Tag Archives: California


1 Sep

I’ve been thinking a LOT about the drought lately.  It’s hard not to when you live in an area that’s marked by a red so dark it borders on black on all the drought maps.  It’s as if they ran out of shades of red with which to convey the seriousness of the situation.

Then, I went here.


And hallelujah, if I wasn’t already thinking about water issues I was now.  There’s nothing like going somewhere where your scarce resources are abundant to put things in perspective.  It’s like when my mom comes to California and discovers that avocados are two for a dollar.  It’s guacamole time all the time.  I could regale you with tales of what it’s like to have so many avocados that you worry they might go bad, but instead I’m going in a little more sobering direction.

This is what it’s like to live in a drought.


There’s so much blame. Have you seen the #droughtshaming hashtag?  A quick Twitter search will give you pictures of runoff from faulty sprinklers, well-manicured golf courses, and more watered sidewalks than you can count.  It’s like environmental McCarthyism.  I may be guilty of overusing the term, but I tend to do it in conversation and not on the internet.  Whether that’s better or just makes me so fun to hang out with?  You be the judge.

Even the cities are getting in on it.  Most cities have hotlines that you can use to turn in your neighbors.  I haven’t done so, but I may have been tempted by the neighbors watering down their plastic chairs int he middle of a light rain.

Drought shaming is a nice vehicle for righteous anger, but doesn’t really solve anything.  Luckily Californians are looking for more positive ways to address water waste.  In fact, if you look at the #droughtshaming hashtag, at least a third of the tweets offer other solutions.  That’s not something you normally find on social media.

You can find resources. It seems like everyone in our community is offering programs to learn more about how you can conserve.  Our library recently offered a Water Wise Gardening program, but I was surprised when I saw similar programs offered several times a month through different organizations.  There are rain barrel classes at the nature center, landscape seminars at the universities, and drought-tolerant workshops at the garden centers.

Water districts, which really had no need for flashy graphics before, are now among the top destinations on government websites. Residents who would like to get a rain barrell, tear out their lawn or replace their faucets can find rebates and classes from their city or water district almost anywhere in California.  Unfortunately most of these rebates don’t apply to California’s many renters.


The rules are a constant source of frustration. Conversations on water usage come up all the time.  I spoke with a coworker who was concerned that her city’s prohibition against planting new plants that aren’t drought-tolerant meant she had to forgo her garden.  I leaned toward the growing your own food uses less resources than purchasing shipped food side of the equation, but the answers aren’t always clear.  Different cities have different rules.  Even neighbors might have different days that they are allowed to water on.  Certain rules, like that you can’t water within 48 hours of significant rainfall, come into play so rarely that it’s not a surprise people forget they exist.  Then there’s the distinction between restrictions (mandatory) and conservation measures (recommended)… If you haven’t already been immersed in water education, it’s easy to get a little lost.

It’s working (kind of). Many cities are meeting or exceeding the conservation thresholds Governor Brown has mandated and the savings have been improving drastically throughout the year.  You can have tons of fun with the State Water Resources Board’s conservation reports to see the statistics.  My city went from a 5% decrease in February (over 2013 statistics) to a 22% decrease by May.  That’s higher than our mandated benchmark of 20%.  Some places (yay! Merced at 43%!) are doing much better and some (boo! El Monte at -10%) are doing worse, but the good far outweighs the bad.

Remember all those rebates I mentioned?  Our water district has already run out of funds for turf removal and that’s pretty common throughout the state.  Other rebates are taking months to get to processed there are so many of them.  On one hand it’s frustrating, but on the other it means people are making changes and making them rather quickly.  That’s exciting!

Water conservation is a topic that seems to cross political boundaries, too.  I could have a half hour conversation with someone about water usage and still have no idea where they stand politically, despite water conservation being tied into government regulations.  Anytime people come together to make the world a better place,  it’s a positive step for our state.


