Plants, Stone, California Landscapes


Archive for October, 2010

The Buttermilks

Soon after Smith Rock, we spent some time at one of my other favorite rock places, the Buttermilks. The Buttermilks is an area of massive boulders right at the base of the eastern slope of the Sierras, near Bishop. Astonishingly big boulders with great views of the mountains.

Grandma and Grandpa Peabody

Grandma and Grandpa Peabody

The Grandma and Grandpa Peabody boulders are the biggest ones I’ve ever seen just sitting completely exposed on top of the earth. They remind me of the way sloppy landscapers sometimes place rocks by just dumping them out of the truck. Generally speaking, it’s bad form if people can see the underside of a boulder, but when the boulder is a fifty foot tall chunk of granite, there’s something nice about seeing it placed so casually. Nature’s good at getting away with unnatural-looking effects.

Grandma and Grandpa Peabody

Grandma and Grandpa Peabody again

There’s almost always a group of climbers on the underside of the Peabodies.

The Ironman Boulder

The Ironman Boulder on the Right

The Ironman Boulder, with the low traverse across its face, is another one that always has climbers on it. Photos from the Buttermilks and two other nearby climbing areas below the fold. (more…)

Crater Lake Lodge

Crater Lake

On the way back from Smith we stopped at Crater Lake National Park and hiked to the top of one of the little peaks on the crater. We also checked out the Crater Lake Lodge, which turned out to have an interesting history. It opened in 1915, and from the sound of things was always the source of complaints. It was at the end of dirt road a long ways from any town, and the site was much more extreme than Oregon contractors were used to in those days, so some corners were cut on the construction and it was never completely finished. Running the lodge was always a hassle; water, electricity, laundry, and staffing were difficult, and the structure itself was never sound. The stone walls were hollow and built on an ash base without a foundation, causing the floors and walls of the building to buckle and warp as the building settled.

In the late eighties the building was declared unsafe and the park service decided to tear it own to build a new lodge. But then the public objected. The park service reminded everyone that they had been complaining about the lodge since its opening and that no one had ever been happy with the building, but everyone replied back that they didn’t care, they wanted to save it. So the park service spent 4 years completely rebuilding it, taking it down to the ground and rebuilding it with a basement and a proper foundation, and rebar, wall ties, and a concrete core inside the stone walls. They numbered and stored all of the stones and then put each one back in the same place.

I can’t speak to the finances of it, but the renovated building is hugely popular. It was all full in late September, and they recommend making reservations a year in advance. I didn’t take my camera with me when Anita and I hiked to the top of the peak behind the lodge, but we both agreed that the lodge improved the view, creating a nice focal point on the circular rim around the lake.

They had information about the history of the lodge and a nice cross-section of the new walls.

Smith Rock

Last month on our way to a wedding in Oregon we spent several days climbing at Smith Rock. Pretty fantastic place. We’d been there once before, about five years ago. Great climbing and scenery, but even beyond that, the place is really well designed for climbers. The campground is great, with the tent area on the rim of the canyon away from the parking/cooking/bathroom area. The bathrooms are clean and there are hot showers, the approach trails are nice and well-maintained, and there’s huckleberry ice cream within walking distance of the campground. But just saying all that doesn’t really get the point across; you need to have seen other climbing areas where the climbers are treated like encroaching dirtbags (which they often are) to appreciate how nice Smith is. It’s the only climbing area that made me write fan mail to the area’s administrators, and in fact one of the other climbers was saying that he did the same thing and that the park system gets email from appreciative climbers almost every day.

The bulk of the climbing is on welded volcanic tuff, i.e. hot ash from an eruption 30 million years ago. When the welded ash cooled, it pulled apart forming the vertical cracks and columns with steep faces, perfect for climbing. A quirk of the place is that the rock is solid near the bottom but gets loose and crumbly when you climb more than one or two hundred feet up on the climbs that top out.

The most famous formation at Smith is the Monkey Face, a detached column with the look of a nefarious voodoo doll. In the photo, there’s a climber standing in the monkey’s nostril, faintly visible if you click on it.

I’m impressed to see proper retaining walls at the base of some of the climbs, made from the lava rock found on the rim of the canyon, a rock that gets sold under the trade name Black Lichen in the Bay Area. It’s the type of rock in the header photo of this blog, actually, which reminds me that I’ve always meant to switch it out for a photo with our native moss rock. Black lichen is darker and blockier than moss rock, not quite as attractive, and it’s from Oregon rather than California, so I suppose I’d better get myself a suitable moss rock photo ASAP.

We must have woken up early in the morning when I took this photo, as this area gets crowded. It’s definitely a little strange when the whole terraced cliff is full of climbers, not exactly like they are storming an Anasazi cliff dwelling, but maybe as if they are all training to storm one.

Smith Rock State Park also has an area of columnar basalt upriver from the main rock groups. The basalt is not as tall or regular as the cliff I posted about at Devil’s Postpile National Monument, but you’re allowed to climb the columns at Smith, unlike at Devil’s Postpile. I was surprised by how much columnar basalt I saw in Oregon; at one point during our trip I scrambled down the bank of the Deschutes River and realized I was scrambling over a whole slope of the high-dollar basalt that is sold for water features in the Bay Area. It made me feel better about the ones I’ve installed, to see them so widespread.

The basalt at Smith formed much more recently than the main formations at Smith. It’s pretty remarkable for such contrasting rock and climbing to be in walking distance from the main area.

Back at Work

I’m back from vacation; this past week I’ve been catching up on work, but I should be back to posting now. I’m a little sad I missed Bloom Day and Blog Water Action Day. I’ll be teaching a class at Heather Farms next Saturday about taking out lawns and replacing them with low-water native and mediterranean plants, would have made a good topic for a post. Earlier this year, I posted photos of the sheet mulching process; I’ll probably do another post on lawn conversion as I go through the materials for the class. We’ve done this class at Heather Farms a few times now. Here’s the description:

Learn how to trade lawn for a beautiful and sustainable landscape. Reducing or eliminating lawn areas saves water and maintenance time, while welcoming birds, beneficial insects and other wildlife into your garden. This class will discuss step-by-step, how to change a lawn area into a water wise garden without tilling or chemicals by using a technique called sheet mulching. The power point presentation and photographs will also cover basic garden design principles, site-appropriate plant ideas and plant installation.
Date: Saturday, October 23
Time: 9 a.m. – Noon
Cost: $20 GHF members/$25 non-members

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