Friday, September 29, 2017

San Luis Obispo

On our way south to Santa Barbara we stopped overnight in San Luis Obispo. We stayed at the Garden Street Inn - a small hotel close to downtown.

It's not obvious if you just walk down the main street, but there is a creek just behind and a number of the restaurants have patios overlooking the creek - definitely the place to eat lunch on a nice day. Our favorite is Novo Restaurant. We had supper (tapas) at Luna Red.

Shelley at lunch at Novo

The next morning we checked out the Botanical Gardens - still a work in progress, but nice nonetheless.

There were some "regular" flowers:


as well as some more unusual plants:




backlit flowers

I managed to catch one of the fast moving hummingbirds:

hummingbird at flower

Turkey vultures soared overhead (much better fliers than us!) and one swooped by, perhaps to check us out.

Turkey vulture

And lots of lizards (Western Fence Lizards?) scurried about:


See all 21 photos

Wednesday, September 27, 2017


After paragliding at Dunlap we spent a relaxing overnight at Sequoia View B&B at Cedar View Winery. We stumbled across this place a few years ago on another road trip and it coincidentally was close to Dunlap. They only have three suites so it's not a big place, but it's nice overlooking the vineyards. The tasting room is only open on the weekends but we were still able to buy a bottle of their wine to enjoy on the terrace.  We looked forward to eating at the nearby Schoolhouse Restaurant again but unfortunately it was closed on the day of the week we were there. (And there's not much else in the way of interesting restaurants in this rural location.)


There were lots of birds around like these lark sparrows.

Lark Sparrow

This little bird had a bit of a struggle eating a large dragonfly.

bird caught dragonfly

Although it wasn't really on our route, we decided to take a day and drive through Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Parks. I love the big trees.  Although they're quite different trees, redwoods and sequoias often get mixed up. Coastal redwoods grow near the coast, they're the tallest trees in the world. Inland, where we were, there are giant sequoias, which are the largest in volume.

We drove around the loop by Hume lake and got some great views of Kings Canyon.

Kings Canyon

As well as the big scenery, there were also butterflies.


butterfly (skipper?)

And reflections in Hume Lake.


We stopped (as we did on our last visit) to hike in Redwood Canyon (a confusing name, since it contains giant sequoias, not redwoods). It doesn't have the record holding trees like Sherman and Grant, but it still has amazing trees, in a much more natural setting, with a lot less people.

It's always hard to capture the size of these trees.

giant sequoias

giant sequoias

Here's a young tree in front of a giant.

giant sequoias

There have been some controlled fires in this area, leaving many of the trees with charred parts. Their thick bark protects them from smaller fires. And their seeds need the fire to germinate.

There were various butterflies, but they weren't very cooperative for photography!

California sister butterfly

And a few flowers managing to live on the mostly shaded forest floor.

flowers (Indian Paintbrush?)

I don't recall seeing these multicolored round seeds/fruits before. They were about the size of golf balls.

colorful fruit/seeds

We stopped for supper at the Wuksachi Lodge. Before supper we did another short hike to a nearby stream where the evening light was good for reflections.


We'd planned to camp at the Buckeye Flat Campground where we'd stayed before but it turned out to be full. Luckily there was space at the nearby Potwisha Campground which was also quite nice.

Monday, September 25, 2017

Flying Dunlap

People on our SIV course recommended flying at a mountain site near Dunlap, California so after Monterey we headed over there. A San Francisco instructor, Jeff Greenbaum, was going to be there with a group so we could get a briefing on the site.

We got in two flights a day, about 11am and 5pm, avoiding the hottest part of the day when the thermals can get too strong (for us). I was happy to average about an hour per flight, some longer, some shorter. The thermals weren't that strong but it was a little rough. The locals call it the "Dunlap slap". I had a good sized asymmetric (one side) collapse which unusually didn't come out right away and I had time to look up and watch it. Having just come from our SIV clinic it wasn't too scary. I just went hands up, flew straight, and waited for it to open.

After the Sunday morning flight the other pilots left for the drive back to San Francisco and Shelley and I stayed for a couple more flights on our own. Thankfully, Greg, who lives at the site, was there to drive us up to launch.

I had my best flight Monday morning. It wasn't the longest flight time, but I managed to get up high above launch (6500 ft) and go across the valley. I hoped for some thermals out in the valley, but I didn't get anything more than a few bumps and it was just a long glide. It was funny because every time I would put on my speed bar (to cross quicker), then I'd get some bumps and let it off. I thought even if I didn't get any thermals across the valley, for sure the mountain on the other side would have some. But I just kept sinking. I still think there must have been thermals somewhere on that mountain, but I didn't find them. One of the other pilots had pointed out a possible landing area nearby so I kept that in sight as I crossed the gap to the next mountain. (I didn't have enough height at this point to make it back to the main landing area.) Thankfully, just after I crossed the gap I picked up a thermal and managed to climb back up to where I could easily make it to the main LZ. I probably had enough to climb back up to the main launch ridge, but it was getting a bit strong so I just cruised back to land. I was happy with my mini "cross country" (XC) flight. Any kind of flying is great, but I especially like the adventure of going somewhere rather than just flying around one site.