Now, I hate to be a downer, but even with all these positive steps, it’s unlikely that our drought problem will be solved.  The state even has a website that allows us to watch our water supplies dwindle.  California supports too much agriculture, too many people, and has too little precipitation.  Unless that changes, these are only delaying tactics.  I think that’s what really captures the reality of living in a drought. Even when we know we’re fighting a losing battle, we still band together to resist.  And talk about how, hopefully, El Niño will be strong this year.



Death Valley Flashback

10 May

If you’re looking for Sew Mama Sew giveaway, go here.

In all the hullabaloo of Earth Day, I didn’t get a chance to talk about an awesome trip I took at the beginning of the month.  Our new boss gave us a few extra days off before Easter and it was the perfect time of year for a trip to the desert.

When I was in elementary school, I was entranced by the idea of two national parks: Petrified Forest and Death Valley.  For a kid growing up in Ohio where everything is either green or covered in snow,  dry, desolate places captured my imagination.  I was sadly disappointed when I visited Petrified Forest in my mid-twenties.  My 10-year-old mind had imagined it to be a full-on forest, just made of stone.  Instead, I was treated to a desert with some rocky looking things lying around.  I haven’t been back since, so I in no way hold to that opinion.  I hated Joshua Tree the first time I went, too (going in July will do that to you).  Death Valley was a much more fulfilling experience.

So, first thing we should all know is that a scene or two in Star Wars was filmed in good old Death Valley. Remember Mos Eisley?

Wretched hive of scum and villainy. (Photo from Star Wars Wikia)

That’s Dante’s View – my first view of the valley.


There’s other canyons that we visited that feature in Star Wars as well, but I won’t get into that too far. If you’re into it, my boyfriend talks about it in his podcast. The Death Valley part starts at about 1 hour and 13 minutes. If you just want to see the Star Wars comparison shots, skip ahead to 1 hour and 22 minutes.

What surprised me most about Death Valley was its diversity.  I was expecting long stretches of scrub brush and dirt broken up by the occasional cattle skulls and cacti.  Unlike the Petrified Forest, my dashed exceptions were welcome.  Among the gems of the park were an array of canyons with names like Golden, Mosaic, Desolation, and… Titus.


The aptly named Mosaic Canyon was my favorite.  The walls are worn smooth from rushing water, revealing layers of rock compacted together, looking quite like a mosaic.  There were even a few chuckwallas enjoying the shade from the canyon walls.


Death Valley is known for being “Hottest, Driest, Lowest” and rightly so.  Even at the end of March, when it was still snowing in Ohio, temperatures were in the mid-nineties.  The park doesn’t recommend visiting between April and October since temperatures rise even higher.  In fact, the highest temperature on the planet was recorded in Furnace Creek – 134°.

Death Valley is also the lowest place in the United States.  When you drive down to Badwater (or, if you’re adventurous, rent a bike), you’re descending to 282 feet below sea level.


Despite the heat, the landscape looks arctic.  Although the stretch of white crystals is convincing enough to pass for snow, it’s actually salt leftover from evaporated water.


Back at elevation (of just about sea level), another area of the park leads you straight into the Sahara.


The only dunes I’d seen before this were the ones in North Carolina and at Pismo Beach.  The Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes were something entirely different.   They just appear amongst the typical desert scrub, like someone just swept all the loose sand into one place.

If you want to stay in Death Valley and don’t have a camper, I’d suggest taking our route.  We stayed up at Mesquite Springs campground.  While it’s a bit out of the way (you’ll have to drive about 40 minutes or so to get into the Stovepipe Wells and Furnace Creek areas of the park), it’s also at 1800 feet, making it about 20° cooler than the valley floor.  When you’re enjoying the pleasantly warm rather than unbearably hot evenings, the drive feels worth it.  Besides, we got to share our campsite with some very enthusiastic bats.

As Death Valley is the largest National Park in the lower 48 states, it’s impossible to see everything in a few days.  A lot of the park is only accessible by off-road vehicles.  The dunes we saw were about 100 ft tall.  If you have an off-road vehicle, you can see dunes that rise 700 ft, making them the tallest in California.  Next visit will definitely involve some of the sites that are farther afoot.


