My final extended shoot was in mid-October to a pair of national parks — Sequoia and Kings Canyon, which to all intents and purposes form a single preserve. They lie between Yosemite to the northwest and Death Valley to the east. Sequoia sits atop Kings Canyon; together they are roughly an hour drive from Fresno.

As she did on all but one of the others (see earlier posts below), my wife, Pat, accompanied me, as, as is her willingly accepted role, served as shotgun-seat navigator and, while I am away from the car shooting whatever, avid book reader. Over the years she has read probably the equivalent of War and Peace several times over. To say she is a model of patience is an understatement.

The trip, which spanned four full days, included three nights at the one and only hostel on protected public land, Wuksachi Lodge, tucked away off SR 198 inside Sequoia park. Because it is the only game in town, it offers neither bargain rates nor luxury accommodations. Even blindfolded, guests are unlikely to imagine being magically transported to, say, a Ritz-Carlton. That said, the room, albeit smallish and a tad Spartan, was OK, the chow was good but pricey, and the location cannot be faulted. It affords myriad short trips – hiking, biking, shooting – in all directions.

One day was devoted to exploring Kings Canyon, an hour or so to the north. Roads are tortuous and unless one is driving a rugged all-wheel-drive vehicle (think Jeep), venturing onto trails is not recommended. But then the same is true of virtually any of the nation’s 401 national parks, 32 of which are in California. (In addition, there are 155 national forests, which combined encompass more than 188 million acres. Eighteen of the protected areas are found in the Golden State.)

The drive to the lodge from our home in Lafayette, some 18 miles east of San Francisco as the crow flies, took almost six hours, considerably longer than we had expected. But then, we stopped to eat, refuel, and, of course, take time out for a couple of savory photos ops, both bound east from Fresno.

The first was what was left of a dwelling presumably consumed by fire. Besides the massive fireplace, all that remained were vestiges of masonry steps. I liked the contrast of the in-your-face stonework against the hills and the azure afternoon sky.

There was no signage to offer any clues either when it was built or when it was rendered to its present lamentable state. In any case, it stood out from the highway like the proverbial sore thumb.

Blog A 12 Trek To Two National Parks in California Concludes Photo Outings for 2013

Likewise beckoning me forth, a few miles down the road, was a prominently placed old Studebaker, perched on a mound behind a padlocked chain-link fence. Upon the gate hung a homemade sign reading “Squaw Valley Herb Gardens. Closed Sundays.” Rats, I told myself, as the choice Rusted Relic “spoke to me,” as they say. But then so do many old cars and trucks. Peering over the gate, I espied other Studebakers in the distance.

Blog B 11 Trek To Two National Parks in California Concludes Photo Outings for 2013

(Historical aside: Studebaker started producing cars in 1902. The first two years were electric-powered. One was purchased by none other than Mr. Electricity himself, Thomas Edison. Perhaps seeing the handwriting on the wall, not to mention Henry Ford’s early feat, in 1904 Studebaker switched exclusively to gasoline engines. The last models stumbled off the assembly line in Detroit in the late 1960s, this following a death-rattle merger in 1954 with Packard. Collectors consider several models from the 1950s the most desirable, plus the 1963 Avanti sport coupe.)

As I hopped back into the car, I told Pat that I wanted to revisit the place the following Thursday, on our way back home. Looking up from behind the New York Times, she nodded her head up and down, which I read as a gesture of affirmation, as nothing was spoken.

One huge benefit of visiting the parks when we did, in mid-October, was that, with school back in session, crowds had thinned. We also were blessed with glorious weather – highs in the mid-80s and blue skies. I should add, “mostly cloudless” blue skies, and few if any landscape photographers pray for no clouds, as their daytime absence generally translates to visual boredom.

One day we drove a half-hour or so south to behold, as do virtually all ambulatory park visitors, the grandiose General Sherman tree pictured (below left). It is reputed to be the “largest living thing on earth.” It stands 275 feet tall, has a girth of 79 feet and is guesstimated to be 2000 to 3000 years old.

                       Blog C 11 Trek To Two National Parks in California Concludes Photo Outings for 2013   blog d Trek To Two National Parks in California Concludes Photo Outings for 2013

Two other must-see trees in the park are the General Grant (above right) and the President, 267.5 and 247 feet, respectively. The former was dubbed the “nation’s Christmas tree” by Calvin Coolidge in 1926; the president alluded to in the latter is Warren Harding.

Having ogled the Grant tree, we ventured into the bowels of Kings Canyon, to the end of the road, some 50 miles past the visitors center. It terminates mid-way through; there is no egress or ingress to the park from the eastern side.

Surveying a map laid out on the counter at the visitors center, I remarked to the ranger on duty, “Too bad it isn’t like Yosemite, where roads go all the way through.” She looked at me, and replied in a polite but firm tone, “We don’t WANT to be like Yosemite, with gazillions more visitors. We like being relatively hard to access.” Me, sheepishly: “Oh, I see.”

Toward the end of the Road To Nowhere I jumped out of the car long enough to take a photo of a waterfall that, to my pleasant surprise, actually had falling water. Blog F Trek To Two National Parks in California Concludes Photo Outings for 2013It tumbled from its source high in the mountains into the Kings River below, which, given the time of year, was down to a trickle.

The day following we saddled up at the lodge and wended our way south on Hwy. 198 to the seen-better-days hamlet of Three Rivers (pop. 2,182), which bills itself as the “gateway to the Sequoias.” More accurately, it is the southern portal, not the only one. (Score one for the Three Rivers Chamber of Commerce, if there is one, and there probably is not.) After refueling at the indisputably only gas station, we retraced our way back, but not before a tourist-obligatory stop at locally famous Reimer’s Candies, Ice Cream & Gifts shop. In addition to yummy homemade ice cream, it offers “more than 80 sinfully delicious and rich” varieties of homemade chocolates. We did our best to restrain ourselves, drawing the line (or belt) at single-scoop cones and four truffles. The cones were scarfed within nanoseconds, the chocolates were wending their way through the alimentary canal by day’s end.

Although the distance between our lodge and the village is only 20 miles, it mostly switchback roads and, of course, the seemingly unavoidable motor homes, which, in my opinion, should be the next target of the Tea Party. Fortunately, there are turnouts, and, equally fortunately, there exist motorhome drivers who are courteous enough to use them. As we tiptoed past one, we waved a thank-you to the driver while throwing pope-blessed holy water on it. There are indeed nice people.

We ourselves made use of a turnout up the windy road, enabling me to take this picture of a misty vista overlooking the Kaweah River.

Blog E 11 Trek To Two National Parks in California Concludes Photo Outings for 2013

I did so as quickly as I could, as I did not want to find ourselves stuck behind the self-same motorhome, especially because we were out of holy water.

After taking a lovely, leisurely walk the following morning along a trail behind the lodge, we packed up, checked out and headed home. In all, a most enjoyable, relaxing (sloth-like motorhome incident notwithstanding) mini-vacation.

As promised (to myself), we did in fact make a return visit to Squaw Valley Herb Gardens. It being a weekday, the front gate was open. However, in lieu of the “closed” sign, which had been removed, there appeared one reading “By Appointment Only.” Pretending that I didn’t notice it, I drove inside, greeted first by the shell of a delectably weathered, decaying old Ford sedan, then by a pickup truck,

kicking up dust in its wake. It pulled alongside. Craning out the lowered window, the driver, whom I correctly presumed to the property owner, asked, “May I help you with anything?”

“Yes,” I replied through my own lowered window, “I am a car buff and a photographer, and I’d love to take some pictures of the old cars, I you’d be so kind.”

He: “As you can tell, I’m an old-car buff myself, and you are more than welcome to take any pictures you desire. In fact, if you like, I’m happy to give you the nickel tour.”

Shazam! Not only did was I not invited to scram, I was being invited to a personally guided tour by the collector himself.

“That would be wonderful.”

“Park over next to the Ford. It’s a 1947, 1947 Ford Trek To Two National Parks in California Concludes Photo Outings for 2013by the way, and, up close you can see that it’s a shell and just the front end. Its real purpose is to conceal the propane tank,” he said, smiling. “My name is Tim. Yours?”

“Tom,” I replied, handing himself a business card.

Tim escorted me through the grounds, five acres in all, stopping along the way to comment on this, that and the other vehicle artifact, which besides the cache of Studebakers, included a 1956 Mercury, a 1926 Ford and the disembodies front fender from a 1949 MG.

Additionally, there were a handful of old signs strewn about. Tim paused to explain why there were so many old signs. “I am a sign maker by trade, so there is a natural affinity for collectible signs. What you see here is from a store in Fresno that was going out of business. The owner said it was mine free and clear, provided that I paid for its removal and hauling. It cost me $200 to have it taken down and lovingly place in the bed of my truck. They say there is no free lunch, but this came close,” he added, smiling broadly.

Eliciting even broader smiles were the all-original (a.k.a. unrestored) Studebakers, six in all. Beside the 1950 model in front, there were 1949 and 1957 coupes, and a prized (and rare) 1954 two-door station wagon, declared by Tim to be his “pride and joy.”

