Wednesday, April 23, 2014


Summerland, California: an intriguing name, isn't it? All of California is a summer land. Imagine walking down the hill from the cliffs, then walking on the sandy beaches with waves bringing in sparkling foam and rafts of kelp. These are pictures of Lookout Park in Summerland near Santa Barbara. I could see it from the train on Monday, and explored the beach a bit yesterday.

In the park, I found this marker:

The underwater oilfields near Santa Barbara are a counterpart to the idyllic scenery and the combination of wealth and laid-back hippie lifestyles. Summerland's original founders were spiritualists in the 19th century tradition, but their idealism was trounced by oil drilling both onshore and offshore within a few years of their arrival. The current community of around 1500 people has antique shops and beautiful houses on one side of the freeway/railroad line, beach parks and incredible beach-front mansions on the cliffs on the other side, and oil wells on the horizon.

The conflict between oil and natural beauty is noticeable all along the coast. In the early 20th century oil wells stood quite close to the area of luxury homes in Santa Barbara where we are renting an apartment now, mainly replaced by offshore drilling. The 1969 record-breaking oil spill on a platform near the Santa Barbara harbor killed much wildlife. This catastrophe inspired much anti-drilling sentiment and law. And now at the farmers' market every week, some people wear anti-fracking tee shirts and some solicit signatures on anti-fracking petitions -- the latest threat to the beautiful environment.

Blobs of tar appear on all the beaches; the oil companies claim they are a natural result of all the offshore oil, while environmentalists think they are the result of the oil wells. If you are future-oriented you carry baby oil and rags or other materials for removing tar from your feet after beach walks.

Offshore oil well near Summerland
One thought: oil enables the huge car culture throughout California and the US. No doubt: there's a constant conflict here and everywhere. Just not always so iconic.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Del Mar to Santa Barbara

San Elijo Lagoon from the train

Mission San Juan Capistrano from the train 

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Birding with Ed

Birding at San Elijo Lagoon: Ed and Phyllis -- our weekend hosts in Del Mar, CA,
and (at right, in black) a random fellow birdwatcher.
Len and Ed -- an avid birdwatcher -- heading down the path towards the San Elijo Lagoon.
Ed has taken us to all his best birding spots. Len will be posting photos on Flickr.
I'm sure Len's photos of the thrasher are better than this one
that I took. 
Near the path
Egret in the San Diego River, another birding destination 
San Diego River near Sea World: lots of birds like black skimmers
Photographing the birds -- Phyllis, Ed, Len
Sea lavender near the mouth of the San Diego River

Saturday, April 19, 2014

On the Train

From our trip yesterday, Santa Barbara to Del Mar just north of San Diego:
the Santa Barbara train station and breakfast on the train, provided for business class passengers.
Views from the train, including industrial areas,  freight-rail yards, the beach,
the San Clemente Pier, and the nuclear power station.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

More Aromas of Santa Barbara

Rosemary grows like a weed... as do other herbs de Provence.
Eucalyptus and the Pacific, again.
Lavender and many other herbs at the farmers' market

Monday, April 14, 2014

Santa Barbara

We have now been in Santa Barbara for a week, and I've posted several food-themed posts over at We've been doing lots of birdwatching, eating well, and enjoying the beautiful mountains, lakes, beaches, and the town. 

Last night we ate at the Enterprise Fish Co.
It's what I think of as a traditional California fish restaurant,
and has been in business for around 35 years. 
The building is kind of old and semi-industrial: seems once to have been a laundry.
Aromas of garlic mussels, freshly sauteed fish, and lobster are all enticing.
It's an aromatic environment.
This plant, which grows along trails everywhere, smells like dill and sage.
I guess I could try to identify it, but I like mysteries.
Here's a fellow birdwatcher enjoying Lake Los Carneros.
We walked around the lake (level dangerously low) looking at birds.
It smells of dust, herbs, and trees. 
Eucalyptus has an overpowering aroma, which always makes me think of California.
Kelp and the smell of the ocean are the other pure California aromas.
Arroyo-Burro Beach, also called "Dog Beach" because no leashes are required.
Seaweed, birds, and mussels on the rocks must also contribute
to the aromas of the beach.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Condors in Grand Canyon National Park

Our main activity during our one full day at Grand Canyon National Park last Friday was enjoying the views of the canyon, using the shuttle bus to get to the rim trail for a series of hikes. Then in the late afternoon, we listened to the park ranger's scheduled presentation about the California condor. A small number of condors have successfully been introduced into the park – they were once native here, but became extinct in Arizona in the 1920s. The park presents a very large, protected, and appropriate habitat for these huge birds.

