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Yosemite in Winter – Winter Colors

We finally finished our four seasons visits to Yosemite National Park. This was our winter trip that turned out to not be so wintery at all. The temperatures were in the 50’s and we enjoyed sunshine for most of the trip.

We decided to take a hike on the north side of the Yosemite Valley where the sun is shining. The Upper Yosemite Falls Trail is just across from the lodge so that is where we began. There was very little water in the falls so we chose to go up the trail about a mile and a half and see the view from Columbia Rock.

We did see a few hikers on the trail but during the winter there are very few people to be found in the park. I think this year there are even less than normal because Badger Pass ski resort is closed so there aren’t even skiers to be found in the valley. At Columbia Rock we met with a family from England, two young college students from Korea, and a Croatian girl.

Here is the view from Columbia Rock overlooking a meadow and the lodge. In the distance Half Dome looms up and dominates the vista. We stood for a bit and gazed at the beauty and then hiked back down the four dozen or so switchbacks to the valley floor.

We started off the hike with lots of layers and by the time we reached our destination we were in shirt sleeves and sweating. It was really warm in the sun on the exposed trail.

The first of my colors in the winter color challenge is black. The Common Ravens are the bird most commonly seen and heard in this area of the park. They are black AND iridescent purple in the sunlight. Their loud and clear CRUCK CRUCK CRUCK can easily be identified. We also saw and heard other birds during our stay like the Steller’s Jay, the Nuthatch, and the Acorn Woodpecker.

In the Village you can see the browns of the trees, acorns on the ground, and the evergreens to make a winter color palette. In this photo you can see Yosemite Falls in the distance, nearly dry. As the day wears on, the falls flow a little more but in the mornings they are nearly dry.

Here is a little green lichen I spotted along the trail, landing among pine needles. The bright green really pops out this time of year when the world is filled with grays, browns, and blacks.

In spots where the sun doesn’t shine, the snow is still seen in patches. This meadow has lots of winter weeds showing through and I spotted some milkweed left from the past season.

The second day we hiked to the Merced Grove of sequoia trees. These giants really stand out in the forest with their reddish bark and large trunks. We shared this forest with the trees for a bit, sitting quietly and reveling in their ancient history.

I tried to capture what the bark looks like close up…it is soft and squishy and shreds easily. Amazing.

My husband decided this was the best way to enjoy the sequoia’s beauty…looking up at their tall stature.

So ends a complete year of Yosemite National Park visits. It has been a wonderful experience personally for me to achieve a goal and to learn a little more about one of my favorite places on earth. I feel blessed to live so near such an awesome place to get outdoors and build memories with my family.

My husband and I celebrated our accomplishment with a little pizza and Half Dome California Wheat beer at the Yosemite Lodge. Perfect ending to a fantastic day, trip, and year.

You can read about our seasonal visits to Yosemite in these entries:
Yosemite in Spring – Waterfalls and Biking
Summer Trip to Yosemite – Hikes, Wildflowers, Rocks, and More
Yosemite Autumn Trip – Panorama Trail

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Nature Study Goals 2013 – Progress To Share

Nature Study Goals 2013 – What Did I Accomplish?

Goal vs. Accomplishments (original goals)
1. Study and journal ten new birds – Completed five new birds: Pine Siskin, Red-Shouldered Hawk, Mountain Chickadee, Spotted Towhee, and Common Raven.
2. Study and journal five new trees –  NONE! What happened there?
3. Study and journal five new shrubs – Completed four shrubs: Toyon Berry, Chamise, Western Redbud, and Chinquain.
4. Take four new hikes: Completed all four!
5. Visit Yosemite National Park in all four seasons- Spring, Summer, and Autumn completed. Winter is coming up in January 2014.
6. Fifteen rocks collected and studied – We completed six of the fifteen rocks. This was a lot harder than I thought so we will make this a long term project.

Yosemite Oct 2013 – Hiking Buddies

What Did I Learn?
The lesson I learned from these year long goals is that you need to keep any goals right in front of you at all times to remind you of your progress. I did make planner pages for most of the goals but I filed them too far back in my planner. I need to look at them each month and pick a few to work on at a time.

Bike Tour down Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii Volcanoes National Park- November 2013

I also learned that my interests change over time. I love following my passions and right now I am inspired by the December Newsletter to visit more national parks…even some far away. I love the idea behind the national parks and during 2014 I will be sharing some more of my thoughts on that topic.

What About New Goals For 2014?

I will be sharing my new 2014 nature study goals soon. If you decide to make some goals for you and your family, please share them with me. You can leave me a comment or leave me a link to come look on your blog.

Top of Vernal Falls – Mom and Son Trip May 2013

Last Thoughts

This has been a year of huge change in my life…our family has grown and stretched in amazing ways. My biggest personal change has been my sixty pound weight loss. I can now hike farther and faster than I ever could and it has opened up a whole new life for my husband and I. We now can set bigger goals for doing more things on trips and share incredible experiences together.

