October and November have been sunny, dry and cool, but not cold. In other words: absolutely beautiful.
Seemingly surprised by all the extra sunshine suddenly available in the burned-out forest, even the Lupines have risen to the occasion.
As for ourselves, we have used the beautiful Fall weather to prepare for Winter. Erosion is again a big concern of ours as the wet season approaches.
Last Spring we had no real problems with erosion on the undisturbed hillsides, even where the terrain was steep. But it was a different story wherever we had disturbed the soil by digging or grading. The worst area for erosion was just over the edge of the building pad itself, near where the garage will be.
Our first task was to discourage water from flowing over the edge to begin with.
We also picked up two 200ft-long rolls of “erosion control mat” and a 50 lb bag of annual rye grass. You’ve probably seen this type of matting staked out along the roadside in construction areas. We chose annual rye grass because we don’t necessarily want the rye grass to grow here permanently.
Made of coconut husk fibers, the matting helps keep the soil in place until plant roots can take over, and then eventually decomposes. Its open weave allows you the option of seeding the area before or after the matting is installed.
For these two areas we used only one of the two rolls of matting. We’ll see how these work after the rains come, and then use the other one wherever it is needed most.
Another new addition is 75 tons of gravel. We got the gravel for the septic system drain field, but it has other uses as well (such as erosion control).
No, the delivery truck did not bring 75 tons of gravel up that steep driveway! Instead they came up the forest service fire road, behind and to the south of our property.
Another project was to repair last Spring’s erosion damage to the asphalt sections of our driveway. The paving company had quoted this work in July, and scheduled for September, after the peak rental season was over.
But the paving company kept rescheduling. September became October and then November. Finally, the grading guy who had expanded our “picnic area” offered to take over the asphalt patching work.
By mid-November that part, at least, was done. They still need to crack-fill and seal it, but a forecast of the season’s first storm has now put that part off, perhaps until next Spring.
Despite the frustrating delays, I was glad to see them lay down new asphalt in the driveway turnout area that we had created last year.
This was none-too-soon, as the incoming Thanksgiving storm might include snow! Time to move the Bobcat and its winter attachments down from their summer storage locations at the top of the property.
To do this required driving 4.5 hours to the property, moving the equipment, and driving back down the same day. November’s change to Standard Time meant that daylight ended before the job did.
Mission Accomplished. The storm has now come and gone. It brought only rain to our elevation, and the amounts were just about ideal for the rye grass seed we scattered. The forecast calls for another storm next week.
Now if we can just get that septic system tied down…
As of late September, the Ferguson Fire is contained, air quality is back to normal, Yosemite National Park is open for business, and yes, even the cows have come home.
But we have given up all hope of starting any real construction this season.
One problem has been construction bids, which have come in much higher than we had hoped, and also higher than what insurance has covered so far. We have even seriously considered abandoning this rebuild, and using the insurance money instead to purchase another property entirely. It would certainly be the easiest, and fastest way to restore the rental income that the fire took away. But at least for now, that is a path we are not willing to take.
The other persistent problem has been coming up with a septic system design that the county will approve. Among other things it requires a drain field area built on a relatively flat area of absorbent soils. This has to be larger than our previous drain field because we’ve added living space over the garage.
To that end we decided that expanding the old “picnic area” was worth the expense of moving dirt around, for multiple reasons. And, it was something we could still accomplish this season! So off we went.
Continuing what has become an emerging trend, I’ve not posted here for two months because, well, there’s not been a lot of progress to report.
It’s not for lack of trying mind you. And we have made several trips to the property in the time since my last post. Here are some images from those trips.
About those plans
Construction has not started because we’ve been waiting for the county to approve building plans. Here’s a sample of what they have:
As of late last week we heard confirmation that the building department has approved the design. Yay!
But we still can’t start construction, because the septic system design has yet to be approved. This requires, among other things, proof that the soils can absorb what comes out of the septic tank. The fact that we’ve had a fully functioning septic system on site for 25+ years didn’t seem to be good enough. So we had to do more digging.
Ferguson makes a big stink
California has had more than its share of wildfires this summer and for the second year in a row, our area was not spared. This time (thankfully!) the fire itself did not directly threaten our property. But the fire was close enough, and large enough, so that air quality was a major issue — for several weeks! This is what it looked like at the Trestlewood Chalet (just below the Logger’s Retreat property) during a visit in early August.
