Tag

nature

Our Journey, Photography

Week of Waterfalls

Week of Waterfalls
Week of Waterfalls
Week of Waterfalls
Week of Waterfalls
Week of Waterfalls
Week of Waterfalls

After a lovely week in Bandon, we headed further up the coast and inland to the town of Silverton. It was a pleasant place for me to spend my time while Brandon went back to Virginia for work. Downtown Silverton, while quite compact, was full of numerous restaurants and was a nice place for an evening stroll. The RV park was also only a 20 minute drive from Silver Falls State Park, which is a beautiful park with well maintained hiking trails. The main trail was just a little over 10 miles and boasted nearly a dozen waterfalls. I wasn’t able to finish the full trail but was able to hike far enough to see two of the falls. One of which has a trail that lets you walk behind the waterfall for a refreshing view from behind as the mist swirled about in the air.

While at the RV Park, I also learned about the local birds. There’s a local species of starling that particularly likes to build nests in the hitches of RVs. After clearing out the nest that they had built, I left the materials nearby so that they could use them to build the nest elsewhere. Instead, I returned to find them building the nest in the hitch again. After removing the nest I used a plank of wood to block the hitch so that they couldn’t get back in. The starlings were persistent though, and somehow managed to move the wood out of the way to build yet another nest! Another RV patron was amused by my frustration and told me that the only way to stop them was to completely seal off the hitch using a garbage bag. That seemed to do the trick but what a pain.

It seemed like no time at all before Brandon was back at the RV again. It was time to move again, and this time we were heading back south to Roseburg. The area was beautiful with the campsite right next to a lazily flowing river. Although it was well out of the way, it provided us relatively close access to Umpqua National Forest. The first trip into the forest was a late afternoon visit to the famous Toketee Falls. The trail down to the falls led us past several smaller falls that fed into a deeply channeled gorge. After a short half mile or so we reached the larger falls which carved their way through a layer of basalt columns. There was a side path that descended down to the bottom of the falls using ropes but it was already late in the day and we didn’t have time to visit. It is definitely a must though the next time we are in town as the views from the top are obstructed by an assortment of pines. Instead, we took out the drone and tried to get some footage but it was very difficult with all the trees. A small loss of signal caused the drone to plunge through the branches of one of those trees. We were quite certain that it would be damaged but the resilient little machine managed to escape unharmed. Unfortunately, none of the footage turned out. It seems like the incident with the tree must have smudged the lens because everything captured after was completely blurry and unusable. Despite the mishap, the whole place was serene and worth coming back to visit.

Our next trip out was to Crater Lake. It was much further away so we took our time, driving out to stay at a hotel so that we were much closer for more opportunities to take photos. We were surprised to find that despite the warm weather in the valley we would be trekking through deep snow covered ground. In places the snow drifts were more than five feet deep. Due to the snowfall, most of the roads connecting into the park were closed. This limited where we could visit to exclusively the southern-most rim. The crater rim was covered in streaks of snow going downwards into the icy blue waters of the caldera. Wizard’s Island, the only cinder cone that protrudes high enough to be visible above the water line was covered in pines nearly all the way to the top. The wind was whipping us in the face, sometimes gusting hard enough to cause us to stumble as we looked out at the view. Even during the day the temperature was probably a good 20-30 degrees cooler than the valley.

After the sun set we descended the mountain and headed back into the valley to find food. The only thing that was open was a tiny drive-in shack that sold hot dogs and hamburgers. After dinner we drove back another hour to return to the mountain again to try for some astrophotography. Unfortunately, the wind made it rather difficult even with the tripod. The wind had become a howling gale since we had been there only a few hours before. Trembling in the cold and struggling to stay standing, we decided not to trek into the woods to our previous location, and stay near the truck. With so much wind and the need to keep the shutter open to let in the starlight, there was only so much we could do before giving it a rest. When we finally retreated back into the truck, I could hardly feel my legs, and was very grateful to turn the heated seats on full blast. As we drove back to the hotel to get some rest, what appeared to be a young wolf trotted across the road in front of us, and disappeared into the darkness of the trees.

