Friday, June 21, 2013

Joshua Tree

Two weekends ago, my coworker, and friend, Nena, came down with one of her friends, Sara, and we went camping!  We had been planning the trip for a few months and we were all very excited (and a little nervous).  It wasn't until the weekend before that we actually sat down and discussed what we were going to bring and do.  And it wasn't until that weekend that we really looked at the weather, and remembered that we were planning a camping trip to the desert in June (thus the nervousness).

I picked my two co-campers up in Palm Springs around 9pm on Friday night, and just stepping out of the car was shocking.  Even though it was 9pm, it was still about 85 degrees out.  And we were in an oasis- not even the real desert yet! There was some nervous laughter.

We drove for about another hour to get into the National Park, and we managed to really freak ourselves out.  We saw no cars for a really long time, and decided that there was probably some big heat or fire warning that we had missed.  And then we saw one car, and decided that they were probably going to kill us.  We discussed the bear spray that we didn't bring, and the mallet that we did, as possible defense strategies.  Even the shadowy Joshua Trees and ginormous boulders were a little freaky in the dark.

Fortunately, when we got to the site, there was a reasonable amount of cars and groups, and we were able to stop worrying about the one random psycho that would probably be in the site next to us.  We drove around for a bit, probably blinding all of our sleeping neighbors, as we looked for the perfect site.  We found a great spot with a couple of boulders (the site was aptly called Jumbo Rocks), which we figured would keep our tents in the shade during the morning so that we could sleep in.  We sent up the tents, munched on some apricots, and went to bed.  Oh and I had my first experience trying to projectile spit my toothpaste to "lower my impact".  I pretty much drooled it down my chin, and it landed in a "high impact" blob at my feet.  Still learning.

The next morning, we realized that we were wrong about which way the sun came up, when we were awoken at 5am by the light and heat.  Oops.  We quickly ate breakfast and decided to find a new site... and coffee.  Yeah, we're those kind of campers.  We relocated to a spot with some actual morning shade and found a bunny and a roadrunner!  We named the bunny, Flopsy.

We headed into town to get coffee (iced, for sure) and made one of our poorer decisions of the trip when we decided to go for a quick hike.  It was actually a very beautiful and unique 3 mile round trip hike to an oasis, but it was ridiculously hot.  We brought a large load of water with us and some snacks, and set out. 

Sara and Nena, before heat stroke
For the first part of the hike, it felt like we just kept going up and up this mountain.  When we finally reached the top, we realized we had to go all the way back down to get into the oasis.  Which meant we had to hike back up on the way out. :(

However, the view was pretty awesome.  I wish I knew the physics of how an oasis develops, but I imagine it has something to do with how the local geology holds water for the palm trees to grow.  It was just crazy to me how we were in this unbelievably hot desert (heat stroke!), and yet this dense stand of palm trees was just springing up in the middle of it all.

When we got there, red-faced and out of breath, we took a much needed break to cool down.  There was a nice breeze and the temperature was tolerable in the shade.  We snacked on nuts and granola bars and drank a lot of water.  There was a lot of dreading the return hike going on and some consideration of staying in the oasis until after sunset (it was like 11 am at this point).  We somehow pulled ourselves together and made the hike back.

Afterwards, we returned to the Circle K, where we had found our iced coffee, and got ice cream (obviously).  We also did some pretty spectacular people-watching.  Joshua Tree is home to a unique crowd, for sure.

We decided to make one more stop at a cactus garden, before returning to our site.  These Cholla cacti were pretty awesome.  (As a side note, anytime I hear the word "cacti" I think of the end of the Hey Dude theme song "...and that killer cac-tiiiiii".  Anyone else?)

When we got back to our campsite, my tent was blowing around like a sail, lost at sea.  While I was fighting to keep it in place, I looked over and saw Sara and Nena with their backs up against one of the giant rocks, about 4 sites over.  They had spotted a tiny sliver of shade and weren't leaving it.  I joined them.

We happily devoured some 5 layer dip and drank some beer in our growing patch of shade.  I was pretty much in a bush at one point, but it was cooler there.

We had another bunny friend come visit us.  His name was Allen.   

After a few hours of headachy-recovery from our hike, we started thinking about dinner.  Nena and Sara agreed to let me make a fire, despite the heat, to cook dinner.  I really like making fires and sitting by them, so I was a happy camper (ehh?!)  We warmed up some sausages and cooked corn and some veggie skewers.  Delicious!

And what camping trip is complete without smores?  I forgot to put the chocolate in the cooler, so it was in liquid form, by that point.  We cut one of the corners off and drizzled it on the graham crackers- I consider this a huge improvement on the traditional smore- no awkwardly hard chocolate in the middle of the perfectly gooey mess.  Heavenly!

I had chocolate all over my hands and didn't know it until I took this picture!

