Feb 252012

Continued from Part I.

(For the complete set of photos, see the SmugMug gallery.)

On one of the days, we headed over to Mono Lake for the sunset. We were hoping to catch sight of some of the brine flies that we saw on Life (or was it Planet Earth?), but the main visitor center and local interpretive centers were closed, so we ended up going to the southern tufas, where none of us have been. Driving down the road to the lake, it looked like this:

You can see the tufas near the edge of the lake off in the distance. Tufas are these vertical mineral structure that are built up over thousands of years of underground mineral springs bubbling up through the lake. Over the thousands of years, the water level has also dropped dozens of feet, exposing these large white structures. They are gorgeous, especially in the light of a mountain sunset.

The sunset created a spectacular mix of oranges and warms from the sky, and the blues from the lake and tufas:

There were some ancient plants too that had been covered in dissolved and crystallized minerals:

Some more pictures of tufas:

We ended with a long hike in the ancient bristlecone pine forest. The Methuselah grove visitor center burned down in a fire two years ago, and was still in the process of being rebuilt. The elevation here was about 12,000ft, so the air was thin, the temperature was below freezing, and the wind often pushed 30mph. We jumped around a bit to warm up. Katie said she could touch her toes:

And off we go! We were panting for breath 10 minutes into this. Yay elevation!

Bristlecones are considered some of the oldest trees in the world, with the Methuselah pine, in this grove, the oldest living tree in the world, at 4,483 years old. They are highly resilient to all kinds of environmental conditions, including fires, cold, lightning, and erosion. They can adapt their vascular structures depending on destruction and water sources, and have giant roots that hug the surface to collect the rare near-surface water.

Nearing the top of the mountain, we took a lunch break:

Speaking of age, can you guess which is older?

Yes, in fact, that tree is about three times Jessa’s age. It also requires no jacket or gloves or hat. And is growing through straight rock. That’s actually one of the most amazing things you notice as you see these trees–so often, they are growing through, around and into solid rock. They are totally the honey badgers of trees. Bristlecone pine don’t give a shit:

This is the definition of gnarly:

A whole forest of these gnarly trees!

They’re called bristlecone pines because they form these purple bristly pine cones (thanks Ilya for finding one!):

Windswept and wizened:

At some point, we were all freezing, even in our winter coats, and were hurrying to get back to the car:

Another awesome tree:

With the elevation though, we still took breaks:

Group picture with an SLR?

What’s crazy is that trees like this are actually alive:

We ended the day parking for an hour or two, waiting for the sky to get dark, then looking at the stars:

Katie and Ilya stayed in the car since it was too cold. Look what you missed!

Feb 252012

(The complete set of photos can be found in my SmugMug gallery.)

After the disastrous 2nd annual Mammoth Lakes ski trip, we embarked on our third one this year over MLK weekend. The problem was that there wasn’t any snow in Mammoth Lakes. Well, no problem, some of us said; we’ll just go hiking. And so we hiked through terrain for five days that’s usually completely impassable this time of year save on cross-country skis or snowshoes or crampons.

Tioga Pass was open this time of year for the first time since the 1930s, which cut an hour or two from our drive from the Bay Area to Mammoth. Tioga Lake was frozen over though, so we had a bit of fun (and a cold picnic) on the open ice.

The buckling of the ice as the lake heats up and pushes new ice outwards is incredible:

On our first day of exploration, we headed over to several volcanic craters that were formed in the creation of the Sierras. This required driving the Outback on a forest road, which, despite the serious lack of snow, was still covered in a thin layer of packed snow and ice. Taking advantage of this rare opportunity of both low ground-growth, and low snow, we walked around the crater.

We saw this tree that was quite a fine specimen of its species:

Our next spot was hiking around Obsidian Dome, an enormous deposit of volcanic rock, including, unsurprisingly, quite a bit of black, shiny obsidian. The approach was another sketchy drive on a forest road, followed up a very steep (and very sharp) scramble up volcanic boulders:

There wasn’t exactly a top–the terrain was highly variable–but once the steep part ended, we felt like we were on a foreign planet:

Even in this rather inhospitable environment, the moss and lichen still thrive:

Many of the rocks look like they had been carved and patterned by rainwater, then readjusted by erosive forces:

Quite incredibly, there were even a few rare firs popping out of the ground. Other hikers have taken the liberty of protecting these young trees with a bit of a human touch:

After about two hours of walking aimlessly, trying to follow one of the winding trails, we were mystified by where the obsidian part of Obsidian Dome was. All we were seeing was this much lighter rock–rhyolite?–and occasionally, there was some granite. Though, after rounding a turn, we saw in front of us huge formations of much darker rock:

Indeed, we had found column after column of shiny, glassy, black obsidian:

An hour later, as the sun was setting, and temperatures were quickly plummeting below freezing again, we found the winding trail down to the forest.