The next morning we began the drive back to the RV and decided to hike to National Creek Falls. Since we had the dogs with us and the trail seemed largely empty, we thought they might enjoy the exercise and took them on the hike with us. Most of the trail was a series of switchbacks making the descent downwards much easier. Paatos was happily trotting along in the lead, eager to smell everything he could and enjoying the nature. Loki was a different story, not liking to be behind, she pulled and tried to take any short cut she could to try and take the lead again. Once we made it to the falls, Brandon had to cross some logs to make it across the stream to get below the waterfall. This made both of the dogs rather anxious and on multiple occasions they nearly dragged me into the water as they tried to cross the logs. After Brandon had captured his shots and crossed back over they relaxed and just enjoyed the fresh air.

The waterfall itself was a gushing torrent of water that sent up spray, cascading down the rocks and tucked away in the forest, surrounded by undergrowth. The whole area had a surreal, almost fantasy feel as you gazed up at it through the forest. The whole area was alive with green growth, whether it was the trees, vines, or the moss that covered everything else. The hike back up was a bit slower, but both of the dogs were content to pull us up the trail and it seemed to take no time at all. Once we made it back to the truck, Paatos and Loki hopped in, and took a long nap on the trip home. While we didn’t get to cover all the areas we had hoped to cover and actually discovered some new ones, we enjoyed what we were able to see and look forward to the next visit. In the meantime, we are heading back to the coast to continue our goal of making it all the way up 101.

Our Journey, Photography

The Oregon Coast

The Oregon Coast
The Oregon Coast
The Oregon Coast
The Oregon Coast
The Oregon Coast
The Oregon Coast

Brookings is a sleepy little town that stretches along US 101 with a few small off shoots that lead to the shoreline. The true gem of this town, for us at least, was that just five minutes outside of town was a scenic highway with gorgeous sea stacks. Compared to the east coast, where such sights are rare, these jagged rock islands, dotted with occasional trees, are quite impressive. We also enjoyed the intensity of the ocean here. In Virginia, the waves are much tamer and you typically only see comparably sized waves when hurricanes approach. Here however, it was just another day at the beach.

Despite the fortune of being so close to so many places to shoot, we quickly learned that it was not going to be as easy as we thought. While most of the sea stacks were visible at odd angles here and there along the twisting highway, they were nearly inaccessible by foot. This was due to the fact that the highway ran alongside steep cliffs that were covered in an overgrowth of ferns and dense brush. Once you made your way through the brush you were faced with the decision of whether it was worth it to slide down the nearly 90 degree angled muddy embankment to the beach itself. Having spent the past several weeks seeing firsthand the number of mudslides that had damaged the area, we decided that was probably not the best plan and made due with what we could access with reasonable safety.

One of the places that we found to be fairly easy to consistently get to was called Whales Head Beach. Here we found numerous large boulders that were surrounded by shallow tidal pools which, as the sun set, made for beautiful reflections. Despite being aware of the tide tables, there were occasionally rather defiant waves that swept much further up the beach than predictable. One such wave left me quite soaked as the wave crashed into the rock I was standing on before I could make a run for it. We both got a good laugh out of it but I learned my lesson after that incident and kept to higher ground.

Consistently, the biggest problem we faced was the erratic weather along the coast. Every day it would call for rain but it was 50/50 as to whether it would actually amount to anything. On some days you would find thick, dense clouds that would make their way along the coastline, dumping rain continuously as they blew through, and then would suddenly give way to brilliant blue skies. Other days it would do nothing but pour all day long. Needless to say, it made things a bit more challenging.

On one afternoon we decided that the weather looked fairly promising and thought that we would go capture some drone footage of the area. We drove down to a viewpoint with a high angle of visibility for tracking. I will say, that when DJI makes a product, they do an excellent job of it. We flew the drone along the coastline and had the controller suddenly give out on us. We couldn’t see any visual from the drones camera, only the distance away and elevation. We tried desperately to find out where the drone had gone, but to no avail. A passing cloud of rain began pelting us with large rain drops and we feared that after so many adventures with it, we had finally lost our drone. Just when we had started to give up hope, we began to hear a recurring beep that let us know the home function was kicking in as the battery was about to die. I scanned the skies, squinting to try and keep from getting rain in my eyes as I quickly became soaked. Several minutes later and the buzzing of the drones rotors soon became loud and the drone made a delicate landing right back where we had first taken off. We hastily packed it back up and went back to the RV. When we finally got a chance to look at the footage, we were startled to find that the drone had gone from along the coastline directly into the thick forest nearby. By some miracle it had barely avoided hitting trees all around it and had made its way back to us.

