Pack in the Saddle Again!


PackSaddle Cave

PackSaddle Cave

Ha, just had to title this post that way. (try to belt it out like AreoSmith as you read it )

Here it is my (drum roll please…) 200th post. Technically it isn’t since this log has been around quite a bit longer the WordPress or blogging in general for that matter, but as far as WordPress is concerned this is it! so in honor of the occasion, and mostly just because I wanted to get out of the house I headed up to Pack Saddle Cave.  It was a sunny day and a little too warm for hiking, well truthfully it was darn hot but I was hopefull it would be at least a couple degrees cooler up at the cave since the trail starts well up the Kern Canyon at above 3000′. I made sure I had plenty of water and snacks loaded up on the Motorcycle and drove out of town towards Lake Isabella. From there it was a few short miles to Kernville and on to the parking spot across the street from the trail head. It was still too hot but I’d come this far I might as well check out the cave. The trail started out promising enough, wide obviously maintained and heading up a gradual slope. All to soon though it was a steep grueling slog uphill with no shade in sight. The views were magnificent though so while I paused to catch my breath I took a few pictures.

View as I begin up the trail, looking back toward the river.

View as I begin up the trail, looking back toward the river.

There's limestone in those hills, looks promising!

There’s limestone in those hills, looks promising!

When I finally crested the ridge I could see loads of limestone outcrops all around, certainly a good area to find a cave. Unfortunately the particular outcrop I was looking for was across yet another gully. I began making my way downward trying not to dwell on how much that meant I’d be going back up on the other side to reach the cave. At least there were trees and a little shade along the creek at the bottom.

flower alongside the creek.

flower alongside the creek.

The cave is up there somewhere?

The cave is up there somewhere?

Now though the weather changed as a few thunderclouds rolled in and I nervously hurried along the trickling creek hoping to reach the cave still high above me before it rained. It was a short stretch of trail so soon enough I was safely past the creek. Not before a covey of Quail burst out from the bushes giving me a bit of a start. Just as fast as they appeared  though they retreated back under cover of nearby bushes so I didn’t get any pictures. A dozen ground squirrels sunning themselves on nearby rocks were just as fast but one stuck his head out long enough for a quick photograph.

peering from the rocks

peering from the rocks

Damsel fly Down by the creek.

Damsel fly Down by the creek.

Tut tut, looks like rain.

Tut tut, looks like rain.

Lizard along the trail

Lizard along the trail

I was pleasantly surprised to find the entrance to be larger then I had imagined though the level of damage and graffiti I had heard about was present

Cave entrance

Cave entrance

Formations, columns

Formations, columns

large stalagmite / mound

more formations, marble ceiling

more formations, marble ceiling

Sure enough it was raining when I emerged from the cave but not enough to really trouble me and there was even a faint double rainbow.

rainbows

rainbows

I made it back down in time to stop at Mcnallys for a bite to eat before heading home.

Good to be underground again


Leigh in the Cave

Leigh in the Cave

Not so windy weekend wandering around wonderful winding passages.

This cave has long been  high on my list of places I wanted to visit but somehow my schedule never coincided with a trip. This year I was happy to see that the trip would take place during summer break when I would be able to go.

I was also excited as I haven’t had an opportunity to go caving as much as I’d like since moving down to Bakersfield. It was a bit of a ride on my motorcycle to the meeting spot in Columbia but I made it easy by spending the night in Ceres so it was just a short ride in the morning. There I was happy to see Kip pull up as I always enjoy going caving with him. right behind him pulled in Ben and Leigh who I had previously caved with at Millerton and our fearless leader Martin.