My middle son and constant outdoor companion has moved to New York. He now scours the woods near his new home and shares many of those experiences with me through text and photos.

Mr. B – Nicaragua 2013

My daughter traveled to Bolivia and Peru while my youngest son traveled to Nicaragua. Both experienced the wonders of a habitat far different than our own. I loved hearing of their adventures and relived their travel through photos they brought home to share.  Mr. B is hoping to go to Peru for an extended period of time in 2014…looking forward to seeing his experiences!

Death Road Bike Tour in Bolivia – My daughter loved it!

I am so glad that over the years we shared the outdoors together creating memories and a growing confidence about not only traveling the world but experiencing the flora and fauna at the same time.

I hope this encourages you in your own endeavors to create nature study experiences with your children. Nature study will shape who they are on the inside as they learn to appreciate the creation we have right at home and then beyond.

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California Shrub: Toyon or California Christmas Berry

Toyon or California Christmas Berry

  • Rose Family
  • Evergreen shrub or small tree growing to 6 or 8 feet high.
  • Leaves are 2 to 4 inches long and dark green and fine toothed.
  • Small white flowers appear in June or July.
  • Red berries appear by December….favorite food of robins, mockingbirds, and cedar waxwings!

This is a common shrub in our area and right now it is brilliant with red berries. I love seeing it along our walking trail and I realized this week that my dad has a whole patch of it on his hill. I am planning on going over there to take some photos later in the week which I will add to this entry.

I enjoyed this paragraph in my California Forests and Woodlands book:

“The wildlife of Foothill Woodland is often richest in the woods where the pines and oaks intermingle with California Buckeyes, a shrubby undergrowth of Buckbrush, California Coffeeberry, Toyon, and tangled vines of Wild Grape, Pipestems, and Western Poison Oak.”

This describes our habitat perfectly! I love learning about the interdependence of plants and animals…so very interesting. I need to add Coffeeberry and Wild Grape to my list of plants to study in the next year so look for entries in the future.

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Rock Study #6 – Quartz

Quartz is a common rock found in my part of the world. We see it just about everywhere we go whether it is on our walking trail or down by the river. We mostly have milky quartz.

Here is my specimen gathered locally and now sitting in my collection. Okay, I already had lots of quartz in my collection but since my nature study goals were to collect the samples this year, I decided to get another one…you can never have too many rocks. 🙂

According to Wikipedia, milky quartz is the most commonly found type of quartz and can be found almost everywhere. I know we have found it a lot of places we have traveled. Even though it is very common, it is still beautiful and amazing to look at.

Some more interesting facts I learned this time:

  • All granite has quartz and feldspar crystals in it. The crystals in granite are not large and perfect.
  • Amethysts are crystals of quartz colored a beautiful violet by the presence of a tiny amount of manganese.
  • Quartz crystals are six-sided.
Photo courtesy of Rob Lavinsky at

Another interesting aspect of our quartz study was the knowledge that our local gold mines were commonly quartz gold mines. The gold was extracted using a series of stamp mills, mixed with water, and then extracted using mercury. I have seen the stamp mill replica in our town and was told that when it was in operation the noise echoed all over the town. I can only imagine how that would have sounded!

If you are interested in studying more about quartz using the Handbook of Nature Study, don’t miss this challenge from the archives: Quartz Study

To refresh your memory, I am going to try to collect all fifteen rocks discussed in the Rocks, Fossils and Arrowheads (Take-Along Guides).This month we spent lots of time out and about looking at rocks, collecting a few new ones, and enjoying our rock adventures. We did not actually complete any of the fifteen rocks from the book. I can see now that I need to be more purposeful if I am going to achieve this goal in the year 2013.

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Yosemite Autumn Trip!

Our much anticipated trip to Yosemite for our autumn visit was a huge success. We didn’t plan it but we were leaving the day the park was closed because of the government shutdown. I was very grateful that we were able to get in our visit and hikes before the trails and campground were closed indefinitely.

The image above shows a glimpse of the devastation from the Rim Fire. This is along Hwy 120 above Groveland, CA. It was an awesome sight to see and you could see signs of the fire as we continued into the national park itself and up along the Tioga Road. Much of the area along the road had been cleared before the fire so my husband thinks that many of the trees, although scortched, will revive. We shall be anxious to see if he is right.

We had reserved a campsite along the Merced River in the Lower Pines Campground…perfect! We enjoyed our two nights in our tent with a show of stars at night that was unbelievable. The camping was a little quiet for us with no children along for this trip but it was fun to just be a couple again.We sat in chairs and watched squirrels and birds. We huddled around the campfire and enjoyed the peaceful cracking and snapping of the flames on the oak wood. The air was crisp in the mornings but not so cold we couldn’t break from the cocoon of the sleeping bag.

