Point Reyes Retreat

Christmas was an opportunity to gather together as family. We had our two kids, their spouses, two grandkids and two dogs. On Christmas day we opened gifts and feasted on turkey and roast beef. After spending a day exploring local attractions including the Oakland Zoo, we piled into two cars and drove to Inverness, a 45-mile drive, where we had reserved a vacation rental for the better part of the week.

One morning I got up early to go photograph the tree tunnel. This is a feature that has been on my list to explore for some time. Not your typical tourist attraction, it’s simply a road lined with Monterey cypress trees planted in the 1930s. It caught my attention after seeing photos posted on Instagram.

It was a foggy morning, and I was hoping that the fog would create a sense of mystery. My plan was to arrive during the blue hour and to be done when the sun came up. The foggy mood I was anticipating didn’t happen but getting an early start did pay off. When the sun came up the light added drama that I was not anticipating. It turns out the tunnel is oriented almost east-west, so the morning sun creates an interesting effect. This image is available as a fine art photo in my art store at store.treve.com.

No visit to Tomales Bay is complete without a visit to the Bovine Bakery, a favorite haunt for pastries and coffee. Then we had a day with a break in the rainy weather and we headed to Limatour Beach, one of the few beaches in the Point Reyes National Recreation Area that is dog friendly.

And no family adventure is complete without grandma reading stories in front of a warm fire. On our last morning together, we piled into two cars to brave the fog and stormy weather to drive out to the lighthouse. You can see the car ahead with half of our crew is nearly lost in the fog. It was a blustery walk from the parking lot to the viewing platform. The lighthouse was lost in the fog, so we created our own Point Reyes Light with an iPhone. More photos are available in an online gallery.

Hot Creek

East of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, not far from Mammoth Lakes, is an area known as the Long Valley Caldera. This is a geologically active area with steam vents, geysers, and hot springs, the remnants of an ancient volcano. I’ve been visiting the Eastern Sierra for several decades and only this year decided to check out the area known as the Hot Creek Geologic Site.

My plan was to scout the location with the intention of returning in the morning when the steam from the many vents would be visible in the cool morning air. As it turned out, we had some dramatic weather with rain and hail and that was enough to appease my photographer’s eye.

There are a number of trails you can hike in the area with signs warning you to stay out of the water. Some of the pools are boiling hot. Despite the warnings we did see several people in the creek.

From the Hot Creek site, we decided to head for camp. Our intended camping site was a spot referred to as Laurel Springs on iOverlander, a “wild” campsite site just off of Highway 395. In trying to locate the site we apparently drove past it. Rather that turn around, we decided to follow the forest service road to see if we could find another suitable spot to park our rig. It wasn’t long before the road deteriorated a bit and I shifted into four-wheel drive. Then as the road got a bit rockier it was four-wheel low. You can see a photo of my shadow on the road looking east with Crowley Lake in the distance. We climbed up a valley to a ridge and there at the end of the road was a campsite with a picnic table and an incredible view. On one side of the ridge we could look east with a view of Crowley Lake, on the other side was a view of Convict Lake. In the morning I put the drone in the air to capture a view of our rig with Laurel Mountain and Convict Lake in the background.

That morning, October 11, we broke camp and continued our journey home. We made a quick tour of the June Lake Loop, stopping at Gull Lake to walk the dog and admire the view. We found quite a few pockets of fall color, but for the most part the aspens were still green.

Our route home took us over Tioga Pass on highway 120. Near the summit we stopped for one last peek at the fall color on the mountainside. Then we drove down into Yosemite Valley thinking there might be a remote chance of camping. We were impressed by how busy the valley was. No luck finding camping, so we headed home. More photos are available online.

Dazzled by Yellow

After three days of chasing fall color I was starting to feel overwhelmed. I felt like I had to give my eyes a rest, and yet we’d find another grove of aspen in full splendor, I’d grab my camera and start snapping photos. And then I’d be asking myself how the image I’m capturing differs from the many thousands of photos I’ve captured over the past 50 years. In any event, every photo is another adventure and the magnificence of the changing seasons never gets old. I’m always looking for a way to create unique photos that celebrate the glory of God’s creation.

Fall color in the Eastern Sierra usually starts in mid to late September with the aspen at the higher evaluations changing color first, and the color progressing down the canyons over the course of several weeks. I usually start to watch the fall color reports in mid September. This year October 4 was the earliest date we could get away, so we stocked the camper with food for a week and hit the road.

