Friday, October 30, 2009

Eastern Sierras Trip #9

Or, to apply a subtitle, "onwards and upwards". That afternoon, the plan of record was to head to Bristlecone State Park to photograph the trees. As related in the last post, the only wrinkle that had appeared in the crisp, white handkerchief of well disciplined organization was the fact that it was snowing at a level some few thousand feet below where we were heading. Still, we had a plan and concluded we were made of something tougher than nature could throw at us, in early October at least, and hence should get out there and get photographin.

The finest grove of trees sits at around 11,000 feet, high up in the Inyo range. To reach it required a fairly long drive up the hill on paved roads, plus about 13 miles on unpaved roads, so it took us over an hour to arrive at our destination. It was cold, but with blue skies at the bottom of the hill all looked well. However, by the time we were well along the dirt track section, it had started to snow. Arriving at the parking lot, we all anyway decided that since we were there it would be good to at least try and get some decent shots, despite the cold. Hey, at least the soft light from an increasingly snow-leaden sky meant that we could get some decent shots without having to manage blow-out highlights!

Out in the trees - which really are spectacular and well worth the visit - it was easy to get engrossed in trying to capture their beauty and to miss the fact that it was starting to snow a bit harder. And then harder. And then it got windy. In the end, though, I think we all realised at about the same time that the snow was now driving hard and it was getting difficult to see the car park! Time to head down the hill and back into the sunlight.

Just to give you some idea, this shot shows you the view across a field to a small grove of trees and a hill on the left, the outline of which you can just about make out!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Eastern Sierras Trip #8

OK, so now we get to a lake, this time for sunrise. Once again we found ourselves above Bishop, this time at a small area of water high-up in the Sierras. It was bitterly cold being out in the lakeside air at dawn, especially given that just as we were reaching our destination it started to snow on us. Yup, Death Valley to snow in two days flat ... gotta love California!

On the bright side of things, at least the wind had backed-off somewhat so there was some opportunity at least to get decent reflections as a part of the image. Having said all that. before long, even wearing gloves, hat and three layers of shirt, sweatshirt and fleece jacket, I couldn't feel my fingers any more. Time to quit once more.

Driving down the mountain I could see across the valley to the peaks the other side, roughly in the direction we were heading that afternoon. Hmm, wonder if it's snowing up there too ... ?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Eastern Sierras Trip #7

From Manzanar we drove onto Bishop for a sunset shoot in the mountains behind the town. Alas, the weather was starting to turn and the wind was getting up. Combine that with a chosen location several thousand feet up and now it was starting to feel like autumn. (In fact, it was soon to feel much more like winter, but that's for a future post.)

Ultimately, the original idea of shooting at a lake didn't pan out so instead we all ended up photographing a hillside to try and get the sweep of colour shown by trees fast turning golden as the seasons change. Alas, strong winds and leaves - even when still attached to branches - really don't mesh well together from a picture-taking standpoint, so I finally gave up and headed down the hill again. On the way back, though , I saw the above stacked set of lenticular clouds forming, framed by the intersecting mountains. This is a phenomenon that's a particular characteristic of the prevailing weather patterns in the Sierras and although what's shown here is interesting, a simple Google search will reveal some simply amazing examples from mountain regions around the world.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Eastern Sierras Trip #6

Manzanar was a location for one of the various internment camps used by the US government to imprison Japanese-Americans and nationals following Pearl Harbour. Clearly, this wasn't one of the finest hours exhibited by the US during the second world war, but since no one can go back and re-write history so it remains a stain on the nation's history. However, at least this gross error of judgement is now being recognised as such, and some amends are being made.

Interestingly, Ansel Adams was retained by the government to photograph the inmates, presumably with the intention of showing just how well they were being treated. A by-product of Ansel being paid to be there by the government "from 9 to 5" was that he could use the remaining hours to do whatever he liked, including taking a number of his most iconic images of the eastern Sierras.

