Southwest Utah Trip. May 2014


Once again a three day weekend poised a question of place to visit. Rouge River was always my favorite, though perhaps it should be visited a couple of weeks earlier before the rafting flood. For some reason I’ve decided against it. Instead I’ve decided to visit the South West corner of Utah. That would involve mostly Zion NP and Buckskin Gulch, in addition to some driving around and seeing sights.

Friday, May 23

Leave for the airport in the afternoon. As much as possible I try to travel from San Jose Airport. Mostly because it is just a one stop away on CalTrain, but also because it is small which results in less hassle. I worked from home this day so that we could just start going to the airport quickly. We met Wei on the train station and went to our scheduled Southwest flight.

We have gotten to Las Vegas on time and without any losses (losing a backpack would certainly change the trip substantially). I generally allocate quite a bit of time for getting a rental car – the companies throw a ton of paperwork at you and try to up-sell all sorts of things, thus creating quite a line. This time I’ve rented from Alamo for some reason and there was no-one. We’ve gotten a car faster than all the people collected in the rental area, which was located a bit away from the main airport. That was a good surprise. Perhaps it was a company dependent because Thrifty had a line of people as far as the eye can see.

After getting a standard issue Chrysler mini van (red color) we were off to find some dinner food. For some reason Rita wanted ramen. The place she found only served meat related stuff. Even a so-called vegetarian ramen was based on meat soup. Thus Parul felt quite excluded. Then there was a very long drive to Jacob Lake though the night. The crew was sleeping and I was driving. Cursing myself along the way for picking such a far away place. Kanab would have served fine. Well, I’ve read a couple of bad reviews about the two RV ‘resorts’ they had there so I wanted to find a nicer place. Plus it would have made driving on Monday more interesting (little did I know).

Saturday, May 24

The first item on my plan for this day was to visit Buckskin Gulch. However, that depended on the current weather. Mostly the possibility of rain and as a result a flush flood. We could have gone to the visitor’s center in Kanab, UT and inquire about it. The aforementioned visitor’s center was right on the way to either Zion or Buckskin Gulch. Originally, I did check that there was a bakery on the Jacob Lake Inn. That was a nice touch. We could have just got up, eat and be ready to go in 30 min. I thought it would be like Starbucks or something – ready to go baked goods and coffee. What I didn’t realize was that this place was the only place to eat for many miles. Thus there was no need for people running it to make any effort whatsoever to provide fast service. So we had to sit down, get water, stare at the menus, order the regular breakfast stuff, wait for food, eat, etc. All total 90 minutes. Perhaps it would be good for a slow relaxing trip. But late start turns into crowds and related problems.

The visitor’s center in Kanab was an interesting place. It could provide a lot of helpful information about the things that could be done in the vast South Utah desert. But the main thing was that it was handing out permits for The Wave, assuming you won the lottery of course. Thus there were these hordes of visitors who couldn’t figure out why they just couldn’t go see it. “No, you cannot come. Why? I’m just one person. Because the group permit is 6 people and the permit is given for a group …“. The people working in this visitor’s center must have a lot of patience. And what is so special about The Wave anyway? Yes, it is an interesting rock formation. But it requires a 3 mile slog to it, that is not including all the fight for permits. Buckskin Gulch is much more impressive and it’s free. But I digress.

It turned out that the weather could be raining and thus making visiting a narrow slot canyon a bit dangerous. So we went to Zion, which was in close proximity. Zion National Park was crowded. We drove from the East through that very long tunnel after waiting in line for our one way turn. I guess NPS stopped the two way traffic to accommodate all that giant RVs and rookies driving them. Trying to find some parking we quickly skipped to the town of Springdale, UT. Found one spot there. I wonder how the residents of Springdale handle all the hordes of tourists that flood their town every year. But, on the other hand, they bring quite a bit of money also. The park is well organized in terms of transportation. In reality, there is just one main road there. There is a free shuttle going around. The driver would provide some interesting information about the park with some route info about the stops. There were really two “doable” interesting hikes in the time we had (it was already passed noon) – angels landing (5 miles) and observation point (8 miles). Obviously I’ve picked the later.


The View from Observation Point

In reality Zion is one giant canyon curved in the sandstone by Virgin river. Thus all the interesting hikes just go out from the canyon to the rim requiring a couple of thousand feet climb. Once the group started I had to leave Rita behind to do hike at her own pace. The trail was going through some interesting sandstone formations. There was even a short slot canyon. The color of the layers was slowly getting lighter. Eventually we made it to the top with great view of the Zion river valley and Angels Landing. We had lunch, sometimes feeding the begging chipmunks. Right when we started heading down we met Rita! Apparently she can hike much better on her own without me kicking her butt.

