. The full title is: Brain Rules, 12 Principles for Surviving and Thriving at Work, Home, and School. It currently has 5 (of 5) stars from 14 Amazon reviewers. Dr. Medina is a developmental molecular biologist. He is an affiliate professor of Bioengineering at the University of Washington School of Medicine and is the director of the Brain Center for Applied Learning Research at Seattle Pacific University.

I was interested in the book after reading Garr Reynolds' blog post about it. I enjoyed this book. It's read by the author and I think that helps, especially when the author is a college professor or other professional speaker. Medina's voice sounds a lot like Danny Bonaduce, who happens to have a radio talk show here in the Los Angeles area. He includes plenty of neuroscientific details about how the brain functions and how that function is influenced by our actions. A couple times the jargon was so thick that my eyes almost glazed over, and that's hard to do.

I recommend the book, or at the very least visit the book web site and watch a few of the videos.

Here are the 12 brain rules:

1) Exercise boosts brain power
2) The human brain evoloved, too.
3) Every brain is wired differently.
4) We don't pay attention to boring things.
5) Repear to remember.
6) Remember to repeat.
7) Sleep well, think well.
8) Stressed brains don't learn the same way.
9) Stimulate more of the senses.
10) Vision trumps all other senses.
11) Male and female brains are different.
12) We are powerful and natural explorers.

A companion website is offered via two URLs: and That site offers a selection of short videos that summarize the 12 rules from the book. He also has a blog here. Medina spoke at Google in April 2008.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

HVDC and the Pacific DC Intertie

Also known as Path 65, the Pacific DC Intertie is an HVDC power transmission line running 846 miles from Celilo, OR to Sylmar, CA. It supplies 3,100 MW of hydroelectric generated power to the hordes of people in the Los Angeles area. This is over 48% of LADWP's peak capacity. More information is available at this Swiss contractor site.

This line is visible for many miles from highways 14 and 395. Many of its pylons are unique in that they use one verticle structure that tapers to a point on a concrete pad, and they have only 2 arms to support the power lines. In my photo, you can see the HVDC line running along side a traditional AC line. The lines carry 500 kV DC each. According to Wikipedia, we can thank President John F. Kennedy for approving this public works project in 1961. It was completed in 1970 and has been upgraded several times since.

I took these pics while trying out my new Land Rover's "sand mode" at the Jawbone Canyon OHV area north of Mojave, CA. You can see from the photos that the AC lines generated much stronger magnetic and electric fields. The electric field meter was pegged under the AC lines. The magnetic fields measured 25 and 7 milligauss for the AC and DC lines, respectively.

The first two photos are under the HVDC line. The first shows the electric field and the second shows the magnetic field. The next two photos are taken under the AC lines and they show the electric and magnetic field strengths there.

Scientific American recently proposed that building new HVDC transmission corridors can efficiently bring solar power from the American southwest to the people in other states. This was part of their Jan 2008 cover story: A Solar Grand Plan.

Filming in Lone Pine

Lone Pine played host to some location shooting for the new Iron Man movie. I actually recognize one of the shots. If you've ever been to the Alabama Hills west of Lone Pine, then you too will recognize this shot.

Spring time is a favorite for filming around Lone Pine because of the clear skies, nice weather, and snow covered sierra peaks. This past April and May saw commercial filming for BMW, Land Rover, Nissan Xterra, Lancia (and Italian car), and a Samsung credit card (for the South Korean market).

The BMW commercial was set in Tibet and the film crew brought their own yak for filming along with Tibetans from the Los Angeles area. The yak was boarded at the rodeo grounds. No word on the Tibetans.

The Land Rover commercial was shot in about 10 different places around town. That crew brought in their own saguaro cactus made of plastic. One of the scenes involved shooting on Whitney Portal Road on the weekend, which the USFS doesn't allow due to recreational visitors and the understandable traffic control problems. They ended up shooting that scene on a Friday.

Monkey Rock

On my way back to LA, I stopped in Lone Pine for a bite to eat, as I often do. That town seems to be perfectly located for that. I took the opportunity to read parts of the local newspaper, the Territorial Review. A couple items drew my attention.

Monkey Rock is the house-sized rock with a painted face that sits on the north side of Whitney Portal Road west of town. It got its name because it was originally painted with a monkey's face. A couple weeks ago I saw that it sported a full-lipped female face with long eyelashes. It also recently had a menacing monster face. Nobody knows who's doing this. The townspeople had recently responded to a poll as to whether or not they liked Monkey Rock. Not surprisingly, the vast majority (88%) were against it. The reasons listed in the article included: it encourages graffiti; it's vandalism; it spoils the natural beauty of the area.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Drunks in Zion

The only unpleasant part of my trip to Zion NP was the two 20-something guys in the adjacent campsite. One night they apparently brought a bunch of beer back to camp and proceeded to get plastered. That's not such a big deal, I guess. However, the resulting lack of inhibition brought about hours of very loud and very profane discussion of just about any insipid topic that entered their heads. I was surprised that none of the parents from the adjacent campsites with young kids didn't approach these guys and ask them to either be quieter or clean up their language.

