April 21. I arrived at Eureka Dunes at 4:47 PM. The wind was howling and the sand dunes were alive with moving sand. I tied a hefty rock to my tripod to keep it from blowing away and captured a few seconds of video. Mind you, the recorded sound alone is intense.
I popped the top of the camper up and climbed inside to get away from the blowing sand. Inside, the front roof vent was loose and it was making a tremendous racket banging up and down in the wind. I had visions of a sleepless night.
It wasn’t long, though, before the wind let up. With the sun low in the sky and about to set over the mountains to the west, I decided to go for a walk. I left my big Nikon D850 in the camper since I did not want to expose it to the flying sand. I grabbed my trusty Sony RX100 and went out to explore the dunes with the late afternoon light.
As I ventured out on the dunes I realized this was a rare opportunity. The wind had scoured all the footprints. My experience photographing sand dunes is that they are rarely free of footprints. The clean sensuous lines of the sand ridges in the angle of the sun resulted in some stunning images. This didn’t last long. While I was photographing the dune and sky image you see above, another party of hikers came by and and the clean lines were no more. As the sun sunk over the ridge the lighting became too soft for my liking and I retreated to the camper to fix dinner.
The next morning I was out of the camper at 6 AM with my big camera and tripod to see what the morning light had to offer. One of my favorite images from this trip is the one above with the light and shadow playing on the dunes and the bushes in the foreground. This image and a few others are available as fine art prints in my art store.
The early morning light revealed many interesting compositions. Light and shadows and texture. It was 9 AM when I returned to the camper. At that time I was no longer seeing compositions that I found interesting.
I must say that the campground was not too busy. If you look closely at the photo of the valley you can see my camper alone in the distance with no other vehicles near by. There were three vehicles in the campground representing six people.
Eureka Dunes is located in Death Valley National Park. To get there requires a long drive on a washboard gravel road. It can be slow going if you are in a passenger car. The campground is dry, with no drinking water available. Campsites have picnic tables and there is a vault toilet.
You can see more photos from the Eureka Valley trip here.
A month ago, on February 6, I left home along with my wife Joann to drive over the mountains to Big Pine. Along with taking grandma (Joann) over to spend a few weeks providing child care, I had the added mission of taking time in the Eastern Sierra to pursue some landscape photography. For me this means chasing the sun . On previous trips I have explored the ghost town of Bodie, the Alabama Hills, and the Bristlecone Pine Forest in the White Mountains, all locations that are quite accessible from Big Pine and offer stunning photo opportunities.
For this trip I decided to explore locations close to Big Pine. Why spend time driving when you have the majestic Sierra in your back yard? And with a trip home in the middle of the month I had ample opportunities to chase the sun further abroad.
My first sunrise venture took me to a location just off California State Route 168 with a view of the town of Big Pine and the snow capped Sierra to the west. The town of Big Pine was lost in the shadows but when I switched to a longer focal length I captured the image of Birch Mountain you see above. Just a few minutes later from a location along the Owens River I captured a image of Mount Sill, the image on the right.
A week later I pointed the camper home and spent the night near Mono Lake. Here’s a photo of me on the morning of February 17 captured with my drone. It was 11 degrees when I stepped out of the camper. My dog Carson was not going to leave the camper at that temperature.
The evening before, while I was exploring the environment near Mono Lake, I was struck by an otherworldly landscape with the black branches of burned shrubs against a blanket of white snow. A few days later on the morning of February 22, I was again camped at Mono Lake on my return back to Big Pine. This time I found a better vantage point to capture some color in the sky over Mono Lake as illustrated in the photo above. Also shown is an image captured along the Owen’s River featuring a bare cotton wood tree in the morning light.
Once back in Big Pine I continued my search for photo vantage points close to town. Here’s a photo of Birch Mountain and the surrounding peaks from the shoreline of Klondike Lake.
One of the things that fascinated me on this trip were the limbs and branches of the bare trees against the blue sky. Whereas the morning and sunset photos are captured with a Nikon D850 on a tripod, often blending multiple exposures, during the day I’m more likely to use my point and shoot Sony RX-100, which captures amazing photos. The back and white image of the trees was captured on a morning dog walk. I applied some post-production wizardry to make the trees and the snowy mountains stand out.
For my last sunrise venture I put the drone in the air to capture a photo with part of the town of Big Pine in the foreground and Sierra Nevada mountains just starting to capture the morning light. Here’s a link to a larger collection of photos from this trip. Some of these images will be available shortly in my art store. Feel free to contact me or comment.