At the end of the week, we packed up our things and headed further up the coast to the even smaller town of Bandon. The area is well known to photographers for such rock formations as Face Rock, the Wizard’s Hat and the Cat and Kitten’s Rock. Once we had setup camp we headed down to the state beach area and began to scout ideal locations to shoot from. Along the rocky cliffs you can find small caves worn into the stone as well as countless arches and spires. Just a few hundred feet out into the waves were dozens of jagged sea stacks that the waves hammered on furiously. Compared to the rest of the area which looked rather calm, this area seemed to be teeming with activity and waves. In addition to the choppy seas, there were also a few springs of water that ran off from the cliffs and into the sea. If you stood long enough in the path of these tiny streams your feet would slowly be swallowed up. One of the most appealing characteristics of the area was the amount of light that was reflected back from where these streams met the ocean. Coupled with the golden light of sunset and a set of filters made Brandon quite transfixed with getting as many shots as he could. We were warned though, that minding the tide was crucial throughout the area, as the tide comes in fast, and people have been trapped, and even drowned being caught up in the tides and washed away by “sneaker waves”. It became my task to ensure that while he was focusing on the camera that I give warning whenever the waves got too high. All in all, the first evening we were there we were treated with one of the most intense sunsets of the trip so far.

One afternoon while Brandon was working, I went to visit the nearby West Coast Game Park Safari. It was a small area that had a variety of large cats, wandering deer, goats, sheep, and peacocks. I had the amazing opportunity to pet several of the hand raised creatures during their exhibits. Despite this unique experience, I felt a great sadness here. In my opinion, the cages were much too small for many of the animals. Three foxes were in a cage together and two of them were fighting one another. In the cages with the big cats they were either pacing or just sleeping. They didn’t really have much to stimulate them other than the families calling out and making meowing sounds. When the staff were around customers they were smiling and friendly, but once they alone they looked rather more annoyed at being there. They had two chimps which were frequently disrupted by families harassing them and making them agitated. When I asked a worker about it he said it was fine, but it seemed abundantly clear to me that they were upset. The two snow leopards they had were beautiful, but also were often seen mating, much to the females annoyance. It made me wonder if they were keeping them together to try and promote them to breed in captivity. If you are interested in a chance to pet a lynx or bobcat, it’s a good place to accomplish that, but for those who are generally don’t enjoy the atmosphere of a zoo, I would recommend avoiding it.

Later in the week we decided to visit an area to the north of us known as Cape Arago that boasted a now inaccessible lighthouse. What had once been a part of an outcrop of land where the lighthouse was built, had become an island due to erosion and lack of maintenance. The lighthouse itself was used until 2006 upon which it was decommissioned and as of 2008 was turned over to the Coos tribe which historically had used the site as a burial ground. Despite being more than a mile away, we were still able to fly the drone over to the island to get a better look at the lighthouse. Video coming soon. Afterwards, we visited Simpson Reef which is a known pull out for a large population of sea lions and seals. The tide was high and only a few places had room for the creatures to find land but there were hundreds of them basking in the last light of the day. A local who had also come out to watch the wildlife informed us that if we were really luck, we might catch sight of a female humpback and her calf that often frequented the area. We were not so lucky but we enjoyed a nice chat before we moved on and made our way back to the RV.

The rest of the week was mostly spent indoors as the rain had picked up again. One night we got lucky and were able to get some additional shots from the beach but otherwise that was about as much luck as we could warrant. As the week concluded it was time to head back towards a big city so Brandon could return back to D.C. for a couple of weeks for work. In the meantime, I will be holding down the fort in Silverton.

Also, as an added bonus this week, we have included a link to drone footage taken near Brookings!

