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I also squeezed in a visit to Hoover Dam during my Vegas trip, paying an extra $20 to see a couple of more esoteric areas of the dam that are normally closed to tourists.  My experience of Hoover Dam was a bit bittersweet.  While I was impressed at the number of tourists who streamed in to see a large and technologically interesting but fairly unattractive-looking historic engineering project instead of simply gambling in Vegas, seeing the dam reminded me of the much larger Three Gorges dam in China, which I saw a few years back when it was under construction.  Hoover Dam was built during an era when US urban engineers dared to be big and bold with their projects -- buildings like the Empire State building, bridges like the Golden Gate bridge.  These were symbols of national pride.  However, the US has stopped pushing the limits of construction technology, leaving it instead to places like Tokyo, Shanghai, and Dubai. 

We are certainly making progress in subtler ways; energy efficiency has dramatically improved, and mass customization techniques are allowing for new types of structures with fine nonrepeating detail and an organic feel.  There are also certainly drawbacks to structures like dams, which can damage ecosystems despite providing clean power, and I don't advocate aggressive damming of every valley in sight.  Also, there are also certainly other areas in which America is excelling, including most major internet businesses.  However, it seems that new construction and civil engineering projects don't fire our imaginations anymore.  I don't want to see our urban development mired in a morass of entrenched interests and excess regulation, leading us to gradually fall behind as it becomes too difficult to make progress.  For example, building a modern SF-LA high speed rail seems hopelessly complex and political. 

Anyway, the visual experience of Hoover Dam, built in a jagged and lifeless canyon of burnt-brown with a tangle of power lines emerging from a central core deep in the ground, is not unlike a mid-1900s rendition of Mordor.  The stark landscape helps add to the feel of the project's audacity.

Hoover Dam  Hoover Dam
Hoover Dam  Hoover Dam  Hoover Dam
The spillway was the most enormous pipe I had ever seen.  NOM!
Hoover Dam

From the interior... 80-year-old grafitti, among other things:
Hoover Dam  Hoover Dam
Hoover Dam  Hoover Dam

Faraway rocks had a burnt look -- here's a quick feel for what they'd look like without all that silly air in the way:
Hoover Dam  Hoover Dam
Full Flickr set here
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Angel's Landing is the sort of trail that would probably never get built today.  The last section of the trail goes along an extremely narrow ridge with 1000' dropoffs on both sides, with only an occasional chain to help you keep your balance.  I was last here when I was 12 or so, and was too scared to complete the trail.  Thus, there was extra significance behind my return to the trail.  The challenge bar had been set a lot higher though -- in winter this trail is snowy and often icy, and the snow is often deceptive in hiding cliffs, crevices, and other dangerous locations.  I bought some Ice Trekkers traction control devices for my feet, but they turned out to be somewhat inadequate in dealing with the worst situations -- slick icy slopes.  It's hard to get a good view from a distance of this last part of the trail, but I did manage to take a very zoomed in picture from another trail that gives a sense for it.  If you look really close, you can see a person making her way along the ridge.


Zion in Winter  Zion in Winter
Zion in Winter  Zion in Winter  Zion in Winter
Fear was my constant companion as I made my way across.  I was acutely aware of the tiniest slipping of my feet, and moved extremely carefully as I contemplated both the physics of my motions and my intuitive rock climber sense of my movement.  Having this extended exercise of constant fear let me play with how I dealt with the fear; this situation was a reasonable one in which to be fearful, but some flavors of fear are more productive than others, and I was able to analyze what generated the different types of fear. 

I met some other people with better traction control devices -- I had chosen a good all-around solution that handled all kinds of terrain, but the trail really demanded long spikes for better control on ice. 

I climbed up the tree at one of the peaks and surveyed the view.  It was a hell of a drop.  The view was fantastic though.

Zion in Winter  Zion in Winter
Zion in Winter
  Zion in Winter
Zion in Winter  Zion in Winter

Angel's Landing isn't the only harrowing hike in Zion.  Here's Hidden Valley:

Zion in Winter

You call this a trail?  Oh right, I came in winter and am doing all this at my own risk.  Self-reliance is a good trait to develop.
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Zion is a canyon in Utah known for its variety of soft reddish sedimentary rocks.  The composition of these rocks has allowed rivers to carve exquisitely textured yet enormous ravines into them, creating an extremely beautiful place.  However, in winter, these rocks get covered with snow, enhancing the contrast and making the grinding work of the water even easier to see.  Pictures of Zion in winter were amazing enough to convince me to drive three hours from Vegas after my conference ended to check it out.  It did not disappoint.  I spent the day hiking four major trails, taking in as much as I could.