The Mojave Desert is a huge swath of land in the Southwest corner of the United States, much of it located in California. It occupies close to 48,000 square miles and is noted for the Joshua Trees that grow only in this desert. The Mojave Road runs across part of the Mojave Desert and through the Mojave National Preserve, a unit of the National Park System. The road was originally a trail for Native Americans stringing together a series of watering holes and providing a route for trade between desert and coastal dwellers. Later it became a route for Spanish missionaries, explorers, and settlers from the 18th to 19th centuries. Today it’s an iconic four-wheel drive road. We spent four days driving the road with a caravan of Four Wheel Pop-Up Campers.
For part of the tour, I had a GoPro camera on the dashboard of our truck. Here’s four days of touring condensed into 10 minutes. Make sure to watch the water crossing at 8:52.
Our tour started at 7:30 a.m. on October 8 in the parking lot of the Avi Resort in Bullhead City. There we met our tour guide, Bob Wohler of the Off-Road Safety Academy. Bob gave us a briefing and provided a radio for each truck to use for communication while touring.
Once we were off the pavement, we stopped to air down our tires. I’ve driven off-road periodically for over 20 years and this was the biggest eye-opener on the trip for me. Less air in the tires gives a much smoother ride. As Bob would say, sympathy for the passengers, sympathy for the equipment, and sympathy for the environment. Our tour passed a number of interest points, the first being Fort Piute. Then it was on to our campsite for the night at School Bus Camp, noted for an abandoned school bus that marked the location until a few years ago when it was removed.
There are numerous points of interest along the road, including a tin can into which you can drop a penny for good luck, the Mojave Mailbox where you can sign your name and leave a comment, and a collection of gnomes and frogs. You just have to see it to believe it. The terrain ranges from sandy flats to rocky road to a dry soda lakebed, traveling through some magnificent Joshua Tree forests along the way. The road has worn down at several points so that you are driving in a canyon so narrow that the vegetation is brushing against the sides of your vehicle.
Once across the soda lake you arrive at a pile of rocks. Bob had instructed us to pick up a rock earlier in the trip, and this is where the rocks are deposited—at Travelers Monument. There is actually a monument buried under this pile of rocks. If you scramble to the top of the pile you can read the plaque. We were sworn to secrecy regarding the words so you’ll just have to plan a visit to read it yourself.
A highlight of the trip was the lava tube, and also the water crossing at the end. We ended up driving the last section of the road from east to west because we helped some travelers who got their vehicle stuck in the sand. Time was an issue, so we took a detour to Afton Canyon Campground for our last night. The next morning two rigs decided to cross the Mojave River with Bob’s coaching.
More photos are available here, and I’ve made a few select images available as fine art prints in my art store.
We logged 180 miles on the tour, some of it on side trips off the Mojave Road. Elevation ranged from 500 feet at the start of the tour to 5,700 feet at the high point.
With the Labor Day weekend approaching, it was time to make our way over the mountains towards home. We decided a three-day camping outing was in order. The trick was to find a spot off the beaten track that would be away from the throngs of campers. Here’s where a little local knowledge came in handy. Our son Aaron had a tip that Parker Lake might be the spot. So on Saturday, September 5, we pointed our rig towards Parker Lake. Along the way we observed that campgrounds near Grant Lake and Silver Lake seemed to be packed to capacity, and the trail head parking was full to overflowing.
We found Parker Lake road and left the pavement, switching into four wheel drive. This is not a road I would recommend for anybody with low clearance, although we did see a Subaru Forester. We stopped on a rise where I took a photo of our rig with Mono Lake in the background.
A few miles further on we found a nice camping spot in a grove of aspen and pine trees. As is my habit, I’m always looking for that Truck Camper Magazine calendar photo, without a camp fire in this case, since campfires are not allowed in the current conditions. I substituted a camp lantern for our campfire glow. In the morning we woke up to an orange dystopian sun peering through smoke from a wildfire, the Creek Fire, on the other side of the mountains. As you can see in the photo above, the sun is peeking through the smoke. Despite the smoke we decided to do the short hike to the lake before breaking camp.
From our camp we hiked up the road to the trail head, and then up through sage brush and desert vegetation and down into a lovely wooded valley with pines and aspen.
Once in the valley it’s a short distance to the lake which is situated in a bowl with mountains rising above. The mountains were shrouded in smoke, but nonetheless we stopped to let Carson get his feet wet and to watch ducks that seemed to be looking at us for a handout. Don’t look at me for a handout. I make it a point not to share my food with the local wildlife. After a brief stay, we hiked back to our campsite, popped the top town on the camper and headed over the mountains for clean air.
On June 7 we hopped in the truck for the drive from our house in Albany, California, to Big Pine. Our route crossed the Sierra Nevada Mountains at Sonora Pass, Highway 108, a windy two-lane road. As we approached the pass, we found ourselves in clouds with light snow flurries, an uncommon occurrence for June. Once we arrived in Big Pine, we set up “camp” in the driveway using our Four Wheel Pop-Up Camper as our bedroom for our visit.