Earth Day: Water Footprints

9 Apr

As I admitted earlier, I have a bad habit of taking long showers. It never seemed like a pressing issue until I started to learn more about California’s water problems.


Water is a fascinating and divisive topic in California. I suspect most of the population doesn’t think about water much, but once you start talking to the people who do, you will find that they have very strong opinions on the subject.

The short story of California’s water crisis is that California doesn’t have enough water to meet its needs. There are three major parties interested in water rights in California: household users, agriculture, and environmental groups. Further complicating the situation is the fact that two-thirds of California’s precipitation falls in the northern part of the state while two-thirds of California’s population lives in the southern part. Water has to be pumped long distances across the state and that uses a significant amount of energy. The California Water Project accounts for 19% of the state’s electricity use, making it the biggest single energy user in the state. This system is already strained as the population continues to grow and seasons have gotten drier. Other hot topics in California’s water scene are how water pollution and and climate change affect this already taxed system.

While all of this makes water use a pressing issue for California, it doesn’t matter where you live in the U.S. or what source you get your tap water from, it still takes electricity to get that water to you. Your water has to be cleaned, pumped to the tap, and treated after it goes down the drain. There is a hidden carbon footprint embedded in your water footprint. Just how big it is depends on where you get your water from, how it is processed before and after you use it, and how much alternative energy your water utility uses.

There are a lot of things driving my motivation to reduce my shower time. I love the beautiful Merced River that flows through Yosemite Valley and past my house. I know that water is scarce in California and that I’m lucky to have such a clean source of drinking water. I know that by reducing my water footprint I am also reducing my carbon footprint. I know that I will save money on utilities if I start taking shorter showers.

Water Footprint 1

If you want to reduce your water use but don’t know how, a great place to start is by using a water footprint calculator. Even though I consider myself to be fairly educated about water issues there were still some surprises in store for me as I started plugging my information into various water footprint calculators.

I already knew that the water I use in my house (for showering, cooking, brushing my teeth, etc.) is only a portion of my total water footprint. The rest of the water is hidden water: water that is used to produce the food I eat, the fuel that I use, and the stuff that I buy. What I didn’t realize is that hidden water accounts for a huge portion of my total water footprint, roughly 95%.

Each of the water footprint calculators I used measures water using slightly different methods so there was some variation in the results.

National Geographic Water Footprint Calculator: 1,313 gallons/day
Grace Water Footprint Calculator: 813 gallons/day
Kemira Water Footprint Calculator: 1836 gallons/day

I averaged these results to figure that I use about 1,193.5 gallons/day.

I was surprised that even when I factor in my ridiculously protracted showers I still use slightly less water than the average american. Again there is some variation in the statistics I found (here, here, and here), but when I averaged them together I got about 1981.3 gallons of water a day.

The Kemira calculator allows you to compare results to averages of other countries. Not surprisingly the U.S. uses the most per person (1797 gallons/ person/ day). Yemen uses the least (448 gallons/ person/ day). This means my average daily water use can be compared roughly to someone living in Belize (1191 gallons/ person/ day).

Picture 2

The National Geographic calculator breaks down your results based on household use, diet, energy, and stuff. I was surprised that diet was by far my biggest user of water, using almost twice water as much as the next category. I am still committed to shortening my showers this month, but for the future I know could have an even bigger impact on my water use if I make changes in my diet.

Each of the water footprint calculators I used have links to more information about water footprints and how to reduce yours.

It is next to impossible to find an unbiased sources about water issues in California. These are the articles I found to be the most helpful:

The Economist: Of Farms, Fish, and Folk
California Energy Commission: California’s Water – Energy Relationship
California Energy Comission: Water Related Energy Use in California
New York Times: A New Plan to Fix California Water System

Stay hydrated California!


P.S. The California Waterways Map in the top image is from the California Department of Water Resources.