After the observation point we went all the way to the end of The Narrows. I wanted to show the group how this slot canyon look like. The water level was a lot lower than the last time I saw it. On the way we saw this family of ravens that built their nest in small eddy hole in the wall. They were noisily tending their little ones. By the time we reached the car on the last crowded bus it was already dark. People were hungry but driving to Kanab would take quite a bit of time. Aside from the fact that everything could be closed by the time we get there. However, Springdale offered some food choices. There was a decent steak house right outside the park entrance called Zion Canyon Brewing Company, or maybe we were just tired and hungry.

Sunday, May 25

The original plan for this day was to visit Zion. But now it had to be adjusted. We visited it yesterday, so today would be the visit to Buckskin Gulch. I’ve learned my lesson from the day before about the local food services and, thus, as soon as the group was ready we went off to Kanab. Well, I wanted to be safe. The ranger there, however, said that there was some tini-bini chance of rain maybe and so on. A typical avoidance of responsibility. That was a bit discouraging. I’ve picked up some information and we went off to look for breakfast. For some reason we found another “relaxed” place. Could have just gone to McDonald’s. However, that slow breakfast gave me time to think things over. There was a ranger station on US89. I figured that the people there could have a better idea about the current conditions in Buckskin.

That was correct. The office was very interesting. It looked lonely, remote, and dusty in the middle of the vast Utah desert. The guy there looked like an old weathered wolf. He said that the conditions were great. And that I (mostly I) should let go and stop running stressed and just enjoy the nature. No need to run around on tight schedule doing all that mileage. It seemed that he reached some level of wisdom. DSC_2617 After all that encouragement we went to do the actual hike.

It turned out that the parking lot for The Wave is the same as for Buckskin Gulch. I didn’t know that. Two Chinese girls who probably won the lottery asked me right at the turn from US89 and if not for Sasha’a help I would have sent them very far away.

The parking lot was busy, pretty much fool. Forest service was charging all humans and dogs. Cats or elephants were fine. Some people stayed there in their RVs. Probably not a bad place to camp, especially if you don’t have to carry all the food and water. The weather was nicely cloudy and cool.

We went through the initial very narrow but not deep slot canyon. Then to the large opening, more canyon, some junction, etc. At some point it all started looking a bit the same. At some point we left Rita to enjoy her solitary view of some rock face and continue. It was getting sunny and a bit hot. There were some people in the canyon though obviously they were thinning out the further away from the trailhead we were.

Unlike my old impression the canyon wasn’t really flat all the time. There were boulders, some rock piles, and sand dunes in places. It probably was constantly being changed by the periodic flush floods. DSC_2655 Walking on sand could get quite tedious at times. Only Sasha with his bare feet probably enjoyed it. Even I tried it, but at some point I’ve gotten tired of carefully watching for small rocks.

We reached the car at a reasonable evening time. At least it was still light. This day, I thought, we could have a normal car camping experience with campfire and some sausage frying. We found one reasonable reviewed restaurant in Kanab. It seemed to have been the only interesting place around and thus it was packed. The place was some sort of Italian fare. They even had bison steaks (for nice price of $40). Interestingly, they had some sort of art gallery on the second floor. After all the wait, and then eating we again ended up in our unwisely chosen campground way passed good time.

Monday, May 26

My original plan was to go drive around Arizona, see the Horseshoe Bend and go back. That was the reason I picked the camping site on Jacob Lake in the first place – it was a bit part way to the Horseshoe Bend. But, as always, I’ve missed to check all the details. We started with the regular breakfast thing in the same Jacob Lake Inn. Not sure why. I’ve been quite unhappy about the speed of their service. Sitting at the bar didn’t make much difference. Eventually we rolled out down the highway 89A. It didn’t look like the crew was actually enjoying the ride as much as I did. There were vast views of red rocks and buttes. We stopped at the new bridge over Colorado river for some photos. This was where I found that the highway is closed for construction around Page and that we won’t be able to get to Horseshoe Bend this way. The only possible route was to go back to Kanab and around that way. That was really depressing – not only did this Jakob Lake campground cost us at least an hour each day, it also cost us the visit to Horseshoe Bend. That was extremely disappointing. So that was the end of the trip. We slowly slogged to Las Vegas oven barely making to the flights due to heavy traffic. Then flew back without any events.

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Modern C++: What you need to know (talk by Herb Sutter)

Interesting presentation by Herb Sutter on the modern C++.

The video won’t play very well on this page, so grab it from here. There are different formats and slides available for download.

