Road Trips: Northern California

“Let’s go back,” he said, back to Ferndale.

It’s a little town in northern California – more precisely, in Humboldt County, home of mammoth redwood trees, counter-culture cannabis growers, and (more prosaically, because everything shouldn’t be exciting) dairy and beef farms.

We liked Ferndale last time and we wanted to see the coast again, and the redwood forests so

we planned, we packed, and before we knew it

we were driving onto the Coupeville ferry and crossing over to the Olympic peninsula. It’s a longer route, but so much prettier, and we avoided Seattle traffic. Heading south along the Hood Canal (it’s a fjord!) on a quiet two-lane road, we passed Hamma Hamma and Lilliwaup,

glimpsed a herd of elk grazing by the roadside, then merged onto the interstate (ugh). We powered past Portland and stopped in a town called Brownsville for the night. Google pointed us to a local joint called Kirk’s Ferry Trading Post for dinner. The food went down even better after we watched a vintage truck –

the one we thought was part of the display of vintage tools and stuff –

start up with a groan and a growl and slowly, very slowly, putter down the road. (We noticed the pickup truck owner’s wife scowling as she sped away in a separate vehicle).

1. Parked in front, the old Dodge blends right into the scenery at Kirk’s Ferry Trading Post.

2. A single new wiper and a pair of sunglasses on the seat should have clued us in to the fact that this baby can still sputter. We assume local law enforcement officials look the other way when they see this vehicle.

The next day we crossed the Oregon/California border and sailed down a loopy mountain road in a downpour, finally arriving in peaceful little Ferndale at dusk. Early the following morning I wandered outside where a peaceful, pastoral scene unfolded: the world refreshed by September rains.

3. Rain, rain, rain on the scenic Redwood Highway, where we passed Broken Kettle Creek, Dead Horse Gulch, and Panther Flat but saw nothing but trees and water.
4. The clouds echoed the trees, or the way ’round.

5. Cumulus clouds exploded over heaps of evergreen hills. This is a place where the built environment plays nicely with nature.

6. An almost full moon embellished the bucolic scene.

Contentment worked its way under our skin and deep into our bones as we strolled wide beaches, hiked emerald forests and motored through rolling hills that overlooked the empty Pacific far below. Daily coffee in a laid-back cafe with a workshop where a man builds kayaks anchored us to Ferndale’s gentle rhythms.

We’re home now and I miss this exquisite corner of the world already.

Maybe you can see why.

7. The beach at Ma-l’el Dunes in Humboldt National Wildlife Refuge.

8. Wading in frigid water, exhaling deeply, flinging my arms wide: feeling good.

9. Another day, another beach: Centerville Beach, a county park that was almost deserted on a Tuesday morning.

10. What washes up here is more colorful than what I’m used to. I think this is Feather boa kelp (Egregia menziesii).

11. Dune grass improvises with wind and sand.

12. Looking south towards the Lost Coast from Centerville Beach.
13. Cliffs plunge to the sea at Lost Coast Headlands. Three geologic faults lie just off the shore here, making this area profoundly unstable.

14. High up on a hill overlooking the ocean a cowboy and his two dogs wrangled cattle.

We met a cast of friendly, eccentric characters on the trails, including a 94-year-old man intent on hiking a steep trail connecting grasslands and beach, a woman of a certain age hiking barefoot in the rain with two tiny dogs on leashes and a cat on her back, and a man who seemed to go nowhere without his two cockatoos.

16. Along a trail in Headwaters Forest Reserve.

17. Reflections in Salmon Creek; Headwaters Forest Reserve.

18. A trail leads to an opening in the forest; Headwaters Forest Reserve.

19. The morning sparkled after rain showers at Headwaters Forest Reserve.

20. New growth on a Redwood at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.

21. A visitor photographs steam emanating from a sunlit redwood tree named Demeter at Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park. Nearby is “Iluvatar”, the world’s 16th largest tree. It has over 1 billion leaves and is over 1800 years old.
http://famousredwoods.com/iluvatar/

22. Neck stretching at the Cal Barrel Road redwood grove in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.

23. Sword ferns thrive in the shade at the feet of redwood giants; Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.

24. Deer fern fronds (Blechnum spicant) arch over a bed of Redwood sorrel (Oxalis oregana) at the base of a redwood tree; Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.

On the way back home we spent two nights on the Oregon coast in the little town of Waldport. More on that later, but here is a view from the beach at low tide one morning:

25. Oregon Coast Moods

This trip went by too fast. I know I’m privileged to be able to spend any time at all at such spectacular places as California’s redwood forests and its nearly deserted northern beaches. Breathtaking scenery lurks around the corner anywhere you look though, if you let old habits drop away and look with new eyes.

A Joyful Relation to What Is

A few weeks ago Sigrun Hodne, who writes at the blog Sub Rosa, posted a brief video about the photographer Jeff Wall. You may or may not find Wall’s photography appealing, but maybe you’ll be intrigued by what he says, as I was.

Towards the end of the clip Wall talks about art.

“I think all art is always an expression of the affection for there being a world…

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“…that there’s something to see… that anything even exists.”

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“It’s already a kind of joyful relation to what is. And then everything else becomes a detail…”

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“I think all artists are pretty sympathetic people. They’re sympathetic to being.

And I think that’s why people like art.”

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***

The photographs were made on two afternoons in May, during a trip to the Methow Valley, in north central Washington. Creeks originating from glaciers on some of Washington’s highest peaks drain into the Methow River, which weaves and wends its way through spare, sage green highlands before emptying into the Columbia River, and thence to the Pacific Ocean. The valley is dotted with small towns, and one called Winthrop emphasizes an American West atmosphere enough to resemble a movie set. Along with opportunities to camp, fish, ski, ride horses, and raft the river, the classic western look of Winthrop brings tourists to the area.

