Christmas in the Alabama Hills

Christmas eve found us in the Eastern Sierra setting up camp in the Alabama Hills. There were four of us and two campers. Our son Aaron and his wife Serena joined us for the overnight camping trip, about 45 minutes south of their place in Big Pine. Part of our mission was to see if we could create a photo of our two campers worthy for Truck Camper Magazine’s calendar. It will remain to be seen if our photos make it into the calendar but we had fun scouting a location, setting up camp and creating photos. The location we picked had a view of the crest of the Sierra’s with the peak of Mount Whitney visible to the west and an outcropping of granite boulders to the east, hiding some of the other campers in the area.

The Alabama Hills is a recreation area managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Open to camping year round. Dog friendly and free of charge. There are no facilities though, so bring your own water.  Inclined to be hot in summer, we had mild winter temperatures, with the thermometer recording a low of 39 degrees overnight.

We’ve recently discovered Dutch Oven cooking and we put our oven to use cooking a savory Christmas eve dinner of chicken and rice. with chunks of chicken breast wrapped in thinly sliced ham and bacon. Breakfast was quiche with ham left over from an early Christmas dinner a couple of days earlier when our daughter and her husband rendezvoused with us on their way to Utah.

Advertisements

Holiday Getaway

 

Wednesday, December 20, after working a long day and into the night to keep my clients happy, we pointed our rig to the mountains for a holiday getaway. Part of our plan was to see how our camper performed under winter conditions, camping in a Sno Park for the night. Our drive took us through Sacramento and up highway 50 heading towards Hope Valley, one of our favorite mountain destinations. For many years we’ve visited Sorensen’s Resort in Hope Valley just south of Lake Tahoe; a delightful place to stay any time of year. Along the way we stopped at the Silver Fork Store in Kyburz to buy a Sno Park Permit; a requirement for parking in a designated Sno Park. We bought an annual pass for $25, figuring we may be doing exploring other winter wonderlands this winter.  We had the camper up, snug inside just as it was getting dark and the temperature was starting to drop.  A dinner of hot soup and bread felt good and we turned on the propane heater, and pulled our our books to read. It was snowing lightly as we settled in but it cleared in the night. I got up at 4:30 for a quick rest stop and stepped out into a crystal clear night, with stars shining above and sparking off the snow. The thermometer was recording an outdoor temperature of 10 degrees F and inside the propane heater was keeping the cabin at 50 degrees or so, a temperature that we decided was a bit warm for our winter sleeping bags. In the morning we woke up to a sunny day. Popped the top down and headed for breakfast a Sorensen’s Resort, three miles down the road. After a hearty and delicious breakfast and fresh coffee, we continued our journey down the East Side towards Bishop.

 

San Francisco’s Wave Organ

San Francisco is full of hidden surprises. The morning found me in San Francisco, having made my way to the Marina District to look a a project I’ll be photographing for a client. Having left the project I was in no hurry to make my way home with such a clear crisp day and the waterfront of the Marina beckoning me. I was on foot, having arrived by way of public transportation using BART and bus. Looking at a map and I noticed something at the end of the jetty labeled “Wave Organ. Unique acoustic sculpture on the bay.” I was intrigued so I made my way to the end of Marina Green Drive and on out to the end of the Jetty.  The Wave Organ is a wave-activated acoustic sculpture.  The concept was developed by Peter Richards and was installed in collaboration with sculptor and master stone mason George Gonzales. Installed in 1986. To really appreciate this you need to sit on a bench and just let the sounds wash over you; a very subtle and gentle experience.  In addition to the wave organ, the location offers a spectacular view of San Francisco Bay with the Golden Gate Bridge and Alcatraz in the distance.

Untold Stories

tjp_1796_4972

I’m not sure what inspired me to take this photo. Usually I prefer creating beautiful images for clients, or I look to celebrate the beauty of the natural world. But here was this scene that was demanding to be photographed.  I had to stop and ask myself why I should photograph this. Is my fascination with an un-told story that demands to be captured? A public park used as the scene for car maintenance? Who was it? Was it one person or several? It was clearly somebody with a different value system than my own; a different ethic when it comes to how we view the natural world. I saw this scene as a challenge to create a visually compelling statement about the elements in the composition. And then I wonder if it’s the influence of photographers such as Walker Evans and his fascination with the mundane details of life that influences me? Is there something universally interesting here, or is it just my warped mind? And I took a bit of care in composing the image. I excluded a couple of used hypodermic syringes which would have told a whole different story or perhaps that’s part of the story also.