I asked, hopefully, if it might be for sale. Nope.

Having completed the “official tour,” he walked me back to my car. As I was opening the door, he asked, “Did you get any pictures of the Studebaker at the front gate?”

“I took a couple from behind the closed gate last Sunday, but I actually would like to have a few others.”

“Be my guest.”

As I was clicking away from different angles, meanwhile trying to avoid shooting directly into the sun, Tim recited the car’s history.

“It’s a 1950. You can tell immediately by the front end, with the distinctive ‘torpedo’ nose. I bought it 30 years ago for $75 – cash – from the original owner, a little old lady in Fresno who grudgingly parted with it. As you may have surmised, I haven’t lifted a finger. It’s totally unrestored, and this is how it will remain as long as I own it. You’d be surprised how many people, like yourself, stop to take a gander. It’s a real attention-getter.”

Narrated tour completed, I extended my hand, thanking Tim for the hospitality and permission to take pictures. “Any chance I can see what you’ve shot?”

“Absolutely. Once I’m home I will download the images, and after editing and posting them to my website, I will send you a link. You are welcome to any desired, and there are no restrictions … and no copywrite watermarks.”

“That would be great, much appreciated.”

“My e-mail address and website URL are on the card I gave you. As a car buff, you might be interested in viewing other examples in what I call my Rusted Relics collection.”

“I’ll do that. Thank you!”

Photo-editing completed a few days hence, I sent my host a link to the gallery, reiterating that he was welcome to any images he wanted, just identify them by frame number.

Weeks hence I was still awaiting a reply, and I know for certain that my e-mail did not bounce. It may still be circling in cyberspace above Squaw Valley. But then, perhaps I unduly flatter myself. For all I know, Tim did see the photographs I e-mailed and decided for whatever reason he wasn’t interested. Hard to imagine, but conceivable.:-)

Moral of tale: People are funny. Like life itself, photography is a crapshoot. One never knows what to expect, how things play out. Interaction with fellow humanoids is ever unpredictable. It’s one thing that makes the “stumble-upon” nature of the adventures even more interesting.

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 Bouncing Baby Boy Joins Family 

Much water has crossed the proverbial dam since my last post in February 2012 (yikes, that long?!). Having been in hibernation for a seeming eternity, I feel a bit as Rip Van Winkle might have had he been handed a quill and instructed to start writing from memory. The analogy is a bit strained, however, as Rip presumably was sawing logs the entire time and therefore would have had nothing to report save perhaps for a few counting-sheep incidents and a nightmare or two.

Insofar as the website is concerned, the big news is that it completely redesigned, stem to stern. To do so I called upon the services of a professional designer referred to me by the folks at SmugMug, which hosts the whole enchilada. His name is Jerry and calls Michigan, home. The goal was fourfold: 1) Freshen content graphically, 2) Make it easier for visitors to navigate and find desired photos; 3) Facilitate the print-purchase process; and 4) add links to major social media – viz., Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Tumblr and Pinterest.

Any comment on the do-over is welcome. Only positive feedback will be acknowledged, however, so if you don’t have anything nice to say, hold your fire (j/k). Seriously, I would happy to receive any feedback, be it pro or con.

 Last February I became a grandfather again, this time to a beautiful boy named Bauer. As with the entire family, he is warmly welcomed and much loved by sister Kennedy, two years his senior. Whenever the opportunity arises, she eagerly participates in his care.


Recently moved, kids and parents now enjoy the amenities of a home spacious enough for everyone, which includes three very large dogs (Great Pyrenees). Bauer and Kennedy look forward to experiencing their first Christmas in a house with a chimney so that Santa can use the old-fashioned means of delivering his goodies.

Blog On Hiatus, Photographer Not As Fall Foliage Beckons

Neither sleet nor rain nor hail daunts either the postal carrier (the dwindling corps thereof) or the photographer who, such as I, tends to take his work seriously, sometimes bordering on ardently.

I spent five weeks – yes, that long – in the Northeast, a mere 3,000 miles from home in California, for the main purpose of shooting fall foliage [link to frame #1 of “Maine 2012 gallery”]. After nearly throwing in the towel trying to find an affordable rental that would serve as basecamp, I managed to find a house in Rockport, Maine, a lovely mid-coast town that adjoins Camden to the south.

After taking a virtual tour of the property, I questioned whether the price stated was perhaps a misprint. So I shot an e-mail to the landlady. No, $1,500 a month for the 3BR, 2.5B, three-level house two blocks from the harbor. I almost had to pinch myself. Whereas this is not loose change to those of us save perhaps the One Percenters, it was far, far below the sticker price for most like housing. Some extortionist owners were asking, and, for the most part, getting, $1,500 and up a WEEK!  SO MUCH TO REPORT, SO LITTLE SPACE (NOT REALLY)This is a photo I took of the serene Rockport harbor seen here. The vessel is a handsome hand-built charter schooner owned and piloted by a husband-wife team. During the winter months they operate out of the Caribbean. Not the kind of lifestyle that appeals to a landlubber like me.

Without hesitation, I reserved a block of six weeks, from mid-September to the end of October, hedging my bet, as it were, lest peak foliage occur earlier or later than normal. (Soon would I learn that making a reservation for three weeks, not six, would have more than sufficed. I purposed erred on the liberal side lest I arrive only to find that peak foliage had passed, or that, at the other end, I departed too soon.

The house more than meet my expectations – commodious, nicely furnished, full kitchen, ample yard, private – and the landlady, who resides year-round in Camden, was wonderful, catering to my every need, including getting a wifi connection within the house.

Upon arrival, on September 15, I quickly realized that I was early for what back there is called “leaf-peeping” season. Early by about two weeks. Not about to sit on my hands and waste precious dollars, I set out in search not of autumn color, but rather coastscapes, including what thereabouts are called “head lights” (two words) and what elsewhere is more commonly called lighthouses (although technically they are not one and the same).

One of the best of literally hundreds of exposures I took came on a Sunday afternoon – the first full day after arriving – of sunset over the Camden harbor.  SO MUCH TO REPORT, SO LITTLE SPACE (NOT REALLY)I hung around long enough to luck out in having several returning charter schooners sail into view. On subsequent day trips during the first fortnight, I ventured hither and yon, up and down the coast and into the interior. One treasure I stumbled upon in driving to a fishing village – lobster fishing, of course – was the Olson family farmhouse employed as the backdrop for “Christina’s World,”  Andrew Wyeth’s 1948 painting now part of the NY Museum of Modern Art collection.

 SO MUCH TO REPORT, SO LITTLE SPACE (NOT REALLY)A sign on the front lawn said the house is open for public tour. After taking umpteen shots of the exterior, I sauntered to the front door. I pulled open the wood screen door. Looking within, I said, quite audibly, “Hello, anyone here?” No answer. So I helped myself to a self-guided tour, camera in hand. I took scores of shots, some in every room downstairs and upstairs, finding, as I fully expected, some very interesting artifacts left by the last family to occupy the premises.

Done shooting on the second floor, I walked downstairs, having encountered no other human being during the entire walk-around. As I reached for the front screen door, I turned sideways, exposing the camera hanging around my neck to a woman who seemed to have appeared out of nowhere. As it turned out, she was the docent du jour, who happened to be out back on break while pedaled about inside.

Surmising as she must have that I was on my way in, not out, she said, “Sir, I’m afraid that picture-taking is not allowed inside.” “Oh,” I replied, secure in the knowledge that unwittingly I had captured numerous no-no photographs, “Would it be OK if I took some OUTSIDE?” Answer: “Sure, no problem. Take as many pictures as you care to.”


After pretending to take several shots from the front lawn, in plain view of the docent, I made a beeline to the car and drove off. In addition to one of the exterior, taken roughly from where the “Christina” model was posed, shown above are a couple of prized “contraband” photos taken inside. Please, mum’s the word!

From there I continued to my intended destination, a village where, by luck, several fishing boats had just arrived with the day’s catch. In talking with one of the dockhands, I learned a fair amount about the lobster-fishing industry, including – to my unsurprise – that it’s a tough living. At the time, the wholesale price of lobsters had dropped drastically from the season prior, to about $2.00 a pound. (Bear this in mind when you order a Maine lobster at a restaurant that charges an arm and a claw.)

Here are photos I took one afternoon in Rockport. A lobster fisherwoman (females rare in the trade) watches the day’s catch being lifted from her boat onto the wharf for transport to a waiting wholesaler.  SO MUCH TO REPORT, SO LITTLE SPACE (NOT REALLY)The close-up is of a crate of freshly trapped lobsters, claws banded lest they menace one another.


Two weeks having passed and still no fall color, I called the landlady. “Leslie,” I said, “I’m getting a little discouraged, as I have yet to find a single ‘turned’ leaf.”

“Tom,” she replied, “you could be waiting a long time if you stay put. Because of the predominance of conifers, there never is much color along the coast. Go west, young man, into the mountains.” “Oh,” I said to myself, “NOW you tell me.”