One afternoon we took a long walk along the valley floor. This time of year there are no big crowds around so you see lots of wildlife. In the image above, you can spy a bobcat! He was wandering along the trail and then he went down to the river. We also so numerous deer…adults and babies too. One time we saw a herd of 20+ deer grazing in the meadow.

Yosemite Falls is bone dry right now. I felt sorry for all the travelers who came from all over the world to visit Yosemite when the falls are dry…just not the same. Autumn is not a time for huge waterfalls in Yosemite but their are other reasons to come at this time of year. The story of Yosemite in the autumn is the change of season with colors and the quiet awesomeness of viewing the granite that also change in color with the light.

Our campsite was visited by many, many squirrels. They were busy collecting seeds of some sort and having a feast. The Stellar’s jays and Common ravens also came to visit and first thing in the morning they were very noisy. The seemed to say, “Wake up! Wake up! You are missing the sunrise!”

Our second day we hiked the complete Panorama Trail. This is an eight mile hike that includes three waterfalls…that actually have water. The image above is the very top of Nevada Falls and although it is not running with much water, it is still a fabulous waterfall. (see below)

Here I am after hiking down from the top with Nevada Falls in the background. Isn’t it an awesome sight? It is hard to describe the sound of a big waterfall, especially this one back in the corner of the valley. The sound cracks and echoes all around you. About this time in the hike, I am getting tired and the downhill climb is harder than climbing up.

Here is a portion of the trail that is a little easier and the views are phenomenal. I love the sky in this image. When I’m hiking, I always watch the sky for signs of storms but this day it was perfect with partial cloud cover a lot of the time. Breezes would cool us off as we hiked. Autumn really is a terrific time to hike at Yosemite.

This is also about the point where we observed a mama Black Bear and her cub…off in the distance but we still became hyper-aware of our surroundings. There were several other hikers, some in front and some in back of us, so we alerted them to our sighting and shared bear stories before we all spread out again.

I was in the mood for looking for fall colors. The maples and oaks were starting to turn color and I found this large leaf along the trail. My husband thinks I’m nuts sometime but he cooperated and took my picture so I could share it with you. This is a good place to point out that hiking in Yosemite is a bit of a rock scramble at times (that is the trail behind me). These are not smooth, easy trails that you can hike along without paying attention. You are always looking down for your next step…not many flat trails here. This is why I started using a walking stick…it makes my hiking so much more pleasurable.

I was so inspired by the Bigleaf maples that back at the campsite I created a nature journal page with some of the information I found interesting. My leaf sketch was a bit of a fail..I think I was hung up on trying to get it to fit in the box I had created on the page and so it looks sort of squished. Oh well, you get the idea of a maple leaf.

The last day of our trip we took the long way home and drove out Tioga Pass, along Hwy 395, and then across on Hwy 89 and 88 to get home. This took us through the high country where the aspens were ablaze with color. We stopped several times to enjoy the views. Now this is what autumn should look like!

It was a fun trip and I am looking forward to the winter season and visiting Yosemite National Park to really see the full circle in this amazing place. We are aiming to hike in the Mariposa Grove of sequoia trees whether there is snow or not. Not sure where we will stay yet…hoping that the government closure is over by then.

You can read about our seasonal visits to Yosemite in these entries:
Yosemite in Spring – Waterfalls and Biking
Summer Trip to Yosemite – Hikes, Wildflowers, Rocks, and More

This post is part of my Nature Study Goals for 2013 – to visit Yosemite National Park in each season.

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Pine Siskin – Learning to Notice the Details

Part of my nature study goals this year was to learn about ten new birds and their calls. I think I was a little ambitious and ten *new* birds is a lot to tackle. I am up to three birds….not sure how I got off on my count but I only have three official birds so far:

Pine Siskin
Carduelis pinus
This entry is all about the Pine Siskins which we spotted way back in February during the Great Backyard Bird Count. I created a nature notebook page for the Pine Siskin at that time but never shared it with you. I used the coloring page from the Cornell Feeder Bird Coloring Book (free to download and save on your computer for future use). This is a bird that does not stay yearround in our yard. I had to look carefully to spot this bird because it is very much like the finches we have everyday at the feeders. It looks like a finch with yellow wing bars and a little yellow on its rump.

The call of the Pine Siskin sounds similar to the canaries I have heard. Here is the page on All About Birds with the sounds of the Pine Siskin. It is a sweet little bird and I am anxious to see it once the winter comes. Looking at the migration map, it looks like it moves far north for the summer.

