Chasing the Sun

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.

Rust in the Desert

In the spring of 2015 my son moved his family from Bishop to Big Pine, a town of about 1800 people in the Eastern Sierra. Consequently we’ve been making trips to visit and, with the pandemic, those trips have been extended so that we can provide child care while my son and his wife work from home.

We like to walk, and with our dog in tow, our morning walks often take us out to the desert just beyond the edge of town. And while the stunning view of the snow capped Sierra is a dominating presence, I often find myself fascinated by more mundane objects. Our usual walk takes us by the old dump site and here somebody has recently recovered some items to create two assemblages, one I call Rings and Glass, a collection rusted iron rings and bits of colored glass.

The second I call Bottle Bush. I can’t say why these assemblages fascinate me. Perhaps it’s the curiosity about who might do this and what story they are trying to tell. I’m also challenged by the idea of trying to capture these in a photograph that makes them look more extraordinary than they first appear. The Bottle Bush is a particularly interesting challenge, since the pieces of bottle do not show up well. To make them show up I try to get a low vantage point to put the assemblage against the sky. And then to apply some post-production wizardry to make the pieces of glass stand out. These two assemblages have become some sort of shrine for me and I make a point of checking on them each time I visit.

In addition to these two assemblages there is parcel of private property that catches my attention, with the remains of a couple of cars and a variety of other rusty items.

Among the other things that caught my attention were the blue door of an abandoned Ford pickup truck, a plate telling the story of a Christmas past and a kitchen sink, true to my theme of Rust in the Desert. You can see additional photos here and some of these images may be appearing in my art store at www.store.treve.com.

The Mojave Road

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.

Parker Lake

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.

Cowbells in the Sierra

It’s August 25 and I’m hiking down a mountainside when I hear cowbells. For a moment I start fantasizing that I’m in Switzerland. I check the map and I’m headed to Upper Gardner Meadow in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, but let me back up to the previous day. The story starts when Carson, my dog, and I hopped on board our camper for a four-day trip over the mountains. The original plan was to finish some client work and head over the mountains to join my wife and my son’s family in Big Pine, joining them on the 25th. The wildfires burning near Santa Cruz forced me to change my plans. The fire drove my daughter and her family to seek refuge at our house in Albany. Both she and my grandson, Micah, had colds and, as such, my family on the East Side suggested I take my time crossing the mountains to make sure I didn’t bring the cold with me. I can think of worse fates than being banished to the mountains for a few days.

In any event, I decided to drive up State Route 4 and to camp near Highland Lakes near Ebbetts Pass.

The drive took us past Mosquito Lake, which despite the name, provided an idyllic view of a cabin on a rock with clouds reflecting on the quiet water.

Not far beyond we found the turnoff to Highland Lakes. I found a spot to camp for the night a couple of miles down the road, a spot with a well-established fire ring and a babbling stream. A perfect spot to camp and let Carson run off-leash. I popped the top on the camper and cooked a quick dinner.

In the morning I broke camp and drove the rest of the way to Highland Lakes, where I found an established Forest Service camp. I picked a site near the lake. I wanted to be close to the lake to take advantage of the evening and morning light. The campground fee was $8.50, the reduced rate for a senior pass. I ended up putting a $10 bill in the envelope since I did not have the exact change. I wonder if the pricing is just a way to put a few extra dollars in the coffer. Pit toilets and running water was available and the campsites have steel fire rings. Many of the picnic tables are in need of repair. Most of the campers had dogs on leashes so we felt at home. Having established camp, Carson and I found a trail that would take us on a five mile loop, up a mountain side to a lovely little pond. From there we hiked along a ridge and then an off-trail scramble down the mountainside to join the trail again at Upper Gardner Meadow. Then it was back to camp. The air was a bit hazy with smoke, but I found that the quiet waters of the lake provided some nice reflections early the next morning. Here’s the track of our hike

Stay tuned, since I”ll be sharing more stories about the trip.

Bound for Home

As we turned the calendar to July, it was time to leave our temporary post in Big Pine and head for home. We decided to make the trip a two-day drive with an overnight near Ebbetts Pass on State Route 4. This is one of the lesser-used passes crossing the Sierra. It’s a steep, winding, narrow road with one lane for a good portion of the time. Suitable for our rig, we figured that with throngs of people heading to the mountains for the Fourth of July weekend, it was a likely route on which to still find camping. And since we were driving midweek on a Thursday, we figured we’d have the jump on the campers coming up for the weekend.