The air quality varied greatly depending on local weather conditions. So a day like this could be followed by a bright, sunny day that looked nearly normal. But when it was like this (which was most days), the air stung your eyes and was hard to breathe for any length of time.
We spent most of our time inside the house, with windows and doors closed, air conditioning on. Hardly a way to enjoy the natural beauty that makes this area so popular.
It should come as no surprise that fire and poor air quality took a major bite out of the local economy, closing much of the park and driving away visitors for the better part of a month during prime tourist season. Like everyone else in the local area, our rentals suffered badly due to many vacations plans being shortened or canceled entirely.
What is now obvious to me is that this is what we, in California (and indeed across much of the world) should expect in future years. Yes summer is the tourist high season in Yosemite, but it is also fire high season as well. There will be more fires, more closings, and more cancellations, not fewer…at least until the bulk of dead trees have been consumed.
The beauty of the Sierras and the Yosemite Valley is eternal. That will not change. But it is also a dynamic beauty, and we are currently in a state of rapid change. This is not simply the “new normal.” It is only the beginning of greater, more rapid change to come.
While progress on building plans continues to be frustratingly slow, Nature has been much better about not slipping her schedule.
I was able to spend a good part of the Memorial Day weekend at the property. It started out damp and drippy but ended as an absolutely beautiful late Spring weekend.
It is odd to see a landscape that had been only last year completed covered with Manzanita and Bear Clover, now exposed as a barren, rocky slope.
As I explored the area above the property I came across many yellow and black signs on National Forest land, all of which marked a “Sale Area Boundary.”
For a moment I thought that perhaps the Forest Service was planning to sell (!!) this portion of the National Forest. But soon enough I realized that they are not selling the land, they are selling the timber. It is likely that many, if not most, of the dead trees on the National Forest lands around our property will soon be harvested as salvage timber. They are already doing this along Hwy 41 on the way up to Fish Camp.
Time Out to Explore
On Sunday, the drizzle was gone and the weather turned absolutely beautiful. After a trip into Fish Camp, I took the opportunity to drive back by way of the forest service fire road.
It is barely recognizable! Instead of a secluded road through dense forest, now it is open and exposed. Along much of it you can easily see the traffic on Hwy 41 below.
Back to Work
Oh yes, we did get some work on the property. For instance we have repaired the winter’s erosion damage near the two large Ponderosa pine stumps.
On the following weekend we returned with another large (rented) excavator to do some heavier landscape work. For instance, we used it to take out one of those two Ponderosa stumps.
Oh, About Those Plans…
The construction plans were (for the most part) finished and submitted last week .(Yay!) Current estimates are that it will take at least a month for the county building department to review and approve them.
I have asked for bids from several contractors. By now any possibility of having a house completely built before Winter is long gone. Now our hope is to have at least one, if not both structures roughed in and sealed up before the snow flies (November). Meeting that challenge will be a big factor in our decision of who gets the job.
Where were we? Ah yes, atmospheric rivers and the “Pineapple Express. ” Five and a half inches of rain over two days. Warm rains that melted all the snow from just the week before.
It was pretty early in the storm that I first heard from our caretaker. She wanted to warn me that our driveway was in danger of washing away. The small creek that runs under our driveway had completely overflowed and was now running down the driveway instead of under it.
Also the culvert where the creek runs under Hwy 41 had clogged. Muddy water had completely filled up the creek’s ravine and was now overflowing the road.
I called a friend who works for Caltrans to let them know about it.
They were already there.
A bit later our caretaker sent me some blurry photos from her camera, taken in the thick of it.
After much effort Caltrans did manage to unplug the culvert under Hwy 41, as well as the smaller one above it — the one that goes under our driveway.
We drove up later in the week to inspect the entire property for damage. This is how it looked then:
We inspected the entire property, and although there was plenty of evidence of mud flows and erosion, overall it wasn’t that bad — especially considering the amount of rain that had fallen in such a short time.
Hey, anyone remember these, from before the fire?
Well, they’re back!
I can’t tell you how gratifying it was to see those Daffodils come back.
