Where Southern California Wildflowers Are Blooming

As we've mentioned before, this spring is set to be an extraordinary one when it comes to Southern California's bountiful wildflower blooms. And according to the wildflower hotline at the Theodore Payne Foundation, it looks like that massive bloom is already here. Here's a quick rundown of where to see this year's batch of wildflowers:

Santa Monica Mountains

According to the Payne Foundation, this is the "go to place for a while." Chocolate lilies are all over, while gooseberry, ground-pink, common goldfield, red skinned onion, purple owl's clover, wild hyacinth, and a whole bunch of other species are blooming all along the Pentachaeta Trail in Triunfo Canyon Park.

Paddling Along the Rivers of Mendocino County

I arrived in Mendocino an hour before sunset, the last light of day touching the faces of the picturesque Victorian homes and store fronts, spilling across the Mendocino Headlands to cast a contented glow on the faces of the dog walkers, joggers, and hand-holding lovers crunching along the winding paths.

I have made a life of watching the sun sink into the sea, and so, eventually, I followed a path to the edge of the cliffs. The sea blew ragged, but the mouth of the Big River was a deep blue calm.

Directly below me, five twenty-somethings stood on the dark rocks as the ocean sighed and moved just off their feet. The three men were fishing. The girls watched the sunset. None of them seemed the least bit concerned with the oncoming darkness. All wore thick flannels and wool caps in deference to the ever cooling wind.

A man stepped up beside me.

Eschewing a greeting, he grumbled, "Stupid kids. How are they going to find their way back in the dark?"

I try to give my fellow man the benefit of the doubt, but it is also true I have small tolerance for the grumpy and the judgmental. I had already seen the well-stocked contents of the red and white cooler tucked up against the cliff, and a full moon was already in the sky. It seemed to me a fine way to spend the night.

I smiled at the man.

"I wouldn't mind being down there with them," I said.

He grimaced at me as if he might give me a push so I could join them.

"Well then, you're out of your mind too," he said.

I nodded agreeably. It was a possibility.

"Maybe gravity got the best of them," I said.

"Huh?"

Mendocino is not without its New Agers, old hippies, and displaced Rastafarians. There is often a sweet smell in the air. It was not hard to see what my companion was thinking.

"I was walking the streets before I came down here," I said.

He harrumphed.

"You are crazy," he said, leaving before I had the chance to tell him what I had discovered.

As the light left the sky, I looked down a last time at the gathering below me. One of the fishermen had put down a pole and taken up a young girl's hand. Moonlight winked on the water.

How can you not like Mendocino, where all the streets tilt to the sea?

That night I ate Brazilian fish stew at the Mendocino Café, where they pride themselves on "serving international cuisine composed of organic ingredients healthy for the planet and our customers." Not that this distinguished the cafe from most of the other local businesses. The stew was piping hot and delicious, a coconut broth liberally endowed with rock shrimp, mussels, clams, calamari and fish. It made me think of my friends at the ocean's edge, and when I walked back out on to the headland after dinner, I didn't even need to walk to the cliff's edge. I could hear their laughter, coming up over the cliffs and running through the moonlight.

Video Captures Majesty, Mystery of Joshua Tree

If you've ever had the pleasure of driving through Joshua Tree National Park, then you know how there's just something different about that area of the world. The edges are a little crisper, the sunsets a little sharper, and the stars seems just a tad closer. It's not surprising, then, that the park has been used in a whole bunch of films.

Its latest starring role, though, isn't for Hollywood. It's for an independent project called More Than Just Parks, which is attempting to bring awareness to America's National Parks by filming short gorgeous-looking videos of all 59 of them. (They've got a ways to go: besides Joshua Tree, they've filmed Great Smoky Mountain National Park, Olympic National Park, and... that's it.)

The project is the work of filmmaking brothers Will and Jim Pattiz, who spent nearly a month exploring Joshua Tree National Park with their video camera:

We chose Joshua Tree because of its unique landscape. Its immense boulder piles, colorful cactus fields, endless desert expanses, and one-of-a-kind Joshua trees make for a spectacular setting.

Here, then, is what they came away with:

If you're interested in helping to fund the project, visit the website for more information.

Soak In Esalen's Hot Springs In Big Sur On The Cheap

The Esalen Institute in Big Sur is one of those places that defies labels. Overlooking the cliffs and surf, it describes itself as "not only a retreat center or an educational institute," but also "a world-wide network of seekers who look beyond dogma to explore deeper spiritual possibilities." In other words, it's a hippie-centric place to find your chakras, meditate, and maybe "re-find your center."

