Sunday, June 12, 2011

Fire in Lawson Valley...

...and way too close to home!  But there were several pieces of good news in this experience...

Our neighbors Jim and Michelle B. called me around 3:15 pm with the news that there was a fire directly across the valley from us.  At right (click to enlarge) you can see the scene from our front yard.  The mountain in the distance is Viejas Mountain; the fire is almost due north of us.  The wind was blowing toward the northeast, away from us and up onto a small peak that's in Cleveland National Forest.  The reddish color is from the retardant dropped just before I snapped this photo, by the tanker plan exiting stage left.

Forty-five minutes later, the fire appeared to be out, with just smoldering embers remaining.  As I write this, the command plane is still circling but there's no other aerial activity.  At the peak of the battle, there were at least two helicopters and two tanker planes fighting the fire, a ground crew on the scene, and a command plane circling overhead.  It was a very impressive demonstration of our firefighting capability, and a far cry from what we saw four years ago.  As you might imagine, we find this quite comforting.  Loveland Reservoir has more water in it than it has had for years, and it's right over that ridge that sits in front of Viejas Mountain.  The helicopters and planes were cycling back and forth between the reservoir and the fire quite quickly.  Another comforting factor!

The black bordered area on the map below shows my best estimate of where the fire was located.

Palo Verde Tree...

... in our front yard.

Monkey-Flowers... my yard.  I just love these things!

Corte Madera and Espinosa Creek...

As the crow flies, Corte Madera is only about 12 miles from our house.  To drive there, though, means taking about 40 miles of paved roads and 3 miles of four-wheel drive roads.  This year, because of all the rains this winter, the road was badly eroded – and we ended up turning around at a place where it looked riskier than we cared to attempt in our 16-year-old Land Cruiser.  The best part of the trip started near the peak of Los Pinos, right near where the paved road ends.  Here's what we saw from there (click to enlarge):

All of these photos were taken with my new camera, which I'm still learning how to use.  The panorama above was ridiculously easy to make: I just told it to take a panorama, and swept the horizon with the shutter release held down.  The camera did the rest!  The only post-production work I had to do was to add the labels you see.  The small size of the camera takes some getting used to for me – I'm used to a (much) larger Canon SLR.  Of course virtually all the controls are in different places.  I think so far the biggest surprise for me is just how easy everything is – there are lots of automation features (like the panorama capability) that my older cameras never had.  once I learn these well enough for them to be second nature, I believe this camera will be substantially easier to use than my SLR.

At right is a topo map of that last part of the trip.  Corte Madera is the steep slope near the top center of the map.  It's famous locally amongst bird watchers as a prime nesting site for several common raptors.  The sign at left (found at the saddle just before the final westward leg of our drive) gives a brief description of these.  We saw some nice displays of flowers along this last leg, but our enjoyment was somewhat damped by the hordes of nasty biting flies.  We've noted the same thing in our yard this year; for some reason (I'm guessing weather-related) there are far more flies than we normally see.  Some of the flowers we saw:

On the drive out, we had one more interesting encounter: a gopher snake winding his way across the road right in front of his. This was down low, very close to where the road to Los Pinos passes close to Lake Morena. He wasn't too happy about me sticking my camera in his face!