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Photo Adventure: Death Valley

24 Jan


Hey, remember when I came back from vacation three months ago and I was all excited to blog about it, but instead of posting I dropped off the face of the earth instead?

Yeah. Sorry about that.

However, I did have a wild time in Death Valley (those are the salt flats at Bad Water above) and I still want to share my pictures. There are lots.

Scotty’s Castle


In retrospect Scotty’s Castle was a weird place to start my Death Valley trip because I came to the park expecting rugged desert scenery and instead found myself wandering through a pristine dessert mansion. However, the story of Death Valley Scotty and Albert Johnson is wonderfully entertaining, and the house tour was one of the best National Park Service tours I’ve been on.


Ubehebe Crater


I had only a little time at Ubehebe before the sun went down, but the hike around the crater is easy and the scenery is amazing.





Fall Canyon


I took a short hike in Fall Canyon on the recommendation of a park ranger. It piqued my interest because I’d never seen a box canyon before. It was cool, but slightly creepy. Every time my feet shifted a rock the sound would echo back from the canyon walls. This was particularly alarming, since I’m used to being on constant alert for rockfall. I was acutely aware that I was alone in a fairly remote spot. It also didn’t help that, for some weird reason, I kept imagining the Sand People hiding around every bend. (Thanks a lot,  George Lucas.) I didn’t make it all the way to the dry falls, but I would love to go back and explore the canyon again with a friend.


The alluvial fan at the bottom of the canyon.



Because Fall Canyon cuts through several rock layers, the occasional flash flood has deposited a rainbow of rocks on the canyon floor.

Mesquite Flat Dunes


I spent way more time at the sand dunes than I intended, and looking back at my pictures and paintings, apparently became temporarily obsessed with line and texture.






(The sunset colors weren’t too shabby either.)


Wildrose was easily my favorite part of the park. Although I saw more people there than I did at Fall Canyon, this section of the park seemed more remote, and very wild. It also had the best night sky viewing I have ever seen.







Photo Adventure: Aspens

29 Nov

I came back from vacation all excited to share my adventures and then, well, November happened.

I don’t know how all those NaNoWriMo writers do it. I would love to join in and churn out a novel one November but ever since my freshman year of college November always blurs past in a streak of papers, finals, meetings, seminars, long work days, and minimal daylight hours. This year I’m barely managing a blog post.

So, my apologies for being late, but here are a few photos from my October adventures in the Eastern Sierra. You may notice a theme.


Aspens at June Lake


More Aspens at June Lake (Also doesn’t this picture remind you of The Road Not Taken?)


Kelsey and Rebecca Among the Aspens


Aspens at Convict Lake


More Aspens at Convict Lake


Aspen Leaves on the Shore of Convict Lake (Also, More Aspens on the Opposite Shore)


Aspens From the Ground Up


Devil’s Post Pile; Cool, but Sadly Lacking in Aspens


Five Positive Things You Can Do to Prevent Vandalism in National Parks

1 Nov

I went away on vacation and I have about a billion things to share about it, but while I was gone my feed went crazy with this story.

A woman from New York used her Instagram account to show off a series of paintings she left on natural features in several National Parks across the western United States. While her act of vandalism is deeply disappointing, the thing that horrified me more were the comments left on blog articles advocating for punishments that are far more heinous than any act of vandalism.

The bloggers who originally reported the story have asked that the internet focus its efforts on being more positive, and I agree. So here’s my contribution:

5 Positive Things you can do to prevent vandalism in National Parks


Graffiti in Golden Gate National Recreation Area

1. Learn how to take care of the places you visit.

There is a brilliant set of ethics for minimizing impact in nature called Leave No Trace. If you already know about it, great! However, realize that the way they are applied can vary from place to place. The best practice in one park may not be accepted in another. Learn how to practice Leave No Trace in each park you visit. The park rangers I know would instantly love any visitor who came up them to ask how they could do this.

2. Donate to friends groups.

The National Park Service has been hit hard by the sequester, which means less money is available for projects and staff that could prevent vandalism. Fortunately, most major parks have non-profit organizations that help raise money for specific projects. Here in the park I love, the Yosemite Conservancy sponsored a project to restore an area impacted by eco-graffiti. If your favorite park doesn’t have its own friends group consider a donation to the National Parks Conservation Association.

