Total Lunar Eclipse, April 14-15th, 2014, "The Blood Moon"

Brace yourselves - it's coming! Just when you thought it was safe to head outside and look at the skies, there's yet another cosmic phenomenon coming that portends doom, gloom, and the end to everything that we know. That's right - I'm talking about the total lunar eclipse of April 2014, otherwise known as (wait for it) the BLOOD MOON (dun dun dunnnnnnn!) . Yes, I know: it's hard to believe that its been three years since the last total lunar eclipse - but, let's be honest - the sun, moon, and other objects in our solar system don't really care about time - they just follow their orbital paths, so to them, three years is nothing. Surprisingly enough, we, the human race, are still here; but don't worry: next week's upcoming lunar eclipse is even more eclipse-y (I know, not a word) than 2011's - because it is the blood moon! I'll talk more about the BLOOD MOON  hoopla in a minute (really, it sounds like something from a B-Grade horror movie), but first, let's talk about the facts (what is the eclipse, can I look at it, how to see it, and where to see it):

What Is A Total Lunar Eclipse? A total lunar eclipse occurs when the moon passes directly behind the Earth, and into its shadow (umbra). When the Moon is in this position, the Earth blocks the sun's rays (light) from striking the moon. This alignment is known as "syzygy"; and only occurs the night of a full moon. For visual people, picture this alignment: sun-Earth-moon all in a straight line.   

Can a Total Lunar Eclipse Be Viewed With the Naked Eye? Yes! Fun fact: Unlike a Solar Eclipse, a lunar eclipse can be viewed safely with the naked eye, as you are looking away from the sun. Remember, a lunar eclipse features the alignment of Sun-Earth-Moon, with the eye facing toward the moon, whereas a solar eclipse features the alignment of Earth-Moon-SUN, with the eye facing the SUN, which is not safe to view with the naked eye. Therefore, the lunar eclipse can be viewed with the naked eye, and if you can, you should view it, as they are usually quite spectacular.

When Will the Lunar Eclipse of 2014 Occur?  The eclipse will start on April 14, 2014, but for most portions of the viewing area will be visible on April 15, 2014.

When Can I see the Lunar Eclipse of 2014? Mr. Eclipse of Mr. has a great chart and diagram series with times for all of North America and beyond. I highly recommend it, and suggest if you're interested in seeing the eclipse, you use the times on the chart and plan your eclipse watching accordingly.

Where Is the Best Spot to See the Lunar Eclipse of 2014? Anywhere in North or South America. Sorry, rest of the world, the timing isn't quite right for you to see this eclipse.

How Can I See the Lunar Eclipse of 2014? As with any cosmic phenomena - meteors, comets, and general stargazing, the best way to view the eclipse is to head to any area that is as dark as possible. This means that you want to be as far away from unnatural light sources as possible. In 2011, when I watched the last total lunar eclipse, I headed up to Mt. Laguna, and was treated to some stunning views of the eclipse and the milky way. If you can't make it out of whichever city you find yourself in, try and find the darkest safest spot you can (such as a park), and chances are, unless you are smack dab in the middle of the city, you will see something. Tip: no matter where you are, go outside for five to ten minutes before the eclipse to allow your eyes to adjust to the darkness (or as dark as it gets). Also, has some additional great viewing tips here.

Ok, I've got the sciency stuff down - why is this lunar eclipse called the "BLOOD MOON"?  Well, the first full moon of April is called a "pink moon" per North American Native American Traditions; and per Christian tradition, the first full moon after the Vernal Equinox is called the "Paschal Full Moon". This eclipse is being called a "BLOOD MOON" because during the eclipse, sunlight shining through the ring of Earth's dusty atmosphere is bent, or refracted, toward the red part of the spectrum and cast onto the moon's surface, causing it to look red or reddish colored. Spooky, right? In addition to that, the term is getting A LOT of traction in the media based on comments of Texas Pastor John Hagee, and frankly, by the time the BLOOD MOON arrives, I imagine the whole internet will be aflame with all sort of lovely conspiracies and other biblical prophecies that will no doubt involve Godzilla, Planet X, Batsquatch, Sasquatch, Lemuria, Atlantis, and every other secret society and the Mayans. If you're really interested in learning more, my friends at Earthsky have put together a great collection of links relating to it here. 