Zion in Winter  Zion in Winter
Zion in Winter  Zion in Winter  Zion in Winter

The textures were fantastic.  The lines of snow deposited in darker and recessed areas highlighted the range of ways that the rock had been carved.

Zion in Winter  Zion in Winter
Zion in Winter  Zion in Winter

I have a lot more photos on Flickr

Also, I'm shocked that Zion is practically empty in winter.  Unless you're going canyoning, there's really not much of a reason to go in the summer. 
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I'm the sort of person who'd be normally have nothing to do with Hooters.  Their lone San Francisco location sticks out like an archaic sexist relic, situated solely to pull in Fisherman's Wharf tourists from other parts of the country and provide solace to bridge-and-tunnel post-frat kids who failed to pick up women at North Beach clubs.

However, my friend's employer found her one of the few remaining hotel rooms in Las Vegas for CES, and she offered me the spare bed -- at the Hooters Hotel and Casino. 

I sheepishly told the taxi attendant where to take me, and he shouted it to the driver as I stood there slightly mortified.  I'm That Douchebag who booked a room at Hooters.

However, within a few hours I realized that Hooters is actually one of the least sexist hotels on the Las Vegas strip.  Let's review:

Women working the casino floor as most casinos wear some minimal sparkly (and probably itchy) uniform that covers just enough of the naughty bits to make them street legal.  They also walk around all day in sparkly and undoubtedly uncomfortable super-high heels serving drinks to gamblers.  Some casinos now have pole dancers strategically placed at the blackjack tables to distract the gamblers. 

At Hooters, the women wear either a tight-but-skin-covering t-shirt or some black-and-white striped shirt, and shorts.  They wear white sneakers.  They don't have to pole-dance.  Overall, their required dress and behavior is quite tame by Vegas standards.  They have a more relaxed down-home southern atmosphere compared to the rest of Vegas's often pretentious glitz.

Their famous chicken wings consisted primarily of corn syrup and batter.  The chicken breast sandwich I opted for instead was sliced 90% of the way and then flipped so that it formed a pair of breasts.  They do handle their branding reasonably well. 

Not everything is always as it seems.  Sometimes up is down, and sometimes Hooters is the least sexist place around.
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What?  No images?  Just click on the damn link.  You won't regret it.

It's in Vietnam.  I want to find out if it's accessible to those who lack technical spelunking skills. 
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This is just about the only meme I indulge in.  In 2009 I slept in 92 different locations.

This year? ....  Not nearly so many.  However, during the early part of the year I managed to move several times while looking for more optimal stable housing.  I became very good at reducing my frequently possessions (including furniture) to 1-2 carloads.

1. Temporary sublet in Oakland.
2. Temporary sublet in the Mission district SF
3. Temporary sublet in Glen Park, SF
4. Current housing in the Mission district, SF
5. D's place in Sunnyvale, CA
6. D's place in Newark, CA
7. Auburn, CA
8. Donner Lake, CA
9.  Truckee, CA
10.  L's house in Napa, CA
11. OgDoRm in Los Angeles, CA
12. D's house in San Diego, CA
13. Hotel in Long Beach, CA
14. M/L's house in SF - housesitting
15.  I/N's house in Mountain View, CA
16.  N's house in Palo Alto, CA
17.  Tortuga in Mountain View, CA
18.  E's house in Sunnyvale, CA
19.  Z/C's house in Santa Cruz, CA
20.  On a boat in the Sacramento River Delta
21. Chico, CA
22. Klamath, OR
23. Portland, OR
24. Bandon, OR
25. Humboldt, CA
26. Pinnacles, CA
27. Yosemite, CA

That was more than I thought it would be, but I really feel like I didn't travel much this year.  Amazingly, I did not board a single airplane in 2010, whereas in 2009 I took at least 30 flights.  (I'm fixing that... I'll be flying in about a week)

As part of my self-tracking I write a quick sentence about each day when it's over.  Reading back across the last year of entries in order to make the above list has been good -- I can watch the long term patterns of my social and exercise foci shifting, habits forming and breaking, the rollercoaster ups and downs of a relationship, and projects going from inspiration to completion.  

