Indian Summer Projects

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.

Here we used soil and rocks to create a berm along the steep edge of the building pad.

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.

A closeup view of the matting staked into place

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.

This is where we saw the worst erosion last season.
This is the road up to the knoll where we plan to have our water tanks

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).

This was only the first 50 of the 75 ton delivery.

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.

Headlights illuminate the Bobcat in its new home on the new asphalt turnout.
All buttoned-up and ready for Winter!

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…

One Year Out: Digging, but Still Not Building

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.

Hoofprints at our south gate tell me the cows have come down from their summer pastures.

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.

The start of grading: my, there are a lot of boulders here!
Rental equipment is not immune to its own set of problems.
Speaking of boulders…
The newly expanded “picnic area,” viewed from above

Of Dog Days, Crappy Plans, and Second Hand Smoke

Large oak trees, dead above ground, are still very much alive, and making the most of their summer.

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.

We’ve widened the access road to where the water tanks will be. We also received some budgetary quotes for paving the dirt road above the house (not cheap!).  This access road is too steep for them to pave, so we’ll probably just stabilize it with gravel.
We also expanded the water tank area itself.  More space = more water = better.  This is the view north, towards the Tenaya Lodge.
This is the view south from the water tank area, roughly towards Oakhurst.  There is enough room for 2-3 large tanks here now, plus space for service vehicles and a “dog house” for pumps, etc.
It is surprising to see how quickly the hillside is recovering from fire.  This is the path down to the picnic area
And this is looking back up that path.  Notice how much green is now visible across the burned-out landscape.
Another example of the green recovery.  This is looking north-east, just below the path to the picnic area.  These trees are all dead and will have to come down.
Wildflowers are everywhere, happily doing their thing
This is the view looking south across the picnic area, with our weather station in the foreground. Both of the oak trees in this image are still alive! They might just survive.
I’ve been collecting any remnants I find of the old weather station, just for “fun”

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:

Floorplans of the main residence
Floorplans of the detached garage and 2nd floor living space

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.

Trenching begins for several “perc” tests.
These are the two access ports for the old septic tank.  That tank was damaged by the demolition crew’s heavy equipment, so it looks like we will need to replace it.
As usual, the finesse of a good operator is avoiding unintended damage to the surroundings.  This guy was pretty good!
Here is the completed trench, now with perc test in progress
They also dug a second test trench at the south end of the picnic area
Here’s a closeup of that trench.  They are about 7-8 ft deep!

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.

It looks like fog, but no, its not!
Morning sun filters through the smoky haze.

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.

That is highway 41 through the trees below the house.  Oddly, there was hardly any traffic on the road during this entire visit (because most of the national park was closed)
Despite the smoke, you can still see plenty of green on the terraces behind the house.

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.

Hang on tight; it is likely to be a bumpy ride!

On a more positive note, the neighbors have rebuilt their burned-out retaining wall.   I kinda like this style; you may see more of it!

Spring has Sprung!

Wildflowers decorate the forest service fire road behind us.

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.

The view south from the Trestlewood Chalet deck.  Note the contrast between the bright green, living trees and the brown oaks behind, which did not survive.

It looks like the Rhododendrons are enjoying the lack of competition.

Native wildflower seeds that my brother scattered across the hillside have established themselves.

Even the driveway was sporting some Spring finery

Morning drizzle has accentuated the contrast between blackened Manzanita and bright wildflowers.

The vast majority of the new wildflowers were these yellow and blue varieties. Anyone care to identify them for me?

On the other hand, these California Poppies are easy for me to identify.

This is the hillside just north and west of our property

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.

In this view north you can clearly see the transition from ground fire to crown fire, now visible as the transition from bright green to black and brown.

Another view, this one looking east, showing the trees that survived below, and above them those that did not.

A morning view south. The Railroad Fire started just over that cloudy ridge, not more than a few hundred yards away from here.

Bear Clover is taking hold again, helping to stabilize the steep slope above the area where the railroad-tie retaining wall used to be.

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.”

This view look North, from the fire road, near where the Sea Train container used to sit.  The boundary between our property and National Forest land runs down the middle of the dirt road.

A closeup view of one of the signs.