Wait Wait Wait - is the BLOOD MOON related to this TETRAD thingy? Sigh. Short answer: yes. The TETRAD is another term that is being bandied about with the BLOOD MOON as a possible harbinger of yet another predicted APOCALYPSE. What it really is is a series of four consecutive total lunar eclipses that will occur from April 15, 2014 onward that are not separated by partial lunar eclipses that also happen to occur exactly six lunar months apart from each other and also (conspiracy/end of world theorists rejoice) also happen to fall on four successive jewish holidays. Again, I'm not going to address this here, as the internet is already on fire as discussed noted above (BLOOD! MAYANS! PROPHECY! MISSPELLINGS! FUNKY TERMS LIKE TETRAD!). In order to see why its no big deal, you can read any link above, or these links here and here

Ok, fine - prophecies and internet rumors aside, is there anything else I should know about the April 15, 2014 total lunar eclipse? Yes! It will also be a great time to view the Virgo constellation, as the moon will be eclipsed! 

Happy Stargazing, Eclipse Watching, and more - and if you're worried about the internet rumors out there, remember that we heard many of the same things for the 2012 Total Solar Eclipse....and we're still here watching the skies. 

Guy Fleming Trail, Torrey Pines State Reserve

San Diego is an area that is honeycombed with many wilderness islands - from Mission Trails Regional Park, to the Cleveland National Forest, to the Black Mountain Open Space Preserve, along with many other city, state, and federal wilderness areas. The ecological diversity present in these parks provides wildlife with corridors from the desert and mountain regions to the coast, and from the coast back to the foothills and beyond. It also provides local hikers and visiting outdoorspeople with a diverse set of areas to experience and explore. To me, the crown jewel of these wilderness islands is Torrey Pines State Reserve, which is located along the coast in the North County portion of San Diego. I may be biased, because I used to work there, but let’s also be honest: there are few parks that have stunning eroded sandstone cliffs, great flora and fauna, and amazing beaches in North America, let alone the world.

Torrey Pines State Reserve is also home to two of the biggest “secrets” in San Diego. The first of these secrets is not readily apparent, but it is important. The reserve is home to the rarest pine tree in all of North America, and one of the rarest trees on the planet, the pinus torreyana – or, as we Californians call it, the Torrey Pine. The Torrey Pine only grows in and around the confines of the reserve, and on Santa Rosa Island. Since the Channel Islands are a little harder to get to, the easiest way to see this rare tree is to visit the reserve. The second secret is that San Diego had its own John Muir in the early twentieth century, and that person was Guy Fleming. Guy Fleming was a man who did many things, but most notably, he protected the Torrey Pines for future generations. Back before the area was a State Park, it was privately owned, and Fleming was the man who was tasked with protecting it with no gun – and no badge to back him up. That he succeeded, and eventually managed the newly created park was truly a feat in itself. Today, one of the most scenic trails in the reserve bears his name, and allows visitors to see the rare trees that he protected.

Directions: Torrey Pines State Reserve is located directly off of the Pacific Highway, and the State Park system provides some great directions here to the reserve. As of 2014, there is an entrance fee of $12.00 to enter the reserve.

