Fall Color: Eastern Sierra

We’re on a short road trip to look for fall color in the Eastern Sierra. We’re also visiting family in Big Pine. Our trip took us through Yosemite National Park and over Tioga Pass to Mono Lake where we spent the night of October 2. The word was that the best fall color might be in Bishop Creek, so we started our tour at Mono Lake, driving South, avoiding some of the popular spots north of Lee Vining including Lundy Canyon and Virginia Lakes.

At Sagehen Summit we found some pockets of color with large swatches of Aspen still green. Having four wheel drive, we were able to negotiate some of the sandy terrain, although we did encounter some fellow leaf peepers that managed to get stuck. We were able to help them by using our leveling blocks and a shovel. They were quite happy for the assistance. From Sagehen we headed south to Bishop Creek were we set up camp at the Sabrina Campground and then drove the windy, narrow, one-lane road to North Lake. We were disappointed that there was very little fall color at North Lake. In years past, the mountain side above the lake is ablaze with orange and yellow.

Some fellow leaf peepers we consulted with said this was the worst year they can remember for fall color. Nevertheless, I can always find something to photograph, and I was particularly struck by a small grove of Aspen along Bishop Creek, adjacent to the campground. I returned to this site several times for late afternoon, dusk and dawn photos. My favorite from those efforts was the morning image. I was reminded how much I enjoy the soft light of dawn and dusk for photography. I find the harsh contrast of mid-day sun and dappled shade hard to work with. Back in camp after the morning photo venture we had breakfast and then took a short hike along the north side of Lake Sabrina. We found some nice color in the Aspen groves along the north side of the lake.

Overall we found the fall color conditions quite mixed with occasional pockets of color and many Aspen groves still showing green. There is some speculation that unseasonably warm weather followed by a sudden cold snap a week ago has delayed the display of color for the most part, with the sudden cold creating pockets of color. There could be good opportunities to see fall color over the next few weeks.

We’re now in Big Pine playing grandparents. More news to come. Stay tuned.

Through the Washing Machine

Through the Washing Machine. Rock Gardening near Van Damme

I call this image “Through the Washing Machine” for reasons you can imagine. This was captured on a recent trip to Mendocino. I had a GoPro camera mounted on my helmet. I had intended to capture video, but for some reason I ended with a series of stills. It’s a challenge to take photos here. I’m not going to take my helmet off to see what the camera is doing and this isn’t the kind of place where I’m going to pull out my still camera. With water surging in every direction, keeping both hands on the paddle to brace is a good idea.

We were in Mendocino with our kayaking club, BASK, for an annual event called Mendo Madness. The club takes over the better part of the upper loop of camp sites at Van Damme State Park and spends several days paddling in various environments. Rocks and caves on the coast and quiet flat water paddles on the rivers. This day, Thursday September 19, some of the more experienced paddlers offered a Mendo Newbie paddle and I’m always game to tag along when the more experienced paddlers are offering to serve as guides. More about Mendo Madness in the next post. Here’s a couple more photos from my helmet cam. Note the other paddlers playing in the surf and rocks. You can see a kayaker punching through the surf in the right photo, the kayak is just under my paddle.

Palau de la Música Catalana

While Barcelona is not without it’s share of architectural wonders, one that is worth a visit is the Palau de la Música Catalana, the Palace of Catalan Music. We visited the Palau on May 29, our first day in Barcelona.

Concert Hall of the Palau de la Música Catalana

We bought our tickets online well before arriving in Barcelona. Best to buy tickets ahead of time since this is a poplular tour.

This structure is basically a jewel box for musical performances. The main concert hall is surrounded by stained glass windows with a spectacular stained glass ceiling over the middle of the hall. The hall was intended to be a garden for musical performances.

Built between 1905 and 1908 by the architect Lluis Domènech i Montaner, the Palau de la Música Catalana is an example of Catalona modernist architecture.

