Sep 232014
 

I’ve been playing around with the Hyperlapse app from Instagram and took it on a walk down the pier at Imperial Beach:

This was hand-held and I didn’t make any efforts to keep the camera steady during my walk. I’m pretty impressed with the way it turned out and will definitely use it for some other experiments.

Sep 082014
 

I was lucky to join in on a quick flight over San Diego county. We flew west to the ocean, roughly following HW 8, then north along the coast to Carlsbad before heading east to Escondido and then south to return to the airport. There was a bit of haze over the ocean, but the weather was generally good while I was snapping some photos:

North Bluff Preserve

Leucadia

Carlsbad suburbs

Escondido from the air

Silverdome

Jul 242014
 

Looking north along the Lost Coast

Hikers on the Loast Coast Trail

Sandy dunes

Anna walking through wildflowers

Punta Gorda Lighthouse

Giant redwood

We have driven through Northern California on road trips before, but have never made the trek to what is known as the Lost Coast. The Lost Coast is a remote area of Northern California which has stayed very remote and undeveloped due to the considerable expense to bring infrastructure into the area as well as the low population (and depopulation during the 30’s, see wikipedia for more). We had the opportunity to spend a few days in the Petrolia area due to the invitation by a friend to stay at their familly cabin.

I can understand why there is a certain romance about the Lost Coast – it is gorgeous, and a glimpse into the past of what California was like many years ago. It attracts a certain type of person to live there year round, and is one of the few places in California where you will find a lot of road signs which have been used as target practice or the smell of skunky weed gardens wafting over high fences.

We hiked the beach route to the remote (and long since decommissioned) Punta Gorda Lighthouse. We had gorgeous weather and enjoyed some beautiful scenery on our hike, which was one of the more picturesque hikes I’ve ever done. A word of warning, however, the distance listed for the hike is deceiving. This is because a good portion of the hike takes place on sandy ground or dunes, which takes a significant amount of energy to walk on compared to a regular path. Rest assured, the effort is worth it.

Photos from The Lost Coast, Humboldt, California Gallery link
Photos from The Lost Coast, Humboldt, California Flickr link

Jun 122014
 

We hadn’t planned the timing of our visit to Monument Valley, but it turned out to be a perfect day. As the sun went down the valley turned a gentle pink and the full moon rose between the two mittens. The moon rise perfectly matched the sunset colors and we were treated to one of the best evening views imaginable.

Long shadows on the mittens Monument Valley sunset and moon rise between the West and East mittens

We relaxed, watched the stars, and then got up early to watch the sunrise. The sunrise was beautiful as well, and cast a different light on everything. After a quick breakfast we ventured out with a Navajo guide around the valley floor. Along the way we heard stories about the different areas, heard our guide play the flute, and saw unique sights like the Eye of the Sun petroglyph wall. I was worried it would all be a bit clichéd given the number of visitors, but it was genuine and memorable.

Sunrise over Monument Valley Cowboy photo op and Monument Valley's Three Sisters Monument Valley arch - Ear of the Wind

After exploring the valley some more we headed back to Page, AZ and signed up for one of the Antelope Canyon tours. The canyon is one of the most famous examples of a slot canyon and has been photographed countless times. The canyon is on Navajo land and as such we had a Navajo guide for our tour. The tour started with a back breaking ride through a dry creek bed to reach the entrance of the canyon, thankfully only a 15 minute drive or so. We were lucky to be the only group at that time in the canyon (it can be packed full of photographers) and were able to take our time to explore the beautiful bends and shapes.

Looking up through Antelope Canyon Antelope Canyon Horseshoe Bend

After exploring Antelope Canyon, we visited Horseshoe Bend and continued our way home via Sedona, AZ. The full photo albums for Monument Valley and Antelope Canyon can be found here:

Photos of Monument Valley and Antelope Canyon – chrisnelson.ca
Photos of Monument Valley and Antelope Canyon – flickr.com

As part of our road trip around the southwest we visited Bryce Canyon National Park and Zion National Park.

Dec 042013
 

I’ve enjoyed touring Scottish distilleries as well as wineries around the world, but had never visited any American distilleries. We thought that this needed to change and found ourselves in Kentucky late September 2013 to visit some parts of the Bourbon Trail. We based ourselves in Louisville and visited five distilleries over the course of a few days – here are my thoughts on each of them.

Buffalo Trace

Kentucky Bourbon Trail Kentucky Bourbon Trail

Buffalo Trace makes a wide variety of bourbon with several different lines represented. Their budget Buffalo Trace is excellent value, typically close to $20/bottle. Things get a bit more expensive from there, with Eagle Rare and Blanton’s being the more premium versions, and then quickly escalate into ridiculous collector prices with their antique collections of Sazerac, Wller, Eagle Rare, Staggg, and Handy Sazerac.  However, even those can’t touch the ultra ridiculous frenzy over the ever elusive Pappy Van Winkle.

Located in Frankfort, the small capitol of Kentucky, the Buffalo Trace distillery is somewhat off on its own from some of the other large distilleries. Distilling began on the grounds sometime before 1773, so in addition to being picturesque, the area has a lot of history.  Buffalo Trace’s tours are all free, which is pretty amazing when one considers each of their many tours per day finish with generous pours of their white dog, base bourbon lines, and sweets.  Our tour guide was a second generation worker and had a genuine love for the company and its history. The only negative thing I could cite them for was a video included on the tour which was a little too long & marketing heavy. Note that the default tour does not go behind the scenes to the mash or other areas – in order to see those areas one has to sign up with those specific tours in advance, which is highly recommended. This was one of my favorite spots to visit, as the grounds were lovely to walk around and the staff extremely friendly.