Coming in spring, we expected quiet and weren’t disappointed. We stayed outside the town of Twisp at a small farm whose owners work in retail and real estate while caring for a handful of horses and chickens and running an airbnb side business. A patchwork economy works best in the valley, as in so many rural areas. From the riverside we drove high up into the lonely, sere hills, where fires have their way with dry forest land and the views leap across space, and free the soul. The cheerful golden Balsamroot flowers that sprinkle the hillsides with color every spring were fading but no matter – my affection for the world was still an unhesitatingly joyful relation to what is, right there, in that particular place, at that particular time.

The photos:

  • 1. Fire-ravaged juniper tree, Thompson Road, Methow Valley
  • 2. Fallen trees and Arrowleaf Balsamroot (Balsamorhiza sagittata) leaves, Gun Ranch Road, Methow Valley
  • 3. Shriveled Balsamroot flower, Thomson Ridge, Methow Valley
  • 4. Lichen on rock, Thompson Ridge, Methow Valley
  • 5. Single boulder in an Aspen grove, Thompson Ridge, Methow Valley
  • 6. Fire-ravaged junipers and dry grasses, Thompson Ridge, Methow Valley
  • 7. Lichen-splotched boulder, Thompson Ridge, Methow Valley
  • 8. Insect on fading Balsamroot flower, Thompson Ridge, Methow Valley

A few more photos from the Methow Valley are here.

Rambling Around L.A. with Flora

Who’s Flora? Flora is Fauna’s pal. You know, the one who makes everything livable.

Flora’s strong presence in L.A. is a key ingredient of the city’s identity. The city is chock full of glamorous botanical introductions from faraway places, native plants that thrived here for eons and everything in between. The “florabundance” of southern California captivated me, so here’s a selection of plants from in and around L. A.  –  a selection guaranteed to be completely unscientific and thoroughly skewed.  Most of these images are of trees because trees got to me on this trip, but you’ll find a few other plants in too, for the sake of variety.

 

1. The silhouette of a Coast live oak (Quercus agrifolia) frames distant hills on a trail at Topanga State Park’s Trippet Ranch, which is about an hour’s drive from downtown L.A.

 

2. More Coast live oaks at Trippet Ranch. The day we were there birds, squirrels and deer were feasting on the ripening acorns.

 

3. A fallen branch, probably oak, at Trippet Ranch. The live oaks of California take on wonderfully sinuous, expressive shapes as they grow.

 

4. Staying with the oaks, here’s a lovely, plump little acorn on a Tucker’s oak tree (Quercus John-tuckeri) at Joshua Tree National Park. The park is a good two or more-hour drive from L.A. but it’s well worth the effort to get there. More on that in another post.

 

5. Just off a trail in Joshua Tree National Park, the eponymous Joshua tree (Yucca brevifolia) stands tall. It is actually not a tree, it’s a type of yucca. This specimen suffered an injury to its trunk but it soldiers on, in a very harsh environment. The area has only received about two inches of rain this year; about a third of that fell just after we left, causing road closures and evacuations in town.

 

6. Back in downtown Los Angeles, hilly streets mean you might get to look down on a freshly clipped topiary tree. What a treat!

 

7. In trendy Silver Lake everyone has a little corner of paradise; this one comes with a generous sprinkling of banana plants and Bird of Paradise plants (Strelitzia). Oh, and a vintage Ford Falcon parked out front does add a certain charm to the block.

 

8. The fruit of a South American Silk floss tree (Ceiba speciosa) hangs heavy on the branch, on a street in the Watts neighborhood of L.A. These trees drop their leaves before flowering – what a sight the brilliant magenta pink flowers are on bare-leaved trees!

 

9. On just about any block in L.A. there will be a corner like this one, with lollipop palm trees, telephone poles and criss-crossed wires, street lamps, and random signs. You’ll often find a certain glow in the sky too, maybe from the city’s relentlessly sunny skies and its proximity to the ocean. Or perhaps it’s that stubborn inversion layer. Or maybe all that light is just bouncing around so much that it glows.

 

 

11. At my feet on a residential street, a tree was artfully creeping over the sidewalk, and scattering its pretty golden leaves about like glitter on a movie star’s gown. OK, that’s a stretch, but this little scene did delight my eyes.

 

12. Down at the beach, forests of kelp grow just off shore. Now and then they toss us an offering. Giant Kelp (Macrocystis pyrifera) is actually a fast-growing algae, and I’m not kidding about the forest part – offshore kelp beds are thick, and plants can reach well over 40′ tall. 

 

13. A tangle of branches looks a bit haunted, in a ravine at Trippet Ranch, Topanga State Park.

 

14. I think this is a Peruvian peppertree (Schinus molle), one of many exotics planted around L.A. This was at Elysian Park, L.A.’s oldest park and a nice, quick escape from the frantic traffic of the city below.

 

15. At Angel’s Point in Elysian Park another Mexican fan palm stands tall amidst an unlikely assortment of objects. A whimsical sculpture seems to mock the heavy-handedness of downtown high-rises, and five glorious ravens sail freely on the updraft of a glowing, if smoggy, L.A. sunset.

 

16. I was struck by the sight of tree roots penetrating deep into rocky cliffs, in a number of places around the city. This photo was taken on the road to Mt. Wilson Observatory, a narrow, winding two-lane that had me clutching the edge of my seat more than once.