I spent the better part of 10 days in Big Pine. During our stay we made a few outings – a picnic lunch in the Inyo Mountains, and a picnic dinner on Big Pine Creek at an elevation of 8000 feet to escape the heat of the Owens Valley.
Other adventures included morning walks in the desert and paddle boarding on nearby Klondike Lake. On June 16, it was time for me to head home to tend to business; I left Joann to continue playing grandma, providing childcare while our son and daughter-in-law worked. On the trip home I made a quick overnight stop at a favorite dispersed camping spot near Mono Lake, which afforded the opportunity to practice social distancing in a quiet spot off the beaten track. On June 27 I’ll be heading back to Big Pine for the next installment of grandparenting. Stay tuned.
Five o’clock in the morning my alarm goes off. I looked out the camper window and decided it was too dark to get up. I hit the snooze button and went back to sleep. Ten minutes later I awoke again and was surprised how much the light had changed. I was quickly out the camper door. At 5:15 I had my camera pointed at the sky above the rocks. The brilliant and fleeting color lasted just a few minutes. By 5:25 the color was gone. Sunrise was 5:34, so the lesson is to get up early to catch the sun.
I’m camped in the Alabama Hills. The photos from the big camera will have to wait until I get home next week. I managed to get away without a card reader to transfer the images from the memory cards. Needless to say the iPhone does a good job for capturing images to share here.
The Alabama Hills is in the Eastern Sierra, in the Owen’s Valley, 375 miles from home. While it’s still in California, it seems like a world away from the anxious throngs of people in the Bay Area hunkered down with stay-at-home orders to avoid the risk of COVID-19. No masks here. There are quite a few campers considering the location, but we are all quite spread out. This is dispersed camping on lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management. No services, so you need to be prepared.
After a morning in the solitude of the rocks and desert, I’m feeling quite refreshed. Three months of shelter-in-place was taking a toll on my mental attitude, wondering if I’d ever get out in the camper again.
We brought the camper over to spend some time playing grandparents while our son and daughter-in-law work. My wife will spend several weeks. I’m spending a week and a half. We justified our escape from the stay-at-home order by considering our childcare services to be essential. So here we are. And while visiting, I’m inclined to go explore some of my favorite haunts in the Eastern Sierra.
January 12, 2020. As I write this we’re nine days into an 11 day road trip, making a circuit through Joshua Tree, Mojave and Death Valley. It seems like the theme for this trip is desert, dogs and Dutch ovens. We like to travel with our dog Carson, and winter camping seems to be conducive to Dutch Oven cooking. After sunset I can put the camera away, start the coals for the Dutch Oven, and build a campfire.
We even used the Dutch Oven to thaw out Carson’s water dish after it had frozen solid one morning; that after we had fired up the oven to reheat some quiche from a previous breakfast. Our journey started on Saturday, January 4, with a drive to Red Rock Canyon State Park. Camp fees seemed a little steep there, but the location is worth it. Dogs need to be on leash, which is the rule for many of the places we visited. There is BLM land nearby where dispersed camping is available for free. We paid $23 for the night at Red Rock and that included a $2 senior discount. In the evening we fired up the Dutch Oven to cook cod with lemon and capers. Joann cooked a risotto dish to go along with it. A gourmet meal.
The next morning we were in no rush to hit the road so we fired up the oven again and cooked a mushroom and brie breakfast strada. Absolutely scrumptious, with enough left over to feed us for another breakfast and more.
From Red Rock we drove to Joshua Tree National Park. When we got to Hidden Valley Campground we were discouraged to see a “Campground Full” sign at the entrance, but we decided to take a look anyway and found one open site. We spent two nights and I took the opportunity to wander around for two mornings and one evening looking for early morning and evening landscape photography opportunities. Hidden Valley has interesting rock outcroppings as well as some nice stands of Joshua trees. As a popular spot for rock climbers, camping spaces are scarce. I’ll post more about the landscape photography in another post. It’s hard enough to condense eight days of travel into one blog post.
While wandering through Joshua Tree we managed to do the short nature walk at Hidden Valley. We alternated walking the trail while the other walked the dog around the parking and picnic areas. We also explored some of the other campgrounds and noted that there was plenty of camping available at Jumbo Rocks and Belle. We also drove down to the Cholla Garden which is an amazingly dense stand of cholla cactus.
On January 7 we drove to the Mojave National Preserve where we decided to camp at Kelso Dunes. This is a primitive campground with no running water or facilities except for a few fire rings. There was one other camper about a quarter mile from us. We took a hike up the sand dunes letting Carson wander off-leash, returning to camp just as the sky was going dark following a blazing sunset. With a near-full moon rising to the east we had light to find our way as darkness approached.
From Mojave we drove to Death Valley where we spent one night camped at the Oasis in Furnace Creek. Our motivation was to find hot showers and do some laundry. We camped at Fiddler’s Camp, an RV camp behind the gas station. $24 with showers and pool access included. We also took advantage of the food facilities and ate dinner and breakfast in the luxury of the Furnace Creek Ranch.