Strangely enough he spends considerable amount of time explaining the use of the prefetcher and performance benefits it can provide. It is very useful, but, in my humble opinion, isn’t exactly related to the topic of the presentation.


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Pine Ridge. Ventana Wilderness. April 2014


One more trip to our local wilderness place. I lead a trip there pretty much exactly two years ago. We visited Pine Valley that time. This time I thought of doing something different. Then, as usual, I just pointed a place on the map and decided to got there. It was Pine Ridge camp this time. In retrospect, it was a good idea – Pine Valley is nice when the weather is warm because then it is possible to swim there. It wasn’t warm at all this weekend, so the views from Pine Ridge were just fine. Since the map doesn’t have the mileage I only had some guesstimate, but it looked under 10 miles one way.

I’ve posted this trip for the weekend one week before. But it was going to be raining quite a bit, so I postponed it. Eventually a group of eight people collected.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

I like the Big Sur trips. Mostly because we can start early Saturday morning; not insanely 4AM early, but still at good time. However, we can still get going on the trip at the reasonable time. I also like to stop somewhere on the way to get good breakfast, mostly at some bakery, they are usually open early.

We started at 7AM from Sunnyvale. Three cars total so I had to find a place to meet and regroup. I was a bit tricky but I found an interesting Mexican bakery in Salinas, CA called La Plaza Bakery. It had big assortment of the pastries and Mexican food. It just didn’t have tough meat.

After the good breakfast the group collected together and proceeded to the starting point. I knew where it was – some old abandoned (perhaps) campground called China Camp. I also knew that the road was very beat up. I just forgot how beat up it was – long driving on gravel road in urgent need of repairs. The most surprising art was snow! Really, really snow. Not everywhere, just in some shaded areas. Weird. I did not expect that. Yes, there were some rains and the nights were a bit cold, but I thought it was warm enough during the day to melt everything. Apparently not. We quickly got our gear and started. There were cars on the trailhead, but not that many.


The ‘before’ picture

The trail proceeded as expected without any events till the lovely lunch spot which is located in this tree shaded saddle at the crossing of different trails. It was possible to see some snow on the far away mountains. I guess this forests didn’t really wake up yet from winter. It seemed like it was just getting ready to bloom. It would probably be very lovely in a couple of weeks.

After lunch the fun part started. Mostly due to the fact that I had no idea how the trail would look. It was fine up to the junction with some unnamed trail, which was leading to Pine Valley. After that the trail was quite overgrown. However, there were new trail signs so some group was working on these trails. Perhaps they just didn’t get to clearing all of them. Well, one step at a time.


Snow on the trail

There was snow on the trail, in some places. The snow was strange. It wasn’t that packed concrete that fills the Sierras after many freeze-thaw cycles. This snow was slushy like it just recently fell and the weather was warm. Strange.

The trail it this point was visible, in a strange way. It looked like this long thin cut on the body of the ridge. At least it wasn’t going up and down all the time. We did have to bushes or crawl over trees all the time. Why is it so bad? It is a lot more fun than some well maintained trail that feels like a walk in a park. Well, raw bushwhacking isn’t fun either, but there still should be some difficulty.

We reached the junction in another saddle with the Bear Basin. The Pine Ridge campsite was quite close after that. There was a very tiny easy to miss metal sign pointing to it. Then after some more bushwhacking I found it.

The cam site was great. The view of the ocean was obscured a bit, but other than that it was perfect. There was a running spring (coming out of a pipe). Someone left a large metal box there, locked from sides by two sliding padlocks. I’m not sure if anyone still remembers where the keys were. I suspect the box was for the food storage away from the local creators. But now the locks were rusted (and shot at numerous times, someone really tried opening it) so it was just sitting there making a decent table. There was even a toilet, but I found it the next morning.

We made it to the campsite quite early. There was enough time to set up, sleep, even for some wilderness acupuncture.


Wilderness Acupuncture

However, after the sun went down it became really cold. I mean big time cold. No wonder there was still snow on the ground. It wasn’t freezing cold, but for some reason I felt colder than two weeks before in the snow. Perhaps I was wearing more clothes. The good thing was the campfire. I’m not sure if it was allowed, however, I did make sure I put it out well and we only burned down wood. Fire is always nice when camping. It’s the wilderness TV.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

The night passed without any events. No one was eating my stuff this time. Maybe the rodents were still hibernating. Krishna and his friend wanted to finish early so they were up and all packed by 8AM or something. The rest, including me, were still eating, washing, packing, etc. But we got going eventually by 10AM.

The main Pine Ridge trail looked a bit different going back. Perhaps the light was different. We made it to the same lunch spot by about noon and then to the trailhead by 3PM or so. We just met one couple on the trail going back from Pine Valley. But there were several groups going to Pine Valley area.

