Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Melon head

I found this near a watermelon field north of town. It was too cool to pass by without grabbing a shot.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Sympathy for the Devil

With just a little more than a mile to reach the summit I stood in the middle of the Juniper Trail, leaning on my hiking poles doing my best not to throw up. Tired, nauseous, cramping badly and wondering whether to turn back I started to think maybe I picked the wrong day to hike to Mount Diablo’s summit.

My hiking partner Alice DeLaurier O’Neil left for a month of humanitarian work in Africa with the International Service Learning group. I had been wondering about a solo hike when she was gone and a crazy idea popped into my head. Why don’t I try to climb Mount Diablo from Mitchell Canyon at the park’s entrance all the way to the summit? Even better why don’t I try to do it in late August?

Somehow I talked my self into this. This is kind of along the same idea of wondering what happens when you stick your finger in a light socket? Sure you might want to know what it feels like but odds are it is going to end badly.

So my wonderful plan is to be at the Mitchell Canyon staging area bright and early on a Sunday and make my way up. The path will be Mitchell Canyon Road to Deer Flat Road to Juniper Trail to the summit trail. This was the same route I took last November with Alice. I know the route; it is pretty straightforward without a lot of twists so it sounded like a plan. The only difference would be I would be making this climb in the 90-degree plus weather of August instead of the cool day temperatures of November.

I decided to make this a real minimalist hike. I would carry daypack with all the water I could stuff in, snacks, and my hiking poles and for pictures I would bring my point and shoot digital Canon G3 camera. It is light and easy to use so I could concentrate on the hike. My plan was to make my solo trek on Sunday the 23rd of August so at 6:30 A.M. I loaded up my car and headed to Clayton for my date with the mountain.

The long and winding road

The hike is a real stinker any time of the year. Starting from Mitchell Canyon it is just under 8 miles one way with a climb close to 3,400 feet. The grade can be steep at points and the trail littered with loose gravel. Just the ticket for a Sunday stroll. So after a quick prayer asking God to keep me from dying on this stupid mountain I struck out on the trail. Mitchell Canyon Road isn’t the hardest trail I have been on. It winds up and down as it follows Mitchell Canyon Creek that barely had a gurgle of water flowing. In the first half hour the trail colors were muted in the deep shade. Reds and greens stuck out from the usual collection of yellowed grasses. But just around 8:31 the sun broke over the rim of the canyon and the canyon began to heat up.

Seven turns

Near the end of Mitchell Canyon Road leading to Deer Flat you are introduced to the wonderful world of switchbacks. They are series of turns at a steep grade to bring the road elevation up. This is where the sweating begins. I was making a quick pace, too quick I would later find out as I navigated the turns on the trail. I would pause at some of the sporadic shady spots to catch my wind but I was getting gassed. One and a half hours into the hike I reached the Deer Flat picnic area for a rest. I would need it because after a few more switchbacks on Deer Flat Road I would come to the worst part of the hike.


If the mountain was named after the devil, a slice of hell was waiting for me just around the bend. Heading to the Juniper Campground from Deer Flat is a stretch of trail barren and sun baked that challenges your endurance. It climbs steadily up the mountain and then drops down to the parking lot at Juniper campground. But that wasteland section of trial saps your energy as you broil on your climb. If you pause on that stretch guaranteed you would be working on your tan as there is no shade to be found. Even drinking water and Gatorade I was still getting those weak wobbly “jelly legs” heading over. The heat was more than I expected and I was dehydrating faster than I could hydrate. Just when I thought I was on a trail toward some desert I reached Juniper Campground and the big push up toward the summit.