Of course there are no guarantees that we are done with snow for this season — last year we even had snow in June! But even so, I think we can safely say that Spring has officially sprung at the Logger’s Retreat.
Although we had hoped to have the structural design of the house finished by the end of the month, we were not that lucky. But still March did provide several big deliveries — specifically in terms of weather.
It was almost as if the one in charge of these things suddenly realized that Winter was running late and Spring was already queued up. Suddenly there was a big rush to deliver both Winter and Spring together, all in the same month.
We had several cycles of rain and snow — big rains, which often melted most, if not all of the snow. The two largest snow events came at the beginning of the month (March 2) and in the middle (March 16). By the end of the month the total precipitation since last July 1st had reached 25 inches, with March alone bringing us 13 of them!
This is what the month looked like from the perspective of our weather station:
And this is what the first wave (March 2nd) looked like from a more human perspective:
This storm left about 8 inches of snow on the ground and was the first time this season where I really needed the snowblower. The equipment worked well; the only unexpected problem was that first I had to dig the Bobcat and its attachments out of the snow, which took me an extra 45 minutes or so. Before the fire I had always kept the equipment inside the garage at the Logger’s Retreat. It made me really appreciate what a luxury that garage had been!
You can see from the charts above that the majority of this storm came first as rain (about 3 inches). A good rule of thumb around here is that 1 inch of rainfall usually translates to about 1 foot of snow. So if that the storm had been just a little bit colder, instead of 8 inches we would have had nearly 4 feet of snow on the ground!
After I finished plowing I was not particularly interested in digging the Bobcat out again. So I left it in the garage instead of outside under a tarp.
This turned out to have an unexpected, added benefit. Shortly after we headed back down to our Southern California home, a friend of ours asked to borrow it so that he could clear the driveway of a neighbor who lives a few hundred feet up the road. Her husband had passed away early this year and the storm caught her by surprise, leaving her snowbound. Thanks to his thoughtful kindness, a few hours later her driveway too was clear of snow, and the Bobcat was back in our garage, ready to go again. (Incidentally it was cleaner than I had left it, too!)
The Second Wave
The middle of the month brought another storm, also starting as rain and then followed by two days of snow. We arrived late Thursday night, just before the rain turned to snow. We woke Friday morning to cloudy skies and about 4 or 5 inches of snow on the ground.
For a special treat our daughter was able to join us on this trip. She and my wife went up the hill exploring while I cleared the lower driveway.
After I finished plowing it continued to snow on and off all day. But the temperature was warm enough so that the new snow did not stick.
We awoke on Saturday morning to a few more inches of new snow, bright sunshine and a beautiful blue sky.
And Then Came Spring
Shortly after we got back home, California was hit by another “Pineapple Express” atmospheric river. In the chart above you can’t miss it — it’s that spike of nearly 2 inches of rain, followed by another 3.5 inches the very next day.
That was a lot of rain! I’ll share the photos and details of that with you in my next post.
I know it has been a long time since the last post, but that does not mean we haven’t been busy!
I’ve spent most of the last month working with a contractor to create a buildable set of drawings. Come along if you would like a quick tour!
The Main House
The new design of the main house is very similar to the original. It has essentially the same footprint & only slightly more living space. Since the design has not changed much, I’ll mostly just point out the differences.
Because of changes to the building code, we may not be able to have quite as much window space in the master bedroom upstairs.
The old design had wrap-around windows at the southeast corner of that bedroom, but code may no longer allow that. These days they generally want at least 32 inches of wall space between a window and the nearest corner or door. This is one detail we have the structural engineer looking into now.
The eastern face of the house will look similar to the old design. In the drawing above it shows a sliding glass door on the left and a standard door in the middle. However in the current plan those will both be double French doors instead.
Here you can see the upstairs floor plan, as well as the upper-level decks. The only significant change here are the decks themselves. The north deck will be a few feet larger than before, extending eastward in front of the north-facing window of the octagon.
Not shown in the floor plan above are all of the kitchen counters and cabinets, but our plan is for all of that to be pretty much the same as before. At this point the plan still is to have bar stools around the kitchen counter area, but they will probably not have swiveling tractor seats, and not be anchored to the floor.
