Saturday, February 23, 2019
This year was different. We arrived at the park in midst of one of the most intense storm events of the year. Record snow and rain was falling in the coastal regions and the Sierra Nevada, but we had mostly benign conditions during our journey. But the storms caused the closure of the road that we needed to access Aguereberry Point, and construction had closed the access to Mosaic Canyon. We needed a last geological stop and I remembered how we often could see the pinnacles in the distance as we headed home. Why not see if we could get there? We headed south on the five-mile gravel road outside of Trona and had little problem reaching the pinnacles. We started exploring. I was awe-struck.
So what really happened?
More recently formed towers are visible at Mono Lake near Lee Vining and Tioga Pass in the Sierra Nevada. They were still forming when Los Angeles diverted the water from streams flowing into Mono Lake in 1940. The lake began to dry, exposing the tufa towers.
There was a lot to see in Death Valley and the surrounding region during our journey last week. More blogs will follow! And while you are waiting for the next entry, tell me about the most alien landscape you've ever seen...
Thursday, February 14, 2019
There's a Giant Atmospheric River Storm Pummeling California...So of course I'm Headed to Death Valley to Experience it...
So it's probably radio silence for the next few days unless you want to follow our travels on Twitter (@geotripper). If I get a phone signal, I will try to post a few pictures. In the meantime, stay dry!
Monday, February 11, 2019
Update: I've added an extra image at the end that shows the satellite imagery in the view from Keyes Road.
It doesn't happen often. I usually pass the right intersection once or maybe twice a week, but the most important factor is the air quality. It's almost always poor. Dust and smoke in the summer, fog and clouds in winter. There is a spot on the floor of the Great Valley (some call it merely the Central Valley) where one can see Half Dome and the other peaks around Yosemite Valley in the Sierra Nevada.
Here, courtesy of CalTopo.com is a guide to the peaks in the picture above.
POSTSCRIPT: Thank you for all the comments. Since there is still some controversy about whether this is Half Dome, it turns out that CalTopo also offers an image overlay on the viewfinder, so I have added it below. For those who feel the mountains in back are not "tall" enough, one needs to consider the curvature of the Earth over the 40-50 mile distance of the highest peaks in the view.
Sunday, February 10, 2019
|All the pictures in this post are from the Tuolumne River Parkway Trail in Waterford.
All in all, it's been a good year (so far). One can judge the quality of a year on the basis of many things, and in this instance I'm talking about water. So much of the time, my part of California is at an extreme in one direction or another. Last year it was a drought up until some late storms in March that salvaged the water year. The year previous was one of floods and threatened floods, unlike anything seen in twenty years, but at least it filled the state's reservoirs after an astounding five-year drought. This year finds us in the sweet spot, kind of in-between, but a bit above average.
The rainy season started a bit slowly, just enough to make one worry a little bit about drought. No storms in September. A single small storm in October. But then in late November the pace picked up with just over 3 inches in my rain gauge, and December added more than 2 inches. The same with January, nearly 3 inches, and now February has already produced 2.5 inches with more storms coming this week. Of course my backyard is not the measure of water conditions in the state. The news reports are full of stories on the incredible snowpack that has built up in the Sierra Nevada in the last few weeks, with single storms producing six feet of snow or more.
The critical Sierra Nevada snowpack sits at between 109% and 135% of normal (measuring from north to south), with a statewide average of 123%. If no more snow fell, our season would end at 84% of normal. It's a comfortable place to be.
But no water planner is ever comfortable. With so much snow in the mountains, the reservoir water masters always have to worry about the possibility of a big atmospheric river storm, the kind that combines the extreme low pressure of an Arctic storm with a stream of extremely humid air out of the tropics. Like the one that could happen this week. In a worst case scenario, such a storm could cause rain at high elevations, melting much of the snowpack and raising the specter of flooding downstream.
And that is why the Tuolumne River came alive this week. For many months, the river has remained at an unnaturally low flow of about 200 cubic feet per second, a minimal amount. There are large reservoirs upstream, especially Hetch Hetchy and Don Pedro, and the operative mode is to save as much water as possible. During the recent storms, inflow to Don Pedro reached as high as 8,000 cubic feet per second, but outflow remained at 200 cfs.
Last week the river was dramatically higher, flowing at 2,000 cubic feet per second. The water masters are clearing out some storage space in Don Pedro in case of a flood emergency. It looks like they intend to go as high as 3,500 cfs in the next few days. Certainly not a flood (it would have to reach 9,000 cubic feet per second for that), but enough to clear the channel of invasive water hyacinth, and enough to make one feel the river is closer to a natural seasonal condition.
It's a nice time of year to walk the Tuolumne.