Another brick in the wall

There’s nothing really especially hard about Juniper Trail. It winds back and forth through some rocky terrain to lead you to the lower summit parking lot where the final climb to the summit takes place. But my problem was it came at a point after a couple of hours of climbing through the 90 degree weather. I was dehydrated, my right knee was had a knife stabbing it with every step and I was tired from the pace I was pushing. The more dehydrated I felt I tried to drink more water. I was already done with my Gatorade supply so as I sipped water and climbed I began to cramp and have bouts of nausea. I had already had a few bouts of dizziness, probably from breathing to fast as my lungs tried to suck in gulps of air on my climb. Tired and feeling whipped I paused on the trail and hoped I didn’t have a Technicolor yawn in front of God and everyone.

On my first summit hike I had the same problem, I hit that wall in almost the same spot. I guess it is just after so much effort that last climb up zaps you right in your tracks. I decided to take a long break in the shade and see if I could make it up the rest of the way. I could see the cell towers on the summit so I knew I was close, no way I would turn back now. So with smaller steps and a slower pace I finished the Juniper Trail and arrived at the lower summit parking lot for the final trail that leads to the summit.

On top of the world

I had one rocky trail of a couple hundred feet that I gingerly made my way over with my sore right knee. Finally after 4 hours of pain and sweat I reached the summit. And the view was worth the effort. with good looks at Devil’s Pulpit, North Peak and the valleys surrounding the summit. I took several pictures from the observation deck and headed indoors to cool down where I found the strangest sight of the whole hike. A small mouse decided to take a nap in one of the glass wildlife scene displays. He was unfazed by the stuffed bobcat and raccoon nearby as he hung out in the dry grass, not even flinching when I took a flash picture of him through the glass. After about a half an hour to rest it was time for the return trip to Mitchell Canyon, thankfully downhill this time.

Take the long way home

The good thing about the hike back to my car is it was downhill. All those switchbacks that sapped my will on the way up fly by on the downhill leg. I took my last picture of the hike at Deer Flat as I took another break under an oak tree. I was more concerned about making it back to the car than the gorgeous scenery around me.

The afternoon heat is growing worse and the heat rising form the trail is making the return trek harder even though it is downhill. I passed a pair of hikers just heading out from Mitchell Canyon who were getting ready to abandon their summit attempt as the heat was growing worse. At the one-mile marker to Mitchell gate I was starting to fade. I had the odd sensation my face and arms were throbbing. I was dehydrated and it was getting worse. I had that same sick feeling after my first summit while I was driving back to Tracy. No matter how much water I drank I couldn’t get it to stop. I had polished off my 70 oz. hydration bladder and was working on the 50 oz. bladder but I was still fading.

I gave up trying to drink and just hoped I didn’t flop over on the trail in some kind of Kodak moment for other hikers with their cell phone cameras. The half-mile marker passed by as I just watched the ground in front of me as I trudged along. Mercifully I reached the gate and my cooler stashed with cold water and even more Gatorade. The hike had been just over seven hours for the 16-mile round trip.

The mountain doesn’t have any sympathy for the hiker. It can be a hot and harsh environment for those brave enough or in my case stupid enough to brave its trails in mid summer. It is a place of quiet beauty where visitors can experience the grandeur of nature. And in some ways it is a lonely place with its winding trails often with a lone hiker such as me. I guess I should feel a little sympathy for the mountain but most of all I have a new sense of respect for it. I will return for more hikes in the future at Diablo as continue to explore the many facets of the mountain.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Leapin’ lizard!

There is something odd about the sight of a 100-foot-long gecko floating in the sky. High above a field in Mountain House a lime green lizard slithered about the sky. The inflatable kite was one of many taking to the sky for the town’s 2nd Kite Festival.

I could see the gecko floating above the park as soon as I turned off Byron Road. It was one of a couple flying in a field reserved for the larger size kites. The gecko was tethered to a car as it swished around in the morning breeze.

The kite was a pretty cool looking device. It was hollow with no sticks of framework. The gecko used cords to keep the shape internally as the breeze filled the body. Lifting the lizard’s head into the oncoming breeze fills the body and with a steady pull on the lines it jumps into the air.