From what remains (and it's now a national park in order to preserve what little is actually left) Manzanar was clearly quite a large facility, holding at peak some 120,000 individuals and stretching across 6,200 acres (the US military never doing things by half, even back then). Although there's now a visitor center and museum, really little else is visible apart from a single guard tower and concrete slabs marking where the various huts once stood.

Manzanar is a bleak looking place, even today with a main road right alongside. In the middle of winter in 1943 it must have been a miserable place to suddenly find yourself, especially when your only "crime" was to be of Japanese ancestry, something against which even a US passport could not provide protection, apparently.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Eastern Sierras Trip #5

And now for something a little bit different in that after a couple of days on our own it was time to join the Eastern Sierras photo workshop we were using as an anchor for this trip. (Yes, it was again a course led by Alain Briot, and as per the trip we took to Arizona a while back to photograph, amongst other things, Antelope canyon).

As always, an early start, this time to see the Sierras lit by the morning sun through a handily-placed arch, located just above Lone Pine. Again, another popular spot, made worse by adding another 9 photographers from our group. Still, people figured out a way to spread themselves a little, at least once they'd got the chance to photograph through the arch, and as shown above I got my turn in there too.

After some discussion time we headed to a couple of nearby locations from where Ansel Adams made two of his photos of the Sierras in the area (one of which is shown here). Next stop, Manzanar.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Eastern Sierras Trip #4

Another day, another early start, this time to watch the sun rise at the famed Death Valley sand dunes. This time around there were less than a handful of other photographers in evidence so we had more of this place to ourselves than before. The dunes themselves are a bit of a hike from the road but that bit was fine. What killed me was hiking up and down these things to reach an interesting point from which to photograph. In all honesty, next time around I'd come in more from the west and do a better job of getting into a place where the hills in the background were less prominent, but having said all that it was still a wonderful location regardless.

While I was taking shots of large piles of sand, S was taking pictures of the local wildlife devouring each other, grabbing a great shot that I'll post at some future date showing a desert canine happily trotting off with an nice, fat early morning snack.

To recover, we headed to the nearby park gate (Stove Pipe Wells) in order that we too might grab breakfast, and for me to rehydrate too! Clambering up and down giant beaches without the benefit of drinking water was way more exercise & physical stress than I had originally planned to take at 6:30 am!

After eating we went to Mosaic Canyon. Supposedly, when the sun is up and striking the walls, the polished rocks are supposed to shine in different colours, looking like some sort of illuminated mosaic. Perhaps so, but it never worked for us. Nevertheless, it offered an interesting hike of a few miles into and out of the canyon and once again we had the place to ourselves for much of the time we spent there.

From there it was back to the hotel, checking-out and then driving onto Lone Pine in preparation for the next phase of our trip. To be continued ....

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Eastern Sierras Trip #3

Having refuelled (us and the pickup) following the morning excursions, in the afternoon we headed off to Nevada to visit Rhyolite, the first of two ghost towns we'd hit on this trip.

While nothing like as large as Bodie, a place we'll hear more about later, Rhyolite was still worth a visit. Above is shown the remaining facade of Cook Bank, originally the largest single edifice in the town and still a dominant element on what remains of the main street. This was apparently quite a lavish property in its day, boasting Italian marble floors and rich mahogany panelling. Suffice to say, neither is in evidence these days, the whole thing comprising not much more than a few free-standing walls and associated steps. (Look here for a shot of how it was in its heyday.)

At the other end of town sits the oddity of a fairly new looking - but now completely orphaned - train station. In fact, it was completed in 1909 and was comprised of what must have been the latest in pre-fabricated building materials at the time, namely the concrete block! At the turn of that century there were, it seems, three railway lines this terminus served, including one that ran all the way to Las Vegas. Alas, all that infrastructure is long gone apart from one abandoned wooden rail car labelled for the "Los Angeles & Salt Lake Railroad", acting as a rather forlorn marker of what once must have been a bustling and lively place.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Eastern Sierras Trip #2

As mentioned, we headed back to Zabriske Point before dawn in order to photograph there at sunrise. Fortunately, sunrise was around 6:25 am and we were only a few minutes drive away so that prospect wasn't too onerous. Turns out that this is quite a popular spot with 5 other tripod-toting photographers already ranged across a large rock in front of the public viewing area. Conclusion? Definitely more of a sunrise spot than a sunset place, and well worth getting up early to see.