These signs are adjacent to the forest service gate at the southern edge of our property.

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.

This is the east side of the former Happy Camp clearing. Many trees are still standing, but nearly every one of them is dead.

And this is the view to the West. This was the target practice area where our kids used to collect lead slugs.

This is what it looks like to drive down the fire road, through the “forest.”

But all along the road, the scorched forest floor is now blanketed with this bright green and orange ground cover. The recovery has begun!

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.

Unfortunately nearly every tree on the Logger’s Retreat property is dead, like the ones still standing in this picture.

Here you can see the early stages of our efforts to line the edge of this section of the driveway with large boulders. The challenge here is to make sure they don’t get away from you … and roll down the hill. (!!)

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.

Here you can see the excavator digging a hole around the tree stump. That pile of dirt in the photo just came out of that hole.

Here is the stump, now removed. It was larger than the excavator’s cab!

Here’s another view of the stump. Note that the root ball was larger than the exposed portion of the stump!

And finally — a new gate across our new driveway!

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.

…And Sloshing Into Spring

After a month of wild After a month of wild March weather, the daffodils are finally back for an encore

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.

Image of a driveway covered with swift whitewater
This is the bottom of our driveway, now with about 2 inches of whitewater rushing down it!  (These photos courtesy of C.Murray)

Image of a Caltrans truck surrounded by whitewater
Here you can see the whitewater rushing past a Caltrans truck…

Image of muddy water flowing into a deep pond beside the highway
…and back into the creek’s ravine, where it then normally flows under the road about 15 feet below the road surface.  That ravine was now filled to the brim and overflowing with muddy water.

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:

Image of a deep pit beside the highway, mostly empty of water now
The ravine after Caltrans was able to unplug the culvert and the water level had mostly returned to “normal.”

Image of a front end loader at the edge of the driveway
Caltrans still had to pick up some of their toys.

Image of the same driveway, no longer covered with whitewater
Looking up the driveway from close to the bottom, near Hwy 41. I took this photo from nearly the same place as the “whitewater” photo above

Image of broken asphat at the edge of the driveway
The worst damage to the driveway was just below the first switchback, near where the creek runs underneath it

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.

Image of the steep driveway looking very normal
Above the Trestlewood Chalet the driveway was virtually untouched

Image of the driveway with some dried dirt left where mud had once flowed
Looking down the driveway, just below the last switchback, you can see some evidence of mud flows, but no damage to the driveway itself

Image of small erosion channels running through the former breezeway of the Logger's Retreat
At the Logger’s Retreat breezeway, again there is some erosion, but the driveway itself is still intact and functional.

Image of a road with evidence of mud flows across it
On the fire road near the south gate, a lot of muddy water did flow across the road, but the road itself was not damaged

Image of a boulder blocking half of the dirt road
A good-sized boulder is now parked on the road up to the top of the knoll where we want to place our water tanks.


Image of shallow erosion channels across the fire road
And north of our properties, where the creek normally flows under the fire road, it chose instead to cross here. But again, the damage is minimal.

Image of deep erosion channels in steeply-sloped soils
This is where the worst erosion occurred — where the path to the picnic area went past the tall Ponderosa pines, behind the garage.. We’ll be reworking this area anyway during construction

Flower Power

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.

Marching Through Winter…

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:

Charts of daily temperature extremes and precipitation for the month of March
Note that snow doesn’t show up here as rain until after it melts!

And this is what the first wave (March 2nd) looked like from a more human perspective:

Image of a plowed driveway surrounded by about a foot of snow
Short on time, I stopped plowing the driveway about 50 ft above the Trestlewood Chalet.

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.

Image of Bobcat in the garage with fresh snow on the snowblower
There were no guests scheduled for the entire month. So I was able to leave the Bobcat in the garage, ready for the next weather wave.

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.

