Trip of a lifetime remembered


In the early spring of 2010, Sam and I had a chance to make the trip of a lifetime to California, and more specifically, Death Valley National Park and the incredibly scenic Highway 395 which runs from south to north at the foot of the majestic and snow-capped Eastern Sierra mountains.

We were fortunate to see Death Valley at a time when Mother Nature was doing her transitional thing, flooding the lower elevations of the park to create rare and spectacular conditions. We enjoyed the contrast of warm, desert temperatures and then the sub-freezing landscape in the shadow of the Eastern Sierra. From the Owens Valley we watched the sun rise and illuminate Mt. Whitney, the highest mountain in the contiguous United States, we heard coyotes yelping along the shores of Mono Lake, and we were genuinely awed as we gazed up from the salt pans at Badwater (242 feet below sea level) toward Telescope Peak towering 11,049 feet above.

Lots of great memories made, and here’s a little slideshow I put together when we got back. As you will notice, the soundtrack is definitely original.

My Favorite Photographs from 2010


I tried my best to resist the urge to follow along with the trend of posting favorite photographs of the year, but in the end I couldn’t stop myself. On a positive note, I do believe that reflection is one of the strongest learning tools one could ever employ – so I do this little exercise in the name of improving my photography skills.

Looking back over the year and picking favorites is not an easy task, and as you can see below I wasn’t exactly able to whittle it down to a top 10! Also, I know that just because I like a photograph it doesn’t mean others will like it, so though these aren’t necessarily my best photographs… they are my favorite photographs!

For me, there is usually a story to accompany each image, and it is more about the experience of having been there… hearing the early morning sounds that no-one else does, being amazed by the beauty of nature in a new place, or simply seeing something in a familiar place that I hadn’t previously noticed… these are why my photography expeditions are so personal.

Anyhoo… some from far away and some from close to home here in Maine… here they are, not in any particular order… my favorite photographs from 2010… enjoy!

Leaving Mono Lake…


Staying in Lee Vining gave us the opportunity to visit Mono Lake. We were lucky with the light on the first evening we visited, but things didn’t really come together when we returned last night. The afternoon thunderstorms that brew over the Sierras didn’t quite cooperate with their timing, and we were left skunked with rain instead. Mono Lake is a fascinating place, and as with much of this area, we would love to have had more time to explore. As we head down into the zoo of people in Yosemite Valley we will be out of contact with the blog for a couple of days, so here’s a few more from our time spent at Mono Lake. This is a very often photographed location, but there is still something special about being there in person and trying to make your “own” images of what truly is a special place.

Not Quite Yosemite… Mono Lake


It was still raining lightly as we left the Whoa Nellie Deli. However, things looked very promising as the storm moved across Mono Lake and warm light started to stream over the Sierras toward us. The low-angled light made the ground seem as though it were on fire, and the dark and heavy storm clouds served as a perfect backdrop to what was a remarkable scene. It looked like tonight could have the potential to be one of those special sunsets, where the light on the edge of a storm is truly magical, so we hurried down toward the lake hoping that everything would come together.

Mono Lake is an ancient salt lake covering 70 square miles that lies in the shadow of some of the major Eastern Sierra peaks. It is renowned for several reasons, including the migratory bird population that visits each year, the beautiful landscape it offers photographers, and probably most famously, the interesting limestone “tufas” that are scattered along the shoreline.

Last time we were here the place was covered in snow, and although that certainly made for some unique conditions, the light on that particular occasion did not really cooperate. The sunset Sam and I witnessed last night in Tuolumne Meadow was spectacular, so we wondered if it might be asking too much for another good one tonight. We had our answer soon enough as the sun dipped below the crest of the Sierras and the sky began to light up in a way that makes photographers smile…

Cathedral Lake, Yosemite NP


As I mentioned in my last post, Sam and I hiked in to Cathedral Lake this morning from Tuolumne Meadow. Apart from the steady climb at the very beginning I found this to be a very manageable hike. The 9,000+ feet of altitude took its toll on me early though, forcing my lungs, heart, and legs to work overtime. After the initial climb and thoughts of how they were going to carry my dead body out of the forest, we settled into a good rhythm and I actually felt fine most of the rest of the way. We crossed freshwater streams, saw large areas of mid-July snowpack, and admired what were often spectacular mountain views.