Birding: Back in Time

23 Mar


“Looking eastward from the summit of the Pacheco Pass one shining morning, a landscape was displayed that after all my wanderings still appears as the most beautiful I have ever beheld. At my feet lay the great Central Valley of California, level and flowery, like a lake of pure sunshine, forty or fifty miles wide, five hundred miles long, one rich furred garden of yellow Compositae.”

John Muir, The Yosemite


Ever since reading this quote I have wondered what the Central Valley looked like in Muir’s time. Even though much of the Central Valley has been claimed for farmland and development you still get glimpses of its past. I’ve seen it in the beauty of the foothills below the Tehachapi pass and in the oak savannah of Cathey’s Valley. Recently I got another glimpse when my friend took me to Merced National Wildlife Refuge.

We didn’t see much of the flowers, the Compositae, that Muir described, but we did see plenty of birds.





Nothing I’ve seen before prepared me for seeing the squawking flocks of snow geese and Ross’s geese, several thousand strong. Although the wetlands at the refuge are created artificially, I still felt like I was standing in a time machine. Clearly, you can’t completely know the Central Valley just by driving its highways.


P.S. Check out this video by Michael Frye for a sample of the ruckus that an entire flock of snow geese can create.

Thanksgiving Rocks: Pt. 2

5 Dec

If you’d read the last post (Thanksgiving Rocks: Pt. 1) you may have been curious as to when Part 2 would arrive. You may have wondered whether it would arrive at all. I wouldn’t blame you for the second wondering, considering I am fully aware I left you hanging on the Halloween wreath tutorial I promised (next year, guys). I am a woman of my word this time around though, and not only am I offering you a part 2, I am offering it in record time.

The second part of my adventure led me to Red Rock Canyon. If you think to yourself, “Hey! I know where that is! It’s in the Santa Monica Mountains / the Mojave Desert / Las Vegas, Nevada / Hinton Oklahoma / Colorado Springs!” or any number of other places, you would be right. It seems that when it comes to places with crimson-tinted stones, humanity is not very good at being original. I even found a Rocas Rojas in the Canary Islands.

The one I went to is Red Rock Canyon state park in the Mojave Desert. It’s a little closer to Orange County than Joshua Tree and makes for a great one night camping trip. Even on the weekend after Thanksgiving it was relatively secluded.


The camp sites butt up against a bizarre rock wall. The formations in the wall almost look like statues from a distance. It’s a great area for staying around the campsite and exploring all the crevices.


The area is a common nesting place for raptors and other birds. In one of the nooks we found feathers and owl pellets. I was hoping to see an owl on the prowl at night, but this was the only sign of him.


When the sun went down, star-watching was quite good. Even though the moon didn’t go down until early in the morning, we still got a great view of Jupiter and four of his moons. as well as some of that iconic striping in the atmosphere.


Red Rock Canyon is a state park, and as such is very underfunded. While the solitude was nice, I know the parks need more visitors and funding to survive. We haven’t talked much about the situation our state parks are in on this blog, but both Robin and I feel strongly about their preservation. As my boyfriend pointed out, how is it that something can look like this and still not have the same protection as a national park?


The state parks have recently faced $22 million dollars in cuts. 70 of them were supposed to close by this July, but a last ditch measure saved 65 of them. Although they’re saved for now, that doesn’t make them safe. In some of the parks there’s only one ranger for huge areas – up to 5,000 acres. You can learn more and support the parks by visiting the California State Parks Foundation.


~ April (in Autumn)

Thanksgiving Rocks: Pt. 1

3 Dec

Looking out at the grey rainy sky right now, it’s quite nice to think back two weeks when I was not confined indoors (since every Californian knows that contact with any form of precipitation may result in untimely death). Unlike Robin, I work a normal 40-hour-per-week desk job and more than one camping trip in a month, let alone a week, is a miraculous event. I felt very thankful indeed this Thanksgiving that I got to spend two weekends in a row in two of southern California’s most gorgeous places.

The weekend before Thanksgiving, Robin and her posse invited me to J-Tree (that’s how cool people say Joshua Tree) and I invited a good friend from work to come with us. It honestly didn’t take that much alcohol to kidnap her convince her to go.