In part II, Mono Lake tufas, and Bristlecone pines.

Feb 042012

Recently, when I was in Atlanta, I was told I had to try these magical things called “Totchos.” They are tater tots, with nacho cheese on top. Being someone who has never really liked either tater tots, nor nachos–and trust me, I’ve been labeled a heretic many a time for these opinions–I was far from certain that I would enjoy the Totchos.


So after checking into the hotel, here’s us about to head out from our Midtown hotel to hit up the Nook.

The Nook turned out to be a dark, dingy restaurant that specialized in burgers, totchos, and other American items, all with a southern twist. Later in my second trip there, I would  have their stuffed burger, which is an utter euphemism for an 8″-high burger with a medium-done 2/3 lb patty, stuffed with grits, shrimp, and sausage, along with a second grits patty on top, all topped by standard burger fillings.

The outdoor area of the Nook was supposed to be ski chalet-themed, but it was only partially decorated, so it looked a bit more like a confused mix of an attic, New Orleans chandeliers, ski trail maps, Bose Soundtowers, and football memorabilia. (And, thankfully, heat lamps).

I ordered a plate of Nacho Totchos, which the menu described as “Grilled chicken, pico de gallo, sour cream, jalapeno and cheese sauce.” There were other options too, like the Loaded PoTotchos, which was “Cheese sauce, sour cream, bacon bits, shredded cheese and scallions.” And also the Redneck Totchos, which was “Mesquite smoked pork, our signature Coca-Cola barbecue sauce, jalapeno and cheese sauce.”

Less than ten minutes later, the totchos were served. I was very glad I didn’t get a second dish on top of the totchos. Describing it as merely tater tots and nacho cheese is misdescribing it. It had a rich taste, with tater tots that stayed crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside. It’s almost pure carbs, but definitely the best tater-tot based dish I have ever had. Especially if you wash it down with a Sierra Nevada Torpedo.

Dec 312011

At the mentioning of Icelandic music, most music lovers will probably think either Björk or Sigur Rós. If their American album release in the spring goes well, Of Monsters and Men may potentially be added to this list.

I first heard this on Minnesota Public Radio’s The Current, which is perhaps the best music radio station in the US. Their album is available in Iceland right now, but nowhere in the US. They recently signed with UMG, so expect a wide release and more albums in 2012.

Dec 262011

I’ve fallen prey to the unstoppable gentle onslaught of Christmas music.

Since I’ve caught the bug, I might as well combine it with Dream Theater (and especially their keyboardist extraordinaire, Jordan Rudess).

Dream Theater performing O Holy Night/Paradigm Shift live:

And from my favorite Christmas album, Jordan Rudess’s 2002 Christmas Sky,
White Christmas:

The Christmas Song:

Nov 242011

The autumn colors are sparse here in the bay area. Only the rare maple or oak puts on a show of its warmer pigments, and often for just a few days before it realizes that it is in sunny California, and quickly blushes yellowish-brown in embarrassment at its own fortune. When I was out in DC, I brought back the leaves from a few gorgeous maples, and shot them against a black background, much like the maple leaf I had shot over a year ago.

The full album is here, but below are some of my favorites from the shoot.

Cartenoids aplenty:

Some veins are better at supplying the chlorophyll nutrients than others:


Beautiful lobes:

A guest photo by Jessa of a Ginkgo:

Such distinct ridges:

One of the few clean yellow-brown leaves:

Sometimes, green is nice too:

Like the gnarls of an old tree:

Cartenoids and xanthopylls and anthocyanins are pretty awesome.

Nov 022011

It seems like Coldplay has tailored its recent album, Mylo Xyloto, even more to an arena setting than their last album, Viva la Vida. It’s an explosion of distorted glammy synths and I/IV/V chords and steady dance beats and Chris Martin reaching up octaves to belt out eminently sing-along-able choruses with a “oh’s” and “whoa’s.” And it’s great.

But let’s just compare and contrast:

Then (“Careful Where You Stand” from Parachutes B-Side, 2000):

Now (“Every Teardrop is a Waterfall” from Mylo Xyloto, 2011):


Oct 312011

I’ve recently started to travel more for work, and with it, comes lots of miles from multiple airlines, as well as a plethora of rewards points from travel credit cards, hotels, and car rental agencies. Keeping track of it is a hassle, so I’ve recently discovered UsingMiles. I’t s like a mint.com for rewards points and frequent flyer miles, collating it all in one place, letting you know your status in each, the number of points or miles until the next level, and when they expire. You can even search for rewards flights directly from the site, which will bypass the really annoying search interfaces some airlines have.