Popularity: I would be remiss at this point if I did not mention that while Torrey Pines State Reserve is not a household name nation-wide, or world-wide, it is beyond popular in San Diego, and is commonly considered to be a “locals” park in the tradition of Guy Fleming. Why is it so popular? Well, for starters, there are those pristine beaches. Then there are the hiking trails. And did I mention that the park has amazing weather year round? For these reasons, and many more, the park is popular. What does this mean if you are a prospective visitor? It means that if you are planning to visit the park between May through September, there is a high likelihood that the parking areas in the park will be full. As there is limited parking, it is common for this to occur. While there is parking on the coast highway near the reserve, it is also difficult to find a spot, as such spots are directly next to the beach. My suggestion: either plan on being patient, and waiting to find a spot; or be sure to arrive early – when the park opens. Do also note that while the summertime is the most popular time to visit, the park can also become full during weekends and holidays that have excellent weather in the fall and winter.

The Trail: From the park entrance, the Guy Fleming Trail is located half a mile up the park road. This road used to be the route of the old Highway 101, and the hill that ascends into the park used to be known as a real test for automobiles, including the old Model T’s. Today, the road is very popular with people testing their physical fitness, from walkers, joggers, hikers, bikers, and everyone in between; and if you are driving, be sure to proceed with caution. The trailhead for the Guy Fleming Trail does have a parking area next to it; however, this area only has room for eight cars. If the parking area is full, my advice is to park in the main lot by the entrance kiosk, and do as the locals do: walk up the hill to the trailhead for an extra mile of roundtrip hiking distance.

From the trailhead, the trail descends slightly into a forested grove that overlooks the lagoon to the North; and the remainder of the reserve to the South. The trail immediately forks both to the West, and the North. As the trail is a loop, there is no “wrong” way to go – either way will lead you back to the initial grove. Heading to the North, the trail winds around some of the eroded sandstone the park features, and into the main grove of Torrey Pines that you will have either driven past or walked under to get to the Guy Fleming Trail. To the North, you will see the lagoon below, Del Mar, and the pristine beaches of Southern California. Within .1 miles, you will find a small area underneath the trees where a bird bath has been placed; if you are lucky, you will see mammals, as well as birds utilizing it.

My tip? Take a moment at this spot to stop and listen: chances are, no matter how busy the park is, all you will hear is the wind through the trees, the rustling of branches, and the ocean below, and you will get to experience how Southern California has been for thousands of years. From this point, the trail winds through more Torrey Pines, before heading out onto stunning views of the beach below, and the coastline both to the North and South. Along this stretch of trail, there are two viewpoints which provide great spots to watch the scenery, birds, and during migration season, whales. The trail continues back into the grove where the trailhead is, for a roundtrip distance of .7 miles. Overall, this trail is for all ages, and is very accessible as it is very flat. If you cannot find a spot in the Guy Fleming Trailhead parking lot, and walk the road, the roundtrip hiking distance is 1.2 miles; and it is worth noting that many people consider the park access road steep, even though I do not – but don’t say I didn’t warn you! This is a great hike year round, and a great starting point for experiencing San Diego’s wilderness.

Oak Canyon, Mission Trails Regional Park

California Poppies, Oak Canyon, Mission Trails Regional Park

Mission Trails is a park that is known for one thing and one thing only: Cowles Mountain and that is a shame. It is a shame because, while Cowles Mountain is pretty, it is only a small portion of the 5,800 acres of open space, and it is tucked away in the Southern corner of the park. The remainder of the park is a great example of preserved open space; and a great spot to find solitude and serenity from the hustle and bustle of San Diego. Mission Trails is also a great spot to see how California used to look, as it is full of native California coastal vegetation that covers its hills and valleys; and it is a great spot to see how the seasons pass and have passed in the coastal desert plain for hundreds of years, with seasonal wildflowers and waterfalls in the winter and spring, and dry slickrock and whispering grasses in the summer and fall months.  The best trail to hike in all of the park to experience everything I’ve listed above – solitude, serenity, and seasonal features is the Oak Canyon Trail; and the best time to experience it is from November to May.

