Hiking the Headwaters: Finding Flow in the San Joaquin River High Country

Thousand Island Lake at the San Joaquin River headwaters | Photo: Sathish J/Flickr/Creative Commons License

An explanatory series focusing on one of the most complex issues facing California: water sharing. And at its core is the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay Delta. Stay with kcet.org/baydelta for all the project's stories.

Looking west from the outlet of Thousand Island Lake, Banner Peak looms in the distance creating a backdrop worthy of a postcard. The deep blue alpine water sparkles in the sun and is speckled with the tiny granite islands for which the lake is named. Brightly colored tents are scattered on the ridge overlooking the northern shore and hikers pass by on the nearby John Muir Trail.

From the Agnew Meadows Trailhead near Mammoth Lakes, I set out for a long day hike to Thousand Island Lake -- the headwater of the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River, a major watershed in California. Although the water has more of an impact on the sustainability of the environment and the people of the state, it's more famously known for its image, which was famously captured by Ansel Adams. The lake has even appeared on the label of Sierra Nevada Brewing Company's Summerfest, a seasonal lager beer.

In this region the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), which travels 2,650 miles from the Mexico-California border north to the Washington-Canada border, is also known as the High Trail. The route traverses the San Joaquin Ridge and offers unobstructed views across the river valley to the Minarets and Ritter Range, a small mountain range within the Sierra Nevada that is comprised of the craggy Minaret peaks, Mount Ritter and Banner Peak. The range divides the drainages of the Middle and North Fork of the San Joaquin River. From my vantage point on the trail I can see a number of smaller creek drainages that flow into the San Joaquin River.

The Innovative Spirit of Bay Delta Wine

Some of the most innovative wines come from California's Delta. | Photo: Angelo Amboldi/Flickr/Creative Commons License

An explanatory series focusing on one of the most complex issues facing California: water sharing. And at its core is the Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay Delta. Stay with kcet.org/baydelta for all the project's stories.

Hear the phrase "California wine," and some may immediately think of the famed wine regions of Sonoma and Napa. The area not only holds the distinction of being the site of the state's first commercial winery (Buena Vista Winery in Sonoma was founded in 1857), but also produces some of the finest grapes around. However, saying that's all there is to California wine is like saying all you need to do to experience Los Angeles is to go to the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

In reality, there's a good case to be made that the Delta's wine-producing region is the most exciting in the state at the moment.

Please Don't Fly Drones Over Wildfires

With every new piece of technology, there comes a social etiquette learning curve, a time when we're all figuring out what to do with the new tech. When it came to Facebook, it was the process of learning what should and shouldn't be shared. (After our parents showed up on it, it was time to tweak that decision matrix a bit.)

The introduction of drone technology has opened the conversation up once again. What is appropriate, now that we have these new toys? Should we fly around tall buildings and peep into windows? Should we fly over highways, where drivers might get distracted? Should we fly our camera-laden drones over wildfires to get some amazing footage?

As far as that last question goes, here we have amazing visuals, many that can't be captured by cameras held by living, breathing humans. Isn't this, then, an ideal use for drone technology?

The answer is an unequivocal "No."

In Redding, the threat of drones over wildfires has gotten so bad that firefighters actually held a press conference to let people know that flying drones into wildfires is a bad idea, not to mention prohibited by the Federal Aviation Administration. Why all the fuss?

Two recent incidents in which drones were flying over wildfires forced firefighters to suspend aircraft operations on two fires in Southern California because of drones, said Yolanda Saldana, the forest service's aviation safety manager for California.

So, please: During this wildfire season, keep those new toys of yours out of the way.

California's Coastal Parks At 'High Risk' From Rising Seas

By this point, there's no question that climate change is forcing sea levels to rise. While it's important to figure out how to stop this, just as important is seeing what's going to be affected when all is said and done. What will we lose when the ocean tries to swallow us back up?

The National Park Service asked that question, not least because they have a whole lot of infrastructure hanging around near the ocean. And they found an answer.

The NPS took conservative estimates of how high the levels will rise (the number they used: one meter in the next 100 to 150 years) and figured out how many structural assets (roads, buildings, bridges, lighthouses, tunnels, etc.) they have located within that range of the ocean. After the numbers were crunched, they figured out how much they would lose over the next century-plus: $40 billion worth of park assets.

California's coastal parks are -- as you'd imagine, due to the proximity to the ocean -- at particularly high risk. In all, eight are predicted to suffer damage due to the rising sea levels. Here are the specifics:

Golden Gate National Recreational Area has the most assets at risk. Eighty-nine percent of its 1,049 assets are deemed "low" risk and 11% "high" with a "current replacement value" of $617.6 million. San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park has 43% of its 49 assets at "high" risk with a value of $262.7 million. Five of the 17 assets at Fort Point National Historic Site are "high" risk ($191.2 million), as are 14% of Channel Islands National Park's 166 assets ($46.7 million). Point Reyes National Seashore has 4% of its assets at "high" risk ($34.9 million) as does Redwood National Park ($7.9 million).