Our route crossed two passes: Monitor Pass at 8,314 feet on State Route 89, and Ebbetts Pass at 8,736 feet on State Route 4. Just before cresting Monitor Pass, we stopped to admire the view. I was intrigued with the clouds and grasses on the high plateau.

Once over the passes we had plans to check out Hermit Valley for camping, but when we got there we decided to move on. Not far down the road we saw a sign for Pacific Valley Campground that looked promising. We found plenty of camping available along a lovely mountain stream.

In the morning we decided to explore the trail leading up Pacific Creek. Our dog Carson was happy to be off-leash once we were out of camp, and happy to cavort in the creek’s cool water. We manged to hike about six miles up the creek and back, and returned to camp lamenting the fact that we couldn’t stay longer. We had a commitment for a family Fourth of July get-together.

We broke camp and headed down the mountain passing Mosquito Lakes and Alpine Lake, which were quite busy. There was absolutely no parking available along the road. Every conceivable spot had a car parked with many more cruising looking for parking.

Despite the weekend crush of visitors, we were inspired by our overnight at Pacific Valley. We’ll be returning to explore more of the Stanislaus National Forest.

Boondocking in the Bodie Hills

On Saturday, June 27, I hopped in the truck to drive over the mountains for another family visit. I decided to break the drive up into two segments, with an overnight in the Bodie Hills and a visit to the Bodie State Historic Park.

It was 11:30 a.m. when I got on the road, a bit later than I had anticipated, but with plenty of time to reach my intended destination by sunset. The drive took me over Sonora Pass on highway 108. I was quite impressed with how many campers were out. It seemed like just about every patch of bare dirt had a tent or RV on it. Summer has arrived and it seems people are anxious to get out and enjoy nature after three months of sheltering in place with the COVID-19 pandemic; or at least that’s my interpretation.

When I reached Bridgeport, I turned north on highway 182 and then I headed up Aurora Canyon Road, a dirt road. I had directions to a dispersed camp site called Paramount, named after a mining claim, about 11 miles from Bridgeport. This is a nice flat location in a grove of Aspen. When I got there, it was occupied, with a large tent, tiki torches, and a pile of firewood that indicated these folks were going to be here awhile. I headed up the road about a half mile to another grove of aspen. Not quite as nice a location for camping, but suitable for a quick overnight camp. I drove down a clearing to what looked like a good spot to park the camper, but on inspection I determined that I would fall out of bed given the slope. I moved the truck up closer to the road, and with much maneuvering in the confines of the aspen, I manged to position the rig and level it for a good night’s sleep.

This location was closer to the ridge with sweeping views, which suited me for potential photos of sunset and sunrise. With a few clouds overhead, I was hoping for some color in the sky. I didn’t get the color I was hoping for, but what did catch my attention was the lichen covered rocks and the patterns of clouds.

I’m calling this image Rock and Sky. I love the color of lichens on the rock, and how the design in the clouds seems to draw attention to the rock. I’ve just added this image to my art store, available in a variety of sizes on fine art paper, canvas or metal. Check it out.

It was a very windy night on the ridge, and I was concerned about camera vibration in the wind. I was camping at an elevation of 9000 feet and, while the temperature was a mild 55 degrees, the wind made it feel 10 degrees cooler. The camper is a fairly secure place even with the 50 mile per hour gusts, but even so, it took me a while to drift off to sleep.

Sunday morning I was up at 5 a.m. for the sunrise. Sunrise is always a wondrous event, with the early morning light changing from blue to gold as the sun rises. The wind was continuing to blast it’s way over the ridge and threatening to topple my camera and tripod. I grabbed a few exposures, made coffee, and had a bowl of raisin bran; not my preferred breakfast, but good for a quick getaway.

I arrived at the Bodie State Historic Park at 8:30, half an hour before it opens to the public; I was the first visitor to arrive. I had a brief chat with a ranger who directed me to the entry kiosk. I had come in the back road and it wasn’t obvious where the main entry was. The day use entry fee is $8.00, with park hours 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. My dog Carson was happy to know he could join me on leash, rather than hole up in the camper while I did my tour.