After the ending everyone just left quickly. We stopped by on the was at one of the wineries. Either I was dehydrated and empty or their wine was not good at all, but it felt like the worst wine tasting I’ve had so far. Perhaps it isn’t a good idea to enjoy wine right after a trip. That time usually calls for good steak or a bowl of ramen.


Pine Ridge trail

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New Attempt at Vegetable Gardens

My old contraption completely disintegrated. I bought these plane simple boxes from Office Max or something. They were inexpensive. However, after a couple of years under the sun the plastic became completely brittle.

Enter EarthBox. I found it while searching for the new planting ideas. It claimed to be made from better UV resistant plastics. It also has a water reservoir under the layer of soil. It should keep the plants more hydrated and thus produce better results. There are many DIY EarthBox-like designs – essentially get two plastic boxes and some PVC pipes and you are done. But I figured that factoring work and the materials needing replacement in a couple of years I won’t save much.

I just planted two boxes – one with green onions and one with beets (seeds we gotten for free at the Gravenstein apple fair). Stay tuned for the results.

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Snow Camping in Lassen NP. March 2014


This year was very bad for winter sports – drought in our state. All those storms from the Pacific that drench the coasts and dump snow in the mountains weren’t coming this year. It wouldn’t be much of the snow camping with snow. I even post a trip to Glacier Point. Same thing we did last year. But due to a sudden snow storm I had to postpone it. Eventually, by mid March there was enough snow to do something interesting. Actually, March is a nice time – there is still enough cold, but the days are much longer. So this year’s trip to the winter wonderland would be going to Lassen Volcanic NP under the leadership of Mr Igor. A different route from last time – now coming from the visitor’s center towards Mt Lassen.

Friday, March 21

The meeting time was at 1PM. However, with all the car rental and gear managing we barely got going at 5PM. Right at the best traffic time! Good thing I wasn’t driving. The bad thing is that I can’t read in a car – it would be nice to use the time for some reading. We stopped at the recommend Mexican place in Chico, CA called Tres Hombres. A bit large and noisy for my taste. I prefer more of a whole-in-a-wall type of places since they usually have best authentic food. After that it was a lot of winding road driving. Eventually we made it to the parking lot of the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center at about 1AM. Nothing special there. The parking lot was plowed, the visitor center was open (good access to warm restrooms). All we had to do was to walk a bit off to the snow and setup camp. One problem came up – in all that rush leaving we forgot one sleeping bug. Had to improvise for one night – -meaning, Igor was sleeping with just a lot of dawn on him. The rest of us shared 4 people in 3 person tent. It was very cosy and warm there.

Saturday, March 22

Due to the late evening the start was late too. I woke up early, as usual. The other groups on the parking lot were already getting ready to do what they planned. There were many who just came to play in the snow – it is pretty much free. There were some who were going to do some backcountry skiing (had nice skis with skins and fancy boots that can be clipped in differently for different activity). I hate to say it, but not everyone was prepared from the get go. I was packed, so was Yuhua. But some of the green people had to be coached in packing.


The ‘before’ group shot.

So the process of packing and preparing lasted for a couple of hours. In the mean time we finished the leftovers of last night’s Mexican food. Eventually we started at about noon. I didn’t have a clue where we were going exactly. There was talk about going to Mt Lassen, but how I wasn’t sure. In the end we just followed the unplowed road. There was a point in the road, right after the first bubbling mud pool, to cut a significant chunk of the mileage by simply crossing through forest. One good thing about winter it that you can pretty much go anywhere – on snowshoes or backcountry skis just plow through, the snow shoes act as rudimentary crampons (that doesn’t mean that going uphill with a pack is physically easy). So we went up some hill, crossed the forest and met up with the same old road. Then we had lunch and moved on. Karen went back and the rest of us moved forward. Yuhua and I proceeded on snowshoes and the other two newbies, under Igor’s leadership, were struggling on skis. The distance wasn’t that large – maybe 3 miles or so. No wonder were reached the proposed camping area within a couple of hours. We found a quiet corner at the other side of the frozen lake Helen. It was secluded enough from the wind, but also open to see great undisturbed snowy expanses and enjoy the sunset.


Winter kitchen

I dug the kitchen, almost set the tent, changed, walked around, but the rest of the group was still not in the view. Got me a little worried since the sun was going down and so were the temperatures. But they made it eventually. We had good dinner with lots of hot food. The weather was great – no wind at all. It was getting chilly and my fingers were getting numb, but it could be much worse with windchill. After the dinner Yuhua, Igor, and I went for a small walk to get the metabolism going so that it can process all that oil and generate some heat. There was a parking lot a bit behind the hill for the Bumpass Hell trail with a great view of the night sky and some glowing city in the distance.