3. Encourage others to care about parks.

We need more people who care about our parks, and for that to happen we need more people to have meaningful experiences in them. So take someone you love to your favorite place and teach them how to take care of it.

4. Pick up trash, even if it’s not yours.

There is a controversial idea called broken window theory. It suggests that trash and broken windows creates the appearance of disorder, and invites more crime. Although it originated in urban areas, the same idea is often applied in parks. The thought goes, a place impacted by litter makes people think that no one cares, or that it’s OK to leave trash or graffiti. Whether you agree or disagree with broken window theory, cleaning up trash is an under-appreciated way to have a positive impact. By picking up litter, you are setting a good example, for others and possibly inspiring them to more positive actions, and preventing further damage.  Additionally, if you want to serve parks in a more structured activity you can participate as a National Parks volunteer.

5. If you see something wrong, speak up, but do so gently.

Have you ever been yelled at in a way that made you want to just keep doing whatever it was that you were being yelled at for?

I firmly believe that most of the people doing damage to our national parks don’t realize that is what they are doing. They don’t understand the impact their actions have on the ecosystems or on other people’s experiences.

Studies in Petrified Forest and other parks have found that park signs phrased with a message that highlights positive behaviors are more effective than signs phrased negatively. (“Please stay on the trail.” vs. “Please don’t go off the trail.”)

So rather than getting angry with these visitors, approach from a positive place. “Isn’t great we have this beautiful place? When you paint on the rocks it makes it look less wild, less scenic. Please leave it as you found it.” If you can’t do something like this without getting angry and yelling, you are probably going to be more effective by reporting the behavior to a ranger.

The outpouring of comments on this story shows that people really do care about parks. But if we care about our parks there is more we should be doing than being belligerent in the comments section on news articles. So if you care, really care, about our nation’s parks, please, start advocating for them and set a good example when you visit them.


P.S. On a related note, more recently there was another incident in Yosemite where social media was used to prosecute illegal activities in the park.

Sexy McGregor

4 Oct


The inspiration for this concoction came, oddly enough, from one of Rebecca’s students, who informed her that in Scotland banana boats are filled with Bailey’s Irish Cream instead of the typical chocolate and marshmallows.

We thought this was a swell idea and gave it a try. Unfortunately this resulted in a smokey mess, and let me tell you, the odor of burned Irish Cream is as tragic as it is acrid. Fortunately for everyone, we didn’t give up and instead tried heating the ingredients together in a double boiler. Somewhere in the process we decided to add chocolate and dump the concoction over ice cream and the results were, well…


It was like a night of romance in a highland castle with a tall, dark, kilted, stranger who is quite possibly named something like “Duncan Fionnlagh McGregor.*” Our friend Margaret dubbed it the “Sexy McGregor” and by that name it shall forever be known.


Sexy McGregor
Two bananas, chopped
1/2 cup Bailey’s Irish Cream
1/4 cup chocolate chips and/or chocolate sauce (optional)
Ice cream (Also optional. We won’t judge if we catch you eating it with a spoon if you promise to return the favor.)


Combine bananas, Bailey’s, and chocolate in a double boiler. Stir until the concoction gets bubbly and your knees go weak with desire. Dump over ice cream immediately. (Or if you have the patience and chastity of a nun, chill and serve later.)


The version of this with melted chocolate chips doesn’t look as pretty, but it’s good enough to give you a case of the vapors.


My #HeForShe Moment

25 Sep

Even though I absolutely love my job, I try not to talk about it much on this blog. I’m going to break that self imposed rule for a moment because something happened a few weeks ago that was so positive and inspiring that I wanted to share it. I put it off for awhile because I couldn’t find the right words. Then this week my Facebook feed exploded with posts about Emma Watson’s speech to the U.N.

I knew I had to sit down at the computer and wring the words out somehow, because what I was trying to say so closely echoed her purpose.

It happened at a staff training, and the topic was how to deal with difficult clients. We shared difficult situations we had experienced with clients and gave each other feed back. As you may have guessed already, we are a touchy-feely let’s-talk-about-our-feelings and hug-it-out kind of group.

While the training didn’t provided a thunderstruck revelation, I walked away from it with new ideas. Then, as the session ended and we transitioned into other topics, Steve, one of the men I work with, raised his hand. I can’t quote his exact words but what he said was essentially this:

“I just want to recognize, especially for the other guys here, that many of the women who work in this organization have had their authority questioned or diminished by clients because they are women. It’s not something that I know how to fix, but it’s something we should be aware of and try to think of ways to work together and be allies for them.”