 

Martin poses beneath some formations

Martin poses beneath some formations

We all climbed into two vehicles for the drive up to the cave. After a short hike we reached the cave. Martin gave us a rundown on the history of the cave. It was interesting to hear it had been re-opened as recently as the 70’s then sealed closed and re-opened again in the late 90’s. Hopefully the current restrictions on visitation will continue to keep the cave in it’s beautiful condition. Speaking of which I had a horrible time deciding where to take pictures as there was enough formations and decorated passageways to keep me busy for a day or two but Martin had said we would be spending 6 or seven hours in the cave and had a couple of projects to complete while there.  Once we had the gate open I rigged the rope while Martin got the supplies ready for these projects. Kip climbed down to open the lower gate and we were ready to go caving.  Right near the bottom of the drop Ben and Kip spotted a newt (probably Taricha torosa sierrae – Sierra Newt

Correction thanks to inaturalist.org I now know it was a Ensatina (Ensatina eschscholtzii) both are salmanders but then newts and ensatinas branch from there.

Not a newt- Ensatina (Ensatina eschscholtzii)

Not a newt- Ensatina (Ensatina eschscholtzii)

 

I took a couple of pictures then shooed him off to the side of the passage so we would be sure not to step on him upon our return. The next main room we entered had lots of nice stalactites and soda straws so I happily set about taking pictures. Martin had brought along string and flags which we used to mark some of the more sensitive areas of the cave so hopefully future trips will not disturb them.  We continued to the area of the cave where the lions tales formations are located and I was excited to photograph them. Of course my flashes promptly ceased to function. After a few minutes of fiddling with them I discovered that the batteries in one had leaked, possibly due to overheating on the motorcycle trip up. A quick change of batteries and they still weren’t working. I was puzzled till Martin suggested checking the settings and sure enough during the battery change a flash had switched to an auto mode instead of manual. Yeah I was back in business. I finished taking a couple pictures of the lions tails and then carefully proceeded to a sensitive area where we took off our helmets in order to protect the fragile formations. Returning to the main junction we had a break for lunch then I opted to stick around and take pictures of helectites while the others checked out the rest of the cave. On the way out we stopped and Martin had a final project to complete- the lower ladder had become a little shaky as its bottom support had cracked. He successfully drilled a hole in the ladder and support then connected them securely with a bolt.

Lions tail

Lions tail

Kip admiring stalactites

Kip admiring stalactites

helectites

helectites

After exiting the cave, securing the gate and returning to Colombia we realized it was too late too make it to the restaurant for dinner and as both Martin and I had lengthy drives ahead of us we all loaded up in our respective vehicles and headed for home. Another great trip  in the Motherlode.

Arriving at Columbia on my Motorcycle

Arriving at Columbia on my Motorcycle

 

Continuing in Africa


The Three Dikgosi Monument

The Three Dikgosi Monument the three Chiefs monument Khama III of the Bangwato, Sebele I of the Bakwena, and Bathoen I of the Bangwaketse.

Continuing my reminiscing from 2006 here’s part 2…

While I was sad to see most of the group departing I was glad my visit with my Parents in Botswana wasn’t over yet. Rolf was able to stay a few days longer and had expressed an interest in seeing some more animals so we headed out to the nearby Gaborone game preserve.  While not as lavish as our trip to Mokolodi with its wonderful restaurant the Gaborone game preserve   did allow us some wonderful animal watching especially the vervet Monkeys that made me laugh at their antics. I was especially excited to spot a monitor lizard by the side of the road as I have plenty of childhood memories of looking for these in Malawi. – I still remember my friends little sister screaming when one approached her in the water. We laughed since we had told her not to take our little boat out and she had anyway, but in all fairness it was a big monitor (over six foot) and she could have been seriously injured so we should have been more worried. We also visited the Botanical gardens again and went to see the Three Dikgosi Monument (three Chiefs monument).

Vervet Monkey

Vervet Monkey

 

Monitor Lizard

Monitor Lizard

warthog

warthog

This way to the caves

This way to the caves

After Rolf finally had to leave we were considering various things to do when I mentioned I had seen an advertisement for a cave near Sterkfontein, in South Africa, was that close enough for a visit. My parents said that wouldn’t be a problem but since it was a bit of a drive and we wanted to avoid driving home late at night we’d just plan on spending the night. As it turned out a visit to Sterkfontein was an awesome idea as it is a world heritage site due to it being the location where some of the earliest hominoid remains have been found. Hence its other name “the cradle of Mankind”.