Doing a hasty Internet search, I found a B&B located in Bethel, a ski-resort village at the foot of the White Mountain range. Seeing good reviews on Trip Advisor, I phoned and booked a two-night stay a week hence. The innkeeper assured me that by then fall foliage in the immediate should be at or near peak.

The inn was an old Victorian in need of paint, but inside it was just fine. The owners, husband and wife, both from England, could not have been friendlier or more helpful. They even gave me directions to several spots they promised as sure bets.  SO MUCH TO REPORT, SO LITTLE SPACE (NOT REALLY)The covered bridge,  SO MUCH TO REPORT, SO LITTLE SPACE (NOT REALLY)over the Sunday River, is one of the few in Maine still standing. The vista shot, taken from atop a hill behind the inn, shows the foliage at peak color.

After two days of shooting, the second in intermittent rain, I saddled up for return to Rockport, about a three-hour drive. En route, I saw a sign for Mount Blue State Park, which I had heard, if the timing is right, can prove a veritable holy grail of color. Certain that I had lost my way to the park, I stopped at a house where a lady was outside raking leaves. I got out of the car, and, as my wont, unabashedly approached the lady, camera about my neck and hand extended.

“Hi,” I said, “I’m a photographer (duh), and I’m looking for Mount Blue. I gave her my business card, explained that I lived in California and was in search of color. She put down the rake and, writing on a piece of paper I gave her, drew a map. This shot of Mt. Blue was taken pre-hike, from the dock of a lake below.  SO MUCH TO REPORT, SO LITTLE SPACE (NOT REALLY) SO MUCH TO REPORT, SO LITTLE SPACE (NOT REALLY)

“There are two hiking trails. One is fairly flat and easy, the other more challenging. It should be obvious from the trailhead which is which. May I assume you’d prefer the former?” “Yes, indeed,” I replied, “As you can see, I’m no spring chicken and climbing mountains is not high on my list of preferred recreational activities.”

As fate would have it, I took the wrong trail, although not realizing the mistake until I was a good half hour into it, climbing over rock after rock, some the size of small houses. Gazing up ahead, I saw a group that had paused for drinks and a shared bag of trail mix. “How much farther is the summit?” I asked, hoping that the answer would be, “You’re almost there.” In fact, this was not the answer. Rather, it was “You are maybe a third of the way, but it’s worth the effort. There is an observation deck and the view is spectacular.”

Bullheadedly, and against my better judgment, I trudged on, expensive camera slung perilously about my neck. After continuing to climb for what seemed like days, I heard voices behind me. It was a quartet of college students (pictured here), determined to scale anew a mountain with which all were intimately familiar.


“How much farther to the top?” I inquired, panting. Replied one, “Oh, maybe 15 to 20 minutes. Need help?”

“No, thanks, I think I’ll be OK.” Famous last words. Shortly after they had disappeared, I came to the unsettling realization that I had hit the proverbial wall, unable to take another step.

Setting down my camera, I yelled loudly, “Help, help.” Again, this time still louder, “Help, help. I need help!” Here I was, exhausted, demoralized, and fearful of what might lie ahead, literally and figuratively. For all I knew, the quartet had reached the summit and had found another way down. Here sits Tom, beat and near-panic, the more so because I had in my possession only a camera, no water, no cellphone, no flashlight. And, but for four kids who, for all I knew, might have vanished, no one knew where I was.

Head in sweating, shaking hands, I thought that this might be my final photographic excursion. Perhaps days or weeks later, someone would find the bones the bears had left behind.

I looked up and, as if placed there by the hand of God, stood the self-same quartet. Seeing that I was in a state of physical distress, handing me a partially drunk bottle of water, one said, “Here, mister, you’d better get some water in you. You appear dehydrated.” Dehydrated indeed; more like about to look for the light at the end of the tunnel.

Added another, “Do you want to continue?”

“How much farther?”

“Not more than 10 to 15 minutes. We’ll help you if you want help.” I was not about to refuse. Help they did, taking turns alongside me, doing their best to make sure I didn’t trip or slip over the rocks, which by now, with the sun lowered in the sky, had become slick.

Together, we scaled the stairs to the observation deck. Hoping against hope, I looked in vain for a medevac helicopter that might whisk me to safety.  SO MUCH TO REPORT, SO LITTLE SPACE (NOT REALLY)

No such luck. Was the view terrific? Yes. Was it worth it? A year hence, to be honest, I’m not sure. What I am sure of is that but for these kids, I very well might not have made it back down alive, and this is no exaggeration.

Having taken a series of photos in all directions – and yes, the view WAS spectacular – I said I was ready to head back. Part way down, I slipped on a slimy rock, falling on my hip and banging the camera against an unyielding surface. Fortunately, the lens was spared; the extent of the damage, or so I thought a the time, was a bruised camera body. (After returning home would I learn that I had smashed an essential lens filter that I had tucked into a hip pocket.)

Back in the parking lot and only slightly the worse for wear, I thanked my rescuers profusely, telling them in unexaggerated terms that they may well have saved my life.

“What say I buy you all a beer to celebrate? Have the time?”

“We have the time, but none of us is 21.”

“Oh, then how about I take you all to dinner?”


I followed them back whence they came, the Farmington campus of the University of Maine. The five of us had a very nice dinner – no alcohol! – at a Thai restaurant.

When done, we shook hands, and I gave each of them a card, telling them to contact me if they cared to. “Anytime any of you visits the San Francisco area, you have a place to stay at my house. We have a guest bedroom that sees little use. The porch light will be on for you. Just call ahead.”

“You serious?” one asked.

“Dead serious,” instantly realizing that an adjective other than “dead” would have been the less sardonic choice.

In the ensuing fortnight, I drove seemingly everywhere I could that be done in a day’s drive. One on excursion I stopped to shoot a locally famous old, weathered Ford pickup known as the “flag truck” and for obvious reasons. So, as you see, the Maine trip wasn’t entirely  SO MUCH TO REPORT, SO LITTLE SPACE (NOT REALLY)about fall foliage and harbors and Rustic Relic subjects, serendipitously I also captured Rusted Relics.[link to Rusted Relics gallery]

A month into the journey, I was content with the images to bring home — and more than a little happy to be alive — I checked the long-range weather forecast. Ouch! For the next ten days, rain, rain and more rain.

“I’m bailing,” I told myself. I contacted the airline to rebook my flight home, then called the landlady to say I was decamping early, willing to “eat” a week in rent. The rental car – plus gasoline – wasn’t cheap, and then there were daily living expenses apart from the rent.

Little did I know it at the time, but smart it was to have pulled the plug prematurely. The day after I boarded the plane home from Boston, Hurricane Sandy ravaged the eastern seaboard. My final week would have been a wash (and possibly awash).

Death Valley Alive With Magnificent Photo Ops

It was not until March of 2013 that I took my next major excursion, this to Death Valley in southeastern California. I had never visited before, but a longtime family friend named Al Poncia, who knows the area like the handlebars of his Harley, volunteered not only to be my companion and Sherpa, but also to drive. Thankfully, it wasn’t the Harley, but rather his extended-cab Toyota Tacoma, four-wheel drive (essential for off-roading) and fitted with a camper shell. For two people, intending as we did to lodge at motels (not camp, whew!)

Al said that early March was a good time to visit, as it wouldn’t be unbearably hot and, with luck, we might catch some spring blooms. Leaving pre-dawn one morning, we arrived at our first destination, Lone Pine, by late afternoon.

Although Lone Pine isn’t a place I’d like to call home, it is a tourist attraction. Movie buffs savor it as the locale where hundreds of cowboy movies were made. Photo buffs savor it for the eye-arresting natural beauty of what is called the Alabama Hills, notable for its spectacular volcanic rock formations and, not incidentally, on a clear day views of Mount Whitney, which, at 14,505 feet in elevation, is the tallest peak in the contiguous states. It is surpassed in height only by Mount McKinley in Alaska.

 SO MUCH TO REPORT, SO LITTLE SPACE (NOT REALLY)Having learned from Al that Natural Arch (a.k.a. Mobius Arch) is a lure for shutterbugs, after checking into our motel room, we drove a few miles out of town to scout photo ops. When the arch came into view, it became obvious why it is a favorite. It’s spin-your-eyeballs spectacular. I took this photo early the following morning. A transculent half-moon obliged by winking knowingly through the opening. I think this ranks among the best of all the landscape shots I took during the entire five-day trip. As for the peekaboo moon, I wish I could say it was planned, but it wasn’t. Pure luck. I credit the Irish in me.

From there we motored on, mostly through barren, boring desert, and to our next destination, a motel in Stovepipe Wells, situated at precisely sea level. En route we passed through a number of forgettable, seen-better-days burghs. One that definitely fits the description is Darwin, a onetime prosperous silver- and lead-mining town, whose population today has dwindled to approximately 28 households, 43 Darwinians all told.