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The Berkeley Bulb is the result of an unintentional experiment in long-term anarchistic land use of a dilapidated jetty by a large number of artists and homeless people.  Many of the largest sculptures are similar to the way they were 5 years ago when I last visited, but the numerous concrete canvases have since been repainted many times.

Berkeley Bulb  Berkeley Bulb

Berkeley Bulb  Berkeley Bulb  Berkeley Bulb

Berkeley Bulb
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I've figured out I can save a good bit of money on my return flight from CES by waiting a couple of days.  I'm going to use that time to drive out to Zion in southwestern Utah.  There's a hike there called Angel's Landing.  I remember going there when I was 12 or so, shortly before my parents' divorce.  I made it almost all the way to the top, but this one part (pictured here) scared me so I decided to not finish. 

Given my recent experience off-trailing it to the top of Castle Crags, I think I will have exactly the right amount of fear necessary to handle this properly. 

While in the area, I'll also be hitting up Hoover Dam and the Valley of Fire.  If anyone int he area wants to join me, I'd love the company.  This will be Jan 10-11
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I've given my friend plenty of advice about the specifics of how to get around, what to bring etc, but for her going-away ceremony I wanted to give her the gift of high level experiential and spiritual advice.  Here's what I said:


1. Be a scientist investigating your soul. Peel off your exoself -- all that stuff that's wrapped around you.   Possessions, routines, people etc. Then drop your core into lots of radically different environments and see what happens.  Mix with different cultures. Mix with different paces of life and structures for each day.  Mix with different outlooks.  Mix with different companions.   Sit back.  Observe the results.  Share with your fellow scientists. (that's a fancy metaphor for blogging).   Experiment anew.  The word "experiment" is actually just a fancy word for playing so that scientists can feel like adults.  But playing is how we learn.   Be a kid again and play.

2. Feed your creative brain.  Some random ancient monument will not necessarily be directly relevant to your life goals, but it will lay down a web of neural pathways linked to art, beauty, design, inspiration, experience, and psychology, among other things.  As these pathways become denser, you'll be creating a new mind for yourself, a new way of seeing the world, that will emerge in totally unexpected ways when you come back and face the familiar.

3. Get yourself some transport.  Take a long walk or get your hands on a bike, scooter, ATV, or car.   Get outside of the self-reinforcing ego-serving tourist bubble from time to time and find some strangers.

4. Play sociocultural bingo.   You have to cover all the combinations of rich, middle class, poor, ancient, traditional, modern, urban, rural, serious, and playful, to win.

5. Inspire other women in areas where women fill culturally restricted roles.  If this is done carefully and respectfully, your independence and adventurous spirit will open their minds to a new way of living.

6. Don't log onto Facebook.  Share your experiences in longer posts.  Your experiences deserve it.

7. Keep your pack light. It's no fun to be a pack animal.  Aside from weird esoteric things, they do sell stuff just about everywhere else in the world.  You can live off the local supply chain, and then you'll weigh less.

8. Don't buy souvenirs unless they are incredibly special... otherwise you're just weighing yourself down.  (Well... unless you have a friend visiting for a week, in which case you should do things like give them a chunk of the Dead Sea to take home for you.)

9. Take photos.   Photos are little hooks that will, years later, let you pull out piles of associated memories you thought you'd lost.  Don't get obsessed with taking the perfect photo of some person or event; chances are there's something even better you'll see in half an hour.   Also, if there's a "no photography" sign, bribe the guards to take a photo of you next to it.

10. Watch your stuff and back up your data.   Given all that time you spent assembling your travel kit, it wouldn't be fair for some thief to have it instead of you.

11. Eat weird food.   Look for the place that's popular with the locals, and try it.

12. Be a sponge and soak in the adventures.   This time of your life will always be special, and its memories will always be with you.
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20070622_Tornado 046 determined to have been an F5.

I think seeing a very large intense storm formation with a tornado is probably just as mindblowing as seeing the aurora borealis or a total solar eclipse.  It should be on one of those once-in-a-lifetime lists.  

