This was one of those once-in-a-lifetime moments the other day while driving along a less-traveled highway that connects the Central Valley with the Salinas Valley and the Central Coast.
Trying to make time after being caught in a 10-mile long traffic jam — the result of a crash that involved at least a couple cars, including a county sheriff’s deputy — this popped up in front of me as it landed on a rock outcropping that is conveniently located next to a turnout along the highway. Needless to say, I HAD to stop.
I’ve taken photos from this same spot as fog filled the valley below. On this day the view was spectacular as this California Condor decided to take a break from soaring above it all.
The Condor did not seem to mind my presence, or that of they guy in the pickup in front of me, who also stopped and shot a few photos with his iPhone.
According to a National Park Service website, California’s wild population in 2016 was 166. You can clearly see the blue tags and transmitters on the birds wings.
Until very recently my only experience with the Grand Canyon was in photographs. As good as some people are in capturing two-dimensional representations of nature it’s not the same as the 3-D experience of being there.
It was a quick trip through the park for several reasons and one which I’m not going to complain about. Let’s just say it will entice me to return to the park, alone, to capture more images that I know won’t do it justice, but will be fun in capturing nonetheless.
The trip started from the eastern entrance of South Rim near the Little Colorado River and progressed through the park on the south side until leaving for Williams and points beyond. The heat was almost unbearable but the clouds in the sky made an otherwise uncomfortable visit worthwhile.
Nothing in my library of photos will win an award, but they capture a few points along the way and help illustrate my fascination with the American Southwest — from its iconic national parks that millions flock to each year, to the Indian Country that spreads for miles in all directions from the intersection of four states.
Shasta Lake within 12 feet of the top of the spillway in early 2016. Even at this level the lake could hold another 300,000 acre feet of storage.
Water leaks from closed spillway gates on Shasta Dam in early 2016.
Drought claims much of Shasta Lake, as seen in summer, 2014. Here the lake is about 150 feet below the top of the spillway gates, which are open at this time.
Shasta Lake in summer, 2014 at about 150 feet or 2.5 million acre feet short of capacity.
Shasta Lake is in an amazing watershed. Three rivers feed this reservoir: the Sacramento, McCloud and Pit. It is also heavily reliant on rain, which if it falls in the right area, can fill the lake inside of a few months as it did once again in early 2016.
Lake levels in late 2015 were still quite low until storms trained on the region began dropping inches of rain per day on the watershed.
Still, it doesn’t eliminate the poor management decisions by federal water regulators, who no longer manage the reservoir based on human needs and considerations.
Shasta Lake came about by the construction of Shasta Dam during World War II. It was built in a large public works effort that just saw the construction of Hoover Dam completed on the border of Arizona and Nevada, and in the Colorado River watershed.
I’d seen them in Facebook posts and one morning while photographing sunrise against the eastern face of the Sierra Nevada I heard them, but I was unable to find the critters while driving around.
A few weeks later I returned with my daughter and we found them. A half-dozen or more burros in the Black Rocks area of the Owens Valley.
These creatures seem pretty tame — except for the pair we found wandering in the road in another location. Those wanted in the car and we made the mistake of getting out of the car. Once out of the car they didn’t want us to leave.
For the ones behind the fence a bag of large carrots seemed to make their day and this bunch was fairly docile until one of the young ones wanted to play with the other young one in the bunch. It was almost as if one sibling was pestering the other.
We managed plenty of pictures that day and came home with yet another reason why the Eastern Sierra is a great place to visit.
Perhaps the easiest New Year’s Resolution to keep is my annual (or semi-annual depending on the weather) visit to the Owens Valley to catch the sunrise against the eastern flank. I do this for one basic reason.
The rising sun is at the most extreme angle it’s going to be in relative position to the Sierra Nevada.
The long shadows it casts on the mountains, coupled with the snow and the greater likelihood of clouds is helpful.
My last two New Year’s Day visits came under a cloudless sky and nearly no snow at all on the mountain. This year’s visit, if it was going to happen, needed to have clouds and snow. According to the Accuweather app both would be likely given the temperatures and a changing weather pattern.
I also set out to photograph different locations than I’ve been to in the past. Mount Whitney is always a good subject, but there’s a section of Sierra between Independence and Big Pine that I personally find fascinating.
With the mostly cloudy skies, my morning was spent photographing clouds as they transformed the light on a moment-by-moment basis. In all it was a fruitful morning.
As the morning progressed it appeared that a wave cloud might be setting up from Independence to Lone Pine, but it didn’t materialize by the time I had to get back to the other side of the Sierra.
For those of you with the Eastern Sierra still on your bucket list, might I recommend late December to early January for the reasons I just mentioned. The likelihood of spectacular images is greater in my opinion — and, if time allows, Death Valley National Park is 100 miles east of Lone Pine by car.
Rolling through Winslow, Ariz. the other day I opted to jump of the 40 and cruise down a portion of the 66 where one Arizona town capitalized from an Eagles song.
It’s not every time through this stretch of eastern Arizona that I’ll do this, and now having done it during two distinct seasons — winter and summer — it was clear to me why tourist attractions sometimes don’t hold the appeal for me.
I wasn’t the only one with the same idea.
As I pulled up to the curb and found a shady spot under a small tree — shade in Arizona is a treasured commodity in the summer — the motor home ahead of me was also taking its position on the curb where a red, flatbed Ford should be parked. I later learned that the Ford had recently been used in a local parade and whoever was responsible for it just hadn’t brought it back to the tourist attraction.
By the time I had grabbed my camera from the car, switched lenses and decided to walk up to the monument on the corner of N. Kinsley Ave. and Old Hwy. 66 there was easily a dozen people posing for pictures with the bronze guy and his guitar. Rather than stand in line or simply stand around, I did what any self-respecting tourist would do when faced with people in my picture: I went inside the adjacent store and purchased a T-shirt.
After waiting a while for the crowd to disappear I took a few photos of my own and headed back for my car, thinking about how one tiny Arizona town now bypassed by an Interstate would likely never see a single tourist had it not been for a song written decades ago by Glenn Frey and Jackson Browne.
Long gone are the days of slaving over a sink in a chemical-laden closet for hours on end. No longer does one need to wear sunglasses just to return to the newsroom, or God-forbid, outdoors in the daylight, where even an arc welder’s mask could not protect your eyes from the burn.
Now we sit in front of flickering screens and do similar damage to our eyes.
Who cares about chemical temperatures or timers anymore?
No more bent reels, cat puke, light leaks or the frustration of running out of chemicals on deadline.
But really folks… is there any difference in the time spent away from the camera whether we do our work digitally or with chemicals that we probably didn’t fully understand were capable of as we ate our donuts under the safe lights?
The advantages of digital are obvious — as obvious as the difference between the fine grain we got from our Fuji Velvia 50 and the pushed Tri-X we ran ourselves after the high school football game.
So here’s a look back at a little bit of history and some icons of the trade that most people today haven’t a clue about as they complain about the declining space left for photos on their smart phones.