Sara and I ended up sitting by the fire for a while longer, while Nena, sadly, went to bed to beat her headache.  It was great- lots of stars, good company, and a mesmerizing fire.  Just what camping should be.

The next morning we had plenty of shade (hurray!) and slept in a bit longer than the morning before.  I got up a little before the others, and read for a while.  It was lovely.

We were pretty over the heat, so we packed up and decided to make one more stop before leaving the park.  We drove up to this beautiful outlook, which on a clear day you can supposedly see the Salton Sea (my next trip?).  It was a little hazy, so we couldn't see it.  We could see the San Andreas fault, and even Palm Springs.  It was a stunning view.

On our way out, we pulled over to take pictures of the park's namesake, the Joshua Trees!!  They are so weird and curious.  Someone described them to me as something out of Dr. Seuss, and it's so true.

We headed back to San Diego and did a little sight seeing here, before a low-key Thai dinner.  It was fun being able to show Sara and Nena around my new home, and I don't think I've ever enjoyed the sea breeze as much.  Back to June Gloom here!


Thursday, June 20, 2013

Pizza Review: Pizzeria Bruno

Still playing catch up here, but a couple of weeks back, in the ongoing search for the best pizza in San Diego, my friends and I headed over to Pizzeria Bruno.

Now, Courtney and Dana love this place.  Like, very, intensely, love it.  They took me once, and I just didn't get it.  It was a thin crust pizza that was kind of floppy, and the cooks went a little overboard with the wood-fired-pizza-thing because the bottom was burnt.  I was not impressed.

However, after this second trip, I have totally revised my opinion on Brunos!  It was really fantastic (and not at all burnt).  The atmosphere is really nice for a group too- although we had to wait, we eventually got a spacious table for 6, and we could even hear each other talk!  

We started off with some killer bruschetta, which really hit the spot.  So much so, that I almost didn't get a picture of it. :)

To follow, we ordered the Diavolo (with mushrooms), per Courtney and Dana's recommendation, the Lasagne, per Sharon and because it sounded awesome, and a Margherita to see if they really know how to make pizza. (The answer is yes, yes they do.)

The Diavolo: Tomato Sauce, Mozzarella, Pepperoni, Garlic, Goat Peppers (with Mushrooms)

The Lasange: Tomato Sauce, Mozzarella, Ricotta, Prosciutto Cotto (Italian Ham) Reggiano
And a good ol' Margherita pizza: Tomato Sauce, Fresh Mozzarella, Basil, Olive Oil
My personal favorite was the Lasange, but I think each pizza got a few votes to its name.  Thin crust pizza isn't my favorite, but the crust was excellent.  There was a good balance of sauce and toppings and crust, and although it was a little saggier than I'd prefer, it worked well.  And if you asked Dana and Courtney, it's the best pizza in San Diego.  (I'll be curious to see if we can find anything else to sway them away from Brunos- they've remained loyal, so far.) The rest of the group was on board as well.  Three cheers for Brunos!

Next in line: Berkeley's Pizza at Sharon's house!

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Mandy's graduation

I'm very late on writing this post, but my little sister graduated from college!  (By this point, she's also driven cross-country, gone through Teach for America's Induction, and started Institute where she's doing some pretty intense teacher training.  In fact, today was her first day teaching students!)  My parents and grandma came down from northern California and my cousins and aunt and I came up from San Diego to meet my sister in LA.

Dad, Mom, Granny, Cousin Collin, me, Cousin Tim, and Cousin Dana

We got to go to a reception for her department and meet some of her teachers.  Then we headed over to the graduation.  I can't believe she is so grown up!

Or not. :)

She definitely forgot her cap and gown in the car with us the night before graduation, so we had a little fun with her and texted her these photos one by one...

Our view wasn't bad at graduation (and the giant screens definitely helped) and it was a nice quick ceremony, which is always nice.

Afterward, we had cupcakes and champagne!  I somehow didn't get any pictures of it though... I think I was too busy being in other pictures.

It was a fun weekend and definitely brought back lots of memories of my own graduation.

My good friends Kat and Mary.

The fam, back in the day.

And now
So fun!  Now I'm just eagerly awaiting all the classroom stories Mandy is going to have.  Maybe she'll start a blog too?...

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Think Big! (Or illegal)

I've been slacking.  I have so much that I want to share that I don't know where to start!  Like how my sister graduated weeks ago and I still managed to run 12 miles after the parties, that I just finished the San Diego Rock 'n' Roll half-marathon last weekend, or about the delicious lemon bar cookies I discovered and have been trying to replicate. (Not to mention pizza at Bruno's and camping in Joshua Tree.)  But let's talk a little bit about hydrology, because I know that's what you were really hoping for. :)

This Tuesday, Last Tuesday, A few weeks ago (see, I'm really behind!), I got to go to a day of the H2O (Headwaters to Ocean) conference, and I left feeling really inspired. The website describes the conference as "consist[ing] of roughly 100 presentations with the latest information relating to coasts, oceans, beaches, wetlands, rivers and watersheds."  My sort of stuff!

