Biolite FirePit takes the smoke out of the campfire

I have a confession to make: I hate campfires. More specifically, I can’t stand the smoke from campfires. Love the flames, hate the smoke.

While it’s particularly annoying in a crowded campgrounds, where multiple fires has the air feeling reminiscent of LA on a smoggy day, even when camping away from the masses, the smoke from a fire can have you dancing circles around the fire ring and chanting “I hate rabbits!” (I did not encountered this superstition until recently, but I’ll try anything to get the smoke out of my face.)

So, imagine my delight when I heard about the Biolite FirePit, and smoke-less wood burning firepit that doubles as a habachi grill. The key to the device is a battery powered fan that pumps oxygen into the fire through air jets , allowing the flames to burn the wood entirely.

“When you see smoke coming off of a typical campfire or firepit, that’s unburnt fuel; particulate matter that could have been combusted inside of the fire,” Biolite wrote on its Kickstarter page for the firepit, “but instead it’s getting on your clothes, in your hair, and more importantly, in your lungs (that’s why so many of us get a headache about an hour or two after sitting around a campfire).”

Yes, yes, yes! The 27-inch x 10-inch firepit comes with a grill grate for cooking, and you can control the speed of the fan, and therefore the rate of the burn, with an app on your phone. The sides of the pit are constructed with a mesh so you can see the flames. The device has folding legs, so you can put it in a bag for transport.

My enthusiasm aside, I haven’t used the FirePit, so I can’t give it an endorsement at this point. The guys at Gear Junkie gave it a good overall review. It was more portable than the Solo Stove, another portable fire pit, they concluded, but produced more smoke.

Biolite’s recent Kickstart campaign raised over $2.5 million to launch the FirePits into production. The stoves are expected to be available in August 2018.

Here’s a video about the FirePit:

Anza-Borrego desert photo contest accepting entries

Got a killer photo of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park? The 2018 Anza-Borrego Desert Photo Contest is ready for your submission.

Anza-Borrego Foundation has teamed up with Borrego Art Institute and Kesling’s Kitchen to present the contest and encourage desert lovers and photography enthusiasts to capture their favorite views, moments and adventures in Anza-Borrego.

The theme of the contest is the unique and natural beauty of Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, all photographs must be taken within the Park boundaries. Ribbons will be awarded to First, Second, and Third place winners, and a Grand Prize will be awarded to the Best of Show. All place winners also receive a gift membership to Anza-Borrego Foundation, good for one year.

All submissions must be uploaded by mid-night December 1, 2017. Good luck!

How to keep your campfire from turning into a wildfire

The major wildfires raging through Northern California right now are a stark reminder that when you head into the backcountry in California, you’re heading into a tinder box.

Among the many causes of wildfires, campfires are high on the list. To help prevent forest fires, the California Wildland Fire Coordinating Group has put together campfire safety tips:

Get a Campfire Permit

Campfire permits can also be obtained from any CAL FIRE, US Forest Service, or BLM station or office. You can apply for one online here. Your campfire permit is valid from the date issued until the end of the calendar year. They are required to have campfire or portable gas stoves on public lands. Check to ensure there aren’t any local fire restrictions in the area. During periods of high fire danger, campfires may be restricted. Also, keep a shovel and bucket of water nearby at all times.

Camping Fire Safety – How to Build an Open Campfire

Select a level, open location away from heavy fuels such as logs, brush or decaying leaves and needles. Clear an area at least 10 feet in diameter (local regulations may vary). Scrape away grass, leaves or needles down to the mineral soil. Scoop a depression in the center of the cleared area in which to build the fire and put a ring of rocks around it. Cut wood in short lengths, pile within cleared area and light the fire. The fire should be built no larger than necessary. Your fire must never be left unattended and the fire must be extinguished completely before leaving.

While the Fire is Burning – Open Fire Safety

Always keep a shovel and bucket of water nearby at all times. While the fire is burning, be sure there is a responsible person in attendance of the fire at all times. Never leave children around a fire unattended.

How to Completely Extinguish an Open Campfire

Use the “drown, stir and feel” method: drown the fire with water, then stir around the fire area with your shovel to wet any remaining embers and ash. Be sure to turn wood and coals over and wet all sides. Move some dirt onto the fire site and mix thoroughly to fully smother it. And finally, feel the area with the back of your hand to ensure nothing is still smoldering.

This video sums it all up:

Watch SoCal’s nesting California condors live

Call it the Real Condors of Los Padres. Thanks to a webcam installed earlier this year near the nest cave of a pair of California condors, YouTube viewers can now watch the intimate social activities of a family of California’s biggest bird.

These endangered Condors nest in caves on cliff faces, and pairs will sometimes use the same nest year after year. This pair currently using the Los Padres National Forest nest, known as the Devil’s Gate Nest and located near Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge, began at the site during their first nesting attempt in 2015. The webcam runs year round.

