On Tuesday, we started the day at Twenty Mule Team Canyon. This is a short drive on a dirt road, which was in really good condition. We drove this with our Hyundai Sonata rental car. Here’s a photo showing the dirt path as it winds its way through the canyon.
After driving through the canyon, our next stop was Dante’s Peak, which overlooks Badwater Basin and Death Valley. The following photo was captured from the overlook. The white area in the valley is Badwater Basin. The white color is actually salt that has been washed from the nearby mountains into the valley. Once the water evaporates, only the salt deposits remain resulting in this white color.
After Dante’s peak, we started the drive to Joshua Tree National Park. We took the scenic route and drove through the Mojave National Preserve. In between Death Valley and the Mojave National Preserve, we made a brief stop at the Dumont Dunes, which seems to be a recreation area for dune buggies. It was pretty cool although the area did seemed pretty trashy with a lot of litter. Maybe the dune buggy community is not as environmentally conscious as the national park community. Here’s a picture of the dunes.
After a brief stop at the dunes, we continued our way towards Joshua Tree, stopping for lunch in Baker, CA. We ate at Los Dos Toritos – a small Mexican restaurant that had a lot of good reviews. Afterwards, we went up the street to a store called Alien Fresh Jerky. It was a tourist trap but it was really entertaining. They are building this alien-themed empire. Just behind the jerky store, they are building a hotel like an alien spaceship. The following pictures shows one of the vehicles parked in front of the jerky store.
Continuing on, we arrived at our hotel (Holiday Inn Express in Twentynine Palms, CA) around 4pm. We unpacked our stuff and then headed into the park around 5pm. We hiked the Arch Rock Trail and captured a few photos of the arch at around sunset.
After a long first day in Death Valley, we slept in on Day 2. After getting breakfast, we drove up the road and rented a white 4 door Jeep Rubicon for approximately $315/day. We drove up to Titus Canyon, which is a pretty well maintained gravel road through a narrow canyon. I think we could have made it with our rental car but it was nice to have the peace-of-mind that the Jeep was going to make it through without any tire punctures. Here’s a picture of the Jeep with Shea and Joe in the front seat.
About half way through Titus Canyon, we parked the Jeep and completed a short but steep hike to Thimble Peak. There were some great overlooks although the photo doesn’t seem to capture it.
The GPS track of the hike is shown below. It was approximately 2.5 miles out and back with about 930 ft of elevation gain.
After completing the Thimble Peak hike, we continued driving down the Titus Canyon Road. Eventually, the road entered the narrow portions of Titus Canyon, as can be seen in the picture below.
After driving through the canyon, we drove north to see the Ubehebe Crater. I had initially assumed this crater was formed by a meteorite, but it was actually caused by geothermal processes. My understanding is that magma near the surface basically caused a steam buildup that eventually led to a massive explosion. The Ubehebe Crater is basically the remnants of that massive explosion.
Our next stop was the Badwater Basin. We stopped on the side of the road and hiked onto the flat, salty basin. We were hoping to see very white sand but I think we happened to hike on an area that still had a lot of moisture – it had actually rained the day before we had arrived in Death Valley. Consequently, the salt was brownish so it didn’t make for a great photo, as can seen below.
Badwater Basin is the lowest point in the United States. I like to keep track of these personal records, so here’s a screenshot of my phone GPS when we were in the basin. This represents a new low point in my life.
After visiting the Badwater Basin, we headed back to the hotel to grab some dinner. Shea and I then went to Harmony Borax Works to take some night time photographs. I spend some time doing some light painting, as can be seen in the photos below.
We headed back to the hotel around 1opm. For all the photos I captured during my time in Death Valley, please visit my flickr album.
After returning from Anacapa Island, we drove the 5 hours to Death Valley. We stayed at The Ranch at Death Valley in Furnace Creek. The hotel is in a prime location although you definitely pay for it.
We woke up before dawn on Sunday morning and drove 15 minutes to a popular overlook named Zabriskie Point. There were a ton of photographers lined up with their fancy tripods waiting for the sunrise. I found a little spot and sat there with my flimsy tripod and and 8 year old camera and took a bunch of photos as the sun slowly rose over the eastern mountains.