From our home in Albany, CA, we decided to take California State Route 108 over Sonora Pass. After passing the summit we stopped briefly near a grove of aspen, admired the view, and then decided to head to our intended camping destination on Green Creek. We were hoping to camp at the Green Creek Campground. Why? Because we wanted to fire up our Dutch Oven to cook dinner; for that we needed a fire ring in an established campground. The campground was closed. There are plenty of places to boondock along Green Creek so we found a comfortable spot to park our rig. We implemented “plan B” for our menu which did not require a fire ring. I was a little annoyed, though, when campers not too far away from us lit a campfire, something that’s prohibited in the dry conditions. I was too shy to confront them. What would I say?

We were so impressed with the fall color along Green Creek, we decided to spend a second night although we moved our rig a mile down the road. The road into Green Creek is a dirt road. For the most part it is navigable by passenger car, although close to the campground it gets a little rocky.

From Green Creek we headed towards Bishop by way of Dunderberg Meadow Road. We admired the aspen along the way and set up camp at the Sabrina Campground in the afternoon. The fall color was about peak there. In the morning we drove to North Lake where I spent some time with my camera and tripod capturing fall color. We also gave our dog Carson the opportunity to hike with us off-leash.

From Bishop Creek we drove to Bishop where we spent the weekend with family. Then we headed home after a night camping on a ridge overlooking Convict Lake. We had intended to spend more time on the road but the furnace in our camper was not working; getting up in the morning with the temperature in the 30s was wearing on us.

More photos are available in an online gallery.

A Week at Loon Lake

Nestled high in the Sierra Nevada Mountains at 6,400 feet is a gorgeous lake, Loon Lake. Crystal clear water surrounded by forests, granite boulders, and patches of wildflowers. Twenty-eight miles up a windy road takes you off the main highway deep into the Sierra Nevada mountains not far from the Desolation Wilderness. We anticipated meeting a number of fellow kayakers, members of Bay Area Sea Kayakers (BASK), for a week of paddling, hiking, wildflower hunting, birdwatching, and camaraderie.

We arrived on Sunday evening, June 12, dropping off our boats near the boat ramp and finding campsite 44. We parked, popped the top up on the camper and joined one of our camp buddies, Eoin, who was preparing dinner for our cook group. The next morning, I put my drone in the air to capture a photo of our campsite.

June 13 – Rubicon Trail Hike

Monday we opted to explore the north end of the lake on foot, driving to the Rubicon Trail Staging Area and making our way partly around the lake. The Rubicon Trail is widely recognized as the premiere OHV route in the United States. As hikers, we decided to stay off the jeep trail and try to find a route that was hiker friendly. We ended up off-trail, making our way over bare rock, through thickets of trees and down through a bog. It was spectacular country but slow going as we bushwhacked. After a couple of hours, we managed to cover 2.5 miles.

June 14 – Paddle – North End of Lake

Tuesday morning we were up early to fire up the Dutch Oven and cook a breakfast of mushroom and brie breakfast strada, one of our favorite camping breakfasts. With breakfast out of the way we assembled at the boat ramp. Our route took us along the eastern shore of the lake, noodling along and poking into coves and inlets, passing a small waterfall at one point. We stopped at Pleasant Campground for lunch and then continued exploring the north end of the lake.

With the wind starting to build in the afternoon, we decided to make our way back to our launch point. We covered 10 miles in the five and half hours of our adventure.

June 15 – Paddle – South End of Lake

Having explored much of the north end of the lake, today we explored some of the islands at the south end of the lake, making our way north to a lovely lunch spot on a granite spit. We had fun doing some flatwater rock gardening in a group of rocks. I even managed to get the drone in the air to capture some aerial views, something that I’ve wanted to do for some time, but usually the logistics of paddling take priority over the logistics of flying a drone.

Again, the wind came up after lunch and we made haste back to camp, hugging the shore to avoid the brunt of the wind. We logged 6.9 miles over the course of our paddle.

June 16 – Loon Lake Trail

With two days of paddling behind us it was time for a hike. Our dog Carson had two days in the camper and it was time to give him some off-leash time. We followed the Loon Lake Trail along the east side of the lake, paralleling the route we had paddled two days before. This hike took us through some lovely forests, through glens of freshly sprouted bracken fern, over sections of bare granite rock with occasional views of the lake.

We stopped for lunch just shy of Pleasant Campground on a slab of granite with a view of the lake. There we watched the white caps on the lake and were glad we had done our paddling earlier in the week. We admired many wildflowers along the trail and covered 7.3 miles.

Please view more photos of the trip in an online gallery.

