Hiking Cataract Trail in the Marin Municipal Water District

Cataract Falls are located in the Marin Municipal Water District on the North side of Mt. Tamalpais and not far from the town of Fairfax. It is a seasonal waterfall that flows during the rainy season (Dec. through May). The best time to see the falls are right after a good rain. At other times, it’s just a trickle.

It’s ranked by many as a moderate hike, but as most of it involves stairs, one should be in decent shape. It’s a trail that is well worth the effort. It’s only a 2.7 mile round trip, but has a fair altitude change. The starting elevation is approximately 650 ft. It climbs to about 1100 feet in a half mile and on to about 1400 ft in the next .8 mile.

The trail and stairs can be slippery when wet, so use caution. The only way to remove the injured from the trail is by helicopter. A good trekking pole can help.

To get there:

Take Hwy #101 to San Rafael, and take the Sir Francis Drake Blvd. exit. Drive 6 miles to Fairfax, and turn left on Pacheco Rd. (may be unsigned, there is a sign saying “Fairfax” at intersection). Take an immediate right on Broadway, then first left on Bolinas Rd. Drive 7.8 miles to Alpine Lake, and park at the hairpin turn just after crossing the dam. Parking is limited, find a parking spot somewhere off the narrow road. The trail head is on the left at the hairpin turn.

You can also park at the other end of the trail, on West Ridgecrest Blvd. at the Laurel Dell picnic area. From the Mill Valley / Stinson Beach / Hwy #1 exit on Hwy #101 north of San Francisco, drive 1 mile to Shoreline Hwy. Turn left and drive 2.5 miles to Panoramic Hwy. Turn right and drive 5.2 miles to Pantoll Rd. Turn right and drive 1.4 miles to Ridgecrest Rd. Turn left and drive 1.6 miles to a small parking area on right. The trail is marked “Laurel Dell”.

The road is narrow and the day we went, we had to move tree branches out of the road. Also, be sure not to park facing oncoming traffic as tickets may be handed out.

Alpine Lake and the dam are beautiful when the water is flowing.

Alpine Lake
Alpine Lake
Alpine Lake
Alpine dam at full flow
Alpine Lake
Alpine Lake looking toward the Cataract trail

Once parked the trail follows the West side of the lake heading South.

Alpine Lake
Alpine Lake from the trail
Alpine Lake
Cataract trail

This part of the trail is fairly easy. Don’t be fooled. It doesn’t last long.

Cataract trail
The easy part of the trail

Soon, the stairs begin and you start to climb.

Cataract trail
Stairs

The amount of greenery is incredible and worth the hike.

Cataract trail
Ferns along the trail

Soon, you begin to see the beginning of the falls. Some are small, others quite tall.

Cataract trail
Small cataract
Cataract trail
Bigger cataract


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Friday Night Cat Blogging

It’s time for the boys to shine. They are our inspiration after all.

Tito being lazy and sticking his tongue out at me.

Tito

Thursday was bath day for Kitsune. As you can see, he has bath toys to play with.

Kitsy's bath

He also gets a good snuggle in a warm towel.

Kitsy getting a snuggle in his warm towel


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Nein, nein, nein… Oh well…

Inglorious basterds” – (153 minutes, USA 2009)

By now, most everyone reading this is likely to know what this movie’s storyline(s) is (are): a group of Jewish American soldiers led by Lt. Aldo Raine (Brad Pitt) operating in occupied France during WWII, spreading terror amongst Germans, by using unconventional methods. Scalping, beating with baseball bats, etc.

There is another arc involving Shoshanna Dreyfus (Melanie Laurent), sole survivor of a Jewish family hiding at a neighbor’s farm in France, massacred by colonel Hans Landa (Christopher Waltz) and his men.
Both arcs converge towards a final conflagration at the cinema run by Dreyfus under a different name toward the end of the war.

Watch the trailer:

There have been times, in other films, when Quentin Tarantino had me laughing out loud, or really involved in the action. He reportedly said he would be interested in directing a James Bond film, and I would look forward to that. But there are enough issues with “inglorious basterds” that I wish I could have the 2 ½ hours from my life back.
It’s actually closer to 3 hours, seeing that I had to replay certain scenes as it stopped making any kind of sense to me.

