The trip is now beginning to recede in the rear view mirror and quite a bit of the time between then and now has been spent processing a small percentage of all the photos taken during the three weeks on the road. In fact, I had a chance to go over some of the numbers accumulated during the trip: 3850 miles driven, over 5300 trips of the shutter, 17 visits to McDonald’s and 18 nights spent in the rental SUV; one of those nights spent in the company of either of Mickey or Minnie Mouse, I never did find out which, as it seems whichever it was, escaped the SUV as mysteriously as it entered. During the trip, I experimented with some different white balances, namely daylight, clear day shade and 3200K for the star and Milky Way shots, anticipating the blending of two of those together. But I realized later at home that with digital photography and shooting RAW, I could simply make a copy of the original, no matter what white balance it was shot with, and simply change the white balance of the second image in Lightroom. I also did a few HDR images, but found that some did not work well while a single image of the 3 or 5 brackets did, and other times the HDR looked believable and actually did enhance the image. For the ocean shots, many, many images were taken of the same scene since each time a wave comes ashore is different from every other during that shoot. And all of those were taken with split neutral density filters to even out the bright sky with the darker ocean. Sometimes I used both a hard edge and soft edge, using the soft at right angles to the horizon to even out the one brighter side closer to where the sun went down. So if you’re on a tripod, it’s a simple matter to take the best wave of one image and blend it with another that may have a preferable cloud structure using some layers and masks in Photoshop. But the only time I did that was when there was a bird on two separate rocks for quite a while one evening at Rodeo Beach; but of course when the best wave came along, the second bird had flown away. I suppose I should be satisfied with how fortunate it was to have a single bird included in the frame and looking in the optimal direction when I tripped the shutter; is it immoral to try to make the image even better?
Day 21 – Monday October 16, 2017
The overnight did not go well as mentioned yesterday, that there are not many places in civilization to hide for a night’s sleep in the car without incurring some kind of infraction concerning no parking signs threatening towing, bodily harm and worse. But finally found a quiet spot along the Pacific Coast Highway that seemed to have other cars there and absent No Parking signs, so I slid in and slid into the bag for a few hours sleep until at 4:45am the cars started streaming by which was actually pretty loud since it is a highway. After a few minutes of this constant drone of rush hour car and truck tires, I decided to head back to the beaches and see what I could do before it became light. I ended up by El Matador Beach and ran across the highway with my flashlight to see if I could see down the road, and found the gates already opened, unlike last night. So I headed down and found quite a few sea stacks there but as has been the case, along with the lack of clouds, it always seems to be high tide when I’m shooting the ocean. But things seemed to work out and I guess others did as well since by the time I left, there were at least 4 photoshoots going on!! So I guess it’s a good beach, probably one of the few that can be used for sun rise, but mostly in the winter months because of where the sun rises at that time of year. Two months from now it would have an even better placement.
Day 20 – Sunday October 15, 2017
Slept so soundly in the car last night, staying at the “parking lot” for the Mobius Arch that I didn’t even hear another car pull in right beside me during the night. It was just beginning to get light out when I got up and headed along the main dirt road, of which there are many, to find the spot I saw yesterday when I arrived that I wanted to shoot in the morning. It was of Mt. Williamson and Mt. Whitney with some of the Alabama Hills compressed in front with a long lens. I’m sure the more time you spend here, the more interesting things you could find to shoot, and I did yesterday, but only in a small area of the huge area that is the Alabama Hills. But I was able to arrange to get together with Denis, who I met and traveled with for a week on my 2014 trip, to shoot a sunset tonight down by where he lives, south of LA.