Still working on my nature study goals for 2013…learning ten new birds and their calls during the year. Widgets
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Interior or Mountain Rose-Shrub #4

Interior or Mountain Rose
Taylor Creek area of Lake Tahoe

Shrub with thorns, growing 2-9 feet tall.
Flower pink to white and about 2 inches across. Five petals. (not seen during September)
Fruit is a red rose “hip” about 1/2 inch in diameter.
2,500 – 10,000 feet in elevation.

The hips are edible and an excellent source of vitamin C, usually made into a tea or jelly.

This rose is a pretty pink rose that we see along our favorite trail at Taylor Creek. This time of year it is covered in bright red rose hips….which we at first thought were berries until we stopped to take a closer look.

It was an evening filled with smoky air from the Rim Fire at Yosemite. Quiet and all alone on the trail, we enjoyed the peaceful beauty of a late summer walk after dinner.

This time of year you can recognize this shrub by the hips, the leaf shape, and the thorns!

This is the fourth shrub I have recorded in my nature journal this year as part of my nature study goals. One more to go! I am not doing so well on my study of trees….need to get busy.

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Shrub #3 Chinquapin in Yosemite National Park

On our July visit to Yosemite National Park, we found an interesting bush along the Panorama Trail. I decided to take some images and then research it when we returned home. There were lots of unique characteristics to this shrub and to my delight it was not very hard to identify.

This is Chinquapin and is found on dry, rocky slopes. There is a famous intersection where Glacier Point Road and the road to Wawona intersect that is named for this prevalent shrub.
Castanopsis sempervirens

We observed growing in-mass along the Panorama Trail, below Glacier Point in elevation.

Here another view of a large patch of Chinquapin. This shrub is an evergreen and has flowers and then an amber colored burr that develops later in the summer and ripens in September and October.

Here is a close-up of the burr. The burr will turn into a golden brown chestnut like burr with thorny spikes. Eventually they will hold several round nuts.

This plant is in the beech family and forms long cream-colored fluffy catkins in the summer. I wish this image wasn’t so blurry but it is the best one I have.

So if you are following along in my progress, this is the third of five shrubs that I intend to observe and identify during 2013 as part of my nature study goals.

Here are the other two shrubs:
Western Redbud

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Mountain Chickadee – New Bird #3

Mountain Chickadee
Poecile gambeli

Location: Lake Tahoe, evergreen forest habitat
Fieldmarks: white stripe over eyes
Song: chicka-dee-dee or tsick-adee-adee

This busy bird is always seen and heard along our favorite hiking and biking trails at Lake Tahoe, especially in the Fallen Leaf Lake and Tallac areas of the Tahoe Basin. I have grown to know the sweet little song of the chickadee and regularly hear it during each of the seasons, even winter during the snowy months.

I created a nature journal page and used the coloring book image from Cornell’s bird coloring book to make an accurate drawing of this bird. This is an easy way to cut and past a line drawing to use for your journal if you are not confident about your drawing skills.
Feeder Birds Coloring Book

Still working on my nature study goals for 2013…learning ten new birds and their calls during the year.

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Rock Study #5: Rhyolite

During our last trip to Yosemite National Park, we made a stop on the way there at Mono Lake. There at the Visitor Center they have a display of local rocks right out in front of the building. There were three large specimens to really look at closely and two of them are on my list of rocks from my nature study goals.

As a side note: This is an awesome Visitor Center and it does a lot of things right in my opinion. There is an interesting display of natural as well as cultural items. They have a video that they play that gives you a great sense of just how special a place Mono Lake is in so many way. It is also a fantastic birding spot! If you happen to find yourself on the east side of the Sierra Nevada, don’t miss this stop at the eastern entrance to Yosemite National Park.

Rhyolite is a volcanic rock that can be pale gray, pink, or yellow. The chunk they had at the Visitor Center was reddish with gray and black.

In this area there is a large rhyolite dome that we are anxious to go back and see up close. We were unable to collect a rock here so the photos will have to make due for this time around. I did look in the gift shop for a rock to purchase but they didn’t have anything but a small collection of rocks for the Sierra Nevada….which I bought and am enjoying a lot.

Interesting facts 
(which makes sense now that I have done some reading)

  • The glassy rhyolites include obsidian, pitchstone, perlite, and pumice.
  • Obsidian is the pure volcanic glass formed from rhyolite
  • Pumice a volcanic rhyolite glass that has cooled in the form of bubbles.

We are planning on going back to this area again and exploring the differences between rhyolite, obsidian, and pumice. The specimen above is a large hunk of obsidian found at the Visitor Center.

Now that I know the relationship between these three kinds of rocks it makes it much more interesting.

For my reference—
 Photo Credit for this photo: Daniel Mayer

The photo above shows obsidian on the top and rhyolite on the bottom with a very different texture. The photo was taken at Panum Crater which is near Mono Lake.

So even though we didn’t actually collect a samples this time, we feel like we can check this rock off the list. We are continuing to work our way through the Rocks, Fossils, and Arrowheads book.