 

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17. Evergreens cling to the rocky hillsides of Angeles National Forest, along the precipitous road that climbs up to Mount Wilson Observatory, elevation 5,712 ft/1741m.  Two of the largest telescopes in the world (for their time) are here. The location benefits from regional inversion layers that trap clearer air on top of the mountain, but it suffers from light-polluted night skies.

 

18. Another view of oaks in a ravine, through filtered light at Trippet Ranch, Topanga State Forest.

 

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19.  Warm, arid southern California even manages glimpses of autumn here and there. This fiery tree appears to be a maple. I found it on a roadside, high up in the Angeles National Forest, about an hour from downtown.

***

 

This meager offering doesn’t begin to do justice to the amazing variety of flora in and around Los Angeles. Interestingly enough, both the arid wilderness around L.A. and the well-irrigated landscape in and near the city offer up an astounding variety of plant life.  I hope this post encourages you to take another look around your own neighborhood. There may be more to it than you realize.

 

 

 

 

 

 

SO(very)CAL: L.A. and Around

Earlier this week, I returned home from a week traveling in and around Los Angeles. We put 751 miles on the rental car. Whew!

Here are a few highlights from the city, the desert, the mountains and the beach.

 

1. Nancy Rubins’ monumental sculpture at the Museum of Contemporary Art, downtown L.A.

 

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2. Sunset on Route 62, leaving Joshua Tree

 

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3. Fallen Floss-silk tree (Ceiba speciosa) blossoms, Watts, L.A.

 

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4. A young Joshua tree stands near Shelter, a sculpture by Noah Purifoy (1917 – 2004), at the Noah Purifoy Foundation’s Outdoor Desert Museum of Assemblage Sculpture in Joshua Tree.

 

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5. Along the Barker Dam Trail at Joshua Tree National Park.  Parry’s Nolina in the foreground, a prickly pear (Opuntia sp.) cactus to the right, unidentified red flowers behind boulders.

 

6. A meal at Mh Zh – red lentils with herbs, hummus Bling, and grilled farm bread.

 

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7. The Bradbury Building in downtown L.A., where key scenes from Blade Runner were shot.

 

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8. A Venice street corner.

 

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9. A culinary suggestion from Venice Beach

 

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10. Looking up into a Brugmansia flower (aka Angels trumpet) at Descanso Gardens, La Canada Flintridge.

 

11. A museum guard walks past Robert Therrien’s sculpture, Under the Table, at  The Broad Museum, L.A.

 

12. Eucalyptus trees are ubiquitous in southern California, but that doesn’t make them any less beautiful.

 

13. The famous Los Angeles sprawl seen from the road to Mt. Wilson, in the Angeles National Forest.

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14. California beaches have a calm beauty on overcast days. Zuma Beach/ Point Dume, near Malibu.

 

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15. At Joshua Tree National Park, granite rocks take on an oddly malleable quality in the receding light, as if they were globs of dough ready for the oven.  

 

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16. At pretty Hermosa Beach, wet sand reflects a pier full of sunset-watchers.

 

More on the photos:

  1. This muscular sculpture on a plaza at the Museum of Contemporary Art in L.A. has a long title that describes the materials: Chas’ Stainless Steel, Mark Thompson’s Airplane Parts, About 1000 Pounds of Stainless Steel Wire, and Gagosian’s Beverly Hills Space. It’s by artist Nancy Rubins and was installed in 2001. I like the way it interrupts the grids of surrounding high rises by taking similar rectangular, hard-edged forms, breaking them up and setting them at all angles.
  2. This lopsided sunset meets heavy cloud cover on the road out of Joshua Tree. The narrowly focused light show preceded a lengthy display of lightening over a distant desert mountain range. When we got back to L.A. it was raining. Several people remarked that it took them by surprise – after all, who checks the weather forecast in a place where warm, sunny weather is an everyday occurrence?
  3. The Floss-silk tree was blooming all over town, adding joyful pink highlights to the greens and browns of the California autumn landscape. The tree is native to South America and is related to the kapok tree. The leaves fall off before the tree blooms, so the huge flowers are even more dramatic – perfect for a city known for creating drama.
  4. The Outdoor Desert Museum of Assemblage Sculpture is just that, but also much more. It’s difficult to describe the impact of seeing Noah Purifoy’s fifteen years’ labor weathering in the spare, harsh Mohave desert. If inventiveness, artistic expertise and social commentary interest you, you may be here for hours, as we were. I first visited the site in 2014; photos of Purifoy’s sculptures from that visit can be found here.
  5. Joshua Tree National Park is one of those oddly otherworldy, spectacular landscapes that one never forgets. Coming back to it for a second look, I was not disappointed – in fact, our hike on the Barker Dam loop trail was a high point of the trip. Photos from a 2014 visit to Joshua Tree are here and I plan to post more from this year’s trip soon.
  6. Near our airbnb in the busy L.A. neighborhood of Silver Lake, there’s a casual Israeli/Middle eastern restaurant called Mh Zh. We sat at a counter inside (all the “real” tables are outside on the sidewalk) and chatted with the manager while watching the chef slide rack after rack of delicious-looking food into the flaming oven. The employees were relaxed and upbeat, the food was amazing, and watching it all go in and out of that oven was pure theater.
  7. The Bradley Building is a refreshing bit of 19th and 20th century style in the middle of modern L.A. You’ll recognize it immediately as the place where much of Blade Runner was filmed. Walk in, wander around the first floor, and climb the stairs until you’re met by ropes marking off the tenants’ space – one of whom is the LAPD’s Internal Affairs Division! Many films and commercials have used this handsome space that abounds with intricate details. An interior door opens onto Blue Bottle Coffee, an airy, high-style (21st century version) coffee shop where we enjoyed great espresso and an order of perfectly poached eggs on toast.
  8. The facade of Yellow Fever restaurant in Venice, a still somewhat funky town fifteen miles west of LA. The restaurant advertises “Asian bowls for your soul” and is takes no cash. Is credit more soulful, I wonder?
  9. This sign kind of sums up why we didn’t spend much time in Venice. Can you say, “Tacky?”  The little canals of Venice are attractive enough, if you manage to disregard the occasional small, unpowered boat loaded down with belongings, obviously serving as a tiny home for a less fortunate person than those living in the chic, multi-million dollar homes lining the canals.
  10. Twenty minutes from downtown LA is the quiet oasis of Descanso Gardens. I can’t say I was very impressed; maybe I was there at the wrong time of year. Still, it was a pleasant hour or two, the oaks are splendid, and I always love to see Brugmansias in bloom.
  11. I wanted to see the Broad Museum, which opened three years ago. I did find some gems there but when all was said and done I was, well, overwhelmed with being underwhelmed. Or something like that. There are just too many in-your-face, big spectacle pieces. There isn’t enough coherent, thoughtful art.  An excellent review of the architecture and collection is here.
  12. Eucalyptus doesn’t grow where I live, so I’m especially susceptible to its charms. This one, a pretty basic specimen, is quite beautiful if you study the sinuous curves of trunk and branch against the light flutter of gray-green leaves. It towers above the ground at the Watts Towers, a delightful community space that will (hopefully) show up soon, in another post about L.A.
  13. It may not be a great image, but this gives you an idea of the juxtaposition of wild outdoor space and urban sprawl that is characteristic of Los Angeles County. You can see views like this from many different high spots around LA; this one was taken on the road up to Mt. Wilson. The Mount Wilson Observatory is the site of pioneering research in astrophysics, and several of the world’s largest (at the time they were installed) telescopes are housed there. The twisting, narrow road isn’t easy on an acrophobe, but once you’re up there, cares do drop away.
  14. We visited Zuma Beach and Point Dume State Park on an overcast morning – a perfect time, it turns out, if you’re more interested in scenery than swimming. We saw dolphins swim just a few feet from a pair of surfers who were respectful enough to remain quiet, and watched a Great egret catching grasshoppers along the roadside.
  15. Another view of the sculptural desert landscape at Joshua Tree National Park.
  16. Hermosa Beach is a small beach town about 45 minutes from downtown LA. The first pier here was built in 1904, and three years later the incorporated city acquired two miles of beach, to remain perpetually free from commerce and open to all. Without commerce, I would not have enjoyed the fabulous Mh Zh restaurant or several great cafes, but everything has its place, doesn’t it? I was glad I could get away from L.A.’s commercial intensity and go out to the desert, up to the mountains, and onto the beach, in beautiful SoCal.

What There Is

In the spirit of working with what’s available, here is a group of photos I’ve tossed together from the road trip through Oregon and northern California that we took a few months ago. After days of being immersed in the randomness of my possessions – open a drawer, dig into a closet, unleash the chaos – my mind may be incapable of knitting together a coherent story or explanation for these images. Most were taken in small towns, and a few are from what used to be a small town. Perhaps there is a thread of nostalgia that connects them. Perhaps not. I’m OK either way. After all, like everything else, these images are part of the vast, beautiful, spacious world we live in where every thing is a world in itself, even as it plays a part in the greater mystery.

 

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*

These photos were made at four locations in northern California: the picturesque agricultural town of Ferndale, the historic mountain mining town of Weaverville, the remote coastal hamlet of Shelter Cove, and a ghost town called Helena, near Weaverville. I made liberal use of effects when processing most of these images, primarily with Color Efex Pro.

Shelter Cove: #1

Helena: #2, #3, #14

Ferndale: #4, #5, #6, #7, #8, #9, #11, #12, #13, #15, #18, #19, #20

Weaverville: #10, #16, #17

 

 

 

 

BEACHED

I do a fair amount of research before I travel to a new place, but never so much that the sense of discovery is quashed. In that spirit, our road trip to southwestern Oregon and neighboring northwestern California unfolded with a nice balance of the known and the unpredictable: we always knew where we were staying at night, but every day offered up new discoveries.

 

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Take beaches, for example: I’ve seen photos of Oregon beaches and I’ve been to a few of them, so I thought I knew what to expect: crashing surf, vast expanses of sand set with sun-bleached log giants, craggy sea stacks. I expected I’d find sea stars and hoped to spot sea lions. But fossils and rows of geometrically patterned rocks on the beach? No, I didn’t expect that!

 

That’s Beverley Beach, on Oregon’s central coast in the first photo.  We pulled off Route 101 there one day with little more than a sign to entice us. The parking lot is on the opposite side of the road from the beach, so we took the short path following a log-packed creek under the highway and out to a broad, sweeping beach. Savoring the instant “Ahhh” of relaxation you get when you meet the ocean, we slowly meandered south, enjoying the mind-freeing spaciousness and the satisfying give of sand underfoot. It was a brisk day, the sky packed with cumulus clouds, the tide half-way in, the views up and down the beach nearly empty. No ships, few birds, just ocean, earth and sky, and a pin-like gash on the horizon where a distant lighthouse stood.

Soon the landscape changed, and we arrived at a steep, hard-packed mud cliff, oozing moisture from runoff overhead.