Day 19 – Saturday October 14, 2017
Had absolutely no plan for a sunrise spot but I did pick up a brochure on the Bishop area from the National Forest Office in town that had a map. I noticed a dirt road that followed the Owens River (?) to a reservoir and thought since the area was basically flat, I would have good views of the Sierra Crest to the west with possible river or lake as foreground. Well, the river was never really near the road and mostly surrounded by bushes, so you couldn’t see it unless you were higher up and as I mentioned, it was basically flat. Never did reach the reservoir as the time was getting close for the peaks to get the first rays and I didn’t want to waste any more time and settled on some large boulders and yellow rabbitbrush that seemed to frame the crest well and ended up using them as foreground. If it wasn’t for them, the morning would have been a bust. As the sun reached further down into the Owens Valley, I came across a small lake surrounded by rabbitbrush and found a spot where the light was at the right angle while looking at the mountains. I’m pretty sure it was David Muench who wrote or said that the best light comes over your shoulder; and that’s where it was for that shot. Many of the tips you hear or read about will usually at some point come back to help you out.
Afterward, I continued my southerly route to the Ancient Bristlecone Forest of the White Mountains. Since it was mid-day, long views had rather dull lighting, so most of the pics I took were of the beautifully weathered bark of the trees. Only hiked about a half mile of the 4-1/2-mile loop as it was at a pretty high altitude, which does not work well for me, and I wanted to continue on toward Lone Pine and the famous Alabama Hills. Didn’t have much time for scouting there but did get to Mobius Arch and tried to get a sunburst as the sun sank lower in the sky, but that proved difficult since it was so strong. Either it was too strong or behind the arch too much to get the sunburst. There was also a small thin arch just in front “famous” arch that was totally ignored, but I felt I had to do something with it so it wouldn’t feel left out.
Of course there were no clouds in the sky again, so I headed off to my car for a lovely Chicken Teriyaki dinner while I waited for it to get dark and try for some Milky Way shots. Turned out there were just as many folks there at night as there were during the day!! But with everyone doing their own thing, you just had to hope that during your shot, no one turned on their headlamp or flashlight. And some one was propped right next to the arch who said he could not turn off his camera back display, so every shot from that sequence needs to Photoshop him out. And other folks had green or red headlamps that lit the arch in whatever color headlamp they had while others just didn’t care one way or the other if they impacted your shot. Anyway, got some decent shots without light painting and was a little disappointed, but when the offenders left, three of us remained and we collaborated in lighting the arch in various ways. In the end, I got a shot closer to the arch with the Milky Way And one image lighted from the right and the next lit from the opposite side that should merge well. We all had a good time making our shots and me lighting things including the one guy with a real torch of a flashlight. A good way to end the day before turning down the sheets for the night.
Day 18 – Friday October 13, 2017
Well, it’s hard to judge when last night ended and today began because so much went on after my dinner at Nicely’s ended with a slice of great blueberry pie. I had planned some Milky Way shots while here, but felt it getting colder and I assumed it would be much colder several thousand feet higher in Yosemite’s High Country. Either way, I needed to make the trip up the Tioga Road to Tioga Pass and either find a place to spend the night, or head to Olmstead Point where the iconic tree and boulder lay waiting for my arrival. When I reached the park, the temperature gauge in the car was reading mid-twenties, but luckily at Olmstead Point, there was no wind so I decided to give it a try. As I scrambled in the dark to the tree, I easily found the Milky Way and amazingly, it lined up right between the tree and boulder!! All I had to do was get the correct exposure, line things up within the frame and make sure the focus was correct. I had to use a smaller aperture, rather than wide open at f/2.8, to keep the tree and stars both in focus. The two main obstacles were light painting the boulder correctly, and airplanes screwing up the shot leaving a telltale line across the stars. Eventually, I was finally able to light the boulder from the right and left sides to avoid black blobs of unlit rock in the frame, by first lighting the right side, and then gingerly scrambling to the left side before the shutter closed.
After I was finally satisfied all the elements for a final image were accomplished, I packed up and drove to a place outside the park to avoid “being towed”. But waking up at 4:00am, now with the half moon out to provide some general lighting, I decided to drive back and photograph the spot illuminated by the moon. Using some of the intrusion lines in the granite, I hoped to make a composite using those lines in a final image. But after taking the initial shot, the line I chose was already clearly visible!! No need for special processing afterward, it was all done on sight except there are actual stars in the dslr version rather than the iPhone image seen here taken when it was much brighter. Because I saw what I thought was fog in Yosemite Valley (seen here as the tiny white spot to the left of the bump of Half Dome) I decided it was worth the many miles of extra driving to photograph the valley in fog. But disappointingly, the fog turned out to be smoke from controlled burns in the valley!! But I did take some shots of the valley at the point of discovery, and again at Siesta Lake who’s waters were so still, the lake looked like a mirror. It turned out that between the shots at June Lake, Mono Lake, the two night shots and those of Siesta Lake, I was very happy photographically with the last 24-hours. But was not happy with the lack of sleep, which necessitated a 15-minute power nap on the Tioga Road to recharge and avoid driving off a cliff on the way back down to the valley.
