Monday, December 29, 2014

Sacramento to Salem

A Peaceful Passing

December 26-28, 2014

No one ever accused Uncle George of doing things the easy way.  By all accounts I heard, though, he slipped away quietly the weekend before Christmas.  So, it was with a somewhat heavy heart that I made another drive up to Oregon, my fifth trip up to Salem in roughly fourteen months, my third to attend a funeral.

Northern Harrier -- Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, CA
By the end, Uncle George was a shell of the man he'd been earlier in life.  Alzheimer's disease beat him down, but as a younger man he was larger than life.  He had a big voice with a completely unique tone and phrasing.  I have never heard anyone that talked like Uncle George.  He also seemed to live without fear.  He charged after what he wanted and he encouraged others to do the same.  Often, what he wanted to do was help others.  He was as generous a man as I have even known.  Yeah, I looked up to him quite a bit, and I certainly wasn't the only one in my family who did so.

Greater White-fronted Goose -- Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge, CA
I stopped at the Sacramento National Wildlife Refuge on the way up.  I took the auto tour, as usual.  There wasn't a whole lot happening there.  I saw more northern harriers in one place than I've ever seen before.  At times there were four harriers in close proximity hunting in the tall grass or buzzing the ducks.  I also saw some ring-billed ducks, which I've never seen there before.  I didn't see a single hawk or eagle there, though.

Mount Shasta, CA
There's not a whole lot else to share.  It was a pretty quiet trip.  I didn't take a many pictures.  Well, not many good pictures, anyway.  It was dark and overcast the entire time I was in Oregon except for patches of sun on my drive home, but I was in no mood to stop for pictures at that point in the trip.

Mount Shasta, CA
Willamette River, Salem, OR
Oregon State Capitol, Salem, OR
Union Street Railroad Bridge, Salem, OR

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Muir Woods National Monument

Into the Belly of the Beast

December 21, 2014

Muir Woods has been my biggest challenge as a photographer.  There is an endless array of great pictures to be taken there, but each and every one is also a challenge.  The lighting is difficult.  The subject matter can easily go flat with the wrong angle or foreground and background intrusions.  It's a crowded, noisy environment for an outdoor hike in the woods.

Fort Point, San Francisco, CA
The trip started off with a drive across the Golden Gate Bridge.  I don't know if was the break in the weather or the fact that it's the holidays, but the tourists were out in hordes on the bridge.  Seeing that, I knew it was going to be crowded at Muir Woods and was reminded of my vow to never go there unless it's actually raining.  I had already settled on the trip, though, so I stuck with it.

Have you ever seen a more inviting set of outdoor stairs? -- Muir Woods National Monument, CA
Parking was the first challenge.  Holy mackerel, I've been to Muir Woods when it's busy but this was a whole other level.  The parking lots were full (of course) but the street parking was completely packed as well for at least a mile down the road.  Nobody was leaving, either.  I lucked out by checking with the ranger guarding the main parking lot entrance and he said I'd lucked out because somebody had just left.  Sure enough, I was able to get a spot near the entrance.  It was my first victory of the day.

Muir Woods National Monument, CA
Muir Woods is small for a national monument.  It's in a small valley.  Perhaps it's a canyon?  Redwood Creek runs through the middle of it.  There are trails on both sides of the creek.  The entire hike back and in can be easily done in an hour, I'm sure.  I always take a lot longer, but that's because I stop a lot for pictures.  As a hint, if you end up here on a busy day and want to get to less crowded areas hike the hillside trails.  They are equally interesting and far less crowded.

Redwood Creek, Muir Woods National Monument, CA
On my trip up to Olympic National Park a month ago I got a feel for what the TV setting could do on my camera.  That setting allows me to set the shutter speed while the camera takes care of the aperture and ISO.  What I found on that trip was that I was able to draw out a lot more color than if used the landscape setting.  Most of these photos were taken with shutter speeds ranging from 1/25 to 1/2 a second.  I had to haul around my tripod to shoot that slowly, but I've been using it a lot more anyway.  My wide angle lens seems much happier when it's mounted on its aluminum legs than when its in my hand.

Redwood Creek, Muir Woods National Monument, CA
I also took a lot of shots using the HDR feature, but I canned most of those.  The colors came out too muted, although there was often some nice detail that didn't come through with the slow shutter speeds.