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Curious about the muddy cliff, I leaned in, and peering closely, I saw one, two, hundreds – no, thousands – of fossils, arrayed at eye level: a paleontologist’s home run. There were shells displayed at every possible angle, and odd, perfectly spherical protrusions, too. Wonderment is a gift, and we had it in spades that day as we walked the beach, but part of me wishes I’d known a little about the geology here before. I was entranced by the fossils and oddly-shaped rocks but I had no idea I was witnessing evidence of two different formations from tens of millions of years ago: a neat pairing of sediment layers and volcanic ash layers, the now-compacted ash hailing all the way from the distant Cascade Mountains.

Here’s a quick video about Beverley Beach fossils. The photos below may picture the volcanic layer but so far, I’ve been unable to find out what makes these intriguing, sculptural shapes.

 

 

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The beach offered up treasures, too:

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And apparently there are things to eat:

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What a piece of luck it was to choose that beach to explore.

Another day we wandered north on Route 101 from Newport, searching for a spot we remembered from a previous trip on the Oregon coast, a scenic overlook that was as far south as we got that time. Eventually we found it (I’m not called Balboa for nothing!) on a narrow, two-lane road called Otter Crest Loop that parallels the highway.  The Ben Jones Bridge, built in 1927, spans a dramatic gorge overlooking a wild strip of coastline. Inspecting the rocks, once again we found Pelagic cormorants nesting here, on precarious crevices high up on a salt-sprayed cliff. Photographing them proved beyond my capability, but it felt good just to watch the birds swoop in to their narrow perches, and listen to wave after wave of foamy turquoise seawater crashing into the rocky shore.

 

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The central coast of Oregon is so packed with scenic pull-outs, it’s hard to know where to stop. Gunta, an Oregon coast expert who blogs at Movin’ On, recommended Cape Perpetua, a headland which is the highest viewpoint on the Oregon coast reachable by car.  Advertised to provide fantastic views on clear days, Cape Perpetua afforded us a dramatic view of a darkening squall drawing nearer and nearer as the air grew colder and colder. A short loop trail through the woods features mighty evergreens and an old stone and wood shelter looking out across the Pacific.  The intense contrast between snug forest and windy sea was a perfect mix.

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One minute, dark clouds and icy-cold winds bit our faces, the next, sunbreaks lit up the shore:

 

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And then it was on to southern Oregon and a rewarding day of botanizing with Gunta (close encounters with carnivorous plants!). The day after that we romped on another spectacular Oregon beach, on our way to northern California, where house-sized redwoods kept us humble, and a hundred miles from the ocean, in a charming mining town, the oldest continuously used Chinese temple in California kept us humble, too…but that’s another story, or maybe several stories.

 

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WHAT HAPPENED?

What happened was, we packed our bags into a little red car

that came from a place called enterprise, and the little red car

went south, south past Portland and

down to the sea. Pretty enterprising. We paused

in Newport, but it wasn’t really Newport, it was down a rutted road where

elk browsed, unbothered by our raised eyebrows, open mouths and clicking shutters.

We were back behind everything, by the slough, wet with rain. After a few days

we traveled on, gathering sights and sounds and smells and

the air of places we’d never been. Cape Perpetua, Yaquina Head, Ocean Dunes,

Humbug Mountain.

Gold Beach, Hunter Creek, Beverley Beach and Brookings. Hiouichi, Stout Grove, Prairie

Creek (now we are in California), Arcata. Eureka, Ferndale.

Ferndale, the slow, friendly, easy little town we came to love.

And there was Willow Creek,

Hawkins Bar, Burnt Ranch.

Yes, it’s a litany, and there’s more:

Weaverville, Junction City, Helena. Horse Mountain, Red Crest,

Myers Flat, Briceland, and Shelter Cove. Shelter Cove, the place of crashing surf, black

sand and triumphant hikers emerging from lost days on the Lost Coast.

Then later, Bald Hills, Patrick Creek, Cave Junction, Grants Pass.

We are back in Oregon now.  Corvalis, and Portland. Twelve days and then home,

home to fat inboxes, piles of snail mail, and thousands of pictures to take us back

and carry us

onward.

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The photos (and there will be more!):

  1. The muddy, pot-holed, hairpin-turned, steep and long road to our airbnb on a slough outside Newport, Oregon. A road that held wonders, once you could relax your grip on the steering wheel.
  2. A forest of Port Orford cedar trees on Hunter Creek Road outside Gold beach, Oregon, where fellow blogger Gunta of Movin’ On lives.
  3. This tiny tree frog makes a big noise, but not when he’s in hand; at our Ferndale, California aribnb.
  4. Lovely, spring-blooming Bleeding hearts (Dicentra formosa) along a quiet back road outside Newport, OR.
  5. Looking up into the Redwood trees at Redwood National Forest, California.
  6. The tide’s coming in at Shelter Cove, on California’s Lost Coast. One road in, one road out, and be ready for 45 minutes of winding, steep, rough road.
  7. A local combing the beach, for what, I don’t know. Beverley Beach, Oregon.
  8. At Myers Beach in southern Oregon, a sea stack and the distant headlands are reflected in the shimmering water of low tide.
  9. The black sand at Shelter Cove is mostly smooth black pebbles streaked with white.
  10. A sea squall rushes towards land at Cape Perpetua, Oregon. It got very cold, very fast that morning.
  11. A hiker rests and takes in the view at Shelter Cove. It’s the end of a three-day backpacking trip up California’s Lost Coast for this admirable man.
  12. Shelter Cove residents erected this sign to warn tourists like us about the dangers of their beach. We were careful!
  13. An old, rusted cleat on a pier in Newport, Oregon, with the town’s iconic 1930’s bridge in the background.
  14. California sea lions try to get shut-eye on platforms built just for them on the Newport waterfront. Tourists can stroll out onto a short pier and watch all day.
  15. One of Ferndale’s many pristine Victorian buildings.
  16. Our little red rental car at Myers Beach, on the southern coast of Oregon.
  17. Alder trees and ferns line a section of the road to our Newport airbnb.
  18. The uncommon Brook wakerobin, a diminutive trillium relative, found in southwestern Oregon and northwestern California.
  19. Redwood trees dwarf the cars on the Avenue of the Giants, in northern California.