Around 9am, we headed back to the hotel to get our free breakfast. With the room costing approximately $350/night and dinners costing around $30 each, we were determined to take advantage of the free breakfast. After completing breakfast, we headed out to hike the Golden Canyon.
The entire hike was 4.8 miles and had an elevation gain of 919 feet. The Gower Gulch trail was hiked to make a loop. The hiking GPS track is shown in the map below.
After finishing the Golden Canyon hike around 12:30pm, we drove to the Devil’s Golf Course. This area has huge, jagged deposits of salt and mud. It’s frustrating just to walk over. Here’s a picture although I don’t think it really gives a sense of the weird salt structures.
Our next stop was the Room Canyon Hike. This one was a little off the beaten path. We learned about it from a hiking guide book in the general store at the hotel. It was an interesting hike but I didn’t really get many good photos. In fact, the only photo I like from the hike were of these small flowers.
The following map shows our GPS track of the Room Canyon hike.
We then drove to Artist’s Palette right around sunset. Artist’s Palette is a section of the mountains that has different shades of pink, purple, and green. Each color is associated with a given mineral. Red, pink, and yellow indicate iron, purple indicates manganese, and green indicates decomposition of tuff-derived mica.
After sunset, we drove back to the hotel and ate a buffet-style dinner. Afterwards, we drove back to where we started the day, Zabriskie Point, for some night photography.
For our second day in Channel Islands National Park, we headed to Anacapa Island – the second smallest island of the national park. Anacapa Island consists of three main islets named East, Middle, and West Anacapa. We were specifically visiting the East Anacapa islet.
We departed Oxnard Harbor on the Voyager for the 1 hour boat ride to the island. We saw a few common dolphins and sea lions on the ride over. Once we arrived at Anacapa, the captain backed the boat up to a dock within a little cove. It was impressive the captain kept the boat in contact with the dock as the swells pushed the boat around while within the cove.
Once disembarking, we were greeted with a climb up the cliff of the island (see below). However, once we completed those 157 steps, the top of the island was relatively flat.
My first impression of the island was “Oh God, I’m in Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds.” There were thousands of Western Gulls. Here’s a picture just showing a few of those gulls. It was quite a miracle that we didn’t get pooped on during the 5 hours we were on the island.
Since the island is so small and we had 5 hours to explore, we decided to take it slow and joined a guided tour. The volunteer tour guide provided some interesting insights into Anacapa island. Many of his points focused on the western gull, since they were everywhere.
Here are a few of the key points that the tour guide mentioned regarding the Western Gull:
Anacapa Island is the largest nesting ground of the western gull.
The western gulls will bring food from mainland California. They particularly like fried chicken so you see a lot of chicken bones throughout the island.
Mature western gulls have a red circle on their beak. This is pecked at by the chicks to get food from their parents.
Western gulls will form lifelong partners.
Western gulls on Anacapa generally produce 2 eggs per nesting season although particularly healthy birds will have 3 eggs.
The guide also gave us some history of Anacapa island. It was originally inhabited by Native Americans known as the Chumash. Archeological sites suggest the island was populated from 8000 to 11000 years ago.
During our hike, the guide pointed out an area on the trail that was covered with a bunch of broken shells. It turns out we were standing on a midden, or a old Native American trash heap. The Chumash were known to use purple shells as currency. They would find these purple shells and drill holes to wear them on a necklace. These shells could then be traded as currency. This practice eventually ended when the Portuguese introduced glass spheres as a currency.
The guide also described how the Chumash would use shark skin to sand wooden boats and use pitch from a natural oil seep on the islands to waterproof their boats. Unfortunately, as with most Native American tribes, the Chumash were decimated by the diseases of Spanish missionaries. The Chumash tribe still exists with 5000 members although they no longer live on the Channel Islands.
The primary structure on the island is the Anacapa lighthouse. The building was completed in 1932 and the Coast Guard started managing the lighthouse in 1939. In the 1960s, the Coast Guard automated the lighthouse eliminating the need to have a full time person to run and maintain everything. Unfortunately, there is a loud fog horn at the lighthouse so we could not get too close without blowing out our eardrums.