Muir Woods National Monument, CA
I wasn't getting a lot of the reddish-brown color often seen in redwoods.  The sun broke through briefly and lit up a few trees.  It didn't last long, though.  Muir Woods is always dark, but on this day, the shortest day of the year with the sun angled to provide the least amount of light possible and adding to that a layer of slowly moving clouds and encroaching fog, the Woods were particularly dark.  Add to that the fact that everything was still wet from the recent rains and, well, there just wasn't a whole lot of red to be had.

Muir Woods National Monument, CA
I don't know, I think this is probably my best set of pictures from Muir Woods.  Time will tell if these photos hold my interest or just turn into a bunch of boring pictures of trees.  I still feel like I lost more than I won here, but I'm starting to learn how to work the light a little better.  I'll probably give this place another crack in a year or so to see if I've made any improvement.

Muir Woods National Monument, CA
Muir Woods National Monument, CA
Muir Woods National Monument, CA

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Pinnacles National Park

December 14, 2014

I haven't taken Pongo out for a weekend adventure for a while, so I decided it was time for a trip to Pinnacles.  I was hoping Chalone Creek would be flowing after this week's big storm, but no such luck.  I guess the water needs to build up a bit more.  Still, we saw a bobcat, so all was not lost.

Bobcat -- Pinnacles National Park, CA
We ran into the bobcat on the road between the visitor's center and Bear Gulch.  As we came around a corner he was climbing up an incline by the side of the road.  He settled down maybe twenty feet from my car.  No one was on the road, so I stopped and took pictures for about ten minutes.  Pongo never saw the cat.  I made him go into the back so I could shoot through his window.  Just as well, I don't think Pongo would have reacted very well to seeing a cat outside.

Bobcat -- Pinnacles National Park, CA
Varied Thrush
Pongo and I took our usual stroll through the campground.  The campgrounds were almost entirely empty of people, leaving it for the wildlife to take over.  I saw probably two dozen varied thrush toward the back of the campground.  I've seen a grand total of one varied thrush on all other visits combined, and even that was just a brief glance.  I'm not sure if they were just passing through or what.  Those little buggers don't like getting their picture taken, either.  I have yet to get a single good photo of one of those birds.

We also saw a large flock of turkeys.  Officially speaking, a group of turkeys is called a rafter.  I looked that up.  Pongo wasn't sure how to react to so many large birds.  I guess if you're a dog you might find it embarrassing to get your ass kicked by a rafter of turkeys.

Wild Turkey -- Pinnacles National Park, CA

Monday, December 8, 2014

Thanksgiving 2014: Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge

Heading Home

November 29, 2014


  • Pearl Jam -- Lightning Bolt
  • Sonic Youth -- Goo
This should be a relatively short post since the drive home from Salem to Alameda relatively uneventful.  I bombed down I-5 stopping only long enough to get gas.  Once I was on my way that is.  Before hitting the road, I had breakfast with the family at Annette's then I made a stop at Ankeny Wildlife Refuge for a few pictures.

Red-breasted Sapsucker -- Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge, OR
I saw a red-breasted sapsucker at the refuge.  That was cool, first time I've seen one of those.

Canada Goose -- Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge, OR
I saw a bunch of canada geese.  Neat.  I kind of like this picture of them flying overhead, the clouds look kind of cool.

Mallard -- Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge, OR
Mallards.  I shot this as a spot of sunlight broke through the clouds.  Not the most exciting of pictures, I'll admit, but I kind of like the colors.  There was a bald eagle in a tree to the right of this scene but the light was terrible and the eagle was facing away from me and I had to hike a quarter of a mile or so to get to this spot, so I'm posting this picture whether anyone likes it or not.

Spotted Towhee -- Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge, OR
Yeah, that big stick right in front of the spotted towhee pretty much ruins the picture.  I was shooting through a hole in the branches, unfortunately that was the best I could do.  Otherwise, I think I'd have been fairly happy with this photo.

Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge, OR
That's pretty much it for my Thanksgiving trip.  I'm ready to hit the road again, hopefully I'll have a nice little trip to Death Valley or Joshua Tree coming up in early Spring.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Thanksgiving 2014: Silver Falls State Park

Silver Creek Falls

November 28, 2014

Black Friday isn't about shopping for me.  Well, when my nieces and nephew were small it was because we could buy the presents up in Oregon and just leave them there for Christmas.  It was a good way to take care of business.  Now, though, I like to get out and explore.  Sometimes, like this year, I head toward a familiar place.  I love Silver Creek Falls in bad weather, I think this is when the place really shines.  So, with the rain falling and the creek undoubtedly running high, I set out with my brother and son to see the sights in this most familiar of all Oregon state parks.