So onto Bishop with a reservation in hand for a much needed shower and bed. Not much color left in the aspens in this area compared to the abundance around June Lake, so not too much in the way of photography. Only two more nights of car camping left until my flight back home on Tuesday. The question remains of where to go tomorrow as I make my way back to LA where this all began.
Day 17 – Thursday October 12, 2017
Stayed overnight at Inspiration Point to peace and quiet; seems so many overlooks are named Inspiration Point. Drove the short distance to the Eagle Falls Trailhead parking lot just as it began to get light and was ready for the short hike to the falls and view that I planned to shoot, preferably with clouds, but as usual for this trip, there was none to be had. Last years trip to Yellowstone had plenty of weather, but for one afternoon of fog in Fort Bragg, there has been barely a hint of any clouds at both sunrises and sunsets. Turns out the usual view of Eagle Falls is not the short hike up, but a scramble down the rocks opposite the parking lot! The only reason I found out was after parking the car, I saw someone head that way and the color looked good, so I went there too. It saved me a hike today after too many lately.
Had to get the engine oil on the rental changed. Hertz said they would reimburse me; but we’ll see. That debacle took almost two hours, and combine that with McDonald’s and the morning was shot. But I figured I still had plenty of time to get to Lee Vining, but as usual, one-lane construction delays really added some time to the trip there.
Scouted out part of June Lake Loop and found some interesting aspens at and near the Silver Lake parking area. I did blurs and straight shots and had trouble tearing myself away from it as it has been a long time since I’ve felt that good about some of the pictures I was getting. It’s amazing that some seemed to just frame themselves, making it easy on me. These aspens were lit by both the western sky with the sunlight blocked by the canyon wall and the reflected sunlight from the opposite canyon wall. I’ve heard some folks talk about “working a scene”, trying different angles, perspectives and lenses to cover every imaginable possibility for what’s before you. I think that’s when what you may be seeing is not evident to you yet. There are other times when what needs to be done smacks you in the face and you almost know before you stop moving toward what it is you want to record. Those are the scenes or subjects on which I tend to perseverate, almost taking the same photo over and over again. And so it was with many of the aspen shots today.
Just got back to the Mono Lake area as dusk came on, and since it was a bland sky and no real color in the west, I opted for a pullout right on the highway that gave an unobstructed view of the lake looking east. Out of all the times I’ve visited the lake since 1977, the water has never been calm. This was the first time, and I wanted to accentuate the vastness of the entire area including the sky. Just as the colors in the east became evident, a slight breeze ruffled small areas of the lake that produced differing colors from the lake as a whole. And as the wind swept across the lake, those differing colors moved with it, always making subtle changes to the water that required moving Negit Island slightly to compensate for any imbalance within the frame.
After Mono Lake was finished, I decided to treat myself to dinner at Nicely’s, the mainstay restaurant in Lee Vining since 1965. I remember eating there more than once and feeling like one of the locals. I felt like it was 1977 again! As it was getting pretty cold, my plan for night photography might have to be shelved since I’m sure it will be much colder several thousand feet higher up in the Yosemite high country where my plan was to occur. We’ll see how brave I feel as I search for a place to pull over and climb into my bag afterward.
Day 16 – Wednesday October 11, 2017
Got up early this morning after a noisy night. I decided to head back up the park road in the opposite of my originally intended direction, to see if there were a spot that might show how thick the smoke was through the use of receding ridge lines. What I had in mind was the glacial erratic at the trailhead for Bumpass Hell. I was hoping that all the smoke from the fires in the Napa area might catch the first light of the sun, but I guess it was so thick, it actually blocked it. But, I took a keepsake of the spot and now that I see it, maybe I should have dragged out the real camera. One of many missed opportunities, which is usually the case on trips like this. You can’t be everywhere at the same time, or always be right in your decisions, although I wish I could.