Our Journey, Photography

Big Sur & Sea Otters

Big Sur & Sea Otters
Big Sur & Sea Otters
Big Sur & Sea Otters
Big Sur & Sea Otters
Big Sur & Sea Otters
Big Sur & Sea Otters
Big Sur & Sea Otters
Big Sur & Sea Otters
Big Sur & Sea Otters
Big Sur & Sea Otters
Big Sur & Sea Otters
Big Sur & Sea Otters

The drive from Yosemite to Moss Landing was rather long and simple. It was mostly on the same road all the way until the exit where our campground was located. The KOA we stayed at was large but provided easy access to the highway with a couple of small shopping centers nearby. We also were not far from the Moss Landing State Beach, which made day trips out to see the wildlife extremely easy.

Once we had settled in, we took some time to go down to Moss Landing State Beach, and right from the start you could see a raft of sea otters floating about on their backs just by the entrance to Elkhorn Slough. They were absolutely fascinating, flipping about in the water, twirling with stunning grace and dexterity. They would move about easily with a small kick of their webbed feet as they floated on their backs. Some of them would come together and join hands, settling down to grab a quick nap and floating on the gentle tide. Seals were basking on the sand not far from a small marina, quietly sleeping for the most part, but a few were occasionally swimming about not far from the sea otters. They would stick their heads out for a look and make a wailing sound before diving back into the waters. This became our favorite place to haunt and watch the wildlife. Going down to the rocks at an outcrop, you could see thousands of tiny jellyfish bobbing about as the waves moved them. You could also sometimes find massive starfish clinging to the rocks, bigger than your hand, bright red and purple hues surrounded by a tiny army of jellyfish tendrils and pieces of loose kelp. That evening while watching the otters we met another photographer who was also out attempting to capture images of the playful creatures. He gave us a some information about local areas we should check out as well as discussing great places around the world for landscape and wildlife photography. He also informed us of a couple worthwhile tours in the area to increase the odds of seeing wildlife.

The next day after work, we decided to take an excursion along the coast just south of Monterey. The long, winding road over-looking the coastline of Big Sur is a wonderful day drive. It seems as though there are continuous magical views around each and every corner. Sometimes it’s lush pastoral hills rolling towards the ever moving sea, sometimes jagged and harrowing cliff faces with waves crashing against them. It’s a slow, meandering drive but it is varied enough to make it seem like it goes by quite quickly. We made our way down the coast in hopes of reaching McWay Falls while racing the sun looming on the horizon. We took a few stops along the way to admire the bridges that had been built where the land had been eroded away by water and time. Here and there you would spot recent evidence of the rock and mudslides that have caused so many problems of late.

When we finally arrived at McWay Falls, we were sad to see it had also been impacted by the weather. Although the waterfall cascading into the sea inside the little cove was incredible, it was far beyond our reach. Due to a series of landslides, the pathways and boardwalks that had been built to give people a complete view of the falls were blocked off by a fence. Streams of tape proclaiming “CAUTION” fluttered in the breeze and criss crossed over the area where the ground had heaved downwards toward the sea and began pushing the structure away from the base. The only paths that looked even remotely viable for a better vantage point, also looked extremely dangerous and likely would have caused further damage to the site. In the past, people have died trying to reach that picturesque beach with the waterfall, and we had no intention of meeting a similar fate. Footprints on the beach and a peace sign made of rock down below seemed to taunt us of the fact that others had been able to make the journey down, probably before the landslide, but we would not be so lucky.

When we had first pulled up to the view point, a young woman also out to shoot the sunset informed us that the trail we were looking for had been blocked off by fences for restoration areas. She had a rich accent of a Londoner, and we chatted about British humor and traveling. She informed me that she was a bit anxious, as she had hitch hiked her way to the location, and was not sure if she would be able to find a ride home. When we finished our photos she was still there and we gladly offered her a ride. It was getting dark, and we didn’t want her to be stranded along the road trying to find a ride back. As we rode along in the truck she told us a bit more about herself. She was a travel photographer based out of Singapore but had grown up in London, she didn’t like driving, so she hitch hiked almost exclusively. We chatted about places we had both been to, places we recommended, and throughly enjoyed her company.