On the south (master bedroom) upper-level deck, we plan to add a set of stairs connecting it to the lower-level deck. That u-shaped deck area on the right will be attached to, and one step down from the south deck. It will wrap around the hot tub.
The lower-level deck will now be rectangular and significantly larger. It used to wrap around the large oak tree that grew there, close to the house. Since that tree is now gone, there is no longer anything for the deck to wrap around.
On the lower floor, the south (right side) bedroom gets a larger closet and a full bath instead of a 3/4 bath. Double French doors open onto the lower deck instead of a sliding glass door.
The middle (“family”) room also gets French doors opening onto the lower deck but is otherwise no different from the old design.
The north bedroom gets some additional square footage plus a larger closet, and its own outside door too! The drawing shows it opening onto a small deck, but I am pretty sure that won’t be necessary as the hillside there will already be at door-level.
The new garage will be quite a bit different from the old one. The footprint will be wider by two feet and longer by one foot. But the biggest change is the living space we’ve added above the garage.
On the south end of the garage there is an upper-level deck which wraps around the southeast corner of the building. Stairs on the east side will provide a way to get to the deck (and the living space) when coming from the main house.
Since the deck provides the only entrance to the living area, the entire deck and east side of the building will be protected from rain and snow by an overhead roof.
This is what the south end of the garage will look like, looking North. The old garage was separated from the railroad-tie retaining wall to the West (to the left in this view) by a narrow walkway. Our plan is to push the garage directly up against the hillside and use the west wall of the garage itself as the retaining wall. This should save some construction costs and will also provide more usable yard space on the east side of the garage.
Another benefit of pushing the garage directly up against the hillside is that the west side of the deck will actually be at ground level there. We’ll landscape a ramped path up to that spot as an alternative way to get to that deck (and into the living space).
Now for the floor plans…
The lower floor will be two separate 2-car garage areas connected by a fifth (internal) garage door. This internal door will allow us to move vehicles and equipment from one garage to the other without having to drive all the way up and around the property.
The second (southern) garage area — which in the old garage was a shop — will provide sheltered parking for anyone using the living space above.
That living space itself will be a comfortable 2-bedroom, single bath home, with large East-facing windows similar to the main house. The kitchen will have lots of cabinet space and be large enough to accommodate a round 4-person dining table. It will be well-equipped of course! 🙂
The east bedroom has the best view and is large enough to fit a king bed. The west bedroom is a bit smaller but still large enough for a queen bed.
So that’s the tour, and that’s “The Plan.” After our structural engineer is done with his part, we should be able to submit the plans to the county for approval, and also to send out for bids. With any luck that will happen by the end of March!
As we come to the end of the month, this winter in the Yosemite area is shaping up to look more like Spring. While the eastern half of the country has been in the deep freeze, out here in California we’ve been mostly warm and cozy — as long as we’re not getting swept away in mud slides. of course
That same storm system in early January that buried Montecito in mud brought this region of the Sierras south of Yosemite at least 4 inches of rain!
Yes it is true that snow would have been much better for the state’s continuing water problems, and might possibly have even tempered the severity of the Montecito mudslides. But for us personally, it was probably a good thing that the storm was so warm. That much rain could easily have been 4 feet of snow.
And while we did have some erosion, nothing rose to the level of a mudslide for us.
The worst erosion occurred in the area behind where the garage once stood, where the path to the picnic area begins.
Those two tree stumps in the photo above mark where the two gigantic Ponderosa pines once stood.
The Second January Storm
Around the middle of the month the forecast warned us of several inches of snow possible at our 5000 ft elevation. There were guests coming to the Trestlewood Chalet for MLK weekend, so we had to make sure the driveway was clear for their arrival. We drove up the night before the storm came through.
As has been typical this winter, the forecast was for the storm to start out warm and then sometime later drop below freezing. Exactly when is hard to predict, and that “when” can make all the difference between a lot of rain with a dusting of snow, or a lot of wet snow topped with a hard crust.
We awoke the next morning to gray skies and the sound of rain. We actually did get some snow, but it was not even enough to stick to the driveway.
The rain continued until about 10 am and washed away all of the remaining snow at our elevation. For the rest of the day Mount Raymond played hide-and-seek with us amongst patches of blue sky and wispy clouds.
Hints of Spring in January?