I read in some critical reviews that the violence and brutality was such that the reviewer(s) felt sorry for the German soldiers. The scalping of dead soldiers? The beating to death of another with a baseball bat? Really? This points to a failure on both parts, to me: let’s remember German troops decimated entire villages in countries they occupied in retaliation for attacks by resistance movements. “Inglorious basterds” shows precious little of that, however.
Tarantino’s depiction of what the basterds did does not begin to equal what the Gestapo and SS did by a long shot. But then, perhaps some people draw a distinction he does not between the Wermarcht and the SS and Gestapo. No matter.

Eli Roth I felt was miscast as Sgt. Donny Donowitz, “the Jewish Bear”. The actor playing Hugo Stiglitz would have been better. But then Brad Pitt and his inconsistent accent (his character is supposed to come from Tennessee) wasn’t all that inspired either, actually looking… Constipated throughout. There is a saying about grabbing the viewer/reader’s attention right off the bat (no pun intended), with the first scene or lines of a film or book.
The first chapter of “inglorious basterds”, since Tarantino decided to use the chapter format again, introduces Hans Landa, during his “visit” of a French farm, looking for a Jewish family in hiding. The dialogue is well written, Christopher Waltz delivers the lines well, but it’s clearly not the best scene Tarantino’s ever written, and it probably would have benefited from more close up shots.
As it is, I feel that what Tarantino was going for was for the audience to see Landa as a boa constrictor, slowly coiling around the farmer he questions, until he squeezed truth and tears out of him.
As a display of psychological violence, I found it lacking in that the scene did go on too long, and that Waltz as Landa lacked any form of “glee” that I could recognize. Hannibal Lecter, he’s not. Far from it. It felt to me as though Tarantino was actually holding his punches, perhaps because the material was rooted in history, and I suspect, Tarantino actually may be burnt out on violence not just in its physical forms but also in its psychological aspects. Some of you I hear go: “What-the-f***?!?”
Here I suspect there may have been more conflict off screen than on.

Inglorious basterds” opening scene also features music by Ennio Morricone, and as the movie is intended as an homage to Spaghetti Western, that would seem to make sense. Except I began to disconnect right then and there instead of being pulled in. It didn’t belong there. I didn’t time how long it took Landa and his men to reach the farm, but I had to get up and start a pot of coffee.
And so it went on and on and on.
Tarantino I think gets blamed and praised for the same reasons: his reverence and references to the movies. And many of the reviews I’ve read of “inglorious basterds” tend to swing between extremes. I do wonder whether this film is a turning point for him, seeing how he wrote the two female characters (Shoshanna Dreyfus and Bridget Von Hammersmark, played by Diane Kruger) and what happens to them…
As it is, I hope his next choice of material will suit him better. If you’re even on the fence about Tarantino, skip this one, and watch, say “army of shadows” by Melville instead. But if you’re a fan… Well you’ve already seen and loved “inglorious basterds” by now, haven’t you?

I’m giving “inglorious basterds” one jellybean for ambition.

1 bean


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Happy Birthday Yosemite

Today, Yosemite National Park is 120 years old.  Thanks in large part to that wonderful explorer and naturalist, John Muir.  According to the John Muir National Historic Site (U.S. National Park Service) :

The “Father of the National Park Service”
John Muir was many things, inventor, immigrant, botanist, glaciologist, writer, co-founder of the Sierra Club, fruit rancher. But it was John Muir’s love of nature, and the preservation of it, that we can thank him for today. Muir convinced President Teddy Roosevelt to protect Yosemite (including Yosemite Valley), Sequoia, Grand Canyon and Mt. Rainier as National Parks.

That said, here are a few pictures in honor of that wonderful place called Yosemite.

Merced River in Yosemite Valley
El Capitan
Half Dome

Countdown to Halloween

We have a busy month ahead, with the usual features plus additional reviews of books (“the worst hard time” and “the worst journey in the world” for instance).
We’ll also revisit the old(ish) TV series “Friday the 13th”, which ran from 1987 to 1990, as well as “the human centipede”, “rogue”, “the horseman” and more…

A good way to celebrate the fall.