It's worth noting that these are not all the parks that are at risk. A second study, featuring an additional 30 coastal parks, is currently underway.

Yosemite Announces New Fire Restrictions in Light of Drought

So far, summer has been dry and it has been hot. In a lot of areas, this means significant adjustments and restrictions in terms of how often and how much water we use. In places like Yosemite, it means restrictions on how we deal with campfires.

Due to the continuing dry and hot weather, Yosemite has issued a slew of new restrictions. (To get a sense of just how serious a problem this is right now, last week alone, Yosemite had six fires in the park due to lightning strikes.)

The restrictions are mostly what you would expect: No fires (camping or cooking) at any sites below 6,000 feet in elevation. No smoking below that same elevation, unless you're in an enclosed vehicle, a building where smoking is allowed, or in a campground or picnic area where wood and charcoal fires are allowed. In fact, to see the full list of places where you're allowed to build fires, let's go ahead and link to the official page again.

But if you're doing any camping around the drought-ravaged regions of the country this summer, make sure to check out the park's fire restrictions before heading out. And then, when you're getting ready to pack it in for the night, may sure those embers are fully dead.

Google Street View Comes to California's State Parks

At its best, technology brings the world closer together. This occurs, in part, through enhanced communication methods, the ability to receive and deliver news instantaneously, and being able to see the world without ever having to pay for a costly plane ticket. (Let's save the negative impacts for another day.)

One of the most exciting ways this has manifested itself has been the invention of Google Street View, allowing anyone with an Internet connection to check out virtually any street in the world. And now, you can see the great California State Parks system that way as well.

3 of L.A. County's Best Coastal Campgrounds

A view of the Santa Monica Mountains from Malibu Creek State Park. | Photo: dwanjabi/Flickr/Creative Commons License

This guide is part of KCET's California Coastal Trail project, which looks at the state's massive undertaking to build a trail over 1,000 miles in length along its whole coastline.

Though people might try, L.A. resists being shoehorned. At times it might seem like endless sprawl. And yes, there's plenty of that. But there are also miles of sun-kissed beaches, and vast expanses of coastal wilderness that can wash away the worst urban worries. Luckily, a few campgrounds are squeezed into the mix.

Not surprisingly, beaches are among the busiest parks in the state. Generally, reservations can be made up to seven months in advance through ReserveAmerica.com. Book as soon as possible because many sites get snagged the day they become available. Cancellations can also free up previously booked sites, so watch for that. Thanks to CampsitePhotos.com, images of just about every individual site are available online, letting you choose a spot in the shade of a sycamore with just the right view. Unless otherwise stated, sites permit both tents and RVs or trailers. Some companies deliver RVs directly to campgrounds, making it possible to enjoy a road hotel without the need to pilot one on the highway; rental information can be found on most state park websites.

Building the Perfect Campfire According to the Law of Physics

Photo by <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/81534892@N00/">ironayla</a>/Flickr/<a href="https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/">Creative Commons</a>

One of the greatest pleasures of being in the woods and under the stars is sitting next to a warm, crackling fire in your campsite. Maybe you learned how to build a fire in your scout days with sap and sticks, or your parents taught you the finer points of starting a fire with rolled-up newspaper... but no matter how it began, it often ended up, instinctively, as a pyramid of roaring flames. We likely never knew the laws of physics when building these fires, yet we made them all the same way.

And now we know why, thanks to a study from Adrian Bejan, an engineering professor at Duke University.

Bejan penned the theory of Constructal Law in 1996, which explored the changes in thermodynamics and how flow systems survived and evolved.

8 of L.A. County's Best Coastal Hikes

A view from Point Dume in Malibu. | Photo: eatswords/Flickr/Creative Commons License

This guide is part of KCET's California Coastal Trail project, which looks at the state's massive undertaking to build a trail over 1,000 miles in length along its whole coastline.

Nobody walks in L.A., right? Correct, they hike. And with countless miles of trails in Palos Verdes, the Santa Monica Mountains, and even bike and walking paths along the beach, who wouldn't?

Bodie Ghost Town Gets Spooky This Summer

Traveling through Bodie State Historic Park is always a creepy experience. The once-flourishing gold rush town -- at one point, 10,000 residents called it home -- is now nothing more than a collection of dilapidated structures. As the final sentence of the official park description puts it:

Today this once thriving mining camp is visited by tourists, howling winds and an occasional ghost.

For three nights this year, Bodie celebrates that final category of visitor.

This coming Saturday, June 27th -- as well as July 18th and August 29th -- Bodie State Park will stay open until 10 p.m. as part of the Bodie Ghost Walk and Free Star Stories event. The night gets started at 6 p.m. with a 90-minute Ghost Walk through town, during which you'll learn about Bodie's "most fascinating ghost stories and legends." (This tour costs $35 per person.) At 8 p.m., there's an Exclusive Ghost Mill Tour at the town's 116-year-old Standard Mill. (This costs $20 per person.) If those extra fees are scarier to you than the idea of haunts, the night will also include a free Star Stories talk given by astronomer Dave Hurst at 8:30 p.m.

To reserve your tickets, head on over to the Bodie Foundation website.