The 25th Day of December

My personal favorite? 1990. I had just moved to California eight weeks earlier. Didn’t have a job, an apartment or any friends upon arrival; I found those first two items in short order. The friends came later, but I was never one to sit at home due to a lack of someone to hang with, and I quickly launched a program of solo excursions exploring the beauty of the Marin County coast.

A year earlier, the Loma Prieta earthquake took a big bite out of the hillside just south of Stinson Beach, dragging a large chunk of Highway 1 into the sea. The scar is still visible today on aerial views.

The area was fenced off for a long time (over two years, I believe) during the lengthy reconstruction process. The northern gate was located near the far left edge of this map. This provided a perfect spot to park the Pontiac and roam the coastal trails, free from the noise of traffic…nothing but the sounds of birds, surf and the wind. I’d often see a few other hikers in the area, but on that Christmas day, I had the whole playground to myself.

One of my favorite spots was along that ridge you see to the northwest of Gull Rock. There is a giant slab of stone that sticks straight out of the hillside like a snake’s head.

This is a nice spot for sunbathing or meditation. I enjoyed stretching out on the cool, hard rock and staring at birds soaring on the breeze and listening to the waves crashing below. It also afforded a great view of the construction area, and during work hours, I would watch the bulldozers launch truck-size boulders on a long bouncing trek down the hillside (they seemed to be moving in slow motion), ending in a titanic, silent splash in the cold water.

The weather for this holiday visit was sunny with a nice sea breeze and a temp in the mid-50s. From the snake’s head, I spent a good amount of time working my way down to the rocks at the water’s edge…

…and then moving back up another section of the cliffs; rinse, repeat. Not technical climbing by any means, just scrambling, but the faces were fairly steep and demanded careful navigation.

The crown jewel of the area is a tiny, beautiful crescent of a beach and a cove (bottom center of map) located where Lone Tree Creek empties into the Pacific.

The “trail” to reach this wonderful stretch of sand is a precipitous little adventure clogged with large rocks, scrub and poison oak and it begins right at that “1” symbol on the map.

Due in no small part to the lack of a proper trail to this beach, I never saw any other people there during my many visits. It really is a fantastic spot to have all to yourself and it was always part of my itinerary when I’d leave my apartment on Carl Street and drive to the coast.

Once the sun got low, I walked backed up the silent highway to the Pontiac, loaded a CD (something appropriate for the mood and the scenery) into the boom box in the back seat, sat on the hood of the car with my back against the windshield and watched the sun blaze into the briny blue.

At this point, the mood for food came on with authority, so it was back over the Golden Gate and into Chinatown, which was fully open for business and fairly packed. I found a table and ordered a big dish of beef chow mein.

As for this particular slice of California, it’s been more than twenty years since I saw it last. Perhaps it looks quite different today, perhaps not. Stop by if you’re in the area and tell me what you see.

Note: These photos were shot on Ektachrome film with the only working camera I owned at the time, my grandfather’s vintage Argus C3 rangefinder, along with a handheld Weston Master II exposure meter.

Isn’t That What Friends Are For?

We’re the insect life of paradise:
Crawl across leaf or among towering blades of grass
Glimpse only sometimes the amazing breadth of heaven

You’re as loved as you were
Before the strangeness swept through
Our bodies, our houses, our streets
When we could speak without codes
And light swirled around like
Wind-blown petals at our feet

I’ve been scraping little shavings off my ration of light
And I’ve formed it into a ball, and each time I pack a bit more onto it
And I make a bowl of my hands and I scoop it from its secret cache
Under a loose board in the floor
And I blow across it and I send it to you
Against those moments when
The darkness blows under your door

Isn’t that what friends are for?

Ilford SFX 200 film

Buffalo Peaks Ranch
South Park, Colorado

“Isn’t That What Friends Are For?”
by Bruce Cockburn

Victory at Trout Creek

Ever wondered what lies on the other side of this ridge? We certainly have. Reinecker Ridge looms impressively in most of our photographs taken at the Buffalo Peaks Ranch. Last year, Jay and I made a half-baked attempt to walk to the base of the ridge, but we didn’t get any farther than Trout Creek (you can read about that misadventure here). The next day, we all piled into Sarah’s Subaru and tried to reach the ridge via service roads, but we were stopped short by a locked gate. Determined that we would summit this beast in 2017, we researched our best route to the ridge by studying aerial images of the valley. What appeared to be a culvert, well to the north of last year’s route, gave us hope that we would reach our destination. Just after sunrise on a cool, windy and beautiful October morning, we set out.