Midnight Movie Madness

Dark portals: the chronicles of Vidocq” – Reflections before the lights (98 minutes, France 2001)

“One man struck by lightning is an accident. Two men struck by lightning is a conspiracy.”

Word of advice: the dubbing is pretty bad on this one, so you may well want to listen to the French soundtrack with English subtitles… And dark as the movie is visually, you’ll want to wait after Midnight.
Paris in 1830, capital of a country in turmoil, with a regime installed by the Prussians.  Francois Vidocq (Gerard Depardieu), former creator and head of Napoleon’s secret police, sacked under the current government, is now France’s most famous detective.
Someone has been killing French notables with no discernible link between them, stumping the chief of Parisian police. Worse yet, the assassin used lightning to set them ablaze!
Hot on the mysterious killer’s trail, Vidocq chases him into a glass factory. Deep into the bowels of this place, Vidocq fights this “Alchemist”, as he is known, who seems possessed of super-human abilities, with stamina and acrobatics which Vidocq cannot match. And indeed, the detective falls into a furnace pit, seemingly to his death.
As the paper men all over Paris shout that Vidocq is dead, his former partner Nimier (Moussa Maaskri) receives an unwelcome visit from young journalist Etienne Boisset (actor-film maker Guillaume Canet), who claims to have worked with Vidocq on his biography. Boisset now is intent on discovering everything about Vidocq’s last case, the pursuit of the Alchemist.
In flashbacks, we retrace the steps which led Vidocq to the glass factory, through the darkest chambers at the heart of the City of Light, and the hellish plot the “victims” were involved in.
This is an interesting story with layers. Vidocq is part of French history, a former convict, whom Napoleon did in fact utilize to great effect in reforming French police. That in itself is worth researching. This film has an interesting look and atmosphere as well, part video game, part graphic novel, dark with vivid colors, shot entirely in digital with Sony’s 1080 p, 24 fps camera before even Star Wars episode II.
Written and directed by Pitof, “Chronicles of Vidocq” also profits from Marc Caro’s character design. Caro used to collaborate with Jean-Pierre Jeunet on comic strips and “City of lost children”. Bruno Coulais’ music suits the mood perfectly as well.
This is a dark tale, which will put viewers in mind of “from hell”, though very distinct. A lovely trip to take past midnight.

Dark portals: the chronicles of Vidocq” gets 4  jellybeans.

4 beans


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Thrice upon a time, far from the West…

The Weather Underground thingamajig in the top right corner reads 88 degrees Farenheit as I’m about to post this. How appropriate.
Please be sure to comment below, and let us know what you think..!

This past week, I decided to check out three foreign Westerns, the third of which I’d already seen a while ago, to add some balance perhaps: “the good, the bad, the weird” from South Korea (2008), “Renegade” from France (2004) and “800 bullets” from Spain (2002). All three are over two hours long.

There was one revelation: “the good, the bad, the weird”… It’s especially rare to laugh out loud as I did watching this, and to hit the back button on the DVD player to replay a scene.
I enjoy bathroom humor. I do. It was funny when I was a kid, it’s still funny now. One example is when the weird, Tae Goo, kills two men in the same way, by use of a rod kicked up their nether region with farting sounds and a weird expression of… Delight on one baddy’s face.
Yeah, I cringed too, but seeing as this was in a fight, not some torture scene, fair is fair.
But it’s not all off color jokes. Matter of fact it’s not all jokes, there’s quite a lot of bloodshed, shootings, stabbings et al. There is some excellent stunt work as well, horsemanship and gorgeous scenery which they shot mostly in Manchuria, in the desert.

There are three main characters, a bounty hunter named Do-Wan (the good), a ruthless psychopathic gun for hire going into business for himself named Chang-Yi (the bad), a train-robber with more lives than a cat named Tae-Goo (yes, the weird), and some strong supporting turns throughout.