The post office, nothing to write home about, as it were, remains open. This, however, is not what caught my eye. Rather, it was a passel of thoroughly rusted, abandoned vehicles just outside the city limits, if in fact there are any.  SO MUCH TO REPORT, SO LITTLE SPACE (NOT REALLY)Here is one of them. Although there were no brand badges to be found, I believe it was a Chevrolet. In any case, definitely Thirties vintage. If you are wondering what the strange whirligig object is in the background, so was I. Al conjectured that perhaps space aliens left it behind or that the military had moved it surreptitiously from Roswell, New Mexico.

Over the ensuing several days, Al drove hither and yon throughout Death Valley, taking me to some places “everyone” knows about and to some others that few do. Having off-roading capability made all the difference. Only Jeeps or big-horn sheep dared where we went. As we bumped along on dirt roads, I said the rosary more than once that the suspension would hold up. It did. In fact, upon returning home Al reported that an undercarriage inspection determined that no springs were broken, no new struts needed.

Bless his heart, Al even agreed to rise one morning before dawn so that I could capture photos of the sun rising over a vast expanse of sand dunes across the street from the motel. As we pulled into the parking area, it became immediately evident that I wasn’t the only who had planned sunrise shots from this prime spot. Indeed, a flock of fellow photo-graphers were already there, tripod in one hand, camera in the other. As they fanned out in all directions, I fretted that I might not be able to take any shots without one or more humanoids spoiling an otherwise beautiful landscape image. I walked way off to the side, set up my tripod and looked through the camera viewfinder (mind you, the light was dim).

Voila, I said to myself, a clear, people-free shot. I clicked the shutter release and looked at the camera monitor (all of three inches wide). “Success,” I declared, “no one ruining the picture.” It wasn’t until I returned home that, viewing the image on my 27-inch computer monitor, did I of the numerous frames exposed from the same spot did I find that only one was devoid of human form, reproduced here.


During one of our outings, we drove to the valley floor, a “must-do” stop for many tourists. In the parking lot there was a huge round thermometer, which at the time – mid-afternoon in early March — read 92 degrees. Long johns definitely not needed. A sign nearby noted that the highest temperature ever officially recorded not just in the U.S., but in the world was in Death Valley, July 10, 1913 – a mercury-melting 134 degrees Fahrenheit. (A century later, almost to the day, the thermometer came close, peaking at 129.)

On another day trip from our Stovepipe Wells basecamp, we set sail for Rhyolite, another ghost town. Rhyolite lies just west of the state line, in Nevada. Like Darwin, it once prospered as a mining mecca, but by the early 1900s, the glory days were gone. Today it is a mixture of federal and private land. Below are a couple of souvenir photos, including one of my traveling companion Al reclining on a mosaic-tile couch fashioned in more recent times by a gifted artist with a sense of whimsy. How it got there is anyone’s guess.


Trip To Trio Of Other National Parks – Zion, Bryce, Grand Teton

Three months later, in June, my wife, Pat, and I embarked on a long road trip that save for the final day – driving home – was terrific.

Our first overnight stop was Las Vegas, a full day’s drive from the Bay Area. If Las Vegas strikes you as heading in the wrong direction, it was, sort of. I had heard from a photographer friend about Red Rock Canyon National Conversation Area, which comprises nearly 200,000 acres of spectacular Mohave Desert landscape. It lies only 17 miles west of the Las Vegas Strip and draws a million visitors annually.

The lure for shutterbugs and casual visitors alike is the 13-mile, one-way loop road that offers sweeping, dramatic vistas. The walls are up to 3,000 feet high, and the highest point is La Madre Mountain at 8,154 feet.  SO MUCH TO REPORT, SO LITTLE SPACE (NOT REALLY)This photograph is an example of the jaw-dropping natural beauty.

We saddled up early the following morning, eager to reach our next destination, Zion National Park in Springdale, Utah, a drive of about three hours. Motoring through one burgh en route, out of the corner of one eye I spotted a prime Rusted Relic [link to Rusted Relics gallery] candidate, an beautifully weathered, colorful 1950s Chevy truck (shown below)[link to Trucks gallery] parked in someone’s side yard. Grabbing my camera, I furtively dashed over, fearful that I might be accosted by the homeowner or worse, an attack dog. Fortunately, neither did, so I merrily snapped away.


Having arrived in Springdale by early afternoon, we schlepped our suitcases out of the car and into the motel room where we would spend the night. And what a night it was. Returning from the laundry facility, in a separate building, I looked up and saw a night sky the likes of which I had never experienced. I stopped counting at a million stars, give or take, and, undoubtedly, a few beaming satellites. As city dwellers, rarely does the opportunity arise to view the night sky in all its glory.

The next morning we boarded a free shuttle bus that took us to a visitor center, where we consulted with a park ranger who offered advice on a fairly easy hike that could be accomplished in a couple of hours and would afford rich photo ops.  SO MUCH TO REPORT, SO LITTLE SPACE (NOT REALLY)So, we set out on what is called the river walk. It was in fact a foot- and heart-friendly hike, and we did in fact make it back it alive and not overly fatigued. The most menacing wildlife we saw was a deer nibbling on tender tree leaves along the river bank.

A two-hour drive north the day following deposited us at our next destination, Bryce Canyon National Park, to many best known for its eyeball-spinning rock formations, including “hoodoos” (pictured below) formed from literally millions of years of limestone erosion from a combination of ice and rainwater. It also is distinctive in that it encompasses three forest regions, each with its own distinct climate zones featuring different varieties of conifers. SO MUCH TO REPORT, SO LITTLE SPACE (NOT REALLY)

The dazzling natural beauty was not unexpected. What WAS unexpected was discovery of a clutch of prehistoric, brand-unidentifiable Rusted Relics (shown below) – thoroughly rusted, abandoned cars and trucks clustered on the front lawn of our motel. It was like an open-air mini-museum, and I gratefully helped myself to the serendipitous photo op. SO MUCH TO REPORT, SO LITTLE SPACE (NOT REALLY)

Final stop on our road odyssey was Grand Teton National Park outside Jackson, Wyoming. The government website describes it as offering “mountains of the imagination” that fairly teem with extraordinary wildlife, pristine lakes and alpine terrain. This is a ground-level image of a pond in a local National Elk Refuge. (Although no elks said hello, if you look closely, in the center you may note a duck, which paddled by as if on cue.)


Two full days there yielded more than a few keeper landscape photographs – a couple shown here – a hike on the opposite side of Jenny Lake, accessed by boat, a rafting down the Snake River and capped by sunrise shots of a famous barn that may be second only to the Golden Gate Bridge as most photographed object in the Western Hemisphere. When I arrived it was still dark and yet a number of other photographers had already set up their tripods, awaiting the appearance of El Sol. SO MUCH TO REPORT, SO LITTLE SPACE (NOT REALLY)

Nevertheless, I managed to find a spot that not only afford a good angle, but also avoided including other picture-takers in the field of view.

Having “done” Grand Teton, we consulted a map – a print map, if you can believe – to plot our way home. Then, acquiescing to modern technology, I did an online search for best-bet photo ops between Jackson and Twin Falls, Idaho, where we planned to spend the night, then head back to the ranch the day following.

The big tourist attraction in Twin Falls, according to Trip Advisor reviews, was, if you can believe, Twin Falls, described by one visitor as a sight to behold, yea, verily, “the Niagara Falls of the West.” Shazam! I’ve been to Niagara Falls, and it’s pretty spectacular, so I was excited at the prospect of seeing a clone thereof.

According to Google reckoning, the drive from Jackson to Twin Falls is 248 miles, or roughly four hours. In between there wasn’t much to see. We made a pit stop in Pocatello, home to Idaho State University, and more fast-food joints than anyone would care to count. Our take on Pocatello: Take it, please. Once within the city limits of Twin Falls, we started looking for the waterfall. Unfortunately, we found it. I say unfortunately because it was a huge letdown. At the entrance to the state park wherein the water falls is a huge sign similar to those erected to indicate fire-danger level. The pointer sat on Low, but in this case the low referred to water flow, not fire hazard. This could be construed only as an infelicitous omen.

From the parking lot we could behold said “Niagara Falls of the West.” Two separate waterfalls, hence the name, but combined the volume was equal to that one would expect the bathtub spigot in a house with good water pressure. I was so disappointed, in fact, that I wanted to hurl my body, camera and all, over the falls. I may not have been the first to be so impelled, as there was a tall chain-link fence to prevent a pileup of bodies of chagrined photographers. Suffice to say, our interest in Twin Falls rapidly dried up. SO MUCH TO REPORT, SO LITTLE SPACE (NOT REALLY)

Rather than spend the night there, the prospect of which did not appeal, we decided to push on to Elko, Nevada, and try our lodging luck there. What the heck, only another two-and-a-half hours. We decided to water the horse and, fingers crossed, push ahead.