They had a very nice museum on site so we got a chance to browse the exhibits while we waited to tour the cave.

Museum display

Museum display

 

Sterkfontein cave

Sterkfontein cave

Now most of the interest here was in the archeology and history the cave itself is not a particularly decorated one though it did have a few stalactites and stalagmites. Luckily though the nearby “wonder cave” has that all covered. My parents had had enough of stairs climbing in and out of Sterkfontein but since wonder cave boasted access via elevator they happily came along. The brochure forgot to mention the two hundred or so steps you have to climb to reach the elevator.

 

Wonder cave

Wonder cave

This cave was also well worth a visit for despite previous limestone miners having removed a lot of formations from the cave there were still tons of beautiful formations. It also happens to be at the site of the lion and Rhino preserve a private game reserve so after spending the night at the nearby Big five lodge. We returned to check out the animals.

Inquisitive Ostrich

Inquisitive Ostrich

I think this ostrich wanted me to roll down the window so he could see if we had any food in the car. I wasn’t obliging.

While we did see the rhino’s they managed to keep their distance in the tall grass so I didn’t get any good pictures, the lions and some crested cranes were much more cooperative.

crested crane

crested crane

lioness

lioness

Oh and Zebras lots of zebras!

zebra

zebra

Guinea fowl

Guinea fowl

 

All to soon it was time to begin the long drive back to Botswana but we had one more treat in store for us a lovely rainbow!

rainbow

rainbow

 

 

 

Where are the whale sharks?


Sunrise at Playa Del Carmen

Sunrise at Playa Del Carmen

After the wonderful Cenote dives and a restaurant in a cave only one thing could improve this trip and that was seeing whale sharks, but the weather still wasn’t co-operating. Since I’d already had a day of sitting around taking it easy I decided to book a little site seeing excursion. One of the big attractions in this part of Mexico is the Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza, these are a good 3 to 4 four drive away from Playa del Carmen though and would really require an overnight stay to do them justice. Since I was still hoping for an improvement in the weather that would allow  the boats to leave in search of the whale sharks, I decided to head to Tulum instead. this proved to be an excellent choice as the heat of summer was tempered there by a cool ocean breeze as we toured the ruins overlooking the beautiful Caribbean. Tulum from the Mayan for wall or fence is an impressive fortification overlooking the ocean.

Templo Dios del Viento (God of Winds Temple)

Templo Dios del Viento (God of Winds Temple)

I had a very enjoyable time touring the ruins and checking out the numerous iguanas that have set up home in the rubble.

Iguana

Iguana

Then it was time to head out for lunch and a little snorkeling at  nearby Xel Ha .

This sheltered inlet has been turned into a resort with an all you can eat buffet, and various attractions. I chose to spend my time there checking out the multitude of colorful fish as I swam around.

color fish, Xel Ha

color fish, Xel Ha

Xel Ha

Xel Ha

 

Then it was back to Playa Del Carmen for some good news, the weather looked to be improving, the next morning the boat would head out from Cancun in search of Whale Sharks!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mexico Riviera


Iguana at tulum

Iguana at tulum

I had a few days off work this summer and planned to go down to the channel islands or something else nearby but then priceline gave me a fantastic deal on airfare and hotel for a weeks stay in Playa Del Carmen! How could I pass this up?

This area of Mexico known as the Mayan riviera had long been on my list of places to visit due to  the geography of the region. The whole peninsula is made up of limestone! this means there are loads of caves almost everywhere you go. Now,  because the area is mostly flat and barely above sea level most of these are filled with water but that just adds to the fun. In Mexico the openings to these water filled caves are refered to as Cenotes derived from the Mayan word dzonot for well or sink hole. That was another reason to visit this area- lots of history especially with some very interesting Mayan ruins to see.  Now August may not be the ideal time to head to Mexico, it’s a little warm for starters and the chances of a tropical storm or hurricane are definitely higher this time of year but there’s advantages as well. First was the already mentioned low cost of my trip, I’m sure due to booking during the “off season”, the other reason? Whale Sharks. These huge critters congregate near isla Holbox from late July through September so I’d have an excellent chance of seeing them.