Bodie was established as a mining camp following the discovery of gold in 1859. In it’s heyday, it was home for some 8,000 people. The last mine closed in 1942.

I had been researching photos of the town and wondering how photographers manage to take nighttime photos. It seems there are several photo tours operated through the Bodie Foundation that provide access with extended hours; something I’ll check out for future visits.

Out of Boat Experience

April 1, 2020. It’s a bit more challenging to go paddling these days with the stay-at-home order. How do we manage to get some “essential” outdoor recreation while minimizing the risk associated with the coronavirus? On our paddle today, we did our best to practice social distancing. Three of us launched from the boat ramp at the Emeryville Marina. While we are used to helping each other get the boats off the cars, today it was every person on their own getting the boat on the water.

We had the boat ramp to ourselves. The marina was very quiet. Once we were on the water, it was no problem to maintain a good distance. We paddled from Emeryville, north past the Berkeley Marina, out to the end of the Albany Bulb, and then to the Albany Beach. We landed at the south end of the beach away from the few dog walkers and beachgoers, keeping a good distance between us as we landed.

We maintained our distancing while we ate lunch. After lunch the prediction was for the wind to come up, and as wind ripples started to form we were anxious to get back on the water. As we approached Emeryville, we could see the wind ruffling the water on Ashby Shoal, so we went to check it out.

On the shoal we had just a few inches of water, so I decided to climb out of my boat and pose for a photo. There are not many places in the middle of San Francisco Bay where you can get out of your boat on a low tide. Low tide was 0.2 feet at 1 p.m. As we were heading into the Marina, we passed a solo kayaker with a cute dog dressed up in a mermaid outfit. We had very little traffic on the bay with few commercial or pleasure craft, just a paddle boarder and a couple of kayakers. Our paddle covered 8.5 miles. The wind remained light through the course of our paddle. You can view more photos here and see more details about our track here.

Desert, Dogs and Dutch Ovens

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.

Ancient Trees

Some of the oldest trees in the world grow in the White Mountains above Big Pine. Since we were staying in Big Pine for a few days, we decided make a visit to the Patriarch Grove. The Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest is open in the summer but closed in the winter for snow. Some hearty souls will venture into the forest on skis or snowshoes.

Great Basin Bristlecone Pine (Pinus longaeva). At the Patriarch Grove of the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest.

Many of these trees exceed 4000 years in age, displaying fantastic forms. The Patriarch Grove is situated at 11000 feet of elevation. It’s quite a climb from the 4000 feet at Big Pine. Leaving Big Pine shortly after 11 a.m. on Monday, November 11, we drove about 15 miles into the Inyo National Forest and pulled off onto a dirt forest service road to find a spot for our picnic lunch. We also wanted a spot where our dog Carson could run off leash.

After lunch we continued our drive up to the Patriarch Grove. The main visitor center is at the Schulman Grove, 24 miles and a 45 minute drive from Big Pine. We were intent on visiting the Patriarch Grove, another 12 miles on a dirt road which took us about another 45 minutes. It’s a windy, bumpy road. Our bouncing around caused a jar of jam to upend in the refrigerator in the camper.

As we left the pavement and ventured onto the dirt road we were surprised to see a sign declaring the road a National Forest Scenic Byway. A sign at the entry station indicated that four-wheel drive was advised for the drive and, while we were equipped with four-wheel drive, the road looked manageable for a two-wheel drive. We reached the grove at 2:15 p.m., and we were the only people there. The grove looks like a moonscape with gnarled, weathered trees scattered about. We spent about an hour exploring the grove before heading back to Big Pine.

For landscape photography I usually prefer morning or evening, although with the sun low in the sky this time of year I found some nice shadows and textures. By experimenting with multiple exposures and using some Lightroom wizardry I managed to capture some interesting images.

There is camping at the Grandview Campground and dispersed camping nearby. In the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest, dogs are permitted on leash and visitors are encouraged to stay on trails or boardwalks.

Back in Big Pine we again “set up camp” in our son’s driveway.

Our “camp” in Big Pine.