I was a bit sad to say goodbye when we dropped her off at her hotel, but glad she had made it back safely and we had ample room in our truck to give her a ride back. It reminded me vividly of the couple we had picked up in Grand Staircase Escalante, so desperate for help they had considered riding on the roof of the Jeep we had rented just to get back to their car and out of the heat of the desert. We had squashed into the Jeep and the poor woman half sat in my lap as we jostled about in the cramped space. If we had had our truck back then, it would have been a much more comfortable experience for all parties, but I wouldn’t have turned them away either way. Before we began traveling I never really considered picking up a hitch hiker. Too many horror stories of people slitting your throat after asking for a ride, always being told never to pick someone up from the side of the road. Now that we travel more, I’ve come to appreciate that sometimes it’s ok to take a small risk to help people, particularly in cases where it could mean life or death for those stranded.

A couple days later we were able to arrange a tour of the Elkhorn Slough by boat. The boat was an open topped pontoon, bench covered, and flat, making it ideal for being able to see everything around. A phone call to the owners of Elkhorn Slough Safari and Brandon found out that they had a special seat in the very back for photographers. It gave him the ability to stand up whenever he wished to get shots from either side of the craft. The Captain was a good spirited man who loved to make jokes. Our two naturalists who were on board were knowledgable, and helped create fun activities for the children on board while imparting their information.

As soon as we set out we saw an abundance of sea lions stacked on top of one another like an unceremonious dog-pile upon anything they were able to reach that floated in the Harbor. Some were rather small, which we were told were mostly the females which comprised the harems of the males. The few males we did see however, were massive. Glittering sleek fur, rounded domed heads, hulking bodies, and loud cries that showed rows of large and sharp teeth. A scuffle would churn up the piles of sea lions every now and then and would raise into loud, guttural growls and barks before one of them was driven off their perch and into the water. Very quickly the rest would re-settle into their piles and sleep again. Some of them swam in the water of the harbor, not at all disturbed by the presence of the boat.

Leaving the narrower part of the harbor, the amount of sea lions petered off and a stench immediately smacked into your face from the blowing wind. On abandoned pylons of a once destroyed old pier, were nests holding Brandt’s cormorants. It was the middle of breeding season and dozens of nests holding females were to be found on the tops of every pole. We were told that the smell was because the nests primary building component was actually their poop. It made for a very fishy, pungent aroma. The males were finding materials by diving into the waters and pulling up chunks of kelp to present to their mates. If the female approved, she would take his building material and add it to the nest. The male would puff up his throat, a vibrant teal blue patch just under his beak, and show his pride at having brought back his prize for her and providing for their future offspring. Brandt’s cormorants are not the most consciences birds though, as a good majority of the material found in the nest is found to have been stolen from neighboring nests. The males seemed almost to pose for the camera as they puffed up and preened themselves readily and eagerly at their audience.

Once we had drifted past the pylons, the naturalists pointed out the group of sea otters we had been photographing and visiting over the past few days and gave us some more information about them. The raft we had been observing was apparently known as the Bachelor Raft, consisting almost entirely of males. As we passed under the bridge into Elkhorn Slough proper, we were greeted by the sight of female sea otters tending to tiny fuzzy balls of fur that were their pups. The pups we were told, are rather helpless until they get to be older. Their fur is so buoyant when they are young, that the only thing they can do is float, they can’t swim, or dive beneath the water, leaving them rather helpless without their mother. Their mother will drag them along trying to teach them to swim, how to tend their fur, grooming and caring for their fur till they can do it themselves, and feed them. More often than not the baby sits upon its mothers belly as she swims about on her back. When the mother leaves them to hunt, they make tiny wailing cries which we heard to a round sound of “Aww” and happy squeals from the onlookers. The naturalists said that because of this they call them “wailers” as they float about, sometimes wrapped up in kelp so mother can find them again. The males do not take part in raising the pups, instead they will actually ‘kidnap’ a pup, holding it ransom until mother returns, and only give the pup back if she will give up whatever food she has hunted for. The mothers we saw were never far from their pups, and would hold them tightly as we passed by. One mother was struggling with an older pup who had learned to swim and would rather play then pay attention to anything else, much to the mothers agitation from what we could see as she struggled to keep herself above water between her offsprings pounces.