Tassajara Ridge

Photos I had seen of some yellow lupine on Tassajara Ridge prompted us to go on a search. On the morning of April 5, we climbed in the car and drove to San Ramon. We were hoping to get an early start and find a bakery with some delectable baked goods. We ended up at a Starbucks which, while lacking the amazing fresh baked muffins where were hoping for, did suit our needs. Then it was off to find the trailhead. Our navigation seemed to be off a bit, and we discovered that access to the open space is limited. It was about 9:30 a.m. when we finally parked at the Tassajara Ridge Staging Area. This is a dog-friendly hike with dogs on leash. The hike goes through grazing areas, and we did pass a few cows on the trail.

The trail meanders along rolling hills, green from winter rains. At about a mile and a half we found our first batch of yellow lupine, probably Lupinus arboreus. We weren’t the only people out. We crossed tracks with a number of people carrying cameras and tripods.

After spending some time capturing the beauty of these flowers, we decided to continue our hike. More photos are available in an online gallery, by the way. The map we were following indicated that we could make a loop hike. We followed the Tassajara Ridge Trail to a junction with the Upper Hidden Valley Trail. Shortly after the trail junction we stopped and broke out our lunch.

At the four mile mark or thereabouts, we found a second field of yellow lupine.

Then it was time to complete the loop and head for home. We followed the Upper Hidden Valley Trail, which seemed to be heading past a water tank down into a residential area. We didn’t want to be walking in somebody’s back yard; assuming we must have missed a trail marker, we backtracked. Eventually we joined a trail that took us the direction we wanted to go, but then we scrambled through the barbed-wire fence where we found a gate at the junction of the loop trail. There we found a sign saying “Windemere Ranch Preserve… No Access Allowed at this Location.” Oops. What can I say?

From the junction we ended up walking through part of the residential development before we found our way back to the first section of the Tassajara Ridge Trail. When we started out, we were thinking a short morning walk, back before lunch. It was 3 p.m. when we returned to the car having logged 9.5 miles.

Joseph D. Grant County Park

When spring arrives, I often plan a trip to the Carrizo Plain which in some years will have a dazzling display of wildflowers. This year the report was not promising so the idea of the five-hour drive did not bode well. With the hills around the Bay Area showing green, I was reminded about a trip I made to Mount Hamilton some years ago and recalled the green hills and oak trees flush with new leaves.

So on March 28 we jumped in the truck and headed to Joseph D. Grant County Park. We arrived following a light rain with plenty of camping available. We parked our rig in site #9, suggested by the ranger at the entry kiosk. The camp facilities were quite nice, with level parking places well-suited for our camper. The restrooms were clean and even had showers.

Once we had the camper set up, we explored a bit of the trails around the camp, making a 3.5-mile loop via parts of the Hotel Trail, the Barn Trail, and the Snell Trail. There are 51 miles of trails in the park, so no shortage of hiking opportunities.

Dogs are allowed in the park, and we had our dog Carson on a leash as required. With the soft light from the cloud cover, I was intrigued with the oak trees festooned with lichens. The trees reminded me of Druids or Ents (if you are a fan of J.R.R. Tolkien). One of those photos, Mossy Tree #1, is now available in my art store at store.treve.com. Along our hike we startled a drift of wild pigs. We had seen signs of wild pigs all over the park. Their activities leave the ground looking like a rototiller has passed through.

The next day, March 29, a longer hike was in order. We walked to Grant Lake passing the Grant Ranch House on the way, then over to the lake where we stopped and had lunch.

We returned to camp via the loop trail, passing a couple of ponds along the way. This is pasture land for cattle, so we had our share of gates and styles.

With our meandering we covered 6.7 miles. We did find a number of wildflowers along our walk including poppies, lupine, mustard, shooting stars, and mule’s ears. We also saw a few deer and rabbits. Check out the online gallery for more photos.

On March 30 we awoke to fog and decided we’d take the back road home by going over the top of Mount Hamilton, then following San Antonio Valley Road and Mines Road. This made for an interesting drive. We stopped in the fog for a short walk through the mist shrouded oaks, and then drove up out of the fog to the Lick Observatory.

As we drove down the east side we were impressed by how much fire damage we saw from the SCU Lightning Complex Fire that occurred in August of 2020. The fire threatened the observatory on top of the mountain and burned 396,624 acres. We were driving through the burned area for quite some time.

There seems to be little public space on the east side of the mountain, so when it came time for lunch, we found a side road with space wide enough to park and pull out our camp chairs. This turned out to be a rewarding trip for a quick getaway with much to see.

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.

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