The photo above (my favorite of the day) was captured by Sarah, who followed us through her lens until we were swallowed by the shadow of the mighty ridge. The next two photos also belong to Sarah. Here we are at the starting line, fueled by a hearty breakfast…

Striking eastward across the valley. The cows paid us no attention…

Even without the fence or the cattle trail to follow, our target would be easy to find…

The promised culvert! Our ticket across Trout Creek…

After hopping the final barbed-wire fence at the base of the ridge, the climbing began, as did the anticipation. What would we see on the other side? Our route from here would be improvised. As the slope steepened, we entered the last of the morning’s shadow…

Which soon disappeared as the sun found us once again…

The terrain grew rockier as we ascended. We discovered many large red boulders embedded in the ground; this one resembling a giant egg in a nest…

And this one, split in two by natural forces who knows how many thousands of years ago…

A look at the slope as we switchbacked our way to the top; Trout Creek winding below toward its union with the Middle Fork South Platte River…

Huzzah! Happy hikers at the summit…

Jay, leaning into the wind; me, trying to hold onto the phone. Once we had left the valley floor and started our climb, that morning’s hard west wind steadily grew stronger as we gained altitude, pushing us up the hill. At the summit, with the ridge out of its way so it could fly freely, I conservatively estimate the wind was sustained in excess of 60 mph; wouldn’t be surprised if it was actually higher than 70 mph. Standing still was quite difficult…

A beautiful and long-awaited view of the Buffalo Peaks Ranch…

To our knowledge, the very first time that the Rocky Mountain Land Library banner has been flown over Reinecker Ridge…

Reaching the summit was quite rewarding, but the real prize was waiting for us on the eastern side of the ridge. As we walked down a short distance, the wind continued to howl overhead, but it became little more than a gentle breeze at ground level. We stood there looking out over a vast and beautiful landscape stretching all the way to the distant mountains; no signs of civilization, no moving creatures…just hills and valleys, grass and rocks, a few scattered trees, sitting in silence under an immense blue sky. Such a powerful and sublime vista.

Jay, in the lower left corner, sitting down for a moment to take in the scenery. That bald hill in the middle distance is known as Bald Hill (as seen on this topo map; elevation 9556′). As we gazed at this wonderland, we couldn’t help but make plans for our next visit to the ranch, which will include an extended exploration of this valley and, of course, a march to the summit of Bald Hill…

With so many amazing peaks and parks and trails in Colorado, this particular spot isn’t likely on anyone’s hit list. And by the numbers, avid hikers and climbers might find it less than noteworthy. Our one-way walking distance from the ranch was just over one mile; the elevation at the summit of the ridge is 9481′ (confirmed by the topo map and the altimeter app on my phone). From the floor of the valley near Trout Creek, that’s an elevation gain of only 370′. Still, it’s no exaggeration to say that this was the most satisfying hike of my life. I’ve visited the high points of 31 states (all of them, incidentally, lower in elevation than this ridge), but treks of that nature are all rather predictable…a known destination, a well-marked and well-established trail shared with dozens of other hikers. But on this day, we were explorers. We were out there alone, blazing our own trail. And the adventure climaxed with an element of discovery—something that’s not frequently experienced in this century. We had some giddy moments up on that ridge, and I’m sure it wasn’t simply due to a lack of oxygen.

Before we began our walk back to the ranch, I recorded a video which features a 360° view from the top of the ridge. It’s a little shaky, as the wind was trying to rip the phone from my hands, but it will give you a much better look at the land to the east of the ridge (and a better appreciation for the strength of that gale). The link below will take you to Vimeo (video duration is 1:51). Enjoy the view!

Watch the video here.

Glorious Failure

I love disasters like this. This is the roll that the lab told me was too faint to scan; I scanned it anyway. An old roll of high-speed Konica SR-G 3200 color print film, with a 1993 expiration date. These first two shots show Reinecker Ridge at sunrise, as seen from the Buffalo Peaks Ranch.

I have a large supply of old film, but it’s mostly black & white and I’ve never noticed any age-related issues when shooting that stuff. Color is a different story. And when it comes out like this, I really wish I had a lot more. Time to start scouring the internet and stocking up.

A shot of Sarah at the ranch. Looks as though she has found an interdimensional portal…

Later that week, a scene from Custer, South Dakota…

And, from my final evening in South Dakota this year, two shots of the sunset along my favorite gravel road…

The image above is the last frame on the roll. Not sure where the blocking effect came from, but I love it.