Thursday, May 28, 2009

Letter to the editor

Stella, the new newsroom dog leaves a gift in the editor's office. I can't remember if pooping on the editor's floor is just a write up or a suspension, I'll have to check the employee handbook.

First burn

With brown hills around Tracy it was just a matter of time before the first grass fire of the season hit. Wednesday the call came across the scanner of a large grass fire burning off Byron Road toward the pumping plant on Kelso Road.

Every summer we see a lot of grassfires and I try to go to the ones that have the most potential for disaster. I try to wait for the first fire crews to get on scene so they can give a description of the fire. They will say the amount of acreage involved the type of fuels involved and the rate of spread of the fire. Little roadside fires may not warrant a photo but the call for this fire included a full response by Cal Fire crews including a helicopter for air attacks on the blaze.

The fire was burning along a levee of the Delta Mendota canal leading to the C.W. Jones Pumping Station and its progress could threaten the station. Some crews raced to the head of the fire to try to knock it down while others worked on squelching the flames along the high and low roads leading to the plant.

Since this was an active fire scene if I wanted in it was going to be on foot. I began the half mile hike along the burning levee with thick smoke and flames burning blow and to the side of the path I was on. I knew I was close to the fire scene when I could take a picture of the helicopter dropping water on a burning section of roadway and capture the whole scene with my wide-angle lens.

Crews brought the fire under control quickly with help from the helicopter as it grabbed basketful loads of water form the canal next to the fire. The heat coming from the scorched ground and levee embankment made for a tough time walking along the embankment as did the smoke and clouds of ash drifting by.

The fire was stopped right at the back gate to the pumping plant with no loss of property and no injuries. With the dry hills and fields surrounding us the blaze was sure to be the first of many this summer.

Eating crow

A Tracy Animal Control officer feeds a baby crow as they nurse it back to health so it can join its brethren pooping on my car when I park in downtown under a tree. This guy just kept eyeballing me the whole time hoping for an opportunity to peck my eyes out.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Sunlit splendor

The rugged trails of Mount Diablo are not to be trifled with in summer. The rocky hillsides and grassland trails can be unbearable in the stifling summer swelter. Looking to beat the arrival of the summer heat Alice and I headed to Diablo for a Memorial Day weekend hike along the Little Yosemite Loop in Pine Canyon.

Memorial Day is considered by some as the start of the summer months so hoping for cool weather we slipped over the hill to the Macedo Ranch staging area. We greeted with a cool breezed blowing across the fog bank drifted in from the coast. We would share the trail with other hikers, the occasional off road biker and a few horses as it wound up and down the canyon.

I am not sure why it is called the Little Yosemite Trail, there are no cascading waterfalls, and no snow capped peaks or fields of wildflowers. The trail headed out through cattle grazing pasture and descends along a creek, dry from the lack of rain. Moving form the grasslands dotted with live oaks we move into lush greenery of trees lit by shafts of sunlight falling through the tree canopy. While you might think Mount Diablo akin to an oven, the shade and cool breezes made for great hiking weather.

While the creek was mostly dry occasional pools of water crossed the trail. Reflections of leaves and trees shimmered in the water as we made our way along. Heading away from the creek we followed the trail up to the canyon rim to a rock formation called Castle Rock. We were stopped short of Castle Rock by a barricade set up to keep hikers out of the nesting area of young peregrine falcons. From our vantage point we could watch hawks and golden eagles make lazy circle in the sky above us.

Making the turn to head home we arrived at Pine Pond, a reed filled haven for birds. We stopped to watch them land among the reeds before heading out on the last legs of our hike. With a few steep climbs we were cruising down to the parking to finish our 5-mile jaunt.

With summer a heartbeat away we will shift our attention to cooler locations but a trip to Mount Diablo is always with the effort. Little Yosemite’s sunlit sights made for a great afternoon on the mountain.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

A street car named desire

Meet Stella, the new addition to the newsroom menagerie. A tiny mutt, Stella spends most of her time at the office looking for things to chew to help her teething problem. The nice thing about her is she always likes the sound of the panic button on my desk.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Dancing with the stars

There is nothing like an afternoon dance with a friend. Animal Control officer Lisa McDonald tangos with a pitbull in the parking lot.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Air power

Feeling the need to watch some speed I took a quick trip to Modesto to take in the sights of their airport open house fly in this past weekend. I covered Tracy airport’s fly in but I was working. It is kind of hard to enjoy the sights while your working so Saturday’s trip was just for fun. It was also good practice, as I want to head down to Madera at the end of the month for their warbird airshow.

With every lens I could carry crammed into my photo back pack I headed out into the valley heat to bake on the tarmac. Nothing starts off the day better than the sight and sound of a vintage World War II P-51 Mustang ripping along the runway on a high-speed pass. It would have been even nicer if I had would have had my camera out of the backpack. Fortunately he made a second pass and I fired away.

The first thing I noticed is that they let crowd stand close to the runway. Real close. I found myself debating which lens to shoot with as the 300 mm telephoto was giving me almost to tight of an in-camera crop.

While there wasn’t an airshow I was treated to a variety of airplanes making high and low speed passes along the runway for the crowd. You could tell the airplane nerds, we stood as close to the runway as they would let us, our Canon cameras at the ready straining skyward for the first glimpse of the next airplane arriving.

I stayed for a couple of hours, filled an 8-gig memory called started on second before I called it a day. I like the results; I even remembered to slow the shutter speed down to make sure I had the propellers spinning for a better in flight appearance in the photos. Next stop if everything goes well will be the sun-baked runways of Madera.