Thursday, December 2, 2010

Ragged Point

Ragged Point
As I drove up the coast I also got further from civilization, symbolized by my loss of a cell phone signal. This also meant no phone GPS and no geotagging in my Droid. Oh, the horror.

This loss of my electronic umbilicus was compensated for by the beauty of the Big Sur coastline. At the same time, I'd rather have been a passenger than a driver. Highway 1 winds snake-like along the steep cliffs with switchbacks and sharp curves liberally scattered along the way. This means "pay attention to the road or else." Fortunately, I didn't get behind any trucks and for the most part I had the road to myself.

I stopped at the Ragged Point Inn, which was very quiet, perhaps because it was a weekday. I took the shot you see here, which gives you an idea of how the coastline is usually a sheer drop from the road.

South of Ragged Point
A bit further south I found a rocky beach. I was hoping to get photos of some breakers, but the onshore breeze wasn't cooperating. I would guess that in the winter this beach is assaulted by the winter storms that careen through the area, another reason I need to get back here soon.

This small section of the California coast is simply amazing. It deserves far more time than I had to give it. If I'd had a week, I'd have spent much more time south of Morro Bay and driven all the way to Monterey, hiked some of the trails, and enjoyed the wildlife that populates the area. I have my hopes up that I'll find another reason to travel to the area soon. Until then, I'll continue to work on my photography and wait impatiently to head west again.

The Piedras Blancas Seal Rookery

There are two types of elephant seals at Piedras Blancas, just a few miles up the road from San Simeon: cute and ugly. As it usually is in nature, the females are cute, the males have a face only a near-sighted mother could love. This was my next stop.

The elephant seal rookery is a beach that the seals return to each mating season, which occurs over the winter months. I'm a bit early for the season, so there's somewhat fewer than the usual 15,000 seals on the beach.  It is also a tourist magnet, and for good reason. Although visitors are discouraged and largely unable to get on the beach, it is possible to do so but everyone respects the fences and stays on the observation platforms that line the beach.

While I appreciate the respectful attitude visitors have, it does create a bit of a problem for photographers. First, a long lens (300mm or better) is a good idea. That means "tripod," and I found the foot traffic and general jostling for space among the group a bit of a challenge. I tried at first to do a handheld-shot propped on the rail, but people kept bumping into the rail, spoiling the stability. I couldn't fault them--it's a fascinating place, but the earlier in the day you arrive, the better off you probably are, and a tripod or at least monopod is necessary.

In any case, Piedras Blancas is a must-see. It's a treat to see the seals up close and personal, sleeping, snoring, barking, roaring, and watching us with a wary eye.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Goin' Up the Country

San Simeon Pier
Heading north up Highway 1, I stopped at San Simeon Pier, a long leggy structure that seems to serve no purpose other than being photogenic. Maybe people fish from it; I don't know. No one was fishing from it that day. I watched several car loads of visitors walk to the end of the pier, turn around, return to their cars, and take off. I'm not quite sure what they were expecting to see and maybe they saw it. For my part, I liked the pier and marked it down as a "must come back here someday" spot.

And, in a way, I did later that day. I stopped for lunch at Sebastian's General Store and Cafe, home of monster sandwiches, any one of which requires two hands and a big appetite. The "General Store" is small and not as interesting as I hoped, but the food was amazing and kept me going all day.  I decided to skip Hearst Castle, although I might return someday and check it out. For this trip, I stuck to landscapes. And seals. Gotta see the seals.

Morro Rock: Icon and Anchor

Morro Rock at Sunrise
At first glance (i.e., from a computer screen in Virginia) Morro Rock resembles a craggy bowler hat. In real life, where I had the benefit of appreciating the scale, I realized that it's huge--almost 600 feet high (and higher than the Washington Monument, my benchmark for "high")  and since we're at sea level 600' seems really friggin' high. The texture of Morro Rock gives it real character and when you experience the rock you understand why people are drawn to it photographically and emotionally, which may be the same thing. Ultimately, Morro Rock sets Morro Bay apart from other seaside towns up and down the coast.  Add the occasional elephant seal cruising through looking for snacks, sailboats on their moorings, working fishing boats, at least a dozen good restaurants on the waterfront, and you have a charming location that deserved far more time than the single day I had dedicated to it. Although I regretted not scheduling a second day at the end of my trip, as it turned out it rained so my options would have been limited.  But after a few more shots, including the one above, it was time to work my way up the coast.

Morro Bay: The Adventure Begins

Morro Rock from Tidelands SP at Dawn
At long last, December 1 arrives and I was ready. Five AM comes early no matter where you are, but given the time difference with the east coast it was actually 8 AM at home, so I felt like I'd slept in. I had two hours before the sun came up and I'd already selected my shooting location for dawn, so I had time to kill. I killed part of it with a McDonald's breakfast, a guilty pleasure allowed only on special occasions, such as when the hotel's buffet is still MIA.

I fired up my pickup and headed for my predetermined location in Tidelands State Park, just south of downtown. I had determined from home that Morro Rock was fully illuminated by the morning sun at about 7:15, so I parked, drank my coffee, and waited. As it got a bit lighter I set up my tripod and camera and began trying different locations. I found the one I wanted and set up my shot.  Just as I did so, two other photographers pulled up and began doing the same thing. They were not chatty, so I kept to myself. (I did notice that when I left they moved to my former position, so I must have picked the best spot.)