About an hour on, we galloped into the hamlet of Jackpot, which sits just inside the northern Nevada border. Nevada, of course, is synonymous with gambling, but it wasn’t the clutch of casinos lining Interstate 93 that caught my eye. Rather, it was an old, beat-up, abandoned, unloved, forlorn, orphaned pickup truck that prompted me to apply tbrakes and reach for my camera bag.  SO MUCH TO REPORT, SO LITTLE SPACE (NOT REALLY)Upon closer inspection, I determined that it was a Ford, and, I guessed, a 1950 model. Save for twin stack exhaust pipes (one visible here), it looked pretty original save. Perched forlornly in scraggly weeds and with mountains and cloudy sky in the background, it ranks among my favorite old-truck images, and I have hundreds of them.

Anyone who has visited Elko knows that the town consists of roughly 5,000 casinos and nearly as many hostels. Therefore, one need not call ahead to make a reservation, correct? In most instances, correct, but not this time. Unbeknownst to us, there was a huge miners convention in town (miners convention?), and, we quickly learned, there literally was nary a bed unspoken for. Surely I jest; surely I do NOT jest.

I asked the front-desk clerk at the Holiday Inn Express how far the nearest town was farther south. Answer: Some two hours as the crow flies, roughly the same for a low-flying Toyota Highlander.

Having just learned a painful lesson, we actually did phone ahead. After a number calls, voila, Pat found a place called Val-U Inn that, by the grace of God, had a vacancy. Rate: $60. The way we felt (exhausted), we’d have paid twice that for a hammock under a tree where diarrhetic pigeons were holding a convention. Soon were we to feel differently (albeit still exhausted).

I walked to the front desk of the Val-U Inn, where one suspects most rooms are rented by the hour, and announced myself as Mr. Black, who had just made a reservation.

“Ah, yes, Mr. Black. We have a room for you, two twin beds, private bath.”

Looking about and trying to imagine I was in the lobby of the Ritz-Carlton, I asked if I could see the room first.

The clerk, missing a few teeth but obviously having missed no meals in years, nodded to a man standing to the side, presumably her husband, boyfriend, or object of passion for the next hour, maybe longer.

“George, would you please show Mr. Black the room?”

George, less generous of girth but likewise shy of a full set of choppers, replied, “Sure. Mr. Black, follow me.”

Down a dark, dank, fetid hall we walked. It smelled like an ashtray. George stopped, looked up at the room number – 102 – and said, “This is it.”

“I’d like a look inside.”

“No problem,” he replied, opening the door the old-fashioned way, with a key.

As I fully expected, I did not need to linger to determine that the imaginary hammock seemed preferable.

Looking sheepishly at my escort and forcing a smile, I said, “I think I’ll pass.”

Reply, and I am not making this up: “I don’t blame you.” Perhaps George needs a quick refresher on salesmanship. In any case, it was a line I will not soon forget.

Even though my encounter with the Val-U Inn is mercifully brief, I still feel as though I ought to shower before getting back into the car. This not being a practical option, instead I walked over to McDonald’s and purchased two Quadruple Gulp-sized chocolate shakes with fake whipped cream topping. No, I did not quaff both of them. Loving mate than I am, I handed one to Pat. That was dinner.

A mere three hours later, as the clock was about to strike midnight, we walked into the lobby of a Holiday Inn Express, which, thank the Lord, had a vacancy. At this point, we weren’t terribly picky. Handed our room “key” – an encoded plastic card, of course – we took the elevator to 313, entered, and within nanoseconds, both of us were in bed and sound asleep, more like semi-embalmed. Between Jackson and Reno, 16.5 hours on the road, 715 miles on the odometer, farthest I have ever driven by myself in a single day. It’s a personal best – or worst – I’ll let stand.

Slipping, Sliding And Melting at Glacier National Park

The most recent trip, in mid-September 2013, took us to what friends of ours who have been described as offering jaw-dropping natural beauty. Hearing that, we were especially eager to visit. It required a flight from Oakland to Seattle, then transferring to a aged prop plane that might well have served in World War I. Actually, the flight itself, to Missoula, wasn’t bad. It was the bumpy landing that got everyone’s attention. Over the intercom we heard, “Sorry about that, folks. That wasn’t the pilot’s fault or the plane’s fault. It was the asphalt.” Ha ha.

In our rental car, a low-mileage 4WD Chevrolet Traverse, we motored north 2.5 hours, to the lovely little town of Whitefish (pop. 6,357), nestled against Whitefish Lake and peering up at a popular ski resort on Big Mountain. The mountains, as pictured below, were aglow in the sunset from the Whitefish city beach. (Again, a little duck entered the field of view.)  SO MUCH TO REPORT, SO LITTLE SPACE (NOT REALLY)

Our first full day there was strictly recon, driving 33 miles from our hotel into the park through the southwestern portal. Just inside was a visitors center where we asked a ranger for advice on where best bets are for scenery. Answer: Going-To-The-Sun Road, which wends from there 52 miles into the interior of the park and ending at Many Glacier. Before returning to the hotel, we walked from the visitors center to a beach (of sorts) at the southern end of Lake McDonald. Here is one of the photos I took. I had taken a dozen or so and was about to pack up when, as if on command, the sailboat entered the scene.

The following day, we joined a steady queue of cars on the tortuous, two-lane road that offers spectacular views, but only a few turnouts. Construction activity narrowed the road to take-turns one-way traffic in several spots, which did not add to the enjoyment.

We stopped midway at Logan Pass, another visitors center, where, of course, there were rangers, but no food or beverage other than that from a drinking fountain. Asked for a recommendation on a short, Pacemaker-friendly hike, a ranger pointed out the window to a trailhead that, he said, led to a knock-your-socks-off view of Hidden Lake.

Although the ascent was only some 500 feet and the trail was maintained, it was more arduous than we bargained for, especially as it was mid-afternoon with temperatures in the mid-80s and us with no bottled water. It took us an hour-and-a-half to reach the summit, where, sure enough, there were nice views of Hidden Lake (below). Unfortunately, the “money” shot was into the sun, resulting in a number of shots spoiled by what is called lens flare, wherein the light admitted into the camera reflects off the mirror in an undesired manner. The exposure here somehow managed to escape the dreaded effect.  SO MUCH TO REPORT, SO LITTLE SPACE (NOT REALLY)

We were assured by several people descending from the summit that the climb  was worth the effort. Was it in fact? Not if you asked either of us. Hour-and-a-half up, one hour down, thoroughly dehydrated, me especially, as I was lugging a 15-pound camera backpack and tripod. After a visit to the water fountain, we were back in the car. An hour later we arrived at Many Glacier, where there is a 100-year-old hotel under restoration. We had an early dinner there, then headed home. Owing to a misread of the map from a navigator who shall remain unnamed, we went way out of our way, but eventually made it back, in the pitch dark, to the hotel. A steaming hot tub spoke to us.

Another of the few keeper photos from Glacier is this shot from Lake McDonald’s southern  SO MUCH TO REPORT, SO LITTLE SPACE (NOT REALLY)beach near the visitors center at the western portal to the park. Instead of a ducky, a bright-yellow sailboat obligingly slipped into view just as I was poised to release the shutter. (The frothy stuff at the bottom is foam.)

Although the scenery is undeniably spectacular, Glacier is the equally undeniable victim of global warming, or, if you prefer, “climate change.”  At the turn of the 20th century there were an estimated 150 active glaciers; today there are two-dozen. It is predicted that by the year 2030 the number will be zero.

On the day we said farewell to Whitefish, we encountered several old trucks that spoke to me, including a pair of thoroughly rusted 1947 Fords, one of which is seen below. Peering inside one of them, I saw a For Sale that read “$2,500 The Pair.” A deal at twice the price.

 SO MUCH TO REPORT, SO LITTLE SPACE (NOT REALLY)Two hours later we were back in Missoula. With time to kill before our return flight departed, we casually strolled a nearly deserted University of Montana campus, where smoking is  banned everywhere, even outdoors. Arriving home at nearly midnight and thoroughly travel-weary, neither of us had any difficulty getting to sleep.

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Intrigued by the word in the subject line – “Collaboration?” – I opened the e-mail thinking that perhaps the message, which appeared out of the blue, was either tongue-in-cheek from a prankster or that it somehow had foiled the spam filter. The identity of the sender – Shantell Ogden – a name unfamiliar to me, only heightened my curiosity.

In the body of the e-mail, she described herself as a Nashville-based performing songwriter who had recently released an album titled “Stories Behind Songs.” She explained that my name – likewise unfamiliar to her – popped up in a Google search that led her to my website.

She was looking for pictures of trucks that could be assembled into a video to help promote an album track titled “I Miss Dating That Truck.” The video, in turn, would garner public exposure for my website via YouTube. Was I interested in collaborating? she asked.


Straight away, she had my attention. Teaming with another artist on a marketing venture would present a new experience, and I liked the idea of down-and-dirty mutual backscratching. As they say in the vernacular of the day, a “win-win.”