After about 90 minutes or so of hiking, we reached the clearing that signaled we were about to see the lake, but we still had one more hurdle to clear… a mosquito infested marsh that stood between us and what we knew would be a beautiful sight. I have never seen mosquitos as vicious and bloodthirsty as those that we encountered going across the 200 yard-wide marsh. I swear they were getting drunk on the insect repellant we had doused ourselves in, and when mixed with a little blood, they were absolutely loving their early afternoon cocktails. The breeze along the granite shore of the lake brought us a little respite from their appetites, but they were still active even there. Here’s Sam on the trail…

Lunch was spent enjoying the views and briefly exploring the area, but it was soon time to head back. Once again the mosquitos swarmed around us as we crossed the marshy area leading back to the trail. Without exaggerating, Sam must have been bitten fifty times on his shoulders alone, and we actually resorted to running to try to get away from them. We both laughed about it afterwards, but the image of him frantically trying to escape from the swarms of skeeters will stay with me for a long time 🙂

Storms were brewing on the way back home, so we quickened the pace as best we could without sending me into cardiac arrest. We made it back to Tuolumne Meadow and the car just before the thunder, lightning and rains came. First stop when we got off the mountain was to purchase some after-bite stuff that is supposed to stop you from itching… hopefully it works better than the bug repellent!

With the weather looking pretty bleak for the rest of the evening, we headed back down through the Tioga Pass to Lee Vining to get some dinner and decide what to do next. After a pizza at the Whoa Nellie Deli – yes, we ate there again – it looked like there might be a chance of the skies clearing and offering some good, stormy light, so we decided to stick close to home for the evening and visit the picturesque and surreal landscape of Mono Lake.

* apparently we completely missed that we should probably have visited Upper Cathedral Lake while on this hike… bummer.

Coyotes and Contrails at Mono Lake


With access to many desirable locations in Death Valley still restricted because of the impact of the recent wet weather there, Sam and I decided to take a little side trip out of the valley and over to CA 395 and the Eastern Sierra. The sights and sounds from our day were quite something, and here is a brief synopsis.

As we climbed from Stovepipe Wells and then down into the Panamint Valley we were treated to two “Top Gun” fighter jets that circled the valley at an altitude of about 200 feet before screaming over our heads and away. We saw wide expanses of Joshua Trees in the high desert before starting the descent into the Owen’s Valley where we were greeted by the immense and powerful Eastern Sierra and Mount Whitney. We followed the impressive Sierra along 395 and climbed to over 8,000 feet on our way toward Mono Lake near the town of Lee Vining. We saw snow that was feet deep all along the way, but the temperatures were warm and comfortable. And then there was Mono Lake…

Mono Lake is an ancient salt lake covering 70 square miles that lies in the shadow of some of the major Eastern Sierra peaks. It is renowned for several reasons including the migratory bird population that visits each year, the beautiful landscape it offers photographers, and probably most famously, the limestone “tufas” that are scattered along the shoreline.

We arrived at the head of the road that leads to the lake and were immediately in awe of what we saw. We were excited to drive the last mile or so on the unpaved road, only to find that the snow had not been plowed. After a little debate, we both decided that it would be foolish to try to take the rental car down the road, but since we had driven a considerable distance to get here, we were determined not to be denied and decided to park and hike our way in.

Not another person was seen or heard as we wandered around the “south tufa” part of the shoreline in search of compositional possibilities for when the “good” light came later. As the afternoon wore on and the sun started to get lower in the sky, we were both startled by what we quickly realized were coyotes howling somewhere in the immediate area. Admittedly spooked a little, we decided to be “brave” and stick it out in hopes that the skies would cooperate and give us some nice light on this amazing landscape. A little nervous for a while, we stuck together and soon went back to focusing on trying to capture the beauty of this unique lake.

Maybe we have been spoiled by the good light and spectacular clouds from the last couple of days in Death Valley, but although nice, the evening at Mono Lake didn’t really produce as we had hoped. We did get some nice warm light early in the afternoon, and the deep blue/pink palette after the sun went down was certainly nice. Also, we couldn’t help be disappointed by the amount of high altitude commercial airplanes that constantly flew overhead, leaving behind unsightly and non-photogenic contrails that made composing pleasing images challenging. Included in this post are a couple that I made before we scurried back up the hill through the snow in the quickly waning light – scanning right and left for the coyotes all the while – toward the warmth and comfort of the car.