Adjacent to the concert hall is the Lluís Millet Hall with a large balcony with columns symbolizing flowers of every kind, in a tribute to nature. I only wish that we had had time to hear a concert here.

Barcelona at Night

Av. de Gaudí and Sagrada Familia

Towards the end of our Catalonia trip we decided to return to Barcelona. I had been intrigued with the idea of photographing the Sagrada Familia at night and our previous visit did not present the opportunity. We had one discretionary night open so we booked a room at Hostemplo which was a 10 minute walk away. Before our trip I had studied the map to see if there were some obvious locations to capture a view of the whole facade. There is a park facing the Nativity Facade, Placa de Gaudi. There is another park facing the Passion Facade the Placa de la Sagrada Familia. The Nativity Facade captures the morning sun and the Passion Facade the evening sun. Both of these locations offer good views, although not entirely unobstructed. You’d need to get in the air above the trees in the park, or on top of one of the apartment buildings opposite the park for an unobstructed view. Nevertheless, it’s always fun to look for a new angle and a new perspective. I found a location on Av. de Gaudi that I thought captured the feeling of Barcelona at night.

On our previous stay in Barcelona I had the opportunity to explore La Rambla and some of the area around the Cathedral.

For night photography I put the camera on a tripod and I typically capture multiple exposure to process using an HDR program on my laptop. Blending multiple exposures gives a bit more control over the extreme contrast range you can have at night with streetlight or spotlights and dark shadows. Blending images where people are moving can be a challenge, but one of the programs I use, Photomatix, has some powerful tools for dealing this ghosting.

Rocky Paths

On June 9 our walk takes us to the top of a mountain, Mare de Deu del Mont where we spend the night in simple hotel that had been a monastery. The next day we hike down the other side of the mountain to Besalu.

A word about rocky paths is in order. After several days of hiking mountain trails Joann said she didn’t realize how rocky the Pyrenees are. I replied that if the Intuits have 200 words for snow, then the Catalonians must have 200 words for rocky paths. Here are some of my favorites.

Steep trail with loose rocks, ploughed by wild boars. This looks like a tilling machine had gone down the trail and turned over the dirt and rocks, making everything in the trail loose dirt and rocks.

Then there are the rocks that roll around under your feet, the steep, slick limestone slabs with a sprinkling of oak leaves and pine needles to challenge your confidence in secure footing. Fist size rocks, ankle high rocks, rock falls with knee high boulders. The list could go on.

Many of the trails we walked are little used, little maintained and  sometimes subject to erosion.

At several places on our walks we saw branches that had been cut, presumably to clear the trail for walkers, but the cut branches are usually left in the middle of the trail. Initially I would pick these up and cast them aside, and then I had the revelation that perhaps erosion control is more important than personal convenience. Perhaps the branches are left to help control erosion.

 The walk up the mountain was easier than we had expected. Even so we logged 11.2 miles  (17.5km) with close to 3000 feet of elevation gain. It was 6:30 pm when we reached to hotel, overcast and starting to rain lightly.

June 10 we start down the mountain to Besalu. Another long day, neither of us are very fast going down hill with aching knees. Joann had thoughts of taking the taxi down with our baggage, but we persevered and took our time. Near the top of the mountain we were hiking through lovely pine forests with lush grass and wildflowers. By mid-day the pine forest had given way to the oaks of the lower elevations.

At 4 pm we reached the little town of Beuda. We were hoping to buy a snack here. In this part of the world business close after the lunch hour and remain closed to 6 pm or so. Nothing is open, and there isn’t much here to begin with. We see a couple of people leaving a restaurant, so we step inside, The manager takes pitty on us, and we have coke and fruit salad.  There is also an ancient church here, Church Sant Feliu de Beuda first documented in 1004.

It’s 7:35 pm when we reach Casa Marsial, our accommodations for the night. We logged 12.7 miles (19.2 km). Even so, after dinner, I have to explore the bridge which was well lit and looked like an invitation for some nighttime photography.