Woodford Reserve

Kentucky Bourbon Trail Kentucky Bourbon Trail

Though Woodford Reserve releases limited editions they are mostly known for their base bourbon, Woodford Reserve, or the more premium version, Master’s Collection.  Woodford is a relatively new brand (1996) on a very old site. Located just south of Versailles, distilling started on site around 1780 and the main stone distillery building was built in 1838.  Though a well known brand I was surprised to see just how small these facilities were – the fermenters, bottling and storage is all housed within the older historic stone buildings.  Woodfords tour was the most organized we went on – a bus ride down and headsets to hear the guide, however the tour also costs $7.  Disappointingly the tour only includes a taste of their main line – Woodford Reserve. Though one can can talk up some of the gift shop folks for a taste of the double oaked if they display enough interest and seem like buyers, it would have been nice to try some of their other items not easily available, like their recent foray into malt whiskys.  This site is one of the prettiest that we visited, and is a worth a visit to see the landscape and distillery alone.

Four Roses

Kentucky Bourbon Trail Kentucky Bourbon Trail

Four Roses has been around as a brand since 1888 and the mission style distillery building was completed in 1910.  Four Roses has had a bit of a roller coaster ride over the years – very popular the 1930s-1950s, the brand and product diminished in quality up until being revitalized over the last decade or so.   I was excited to visit the Four Roses distillery as their single barrel bourbon holds a special place in my heart.  Though the tour was free, and the pours (almost too) generous, unfortunately this didn’t keep a special spot in my heart.  Their use of multiple yeast strains is interesting, but the the Four Roses facilities are industrial feeling and the tour started with a marketing video.  The experience simply wasn’t able to full compete with some of the others we visited.

Willett Distillery

Kentucky Bourbon Trail Kentucky Bourbon Trail

Willett Distillery reminded me of a winery in Napa valley – aesthetically pleasing, artisanal, and focused on visitors a key driver of sales.  Home to a gorgeous pot-still and a pretty view, the distillery has plans to open a B&B on site and I’m sure they will do well for themselves.  The tour has a small fee associated with it, but I thought it was well done and worth the fee.  The tour finishes with a taste of their standard bourbon (which I’m not the biggest fan of, though their bottle is very pretty), in addition to what ever other lines they have available.  I tried several different kinds and brought home two bottles of their 4 year old rye which I was very impressed with.  Note that their facilities are fairly new here – if you see the Bourbon family tree you will notice that their line is associated with other producers for the older varieties.  Time will tell what older spirits from their wonderful new pot-still actually taste like.

Heaven Hill

Kentucky Bourbon Trail

We had a short visit to the new Bourbon Heritage Center at Heaven Hill Distilleries.  I wasn’t particularly impressed, but I can’t say I gave them a full chance either as we did not take the full tour.  It seemed a bit overly commercial for my liking, kind of like a booze Disneyland.  The prison style metal warehouses surrounding the facility did little to encourage any generous thoughts of craftsmanship, though I’m sure that is completely unfair and unjustified on my part.  While I’m not a huge fan of many of their brands, Josh tried a number of their older releases of Elijah Craig and came away impressed enough to buy a bottle.  Long story short, don’t just take my word for it.

Final Thoughts on the Bourbon Trail

I didn’t know quite what to expect for our tour of bourbon country, but I came away quite satisfied with the trip.  It seems that even though plenty of cash has flowed into the industry it has not significantly corrupted it; the bulk of the people working that we met are genuinely passionate about their craft, and they enjoy sharing that passion with visitors.  If you are in the area and have even the slightest interest in spirits, I highly recommend taking at least one tour.

Nov 072013
 

two harbors and cactus Diver in kelp starfish and kelp California Spiny Lobster

Last weekend we went to Two Harbors on the isthmus of Catalina Island with the PowerScuba group. We had gorgeous weather and the diving was great. More photos can be found here: More photos of diving and hiking at Two Harbors, Catalina Island

It has been a number of years since I’ve been out, so I was surprised to learn that the dive boat which was dedicated for the site (the Garibaldi) had been dry-docked for a while. This means that any diving happening here is from boats coming from Long Beach/San Pedro area on the mainland, or coming up from Avalon area. This makes it much more difficult to organize dive trips with Two Harbors as a base as there is no local boat to help service divers. One never knows the whims of the CIC, who dictates what happens for much of the island.

Two Harbors always feels like a quiet rustic getaway, but that is partially because of the time of year that we show up – in late fall. By this time of year most of the moorings are empty, a far cry from the 4th of July when almost every harbor on the island is pushed into overflow and the island is packed with people. This time of year we are able to stay in the overflow temporary staff housing, which has a bit of a trailer park/work camp feel to it. The cabins are all close together and offer a meeting area for cooking and gathering, so it feels a bit like going back to camp as a grown up. This is one of my favorite places to visit, and my favorite time of year. Needless to say I really enjoyed the trip and meeting folks from PowerScuba. I can’t wait to go back!