 

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Dreams in the Dust

The old Techatticup gold mine in Eldorado Canyon, Nevada is the site of an eccentric, poorly maintained collection of rundown buildings and derelict vehicles. We drove there from Las Vegas in January, curious about this once-prosperous mine, where tours are now the only activity that generates money. On a winter day under a dull sky, the mine looked as forlorn as the surrounding landscape, a landscape whispering of desiccated wood and dreams blown to dust. Perhaps there’s promise around the next bend.

Paired with these photographs from the Eldorado Canyon mine are images from Valley of Fire State Park, a preserve about 90 minutes north of the mine. The Mohave desert in January has the spare beauty of subtle colors and gritty textures, quite a contrast to Las Vegas, where bright colors and glitter are the rule.

First, a look at the life-giving Colorado River, at the mouth of Eldorado Canyon. This is where ore from the mine was shipped downriver back in the 1800’s. The canyon cuts to the left, out of sight. We’re looking north here, with Nevada to the left and Arizona to the right. Hoover Dam is 15 or 20 miles upriver and Las Vegas is 45 miles northwest.

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The photos:

  1. The Colorado River at Eagle Wash, outside Nelson, NV.
  2. A Metro van permanently parked at Techatticup Mine, near Nelson, NV. These vans were made by International Harvester, and often used for bread or milk delivery. This one probably dates from 1959 or the early 60’s.
  3. A Dodge bus and an old gas pump at Techatticup Mine. The bus probably dates from about 1940.
  4. A slot canyon in the sandstone on the White Domes trail, Valley of Fire State Park, NV.
  5. Slot canyon, White Domes trail, Valley of Fire State Park.
  6. Fluid Drive chrome on a vintage car at Techatticup Mine. I don’t know what kind of car this was, but Fluid Drive was a Chrysler trademark from the 1940’s.
  7. Did you know that the three chrome portholes that many of us associate with Buick, are called ventiports? They actually vented heat in the beginning, but later, they were purely decorative. This is probably a 1952 model, perhaps an “archetypal” BuickCheck this out!! 
  8. A Valley of Fire roadside scene.
  9. A Valley of Fire roadside scene.
  10. Peering through the back window of a vintage car at the Techatticup Mine, with a few choice VW camper vans in the distance. There’s also a fake, crashed vintage plane at the mine that was used in a Kevin Kostner film.
  11. An old Chevy truck from 1936.  Here’s one that’s been restored – what a beauty! Unfortunately, almost all the vehicles at the mine have been vandalized; many have been painted over and scraper repeatedly. The door on this one says “Chicago Motor Club AAA” but also says “Wyoming.” There must be some great stories there…
  12. A late afternoon vista at Valley of Fire.
  13. Weathered rock formations on the White Domes trail at Valley of Fire. This photo was taken with my phone and processed in Silver Efex and Lightroom.
  14. There is a real mish-mash of objects to peruse as you wait for your mine tour (which I confess I didn’t take).  Tourist tchotchkes and historical artifacts jostle for space in several old wooden buildings. Here, old bottles gather light in a window. The Nehi soda bottle on the right is probably from the 1930’s, the Pepsi bottle from the 1940’s.
  15. A door knob inside the old store at the mine.
  16. A few rocks, and leaves from a Palo Verde tree, have gathered in a sandstone crevice at Valley of Fire.
  17. All that’s left of a desert shrub is this elegant skeleton in the sand, at Valley of Fire.
  18. One of the old mine buildings at Techatticup, with an assortment of rusted parts, animal skulls, and old wooden items scattered about.
  19. The Metro step van seen in #2. Bales of hay have been dumped just in front of the van, so maybe it still runs!
  20. On the road, approaching Valley of Fire State Park. I take a lot photos from the passenger seat, but for this one we stopped and I got out. The road was quiet enough that I could stand in the middle and get low for a more interesting angle. Processed in Silver Efex and Lightroom.
  21. On the road again, threading through a canyon at Valley of Fire State Park. It was almost noon and the sun was bouncing off the sandy road, an effect I emphasized in processing.

 

 

Death Valley

I wanted to escape the dreary northwest winter. Though a lot can be said for sticking with the situation you’re in and making the best of it, there would still be weeks and weeks of winter when we returned. I would have ample opportunity to build my moral character and strengthen that stiff upper lip by bearing down amidst the endless parade of damp, gray days that characterizes the Pacific northwest winter (yes, and maybe spring too…and OK, maybe fall).

So we flew to Las Vegas in January with the idea of visiting three desert parks. One was Death Valley, one of the hottest places in the world in summer. In the winter though, it’s quite tolerable, with the proper precautions. What I found was a landscape that, unlike the wet temperate forests where I live, does not invite you in. In fact, the close-up view at Death Valley tends to be off-putting; salt-encrusted soil and jagged rocks don’t really make you feel like luxuriating in their presence. The wider view – those grand vistas that Death Valley is famous for – does invite “Oh’s” and “Ah’s” but it is still a very harsh and unforgiving landscape.