If you want to stay there for a workshop, it can be pricey. The cheapest accommodations are $405 for a weekend, and that's only if you're willing to stay off-site or in a sleeping bag. But, there is a way to use the hot springs for cheap. (And no, not by breaking in and donning a disguise that certainly would include a fake mustache and cane.)

You need to be a night owl.

See, every night between 1 a.m. and 3 a.m., Esalen opens its doors to the public for $25 a person. However, only 20 people are allowed to use the hot springs each night, so call in advance to get reservations. (During the summer months, reservations are available 5-6 weeks in advance and go quickly.) For more information, including the number to call, visit this page at Esalen's website.

A Journey (And Some Fly Fishing) Through Lassen Volcanic National Park

We forget how much of California is wild and vast maw. Head into California's far northeastern reaches and the world falls away. You'll pass over happy creeks, hypnotic orchards, and honor system fruit stands with signs hanging from barns proclaiming, "The best gift you ever found was in a barn." Everywhere is the aphrodisiac of pine. Also, from almost every vantage point along almost every road, snow-capped Mount Lassen looms: in the empty-wide sky, white clouds scurry toward Lassen for their own closer view.

It's as if you are driving towards promise.

Northeastern California is home to many wild and lovely things, and one of them is some of the world's best fly fishing. The lower Sacramento, Fall River, Hat Creek, the Pit River, the McCloud, Burney Creek: these are bucket list fishing holes. Name drop them to even the most casual angler and watch his eyes glaze over while his hands twitch, casting already for God's own wild rainbow trout.

Like many outdoor activities, fly fishing first provides opportunity for a breathtaking road trip, and the journey into California's northeast is no exception. A casual glimpse at any map reveals, to the north and east of Redding, the happiest preponderance of green: sprawling national parks (Lassen Volcanic), national monuments (Lava Beds) and national forests (Plumas, Lassen, Klamath, Shasta-Trinity, Modoc) that occupy space reserved in other parts of California for fast food restaurants and big box stores.

I traveled first along California Highway 36, through the towns of Paynes Creek and Mineral, and then along Highway 89. I passed over the aforementioned burbling creeks, with Mount Lassen filling my windshield like a serene Japanese painting as the road slowly rose and took on a steeper cant until my car stopped, panting at the southern entrance to Lassen Volcanic National Park.

A pretty ranger flipped open the entry window and smiled.

"Well today's your lucky day," she said. "The road just reopened this morning."

I had been driving past heavily snow shrouded forest for almost thirty minutes already, but still I said somewhat stupidly, "But it's June."

The ranger nodded happy acknowledgment.

"It sure is, but up here that doesn't matter. Some years this road is closed in July. I'm from New Hampshire. I thought we had snow. But snow in July..."

Not just any snow, but buttercream snow topped with a sparkly ice sheen. On this bright, sunny day the Park was a fairyland, made fairer still by a road impeccably cleared. It's with good reason that Highway 89 is designated a National Scenic Byway. I drove through a summer winter wonderland until I found a spot where I could pull off the road and wander through the snow.

Exploring Lassen Volcanic Park would take several lifetimes. It is 106,000 acres of surreal volcanic terrain surrounded by a cool green sea of conifer forest; home to our country's greatest labyrinth of lava tubes and countless hikes through bubbling, steaming, blurping volcanism. The easy hike into Bumpass Hell provides a great initiation, but not on this day. It was buried in four feet of snow.

So I found a pullout where the snow was actually melting in places, and I wandered off into the woods, meandering through conifer passageways hung with air I wanted to drink. In the forest, the sunshine became fairy glow and I could hear nothing but my own eider-softened footfalls, and when I stepped out into an open pasture a goose-pimpling wind rushed across the snow. But that was the only sound. I can tell you unequivocally. Silences do whisper and hum.

Time Travel to the Gold Rush at Bodie Ghost Town

Visiting ghost towns is generally a high-risk, high-reward gamble. (This doesn't include Calico, which is less of a legitimate ghost town, more of a theme park attraction.) Usually, they're far off the normal route that you'd take to get anywhere. And when you finally do navigate the various twists and turns to get there, you're left with nothing but a house or two in such disrepair that you don't really get a good sense of how life was back then.

Not so with Bodie, California.

The town began as a mining camp in 1859, when William S. Bodey discovered gold in the region. A mill was established in 1861, and the town boomed to nearly 10,000 people by 1880. Schools, churches, and houses stood alongside saloons, brothels, and opium dens. During its heyday, it was called the "most lawless, wildest and toughest mining camp the far west has ever known." But, as is the case with most mining towns, the townsfolk dispersed once the gold ran out. And in 1932, 90% of the town was burned down due to a fire allegedly started by a two-and-a-half-year old boy playing with matches.