Specifically, the message continued, she expressed the desire to use selected photographs of mine as a visual overlay while the soundtrack ran – 3:14. Wow, I pondered, three minutes and fourteen seconds of (added) fame and glory. No monetary compensation would be involved, as the website exposure amounted to greenbacks-in-kind, if you will. Payment would be in the form of a source credit line and website link appearing at the end of the video. Fair enough, I reckoned. Let’s do it!

Noting that there is no paucity of images in my “Trucks” gallery, she inquired if it would be possible to select only those of Fords, as it was a Ford pickup that inspired the song. Not sure about that, I said to myself. Reading further, she explained that the photographs selected needn’t be of entire vehicles; “portions thereof” would be OK. The “portions thereof” qualifier might make the exercise doable, I reckoned.








Excited as I was at the prospect of world-stage exposure for my website – eyeballs from Talladega to Timbuktu and everywhere in between – I wondered whether I, a card-carrying Luddite, would be expected to “collaborate” as well in the production of the video. Not to worry, she said, she would handle the mechanics. Whew! My chances of winning the Daytona 500 would be better than those of creating a video for YouTube or any other outlet. Operating a camera with a modicum of facility is more than enough technical challenge for me.

Absolved of involvement in the nuts-and-bolts of production, I was eager to venture into what for me would be uncharted marketing territory. The first step, Shantell explained, was for me to paw through the Trucks gallery and flag images I deemed candidates for inclusion.

All told, there are more than 700 images in the Trucks collection. Would I be able to identify somewhere in the neighborhood of 40 to 45 – the number Shantell estimated would be needed to span the 3:14 run time? The clock was already ticking, as she was requesting recommendations within the fortnight. Meantime, she would be on the road, performing out West.









Fortunately, the Trucks images are arranged in alphabetical order (ditto the Cars photos), those to peck through are all in one place. Within a couple of days I had lassoed 60-odd images, which I uploaded into Dropbox — a third-party media-sharing vehicle — and sent the link to Shantell. A representative handful are shown here.

Once back home in Nashville, employing iMovie on her Mac, Shantell turned her attention to assembling the video. A few days later she sent me a “working draft” to review and make any suggestions. Save for a bit of image repetition – namely, selection of like subjects or of different portions of the same vehicle – I thought it looked terrific and told her so.

Shantell had one more request: Would I please add a blog post announcing the debut of the YouTube video – scheduled for February 16 – and add links to my Facebook and Twitter accounts? Is the Pope Catholic? Of course I was willing, as is evidenced by what appears here.

I invite you to treat yourself to a savory slice of  songwriting served up Country style, and in doing so, meet Shantell Ogden. If you like the song, and I think you will, by all means buy the album or at the very least download via iTune the “I Miss Dating That Truck” track. Ninety-nine cents well spent. Additionally, please leave a comment at the end of this blog post, it would be much appreciated, as doing so helps my Internet-search rankings. If you also would add the links (one connecting to my website [], the other to hers [] to your own Facebook and/or Twitter accounts, we’d both be grateful for the marketing impetus provided. Here are the links to Shantell’s Facebook and Twitter accounts as well.


My last visit to Napa County, California – home to some of the world’s most acclaimed wines – was mid-November, having set out from home in hopes of capturing one or more keeper fall foliage photographs to include in the custom 2012 wall calendar I was working on. Despite having driven around for hours, I failed to find any vineyard color that spun my eyeballs. A dab of color here, a dab there, but nothing worth braking for. Sunlight beginning to fade, I grew increasingly impatient and fretful.

I got as far north as Saint Helena and, having come up empty, I turned around and headed back home, taking the same Highway 29 I had earlier in the day. Just past a roadside sign reading “Rutherford, Population 164,” I espied off to the side a queue of beautifully sun-spackled trees lining the driveway to a gated private residence. Whoa, now I did brake, then pulled to the shoulder, away from zooming traffic, popped the trunk and grabbed my camera bag.

Realizing that there was probably no more than a half-hour’s worth of useable sunlight left – albeit far more time than Ansel Adams had to capture his iconic “Moonrise Over Hernandez” exposure — for which he had to clamber atop his station wagon, erect a heavy wood tripod and then literally guess at the correct exposure – I was acutely aware that time was not on my side. I swiftly swapped lenses, opting for my newly acquired 12-24mm zoom, dropped to my knees, crunching the hard gravel beneath, and commenced shooting. (Hopefully, in the future I will have the presence of mind to take a gardener’s kneeling cushion with me.)

dsc 7091 300x198 Striking Gold In Napa Wine CountryAfter squeezing off a dozen or more shots and then viewing them in playback mode on the camera monitor, I was reasonably satisfied with the results. Even had I not been, that would have marked The End, as by now the sun had disappeared behind the hills and the row of trees was mostly in shadows. Once back home and viewing my day’s harvest on the 27-inch computer monitor, I was more than simply satisfied. Here is the exposure I selected for the calendar, representing a day’s work, some 200 miles on the odo and $50 in gasoline. Was it worth it? You tell me – if so inclined, leave a comment at the end of this post.

Back on Hwy. 29 and headed south toward Napa, off to the other side of the road was parked a magnificently restored circa-1930 Ford stake-bed truck, parked at the entrance to Nickel & Nickel Winery. Aware that anything short of infrared equipment would have produced images worthy only of the delete button on the back of the camera, I slowed, then picked up the flow of traffic, now thickened on the two-lane, heavily used arterial into wine country. Maybe, I thought to myself, the truck will be there next time I am in the vicinity.

“Next time” wasn’t until after the holidays, during which we were visited by my daughter Jessica, Cortney and their then eleven-month-old daughter – grandchild No. 1! – named Kennedy. Here she is, scrambling across the-room floor as we adults busily unwrapped Christmas gifts..

While they were here, my son Andrew, who lives a half-hour away in San Francisco, also visited. We decided that one afternoon we would drive to lesser-known wine country in the opposite direction – south – in Livermore Valley. There was time enough to visit only two tasting rooms, at Concannon and Page Mill wineries. Of the numerous snapshots taken, here is one of yours truly posed with a “marquee” 1950 Chevrolet pickup invitingly parked at the entrance to the Page Mill tasting room building.

KennedyTFB Transparent1 Striking Gold In Napa Wine Country

Returned as I did in mid-January to “real” wine country, meaning Napa County, my first stop was Nickel & Nickel, where, sure enough, the old Ford truck stood, waiting to greet me. It was late morning and the sunlight was perfect, bathing the front of the vehicle. Perfect! As a couple of blanketed horses indifferently nibbled on strewn hay inside a fenced paddock off to the side, I did a walk-around, shooting my subject – painted a fetching canary yellow – from a variety of angles, again employing the wide-angle lens.

Pope 21 300x198 Striking Gold In Napa Wine CountryLuckily, because at the time there was no traffic into or out of the driveway, I was able to shoot with veritable abandon, uninterrupted. Back in the car, I looked at what I had. “Not bad,” I thought, as if to assure myself that even if there were nothing for me to shoot that day, the time and petrol consumed was worthwhile.

I sauntered farther north, a whole four miles as the proverbial crow flies, to Saint Helena, which with a population of 6,000 ranks as the largest (or least small) burgh in the immediate vicinity. Weaving deftly through the thickening traffic, I made a beeline to, based on a couple of prior visits, what I deemed the best sanctum in which to quaff thumbs-up java, the Napa Valley Coffee Roasting Company, one block off the main drag. I ordered “the usual,” which for me is a low-fat (a.k.a. 2%) dry cappuccino — $3.50, thank you very much, sir. Oh, yes, plus tip. Four bucks for a drink that may (or may not, depending on what you read) pare a few minutes off my life, a tradeoff I have no trouble in accepting.

As I paused to sip my libation – good, but not five-star – I looked at the map, a real-McCoy PRINT map, to get my bearings and to decide where to go from there. I remembered that Cortney, who grew up in Napa, had suggested that from Saint Helena I head east, through the town of Angwin (population 3,335 and home to Pacific Union College, run by Seventh-Day Adventists) and on to Pope Valley where, should my stars fall into alignment, I might chance upon heretofore undiscovered Rural Americana treasures, be they Rusted Relics or Rustic Relics. Having never set foot in Pope Valley, everything I might encounter would prove, by definition, “hitherto undiscovered.”

In snaking the tortuous, ten-mile, two-lane road into the valley, I thought to myself, “Wow, what beautiful countryside. Were it more accessible, there probably would be high-rise condos everywhere.” But there weren’t. Not even many houses … or horses.

Coming around a hairpin turn, I could see in the distance, beyond an approaching UPS delivery van, an old, old truck, parked outside what appeared to be a filling station off to the left, facing a fork in the road. I applied the brakes, deftly executed a U-turn and, voila, I was face to face with said truck, greeting me with a battered grille atop which was affixed a badge reading “Moreland.” Moreland? I fancy myself as being pretty knowledgeable in terms of identifying cars and trucks, but Moreland didn’t ring a bell.