“Webcam viewers will see the rich social interactions of these intelligent birds, such as the two adults sharing parental duties, and their interactions with each other and the chick,” said Dr. Estelle Sandhaus, director of conservation and research at the Santa Barbara Zoo. “Condor chicks actually engage in ‘play,’ by pouncing on and grabbing feathers and sticks, for instance. It’s a thrill to watch the chick grow, learn, and play under the watchful eyes of its dedicated parents.”

The nest contains one chick, which hatched on April 11, 2017, and was assigned the number #871. The father hatched at the Los Angeles Zoo in 1999 and was release into the wild Hopper Mountain in 2000. The mother hatched at the World Center for Birds of Prey in Boise, Idaho in 2009 and was released at Bitter Creek National Wildlife Refuge in 2010. This is the pair’s third attempt at nesting together. The two previous attempts were unsuccessful.

Condors almost went extinct in the 1980s, when the population fell to just 22 birds. Thanks to protection efforts, their are now more than 270 free-flying birds in California, Arizona and Mexico’s Baja California region.

Wait three days to swim at SoCal beaches after rain storms

This past winter brought much needed relief to SoCal after years of drought, but the heavy rains had a negative impact on the water quality at the beaches. Its a good reminder to wait three days to swim at SoCal beaches after a rains storm.

Fecal bacteria levels spiked after rain storms at beaches on the SoCal coast this winter, resulting in the poorest winter water quality in five years, according to Heal the Bay’s 2016-17 Beach Report Card.

Put bluntly, this means animal and human waste were washing into the ocean with runoff from rain storms. Exposure to these bacteria is a health hazard. A study in Los Angeles and Orange Counties found, for example, that the regional public health cost of gastrointestinal illnesses caused by recreating in polluted ocean waters was between $21 and $51 million each year.

A good rule of thumb is to wait three days to swim or otherwise have contact with ocean water during a rainstorm, and for a minimum of the three days after the rain stops. Whether its raining or not, Heal the Bay and public health agencies suggest you never swim closer than 100 yards from any flowing storm drain. As much as you may want to surf, kayak, swim…whatever your activity of choice, when dealing with fecal bacteria, patience is a virtue.

Another thing that’s important to note is that some beaches are generally cleaner than others, and that there are a few beaches with particularly bad water.

Heal the Bay’s recently release beach report card identified a number of beaches in Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego as “Honor Roll Beaches” with generally outstanding water quality. These include Malibu’s El Matador Beach,  Orange’ County’s Balboa Beach (home to the infamous Wedge surf break), and Encinita’s Swami Beach (another famous surf break).

Here’s a table from the report showing beaches that made the honor roll:Wait three days to swim

Other beaches, however, dubbed “Beach Bummers,” got poor grades for water quality. These included San Clemente Pier in Orange County, Santa Monica Pier in Los Angeles and La Jolla Cove in San Diego, which made its first appearance on the Beach Bummers list.

Here’s are the bummer beaches:

wait three days to swim

The cause of poor water quality at these beaches varies, and in some cases is unknown. Bacteria may thrive under piers, where they can hide from the sun, which might explain the high levels. A bump in seal and sea lion activity might help explain La Jolla Cove, as could the lack of water circulation due to the sheltered nature of a cove. Insufficient storm water management facilities is a major factor according to Heal the Bay.

With SoCal’s climate predicted to become even more of a “boom-and-bust” cycle, meaning droughts broken by deluges, rainy periods are likely to continue to result in hazardous beach water conditions. Until the state and California cities and counties invest in infrastructure to make better use of rain water and prevent beach pollution, the rule, one more time, is to wait three days to swim after a rain storm.


Snow Summit mountain bike park opens Memorial Day Weekend

Alas, the winter of 2016/2017, with its endless snowstorms and powder runs, is behind us. But take heart: gravity and mountains are still a thing, you’ll just need to roll instead of slide.

The Snow Summit mountain bike park near Big Bear Lake is slated to open for the summer season on Friday, May 26. The mountain offers a range of trails from cross-country rides to a jump park.

All day lift tickets will run around $40 for the day, but prices vary depending on whether your going on a weekend or weekday. Season passes are also available, starting at $299.

The park will initially only be open on weekends, but will open full-week later in June.

Here’s the trail map:

Snow Summit mountain bike park map

Southern California national monuments targeted by Trump administration

Over the past few months, we’ve happily added guides to Southern California’s newest National Monuments to OutdoorSoCal, as this designation helps protect the areas for recreation.

The four national monuments Castle Mountains National Monument, Mojave Trails National Monument and Sand to Snow National Monument and San Gabriel Mountains National Monument, were designated by Barack Obama during his presidency to protect their remarkable natural and recreation values.

Now, however, as part of a concerted effort by the Trump administration and congressional Republicans to roll back protections for the environment and public lands, these monuments and dozens of others around the country are under threat.