I was floored. Here’s why.

First of all, even as a woman and fairly well informed feminist, gender was the last thing on my mind. It was clear that the most upsetting situations I had been in were when clients questioned my judgement, ignored me, or dismissed several years worth of experience. These were the events that stuck with me, that still made me feel lousy months later. At the time I even noticed that some of these clients interacted differently with my male colleagues. Yet when we discussed how to work with these clients, my focus became what I should have done differently, and not that I was treated differently.

More importantly, I was floored because even though I hang out with a touchy-feely crowd that values diversity, I had never heard a man that I actually know speak up for women like this. It’s not that my male friends or co-workers don’t say positive things about women, but it was the first time I’ve heard one of them speak up to acknowledge gender inequality.

Steve seemed nervous to broach this topic, uncertain and careful of the words he chose. And while I can’t speak for them, I don’t think it sounded like he was accusing the men I work of having it easy. He didn’t use that horrible, loaded, gut wrenching word “privilege.” Yet he acknowledged that inequality exists, and that some of the solutions offered in our training wouldn’t be effective if screwy gender dynamics were working against you.

Then he encouraged us to challenge that. He didn’t say that the women needed to just work harder to get along with difficult clients, or that the men we work with should step in and fix it for them. He invited everyone to fight this problem together.

His handful of carefully chosen words couldn’t go back in time and change the actions of these clients, but they did make me feel better. And they open up the possibility that in the future I (and my co-workers) would be more understanding when we see someone struggling with sexist clients.

And, damnit, being touchy-feely doesn’t mean that we aren’t smart. Even if we don’t find a magical solution that fixes the problem, I feel better knowing that our brilliant collective mind is working on it.

So, why did I feel the need to share this?

In part because I hate the word “privilege,” and the confrontational ways it is often addressed. I think it’s important thing to be aware of, but I want to see how we talk about it change because, frankly, phrases like “unpack your privilege,” make me want to run away screaming. I really admire how Steve managed to acknowledge privilege in a gentle way. Rather than shutting people down, his comments created further discussion and they also made me reflect on my own privilege.

I also wanted to share because I have felt crushing frustration after seeing the ugly backlash against women and feminists. The positive words of a single individual might be a small victory in the long run, but they are worth celebrating.

Finally, I hope that others will be encouraged to speak up in similar situations. This is exactly what the U.N. HeForShe campaign is advocating. It was a powerful thing, to hear someone else speak up for me. It’s not that I needed Steve’s words to validate my own experiences, but it is a personal relief to know that the people I work with (of all genders) are aware of this imbalance of power.

I went to Steve later, to tell him how much his comments meant to me. Steve works with children in Vietnam suffering from Agent Orange exposure, and he told me that his perspective was greatly changed by the experience of realizing that he had something in common with someone with fewer opportunities.

So speak up, even if you are nervous or fumble your words. Even if you are laughed at or not taken seriously. Someone will hear you, and I can now say from experience that even if it doesn’t change someone’s mind, it will mean the world to those that you are defending.

To get involved with the HeforShe campaign check out their homepage, or the UN Women page. There is also an awesome blog post about privilege that I think everyone should read.


DIY Community Prayer Flags

20 Sep


Tibetan prayer flags are a popular household staple in my mountain loving community. I suspect the tradition trickled in with the mountaineering enthusiasts who climb in Tibet and Nepal. I love prayer flags, but I feel a bit weird about hanging them in my house because I’m not Buddhist. For a long time I have wanted to make set of flags that represents the people I live with, and I finally got the chance a few weeks ago.

-White or light colored fabric:. I used about 3/4 of a yard of muslin I had leftover from another project to make about 40 4″x4″ flags.
-Sewing machine or needles

-Pentel Fabric Fun Pastel Dye Sticks:
-String: I used 15 feet of parachute chord for about 40 small flags, but you can use whatever material you want.
-Rotary cutter and mat, or scissors
Iron, ironing board, and scrap paper: for setting the dye


Making the flags. Cut the flags to the dimensions you prefer, plus an inch of seam allowance on one side: I made our flags 4 inches by 4 inches, so I cut the fabric into 4 inch by 5 inch rectangles. This size was the smallest size I could make them and still have enough room to decorate with the dye sticks. Fold over the seam allowance and sew to make a tube at the top. This is where you will thread your string.