Otherwise, I had a great time as usual.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Peregrine Falcons Attacked Me!

OK, that's admittedly a bit of hyperbole. While on the hike described in the post below, I was buzzed many times by a pair of peregrine falcons. I'm glad they weren't really trying to attack me because it took me forever to figure out what was happening. I was happily trying to follow an animal use trail to reach the bottom of that long steep sandstone incline when I heard it. Whoooosh! Sounded odd, but I ignored it. Then again ... whoooosh! Sort of like the sound you get when you swing an object around at the end of a long string - but much much louder and longer. Then it happened a third time.

By this time I was seriously wondering what this was. I suspected that maybe it was being made by the rim of my hat rubbing against my backpack (since that sometimes makes odd sounds), and so I was attempting to reproduce it by moving my head side to side while tipping it back. Then it happened. It was unmistakable. The bird zoomed right over my head. Sheesh! I might have said something a bit more crude at the time. There were two of them. And they were close enough, as was that last pass, that I could clearly see the breast feather patterns and head shapes and wing shapes that told me they were peregrines. Amazing. Them birds can sure fly fast. I got my camera out, and this time I was hoping to be buzzed again.

Then I noticed that they had found something else to pester. They were chasing a small bird in the air above the canyon. Amazing. Sorry the photos are so poor. They didn't bother me any more after that.

Hike to Hill Above Zion Tunnel Entrance

My second day of hiking began with a fun hike up to the top of a hill that overlooks the east tunnel entrance, where the ranger stops traffic. I marked my route on the Google Earth snapshot, along with a few comments. Parts of this hike are class 4, where, if you fall, you'll die.

I started from a dirt turnoff a short distance from the tunnel entrance. From there, a trail descends into the dry creek bed that I followed south into that canyon. The 1st photo shows, off in the distance, the sandstone incline that I hiked up to get to the higher elevations. That incline is very steep at times and is very dangerous. I've been up it several times and now I think I've figured out the easiest way up and down it.

The next shot shows the great view looking back down from almost the top of that steep hill. In the distance, you can see the hill that I attempted to climb the previous day. On this trip I was trying out my new shoes on the steep sections such as this. I got myself some approach shoes called Smedge by The North Face.

The new shoes worked great! Not only did they stick very nicely to the steep slopes, but simply changing shoes several times was nice since it let my feet rest and my socks air out and I could remove the tiny and annoying brush that always gets stuck in my socks. The next photo shows how the ground is often sloped. This is why good shoes are important. If you hike with me, then you'd better not get annoyed by the lack of flat ground. In many sections, the incline is too steep to walk up, but I've always been able to find a way. Thanks to the nature of this crosscutting sandstone formation, you can survey the area and always find a couple traverse paths that will get you where you want to go. It just takes a bit of patience.

This shot gives you an idea of what it looks like up on top of those rock formations. The colors all seem to blend together and it's hard to make out shapes and features. It helps me a lot when I wear my good sunglasses. My goal is to hike out to the end of that hill that's on the left side (middle) of the shot.

The next shots were taken from the top of that hill overlooking the ranger checkpoint at the tunnel entrance. The view was terrific and the weather was great. I've been up there when it's been over 100F and so this day was a very pleasant 78F or so. I played with the 12x zoom that my camera offers, so I included a few zoomed shots as well.

I could probably read the license plates if the angle allowed it. The next shot is the view to the west. You can see the highway after it exits the tunnel on the other side and begins its switchbacks down into the valley.

I've compressed these images, but haven't toyed with the saturation or anything else. I'll gladly share the original images with anybody who asks. I sat there for about 10 minutes enjoying a snack while admiring the view. It didn't surprise me that nobody pointed up at me from below. Very few people probably look up from down there.

The next shot is looking east. If you look really closely, you can almost make out my car. I've included a zoomed photo that I took of my car from there. It made me wonder how fun it'd be to ride a hang glider or zip-line down to my car from there.

It took me 2.5 hours to reach the end, and 1.5 hours to return. On the way back to the car, I wanted to test my new shoes so, I returned to a very very steep section at the bottom of that long steep hill that had stopped me on a previous trip (causing me to make a very long traverse to get around it).

You can see in the photo how steep it is. It's also the shortest path to the dry creek bed below which leads back to the car. I was very happy that the new shoes performed well on this hill. I was able to walk straight down it. It was practically too steep to traverse it because that caused my ankle to bend dangerously far.

All in all, this was a fun hike.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

I Found An Arch

OK, it's not a "freestanding" arch. While hiking up the hill on the north side of highway 9, I looked off to the WNW and saw an arch in the side of a huge hill. At the time, I was standing roughly at the center of this Google Maps frame - near the northern edge of that slick rock area.

On my next trip to Zion, I'll hike over there and get a better look. I could even see what looked like a trail heading that direction. I later asked the people at the Backcountry Permits counter about it and they had no knowledge of it. They encouraged me to check some guy's blog - they said he hikes the east area a lot and might have named that arch. Of course, that just made me wonder ... so ... if I find an arch ... a new arch ... then I get to name it? Sorta like stars, I guess.

