In Category: ‘Travel’

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.

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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.

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(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.

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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.

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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.

 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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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“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?”

“OK.”

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.

 SO MUCH TO REPORT, SO LITTLE SPACE (NOT REALLY)

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.

 SO MUCH TO REPORT, SO LITTLE SPACE (NOT REALLY) SO MUCH TO REPORT, SO LITTLE SPACE (NOT REALLY)

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.

 SO MUCH TO REPORT, SO LITTLE SPACE (NOT REALLY)

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.)

 SO MUCH TO REPORT, SO LITTLE SPACE (NOT REALLY)

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.