Decorate the flags.


I laid the flags out during a gathering and asked folks to decorate them with their hopes and dreams for the future.

I was quite happy with the Pentel Pastel Dye Sticks that we used, but there are a ton of other options. You could experiment with one of the zillion fabric paint products out there, sharpies, no wax batik, screen printing, or block printing. I loved seeing my friends’ creations.


The dye sticks need to be ironed to set the dye. It only took about fifteen minutes and a few pieces of scrap paper to get all of them done.

String your flags

I brought along a big tapestry needle to help with the threading process but I didn’t even need it. The parachute cord threaded through the flags easily.


Hang your flags

Take a million photographs because you love them so much.


It was wonderful to throw a simple prompt at my friends and see the beautiful flags they created. I love all of them.


I also had the rare and thrilling experience of spending less time on a project than I thought I would. I was expecting the project to take at least three hours, but cutting out the flags, sewing them, and laying out all of the stuff took about two hours. The finishing process after they were decorated took only a half hour. I can’t even remember the last time this happened!


I totally want to do this again.



Seascape Painting Party!

15 Sep

My friends Lauren and Glikin of Raw Roots Farm are expecting a baby soon. When they asked me if I would help them paint an ocean scene in the baby’s room I said “Absolutely Yes!!! But…I have one condition.”


This past weekend they invited a crew over for a painting party.


There were gray whales and dolphins.


Sea turtles….


and baby sea turtles!


So what was my one condition?


That they let me paint Rainbow Fish of course!


Can I just admit that I’m already insanely jealous of this kid?


Photo Adventure: East Side Geology

6 Sep


This weekend I decided to haul Rebecca out to Mono Lake and spend some time nerding out. The Eastern Sierra has some crazy geology and it was high time that I learned more about it. I was helped in this endeavor by a few sources, although I am particularly in love with Geology Underfoot in Yosemite National Park.



Mono Lake provides clues that give us a glimpse of what California’s climate looked like many years ago. The amount of water in the lake has fluctuated greatly over it’s long history. In these photos from Black Point you can see how much the lake has shrunk since it’s tributaries started being diverted to Los Angeles in 1941. They were taken from a spot that would have been near to the shore of the lake in 1941.


On the other side of the lake there is a string of mountains, which seem pretty tiny compared to the giant peaks only a few miles away, but that hold their own surprises. They’re the Mono Craters, and they are the remains of Volcanos that erupted only recently in the geologic sense of the word. (600-40,000 years ago.)

We hiked around, Panum Crater the smallest of the chain, and the easiest one to hike.


It begins with a short uphill hike as you climb over a ring of material that was blasted from the volcano during it’s eruption. (There’s a great aerial photo here if you’re having trouble picturing this.) As magma was rising through the earth’s crust it came in contact with ground water near the surface. This created steam, which built up a lot of pressure, causing the mixture of lava and steam to fountain upwards and outwards when it erupted. The lava/steam mixture cooled quickly creating pumice: one of the weirdest rocks I’ve ever encountered.


There was so much gas trapped in the lava when it cooled that it formed a rock that is unbelievably light. It’s feels more like holding a dried out sponge than rock. It’s also fairly brittle and creates a strange soft sand which makes climbing a giant pile of it loads of fun.

The inside of the crater did not disappoint either.


After the exploding fountain of lava had calmed down, magma continued to be pushed up towards the surface but at a slower pace. (The signs described it using the analogy of an oozing tube of toothpaste.) At Panum Crater it slowly formed a dome topped with these pillars.


Because the lava didn’t have much gas in it, but still cooled fairly quickly, most of the rock at the center is glass-like obsidian. (The darkest of the three rocks in the picture above.) Obsidian is important for the area because it was used by the Pauite for arrowheads and a number of other tools, and was traded across the Sierra Nevada. It’s also sharp and uncomfortable to sit on, but on the upside, it totally sparkles in the sun.


There are a ton of things to be explored around Mono Lake, you could probably keep an entire blog just about birding in the area. I’ve barely scratched the surface of geology in the Eastern Sierra, but it was fun to go out and adventure with this specific goal in mind.


This needs to happen again.