Hiking in Zion Natl Park

I just returned from a fun trip to Zion Natl Park. I camped two nights in South Campground and then stayed one night at Flanigans Inn. I like South Campground because it is first-come, first-served. I've stayed there enough to know which spots are bad and which ones are great. This time I was in site 50 and it was somewhere in the middle. I have no complaints.

The campground host was genuinely flattered that I had discovered his personal blog and printed out the main page. I showed it to him. It was a handy conversation starter. The final night in the hotel gave me a chance to shower off the red sandstone dirt and soak my tired legs in a hottub. I've stayed at Flanigans many times, but the quality has gone downhill, so I plan to stay elsewhere on my next trip. I might try the Majestic View Lodge down the road. Although their website doesn't show the menu for their popular steakhouse. That's probably not a good sign.

My aim for this trip was to do more off-trail hiking on the east side of the park. In particular, I wanted to hike to 2 different spots, basically for photo ops. First, I wanted to hike to the top of a hill on the north side of Highway 9 that would give me a nice view of the tunnel entrance. Then the next day I planned to hike to another spot - detailed in a subsequent blog post. The Google Earth snapshot shows the hill on the right side of the roadway. The next photo shows the hill from the south (taken the next day while hiking down there - almost where the falcons were diving at me, but that's another story).

I parked in a turnout and hiked down the highway to the next tunnel, then I left the road heading north. The photo shows the rugged terrain from the roadside. My plan was to hike up that slick rock area to the northeast corner of the hill and then hike up a ridge to near the summit. After leaving the road, I wasn't too surprised to find a path and a lot of footprints. After I got a ways up there, I took the next photo looking back down at the road.

The next shot shows the ridgeline that I would walk up toward the top. I even encountered a hefty cairn half way up that. Unfortunately I also came upon a tricky spot that slowed me down quite a bit. I was probably being way too cautious, since it'd been a while since my last adventure on these steep hills.

I was bothered by the upward curve of the rock and the lip at the top. Plus I always have a much harder time going down than going up. Many times I can just lunge past these spots, knowing that I can half-run down and slow myself on a large flat area. But this spot had no such slow-down area. It was steep, and any overrun would result in a very very painful, long fall.

I took off my pack and changed into my new approach shoes. (more about those later) Then after surveying the spot from every angle, I carefully stepped up the easiest looking section. Then I could practice coming back down. OK, maybe it wasn't all that bad. It was, however, reassuring to have practiced the descent.

I continued up the hill toward the top. But I wasn't to see the top that day. I came upon a cliff and the only apparent path was a very narrow legde that went upward. I didn't even know if it would take me very far, since it rounded the top portion and I couldn't see around that direction. Then I was stopped by a small bush. I broke off some dead branches hoping to make it small enough to step over without causing me to teeter and fall (a long way down). But that wasn't enough.

Since I lack the peak bagger gene, I didn't rip the bush out and it didn't bother me that this route didn't take me to the top. I'll return another day and try another route that I spotted along the way.

Monday, June 02, 2008

Tioga Pass is Open!

Tioga Pass opened May 21st. Now I wait for Tuolumne Meadows campground to open, then I'll be off to Yosemite. This page estimates it opening July 15. It also shows the opening dates for all the other campgrounds.

UPDATE: Tuolumne Meadows campground is open! It opened a few days ago on June 20.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Riley's Famous Cross in the Mojave Desert

A couple years ago I mentioned the cross that was erected in the Mojave desert by the old prospector, Riley Bembry, who lived out there. This story doesn't seem to go away. Here's a news story from 2007 about it that actually includes a rare photo of the cross. Here's a 2005 story about it.

Yesterday I stopped off to take these pics of the cross as it is today. They've kept it covered over the years. It appears to have a relatively new wooden cover on it. I've camped at sunrise rock many times. It's a great location for primitive camping. I've also climbed up to the top of Kessler Peak just to the east of this location.

Columbia Mountain Hike

Yesterday I took a nice scenic drive in the Mojave National Preserve. I had a list of places to visit and a few hills that I might hike up. Since it's early in the hiking season for me and so I'm not in great shape, I decided to hike up Columbia Mountain off Macedonia Canyon trail road. Basically, it's in the middle of nowhere.

I read about it in Andy Zdon's book, Desert Summits. If I was in better shape, then I would have probably hiked up Pinto Mountain, that's a little to the north east from Columbia Mountain.

The first photo shows my car parked in the wash with Columbia Mountain in the background. Note: IMO this hill is way too small to be called a "mountain." The second shot is from the summit looking back down on my car. The third is using my camera's 12x zoom.

The 4th pic is looking south west toward the Kelso dunes. The view was great, but the light breeze wasn't enough to keep the swarm of flies at bay. It took me 35 minutes to hike up and 20 minutes to descend. I slipped once on loose rocks and fell into some cactus, giving me several bleeding wounds that may take weeks to heal. When I was visiting the Hole in the Wall visitor center, the female ranger expressed concern over my bloody leg. I reassured her that I'd already sealed that one in spray-on band-aid goo so I can clean it up more later.