Saturday, February 27, 2010

Manzanita Falls

Hiked to "Manzanita Falls," a Geocache in the Catalina Mountains. The name derives from a nearby granite spillway that runs during the snowmelt and rain. The cache owner, RS Arizona, has an affinity for these rare and ephemeral water features and seeks them out with a collector's zeal. She's been nudging me by email to visit the falls and try my luck at photographing them.

My trip started at the Molino Basin parking area. The canyon that drains the falls ultimately channels into a culvert that ducks under the pavement just north of parking and continues downhill to empty into Molino Canyon.

Even before I turned off the Jeep, I could hear the hushed roar of fast water. On the short walk along the highway shoulder to the culvert, I heard trickling behind the road-cut rocks. Busted bits of spalled rock littered the bike lane. A few steps from pavement, I was ankle deep in numbingly cold snowmelt.


I kept to the stream for most of the hike, unable to stray from the mesmerizing presence of water. Imagine that, water! Not from a tap or a hose or a bottle, but just flowing casual as you please out in the open. I had the giddy thought that I'd actually be glad to drain my Camelbak for the novel pleasure of refilling it from this stream. Desert living does strange things to the mind.


Along the way I shot tons of flowing-water pictures, all of which seemed like masterpieces at the time. I ran up against a frustrating camera limitation, though: max f-stop (min aperture) is only f8. I believe I knew this at one time, but forgot it. It usually doesn't matter, unless you're trying for huge depth of field or slow shutter speed. Today I wanted both, often in the same shot. Still not buying a DSLR. I'd just break it.


About a mile from the culvert I encountered an amazing, long-fall cascade. The water was channeled into a narrow gap, a natural nozzle, and blasted out into space to fall, what?, 50-60 feet? The shot below barely captures it. I blew the others I took, unprepared for anything like this. I hiked around the cliff to the top of the falls, but was unable to get as close as I needed for a shot of the "nozzle." The rocks were glass-smooth and wet-slick. Turns out I was tempting fate getting as close as I did; not 20 yards upstream I stepped on an apparently wet rock and went cut-strings down. The wet sheen was ice.


Farther along, the canyon mellowed out and the flow diminished. I checked the GPS and saw that I was getting close to the cache location just as the terrain was looking less likely to offer any kind of waterfall. On cue, the foliage on the banks was changing from low-desert thorn shrub to trees and manzanitas, so at least half the prophecy of the cache name was being fulfilled.


With the GPS reading 80 feet out, I finally spied the falls. Not (pardon the expression) as splashy as the previous cascade, but a beautiful spot. I signed the cache log, ate half my ham sandwich on the convenient sunbathing rock (a standard feature of all your better waterfalls) then reviewed my options for the return trip. My feet, soft from a winter season of mountain biking, were distinctly soggy from the wet hike, and the sandal straps were making excellent progress in sawing off my big toes. I'd seen some cairns a couple hundred yards back, and I was willing to bet that they marked a route to Bug Spring trail. So I bet on Bugs and headed out.


The uncertainty of when or whether I'd find the trail added spice to the climb out of the canyon, but the cairns kept coming and eventually I intercepted a wide, hard-packed trail. Didn't need a sign to tell me this was Bug Spring, and there were no signs anyhow. Now, which way to the lower trailhead? The trail at this point was mostly going west, so it wasn't immediately clear. Well, if I'm wrong, I'll either have to double back or hike a little more pavement. No sweat. Mental coin toss awarded to this way and off we go.

Bugs meandered both vertically and horizontally, negotiating the creases of the Catalinas and crossing numerous small streams. I'd hike over the occasional patch of snow, then warm my feet in the next cold stream. My wet sandals were now accumulating a fair coating of granite grit and the progress of the toe-sawing operation quickened. I went barefoot for awhile to dry my feet, then slipped on foot-gloves, which I wore for the remainder of the trip.

Bugs eventually left the trees and emerged onto a ridgetop heading south, giving me confidence that I was going the right way. I could see why this is a favorite mountain-bike trail, smooth and swoopy. Hell, I could have used a bike about now myself.


The rest of the hike was uneventful; I sashayed down the switches to Gordon Hirabayashi campground, then walked along the shoulder of Catalina Highway back to the Jeep, eating the remaining half of my sandwich for something to do. Roundtrip stats: 9.8 miles with about 3000 climbing feet. Did I say feet? They're fine, just a few scrapes, enough to serve notice that Spring is almost here.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Tuney Glamour Shot II

Hard light, soft fur; it all evens out. Petunia enjoys play time on the front porch at sunset.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Note to Self: Spot Metering Trick

Outdoor Photography magazine offers the following trick for preserving highlight details, The idea is to set exposure to place the critical feature in its correct zone in accordance with Ansel Adams' Zone System. A white highlight with just a little detail or texture should be zone 7, two stops overexposed; light rock should be zone 6, one stop over. So the procedure:
  • Tightly spot meter the highlight for the appropriate exposure, +2 or +1. 
  • Lock in that exposure or set it manually. 
  • Recompose and shoot. 
The automatic settings usually do just fine, but there are times when it'd be nice to lock in the perfect exposure on a detail-highlight area without shooting a bunch of insurance exposures (or RAW).