It was a fun sight as the breeze would rock it back and forth with the tail often just grazing the dirt. When the morning winds finally disappeared the gecko brush along the field. As I got in a close with a wide-angle the gecko flopped and loomed up toward me. The kite owner joked I should run before it squashed me making it the first time I have ever had to run from a 100-foot-long lizard on assignment.

The day was filled with games for kids, professional stunt kite demonstrations and some family kite flying. The breeze was a little light for the kites to stay aloft for along, which is odd considering Mountain House’s reputation as the windy city. It will be fun to see what takes to the sky at next year’s festival.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


I was talking to students today at Millennium High School’s journalism class about my adventures behind the camera. I showed the students some photos I have taken this year so far and the conversation was good until I came to this photo.

This was the scene late one January night as I stood on the side of a Tracy street photographing grief. Earlier that day a young girl died in a house fire sparked by lights on a dry Christmas tree. Fire crews could not reach the girl as she slept and she was killed in the fire that engulfed her home. That night family and friends gathered next to the charred remains of their house to remember their loss and grieve. Unfortunately I was there.

As the photo splashed across the wall at Millennium High I found it hard to speak about the photo. Almost six months since I photographed the family weeping as they sat in the cold that night I found it difficult to even look at the image.

There are many photos that have troubled me as I photographed them. A relative weeping at the scene of a fatal accident on country highway, a mother grieving the loss of her son in the Iraq war the images are compelling but they can take a toll. I remember standing next to a television camera crewman as we waited on the sidewalk amid the sounds of tears. Neither one of us wanted to point our cameras at the family as they cried across the street from us. We waited in the cold for some sign that it was ok to photograph the scene. I don’t know if I ever got it but eventually I walked away from the crowd and as discretely as I could and photographed the family as they mourned.

The photo is a powerful image in my opinion. It tells a story of loss and sadness. I told the class today it was a hard photograph to take, a hard photograph to look at and one I do not like to talk about. I also told them that the photo never appeared in our paper. Editors deemed the photo too obtrusive to their grieving. It was on our website for a short period of time before it was removed. I did not agree with the choice against running the picture but sometimes photographers equate effort in creation with quality of the photo. The harder it was to take a picture the better it has to be. It’s just not true. Does the photo tell a story; is it too invasive to their grief? I am sure the answer is yes to the first but I have my doubts on the second.

I sometimes wonder if I were in the same position again would I take the photo weighing the needs of newsgathering against the compassion for the family. It is a hard call to make now but odds are if I find myself in behind the viewfinder with a similar situation I will take the picture and weigh the needs of publication back at the office.

Then students didn’t seem to find the image offensive the instructor though the picture should have run in the paper. It is a fine line we walk on assignment balancing news and compassion in our storytelling. I don’t know if I made the right decision but I know I tried my best.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A sticky situation

‘Hey Glenn can you go photograph some bees?” That’s how some assignments come in no warning just a go there right now request. We had gotten a call that a group of bees had taken up residence some where in the Opera House building on Central Avenue. Sounded simple enough, I expected a small group of bees buzzing around a window or something. How about several thousand swarming inside a wall?

Turns out about a year ago somehow, maybe through a hole in a pipe a group of bees entered a second floor room and made their home. Busy little bees they were as they began building their hive complete with honeycombs. Lots of honeycombs.

So we walk into this small room to see a section of wall cut out to reveal the honeycomb, an elaborate structure six or seven layers deep spanning about 6 feet across and a foot long. Busy bees indeed. Someone had noticed a few stray bees and then there was that peculiar buzzing sound coming from the wall. Not a good sign. A local beekeeper and his son arrived to smoke the squatters out and remove the sticky honeycombs hanging from the wall.