Ryan Zinke, the new secretary of the interior appointed by Trump, is ostensibly on a “listening tour,” visiting National Monuments designated in the past 20 years to find out what locals think of them. Many observers suspect that the tour is a charade meant to suggest due process should Trump deprotect certain national monuments.

In particular, observers warn that Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase–Escalante in Utah, and Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument in Maine, may be on Trump’s short list for deprotection. All three were established by Democratic presidents and have been sources local controversy.

It’s hard to know what the administration is planning for California’s national monuments, but rescending National Monument status is the first step in selling the lands off to private interests or leasing them to extractive industries such as mining. The four monuments in SoCal were created by Barack Obama and could be irresistible targets for Trump, who has made his intent clear to undermine Obama’s legacy.

Other California monuments under review are Giant Sequoia National Monument and Berryessa Snow Mountain in Northern California and Carrizo Plan National Monument in central California. A number of others in neighboring states are under review as well.

If you would like to comment on Trump’s executive order to review the national monuments, you can do so here on the Department of the Interior website.

San Diego mountain bike maker Ellsworth cranks into gear

In Poway, California, a phoenix is rising from the ashes.

Tucked away in a nondescript industrial park, Ellsworth Handcrafted Bikes has come back with a vengeance after a season’s pause in making bikes and two changes ownership of the SoCal company.

In its the Poway warehouse, remnants of the brand’s history are evident, racks of legacy bikes featuring the previous logo, the Ellsworth name written in a old-fashioned patrician calligraphy. But these ghosts of bikes past are overshadowed by rows of the sleek, tech-forward models emblazoned with a new signature logo and released over the past year. The most popular color for the new models is a fiery orange.

Andre Pepin, 25, who first job was sweeping floors in the Ellsworth factory when he was 18, is showing me around the warehouse, which the company shares with a speaker-manufacturer. I’d expected something along the lines of Santa’s workshop: assembly lines of elf-like technicians wrenching bikes together, but that’s not how a high-end, custom bike brand works.

A mountain biker's candy store. Ellsworth frames waiting to be connected with their new owners.
A mountain biker’s candy store. Ellsworth frames waiting to be connected with their new owners.

The Ellsworth side of the building is filled with long racks covered with hanging frames, cranks and other parts. All orders are custom, so when a customer orders a bike, the warehouse staff boxes up the various parts and ships them to the bike shop, where the shop staff assemble the bikes for the rider. Pepin, who has risen up the ranks at Ellsworth over the years, and now works in purchasing and product development, explains how the company has evolved over the past few years.

“We didn’t manufacture any bikes in 2015,” says Pepin, who has raced Ellsworth mountain bikes on the pro circuit. “And people thought we were gone, but we never went anywhere. I know because I’ve been here the whole time, and we’ve always kept moving forward. We just took some time to refocus and refine new design ideas.”

The boutique mountain bike brand, founded 25 years ago by Tony Ellsworth, has long had a reputation for making high-quality bikes for discerning riders. It was sold in late 2014 to BST Nano Carbon, a San Diego composites manufacture but BST soon ran out of capital to invest in the bike company. A San Diego investor bought the brand from BST in 2015, and with the founder Tony Ellsworth still leading the design team is running at full steam again.

We just took some time to refocus and refine new design ideas

The company has built its new bikes around its ACTIVE Energy Efficient Suspension, an architecture that isolates pedal and braking forces from bump input, with the intent of making efficient use of pedal power while soaking up the jarring impacts from the trail.

The new bikers are stiffer than older models, thanks to the company’s new Rocker Locker technology, a tapered, hex-head axle that creates greater torsional stiffness by locking together the two sides of the drive train. Ellsworth has also switched to using military-grade encapsulated bearings to enhance its bike’s performance and durability.

In January, the company announced it had signed legendary mountain bike racer Brian Lopes to a multi-year contract. Lopes is one of the winningest riders, holding 18 national and international titles, and his addition to the Ellsworth roster brings a new level of rider visibility for the brand.

Brian Lopes with his Rogue 60, the center piece of Ellsworth's new line of mountain bikes
Brian Lopes with his Rogue 60, the center piece of Ellsworth’s new line of mountain bikes

“I usually tend to look for smaller companies be involved with, ones where I feel like I can have a bigger impact in helping them grow,” Lopes told MTBR magazine. “I love being able to speak directly with the owner and not have to through a bunch of different channels to get anything accomplished. Ellsworth fit all these desires.”

Pepin said Ellsworth is also stepping up its presence in SoCal, sponsoring a number of mountain biking events, and supporting organizations like the San Diego Mountain Biking Association that advocate for trail access and great participation.

“We’re a national brand, but San Diego and SoCal have always been home to Ellsworth, and SoCal has a great mountain biking community,” he said, gesturing out the factory doors at the open space canyon behind the building. “There’s plenty of sun and lots of trails. This is a great place to be a mountain biker.”