Visitors walk the salt flats at Badwater Basin, Death Valley National Park

A few quick facts about Death Valley, California, USA: this National Park was created in 1933.  3,000 square miles (7,800 km2) of it (or 91%) is designated as wilderness. The park is huge and isolated; services are few and far between. It’s a place of extremes: the highest temperature recorded on earth happened here on July 10, 1913, when the air temperature at Furnace Creek was 134° F (56.7°C). The area receives less than 2 1/2 inches of rain a year, but there are over 160 springs and ponds. The tallest point is Telescope Peak, at 11,043 feet high (3,366 m) and the lowest point in the park, Badwater Basin, is the lowest point in North America, at 282 feet (86 m) below sea level. The valley was named “Death Valley” in the mid 1800’s, by people known as the “Lost 49ers” who, with great difficulty, crossed this inhospitable land to reach California gold fields.

Driving west towards Death Valley from Las Vegas, we passed through red rock country:

A view from Rt. 160 as it cuts through Red Rock Canyon

Death Valley has a number of extraordinary sights but they are too spread out to visit in one day. We planned on two days, knowing we still would barely scratch the surface. However, it had not rained in about 117 days, and rain was finally on the way. After hearing the weather report, and thinking about a day spent driving through vast expanses of desert in a cold rain, we decided to scrap our second Death Valley day and go back towards Las Vegas. We thought we might get ahead of the storm, which was coming from the west. Heavy rain closed some roads in Death Valley the day after we were there, so I think we did the right thing.

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We spent time at three points of interest: Salt Creek, a meandering desert creek that supports the rare little Death Valley pupfish, Zabriskie Point, a scenic overlook where part of Antonioni’s film Zabriskie Point was made, and Badwater Basin. We tried for Artist’s Palette, a scenic loop with beautiful rock formations, but the sun was setting by the time we got there.

Salt Creek, Death Valley, where life is adapted to high salinity and harsh temperatures.

 

 

The endangered Death Valley pupfish lives in this creek, and a curious, salt-tolerant succulent called Pickleweed (Allenrolfea occidentalis) grows around it.

 

The view across Death Valley with the Panamint Range in the background

 

Another view across Death Valley, approaching Badwater Basin

 

At Badwater, a spring-fed pool in the salt-encrusted valley floor reflects the foothills of the Amargosa Range. A similar image in color is here.

 

Looking north across the salt flats at Badwater

 

 

A colorful rock formation caught my eye between Badwater and Artist’s Palette

 

The sinking sun heightens subtle desert colors.

 

Earlier in the day at Zabriskie Point, we admired the pale contours of Manly Peak against the soft purples of the Panamint Range.

 

Zabriskie Point’s mountain contours. These badlands are the remains of an ancient, eroded lake.

 

Another view from dramatic Zabriskie Point

 

The land itself seems to flow at Zabriskie Point.

 

Increasing clouds made for a quiet, but beautiful sunset as we drove out of the park.

If you compare these scenes with the lush, dripping greens in my previous post, you’ll understand how this rocky, spare landscape is diametrically opposed to the look and feel of northwest forests. That’s the draw for me, but the lack of plants at Death Valley was so ubiquitous that it put me off. For my taste, Red Rock Canyon was more appealing. I like at least a side dish of plant matter with my main landscape course!

Another location we explored on this trip was Valley of Fire State Park, a scenic red sandstone area about an hour northeast of Las Vegas. We also visited Eldorado Mine, an old gold mine full of odd memorabilia and junked vehicles near the Colorado River. More about those locations later!

 

Bringing Rain to the Desert

Perhaps it was fate. During the first week of January, we left cold, rainy Seattle behind for some Las Vegas sun. The desert city had not had any rain for 116 days, and for a few more pleasant days, the dry spell continued. Then the clouds arrived, and by our last day there was so much rain that the streets were flooding and our flight out was delayed. But, you work with what you have, so that’s what we did.

 

Rain and mist have drained the color from Red Rock Canyon

 

Besides the vagaries of weather and fate, travel photography has been on my mind – no wonder! It has its own pitfalls, doesn’t it?  We take pictures to document our experience, and for many of us, to share it later online. That can create pressure to perform, which in turn can dilute our ability to fully enjoy the experience itself. There can be many layers of removal from feeling alive in the moment when you travel. There you were, in the dry desert, gazing at scenery that was stunning, amazing, and just plain beautiful. You know that you appreciated the sights, but can you remember what you heard, smelled, touched or felt?

Chances are, I can’t tell you very much about the moment I took any of the photos below. Time has passed since I took them, of course. I may have been a bit sleep-deprived at the time. And that wonderful little black box, the one that helps me make images and memories, it tends to get in the way. No doubt, an insistent inner voice urged me to make the best pictures I possibly could, and reminded me that I only had one day there, I may never come back and even if I did, the light wouldn’t be the same, etc. etc. A perfect recipe for dulling the experience! Even the changes I make to my photographs later – the choices to highlight, sharpen edges, soften color, crop, whatever – can put distance between me and the original experience.

So we’re at a remove when we photograph our world, and sometimes more so when we’re traveling. That realization could call the whole process into question, but I haven’t given up on it.

I just wanted to note the pitfalls before diving in.

 

 

Three views from the plane, taken as we approached Las Vegas. You can see how bare the earth is. The body of water is Lake Mead, created in the 1930’s by damming the Colorado River, to provide hydroelectric power and water for agriculture in nearby California. The dam made it possible for Las Vegas to bloom straight out of that rocky soil.