Now this was as weird a sight as you can imagine. There is a hole in the wall with this giant beehive growing out of the hole. The room’s windows are closed to keep all the bees in as they buzz angrily around the room. There are bees on the windowsill, the window screen, the ceiling, the wall and a thick carpet of them clinging to the sections of the honeycomb. The beekeeper, an 83-year veteran with 40 years of bee wrangling under his belt and his son use a shop vacuum to suck the bees out of their lair and into a bucket for transport to a new hive. And if this wasn’t a weird site enough the walls were dripping honey.

No kidding the walls dripped honey. Little amber colored rivulets would fall from the ceiling and drip through the hole. It was eerie watching the chunks of honeycomb dripping their cargo pulled from the wall. I kept thinking of that movie where Richard Widmark uses a flamethrower to kill a swarm of mutant murderous bees attacking him in a room (I always wondered why he didn’t use a can of insecticide instead of the flamethrower but whatever).

I have to admit I am afraid of bees. I don’t like anything that can dive bomb you with a stinger so I was more than hesitant to get close to the hive. That’s why God invented the telephoto lens, to photograph bees from a distance. I did muster up enough courage for a few close-ups; I figured if the bees swarmed I would throw the closest civilian into their path. Its everyman for himself when bees are concerned.

The beekeepers son was hard at work sucking as many bees as he could from the hive. He was stung twice, once above the eye and once in the hand. He looked at me and offered me the vacuum nozzle wondering if I wanted to give it a try. Was he kidding? Forget the bees, give me the grass fires and gang shooting scenes, I want to work where it is safe!

Spell check

Our tax dollars hard at work.

I can’t wait to see their new literacy truck.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Full moon fever

This was the view of the full moon through the cloud base late Friday night. kind of eerie looking to say the least.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

My kind of cat

Now this is a real cat. Sitting down with a nice cup of hot coffee to listen to the police scanner. I bet his favorite movie is "Reservoir Dogs."

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Welcome back

My assignment this morning was a year in the making. As students wandered the halls looking for their classrooms they made history. They were the first group to have class in Tracy High’s new classroom building.

The still unfinished building opened its bottom floor of 12 math classrooms. There was no ribbon cutting, no speeches, just students trying to navigate their way through the corridors often stopping to ask a faculty member where their room was. A teacher passing by remarked that crossing the concrete walkway to the new classroom building seemed as if you were entering a whole new campus.

The official completion is still a month or two away but I couldn’t help but impressed with the new building. From it high tech classrooms to its polished hallways it is a site for sore eyes on the old campus.

For a look at how the new building came to be look here.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Bay Area Beijing

With one hike left before I head out on my solo march up Mount Diablo it was time for nice tune up hike. With hiking partner Alice we headed to the northwest slopes of Mount Diablo for a trip to the China Wall.

Our hike would take us from Borges ranch in the Walnut Creek Open Space into the Mount Diablo State park. The trail is a hot one, virtually no shade and steep in spots. Grass land and dirt trails would lead us to a peculiar group of sandstone rocks aligned through the rolling hillside that if you squint real hard sort of looks like the Great Wall of China. Sort of, maybe.

We headed out along the trail sharing the way with bikers and equestrian traffic. Winding our way along the dirt paths we came up to the rock wall. Jutting up from the grass they form an almost perfect path across the hillside.

The sandstone had a deeper darker blue color a big change from the rock formations occupying the Rock City portion of the park. Jagged in spots and worn smooth in others they form a line stretching into the park. Different colors of lichen clung to the surface making for interesting close-ups. The rock contours against the sky were made for wide-angle lens views.

The hike was hot with no shade along the grasslands. There were the occasional live oak trees as they were forming their acorns in the summer months. After about 45 minutes we headed back to the trailhead catching glimpses of well-fed squirrels and the occasional eagle and hawk.

It was a great hike, just under 5 miles. The steep climbs were great practice for my upcoming solo trek and the Chin Wall was a worthy photo subject. My next hiking adventure will be a trek to the Mount Diablo summit in late August. Stay tuned for a report from the top.