Pope 3 300x214 Striking Gold In Napa Wine Country


I grabbed the camera, slung it around my neck and walked inside the building, where a young man was working on a 1980s Jeep perched above him on a lift. Cupping my hands to my mouth, I yelled, “Hello!” Holding a box-end wrench in a very greasy hand, he walked around to the back of the lift where I was standing.


“Something I can help you with?” he inquired.

“Yes,” I replied, “as you can see, I’m a photographer and I’d like to take some pictures of that old truck, the Moreland. You know anything about it?”

“No, other than it’s a 1929 and it belongs to my boss, who owns this place. Fine by me if you take pictures. Reckon it’d be OK with him. In any case, no skin off my nose. Go ahead.”

About ten minutes into shooting the Moreland from various angles, he walked over.

“What you got in mind with the picture-taking? You a professional? Now that I think about it, the boss might not be too keen on having pictures taken for commercial gain.”

“If there is any gain, it wouldn’t be much,” I answered. “The boss around?”

“No, he’s home taking a late lunch, but should be back any time. Name is Jeff Parady.”

“Maybe I shouldn’t be telling you this, but there is an old Ford delivery van, nicely restored, around in back.”

“OK if I go have a look?”

“No skin off my nose, mister.”

The vehicle in question, I would later have confirmed by Mr. Parady, is a 1930, painted dark blue and nicely fancied up. The interior was completely redone. Shooting was challenging because there wasn’t much room to navigate, and, moreover, the ground was strewn with all manner of junk.

As I am shooting from the front, lying on my stomach on the oil-soaked ground, a figure approached. All I could see initially was a shadow.

“You been here long?” The Shadow asked.

“Oh, hi. You Mr. Parady?”

“That’s me.”

“I just shot the Moreland. Know anything about its history?”

“Not really. Was sittin’ right there when I bought the business nine years ago. Probably hasn’t moved in decades.”

“I like to think I know my cars and trucks, but I never heard of a Moreland.”

“Me neither.”

(After returning home, I Googled the name and learned that Moreland trucks were made in Burbank, of all places, between 1920 and the start of World War II. They were sold mostly in the West. Being a longtime resident of Ohio, where I was born and reared, probably explains why the brand didn’t ring a bell.)

I introduced myself and handed him a business card.

“Says Rural Americana. What’s that?”

“I mostly take pictures of old barns, and cars and trucks, the older the better. I travel all over the country. My website URL is on the card. When you get a chance, have a look.”

“I will. Like to see what all you shoot.”

“How about I take a souvenir picture of you with the dog here inside the van? I’ll e-mail it to you when I get home.”

“Sure,” he said, smiling broadly as he helped the pooch onto the front seat. “What you want me to do?”

Pope 4 300x200 Striking Gold In Napa Wine Country

“Put your left arm on the window sill and try to get the dog included. What’s his name?”

“Gus. Pit bull mix, I’d guess. One day he just appeared here and never left. So he kinda adopted me. Placed an ad in the local newspaper, but no one ever responded.”

“Is Gus friendly?”

“As you can tell, he’s friendly … except for when he’s not. As long as I’m with him, he’s no problem, but believe me, he’s an all-star guard dog.”Yup. You know, ‘Here boy, here boy.’ Sort of silly, but it makes people smile.

“When you’re done here, come inside and look around if you want to. Lots of old stuff that might be of interest to you,” he said, pointing to a yellow-and-blue diamond-shaped sign hanging from an exposed crossbeam.

Pope 5 300x198 Striking Gold In Napa Wine Country“See what it says there? This was the first repair shop in the state certified by the California AAA. Still is. I’m proud to keep the association going. If you have the time and interest, I have a whole bunch more old cars and trucks at my residence. You’re welcome to go on over. Might find something of interest.”

“Sure, love to,” I said. “How far away? Am I able to get in?”

“Five miles. Might be worth your while. No one’s there, and the guard dog is on duty here. Take Pope Valley Road here till you get to Aetna Springs Road and turn left. Up about two miles, past the one-lane bridge. Be careful. It’s safe, but it’s seen better days. It’s the driveway with a very old Ford to one side, a Pontiac from the Fifties to the other. There’s a gate, but you can walk around it.”

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I shook his hand, thanked him profusely and climbed back into the car, carefully placing my camera on the passenger seat. Maybe ten minutes into the side excursion I saw some sparkling objects. Not until I got closer did I recognize them for what they were – old hubcaps, attached to fences, lying on the ground, seemingly everywhere. Above the private driveway (“No Trespassing”) were were look-at-me letters stretched across an arch that read “Hubcap Ranch.”

I’ve done a lot of traveling and never before had I seen anything like it. Definitely worth stopping for a picture or two, I convinced myself. Here is one that says it all. Possibly the tackiest tableau I’ve ever witnessed. Mighty glad I don’t live anywhere near it.

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A mile or so beyond was Aetna Springs Road, where, as instructed, I made a left turn, then headed up the two-lane road. Up yonder was a horse ranch, bathed in lovely afternoon sunlight. One chestnut-colored horse was munching on grass off in the distance. I wanted to shoot him (they shoot horses, don’t they?), but he too far away. Then I spotted a paddock in which several other horses were, well, padding around.

I grabbed the camera, got out of the car and walked over. One of the horses took note of me and strolled over, poking his head over the well-weathered wooden fence. He looked at me, straight in the eye, as if to say, “Who the heck are you and who invited you?” Immediately after I took the last of several shots – shown here – he dashed off, whinnying, precluding a signature on the model release form I never remember to take with me.

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Not far beyond the aforementioned bridge I saw the old Ford to which Jeff referred. I pulled into the driveway, put the car in Park and, not knowing what gear I might need, grabbed the “everything” bag.

After taking pictures of the Ford and the Pontiac at the entrance – shown above – I squeezed through the heavy metal gate and looked about. At the bottom of the driveway and around the bend was a most curious sight – an old country General Store that looked as if frozen in amber. It was painted red and bedecked with all manner of period bric-a-brac, including several uber-cool old signs, this among them.

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Once done there I continued down the driveway, through an S curve which led me to what looked like the Promised Land for a photographer drawn to Rusted Relics. Altogether, I counted a dozen examples of abandoned, deteriorating “vintage” vehicles, or parts thereof. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Had I perchance been magically transported to the Land of Oz? Certainly seemed so. Several Fords, two Chevrolets, two additional aged Pontiacs, one of which was riddled with bullet holes. Additionally, several detached front ends were scattered about, one of which was from a 1950s Dodge truck.

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The rat-a-tat-tat Pontiac that looked as though it could have been driven by Bonnie and Clyde on their final, fateful drive brought to a sudden halt on May 23, 1934, thanks to a take-no-prisoners hail of fire from a posse of sharpshooter lawmen, hiding in the bushes on a country road in Louisiana. (Bonnie and Clyde were driving a stolen V8 Ford, which by the time the gunfire had ceased resembled Swiss cheese, as did both of their bodies.)

I was drawn to a 1930ish Ford two-door, flat-roof sedan, distinguished by two things, both spray-painted: a “hot rod” bedecking the hood louvers and the word “SCRAP” inscribed on both doors and on the trunk. For me, this represented the piece de resistance.

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I scrambled about, pecking for other photogenic subjects, but found nothing. Which was good, perhaps, because by now it was nigh unto four o’clock and the sun was soon to bid goodnight.

More than satisfied – indeed, elated – with my serendipitous pictorial “harvest” in wine country, I repaired to the car, scrolled quickly through the images recorded, tucked the camera away and put the car in gear. Two hours later I was back home, eager to tell my wife, Pat, about my over-the-top fruitful afternoon, possibly the most productive two-hour block of time to date. How grateful I was that I had stopped to tire-kick the unloved Moreland truck sitting forlornly outside an unprepossessing repair shop.

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It was a beautiful day, and I was headed home … or so I thought … from a fruitful shoot on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in northern California.

(Here are two of the many photographs I took there, one overlooking Mono Lake, the other peering into an old, vacant barn near the village of Lee Vining – yes, that’s the actual name.)

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No matter which route I took, unless I was content to go via Cape Horn, it would send me through Yosemite National Park. Although I can think of far less scenic passages, at the time I was not interested in taking any Ansel Adamsesque photos of Half Dome or anywhere else in this awe-inspiring park. Rather, I was desirous of getting home as expeditiously as possible.

Because traffic was more brutal than I had expected, I was able to emerge on the western side in about an hour and forty-five minutes. Had I not found myself behind a pokey motor-home that couldn’t get out of its own way, it would have been even quicker.

Zigging instead of zagging, I somehow managed to get myself shunted off course, finding myself on Route 59 (huh?) instead of Route 120, as was intended. By the time I realized the navigational oops, I was deep in the bowels of Merced County, driving past farm after farm, ranch after ranch. I was reminded of counting telephone poles as a backseat-relegated kid on family motor trips. The countryside is pretty enough, but a serious, unforced detour was not exactly what the doctor ordered.

When I saw a sign reading “Snelling, Pop. 231,” I knew I was in trouble. I stopped at a gas station – the only one in Snelling (15 miles due north of Merced, if you must know) – and asked for directions to Highway 99, which I knew would take me north instead of deeper into what for me was uncharted – and undesired — territory.