Image of fresh snow on trees and the driveway
New snow on the driveway above the Trestlewood Chalet. Photo courtesy of H. Holland-Moritz

Image of the view from the top of the hill with snow-covered trees in the bacground
Trees that were stripped clean by the fire are actually quite beautiful when frosted with fresh snow.  Photo courtesy H. Holland-Moritz

Image of a forested hillside with snow-covered trees
The view south with more fresh snow on burned trees. Photo courtesy H. Holland-Moritz

Image of Bobcat with snowblower attachment in action
The Bobcat at work on the driveway. Photo courtesy H. Holland-Moritz

Image of one side of the driveway cleared of snow
This time I tried plowing uphill — and actually made it all the way to the top! I could not have done that had the snow been any deeper. Photo courtesy H. Holland-Moritz

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.

Image of brown, snowy woods with bright sunshine and deep blue sky
Last fall many oaks did not drop the leaves that were singed by firel. I am anxious to find out whether or not those trees will  sprout new leaves this coming Spring.

Image of snow-covered tables and chairs on the deck
You can see here the total amount of snow that fell over the two day storm.

Image of a Stellar's Jay resting on a snowy oak tree branch
This Jay seemed to be guarding a nearby feeder with its new stash of sunflower seeds

Image of a shaded, snowy driveway and sunny, blue sky
Only one day before this, I had cleared the driveway of snow, all the way to the top

Image of the steep driveway with snow melting rapidly
But this time the warm sun did most of the plowing for me

Image of the upper driveway still completely covered by snow
And yet only a few hundred feet up the driveway, the snow  there was still cold and fresh

Image of the metal light fixture and breezeway support posts that survived the fire
By now I must have a hundred pictures of these iconic reminders of the old Logger’s Retreat.  They are like old friends to me

Image of the emply Logger's Retreat site with bright snow. blue sky, and dramatic clouds on ridgeline in the distance
I find it difficult to describe the beauty of that morning; perhaps this photo helps

Image of a burned Manzanita branch in the morning sun
That day’s menu featured toasted Manzanita with snow and sky. Photo courtesy of H. Holland-Moritz

Image of a snowball flying towards an old burned out tree trunk
A friend tries to thread a needle with a snowball.  Photo courtesy of H. Holland-Moritz

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.

Making Plans

A siteplan of the property with the new structures in place

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

Image of an engineering drawing of a hillside house with carport
Drawing of the north side of the Logger’s Retreat, as it will look from near the top of the driveway. Not shown here are details of the north (i.e. kitchen) deck.

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.

Image of an enginerring drawing of the west face of the house
The front door and breezeway, looking East. Again the details of both north and south decks are not shown here.


Image of an engineering drawing of a hillside house, from the other side
Looking North from near the garage. As before the decks are not shown here, and also the details of the steep eastern edge of the driveway between main house and garage, which will have to be stabilized and reinforced to accommodate the hot tub.

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.

Image of the eastern face of the house, showing two stories and a basement
This is approximately how the house will appear as you look West, from near the picnic area.

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.

Image of the Upper floor plan showing outside decks
The new upper-level floor plan is essentially the same as the old one.

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.

Image of the lower floor plan.
And here is the lower-level floor plan.

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 Garage

Image of a garage with living space above
The garage as it will appear from the main house

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.

Image of the east side of the garage, showing both upper and lower levels
Looking West at the east side of the garage. At the south (left) side, the roof extends over the deck and covers it completely.

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.

Drawing of the garage below with living space above
Looking North, at the south end of the garage.

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).

Drawing of the west face of the garage
This is looking East, at the west face of the garage. The lower half of this wall will be a retaining wall — i.e. holding back the hillside above.

Now for the floor plans…

Lower floor plan of the garage which includes a small half-bath
This is the lower floor of the garage. In this orientation the main house will be to the left.

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.

Floor plan of the living space above the garage
The upper floor of the garage has two bedrooms and about 1000 sq ft of total living space

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!

Winter Is Coming?

Image of clouds drifting past a forested hillside dusted with snow

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.

Image of a small erosion channel in the middle of a dirt road
The former breezeway after 4 inches of rain. Not bad considering!

And while we did have some erosion, nothing rose to the level of a mudslide for us.

Image of a muddy hilside with a small pile of dirt and rocks in the foreground
A wheelbarrow-sized portion of the hillside above the former retaining wall slumped onto the building site.

The worst erosion occurred in the area behind where the garage once stood, where the path to the picnic area begins.