I took quite a number of shots, trying various exposures, knowing that a little work in Photoshop was probably going to be in my future. The shot above is my favorite from this location. But, the day was young and it was time to move.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Morro Bay and Morro Rock

Morro Rock
It's a long way from Washington, DC to Morro Bay, CA, or so it seemed, squeezed into the cattle car the airlines euphemistically refer to as "coach." After a truly boring flight from Dulles, I arrived at LAX with plenty of time to make my puddle-jumper connection to Atascadero. Once there, I discovered that the car rental company had run out of cars and had only a pick up truck. With no choice but to take it, I discovered that pick ups have evolved considerably, and I was treated to what was essentially an SUV with a cargo bed. I made the short trip to Morro Bay in the dark, grateful for my Droid's GPS. Did I tell you I forgot to grab the cable interface to my GPS? Grrr...

I checked into the La Serena Inn in Morro Bay, small but very pleasant and only two blocks from the Embarcadero that runs the length of Morro Bay. Highly recommended.  Then to the deli behind the inn for something to drink and then across the street to Taco de Mexico for some dinner. Leave it to me to find the hole-in-the-wall Mexican place.
Then it was time to check email and recharge everything, including camera batteries, change the clock on the DSLR and do last minute checks on my equipment. And iron a shirt. Gotta look sharp. Five AM comes early.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum

Rattlesnake Rivals
A friend of mine who went to college in Tucson highly recommended that I visit the Arizona-Sonora Desert Museum, just west of the city. I'm glad I listened. I enjoyed my time there. 
Even in October the light was quite bright and it was warm, so be advised that a spring or summer visit could be, umm, toasty. And take water: I can guarantee you that you'll get thirsty in the dry air and sun.
There are a number of zoo-like exhibits with desert animals and birds; taking photos of those residents is iffy. During the heat of the day most are taking shelter in the shade of their dens or various nooks and crannies. Quite by accident  I happened upon the two rattlesnakes battling each other. They were in the shade of a prickly pear cactus, intertwined and putting on quite a show. They were actually small--perhaps 18" long and they were more interested in each other than the visitors, so taking their picture wasn't quite as adventurous as you might think.

This is a great family attraction that is beautifully maintained and educational, and that promotes a respect for the ecology of the desert and the animals, birds, and reptiles that live there. If you are in the Tucson area, this is a highly recommended location for photographers.

The Tucson Gallery

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Mission at Tumacacori

Mission at Tumacacori
About an hour south of San Xavier del Bac (and just south of an immigration checkpoint) is the Mission at Tumacacori, abandoned and crumbling in spots, but otherwise a still beautiful site with several outbuildings surrounding the main mission. The original mission was established in 1691 is now maintained by the National Park Service. There is a small admission fee; it's well worth the cost. One note: there was restoration/repair work being done on one end of the mission and I had to be careful to not include a blue tarp in some of the pictures. Again, I found a polarizer to be helpful for many shots, especially with the blue skies, which were just a bit more saturated with a little effort.

I spent a couple of hours wandering about the mission and took photos of the exteriors of the main mission. Shades of brown are the dominant colors, the adobe being much more subdued than the stark white of San Xavier.  It also had much less traffic; there were only a handful of visitors when I was there. You won't have to worry about sightseers stepping into your frame.

The mission deserves more time than I had to devote. One could easily spend a full day and take interior photos and more abstract images. It's well worth the trip from Tucson and is a unique setting: stark, quiet and beautiful.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Like an Army, A Photographer Travels on His Stomach

If there was a "Photography Channel," I'd watch it, but there isn't, at least as far as I know, so I'm left to watch some of the other channels that pique my interest, such as the Food Network. Much to my delight, not long before I was to travel to Arizona two programs came on Food Network that promised me some good eating opportunities.

After an easy flight from Minneapolis, home of lutefisk and fast food, I arrived in Phoenix and waited, like 20 other customers, to pick up my rental car at Sky Harbor Airport (who came up with that name?) As soon as I got my car I headed for Tucson, but made a planned stop at Los Taquitos.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Tucson & the Sonoran Desert

I've not been as enamored of desert scenery as some, so when I had an opportunity to spend a couple of days in the Phoenix-Tucson area this fall I decided to do a bit of research to see where I might find some interesting photo locations. As it happened, there are many beautiful places where one could spend days taking photos, so the challenge became one of concentrating on just a few. A friend of mine who had gone to college in Tucson suggested the Desert Museum just west of Tucson. I had only a few hours there but could have spent a couple of days there alone had time permitted.

Research on Google also revealed several missions and an interesting neighborhood in Tucson,  the Barrio Viejo ("old quarter.") Photographers frequently share favorite spots on Flickr and Panoramio, and that gave me some good clues. One blog thoughtfully offered a list of recommended shooting locations in the area. Tumacacori Mission, south of Tucson, looked promising. San Xavier del Bac Mission looked even more interesting.

Barrio Viejo

More to come...