Red Rock Canyon, from the highway

We landed in Las Vegas with enough time for a quick run over to Red Rock Canyon, a beautiful national conservation area that’s only 15 miles from the center of town. The sandstone mountains and canyons are popular for hiking and rock climbing. The land supports desert bighorn sheep and a destructive, if cute population of non-native wild burros. We heard most of the burros were in another area so sadly, we didn’t see any.

As the winter sun sunk behind the mountains, we made a few stops on the side of the road to drink in the desert landscape, then headed back to our hotel in Las Vegas.

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The contrast between the Mohave desert’s spare beauty and the incessant chaos of lights and noise that is Las Vegas hit me hard. I imagine the locals are used to the abrupt shift from the quiet, monochrome desert landscape to the gaudy, blaring city. It was difficult to comprehend how such a place, with its extreme investment in artifice, rose out of what is probably the most subtle landscape I’ve ever seen.

Nighttime in Las Vegas

 

The view out the hotel window, 26th floor

On our first full day we explored Valley Of Fire State Park – more about that later. The next two days we spent seeing a so-called ghost town, and driving over to Death Valley. We planned to spend one more day in Death Valley, but after almost three months without precipitation, it seems we brought the rain from Seattle to southern Nevada. There is precious little shelter in Death Valley. The monochromatic landscape was likely to be even grayer in the rain, so we decided to return to Red Rock Canyon, where we’d be closer to civilization and have the benefit of some tree cover. These photos are from our day at Red Rock Canyon, a day that started out partly cloudy but ended fully misty.

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Red Rock Canyon Photos:

  1. Mt. Wilson, elev. 7070 ft./2155 m., is about 25 miles by road from Las Vegas.  Want to try climbing it? Here are directions, from Backpacker magazine. Just out of sight is Blue Diamond Hill, a privately owned parcel of land at the edge of the conservation area. The owners want to build a 5,000 home development there. The largest gypsum mine in the state is just down the road; BDGH Gypsum makes agricultural gypsum and wallboard at a large plant there. The 5,000 home development is opposed by locals for a host of reasons, from increased traffic and light at night (the area outside Las Vegas boasts very dark night skies) to the possibility of houses falling into mine sinkholes.
  2. This landscape is interesting in any weather, with so many different textures and shapes. Adding to the plethora of patterns in the rocks here, is a group of Mohave yucca plants (Yucca schidigera), whose stark silhouettes dot the desert floor. Southern Paiute people used yucca extensively, making food, clothing, baskets, soap and other useful things from all of its parts.
  3. A desert wash at Willow Springs, where pink and gold rocks glow, even on a dreary winter day.
  4. Four close-ups of interesting sandstone patterns at Willow Springs.
  5. Numerous sandstone crevices have created microclimates for plants to grow in; note all the shrubs nestled in cracks and crannies, where extra moisture collects, and there may be a bit of shade on summer days, when temperatures can reach 110° F/44° C in summer.
  6. The rocks are beautiful to look at, and yield their secrets slowly. Recently, dinosaur tracks were identified in the rocks in a remote part of Red Rock Canyon.
  7. After much searching I think this is the Three-leaf sumac (Rhus triloba), aka Skunkbush. Those tightly packed buds will bloom into little yellow flowers in Spring. The berries that develop later are supposedly edible but tart. Indigenous people used the twigs in basketmaking (see the second paragraph).
  8. Raindrops on the Tulip prickly pear cactus (Opuntia phaeacantha). There are four species of prickly pear cactus at Red Rock.
  9. The distinctive stems of Ephedra have draped over a prickly pear pad at surprisingly lush Willow Springs. This is probably E. viridis, or Mormon tea, used for medicinal teas. The important drug ephedrine is derived from a related Asian Ephedra species, E. sinica, which has been used in traditional Chinese medicine for over 2000 years. Maybe the local Ephedra plant was used that long ago too, but since knowledge was transmitted verbally by indigenous people, records are sparse.
  10. Buckhorn cholla cactus (Cylindropuntia acanthocarpa), one of several cholla cacti that thrive here.
  11. The Desert willow tree (Chilopsis linearis) is not a true willow, but is in the Bignonia family. It was still dropping leaves on the gravely ground at Willow Springs when we visited. The elegantly curved, straw-colored leaves contrast nicely with the wet rocks, and as the rain continued I was glad my camera is weather resistant, but at a certain point, you just need to get out of the rain!
  12. Two closeups of Mohave yucca leaves and fibers.
  13. Storm clouds hang heavy in the distance and the cacti are ready to drink up the rain. The yucca’s stiff leaves can funnel rain right down to the roots.
  14. Rain clouds conceal the mountaintop above a steep divide in the rocks.
  15. A withered old Pinyon pine tree frames a distant view. i found one pine cone on the ground that still had a few pine nuts in it so I eagerly put one in my mouth, but I should have known, it was a “dead” one – an empty nut that was nothing but hull. I’m sure the animals have eaten all of this year’s viable nuts long ago.
  16. A dried seed head stands sentinel over the view of a rocky precipice that is almost lost in the mist.

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I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the tragedy in Las Vegas three months ago, when 58 people were killed and over 500 people were injured at an outdoor concert. One man shooting a modified semi-automatic rifle from a high rise hotel room caused all that suffering. I saw “Vegas Strong” signs scattered about the city, but for the most part, the pain seemed to be buried. Later, I heard that fundraising to help families of the dead, injured and traumatized has fallen below expectations, in part due to a kind of disaster fatigue that seemed to set in after the US experienced three major hurricanes just before the shooting, and intense, destructive wildfires just after it. In any case, I wish the people who were injured and traumatized, and those who lost family and friends, a much better year in 2018, and all the help and healing that they deserve.