One of the difficulties of stationing people on Anacapa Island is that there is no fresh water source. The Coast Guard had the bright idea to build a large concrete pad to catch rain water and store it in barrels. After building the concrete pad, they quickly realized that the water was undrinkable due to all the bird poop.
The Coast Guard also had the good intention of introducing ice plant on the island to help prevent erosion. However, since that time, the ice plant has been recognized as an invasive species and tends to crowd out other native plants. There are active conservation efforts to replace the ice plant with native plants. The island also has a greenhouse to assist in raising native plant species to replace the ice plant. As you can see in the following photo, the red and purple flowering ice plant is still dominant on the island.
One of the more dominant native plants was the coreopsis, which was also flowering during our visit. One of my favorite photos from the trip is shown below where I took an image of some coreopsis blooms from below looking up towards the sky.
The final stop on the guided tour was Inspiration Point. The California Brown Pelican population, which nests on Western Anacapa Island, was decimated by DDT in the 50s and 60s. After DDT was banned, the population has rebounded. The number of nesting sites increases by approximately 10-fold, from 500 sites in the 1950s to approximately 5000 today. Here’s a view from Inspiration Point – it’s a beautiful overlook.
After Inspiration Point, we hiked the few remaining trails on our own. One of the highlights from this time was seeing a colony of sea lions sunning themselves at the water’s edge. Unfortunately, I wasn’t carrying a telephoto lens so I didn’t capture the best image but you can get a sense of the number of sea lions laying out.
We departed East Anacapa around 3:30pm after hiking approximately 4.4 miles. A map of our hike is shown below.
The following discuss my self-assessment regarding my 2017 New Year’s Resolutions. Overall, I give myself a B- mean I did pretty good but definitely fell short of where I wanted to be. Here’s the order of how I grade myself, from best performance to worst performance: (1) exercise, (2) intellectual pursuits, (3) adventure or finance, and (4) nutrition.
Without further ado, here are the results…
Overall, my performance was mediocre in this class of resolutions. Nutrition seems to be one of those areas I have little willpower. I think I will need to come up with more creative ideas to trick and goad myself into a more nutritious year in 2018. Here’s my grades:
Healthy Food: I consistently ate my vegetarian Blue Apron meals throughout the year. This generally meant that I had at least 3 healthy, home-cooked meals during a week – maybe more if I ended up having leftovers. However, there was very little to be proud about beyond those Blue Apron meals. I typically ate McDonald’s or bagels for breakfast and cafeteria food for lunch. There’s much more room for improvement in 2017. GRADE: D
Sweetened Beverages: I went another year without a soda although I do occasionally have some form of sweetened beverage like coffee or sweet tea, although those times are few and far between and usually related to some social function so I’m happy as long as I seldom partake and I’m not starting any bad habits. GRADE: A
Less Cafeteria Food: My original goal was to eat much less cafeteria food than I did in 2016. Unfortunately, I made zero progress on this goal earning an F. I do think this is a good goal though so I will try again in 2018. GRADE: F
Less Sweets: Yeah this is another F. I often would eat cookies from the cafeteria or sweets that colleagues would bring into work. There is definite room for improvement in this goal as well. GRADE: F
Overall, I’m really pleased with my exercise progress in 2017. Although I only achieved one of my two goals, I think I exercised quite consistently throughout the year and improved my physical fitness. In 2018, I hope to mimic the progress I made in 2017. Here are those results:
Running: I ended up running 406 miles in 2017 – greatly exceeding my goal of 365 miles for 2017. The tracking tool that I generated really helped keep me on track throughout the year. I will use that again and hopefully figure out how to implement similar solutions for other resolutions. GRADE: A
Physical Activity Hours: I fell short of my 150 hour goal by about 18 hours. Although I missed my goal, I’m pretty happy with the number of runs, bike rides, and hikes that I completed throughout the year. Even though it’s a failure, it’s a slight failure. GRADE: B
A third category I wanted to focus on in 2017 were my finances. Specifically, I wanted to maximize my retirement savings, build up my personal stock account, and continue giving to my charities. Here’s the breakdown of these goals:
Retirement Savings: I basically easily achieved my goal of contributing the maximum amount to my retirement account. This should be easy to accomplish for 2018 as well. GRADE: A
Personal Stock Account: I wanted to build up my personal brokerage account throughout the year. Although I did make contributions to my account, I think the impact was much smaller than I originally had intended. (Note to self: I really should have come up with a concrete number to aim for rather than these wishy-washy “save more” type of resolutions). My main fault was I never transferred a regular amount of my paycheck to the stock account. I need to implement that first thing for 2018. GRADE: D
Giving: At the beginning of 2017, I set a goal to make sure I’m making a positive impact with my finances so I set a goal to give money to worthwhile causes, specifically my niece’s and nephew’s college funds and Against Malaria. I consistently gave to all three throughout the year. Could I have given more? Yes. Did I accomplish my original goal? Yes. GRADE: B+
I set up a goal to push me outside of my comfort zone – specifically get out of my routine and out of the house more often in 2017. Overall, I think I did pretty well although there is room for improvement in 2018.