South Fall, Silver Falls State Park, OR
South Fall
I had a flat tire on Thanksgiving morning.  I'd driven out to Baskett Slough, but the light was terrible and most of the birds had already flown off for the day.  To top it off, I got a flat tire, presumably from a sharp rock on the gravel road.  So, I spent the morning on Friday at Les Schwab Tires.  They fixed my tire for free!  Can you believe that?  I've bought snow chains there before, but I didn't buy the tires there.  So, yeah, go to Les Schwab Tires for stuff, they're pretty cool.

Anyway, with the flat tire situation we got off to a bit of a late start, so we wouldn't have time to do the entire Trail of Ten Falls.  That was a bit of a bummer.  Still, I was excited to show Sam whatever we'd have time to see.  We ended up seeing four falls in all, including the two most popular (North and South Falls).

South Fall, Silver Falls State Park, OR
We saw a peregrine falcon flying around South Fall.  It had a nest up in a hole in the cliff near the fall.  That was pretty sweet.  Strangely, this park does not have an abundance of wildlife, at least none that like to be seen.  I suspect the abundance of waterfalls means there aren't a lot of fish in the water.  No fish, no birds, etc.  I'm just guessing.

Silver Falls State Park, OR
Officially, the name of the place is Silver Falls State Park.  We never called it that, it was always Silver Creek Falls.  My dad even corrected me when I let a "Silver Falls" slip out over the weekend.  I think Silver Creek Falls has a better ring to it, personally.

Silver Falls State Park, OR
I'm a little troubled by the names of the falls, though.  South Falls is the official name of the first fall we encountered, but I think it should be South Fall instead.  It's a single fall, the name should be singular.  This is as opposed to Yosemite Falls, which is actually made up of three falls: Upper Yosemite Fall, Middle Yosemite Fall and Lower Yosemite Fall.  I'm going with what I think the names actually should be in this post.

Lower South Fall, Silver Falls State Park, OR
Our second destination was the Lower South Fall, which is about a mile below South Fall.  This was Sam's favorite waterfall on the trip.  I can see that.  It has a wonderful rectangular shape to it.  It looks like somebody crafted it by hand, perfecting the edges until it had this mathematically precise shape.  The water drops straight down like lace drapery.  I have to agree that it's probably the most artistically appealing of the four falls we saw.

Lower South Fall, Silver Falls State Park, OR
None of the waterfalls in the park are particularly tall.  South Fall is 177 feet tall and the second highest of the falls in the park, outstretched by Double Falls by a mere two feet.  In Yosemite, where waterfalls can reach up to 1,430 feet in height, one might be tempted to dismiss a collection of waterfalls that never top the 200 foot mark.  That would be a mistake.  There's a power and beauty to the waterfalls of Silver Creek that is special and unique.

Silver Falls State Park, OR
After Lower South Fall, we hiked back up to the lodge and had some hot chocolate.  There's a small cafe there but it was closed.  The hot chocolate was free, though, so that was cool.  Free hot chocolate.  Free tire repair.  I could get used to this.

Upper North Fall, Silver Falls State Park, OR
Upper North Fall
We drove down to the North Falls parking lot and made the quarter mile hike to the Upper North Fall.  This waterfall isn't particularly tall and it's a bit out of the way on an offshoot of the main Ten Falls loop, but it's well worth the little extra work to get to it.  I wasn't able to make it to this waterfall on my previous trip because the trail was flooded out by the high waters.  We'd have had the same problem on this trip if the waters were just a little higher, but we lucked out and were able to see this little wonder.

North Fall, Silver Falls State Park, OR
North Fall
The final waterfall on our trip was the North Fall.  This is my favorite waterfall in the park, Chad's too.  It's narrow at the top, so the water shoots out with a lot of force.  There's a rock at the top of the falls that splits North Fall in two.  When the water is low, the left flow can be a trickle or non-existent.  On days with heavy flows, the power of this particular waterfall is unmatched in the park.

Does the fact that it's split into two make this a Fall or a Falls?  Hmmm.

Like the South Fall and the Upper South Fall, the trail goes behind the North Fall.  It's an immersive experience.  Of course, it's a beauty to behold with one's eyes, but it's also incredibly loud behind the waterfall, and the light spray from the falling water completes the experience.  There are a couple of benches behind the waterfall, so I sat down and set up my gorilla pod to try a few things out with the camera.  I think I got some nice shots, all things considered.
North Fall, Silver Falls State Park, OR
North Fall, Silver Falls State Park, OR
What better way to spend Black Friday than hiking through some of the Pacific Northwest's great natural wonders with my son and brother?  I can't think of too many.