“Remain on Hwy. 59,” the convenience store cashier said, “and you’ll hit 99. Can’t miss it.”

“Thanks,” I replied, handing over my Visa card to pay for the $52.55 fill-up, doing my part to boost Chevron’s over-the-top bottom line .

On my way out of town, out of the corner of my eye, I espied what appeared to be an attempt at a grassroots, amateur car show. Vehicles of all manner, including a totally transmogrified 1959 Edsel – worst makeover in the history of sheet metal and Bondo – were neatly sprinkled about the verdant town common.

I stopped, of course – “Hey, is the Pope Catholic?” – and sauntered about. Of the 50 or so vehicles displayed, the greatest percentage were Corvettes, a couple of them prized Stingrays, which were produced from 1963 through 1967 and which many Vette aficionados consider the crème de la crème.

Then there was the customized 1959 Edsel (I was certain of the year; I once owned one … don’t ask), which looked as if the person who did the bodywork had lost a bet. I should have taken a picture to show the world how ugly it was, but my camera was in the car, and, to be frank, I was too lazy to go fetch it. The Edsel might have cracked the lens anyway.

Back in my own car, focused mentally on the Hwy. 99 interchange I was told I was certain not to miss when, out of the corner of my eye I espied, off in the distance and behind a forbidding concertina-wire fence, an old truck, nestled alongside a lovely water-lily pond. I stopped and peered longingly over the fence. The scene was so idyllic it could have been a movie set.

The truck fairly spoke to me. I swear I heard it say, “Come take pictures of me, come take pictures.”

I looked up and down the steer-clear fence, and nowhere did I find a break where I might be able to get a closer look, so I got back in the car and inched forward. A short distance away there was a very elegant gate, which read “Ashley Acres.” Sticking my nose through the wrought iron, I could see a very nice barn-red ranch house, horses and a “vintage”
tractor.  Certainly looked as if someone was there.

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Cupping my hands to my mouth, I yelled as loud as I could, “Hello. Is anyone there?” After a few no-reply minutes had passed, I realized I was talking to myself.

Not content to leave this impossibly inviting venue, I walked over to the gate-control keypad nearby. Surely there is an intercom button. Ah, surely not. Rats.

My only hope, I concluded, was to leave a business card somewhere. But where? Having no Scotch tape with me … good Lord, not even duct tape, if you can imagine … after scribbling on the backside “I would love to take pictures. Please call me,” I wedged it into the crack between the faceplate and the housing.

As I drove off, I said a prayer requesting three things: 1) that it wouldn’t fall out; 2) that someone would find it; and 3) that said someone would actually contact me. Nothing more I could possibly do.

One week passes, two weeks, no response from anyone at coveted Ashley Acres. Finally, I get an e-mail, not from the property owner but rather from a real estate agent representing same. Although no For Sale sign was up, she said, the 40-acre estate was on the market, listed at $1.7 million. Per acre, a bargain, no doubt, if you don’t mind the oppressive summer heat of California’s Central Valley.

The agent, very cordial, said she’d been contacted by the property caretaker, who had contacted her after seeing my card at the gate. (It worked!)

She said she would forward my request to the owner, whom, understandably, she declined to identify. “I will ask that the owner get back to you directly.” “Fine,” I replied, “that’s all I can ask. Thank you.”

Another week passes, then still another. I had pretty much given up hope when one day, while I was vacationing in Maine, I got an e-mail from the private secretary of a Mr. Lawrence Wong, the owner.

(Here are a pair of Maine photos — a locally famous pedestrian bridge in Somesville and a wall of retired lobster buoys in Stonington, an historic and very picturesque fishing village.)

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It read: “Mr. Black, I am Angel Andronico, Mr. Wong’s assistant. Mr. Wong says he is happy to grant you access for any pictures you may wish to take. Contact the caretaker, Kurt McFadden, and make visitation arrangements directly with him.” Shazam! Must be Irish.

I immediately got on the phone, calling the number she provided. To the person answering, whom I correctly presumed to be Mr. McFadden, I said, “Hi. This is Tom Black, the photographer Mr. Wong is allowing to take photographs. Can we set up a time?”

“Yes, this is Kurt. I’m the caretaker. What time is good for you to visit?”

I proposed a date and time, to which he replied, “Fine. I’ll be here. Just call from the road when you are within a half hour or so to give me a heads-up.”

“Sure will,” I answered. “Thank you very much. I look forward to the visit.”

Two weeks to the day later, as instructed, I phoned Kurt from the road when I sensed that I was within the gravitational pull of Ashley Acres.

“Kurt? I’m on Highway 59, near the 99 interchange. Be there in 20 minutes.”

“I’ll meet you at the gate.”


Meet me he did. He tripped the mechanism that opened the swing-in gate. I drove just inside, got out of the car, and, beaming, extended my hand.

Gripping it was a hand so huge it fairly enveloped my own. It was attached to a huge arm that was attached to a huge body. Kurt looked like a Hollywood character actor who would have been perfectly cast in an episode of the old TV series “Bonanza.” Coveralls, stocky, tall, and, of course, sporting the requisite full beard, in this case, a pure white one.

“Pull ahead and park anywhere under the trees. You’ll be glad you parked in the shade. Toasty today, even by local standards.”

My cellphone read “Merced 95 degrees,” and it wasn’t even noon. I was glad I had had the presence of mind to bring a wide-brim sombrero and insect repellent, the latter because I am a veritable mosquito magnet.

As I exited the car – windows advisedly rolled down a couple of inches – I heard a strange noise, one that I could not readily identify.

Walking forward, I saw off in the distance several ostriches, from which the sounds were emanating.


“Yup,” said Kurt, “got them and a whole lot of other animals – ducks, horses, zebras, llamas, and, of course, cattle. Menagerie. Sometimes I feel like I’m the zookeeper, not the caretaker.”

“How long you been here?”

“Thirteen years and counting. Don’t know how much longer, though, because, as you may have learned, the property is up for sale. If I had the money, I’d buy it. I love it here. I hope that whoever buys it will keep me on. Don’t know what else I would do, especially in this economy. Jobs are scarce.”

Changing the subject, he said, “What kind of camera you got there? Not that I would know the difference, mind you.”

“Nikon. I also have Canon cameras, but my serious cameras are all Nikon.”

“Nikon. That Japanese?”

“Indeed it is, as is Canon. To me, the quality is unsurpassed. Some people still say German-made Leicas are best, and perhaps they are, but the prices are astronomical. I’m perfectly content with Japanese goods.”

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“So be it. I don’t know one brand from another, or one camera from another. All the same to me. I don’t want to interfere. Just curious. Go take whatever pictures you want to take. I’ll be here if you need me. Today I’m cleaning the pond. Loaded with algae. Not good.”

“Is the water clean enough to drink?”

“Not by humans. It’s OK for the animals, though.”

I shook Kurt’s hand and walked off toward what would be the day’s photographic subjects. Through the trees I saw one truck, then a second, then a third. Insert in order presented and link each of following four pix, two each side by side. Each pair extends to align with outer margins of text:

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“Wow,” I said to myself. “I think this definitely will prove worth the return trip.”

Indeed it was. For the ensuing three-and-a-half hours, nonstop, I shot frame after frame of half a dozen trucks and a pair of tractors, all of them decades old, decrepit, and therefore eminently photogenic. As I had surmised when I first poked my head over the fence from the road, it could easily have been a Hollywood set. Literally picture perfect. Of the 150 or so images I shot, shown here are a couple of what I rank as among the best of the keepers.

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As I was putting away my gear, I glanced at my watch. 3:30. Then I glanced at my cellphone. 98 degrees. Whew! I don’t do well in heat. When the thermometer hits 80, I head for the shade, but in this instance there was none.

As I approached the car – hotter than blazes inside even though the windows had been lowered – Kurt came over.

“How’d it go?”

“Terrific,” I replied, smiling broadly. “No sunburn, no insect bites.”

“Good. Glad you’re satisfied. Hope you’ll come back and see us.”

“Well, frankly, don’t know if that’s in the cards, particularly since the property is up for sale.”

“I know for sure that Mr. Wong would enjoy meeting you.”


“Don’t hesitate to call me if you have any questions. You have the phone number.”

“Sure will, Kurt. Thanks for being so accommodating. I hope things work out for you.”

A couple of months hence, the property was still for sale, although the asking price had dropped by $200,000, to $1,500,000. Were the economy better – Central Valley real estate took a terrible beating in the collapse of the real-estate market – it probably would have sold quickly.

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I remain grateful I was afforded the opportunity to shoot it when I did. Were the property in new hands, who knows, I might have forever remained on the outside looking in … through the wrought-iron gates.

As it was, this proved to be one of the most fruitful Rural Americana shoots I have made to date. I didn’t have to travel to the ends of the earth, it was a one-off exercise, and the results speak for themselves.

Tell me what you think by posting a comment in the space provided.

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