Next up we drove to Dante's View, a 5,500 foot peak not far down the road that offers a fantastic view across the Valley. (Here's a map for those of you following along at home.) Only downside is that it's cold and windy first thing in the morning and all of a sudden your cell phone actually gets a signal (though barely) so the real world intrudes once again if you are foolish enough to leave it switched on. Which I had.

After a quick side trip through the wonderfully named 20 Mule Team Canyon trail we stopped back at the hotel to grab an early lunch before heading out again in the afternoon.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Eastern Sierras Trip #1

Now I'm back from Japan and hence have a little more breathing space, I thought I'd post a few notes from our recent trip to the Sierras, along with, of course, some pictures!

We started out with the longest drive, taking a day to get from the Bay Area out to the Furnace Creek Ranch hotel in Death Valley. (We actually wanted to stay in their other, plusher property but it didn't open for another two weeks.)

To make the drive manageable, we opted for the shortest route, which even so meant something like 9.5 hours on the road. Still, apart from the long, dull stretch of I-5 down to Bakersfield then it wasn't too bad, offering more and more visual interest the closer one got to the mountains.

Despite the drive we still felt up to getting in a quick sunset shoot at Zabriske point, testament to a) it being the first day and b) the relative comfort of the seats in a Toyota Tacoma pickup! As it turned out I did all the driving on this vacation, but even after over 1,700 miles round trip my back was fine and really I wasn't particularly uncomfortable at all, at least not from the driving!

The Furnace Creek Ranch was a fine place to stay with a couple of restaurant choices and basic-but-clean accommodations. I'd happily go back, especially for the central location smack in the middle of Death Valley.

Next up ... Zabriske Point sunrise! (You saw that coming, right?)

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

From Tokyo With Love

While we were away last week I saw on the news that Tokyo was hit by a typhoon. The trains were knocked out, there were severe floods, and all this was accompanied by very high winds. I was glad, therefore, to have missed suffering through that storm by being in Japan one week later rather than earlier. Little did I know that this would be a mess I'd miss twice.

Somehow, the storm made its way across the Pacific largely intact, hitting the Bay Area coastline Tuesday of this week resulting in, you guessed it, sever flooding and strong winds. (Doubtless it would have stopped the trains too except the USA barely has any of those things worthy of the name any more. It did stop the cars though when they closed Highway 17)

This two day storm dumped some 10 inches of rain where we live and, thanks largely to falling trees, took power out for over a day. Yup, missed the whole shooting match once again by being in Tokyo, much to the chagrin of those left back at home to clean up the mess. Still, at least we had a decent period of notice and I was able to clean up the roof, gutters and gulleys before leaving, which seems to have helped us get through it reasonably intact.

Looks like this will be quite a wet winter. After all, it's only just started and we've had 25% of what we got in the entire season last year hit the ground already ....

Tuesday, October 13, 2009


Although the title applies to Bodie, a California gold rush ghost town, it could also be applied to this blog. Things have languished around here a bit of late, due largely to an overload of stuff to do at work and play.

On the play side, S and I just got back from a week in the eastern Sierras where half a day at Bodie was one of the highlights. As I get a free slot or two I'll post some more on the overall trip but suffice it to say we had a great time, enjoying 90 degree temperatures one day and ending up in a snowstorm two days later. Oh, and had three earthquakes within one fifteen minute spell just to remind us that we were still in California. Over the course of the trip we did about 1,720 miles, including some mild off-roading. (Kudos to Toyota for the Tacoma pickup because it turned out to be a very comfortable ride for the on-road bits and very capable for the off-road sections.)

Am presently in Tokyo, back at the weekend; posting will therefore continue to be a bit erratic!