As our journey took us further inland the shore became dotted with numerous seals. We learned that the reason there were such large seals was because it was time for the female seals to give birth, and so they would swim into the safer waters of Elkhorn Slough to give birth. We saw a few of the swollen mothers basking on the shore for a rest as well as a few that had already given birth. Their pups were small, fuzzy, wrinkled, and pudgy little things. We had the luck to see one suckling milk from their mother as we passed by. The mother watched us closely but made no move as it might disturb the feeding pup, and we kept a safe distance so as not to upset them.

Towards the end of the journey they had a few more activities for the kids, cookies, hot chocolate and coffee as we headed back towards the marina. The naturalists pointing out birds and a restoration project to help replace land that had been washed away by erosion to make sure the wildlife would continue to have a safe spot to breed and raise pups. Overall it was an extremely pleasant tour and I would highly recommend it to anyone who goes out that way looking for a chance to get up close shots of the wildlife.

Later in the week we will be participating in a whale tour before heading up to San Francisco and eventually to the Oregon coast.

Our Journey, Photography

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park

It was quite a relief to watch the arid and bleak scenery of Death Valley melt away into the green smatterings of plants here and there. Before long, the views along the roadside had fully transitioned into lush, rolling hills, sprinkled with rocky outcrops and dotted with trees. Seeing the green grass rustling in the wind made me realize just how long it had been since we had seen real grass, not just a tiny dot of it that comprised of the dog runs in Vegas or the fake grass that people roll out in front of their RV’s. This was thick, green, and full of life. I wanted to run out into the middle of any number of the passing fields and roll around. It seemed like an eternity since the ground had been anything but baked earth or the red dusty sand that had grown so familiar these past few months. Brown and white cows were in abundance, casually meandering through the picturesque landscape as they chewed their cud. Little calves pranced and jumped about in joy, playing as their mothers watched over them. It made me smile as I looked out over the hills as far as the eye could see with clouds rolling across the sky promising rain. The initial phase of the journey to Yosemite was comfortable and smooth with the promise of a new environment.

It was a long day working our way south of the Sierras and back up again. Nearly eight hours into our ascent our journey took an unexpected turn. A man, a truck and a sign all indicated the same thing – “Road Closed”. Despite the lack of warnings on the roads leading up to this junction, the DOT employee was able to explain to us that the entire corridor up ahead was washed out. The unusual amount of rain that California had received over the past couple weeks had wreaked havoc on many of the area roads and bridges. Unfortunately for us, this meant we would need to turn around and take a detour that would add a couple hours to our trip. The detour led us directly into Yosemite instead of skirting the western edge as we had planned. While the views were of course incredible, it had already been a long day and now the sun was setting. More than once I thought the RV was going to scrape against the edge of the cliffs and rock faces that had been carved out to make way for the road. The constant winding track, inclines, and steep downhills made the wheels of the RV send up small billows of smoke as we slowed our descent around precariously tight corners. Several hours past our original time for reaching our destination, and we had finally reached the RV park. Brandon took out his phone to check for cell coverage and/or WiFi only to discover that there was absolutely no connection. No internet means no work which forced us to have to make a new set of calculations.

Without data coverage we were limited to what information we had cached on our offline maps. We suspected that if we headed west we would increase our odds of cell coverage as that was the only direction where there was any towns of substantial size. Half an hour later we were starting to get limited coverage and decided to pull off and call around to see if we could find someplace else to spend the night. After a few phone calls to the different campsites around the area, we learned that not just the roads were flooded out but also the majority of the nearby towns and campgrounds. The best suggestion any one had was to head to the town of Sonora as it was high enough up to avoid most of the damage. It was another hour away from Yosemite but without any better options, it was our last hope. After doing a bit of research we learned that there are no RV parks in Sonora. At this point though, we needed a place to stay so that Brandon could work in the morning and decided to start calling hotels. We found a Best Western in Sonora that was pet friendly and had space for an RV, our two key requirements. The hour was more of an hour and a half with the RV due to the steep, winding roads leading out of the western edge of the Sierras. By the time that we arrived we were thankful to be done for the day, even if that meant leaving our house in the parking lot. We packed up our electronics and setup a worksite in the hotel figuring we could spend the remainder of the week working from the hotel before moving back up to the campground for the weekend.