Sunday Morning Ride: Brown Canyon

Despite an unfavorable forecast and ominous clouds, I squeezed in a quick lap of of the ol' canyon. Took the D460 with fat knobbies installed and managed a 7:56 climb. Lots of traffic on the trail today, bikers, hikers and dog walkers, all trying to beat the weather. On the ride home I looked back and saw the clouds close in.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Sierra Vista Classic Loop

I haven't done a long road ride in quite awhile, and with the notion of participating in the Sierra Vista Bicycle Classic rattling around in my head, it seemed like a good idea to assess my blacktop endurance. So today I cycled most of the SVBC course, covering a 62-mile loop to Bisbee and back in 5:09 (4:31 moving). Tour de France cyclists are not losing any sleep over this, I know, but I felt pretty good about it all things considered: 30+ pound bike with 47c tires and cargo rack, and 20-mph headwinds on much of the return trip.

With less than a month to go before the event, there's not a lot of time for training. Best bet might be to do a few more rides with the stem and/or bars inverted to get accustomed to a more aero position.

Looking at the map and cue sheet, SVBC riders will go through rather than over the Mule Pass Tunnel. Probably a good idea, given the current state of Old Divide Road:


I didn't take too many pics today, but I couldn't resist snapping this sign, located on the south side of the Mule Mountains along Highway 92:

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Sunday Morning Ride: Brown Canyon, Singlespeed

Took the Rat Ride on a tour of Brown Canyon this morning. The ride from town on pavement was interesting. As a kid, I always rode proper, utilitarian bikes with gears, never a Stingray, Banana Bike or BMX, so I don't have any muscle memory to call upon. Nonetheless, I quickly learned the spin-coast rhythm of the shiftless. And I discovered something interesting: I covered the 8-1/2 miles from driveway to trailhead in about the usual time, but with less perceived effort.

My climb from the mailboxes  to the gate was an adequate 8:23. The smaller wheels and lower frame threw off some well-rehearsed moves, and the gearing (33:16) was a little stiff in a couple of the steeper spots. The final ramp to the gate (the inside turn) slowed me to a near-stall.

At the gate, I was greeted by Lucy, a brown canine cyclone. Her pet mountain biker, Nick, was taking a breather nearby. The duo let me go on ahead, then caught up and passed in the fast section about a half mile shy of Brown Canyon Ranch. Never saw them again--they were flying!

On the chattery passages of the trail, I was aware of how solid the bike felt and how quiet it was. The absence of the jangle of the chain slapping the stay, and the confidence that the chain could not jump off the chainwheel seemed to free up some mental processing cycles that I used to good advantage in picking lines on the trickier parts.

On the pavement heading home, I got to sample the BMX lifestyle again, but downhill this time. Had to suppress a little impatience, as I'm accustomed to making 20-25 mph on the way back to the barn. But  kick-and-coast has its compensations: the commute home turned into a relaxing cooldown after the trail.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Singlespeed Setup

Bought a second set of wheels for my Surly 1x1 Rat Ride and installed them today. The stock wheels consists of Surly hubs and 24-inch Large Marge rims to which I've mounted absurdly heavy Arrow Wide Bite tires. The new wheels are 26-inch WTB XCs outfitted with Exiwolf tires. Everything lines up perfectly, so I can switch the wheelsets with minimal fiddling.

In the process of installing the new wheels, I came up with an easy method for holding the rear wheel in place while I tighten the axle nuts: I stuffed a loosely folded tube between the bottom bracket and the rear tire and inflated it to bulging. The tube pushed the axle back in the trackends while clamping the rim evenly between the stays. When I judged that the chain was sufficiently taut, I stopped pumping, tightened the nuts, then deflated the tube. Easy.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Cooper Loop-de-Loop II

I recently ran across an article entitled Being an Expert Takes Time, not Talent. Its obviousness notwithstanding, this revelation is a great comfort to me as a mountain biker. I have given talent every opportunity to reveal itself, but it's so far been a no-show. So, in accordance with the article's advice, I'm putting in the time necessary to develop  some expertise.

Today I spent time on the Cooper Loop, two laps worth, with an intermission to pull a stuck pickup out of a rut. Completed the first loop in 1:51, and felt pretty good about it; cleaned the upper trails and the Miller Canyon speedway, and bumped and bashed my way through the scabby parts of Perimeter trail. Second lap was almost as good until I hit Perimeter, where my expertise factor dropped suddenly and I floundered a bit. Fortunately, time also heals all wounds.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Sunday Morning Ride: Muddy Brown

The slush has melted, replaced by gritty mud. Mailboxes-to-gate in 7:58. Water flowing through the canyon everywhere with a pleasant burble, and only one hiker on the entire length of the trail. He stopped me to ask whether I'd seen anyone else; seemed a little shocked to have this beautiful place all to himself.