First up was a simple cavern dive at Chac Mool cenote, since I’d need a guide and equipment I booked this through Manta divers in Cancun. They sent Lief to meet me and 3 other divers. On the way to the cenote he briefed us on what to expect.

Chac Mool Cenote

Chac Mool Cenote

Conditions at the cenote were as promised- beautiful clear water. The water is fresh though an interesting phenomenon occurs where at a certain depth you cross into salt water. The interface between these two layers is referred to as the halocline and makes for some very interesting diving. The difference between the layers causes a haze similar to hot air rising off a road on a summers day. We also got to experience changes in buoyancy which really requires the diver to pay attention.

Entrace of Chac mool cenote

Entrance of Chac mool cenote

entering the halocline

entering the halocline

We passed through uneventfully though and I thoroughly enjoyed our swim through the cenote, there were even some nice formations in the cave and a very small boat resting peacefully on the bottom.

formations

formations

After lunch at the cenote it was time to head back to my hotel and enjoy a nice cold cerveza as I watched the waves roll in. I was supposed to head out early the next morning in search of whale sharks but tropical storm Isaac had other ideas and the port was closed due to storm warnings.

Looking around for other things to do I found a listing for Mayan ruins and an aviary in nearby Playacar. I did some sight seeing along the way as I walked to Playacar.  The aviary is a small park filled with birds and wild life including a small enclosure that ensures you can get a close up view of some pretty interesting birds. Great for photography. A little on the expensive side considering they’ve raised the price from 150 pesos to 300 but since I didn’t have anything else to do I was happy for the opportunity to check out the birds.

Keel-billed Toucan (Ramphastos sulfuratus)

Keel-billed Toucan (Ramphastos sulfuratus)

frangipani (plumeria)

frangipani (plumeria)

The next day was a chance to visit some more cenotes this time though we had something extra special to check out. We headed out to Angelita. This Cenote is mostly a very deep pit. Here the accumulation of leaves and organic matter that has fallen into the pit produces hydrogen sulphide gas. At around 110 feet of depth this gas forms a layer floating ontop of the saltwater below. So when diving it appears like this is the bottom of the pit. After penetrating this cloudy layer though you emerge in the clear salt water below. As we were getting ready to dive we spotted a tarantula walking by.

Tarantula

Tarantula

Cenote Angelita

Cenote Angelita

Entering the hydrogen sulphide layer

Entering the hydrogen sulphide layer

While this was a very interesting dive there are not a lot of formations to see in a pit so for our next dive Lief suggested we head over to a popular favourite Gran Cenote where there were lots of beautiful formations to check out. He even located a couple bats near the entrance for me.

Bats

Bats

Gran Cenote

Gran Cenote

After our dives Lief and Alex to us out for some wonderful tacos and cerveza, we had to order some more beer since the video Alex was editing wasn’t done but I don’t think anyone minded.

Then it was time to head back to Playa Del Carmen to watch the tide come in again.

Playa del Carmen

Playa del Carmen

Since the tropical storm still had the port closed I spent the next day wandering about town and decided that for dinner I’d investigate a cave I’d heard of right in town!

The restaurant ‘Alux’ in Playa del Carmen is built inside an actual cave. Since the location is dictated by the location of the cave its not near the other tourist restaurants  but isn’t all that far either.

Alux

Alux

restaurant in a cave

restaurant in a cave

It makes for a scenic location but the extreme humidity and heat made it a bit hard to enjoy dinner.

I certainly enjoyed walking around checking out the cave for a bit after I ate though.

Next up still waiting to see the Whale sharks!