As I was heading for Lake Tahoe, I couldn’t help but see just how hazy it was and several times I thought how nice it would be to get those fading ridge lines, but they would need something other than just the ridges to make the image interesting. And just outside Chester, driving along the shores of Lake Almanor, I caught sight of it and pulled over right away. There was a great s-curve in the water leading directly to the ridges beyond. I did verticals, horizontals, and tried it with a split ND filter to balance it out a bit since the ridges were so bright from the smoke. It was probably the shot of the day which, considering what came along after, is not really saying much. But it is a basic graphic and if things work out right, a bird may actually be in the one that included water on the bottom, while others did not include that water.
Day 15 – Tuesday October 10, 2017
Got up this morning and expected to shoot the sunrise of Mt. Lassen reflecting in Lake Manzanita. But there was a strange haze around the peak and first thought it might be some lenticular clouds, but just somehow, it didn’t seem right. Did some pictures anyway that were pretty dull and lifeless and then drove up the mountain a bit and saw this haze flowing by the peak, almost obliterating it. I seem to think that is actually smoke from the huge fires they’re having in the Napa and Sonoma area but have yet to confirm since I have not listened to, or sought out any news since I began this trip. Spent the rest of the morning scouting and looking at some viewpoints, and found an area of a standing dead forest that was devastated by a fire not too long ago. It was haunting. Then I Checked out the Sulphur Works, which is just a boiling mud pot and a few vents right along side the road through the park, and checked out the trailhead for Bumpass Hell which is supposed to be the main thermal attraction here, but discovered it was a 1.25-mile hike each way with 500-feet elevation gain before descending 250-feet. So it would be the 250 foot climb back out that would probably be toughest. But I decided, with all the hiking in the thick sand/gravel yesterday, I would opt out of that one.
Day 14 – Monday October 9, 2017
A good night sleep in a bed and a shower was great and to top it off was breakfast at McDonald’s! But during breakfast, I was looking at the map and discovered that the distance to the McArthur-Burney Falls was not 95 miles as ai thought, (that was the distance beyond the falls, to Lassen National Park) so I could have easily driven to McArthur-Burney Falls last night to be there before any sunlight came into the falls. So I was pretty angry at myself for not realizing that. And driving there I was a little bummed out, but was happy to find out that for most of the morning, the actual falls remains in shade. So I got to photograph them in the shade as I’d hoped. An added bonus was that later in the morning, almost noon, sunlight did filter in through the trees above and lit the spray in varying ways, never the same, always depending on how much spray there was and how fast the wind was. It was a really pretty spot and I spent almost three hours there.
After having some lunch at the falls, I wanted to get to Butte Lake where the trailhead for the Cinder Cone was. To get to it was about another 22-mile drive and then about 6-7 miles down a dirt road. Then 1.3 miles of hiking in very soft sand or gravel which was just like all the walking I did on the beaches earlier in the trip. I started at 3pm thinking I had plenty of time, but it was a slow slog. The killer was the final 1/2-mile straight up the cone on very, very loose sand and rock mixture. It was like climbing up the steepest sand dune you could imagine. It was brutal, especially carrying all the gear, extra clothing, water, etc. When I reached the top, I realized that the purpose I took this hike lay on the opposite side of the cone, so I had to hike all the way around to the opposite side to look down at the Painted Dunes. I was soaked with sweat and the wind really began to get me cold, so I put on the jacket to cut the wind and I warmed up right away. It took 1-1/2 hours to get to the top.