Sonora was a nice little town with a large variety of restaurants and luxuries that we had been lacking while out in the more remote parts of the desert. On Tuesday, after Brandon had finished work for the day, we headed back up to Yosemite to spend the late afternoon and evening in the park. The drive was infinitely easier without the RV and we made good time, but it was still a two hour drive to reach the places we wanted to be inside the park. This arrangement was less than ideal and meant that our visits into Yosemite were considerably less viable than we had originally planned. We came to the conclusion that we would have to wait for the weekend for more thorough excursions into the park. The rest of the week seemed to meld together as we kept ourselves cooped up inside the hotel until the weekend. The one major benefit of this was an opportunity to catchup on going through photos and a bit of relaxation.

Once Friday rolled around we were eager to get everything packed away and loaded up into the RV to get back to things. The drive back up to our original RV accommodations was rather grueling, and again spent much of the time wondering if we would leave some paint on the abundant, jutting rock faces. Once we were settled into the campground and got situated, we realized it was one of the nicer ones we had been to. There were a very limited number of campsites, but they had plenty of room, a small plot of grass for the dogs to enjoy just outside our door, and the peace and quiet of the outdoors. Saturday we spent the day traveling throughout Yosemite, taking our time to get pictures of Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, and another attempt at some sunset photos. It was surprisingly busy in the park throughout the weekend which we later learned was due to it being spring break for all of the schools in California. Despite the mix of sunny and cloudy weather we were still able to sneak in a few shots in the handful of sunny moments that existed. Next year, I suspect we will be coming back but will have a better idea of where we need to stay and can plan a little better. We will also know to avoid spring break so we can enjoy the park while it’s more empty.

Sunrise the next morning was long and drawn out. Although we got up at 4:30 AM to make sure we would make it in time for the sunrise, we ended up waiting until almost 7:30 AM before the sun finally managed to burst forth and spread its light over the valley. There was a long line of photographers patiently waiting with their cameras fixated on the horizon. Darting in between you would find couples trying to grab a quick snap or selfie before getting bored and moving on. After the sunrise we made a final loop around the park and took a few more shots of the primary falls as the light began to illuminate the cascading water. It was beautiful to see how the shadows of the water falling down the rock face morphed and swirled in the shifting light.

Back at the RV, we packed things up and prepared to hit the road. Due to our experiences over the past week we decided that we would be better off finding a location that was more centralized to areas we could shoot during the week. Instead of spending the next week holed up in the hotel again, we decided to head to the California coast just north of Monterey. This would give us opportunities to visit with sea otters, whales and other local creatures before continuing our journey ever northward.

Our Journey, Photography

The Valley of Death

The Valley of Death
The Valley of Death
The Valley of Death
The Valley of Death
The Valley of Death
The Valley of Death
The Valley of Death
The Valley of Death

Once work was completed for the week we began our escape by heading down one of the many long, empty roads out of Vegas. As the city fell away behind us, all that remained was uncompromising desert flats, a horizon of tiny mountains off in the distance and the occasional military base or prison sprinkled in between. The only thing of note along that barren stretch of highway was the Area 51 Cafe which must not have realized that it was a tad bit south of the actual base. After a couple hours we arrived in Beatty, a small, former mining town. While there wasn’t much there, it provided a close base from which we could explore Death Valley.

After setting up camp we headed into the park for sunset. Despite being relatively close to the park, it still took us over an hour to get into the park and to arrive at the Mesquite Dunes. This is largely in part due to the sheer size of the park itself. Sitting on over 3.3 million acres, it is nearly the size of Connecticut. In addition to sheer size, the park ranges from sitting below sea level to rising to nearly 11,000 feet in places. The vastness is not easily conveyed but is truly quite astonishing. The massive sand dunes themselves rise to over 100 feet tall and cover a many square miles. Dune after dune, we ascended upwards to scale the tallest dunes and capture shots of the contrasting peaks of sand. Without the clouds, the sunset lacked the luster we really hoped for, but given that Death Valley has almost 365 days of sunny weather, it was little wonder there were no clouds. We sat and appreciated the sunset and twilight before making our way back down the rolling sand mountains and eventually back to the RV.