During a train robbery, Tae-Goo (the weird), “acquires” what appears to be an invaluable treasure map, and from then on, he has both Do-Wan (the bounty hunter) and Chang-Yi (the killer) on his heels, as well as the Ghost Market Gang, Manchurian bandits, the Japanese and Manchurian armies, plus a few spies.
I’m hoping for a sequel because this Tae-Goo has mucho comedic potential. The bounty hunter’s more two dimensional (he’s supposed to be a good guy, and as we’ll see with Renegade, that can be a problemo).
As to Chang-Yi the bad guy, interesting look, with a dark pinstripe suit and hair covering half his face, Manga-style.
And yet, it all works. Maybe because director Kim Ji Yoo keeps the action moving fast, maybe because the score, evocating Ennio Morricone and the Gypsy Kings at times, is rousing, especially when the story veers into Road Runner and Coyote territory on an epic scale, and it works very well indeed.

This movie gets 5 beans

5 beans

Renegade”, the French Western, also uses an ancient map/manuscript as a ploy to bring villains in search of gold to the Sacred Mountains of the Chiracahua. Beyond that, “Renegade” becomes a convoluted mess.

The basis for this movie is a Belgian-French comic book which ran from the sixties to about the mid seventies, following the adventures of Mike “Blueberry” Donovan, a Southerner who joined the U.S. cavalry after the Civil War, and has a much more interesting character arc. In this adaptation, Blueberry (Vincent Cassel) has been transformed into a kid from a relatively well-to-do Cajun family, sent West to an uncle’s ranch to “straighten” out some. This was meant to “explain” Cassel’s French accent, but is a pretty big deviation from the original, and a questionable one.

Young Blueberry is involved in a fight at a whorehouse with Wallace Blount (Michael Madsen). Blueberry and Blount survive, but the girl Blueberry spent the evening with gets a bullet in the head and burns in a fire. Wandering outside the town, a wounded Blueberry is rescued and nursed back to health by Chiracahua Indians. He remains with them for a few years until we flash forward to the present, which finds Blueberry as town marshal, still haunted by that fateful night years ago.
No. He hasn’t gotten over it.

Meanwhile, the local big rancher (Jeffrey Lewis) sends two “adventurers” into the mountains to find gold: Woodhead (an underutilized Djimon Hounsou) and “Prosit” Luckner (Eddie Izzard with a dodgy German accent). Prosit Luckner’s made deals of his own, with Wallace Blount, who is after something more than just Indian gold.

Now, a few reviewers have been turned off by a couple of scenes using special effects, first to depict Blueberry’s vision quest with the Chiracahua, and secondly to show Blueberry’s surreal spiritual fight against Blount after they both drink some potion in the Sacred Mountains’ treasure cave.

Renegade” has a number of problems, not the least of which being that the good guy is just about as vapid as the bounty hunter of “the good, the bad, the weird”, only more so. That is really a waste of Cassel’s talent. This makes the villain, Wallace Blount, the real center of gravity of the story, even though Michael Madsen is doing the same schtick he’s been doing since “reservoir dogs”.

Juliette Lewis (Jeffrey Lewis’ daughter in real life) is miscast as the rancher’s daughter, saloon manager and Blueberry’s love interest.
Lewis’ persona is too modern, but then…
Then the film makers sinned.
They sinned by having her belt out “Danny Boy” in her saloon, very badly slaughtering the song. And “Danny Boy” is really not something you caricature if you don’t want your audience to groan in pain.
It gets worse. She sings a few bars of it again later on, trying to bring Blueberry back to the living. That-actually-hurt.
There is beautiful scenery. There are some very good actors. But in this “baguetti Western” as Izzard called it, their talents are mostly wasted and the better scenes are actually the special effects sequences, which drag on a tad too long, especially the second one. Pass.
If you are interested in surrealism in a Western, check out “dead man” with Johnny Depp or “El Topo” with Alejandro Jodorovsky instead.

This movie gets no beans

totally redone beans red 0

A movie about movies is how director Alex de la Iglesia described “800 bullets”. The story takes place in modern day Spain, where we have a family torn by tragedy, as well as the land-grabbing scheme familiar to Westerns. Julian Torralba (Sancho Gracia) is a movie stuntman decades past his best days working on American Westerns shot in Almeria. Some years ago, his son died performing a stunt on a Russian backed Western. Julian now spends his days performing with his troupe for the occasional car load of German tourists, eking out a living, getting drunk and reminding everyone of his glory days doing stunts for Clint Eastwood or George S. Scott (sic).
His daughter in law Laura (Carmen Maura) is an executive at a real estate development firm in Madrid, living with her 10 year old son Carlos (Luis Castro) and her mother in law Rocio (Terele Pavez).