But it was only 4:30pm so I had lots of good late afternoon light and basically took pictures the rest of the afternoon, walking back and forth from one side to the other, making new photos as the light constantly changed. But I thought when the dunes were completely in shade was when they would really shine. So as sunset crunch time approached, the pace quickened as I was just snapping away at the abstract patterns of the dunes and trees now completely in shade, a few individual trees up there right at sunset, and then finally, one of the most spectacular sunsets I’d ever witnessed. I did two panoramas, one vertical and the other horizontal, and just hoped I didn’t screw it all up. I even did a few iPhone panos and singles as well. Of course, I was the only one up there for about the last hour and a half, and it was well beyond sunset when I began the trip back to the car. It was pretty dark when I began my descent at 7pm, and what had taken 1/2-hour of tortuous misery to get up the cone, it took less than 10-minutes to get down. but the trail through the forest was pitch black, and using a headlamp and a separate flashlight, I still found it difficult to follow the sandy trail and a number of times had to stop and make sure I was heading in the right direction. Had Ramen right there in the darkness and then made the drive to Lassen Volcanic National Park where I will be ready for another day of shooting and, if the body is up to it, some hiking as well.
Day 13 – Saturday October 7, 2017
As Yogi Berra, wise sage of the New York Yankees, once said:
“It’s deja vu all over again”.
Just like last year in Rocky Mountain National Park, I went to sleep in the car with the wind howling and woke up to white!! It was mostly hoar frost, so this time there’s only a coating on the road, but all the cars in the parking lot are frosted over. It’s just beginning to get light out, but I’ve been up for quite a while formulating a plan of action all from the snugly comfort of my sleeping bag. First, I needed heavier clothing to wear than the thin pants I was wearing and summer weight shirt. And if you’ve ever gotten into ice cold clothing in the morning, you know you’d like to avoid that if at all possible. So the first thing was to get out some clothes and put them in the sleeping bag to warm up well before it was time to get them on. That was the easy part, the hard part was to get off the other pants and put on the jeans while still in the bag. Then get out the heavier jackets so they would be in position to put them on before getting out of the car. Put on my sneakers and contort my body all the while fighting calf cramps to crawl from the back into the driver’s seat so I can place my foot on the brake and start the car. Second was to get the heat and defrosters going to clear all the windows (since I neglected to pack my ice scraper), all so I could drive the car to go to the bathroom before I even think about dragging out the camera. Meanwhile, as the windshield began to reveal the outside world, I realized that clouds were covering The Watchman Overlook, and that staying right where I was would provide good side-lighting on the cliffs across the lake with those clouds lighting as the sun rose while the cliffs and Wizard Island looked great with the light dusting.
I did eventually get the camera out into the howling wind and finally managed the lighting with split filters because of the difference between the bright sky and clouds and the dark evergreens. I tried to keep either snow or later, some bleached logs on the bottom to bring a bright continuity to that part of the frame so it wouldn’t look like two separate pictures. The problem occurred when the filters began to get a slight coating of frost that may have dulled the images. I hope not, but I also hope that if it is the case, I got enough correctly exposed files to work with before the frost. I did a lot of bracketing just in case i needed to blend different exposures. Luckily, by the time of the frosted filters, I was just about frosted as well and happily retreated to the car to get the heat going again.
Went into the lodge and had a huge breakfast to make up for no dinner last night and sat next to a window overlooking the lake. Who would have thought. Then went out shooting some more because the clouds were still racing all around with some places being blasted with the wind while other spots were pretty calm. But it was probably better to wait a while before attempting the drive down as there were an awful lot of icy patches. I headed toward Mt. Shasta and figured there would be no snow at the top, but surprisingly, there was a little. So I thought if I could get there in time for the hike to the overlook, I would make the hike; it was supposed to be short and easy. Luckily, I met with a guy and three boys who were trying to find it as well, so we hiked up together. Let me tell you, this was a steep hike almost the whole way, and very difficult to stay on the right path because there were do many!! But we finally did make it and it is a superb location, but without any clouds, it’s like a cake without icing. So I didn’t even stay to “best light” which happened on the way back down…so I took a shot or two with the iPhone since everything was already packed up for the trek back to the car. Then on to Motel 6 where I checked into my first hotel of the trip, and only because where I wanted to be tomorrow morning was about 95-miles away. McDonald’s for dinner and back to the Motel that had about thirty truck cabs parked in the lot and loads of trailers in the street. Must be a drivers convention.