Photography: I made some progress in my photography with two fun trips out west. The first trip was to Utah in late spring and then Washington State in late summer. However, I didn’t do much outside of these trips. I didn’t build a 365 photo/day album or create an album at the end of the year to give to friends and family (actually, I started but found I didn’t have enough good pictures to fill out 12 months!) GRADE: C+
Travel: My original goal was to take a few big trips where big was defined as more than 4 days away from home. I accomplished this in 2017 with my Utah and Washington trips. GRADE: A
For the last series of resolutions, I wanted to be sure I kept pushing myself intellectually. I am quite please with this progress. Although I dropped the class resolution, I ended up completing four classes on deep learning taught by Stanford’s Andrew Ng (via coursera). I am halfway through a course on cryptocurrency from Princeton (via coursera).
Reading: I also read a lot this year although I fell a little short of my goal of 30 books. I have completed 27 books this year. I could have made 30 but I ended up reading a 1248 page behemoth the past month and a half – so I’m not too disappointed that I fell a little short. GRADE: B+
Healthy Food: I ate at least six healthy meals each week in January, of course, I’m referring to my Blue Apron meals. I did eat too often at the cafeteria and had moments of weakness, like yesterday when I ate about a dozen chocolate chip cookies and three chocolate muffins – a gift from my sister. Overall, I’m pretty happy with my progress although there is room for much improvement in February.
Sweetened Beverages: I had no sweetened beverages in January. I’ve been drinking solely water or tea. The plan is to continue this progress. 438 days without a soda!
Less Cafeteria Food: I packed on a few occasions so not a true F but only a hair above failing. My goal for February should be just to improve on January’s result – which should be easy as I would just need to pack four times.
Less Sweets: I did well early in the month but started slipping towards the end of the month. I will need to step up my game in February.
Running: Doing great here. The treadmill has enabled me to run regularly and I’m about 200% of where I need to be to reach my goal of 365 miles this year.
Physical Activity Hours: All of my physical activity has come in the form of running so far. Need to do some other activities.
Retirement Savings: Feel like I’ve done well here.
Personal Stock Account: All my investments have gone to retirement in January. Once I hit the 401(k) limit, I should be able to make more progress here.
Giving: I have met my charitable goals so far. Just need to maintain my progress.
Travel: I did make that one day trip to Delaware.
Books: I completed one book: Eating Animals by Jonathan Foer. It was recommended in a podcast I listen to. It’s one of those vegetarian books. It didn’t really convince me to drop all meat and become vegetarian but it was good to learn more of the vegetarian perspective and I think I am making progress towards eating more vegetables than meat and hopefully I can make the switch one day (I even got the veggie burrito from Chipotle this evening). Need to speed it up if I’m going to hit 30 books this year.
As part of my resolutions, I hope to review my progress twice a month. For the first half of January I did quite well.
Healthy Food: I made some good, healthy dinners courtesy of Blue Apron. With the exception of Chipotle, I think I ate completely vegetarian for my dinners. I might try to make a commitment to only eat vegetarian for the rest of my January dinners. To be honest, I’m motivated by health reasons although alleviating some small fraction of animal suffering could be a perk. Only negative is I’ve had a lot of Chipotle in the past 15 days. For the rest of January I’m going to limit Chipotle to only once a week.