During a family move, Carlos discovers photos of his late father and of his grandfather, Julian. Laura refuses to answer his questions, but Rocio tells him about Julian before swearing him to secrecy. She and Laura get along icily. It’s summer recess and Laura puts Carlos on the school bus taking him to a ski trip. Carlos instead hops in a cab and ends up in the desert of Almeria wearing mountain clothing, looking for Julian.

You wouldn’t know it from reading the above, but “800 bullets” is a clever and fun comedy. It is mostly the lively dialogue and interaction between the very flawed (read ‘human’) characters which make this highly enjoyable. This is one to watch in Spanish with subtitles.

Julian is not a nice man, either. When Laura decides to buy the Western village where he and his troupe live and perform to build an amusement park, he visits her in Madrid to change her mind, promising he’ll never see Carlos again, and that he would put his grandson on the bus back to Madrid himself if Carlos tried to visit him in the future.
Laura’s not having any of this and the firm’s plans go ahead, prompting Julian to lead an armed resistance with his troupe of misfits.

800 bullets” reminds me of “I sell the dead” in that you sense the enthusiasm and love of movies throughout the entire film. It’s also typical of Alex de la Iglesia’s movies in the rich tapestry of characters: it’s not just leads and supporting actors, virtually all of them have good lines and are funny and  a unique depiction of who they are.
Take the cab driver who takes Carlos to Almeria (he also played the perv neighbor dressed as Darth Vader in de la Iglesia’s “la comunidad”). Or the undertaker, who years ago was hired on a Spaghetti Western which folded because of rain: throughout the movie, he cusses in Italian. The only thing he ever got out of that deal…

This movie gets 4 beans

4 beans

It’s good to sample foreign made Westerns, “the proposition” being a prime example. France has a couple more which are also derived from a comic books series: “Lucky Luke”. They are not yet available in region 1 (unless in Canada but probably without subtitles), but hey, let’s hope for the best.


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Tito’s Guide to Cats

MeeMee! Introducing your new cat to your home

We kitties don’t like change. Change is very scary to us.

When you bring home your new cat, put them in a quiet room with food, water, litterbox, toys and scratching post. This room should have a door that closes. The safe room gives your cat time to adjust to the change of location and makes them feel much more safe. Make sure to spend a lot of time with them. It may take a couple of days before they come out of hiding.

This is especially important if you have another cat in the house. If you already have a cat, this change is as scary for them as for the new kitty. With the new cat in the safe room, the original kitty can sniff at the door. You may see and hear a lot of hissing and whatnot. It’s normal. Follow the guidelines I discuss below and it should be ok. If it doesn’t work the first time, just start over again.

The Boober and Tito

When mom and dad brought me home, they put me in a safe room. It’s a good thing as I’m a very nervous kitty. I have a few phobias as a result. Anyhow, The Boober, who already lived there wasn’t happy and he hissed at me at lot. It was good to have a door in between us. It took about 3 days before he quit hissing and I wasn’t as scared. After that, mom took me out to the other room in the carrier to spend a bit more time with everyone. The Boober hissed a bit more. After two days of that, he quit hissing and was friendly. Mom and dad turned me loose in the apartment after that and The Boober and I became the bestest friends. I miss him.
After The Boober passed away, my folks brought Kitsy home. They knew I was lonesome without a brother. Like me, he had a safe room. He only spent one night there. I wasn’t upset to have a new cat in the apartment and Kitsy wasn’t scared. I was a bit wary, but I wasn’t scared or angry. Within a day, we were good friends.

Tito and Kitsune

In conclusion, my biggest advice is to have patience. Patience will mean having a much better adjusted cat (or cats). Otherwise, sudden changes can lead to behavior problems and that’s no fun at all.


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Woof! Baa! Wow!

A friend of the blog (aoeu) posted this elsewhere. I’m grateful. I saw this and was amazed. Yes, it’s a bit funny, but when you think about the sheer talent that went into making this video, it’s more than funny. It’s amazing. The coordination between the dogs and their handlers is incredible.


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