Quick Trip to the Coast

Sunday, June 25th found us packing our camping gear for a quick trip to the Sonoma coast. One of our goals was to look for dog friendly beaches. We had reserved a campsite at Gualala Point Regional Park, a walk-in site, since that was what was available at the late date we decided to go camping; a lovely site on the river and quiet.  This park is managed by the Sonoma County Regional Parks. Unlike the state parks that are not open to dogs on trails, most of the Sonoma County Regional Parks are open to dogs on a leash. There is also beach access at a number of places along Sea Ranch. Our beach explorations took us through redwoods and along fern lined trails and out to the coast. A refreshing get-away for two humans and a dog.

Horseshoe Bend

tjp_1750_0667_7x

Five miles below Glen Canyon Dam the Colorado River makes a 270 degree turn resulting in a spectacular view. When we were planning our trip, this is one destination we put on our list of potential stops. Little did we know how many people we would find there at dusk. We made this visit on May 5, parking in the dirt parking lot and walking the .7 mile walk to the lookout point. If you have any fear of heights this will give you a good case of vertigo. It’s a straight drop 1000 feet to the water with no railing and just the jumble of sandstone rocks on the rim. Once I had my camera set up I was afraid to move. Not because of the height, but because with wall-to-wall people, if I had given up my spot there would be little chance of finding another location. Arrive early and stake your claim. This was as much a social experience as a photographic experience. While I waited for the sun to set I chatted with the folks on the rim, finding out about their trips, and attempting to give them advice when they figured I must know what I was doing. There was also a wedding going on, a couple of unruly dogs, and drones flying overhead, although the drones came down when an irate visitor started yelling at the drone pilots to warn them that they were flying illegally.

There are probably two options for the best lighting on this scene; late morning when the sun is high in the sky and shining down into the canyon, or dusk. At dusk you have the challenge of shooting into the sun with the canyon in shadow. To compensate I captured multiple exposures and blended them using a tool for high dynamic range photography (HDR). This is a good technique when a subject such as this displays an extreme range of light values from highlights (the sun) to the dark shadows of the canyon.

The Carrizo Plain

This year’s rain produced a spectacular display of wildflowers on the Carrizo Plain. Here’s a small sampling from the thousand-plus photos I captured on visit. You can see more photos here.

We spent three days on the Carrizo Plain arriving on Sunday afternoon April 9 and leaving the afternoon of April 11. There were two of us and our dog. Yes, the Carrizo is dog friendly. Our first order of business on arriving was to locate a camp site. With the all the press the wildflower bloom has received we were not surprised to find our preferred camp ground, Selby Camp, full. We did manage to squeeze in on the fringes, and the next morning, moved our camp to a regular site with a table, fire pit and awning when it became available. Selby Camp also has water. Monday we set out to explore Elkhorn Road and the wildflowers on the Temblor range, stopping at Wallace Creek to do a short hike to explore the San Andreas Fault. There are few places in the world where you can see the effects of a fault that are as dramatic as Wallace Creek. From there we drove south a few miles and found a spot we could hike up into the hills. The array of wildflowers is just astounding. On Tuesday we spent our time around Soda Lake.

The park is a bit off the beaten path. It’s situated at 2000 feet of elevation between the Caliente and Temblor Mountain ranges. From the west you can approach from Highway 101 or from the East from Interstate 5. There is not much in the valley in the way of services, so make sure you top off your gas tank before entering the valley, perhaps on Highway 101 or I5. It’s 50 miles from the park headquarters to the nearest gas station, and you can easily run up your mileage while exploring the park. It’s an expansive park. I carry food and water for my stay in the valley. There is water at the park visitor center and at Selby Camp, but in years past water hasn’t always been available. Besides Selby Camp there is another camp ground, KCL camp further south. There is also dispersed camping off the valley floor in areas that were previously disturbed. There is also a motel, the California Valley Motel on Soda Lake Rd North of the park.

While the Carrizo Plain is noted for spring wildflower displays, there are also other sites to visit when the wildflowers are not in bloom. There are several rock formations with displays of Indian petrographs (images painted on rock). Most of these rocks, including Painted Rock are off limits in the spring when birds are nesting. Pronghorn antelope, coyotes, and a number other birds and animals inhabit the plain also.

The Carrizo Plain has been called California’s Serengeti It’s a broad plain, most of which has not been disturbed by modern agriculture and irrigation. It represents what the Central Valley May have looked like before agriculture.

I made my first visit to the Carrizo Plain in 1988 when The Nature Conservancy hired me to photograph, what was then ranch land, and since then it’s become one of my favorite places to visit. Untrammeled, broad open spaces and remote.