Roughly 100 structures survived the fire, however, including the bank, schoolhouse, Grand Central Hotel, and the Methodist church. The town's 1962 designation as a National Historic Site and State Historic Park helped to preserve the remaining structures and to give visitors a chance to learn about its history. Also, unlike other ghost towns, this one's only a tad off the beaten path. If you're heading up to Yosemite, this is a worthwhile detour for a short afternoon adventure. Entry is $5.

Pacific Crest Trail Hiked In The Winter For First Time

The Pacific Crest Trail is one of those "bucket list" items for die-hard hikers. The trail starts in the town of Campo, California, at the border fence with Mexico. It then heads a whopping 2,650 miles through California, Oregon and Washington before ending in Manning Park in British Columbia, Canada. The route traverses 26 National Forests, seven National Parks, five State Parks, and four National Monuments.

The average hiker takes roughly five months to complete the journey, and will usually leave in April or May in order to complete the trek by September. Why? Because winters get particularly brutal on the trail, particularly in the Cascade and Sierra Nevada mountain ranges.

'Buy One, Sell One' Measure to Limit Federal Lands Introduced

Over the past few weeks, there have been a number of plans proposed to expand the amount of California land that the federal government has control over. (One of which is basically a formality, and the other which needs to go through rigorous debate.) But if Rep. Howard Morgan Griffith (R-VA) has his way, those expansion efforts may soon come to a halt.

This week, Griffith introduced a measure into the House Subcommittee on Conservation and Forestry. The goal is to limit the amount of land that the federal government controls by forcing land management agencies to sell an acre of federally-controlled land every time a new acre is purchased. (Profits from the sales would head into the U.S. Treasury to pay off the public debt.) For policy wonks, here's how the main part of the measure reads:

(a) In General. -- For acquisition of land by the Secretary of the Interior or the Secretary of Agriculture that would result in a net increase of total land acreage under the jurisdiction of the National Park Service, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management, or the Forest Service, the Secretary concerned shall offer for sale an equal number of acres of Federal land that is under the same jurisdictional status.

This is followed by a few exemptions to the measure (essentially, the "buy one acre, sell one acre" plan happens unless the Secretary of the Interior or Secretary of Agriculture need extra land), but if passed, it would dramatically change the process by which land becomes National Parks and Monuments. As such, we'll be following any movement with the measure.

Street Artist Mr. André Admits to Tagging Joshua Tree National Park

Modern Hiker

In a celebrity-driven incident of vandalism in our national parks, the internet exploded with reports that famed French street artist Mr. André (born André Saraiva) defaced the geology of Joshua Tree. And now Mr. André has threatened legal action against L.A.-based hiking blog Modern Hiker, who first reported the appearance of his potentially illegal art.

It all started when a reader noticed a post on Mr. André's Instagram feed showing his trademark tag on a rock in the desert, captioned "#mrA rock." The reader alerted Modern Hiker's Casey Schreiner, who inquired after the location of the rock and asked Mr. André to confirm if the piece was created with permission on private property as "something that might show his fans and followers how to be a responsible street artist." Meanwhile, some outraged Modern Hiker's readers took it upon themselves to investigate and identify the exact location of the rock, as well as documenting its appearance over the course of the last couple of weeks.

Schreiner's line of questioning and an influx of criticism from the public incited an outright feud with the artist. This has all been well-documented in a Modern Hiker blog post which Schreiner continues to update as the situation develops.

On March 3, the backlash was severe enough for Mr. André's legal team at Stefanaggi Avocats in Paris to send a cease and desist letter to Modern Hiker, demanding that Schreiner "immediately cease to disseminate the defamatory information," and furthermore "erase the infringing links and its associated files" from his website.

However, in that same letter, attorney François Stefanaggi admits to the alleged defacement, attributing "an ephemeral creation" in Joshua Tree to Mr. André, who reportedly used "water-based paint" to place "his artistic signature" on a rock. Stefanaggi also claims that Mr. André subsequently "erased the inscription and made all mark of this short-lived performance disappear."

Mr. André's lawyer threatens to "pursue all available legal remedies" against Modern Hiker, including seeking damages for "publishing detrimental messages...with the intention to discredit [Mr. André's] professional works and harm his artistic reputation."

In a new post, Modern Hiker reprinted his own lawyer's response, and declaring that the site "has no intention" of removing its original story.

Responding to Mr. André's litigation threats, Schreiner's legal representatives at Levine Sullivan Koch & Schulz, LLP in Washington, DC reminded Stefanaggi that "truthful statements are not actionably defamatory," and that Mr. André himself bears the burden of proving the article in question was "false in some substantial way." Furthermore, it says, "it is irrelevant...whether [Mr. André] voluntarily removed the inscription 'a few days later.'"

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