Park Ranger demonstrating the use of a condor puppet from
the captive breeding program. Seeing the puppet rather than a person
prevents the condor chicks from imprinting on humans and
becoming unable to adapt later to life in the wild.
The canyon’s 70 condors, which fly as far as Zion National Park and beyond, are descendants of the 22 condors that survived in California in the 1980s. These were taken into protective custody and encouraged to breed in several zoo programs. Currently, we learned from our ranger, a total of 420 condors survive. Besides those re-introduced into the wild in Arizona and California, a majority remain in zoos and sanctuaries. 

The ranger talk included several suggestions about helping maintain and improve the survival of the condor. Lead poisoning from bullets in the carcasses or discarded entrails of hunted deer and other animals presents a continuing danger to carrion-eating species. Encouraging hunters to use copper bullets instead of lead is one of the principal ways to protect the released birds and help them once again become truly wild.

Unfortunately for us, it wasn’t warm enough during our stay for the Grand Canyon condors to come out of their caves and show themselves to us tourists. Len and I saw one of the Grand Canyon introduced condors a couple of years ago at the North Rim. And many years ago we saw two of the last truly wild members of this still-endangered species.

Early morning on one of the rim trails

Monday, April 07, 2014

Deer and Elk

Most of the big animals we saw were right by the road.
These mule deer didn't mind grazing beside a big intersection
with lots of tour buses that say "Grand Canyon."
These two deer's ears spread wide because they heard me sneeze as I was
about to take the photo. Why not sneeze?
Just before we left Grand Canyon we took a long and beautiful walk along the rim trail.
An elk walked right onto the trail -- he didn't know the rule about staying 50 feet from people.

Elk near a parking lot in the early evening -- we saw them as we were walking away from where we had dinner.

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Albuquerque to Grand Canyon: Spring Back to Winter

April 3, 2014 -- post delayed due to no wireless internet or time for it while at the Grand Canyon for 2 nights! But now, here it is, as I wrote it down Thursday night.

West of Albuquerque as we drove onward this morning, the mountains were unimaginably beautiful. We came over a pass and I saw spectacular deep red cliffs, deep blue-green trees, and areas of vivid white snow, all illuminated by the rising sun. For a moment, I couldn’t grasp what I was seeing. Then: breathless.

On the highest pass we saw police and tow trucks working to clear a number of vehicles that had obviously slipped off the road earlier in the morning. Luckily, the pavement was quite safe by the time we drove by.

Just past the New Mexico-Arizona border we stopped at a landscaped rest area where all the flowering trees had pink blossoms drooping under deep snow. Bushes and yucca plants were outlined in snow. We definitely regressed from spring back to winter today.

Along the road in the mountains we saw four or five extremely long container trains with containers stacked two high on most of the cars. We also saw a couple of conventional freight trains. Sometimes you can’t see to the end of the train, they are so long.

The tracks parallel highway 40 – old route 66, as one is reminded repeatedly by tourist attractions memorializing the old highway. I don’t miss it at all: four lanes are much better than two!

Thanks to another time change, we arrived at the Grand Canyon by 2 PM and spent the afternoon looking into the canyon and birdwatching in the Kaibab National Forest (without much luck). The area near the visitor center is amazingly crowded despite being off season, though turnoffs along the road east were quite open. Quite a bit of the park is off-limits to private cars – you have to take a shuttle bus. 

We’re staying in the Yavapai Lodge, which consists of a number of single-story buildings like an old motel. The room is quite nice and we’re glad to be right in the park. 

On April 4, we spent the entire day in the park, and now we have made it to Ontario, California. I'll be adding more posts about each of these days and what we have seen, eaten, and done. We've definitely seen winter and spring alternating: our highest temperature on the trip was 80 degrees registered on the car thermometer and 22 degrees reported overnight at Grand Canyon.

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Spring has come to Albuquerque

Traveling west from Oklahoma City today we enjoyed the changing scenery. Farmland and wind farms in western Oklahoma, the boring and very flat Texas panhandle including feedlots, and the desert and mountains of New Mexico. In Albuquerque, it's spring.

The sun was shining in the Plaza in Old Town.

Historic San Felipe church in the Plaza
Even the Mexican curio shops are full of sunshine!
Real spring flowers in bloom in the courtyards with tourist shops.

Wall paintings and benches in sun-filled courtyards
Around an hour before we made it to Albuquerque we changed drivers at a super-touristy roadside attraction called "Cline's Corners." (If you've read American Gods by Neil Gaiman, it's that kind of place, only bigger.) The copied ceramic story-teller statues and fake Indian pots all made in China, the junky copies of Indian jewelry and cheap imitation Indian blankets were depressing, but this was the worst:
"Medicine Man Speaks -- $1.00"
I really could not believe I was seeing this in the twenty-first century! I thought they got rid of this kind of thing long ago.