Furnace Creek is a good spot to spend a night or two if you want to see some of the more popular attractions of the park. We were intent on seeing some of the less popular locations. In the morning we drove the short distance to Twenty Mule Team Canyon which the park literature suggested was a good spot to walk a dog. We drove in the canyon a short distance, parked the truck and took a two mile walk with Carson on-leash. Dogs are not permitted on the trails in the park, but they are permitted on roads; this is a lightly used dirt road, perfect for walking the dog.
After walking the dog we topped off the fuel tank, anticipating a good 200 miles or so of driving before we could expect another gas station. From Furnace Creek we drove to Mesquite Springs Campground where we spent a very windy night. We were happy to be in the camper rather than a tent. With the propane heater going we were cozy even with a chilly wind blowing outside.
The next morning we drove to the Racetrack Playa with a stop for lunch at Teakettle Junction. The Racetrack is a perfectly flat playa. Near the southern end of the playa there are some truly bizarre trails left by rocks. When conditions are right a thin film of water freezes and thaws in such a way that fierce winds move the rocks leaving trails. Some of these trails go for hundreds of feet. It’s a truly mind bending experience to imagine how these rocks can move. We arrived at about 3 in the afternoon and found good lighting, using the glint of the sun on the playa to photograph the rock trails.
Getting to the Racetrack Playa is a bit of a chore. It’s a dirt road marked as a 4×4 road, and a two hour drive to cover the 27 mile distance over washboard and gravel.
From the playa we drove the short distance to Homestake campground, another primitive campground with no facilities. We had the campground to ourselves. Here we fired up the Dutch Oven to cook Eggplant Parmesan and we ate dinner by the campfire while we watched the full moon rise over the mountains to the east. With nobody else in sight we let Carson have free run of the campground.
Looking forward to a New Year and new adventures with the opportunity to provide inspiration and insight into the wonders of the world. We’re about to hit the road again for a ten day road trip through the deserts of Southern California and contemplating this quote from John Muir:
I’d rather be in the mountains thinking about God, than in church thinking about the mountains.
“No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man” is an exhibit currently running at the Oakland Museum of California in Oakland. The exhibit runs through February 16, 2020.
Burning Man had its origins in 1986 when Larry Harvey and Jerry James built a human effigy and burned it on a San Francisco beach. The fire drew a crowd of 35 people. Since then the event has moved to the Black Rock Desert in Nevada, where it now draws over 70,000 people from all over the world.
An entire city rises out of the dust of the desert and provides a canvas for experimental art installations. Some of those art pieces along with a glimpse of the history and culture of Burning Man are on exhibit. Burning Man is governed by ten principles: Radical Inclusion, Gifting, Decommodification, Radical Self-reliance, Radical Self-expression, Communal Effort, Civic Responsibility, Leaving No Trace, Participation, and Immediacy.
Having not been to Burning Man, I found the exhibit quite enlightening; I recommend it to anybody with an interest in culture, art and creativity.
The ultimate goal of Burning Man is to encourage the culture of creativity. -Marian Goodell
You can view more photos from the Oakland Museum exhibit here. Burning Man now has a network to facilitate and extend the culture that originates with the Burning Man event into the larger world.
If your life is burning well, poetry is just the ash. – Leonard Cohen
We’re taking an extended weekend to play grandpa and grandma in Big Pine, a town of about 1800 people in the Eastern Sierra, elevation 4000 feet. Home to our son, his wife, and our granddaughter Annabelle. It’s a 310-mile drive and the shortest route takes us through Yosemite National Park on Highway 120. The highway closes in winter for snow but, this being a very dry year, the snow has yet to come. We arrived at 5 p.m. on Saturday, November 16, just as darkness was setting in. After the seven-hour drive we were happy to pull the truck into the driveway and pop up the top on our Four Wheel Camper. Then it was dinner time. We had a very pleasant meal and, following some family time, we turned in for a quiet and peaceful night’s sleep.
Sunday morning we awoke to a bright, sunny day and after breakfast we ventured out for a walk on the desert in shirt-sleeve weather. Five of us and two dogs. Our walk took us out the front door, down the street to open land managed by Los Angeles Water and Power; a great place to walk dogs off leash and to enjoy the view of the mountains to the east and west.
Talking about walking, our granddaughter Annabelle was a trooper at testing out her new skill of walking. She did manage to take a spill, planting her face on the trail, and getting her lip a bit bloody. It wasn’t long though before she was back in good spirits. After the walk it was time to check the chicken coop, and sure enough, we found four eggs.
I did not expect to see much fall color on this trip. We did see some color in the black oaks driving over the mountains, and in the willows and rabbit bush on the desert.