I’ve been in California for 5 days, yet this is my first blog post. That’s mostly due to the fact that I’ve been out of range of the internet – in one case almost 100 miles out of range! And it’s been kind of a wild time. I survived a trip to the deep ocean, a 25-mile drive through a sand track in the desert, and daytime temps well exceeding 100 F. And tomorrow it’s really going to start getting hot! But first things first…
I flew into LAX on Friday, and spent the day seeing the endangered California Gnatcatcher and fighting the absolutely horrendous LA traffic. Remind me not to complain the next time I’m grousing about sitting on the 520 bridge for a mere 90 minutes. On Saturday I got up at 4am for the drive to Santa Barbara, where I had a ticket for the Condor Express. The Condor Express is a 75-foot fast catamaran, and its task today was to take several dozen avid birders on a 14-hr trip to the deep ocean, some 100 miles into the Pacific. Way out in water two miles deep is the only place you can find birds of the deep water or pelagic ocean. I was stocked up on Dramamine, warm clothes, and saltines.
The trip was amazing. We chugged out past the Channel Islands, seeing several species of shearwaters, storm-petrels, and even a Scripp’s Murrelet (a tiny black & white seabird somewhat related to puffins). The trip was a bit rough, with 12-foot seas (which the Condor Express took at 25 knots, creating incredible spray and bow shocks). By 8am I was thoroughly soaked with salt water (my over-the-top armored and water-resistent cell phone case doesn’t seem like such a bad purchase now), and my legs were getting a workout as I tried to absorb the heaving and rolling motion of the boat. I managed to alternately munch a few saltines with one hand (you had to hang on to a railing with the other hand, or end up being thrown to the deck) and wipe the spray off my glasses while tracking an albatross with a 7-foot wingspan glide almost effortlessly past the vessel. A special treat was the appearance of a rare Red-billed Tropicbird at our “turn-around point,” over 100 miles southwest of Santa Barbara. In the category of “not a treat” was the engine trouble the boat experienced on the way home (how does one rescue 75 people who are stuck 80 miles out at sea, I wondered at one point). But we made it back safely to Santa Barbara (several hours late), and I finally made it to bed well after midnight. Still, I consider it $195 and a box of saltines well-spent. Needless to say, there are no photos to post from this trip.
After another day exploring Ventura County, it was off to Kern County, about 100 miles northeast of LA. I usually think about California as absolutely stuffed with people, but the vast tracks of land that unfolded before me reminded me that almost all of the population of this big state are crammed into a few corners of it.
I was also reminded that southeastern California is dry. Really, really dry.
Most of the rivers are dry here by late July, and deserts stretch in almost every direction. I spent some time in the high desert, in the scattered lush oases where precious water was present, and high in the mountains. Special birds here for me were Lawrence’s Goldfinch, the endangered southwest subspecies of Willow Flycatcher, and Clark’s Grebe.
Joshua trees periodically dot the landscape here. I looked for jays in the Joshua tree “forests.” At least until the heat of the day sent my scampering for shade or air conditioning (highest temp recorded this week on my car’s thermometer while it was driving down the road: 108 F). Around here it pays to get up early, go out in the late afternoon, and spend the middle of the day having a quiet siesta.
Lake Isabella (the town and the lake) was my homebase area. There’s lots of natural wonder available nearby, but not much in the way of services for visiting humans. Few gas stations, no internet, and limited food options (I did grab a good burger at Nelda’s Diner, though).
I also saw some BIG trees. Central Kern County is on the edge of Sequoia National Park. While I didn’t have time to drive all the up to see the biggest sequoias, I did see some giants that rival the big trees I’ve seen in the Hoh rainforest in Olympic National Park.
I will post more later. Tomorrow I’m traveling to the Salton Sea, where it will really be hot! Yes, Sweety, I am wearing my sunscreen.