As we went about our weekend business at the property, we saw plants that were convinced it was time to get to work. A botanist-friend of ours had mentioned that we should expect the Bear Clover to come back fast. She felt this would be a good thing as the native species is very good at preventing hillside erosion.
And sure enough, little green sprigs of it are now covering the property.
To be honest, once established Bear Clover is not one of my favorite ground covers. It grows so thick it is hard to walk through, and if you do you’ll find yourself covered with an aromatic, sticky sap.
Still, at this point I do appreciate any help with erosion control that Nature can provide.
So far this winter has been very mild, and while we would prefer long, gentle rains over mudslide-inducing torrents, still it has been very helpful to have the property free of snow and easily accessible. I’ve even been able to have several contractors visit the site and provide me with estimates.
We are now working with one of those contractors to turn our design sketches into a buildable (and biddable) set of plans. This has been a regular source of frustration, so I am quite excited now to see him making real progress.
After those plans are done, we’ll post some images of them here — so that you too can look forward to the future as much as I do!
Happy New Year everyone! Let’s hope 2018 is more constructive (or less destructive at least) than 2017 was.
After an enjoyable holiday break with family, we returned home from our travels with one of our two adult sons. Although he had seen many photos of the fire and what it left behind, still he was very interested in seeing it first hand. So last week we all went up for a quick visit, our first of 2018.
While the eastern side of the U.S. has been battling snow and ice and record low temperatures, out here on the western side of the country it has been unseasonably warm and dry. Really warm. As in pushing close to 70 degrees in January! This is not normal.
Of course this is bad news for a state still struggling with extended drought conditions and massive, record-breaking wildfires. But at least for us, a warm snowless January means that we can get more work done on the property.
And there is a lot of work to do! But our son still liked the prospect of work, because this work involved the Bobcat. And let’s face it, Bobcats can be fun.
Back in September when I ordered attachments for the Bobcat, my order included a “Grapple Rake.” It is a simple device that pretty much does what it says on the tin. It’s good for raking up sticks and stones, and also carrying them from here to there.
But given that it attaches to a skidsteer, it can handle pretty hefty sticks and stones — i.e. logs and boulders. We’ve got a lot of those around here. So back in September this seemed to me to be a worthwhile attachment to have. This visit was our first chance to find out whether or not that was true.
This was also a chance to use our newly-graded “back entrance” to the Logger’s Retreat.
We added the larger logs to the pile we had already created when we took down the two Ponderosa Pines. And we created a new, separate pile for all the smaller, brushy pieces. We’ll try to cut the larger pieces into useful lumber. The smaller stuff will probably become firewood.
It took us two afternoons to finish the job. The weather was sunny and mild and as a reward for our labors we were treated to a most beautiful sunset on the surrounding hills.
The sunset progressed quickly and relit the patchwork of burned forest on the mountainside across the Lewis Creek valley from us; this time much more pleasantly than last time. (Don’t worry; those are clouds, not smoke!)
But enough with the visual distractions; back to work! Yes we did finish moving the wood piles.
Now that the lot is clear and clean, it is almost too open. I feel like it needs some structure. Yes, in fact it needs Structures. I want the building to begin!
While we were installing the new weather station at the Logger’s Retreat, my wife noticed something was different about the old ore car near our picnic area. She asked me to take a look.
It was pretty obvious that someone had tried (and thankfully failed) to drag the ore car up the hill to the driveway. Apparently they gave up after the cargo straps snapped several times.
That made me wonder what else they might have tried to move.
There were other things missing too.
Further investigation revealed some interesting clues. In addition to the tire tracks, there was now a pink coat hanger lying on the ground nearby. That was new.
We filed a stolen property report with the Madera County Sheriff and sent them photos of the missing items and the getaway truck. They began an investigation.
Then we got a tip from a local that the thief might have tried to sell the items to Rust Brothers Antiques and Collectibles in nearby Coarsegold. And sure enough, look what we found there!
We have now recovered most of the stolen items. As we understand it the thief has been arrested and has confessed to the crime. Once again our sincere thanks go out to the Madera County Sheriff’s Office!
By the way: if you recognize the getaway truck and know who its owner is, please tell his young daughter that we are keeping her Pinkie Pie pony safe and sound. We will gladly return it to her, if she wants it back!