Directions: The trailhead for the Oak Canyon Trail leaves from the parking area at the Old Mission Dam. As the parking area at the Dam is small, it is usually full, even on weekdays, and on weekends, it is almost impossible to find a spot in the Dam parking lot. However, there is no need to fret about finding a spot at the Dam parking lot, as there is always ample space and parking along the Father Junipero Serra Road immediately next to the Dam parking lot. Alternatively, there is also a great deal of parking at the Mission Trails Visitor Center, which is located only one mile from the Dam; and this extra mile winds along a paved road that is mostly used by joggers and bikers through the center of Mission Trails Regional Park.

From the Dam parking area, you will want to follow the readily apparent paved trail past the Old Mission Dam. If you have never been to Mission Trails, you will want to stop and take a look at the remains of the Old Mission Dam. It was constructed in the early 1800’s along the San Diego River, and an impressive amount of the structure remains today. From the Dam, continue along the trail to a footbridge that crosses the San Diego River. Once you have crossed the footbridge, follow the signed trail to the East (Right) into Oak Canyon. If you are hiking the trail in the winter, and spring months, which I recommend, you will see lush green grass growing, and seasonal water trickling through various creekbeds. If you are hiking this trail in the summer or falls months, you will hear the dry whisper of the now dead grass rustling in the breeze, and there will be no water present at all.

However, no matter which time of year you hike this trail, you will see majestic oaks that have grown in the park for years, and survived due to the seasonal water that flows through the area. The trail then winds up into Oak Canyon; and although the trail is well signed, the astute hiker will want to continue along all of the left (West) forks that lead into Oak Canyon. At three quarters of a mile up the trail, you will be in Oak Canyon proper, and again, if it is winter or spring, you will see seasonal water through the canyon; and if it is summer or fall, you can scramble around the smooth dry creekbed where the seasonal water ran through months ago. Continue along the trail which will head out into part of the grasslands of the park, and follow the signs that say “Oak Canyon”, instead of following the Fortuna Mountain turnoff. During the winter and spring months, these grasslands are a great spot to see seasonal wildflower blooms, from California Poppies, to lupine, and everything in between.

After a mile, the trail winds up toward the North, and crosses over an area that depending on the winter storms, can be quite wet, or in the summer, can be quite dry. This is the “top” of Oak Canyon, and has some of the best secret seasonal waterfalls in the county during late winter and spring. My suggestion? Take your time in this area, and listen to the idyllic serenity that the running water brings; and if you are on the trail on a weekday, enjoy the solitude and explore all of the little streams and pools that are present in Oak Canyon. Once you are done at these waterfalls, head back the way you came to the Old Mission Dam. Overall, this is an easy to moderate hike that is suitable for all ages, and it is only 1.5 miles one way, or three (3) miles roundtrip, with minimal elevation gain.

Tips: In case I didn’t make this clear enough with all of my repeated references above, the time to do this hike is winter to spring, as the wildflowers will be blooming, and the creeks will be flowing. While it is pleasant in the summer to fall months, the hike will most definitely have a different feel and a different type of natural beauty. 

Shorty's Mine

While most of the mines in the park have been sealed by the National Park Service for the public’s protection, some of the mines in the more remote areas of the park can be found and explored by intrepid visitors. Such exploration is not for the faint-hearted: as the above sign states, abandoned mines carry a plethora of hazards. If those physical dangers aren’t enough of a deterrent, the Panamint Range of the park is rumored to harbor a series of large underground caverns containing strange creatures and even stranger relics. If you are interested in exploring a Death Valley mines safely, or just seeing an open Death Valley mine, despite the above listed hazards, the easiest mine to see in the backcountry is Shorty’s Mine.

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Hollenbeck Canyon

San Diego has it all – beach hikes, desert hikes, mountain hikes, even hikes in the foothills. With all of the hiking present in the county, sometimes it’s hard to decide both where in the county one will go; and when to visit. One place that's striking year-round is a place that's a "newer" trail network - Hollenbeck Canyon. 

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