No Fat Friars

June 7. Our adventures today take us to an ancient church after a long walk. The day begins with breakfast at Can Blanc and then a walk to the bus station in Olot, a 30 minute walk. Olot is a city of 34,000 people nestled in the Garrotxa Volcanic Zone Natural Park. We had hiked through part of the park on previous days. An interesting city with a mixture of architectural styles: stone farm houses, modernista, and a glassy and glamorous market place.

From the bus station it’s a 15 minute trip to Castellfollit de la Roca (pronounced something like Castle-fo-leet). Our terrible pronunciation led to some confusion with the bus driver, but after checking our tickets he assured us we were getting off the bus at the right location.

The town was quiet when we arrived. No tourists in sight, a few cats wandering the narrow streets, and a few local folks out and about. One of the locals greeted us and pointed out some sights. He tried to warn us about the path down the cliff to the valley below, saying it was “muy mal,” and dangerous. We thanked him and proceeded to walk down the rough steep cobbles. I was after a photo vantage point that would show the town on the cliff.

Castellfollit de la Roca

From Castellfollit de la Roca our itinerary included a taxi ride to Oix (pronounced Oich), where we checked into our lodging, ate a quick picnic lunch and embarked on an afternoon loop walk up the valley. The hike took us along a stream, through lush thickets of trees and ferns, through a cow pasture and on up the canyon. At 2:12 pm I made a note in my journa “song birds, cow bells, wind in the trees, butterflies.”

Higher up the canyon the trail became quite steep and rocky, with a metal bridge at one point that looked rather tenuous.

It was 4:30 when we reached the Santa Maria de Escales Church. The church was mentioned in a historical record of 1092. With the effort it had taken us to reach the church I declared that there were no fat friars here. The door to the church was locked, but there was a window in the door through which you could view the interior.

I took a few photos and then we were anxious to make our way back down the canyon by another route. We took our time since both of us find going downhill hard on the knees. It was close to 7:55 pm when we returned to Oix, having logged 10 miles on our afternoon walk. Between the morning walk to the bus station, walking around Castellfollit , and our afternoon walk we were feeling hot and tired. A cold beer sounded appropriate.

A cold beer at the end of the hike.

Sagrada Familia

May 29. 9:00 AM. We’re in line for the tour of Sagrada Familia. We purchased tickets months ahead of time and I did some research to figure out what would be the best time to photograph the project. Photographing the whole building is a challenge. This is a work in progress with construction cranes towering over the structure. In looking at photos in tourist information I can only assume that some effort went into removing the construction cranes and other construction infrastructure in Photoshop.

The Nativity facade faces east, which where we found ourselves for the start of the tour and the best light is morning. The Passion facade faces west, which is best photographed in the afternoon.

Construction of The Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família began in 1882 under the guidance of Antoni Gaudí. The goal is to complete the construction by 2026, the one hundredth anniversary of Gaudi’s death.

Security to get into the tour is on par with airport security. No knives, liquids, and such. Backpacks go through an x-ray machine, and you walk through a scanner. My knee brace set off an alert and I was pulled aside. Staff was very courteous.

After picking up our interpretive handsets and putting our day pack in a locker we took the elevator up the tower and climbed back down a never ending spiral of stairs with occasional impressive views of the city below.

Inside the basilica one needs to keep in mind that this is a working Church and some sense of reverence is required. Here the genius of Gaudi’s design becomes apparent. The columns of multicolored stone rise up like trees and branch into smaller supporting limbs. Gaudi referred to this as the forest. Gaudi’s inspiration in the architecture of nature and natural forms and his devotion to his faith become apparent wherever you look. A stunning example of Gaudi’s architecture. And even with the construction there are so many interesting details to photograph that there is no shortage of subject matter for the camera.

Those who look for the laws of Nature as a support for their new works collaborate with the creator. – Anoni Gaudi