Image of a muddy hillside with deep erosion channels
Erosion channels cut deeply into our path to the picnic area, where our grading work had softened the soil.

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.

Image of mountains across the valley half-covered with snow
Our morning view across the valley, with the snow line clearly visible only a few hundred feet above us

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.

Image of a wet pine cone with a dusting of snow
A large pine cone on the deck briefly tries on a winter coat.

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.

Image of nearby clouds with a snow-capped mountain and blue sky in the background
A sunlit, snow-covered Mount Raymond peeks through a break in the 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.

Image of the burned-out entrance area covered with small green plants
Those bright green patches below the tree stump are all happy little Bear Clover sprouts

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.

Image of Daffodils poking through wet soil
Yes even the Daffodils are optimistic!

Image of a tiny oak tree with brown leaves lit up by the sun
But this tiny little Oak seedling is not fooled by the warm weather. It seems to know that it is still the middle of winter around here.

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!

Playing Pickup Sticks (Big Ones)

Using our new "grapple rake" while the setting sun entertains us

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.

Image of a large pile of brush and wood on the otherwise empty space where the Logger's Retreat garage used to be
One of the two wood and brush piles that we wanted to move. This is where the old garage used to be, and where its replacement will go

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.

Image of a Bobcat skidsteer carrying several large logs with a grapple rake.
If this is work, then why is this man smiling?

This was also a chance to use our newly-graded “back entrance” to the Logger’s Retreat.

Image of the Bobcat driving up a steep road and a pile of logs in the foreground
The new “back entrance” driveway had a section that was almost too steep for the Bobcat to handle, but the added weight of the grapple rake and its contents helped keep the Bobcat’s front wheels on the ground

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.

Image of the Bobcat placing 3 large logs onto the top of a pile of large logs
Our son grappling 3 logs into position on the top of the pile he’s created

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.

Image of the Bobcat carrying a load of logs, with the sunset lighting up the hills behind it
This is where the new road meets the old fire road, near where the storage container used to be

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!)

Closeup image of a forested ridge bathed in the warm glow of sunset
A closer view of the ridge across the valley, now with some low clouds drifting past the sunlit trees.  Yes it really was that color!

Image of bright orange clouds behind the black silhouettes of tall trees
And finally the trees became silhouettes as the clouds themselves lit up

But enough with the visual distractions; back to work!  Yes we did finish moving the wood piles.

Image of the cleared building site, now without woodpiles
And the wood piles are all gone! This is where  we will build the new garage.  In the background of this image is where the house itself will go, where you see the orange breezeway support posts

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!

And a Mystery to Solve…

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.

Image of an ore car among rocks
The ore car was rotated 90 degrees from its normal position, and the rails it normally rests on were scattered across the yard.

Image of a tangled pile of chains, cables and straps
Someone had left these heavy tow chains, a long tow cable and several cargo straps stretched across the hillside above the ore car.

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.

Image of a large cast iron flywheel resting on burned-out hillside
You may remember this old steam engine flywheel resting on the hillside above the retaining wall.

Image of the same hillside without the flywheel
The flywheel is gone, and directly below it are some very clear, very distinctive tire tracks.

There were other things missing too.

Image of an old ore shovel resting on the hillside before the fire
Notice the large ore shovel sitting on the hillside between two of the breezeway support posts.

Image of the breezeway support posts and the bare hillside behind them
Here are the support posts, but the ore shovel is now gone from the hillside behind them

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.

Image of a pink coathanger lying in the dirt
This was right next to the tire tracks, as if it had fallen out of the truck while they were loading the flywheel into it

Image of a Pinkie Pie pony from a McDonald's happy meal circa 2016
Apparently the thief has a young daughter (or a thing for My Little Ponies). This Pinkie Pie is from a McDonald’s Happy Meal circa 2016

Image of a Corona Extra bottle cap in the dirt
We even know what brand of beer he drinks.

Image of a greatly-lifted white Expedition with blue stabilizers and a sun visor over the windshield
And indeed, we also know what the uniquely-customized getaway truck looks like.

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!

Image of a pile of rusted metal items including the flywheel
Here is our flywheel and several other items missing from our property

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!