As it turns out, there are now professional storm chasing vacation operations such as this group who specialize in providing you the chance to experience severe weather, including tornados, from a safe distance.  Apparently there are enough tornados that they can provide fixed 6-day trips 

They also offer on-demand tours that are booked last-minute on a flexible schedule when the weather looks like it's going to get super nasty.  For these you pay per day (it's around $250/day), and presumably get more tornados per day and per dollar than the fixed tours.  If you have a flexible work setup, it could be a good way to go.

Is anyone interested?  This would be in May-June 2011.  Since it will involve a lot of driving and sitting in vans in between weather events, it would be much more fun to do it with friends.  

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We originally planned on hiking up Half Dome yesterday, but we changed our minds after an all-night thunderstorm that was followed by a hailstorm the next morning.  We did get to see the park full of clouds, and that ended up being quite beautiful:

Yosemite on a rainy day  Yosemite on a rainy day
Yosemite on a rainy day  Yosemite on a rainy day
Yosemite on a rainy day  Yosemite on a rainy day  Yosemite on a rainy day
Yosemite on a rainy day  Yosemite on a rainy day
Yosemite on a rainy day  Yosemite on a rainy day 
Yosemite on a rainy day  Yosemite on a rainy day

Full flickr set
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In case you were wondering, this is what Yosemite valley looks like in near-infrared.  Near-infrared is different from thermal infrared, which shows temperature.  In near-infrared, which is commonly used in see-in-the-dark security cameras, foliage is very light, while water is very dark and murky.  I brought a near-infrared camera along on my trip to Yosemite yesterday. 

Yosemite in infrared
Yosemite in infrared
Yosemite in infrared  Yosemite in infrared
Yosemite in infrared  Yosemite in infrared
Yosemite in infrared  Yosemite in infrared  Yosemite in infrared

Full set on flickr.

If you like these, I also have some near-infrared pictures of the japanese gardens in San Francisco.
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After having a late sushi dinner in which the arrangement of the fish in the chirashi eerily resembled Chthulu, my co-adventurer and I found our way into the post-midnight mists of the former military base at the northwest corner of San Francisco, seeking adventure.  We started under the Golden Gate Bridge and made our way out into the darkness, wandering our way through old World War II gun turrets, searching for the narrow, steep path to the beach.  We stood at the edge of a precipice, doused by the sounds of crashing waves but enshrouded in so much mist that we could see only grayish nothingness below.  After playing with long exposures and light, we descended to the beach.  The only occasionally visible bridge beckoned in the distance, and we made our way back towards it, stopping occasionally to dare the waves to hit us.  By then it was close to 2am, and a few miles away, a city of hundreds of thousands was finishing up its partying and starting to hail cabs home.  We were completely in solitude, as if we had traveled hours to some far-off place.

WTF Presidio  WTF Presidio
Golden Gate Bridge after midnight  Golden Gate Bridge after midnight
Presidio graffiti  Presidio lightpainting in WWII turrets 

The Golden Gate Bridge... beautiful Art Deco icon, overphotographed into near-banality by tourists and professionals alike.  It's still awesome.

Presidio in the middle of the night  Golden Gate Bridge after midnight
Lightpainting on a beach near the Golden Gate Bridge  Lightpainting on a beach near the Golden Gate Bridge
Presidio lightpainting in WWII turrets

Full set on Flickr
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There are plenty of redwoods in various areas around San Francisco.  However, they don't reach the incredible size that the redwoods do up in the Redwood National Park.  Up there, the conditions are right for redwoods to dominate the ecosystem and grow to incredible heights.  Wandering among the giants conjured up feelings of being tiny creatures in a world full of beings too large to notice us.  It's the sort of forest that leads to the creation of rich fairytales like Miyazake's Nausicaa and Princess Mononoke.

Humboldt Redwoods state park  Humboldt Redwoods state park
Redwoods National Park  Redwoods National Park  Redwoods National Park
Redwoods National Park  Humboldt Redwoods state park  Redwoods National Park 

Perspective on a fallen tree:

Humboldt Redwoods state park

Redwoods have numerous ways of reproducing -- their genetic material can restart a complete tree from a root or piece of burl. It's an interesting evolutionary trick to manage numerous methods of asexual reproduction in a way that prevents disorganized and runaway growth. 