We got up around 3AM to head back into the park and attempt to capture some astrophotography. Sadly, our efforts were thwarted by a series of low level cloud layers that obscured the sky. For some reason, by sheer luck, when we came to Death Valley, one of the driest places in the world, clouds seemed to have followed us. It made taking pictures of the night sky and the stars impossible. Since the view of the stars was rendered hopeless, we decided to head to our next destination for sunrise, hoping that the clouds would clear away and give us a nice glow for the breaking of dawn. A quick nap in the truck was in order before we trudged out to Zabriskie Point where the hills look painted with the striations of the rock itself. As we sat out on the lip of the steep drop overlooking the main formations, the wind whipped violently and strong from behind us, but was warm upon the skin. As light began creeping across the sky the wind became steadily colder, and sadly the clouds refused to abate and blocked the brilliance of the suns glow from touching the point. We captured what we could and then made our way to Badwater Basin.

It was a funny feeling being in Badwater Basin, the lowest point in North America at almost 300 feet below sea level. The wind was so intense it almost knocked you over as it gustily made its way down the valley. The deeper we headed into the valley, the more the ground was cracked and plastered white with the thick crust of salt. The effect of the salt was apparent on the earth as it was creased and torn from having all the moisture sucked out of it. Unlike the Bonneville Salt Flats where the salt would cling to the bottom of your shoes and still seemed almost like wet snow, the salt here made your eyes feel as if they were drying out of your sockets as the wind hit them. The patterns upon the ground were very similar, but the Badwater Basin lacked the pure white glittering of Bonneville. The salt here was harsher, darker, and dull. Once we had finished taking our photos of the extensive basin we trudged our way back to the truck to grab some much needed sleep in the RV.

It’s amazing how refreshing a short nap and a good meal can be after being sleep deprived and exhausted. We were up and off again in no time as we had little time to spare if we were going to get to our next destination by sunset. After an hour and a half on the main roads, we took the truck down the rocky road to Racetrack Playa for 30 miles to reach Racetrack Playa. The whole road was extremely washboarded and the entire time you could barely exceed 20 mph or your tires would begin sliding out from the loose gravel and stones on the road. Those 30 miles took almost another 2 hours before we reached the Playa. The area is known for the mysterious ‘moving rocks’ that left long trails carved into the ground behind them. It wasn’t until rather recently that scientists were able to pinpoint the root cause. Apparently, it is an extremely rare event but the idea is that if the correct series of events occurs, it will trigger this phenomena. First, enough rain must collect in the area to partially cover the stones but not submerge them. Next, it must drop below freezing such that the top of the water is frozen but the bottom remains unfrozen. The temperature then needs to rise just enough that the ice begins to crack and leave gaps. Finally, the wind must be strong enough to push the now free ice chunks into the rocks with enough fore that it causes the subtle movements seen over time. This was something that had fascinated me as a child and to finally get a chance to see it in person, I was disappointed. This was not because of the rocks themselves, which I fully enjoyed and was enthralled by, but by the blatant carelessness and disregard of previous visitors. It was extremely apparent that people had no regard for this natural phenomenon. You could see the trails that must have taken thousands of years to have been made, only to find no rock at the end. Only an empty spot where it should have been, a trail cut short. On others you could see where the trail had been created by a larger rock, but another rock had been placed upon the track. Some places had tracks with rocks at the beginning and the end of them. It was abundantly apparent that people had been taking the rocks, or moving them to try and get a better photo without any real regard to the fact that these rocks were here because of thousands of years of absolutely perfect conditions to allow them to move. It was deeply saddening that people held such little regard for such things. As long as they got their perfect souvenire or that perfect shot, who cares right? With that in mind we were careful not to disturb any of the rocks, and after a lot of searching finally found a few that we liked, took our photos, and made sure to leave everything as we found it.

Once the sun had gone over the horizon, we made our way back down the long bumpy road back to the main road and through the dark to our RV once more. It had been an extremely full day and another long one was waiting for us the next morning as we would make our way across California and into Yosemite National Park.