Happy Birthday Wilderness!

3 Sep


Mount Lafayette, Pemigewasset Wilderness: White Mountain National Forest

“A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his own works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man, where man himself is a visitor who does not remain.”


Double Point, Phillip Burton Wilderness: Point Reyes National Seashore

Fifty years ago the Wilderness Act was signed by president L.B Johnson. This act protected many of the wonderful wild places that I love. If you are able, and haven’t yet walked into an “untrammeled” landscape, give yourself an opportunity to experience the world as you have never seen it before. Visit the 50th Anniversary website for more inspiration.

Yay! Wilderness!


Banner Peak and Thousand Islands Lake, Ansel Adams Wilderness: Inyo National Forest


P.S. We also celebrated the 150th anniversary of the Yosemite Grant earlier this summer. I didn’t blog about it because it happened at a pretty crazy time for me, but there are events happening all year that are worth checking out.


Cathedral, Yosemite National Park

Earth Day: All In One Place

27 Aug

Earth Day Banner

I’m adding this posts many months later so we can have all of our Earth Day posts compiled in one long and glorious list.

You can also check out April’s Earth Day Index if you just want to know what websites and articles we linked to.

30 Days of Earth Day 2013: For Every Lifestyle

April 1, Earth Day: For Every Lifestyle
April 2, Earth Day: Recycling Challenge
April 3, Earth Day: One for the Money
April 4, Earth Day: Sustainability and You
April 5, Shorter Showers Challenge
April 6, Earth Day: Room by Room in the Bathroom
April 7, Earth Day: Green is the New Black
April 8, Earth Day: Trash Talk
April 9, Earth Day: Water Footprints
April 10, Earth Day: Being a Conscious Consumer
April 11, Earth Day: Reduce, Reduce, Reduce
April 12, Earth Day: Recycling Update
April 13, Earth Day: Throwback
April 14, Earth Day: Room by Room in the Kitchen
April 15, Earth Day: Going Green to Save Green
April 16, Earth Day: Green Smarts
April 17, Earth Day: Dirtbags and Dirty Hippies
April 18, Earth Day: Green Crafting Roundup
April 19, Earth Day: 15 Ways to Celebrate
April 20, Earth Day: Shower Hacking
April 21, Earth Day: Inspiration
April 22, Earth Day: Happy Earth Day! (and a giveaway)
April 23, Earth Day: For the Busy Schedule
April 24, Earth Day: Room By Room in the Laundry Room
April 25, EArth Day: Environmental Justice
April 26, Earth Day: Apartment Alternatives
April 27, Earth Day: For the Love of Nature
April 28, Earth Day: A favorite Resource
April 29, Earth Day: And Beyond!
April 30, Earth Day: Recycling Wrap-up
April 30, The Earth Day Index

30 Days of Earth Day 2014: Keeping it Simple

April 1, Earth Day: Keeping it Simple
April 2, Earth Day: The Big Picture
April 3, Earth Day: Climate Change Art
April 4, Earth Day: @ your Library
April 5, Earth Day: Cheat Neutral
April 6, Earth Day: Weekend Images
April 7, Earth Day: Recylcing Bias
April 8, Earth Day: Exercise and the Environment
April 9, Earth Day: Upcycled Bread Clip Picture Frame
April 10, Earth Day: Amazon Smile
April 11, Earth Day: T-Shirt Bag
April 12, Earth Day: Weekend Images
April 13, Earth Day: Weekend Images
April 14, Earth Day: Every Last Drop
April 15, Earth Day: Buying in Bulk
April 16, Earth Day: UGH!
April 18, Earth Day: Go Camp
April 18, Earth Day: Foraged Food
April 19, Earth Day: Go Celebrate!
April 20, Earth Day: Weekend Images
April 21, Earth Day: Backyard Garden Adventure
April 22, Earth Day: In the Cloud
April 23, Earth Day: Gardening 101
April 24, Earth Day: Please Drink Responsibly
April 25, Earth Day: Weekend(ish) Images
April 26, Earth Day: Weekend Images
April 27, Earth Day: Literary Irrigation
April 28, Earth Day: More Reasons to Drink Craft Beer
April 30, Earth Day: The Carbon Diaries
April 30, EThe (second) Earth Day Index

I’m getting excited for next April just going through all of these posts!

M Mead Quote 2_2_2



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