Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Look What the Fog Dropped In

Prescribed burn in Big Basin State Park brings smoke and colorful sunsets.
Yesterday, thick fog came rolling through the coastside passes at 5 pm and suddenly it was an early dusk.  We were disappointed because we were hoping to shoot a second night of brilliant sunset colors.  This week the park staff is conducting a prescribed burn in the understory of Big Basin State Park.  Although the smoke temporarily degrades the crisp fall air, it provides beneficial ecological changes to the park's redwood forest and makes for fantastic sunsets.  The western horizon the night before was an hour-long show of many shades of orange, pink, red and purple.

We decided to go to Alice's Restaurant for a Triumph Burger instead, and packed our cameras in the car in the off chance that the fog might clear on our way back.  But the fog was stubbornly hanging in there as we passed the usually scenic westerly gap across from Anniversary Trail at Windy Hill Open Space Preserve, and our cameras stayed in their cases.

Colors getting darker as the sun sinks below the Pacific Ocean 
At almost midnight as we were just settling down to bed, we suddenly saw mysterious flashes on the hills near the house.  Mindful that we are in the dangerous harvest period of illegal marijuana growing that occurs in these remote hills, we tied up the dogs, did a quick check of the near perimeter, implemented our safety plan and called the sheriff.  Suspecting either poachers or growers, we did another quick search with the deputies but could find nothing.

This morning, we were sipping coffee in the backyard and enjoying the sunrise while reviewing our safety plan.  Suddenly, a stranger walked through the front yard.  While the Rugged Individual detained the man, I tied up the dogs again and called the rangers on the radio.  Never before have the rangers' voices on the radio sounded so sweet as when they responded, "Hang tight 9A12, we're on the way.  ETA 8 minutes."

Spent the night on the Dipper Ranch
Quickly, the man's garbled story started to make sense.  Yesterday, he was flying his helicopter from Half Moon Bay to San Carlos when he suddenly was surrounded by dense fog.  Since he could not navigate, he landed on a flat grassy field immediately below.  This turned out to be the upper pastures of the Dipper Ranch.  He waited hours for the fog to lift, but finally at midnight decided to walk cross country to Alpine Road where a friend picked him up.  Now he was returning to fly the copter out.  We missed seeing or hearing his helicopter land because we were at Alice's, but we must have seen his jerking flashlight as he later walked out.

Once again, "open space" helped someone.  However, we did chew the pilot out for not stopping to talk to the sheriff deputies when he saw their patrol cars which would have made the night worries go away much faster.  The rangers drove the pilot up to his helicopter and he flew away in the clear morning air.

Ranger escort to leave the preserve
Although we all were sleep-deprived, we were glad the pilot and helicopter were safe, the sheriff deputies responded in the middle of the night, the rangers responded quickly as if on their own wings, the dogs didn't bite anyone, and no guns were discharged.  We are revising our safety plan to include  mysteries that drop out of the air.

Another place I like to shoot at night are the pullouts along Page Mill Road with the city lights of the Santa Clara Valley and the moon rising over the Hamilton Range.


  1. Sigh, we had our own rumble last night. The City's police were "kind enough" to shine their flashlights into our bedroom window at 2:30am. They were apparently looking for someone doing misdeeds. Yes, I'm sleep-deprived, too.

    I admit that a year ago, I called 911 for the first time ever after hearing cries of "Help! Help me, someone!" from the park below us in the middle of the night. The police arrived within 5 minutes and apprehended the fellow who was causing inebriated harm to the woman who was yelling for help.

    It's always a difficult call to know when to ask for help, especially when you're half-asleep... or living out in the country. I grew up out of town, and I know my mom felt much safer having dogs around.

    Why are we so afraid of strangers these days?

    ps - Big fires do make for beautiful sunsets.

  2. Katie: those are some poignant observations. I am glad you made that phone call. I am surrounded by strong and caring people and I tend to imagine myself as bravely facing into the uncertain winds of nature and human passion. Still, sometimes I worry about the decision to base my family in a rural area (a family, dogs and a hamster which I have pledged to not discuss on this natural history blog, oops). And fear does come up. Unfortunately, illegal marijuana growing and meth labs are present in these mountains. Local people have been shot and creeks have been destroyed. Perhaps the context of my concern will be more obvious with my next post Predators, Poaching and Suicide which should be up in a few days. Then I will return to talking about better things like coyote pups and acorn planting.

  3. This was a good story. I look forward to reading your next post.

    There are a few places I'm not comfortable hiking alone, like down in Big Sur and on Mt. Madonna, for fear I might inadvertently come across someone's operation.

    Haha about your hamster. Are your cats interested in it? I have some funny cat/hamster stories, but they're not appropriate for my blog.


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