Redwoods National Park

This tree, on the other hand, is ready to reproduce sexually.  Or maybe I'm just anthropomorphizing.  Why do I keep finding cock-trees?

Redwoods National Park

On a completely different note, there were some incredibly cheesy roadside attractions mixed in with the redwood trees.  Here's a bright idea -- combine a gas station and a casino!  Wheeee! 

It's a gas station AND a casino!

There was also this place, which had plenty of kitsch and an anatomically correct blue ox to keep Paul Bunyan company.

Trees of MYSTERY

Trees of MYSTERY  Trees of MYSTERY  Trees of MYSTERY

All the redwood pics on Flickr!
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Lots of little towns along the coast competed for our attention.  Most people who run roadside attractions don't understand that it takes time for people to decide whether or not to stop the car for something.  Not that many people will turn around and go back, even for something cool-looking.  If there are lots of people in the car, the decide-to-stop time will be a couple of orders of magnitude longer than the visual reaction time, as there is discussion time, deliberation time, and decision time.  It pays to put a series of signs along the road, starting at least a mile in advance, to alert potential customers of your attraction. 

The town of Port Orford figured out something clever -- they painted a giant "OCEAN VIEW" sign on the road, an irresistible call to passing motorists that will divert their cars off the highway and bring them to a dead stop.  

Port Orford, OR

It sort of worked in the sense that we spent an hour walking around their beach, but we failed to spend any money there.  Instead we reappropriated their flowers, crabs, and seaweed for our own nefarious purposes.

Port Orford, OR  Port Orford, OR
Port Orford, OR  Port Orford, OR  Port Orford, OR
Port Orford, OR  Port Orford, OR

I became briefly trapped in a Matthew Barney film.  Everything was overly absurd, pretentious, and high contrast.  All it took to get me there was putting this piece of dried plant matter on my head. 

Port Orford, OR


We later discovered a visually fascinating but unmarked area that turned out to be a state park called Sisters Rock.

Sisters Rock, OR  Sisters Rock, OR
Sisters Rock, OR  Sisters Rock, OR
Sisters Rock, OR  Sisters Rock, OR

More pictures on Flickr for Sisters Rock and Port Orford

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Yes, the rumors are true.  [ profile] browascension 's parents run an alpaca farm.  Investigating the veracity of this particular tidbit more or less set our route back down through Oregon -- two hours of primarily boring but occasionally exhilarating driving down I-5 followed by a hop over to the more interesting coastal route. 

Ann and Mike are not career alpaca ranchers -- they became interested in alpacas only three years ago, and have engaged in raising a herd as a focus and pursuit during semi-retirement.  They have learned what it takes to run a farm and raise and breed alpacas.  They have delved into the intricacies of the many genes that code for coat color.

Like other camelids, alpacas have extremely expressive faces.  They're a joy to watch.  I'm sure their anthropomorphic appearance is helped by the fact that they are sheared everywhere on their body except for the tops of their heads, giving them the appearance of various haircuts.  The alpacas all have names, and the names have backstories -- they're named after things as diverse as characters from Irish mythology, heroes of Ayn Rand novels, and brands of premium chocolate. 

Aragon Alpacas  Aragon Alpacas
Aragon Alpacas  Aragon Alpacas  Aragon Alpacas

Aragon Alpacas  Aragon Alpacas

The alpaca wool is extremely soft and lacks the itchiness of sheep' wool.  Ann and Mike have experimented with making numerous types of yarn and garments out of the wool. Here the wool lies in storage on the barn:  

Aragon Alpacas

In case anyone needs further proof that I met Paul's mom, check out her socks:

Aragon Alpacas

Learn more at their site, Aragon Alpacas

See more lovely alpacas on Flickr!
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Simran and Amanda's wedding was a perfect encapsulation of the union of their personalities -- it was small, informal, irrepressibly playful, full of puns and aikido moves, and engineered to flout numerous traditions but always with good reason.  Flour girls replaced flower girls.  Instead of being held in a cathedral, it was held under a bridge with structural supports that offered a cathedral-like appearance. 