Sweetened Beverages: I had no sweetened beverages for these first 15 days of 2017. I’ve been drinking solely water or tea. The plan is to continue this progress. 416 days without a soda!
Less Cafeteria Food: I have failed on this resolution so far although I’m trying to choose lighter options in the cafeteria. I’m going to try to start small the next two weeks: 2 packed meals for the week of the 15th and 3 packed meals for the week of the 22nd.
Less Sweets: I have done really well at home and have had no sweets (don’t have any in the house). At work I have also done well (no cookies or deserts from cafeteria) although I have had a few weak moments with candy and chocolate people have brought in. Goal for the rest of this month is to have no sweets at work too.
Running: I am ahead of schedule of where I need to be. I’ve run 29.6 miles so far. Having the treadmill has definitely made it easier for me to accumulate some running miles in these cold winter weeks. I have even made a little tool to help me track my progress. My goal for the rest of this month is to maintain the progress I’ve made so far in January.
Physical Activity Hours: All of my physical activity has come in the form of running so far. I’ve logged 4.5 hours of running but this is approximately 2 hours short of where I should be. I need to get out of the house on the weekends. For these cold months, that probably means hiking.
Retirement Savings: I maximized my retirement savings.
Personal Stock Account: I haven’t made any contributions yet simply due to some big purchases associated with the house. I should start making progress on this in the upcoming weeks.
Giving: I have met my charitable goals so far. Just need to maintain my progress.
Photography: I took a weekend trip last weekend to Delaware – just so I can I visited the state of Delaware. I took a few photos but the snowy weather prevented me from really exploring too much. I put in an effort but didn’t make much progress. This weekend I stayed at home due to weather and then a home improvement project. I should make progress in the upcoming weeks.
Travel: I did make that one day trip to Delaware. No travel beyond that but I won’t punish myself too much as it isn’t reasonable to expect travel every 15 days.
Books: I completed one book: Eating Animals by Jonathan Foer. It was recommended in a podcast I listen to. It’s one of those vegetarian books. It didn’t really convince me to drop all meat and become vegetarian but it was good to learn more of the vegetarian perspective and I think I am making progress towards eating more vegetables than meat and hopefully I can make the switch one day (I even got the veggie burrito from Chipotle this evening).
I was playing around on the internet this morning and came across the site mapchart.net where you can create custom maps. In a map of the United States, I started clicking all the states I have visited. I was surprised how many I have been to – there are only a few remaining states remaining. Unfortunately those missing states are all in the middle of the country and visiting them brings the same dread I feel for visiting a dentist. The one exception was Delaware. I couldn’t remember a single time being in Delaware.
As Delaware is only 2 hours away, I took a quick road trip to Dover, which turned into an interesting adventure due to the snowy weather. Although there was a little accumulation near D.C, there was probably about 4″ of snow in Dover, which made driving a little more interesting. Anyway, I stopped in Dover for lunch. Instead of exploring the area though, I felt that I probably needed to head back as the snow was still coming down pretty hard.
Anyways, here’s the map of all the states I’ve visited. Notice Delaware has now been checked off the list.
I thought I should spend some time coming up with strategies for achieving some of my New Year’s Resolutions. I’ve come across many articles and books that discuss that we only have so much willpower. Instead of putting myself in a situation where I have to use willpower to make a correct decision, I want to come up with a system, or hack, where I don’t even leave myself a decision.
For example, consider the Less Sweets resolution. Suppose I’m at home and I get the sudden urge for a snack. In the kitchen, I have the choice between some fruit or some chocolate snacks. Instead of leaving myself in a situation where I have to use willpower to choose the fruit over the chocolate, I should avoid having chocolate in the kitchen to start with. It’s much easier for me to avoid purchasing chocolates when grocery shopping than it is to turn down chocolates in the kitchen in that moment of weakness when I’m craving a snack.
Hack #1: Don’t purchase sweets or sugared beverages while grocery shopping.