As I came in to land I realized I was going to be very close to the spot landing target, but I was a few feet too high. I pulled my brakes to flare and I was close enough that I reached out a foot and touched the target. However, that put me off balance and you can see the resulting stumble in Shelley's video of me landing. You can also hear me laugh at my own antics. At least I stayed on my feet!

I happened to record this flight and I pulled out a few clips to give an idea of the flight and the scenery.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Between Flying

The landing zone and camping at Dunlap is next to a pond which had turtles and frogs and birds.


I noticed the first frogs as they jumped into the water when I approached the shore. Then I noticed eyes sticking out of the water.


I spotted one that hadn't jumped in the water which was how I identified them.


Bullfrogs are native to eastern North America but they have been introduced into a wider range where they are often considered invasive species since they out compete native species. They are common in California. They are also harvested for food (frog's legs) in some places. They can grow up to 8 inches and almost 2 lbs!

The most common birds on the pond were coots, although there were also Canada geese.

Coot and reflections

And some nice reflections in the morning light.

pond reflections

pond reflections

Away from the pond Western Fence Lizards (aka "bluebellies" for the obvious reason) were common.

fence lizard

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Why did the tarantula cross the road?

Driving on a back road we saw something crossing and Shelley stopped the car. She thought it might be a big beetle but it turned out to be a large spider. I think it was a California tarantula.

tarantula spider

I grabbed my camera and jumped out of the car. I ran around and blocked its path so it wouldn't disappear into the ditch.

It was about 2 or 3 inches across. I got Shelley to put her foot near it to give an idea of scale. Understandably, she didn't want to get too close!

tarantula spider

Tarantula spiders are mostly nocturnal so you don't often see them. But in the fall the mature males (7 to 10 years old) wander around looking for females. The males die soon after mating but the females can live up to 25 years.

They are not usually aggressive and even if they do bite it's like a bee sting.

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Carmel Mission

Looking for somewhere to stay close to the Monterey Bay Aquarium and Sand City we ended up in Carmel (at Vendange) which turned out to be a good choice. Monterey is quite touristy with the aquarium and Cannery Row (of Steinbeck fame). Carmel was quiet but still had some good restaurants. We even managed to make it out for a run in the nearby park. (Although us flatlanders aren't used to the hills.)

We spent part of a morning (before flying) at the Carmel Mission where I spent most of my time taking photos of the flowers and insects :-)

Painted Lady butterfly

For a change I managed to get decent shots of both the top and underside of this butterfly. I think it's a Painted Lady (one of the most common)

Painted Lady butterfly

The bees were also visiting the flowers. They were hovering, giving me a chance to catch them in midair.

bee approaching flower

bee on flower

They're not quite as colorful, but I still like the shapes and patterns of the agaves:

agave plants

I even found a snail hiding in one:

snail on agave

Given my fascination with water I had to take some photos of the fountain. I like the way this one turned out. (backlit, of course)


Bougainvillea is always a favorite:

window and bougainvillea

And just to prove that I was actually at the Mission:

Carmel Mission

See all 21 photos

Friday, September 15, 2017

Sand City

We had a great two hours of flying at Sand City with our friend Craig Gamma. The coastal soaring was a nice change after the stressful SIV course. The steady wind off the sea hits the dunes and creates lift so you can fly up and down the shore. It was fun to fly with the sea gulls, turkey vultures, and hawks. (and a few other paragliders)

Shelley flying at Sand City

Shelley flying at Sand City

Also, check out Craig's video of Shelley and I flying. (Shelley is purple/blue, I'm orange/red)

Monterey Bay Aquarium

The Monterey Bay Aquarium is one of our favourite aquariums. It's large with many exhibits and has a good educational and conservation focus. Unlike some aquariums (and zoos) the glass is clean and not all scratched up. (i.e. good for photographs)

I don't normally shoot video, but I wanted to try to capture some of the movement. (shot with my iPhone)

It's nice that the aquarium is right on the water. Out on the bay we could see harbour seals and seabirds, and even a whale going by.

harbor seal & cormorant

sea birds

I just finished reading a book about octopus, squid, and cuttlefish so it was good to see them up close.



We're on our way to Baja to scuba dive so we got to refresh our memory on fish identification. (They even had a Baja exhibit)

Blue tang


clownfish & sea anemone

Colorful anemone:

sea anemone

The aquarium also has a small walk-through aviary for shorebirds. It's always nice being able to get closeups of birds.

Ruddy turnstone

Western snowy plover

A semi-abstract view of the kelp under the aquarium.


See all 27 photos