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 steam 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.

The next 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 aspen 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 mountain side. 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 on 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 get’s 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 spending one 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 and getting up in the morning with the temperature in the 30s was wearing on us.

More photos are available in an online gallery.

Golden Rose Ranch

On July 18 we found our way to Golden Rose Ranch where we spent the night in some beautiful red rock country. This was another camping find we discovered through Hipcamp. Definitely off the beaten track. Dry camping with no facilities which suits us just fine.

There are three campsites on the ranch but we had the place to ourselves. In the evening the cliffs catch the late afternoon light which was cause to bring out my big camera (the Nikon D850) and tripod to capture some long exposures. In the morning we broke camp and spent some time exploring the petroglyphs and wildflowers. Golden Rose Ranch was a delightful overnight stop on our return from New Mexico,

On to Angel Fire

On the afternoon of July 13 we arrived in Mancos, where we spent the night camping in Kayla’s driveway. We stopped at a liquor store in Mancos to get a bottle of wine to share with dinner. I had to capture a photo of this mural on the side of the liquor store. Kaya is a professional cook and dinner was scrumptious. Here’s a photo of Kayla harvesting some greens for dinner. You can see our camper in the background. Then it was on to Angel Fire. Our drive took us through Durango, Pagosa Springs and Chama and on to Angel Fire. Check out the Stick Library for dog lovers in Pagosa Springs.

In Angel Fire we spent three nights at the Enchanted Circle Campground. The campsite was on a secluded knoll on a private ranch. Joann found this camp through Hipcamp. Given the wide open space I decided to put the drone in the air to capture a view of our camp site. This site was perfect for our needs, quiet, secluded and with wide open skies. One evening a few of the ranch horses decided to check out what was cooking.

Of course our reason for being in Angel Fire was to attend the Sundt Family Reunion. Reunion activities included a picnic dinner on the C & S Cattle Company Ranch, a 130,000 acre spread, and browsing through family scrap books. The family is divided up into 12 “tribes” with each tribe having it’s own scrapbook. The tribes represent the children of MM Sundt. We had 110 people including a family member from Norway. As you can see the scrapbooks are huge and chock full of photos and memorabilia. So much fun to browse through.

Many of the family members are ranchers, and being cowboys they know how to spin a yarn. The family dinner was not shy for story tellers, with various brothers, uncles and nephews correcting each other and embellishing the stories. There’s even a bear story where it took 40 years for the campers that were spooked by a bear to learn that it wasn’t a real bear. You can see more photos in an online gallery.

Back from New Mexico

So here we are on July 9 ready to hit the road for our 17 day road trip to New Mexico. Check out my Stars and Stripes hat. Our motivation for the trip was to attend a family reunion in Angel Fire New Mexico. We decided to take our time making our way to our destination. I decided since we’d be hobnobbing with cowboys at the reunion, I needed an appropriate hat, and with the Fourth of July recently passed this seemed to be an appropriate statement for driving across Nevada, Utah, and New Mexico.

We covered 3000 miles on the trip and I’ll be breaking up some of the highlights into several blog post. I’d like to start with some thoughts about trip planning. While I’m quite happy to hop in the truck and see where we end up at the end of the day my wife, Joann, likes to plan ahead. For this trip Joann spent hours and hours of research and prepared a folder with our itinerary, copies of all the camping reservations including photos of the facilities. Much of the trip was planned using Google Maps and a host of other online resources such as iOverlander, The Dyrt, Hipcamp and of other such resources. All of these are great.

Then a day or two before the trip we pulled out some printed maps and we discovered all the places we were missing. I had a flashback to the days when we used to spend hours pouring over maps looking at the sights along the way. Google Maps is great for getting from point A to point B efficiently, but it won’t suggest you make a quick detour to check out Mesa Verde or take the Turquoise Trail. And then for much of the trip we were out of range of cell service which meant that trying to use an iPhone to look up camping, or even use Google Maps for routes was futile. What do you do when you come to a fork in the road. Google Maps is silent and you don’t have a map of the area? Another reason to have printed maps available while on the road.

Our first night we stayed at Logger Camp on the Stampede Reservoir not far from Truckee. This was a lively camp full of families enjoying summer fun. Since our route would take us through some hot country we planned our stops be be at elevations where we would not suffer from heat since we do not have air-conditioning in the camper.

When we travel, I like to have occasional access to the internet. I don’t want my clients thinking I’ve abandoned them, so an occasional stop at a coffee shop with WiFi was in order. And then in Mancos we visited with a good friend Kayla, the neighbor girl that our daughter grew up with. We foraged in her garden and being a professional cook and caterer she hosted an exquisite dinner.

Once we were in Angel Fire it was time for the reunion. And no Sundt family reunion would be complete without watermelon and the dinner bell call to dinner on the C and S Cattle Company Ranch. By the time we reached Angel Fire it was also time to replenish our water supply. We were looking forward to taking showers with our outdoor shower.

Our return trip took us through Taos, and Flagstaff. We spent one night Boondocking in the Coconino National Forest just outside of flagstaff. There we were treated to a spectacular thunder and lighting storm that dumped rain and hail on us. We also stopped at the Petrified Forest National Park which turned out to be quite interesting. I’ve never seen so much petrified wood in such a large area. And of course we had to venture on to a section of Route 66 where we encountered some Burma Shave signs. Stay tuned for more episodes of our trip.