The plenary speakers were fantastic.  Eric Stein of the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project (SCCWRP), Robin Grossinger of the San Francisco Estuary Institute, and Letitia Grenier, who is the Science Coordinator of the San Francisco Bayland Goals Climate Change Update report, spoke together about the idea of "resiliency".  Eric and Robin have teamed together in the past to look at the historic habitats along the coast.  In the work I do, we use their work a lot.  For example, when we are beginning to design a restoration project, we consider what types of habitats were at that location historically.  Eric and Robin's groups have produced a series of historic maps that are overlain with the different habitats that existed previously (like dunes, beaches, freshwater or tidal marshes, etc).  So while it's often not possible to fully restore the site to the historic habitat due to modern constraints (flood protection, existing infrastructure, etc), their work is still important in helping us understand the physical processes in the area and what mix of habitats might be possible.  (Also, that leads to a whole different debate- can you still call it restoration if you're making something new/different?  But that's a question for another post.)  Anyway, the point is, as the speakers said, it's not about recreating the past; it's about using the past as a tool to design better, more resilient projects.

Historic ecology of the Ballona Creek area.

Here's an example: Eric talked about a river restoration project where the goal was to restore some of the historic riparian habitat (think, green corridor areas next to a river or stream).  There was some of this habitat remaining, but it was very degraded.  The project team was able to look at the historic maps to see that the degraded riparian areas could be grouped into three larger zones that corresponded to historically, lush riparian areas.  They were able to examine the processes that historically created those zones (areas of higher ground water), and to confirm that those processes still existed today and would likely still be able to sustain a lush riparian habitat.

Another example: Eric discussed a lagoon that was restored without considering the historic ecology.  The design placed the mouth of the lagoon in an area that historically had an extensive beach.  Not surprisingly, the new project has to dredge sand out of the mouth of the lagoon regularly to keep the system open to the ocean.  The historic ecology was showing large amounts of sand moving to that area, but the project team didn't take that into account.  It's not a very resilient project when you have to get equipment out there every other year to dredge the sand.

What I got out of Eric and Robin's talks was that a lot of historic processes are the still the same today, and that to build a resilient project, it's better to work with the processes, rather than against them.

But it was Letitia that really got me pumped up! (I know, huge nerd here).  She talked about thinking on a much bigger scale than just the current project.  She described a restoration where the team was not just looking at the site at hand, but also considering the potential for acquiring other lands and restoring even more areas.  She showed maps of the site and then some of the other sites that could be acquired to connect multiple restorations (larger habitats with connecting habitat corridors are better for the critters because they can get around more easily without getting run over or whatnot).  Letitia also talked about one restoration site in the delta that was originally slated to be a subtidal restoration (for fish habitat), where they planned to grade the site down to lower elevations.  However, it was recognized that this site was at a great elevation for marsh habitat without the grading.  Fortunately, the plan has been changed since when the project team recognized that with more of the delta restored there would be plenty of subtidal habitat and this land was much better suited for marsh.

Sacramento- San Joaquin River Delta. Source.
Letitia ended her talk by reiterating that we need to think big and out of the box (or illegally, as she suggested) to create resilient restoration.  She gave the example of the South Bay Salt Ponds (which I worked on) where it was decided that the goal of the restoration was 90% of the ponds restored to marsh habitat OR 50% of the ponds restored to marsh.  This was a totally new concept- the environmental permitting generally requires a recommended alternative, but the South Bay Salt Ponds team said, "nope, we don't know what the recommended alternative is going to be yet."  There is and will be extensive monitoring of each restoration within the salt ponds to see if the overall project is having a negative effect on the birds and other animals who currently use the site.  If there is a negative effect, the restoration will stop when 50% of the ponds have been restored.  If things are looking good, then 90% of the ponds will be restored.  The South Bay Salt Ponds team changed the game and really looked at the big picture in order to create a resilient project.  

Salt Pond A21 in 2008 and then in 2009. Source.

I left the conference really thinking about the restoration sites I'm working on and thinking about how we could make them more resilient.  I continue to feel inspired and proud of my company knowing that we do consider the big picture and that we're really at the front of our field (we had multiple people presenting at the conference and I heard lots of positive remarks about the work we're doing).  We just have to keep on saving the world, one marsh at a time (with all the other marshes in mind as well). ;)

Oh, and I also just submitted my first abstract!  Just thinking about presenting in front of a bunch of people who might ask me hard questions makes me want to puke.  At least I've got until November to prepare...

* I may have missed a fact or two in my summary of the plenary session, but I believe I'm capturing the gist of the talk.  I apologize if I have something wrong.