Sunday, March 23

Beautiful morning. Even though everything was frozen solid. I got up again like an idiot in the early morning while the rest were sleeping. My tent mates seemed to have had a rather cold night because they were squeezing me in the middle all the time. I was fine. This time I brought two pads to keep warm.


Beautiful Morning

Igor was still sleeping in his grave. There is nothing wrong with sleeping in a snow grave, as long as you have the right equipment. I walked around a bit feeling the crusty frozen snow. It really felt like real winter. But when the sun came above the mountains it started warming up. We had a couple of neighbours camping around the same lake Helen. Some groups came later. However, we were far away from each other. The original plan was to perhaps climb Mt Lassen. For that the group had to be up and ready by about 8AM. Instead the groups slowly got ready by about 10AM. There was no time to climb any peaks any more. We probably needed crampons also, half the time. The mountain didn’t have that much snow to only use crampons. So we broke the camp and went off … to the aforementioned parking lot.

There was some morning yoga there and after that we attempted to day hike to Bumpass Hell area. DSC_2176 It was a bit more difficult than I though. I was under the impression that it was just behind some small mountain. Well, maybe a bit more behind. But it turned out not being so simple. Igor went on skis on a more flat terrain. I decided to just ram it through. But it was a bit too steep for people not experienced with winter sports. As a results, after some painful adjustments we had to turn back. Sad, it would be interesting to see Bumpass Hell in winter.

After the regrouping at the same parking lot and short lunch we headed back. The route was simple – just follow the road down. I just wish I had skis instead of snow shoes. But still, I was able to cut one part of the route by sliding on my butt down the hill. We met Karen coming up the road enjoying herself. She really had good time without all that weight of a backpack. It was a bit of a slow slog for me. I’ve picked up the whole 3p tent we were using. The snow became slushy on the sunny side and frozen on the shady side. I just had to keep walking under all this weight, trying to enjoy the process.

Igor, Yuhua, and I made it to the car early. There was enough time to change, stretch, eat, talk with other groups (there was a group of three Indians – two man and a woman – from the Valley who summited Mt Lassen. Rather unusual case. Perhaps I should have talked to them a bit more.) Then the rest of the group returned and we headed out. Had dinner in Chico in the same Mexican place and arrived to Palo Alto at about 1AM.

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Amaluna in San Jose

There were a lot of advertisements for this event by Cirque Du SoleilAmaluna. Cirque Du Soleil has tons of shows. It seems that they are the only provider of shows in Las Vegas. But going there is a bit of a hassle. Since they came here to the valley I though it may be interesting to see what it was (plus a coupon really helped).

The venue was temporary – traveling circus basically. A bunch of tents with proper modern equipment like lighting, toilets, shops, etc. The actors were from the company, but the support staff was local.

The show looked like a mixture of a rock concert and gymnastic performance. It didn’t have trained animals, for example. Funny, but it looked like Chinese Opera thing. But it was solid non-stop performance with pretty much every person in the troupe doing something all the time (not like “I did my element and then I’m done for the evening”). Not too bad. There was nothing specific there to this or that audience or group of people. It could have been shown anywhere in the world (aside from some lunatic places that don’t like people in tight costumes).


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Mechanical Design of Popping Beetles

I’ve noticed this ever since I was a kid. In Belarus there were these tiny beetles that would jump if you try holding them or put them on their backs. They were doing it by moving their head part really fast. However, I was never really curious to figure out how exactly they did it.

So comes this blog – Beetles In The Bush – that I subscribed to who knows when.

A large spine on the prosternum fits into a groove on the mesosternum.

A large spine on the prosternum fits into a groove on the mesosternum. From Beetles In The Bush

The author is very good at describing all sorts of insect species and, especially, at taking their photos. But, the reason I want to point to this blog today is that in his latest post – Pop! goes the beetle – he also explains the mechanism how the beetles do this rather interesting movement. How the muscles store the potential energy and the two mechanical parts allow for fast release of that energy.

There was some discussion on the reasons, from the evolutionary standpoint, for this ‘feature’ – to fight the potential predators or just recover from landing on their back. And also discussion on the reason why the beetles jump so high. Seems like waste of energy. But when getting away from a predator no energy should be spared.

Interestingly, this is the second example, for me at least, of insects building essentially mechanical devices out of their exoskeleton to achieve their goals. One more was listed by Gizmag last September – Insect uses gears to enable 200 g hops.

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