A Week at Loon Lake

Nestled high in the Sierra Nevada Mountains at 6400 feet is gorgeous lake. Loon Lake. Crystal clear water surrounded by forests, granite boulders and patches of wildflowers. Twenty eight miles of 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 our boats off 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 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 to 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 in 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 stay out of 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 the trail and we covered 7.3 miles.

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

Back from Baja

On December 1, we hit the road for a two-week trip to Baja California, returning home on December 15. A whirlwind tour with many stories to tell and photos to share. Rather than write one long blog post covering the entire trip, I’m writing several posts to cover various aspects of the trip. We’ll start with this YouTube video. Joann recreated the trip in Google Earth with slides for each stop along our trip. We’ve animated the map and video so take a moment to follow along.

After getting a late start we decided to scrap our original plan which would have taken us to Red Rock Canyon State Park. So where to spend the night? I have several apps on my phone I use for trip planning. I fired up The Dyrt and started looking at options. It seemed like whatever itinerary I dialed in, The Almond Tree Oasis was the suggested stop. There are not many options for boondocking, let alone camping on the route to Southern California. The Almond Tree Oasis suited our needs. In the morning we fired up the Dutch Oven and cooked up some Mushroom and Brie Breakfast Strata, one of our favorite breakfasts.


Joann preparing Breakfast Strata, aerial view of our camp at Joshua Tree Ranch LA.

The second night we camped near Lancaster at Joshua Tree Ranch Los Angeles, going from an RV camp with full services to boondocking in a lovely grove of Joshua Trees with no services whatsoever. We were happy to pay for the right to camp in this spot, having again relied on The Dyrt to find a site.

Then it was on to Ocotillo Wells SVRA where we joined up with 134 other Four Wheel Pop-Up Campers for their annual rally.

Treve explaining his lift system for popping up the top of the camper with kayaks on top, touring fellow camper’s rigs, Bob explaining radio operation.

It’s always fun to see how people have tricked out their rigs. Following the rally, we continued south to join Bob Wohlers and his Off-Road Safety Academy for a tour of Baja. We had 11 rigs in the caravan. Bob gave us all radios to use for the duration of the tour and with his guidance we managed to cross the border, negotiate our way through Mexicali and along the narrow highways and dirt roads of Baja. We spent one night at Pete’s Camp, two nights at Bahia San Luis Gonzaga, and two nights at Bahia de Los Angeles which was the southernmost point of the trip.

Camp at Gonzaga Bay, Cowpatty Cafe, rainbow at Playa La Gringa at Bahia de Los Angeles.

For the return trip we crossed the peninsula, driving up the Pacific side with overnight stops at Quinta Cristina near El Rosario and Punta Banda. Once back on the US side of the border we headed for Agua Caliente County Park, which I had located using another favorite app, iOverlander.

On the beach with our kayaks on the Sea of Cortez, sunset over Bahia de Los Angeles, camp at Quinta Cristina.

At this point in the trip we were looking for water and electricity, having depleted our water supply and suffering from a dead battery in the camper. With a dying battery we were without refrigeration and heat. We’ll be upgrading our camper soon, moving to Lithium (LiFePO4) batteries. We’ll also be replacing the shocks and adding airbags to the rear suspension to help balance the load. The camper is a big load for the Tacoma. Over the course of the 15 days we logged 2268 miles. You can find more photos from the trip online. I’ll be adding to these galleries as I work through the photos in the coming weeks.

Fall Color Review

So here it is late November and I’ve finally made it through the photos from our Eastern Sierra fall color trip. On September 27, having spent several days with family in Big Pine, it was time to go hunt for fall color. We left Big Pine in the morning, and that night we camped at the Bishop Creek Campground. We were lucky to have some relatively clear air since smoke from wildfires had been plaguing us off and on at lower elevations. Bishop Creek is always a good prospect for fall color.

Here we are with our Four Wheel Pop-up Camper rig parked for the night in a very pretty aspen grove. In the morning we drove up to North Lake and did a short hike to a location I had scouted for a view overlooking the lake. Then it was off to Rock Creek. We made a quick stop at Mosquito Flat trailhead. We did a short hike and, while it was a lovely hike, I was not inspired to take many photos. We moved on to Sagehen Summit Road. Here the aspen were a little past prime but with plenty of photo opportunities.

I found a grove of aspen with a panoply of colors from green to yellow to black. This is my favorite image from this trip and it’s available in my art store. With the sun about to set, we drove the short distance to Mono Lake where we set up camp in the dispersed camping area near Mono Mills.

The next morning we were off to Virginia Lakes, where we did a three mile hike to Frog Lakes. Most of the aspen here were past prime, but we did find fall color in the willows.

From Virginia Lakes we took the Dunderberg Meadows Road, pulling off in mid-afternoon to set up camp. Here I put the drone in the air, you can see the image looking west over the trees. We found some lovely aspen groves along the Dunderberg Meadow Road and made a note to include this drive on future trips. Before heading back to the pavement we took a detour to explore Green Creek and discovered some very nice camping opportunities. Then it was back to the the pavement on US 395 and up and over Sonora Pass for the drive home. We’ve made many stops near Sonora Pass on previous trips, and on this trip we did not stop for photos. You can view more photos from the trip here.

Wind in the Dunes

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.

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.

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