I’m a hiker, not a climber, but when you hang out with a bunch of climbers in J-Tree, the visit ends up being a bit more vertical than I’m accustomed to.





Up ’til now you’ve seen the real climbers doing their thing. My non-climbing friend and I didn’t get left behind though. It may not look as impressive, but it felt pretty epic.



Whether up high or on solid ground, Joshua Tree remains one of my favorite national parks in the area (among about 30 others). Every time I go it’s another experience and after this time, I really can’t wait to get back.


~April (in Autumn)

First Time’s the Charm

16 Aug
Sunrise at Thousand Island Lake
(I’ll share my own pictures when I get back)

I have spent many an afternoon trekking through forests and deserts and have slept under the stars my fair share of times.  I may not be the specter of John Muir reborn like my colleague, but on an outdoorsy scale, I’d rate myself a solid 6.5.

I’m about to bump it up a notch.

Yes, my dear readers, tomorrow I set off for my very first backpacking trip. I’m super excited, not only because I’ll finally see if I have the backpacking gene in me, but also because I’m going to see some of the gorgeous lakes near Mammoth Lakes.  My first Google search for the area informed me that a monkey with a camera could take gorgeous shots.  Well, call me a chimpanzee and it’s a challenge.

See you when I get back.



16 Jul

Sometimes all it takes is a few words to get you motivated again. I talked to Robin for the first time in what feels like FOREVER this weekend and I’m really excited about blogging again. Well, I never really stopped being excited, I just second guessed myself a little too much. I felt like I had so much to write about I didn’t know where to start, and when I thought I knew what I wanted to write, I didn’t think people would want to read it.

I could have written about my mom’s visit in April, when we discovered the Cowboy Festival and went on a brewery tour to Stone Brewing.



I could have written about my trip with G up to San Francisco (where I missed seeing Robin by about two days).

California Academy of Sciences

Coit Tower

And then there was the camping trip on Memorial Day up to Bristlecone Pines where the weather called for light flurries overnight.


A chipmunk hanging out on one of the oldest living things in the world.

Aside from all the photo-worthy stuff, I also had craft nights, finished refinishing my kitchen table, am trying to keep caterpillars from destroying my container garden, and have just been having all all-around blast.

If you’re up for hearing more about any of these adventures (or if you want something else entirely), leave a comment! I’d like some guidance on what you want to hear about most.


From the Mountains to the Sea

20 Jun


The past month has been a whirlwind. While there were many factors contributing to the insanity, the root cause was the fact that I moved a couple weeks ago. This relocation is only temporary, I will be back in Yosemite for the fall, but I’m excited to spend the summer exploring a fantastic new place.

Can you guess where?


How about now?




If you aren’t jealous you should be. I hope to soon share summer adventures from Golden Gate National Recreation Area!


Sea Findings

24 Apr


I got to spend last weekend at a conference in Malibu. Before actually going to Malibu my only experience of Malibu came from the movie Intolerable Cruelty during a conversation between two very wealthily divorced women:

“Why don’t you come out to Malibu and see my new beach house?”
“I didn’t know Dimitri had a beach house.”
“Neither did I, until my lawyer found it. It was quite the paper trail, he had it in the dog’s name.”

This most certainly prepared me for the multi-million dollar houses that cropped up on the shore, but it did not adequately prepare me for my first encounter with these guys:

I could have spent an entire day watching this scene. My Peterson’s field guide describes these guys “chasing waves like a wind-up toy.” Poetic and remarkably accurate.

In other news, I got to go tide pooling!


Oh, the crazy things you can do when you have podia.

I went a little crazy enjoying the underwater capabilities of my camera:


I finally saw my first real life, not living in an aquarium at Sea World, dolphin. The twelve-year-old in me was positively leaping for joy.  It makes me want to start drawing dolphins on the cover of every single notebook I own all over again!


it’s always ourselves that we find in the sea ~E.E. Cummings