Simran & Amanda's wedding, Portland  Simran & Amanda's wedding, Portland  Simran & Amanda's wedding, Portland
Simran & Amanda's wedding, Portland  Simran & Amanda's wedding, Portland

Wedding guests:

Simran & Amanda's wedding, Portland  Simran & Amanda's wedding, Portland
Simran & Amanda's wedding, Portland  Simran & Amanda's wedding, Portland  Simran & Amanda's wedding, Portland
Simran & Amanda's wedding, Portland  Simran & Amanda's wedding, Portland  Simran & Amanda's wedding, Portland

The afterparty, which lasted all day, featured a full reenactment of the wedding as a shotgun wedding, with an undershirt beach ball acting as stand-in for the unplanned pregnancy.  This truly is the fabled Summer of Weddings, as I have attended four since June and have one more coming up later this month. 

See all the wedding photos on flickr!
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We took the scenic route through Central Oregon into Portland.  The experience of traveling on a road cut straight through tall, dense forest triggers old memories of watching the final scenes of Star Wars, when the Rebels improbably flew down that trench...

Highway 138, central Oregon  Highway 138, central Oregon

Later, we encountered a beautiful desert on the way to Mt Hood

Highway 26, northwest Oregon  Highway 26, northwest Oregon

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Crater Lake is one hell of an impressive place.  It's the remnant of a volcano that was so massive that it blew off numerous cubic miles of itself in a single cataclysmic explosion around 6000 years ago.  (I wonder what Bible literalists think when they read about things like this... perhaps they shake their heads at the obvious stupidity and arrogance of those so-called scientists)  The scale is mind-blowing -- looking at it, I can think "this used to be a mountain, and a center piece that's a mile high, five miles wide, and six miles long just vanished, leaving this hole.  The water of the lake is extraordinarily clear. 

The site was made a national park over a century ago, and bears the hallmark of many years of planning for tourist-friendliness.  It is a huge tourist draw despite its remoteness from major cities.  Unlike Castle Crags, the hikes are easy and well protected; the coddled tourists are encouraged to enjoy the fantastic views in a limited number of easily accessible locations. 

Crater Lake, Oregon

Yes, you.

Crater Lake, Oregon  Crater Lake, Oregon
Crater Lake, Oregon  Crater Lake, Oregon

There was one spot where we could hike down into the lake and jump into its almost drink-ably pristine blue waters.  I hadn't planned on doing this, but the cliff tempted me, so I made do with some boxer shorts as marginal swimming trunks.

Crater Lake, Oregon  Crater Lake, Oregon  Crater Lake, Oregon

More photos... )

See all the crater lake photos on flickr!
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We spent the first night with some friends in Chico.  On the second day, we planned to visit the interesting-looking Castle Crags state park (we chose a lot of minor destinations based on noticing the names of green sections on the map we were passing near and then looking those names up on flickr) for a couple of hours before heading on to a full day of hiking on Mt Shasta. 

Instead, we were so entranced with Castle Crags that we embarked on a rather strenuous 6 mile hike with a 2000 ft elevation gain.  The apex of the hike offered up an additional off-trail don't-say-we-didn't-warn-you climb up a 500-ft dome that offered incredible views of the crags and of Mt Shasta. 

Castle Crags

The final climb was a bit harrowing.  Climbing real, somewhat crumbly rocks without proper equipment or a clear route is an interesting task for a pair of somewhat risk-averse people.   Our adventures on the way:

Castle Crags  Castle Crags
Castle Crags  Castle Crags
Castle Crags  Castle Crags  Castle Crags

We were very happy to finally make it to the top, and were stunned at how few other hikers we saw along the way.  No one else was adventurous or foolish enough to go up the dome as well.

Castle Crags  Castle Crags

The view of Shasta from there was fantastic.  Unfortunately our hike took so long that we had very little time to explore Shasta before sunset, and we had to play don't-flinch-at-the-trucks'-massive-headlights for a couple of hours on a narrow road to Klamath Falls before we could sleep.

Castle Crags  Sunset on Mt Shasta
Sunset on Mt Shasta

I want to go back and climb Mt Shasta.  In the late summer it can be done with minimal equipment.  It's a 12 mile roundtrip with a 4000ft elevation gain (and the climb starts at 10000 feet, so it's very thin air. 

See all the Castle Crags photos on flickr!


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