Category Archives: Road Trip

Lonely Road

Lonely Road

Lonely Road, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

First light of morning: Eyes dry from dust, photographing all night, restless napping in the van while the shutter clicks.

On the road: Day in the life of the night photographer, sunrise glinting on a few crags in the distant range.

I stop beside the lonely road, assemble camera on tripod, and shoot this photo of the first car of the day heading for me in the cool of the morning before the sun comes up harsh and strong.

East of Eden

Owens River Valley

Owens River Valley, photo by Harold Davis. View this image larger.

Exploring the high volcanic tableland in Owens Valley with Steven, I positioned my tripod on the brink. Far below, the Owens River meandered, with the snow-capped Sierra Nevada range of light in the background. Here’s a shot of Steven and Harold close to the position from which this photo was taken.

A great comment on Flickr from Davide Bedin about my photo: “The first thing came up to my mind as I saw this picture was the book East of Eden by Steinbeck. Salinas valley (the valley of the book) probably is very different; the contrast between the gentle river bends, the road and rocky detail in foreground, the magnificent mountain range in the back with looming clouds strongly, all in your picture reminds me of the spirit of that book.”

Salinas, of course, is nothing like Owens Valley in reality—but sometimes the spirit and poetry of a view overcome the mere details of boring and mundane reality.

The finished image is a composite of six captures, each capture made using a 20mm lens at f/22 and ISO 100. Shutter speed times ranged from 1/13 of a second to 1.6 seconds. I combined the images in Photoshop using the hand-HDR drudgery of layers and masking. Colors were further enhanced in Photoshop using some of the techniques that I explain in my latest Photo.net column, Making Colors Pop in Photoshop.

Yawn

Yawn scratch bellow sniff rut flip bellow yawn, watching the world go by! I photographed these elephant seals on the California coast about ten miles north of Old San Simeon. (Not, as has been suggested at Ano Nuevo on the south San Mateo coast, I’ve got to get there some time.) This was on my recent road trip with my two oldest sons after the Moneterey Aquarium and before Hearst Castle.

From the viewpoint of photo composition, I didn’t know quite what to do with the vast and raucous field of elephant seals, playing fighting, pooping, and mostly lying like some awful parody of our own civilization. Looking at this scene, I felt I needed some visual counterpoint to the drab colors of the sand beach and these gigantic, weird, and wonderful beasts. When the elephant seal in this photo yawned, I was ready to capture the pink of his mouth, which together with the bird nearby makes this composition work through contrast: the eye is drawn to the pink, regardless of the activity in the rest of the photo. Only gradually does the full extent of the scene sink in. The effect is perhaps best viewed larger.

[Nikon D300, 18-200mm VR zoom lens at 200mm (300mm in 35mm terms) with image stabilization engaged, 1/250 of a second at f/8 and ISO 100, hand held.]

The Road Goes Ever On and On

Rain, rain, rain! It’s raining here today in the Pacific monsoon way it has here on the, well, Pacific rim. So I’ve gone through some out takes (meaning photos I passed by the first time around). These are from my trip to the mountains and desert in the autumn.

By the way, I’ll be talking about Thinking Digital in the Field at MacWorld in San Francisco on Wednesday January 11 2006 at 12:30 at the Wiley Publishing booth. So if you happen to be there, stop by and say “Hi!”

The photo above is from the eastern lateral to Convict Lake in early October. I wasn’t too worried about being in the middle of the road taking the picture because there wasn’t too much traffic. I processed the Raw once for the background and once for the road. I used Image > Adjustments > Selective Color and the lasso tool to increase the saturation of the yellow in the road lines.

This photo is one of the oldest living things (yes, Virginia, it is alive!) from my visit to the Bristlecone Pines on the same trip:

Oldest

View the ancient tree larger.

I took this one later in the same trip, homeward bound at Twin Lakes in the Sierras above Bridgeport:

Twin Lakes and Moon

View Twin Lakes photo larger.

Road Trip Wrap-Up



Road Trip, photo by Harold Davis.

If you’ve been reading my blog, you know that lately I’ve been to some lonely and lovely places that are surprisingly near to where I live in Berkeley. Here are links to the stories that tell in pictures and words about my autumn trip to Yosemite, the eastern Sierra, and Death Valley. In other words, the Table of Contents…or click here for the whole story (in reverse chronologic order).

Yosemite Autumn There and Back Again! Yosemite Valley in the autumn and a map of my trip
Vernal Falls Morning Light Dark is the Valley in the Morning Wandering feet in Yosemite
Rainbow A Rainbow of Light! Well, what other kind is there?
Valley Sunset Sunset from Sentinal Dome High above Yosemite Valley
Lake Tenaya Reflections Processing a Photo for Flickr …and Lake Tenaya reflections
Lake Tenaya Morning The Hitchhiking Millionaire Reflections in Lake Tenaya and on wealth
Hot Creek Risk Management Sharing Hot Creek with a volcano and a risk expert
Owens River Gorge The Deepest Valley Owens Valley
Westgard Pass Beyond Westgard Pass Gateway to the desert and Nevada
The Eye in the Ancient Forest Seeking Methuselah The Oldest Living Things
Rhyolite Under Moon Rhyolite and Ozymandias Ghost Town at Sunset
Death Valley Sunrise 2 Death Valley Sunrise Desert sunrise from Hells Gate
Zabriskie Point 2 Zabriskie Quilt Patterns in the desert
Lonely Road Lonely Road Stovepipe Wells to Lone Pine
Mount Whitney Sunrise Mount Whitney Sunrise Dawn on the eastern Sierra crest
Alabama Hills 1 Crossroads of the Cowboy Universe Alabama Hills
Autumn Sunset, Twin Lakes Homeward Bound Autumn in the eastern Sierra

Homeward Bound

I called Phyllis, and it was pretty apparent she was at her wits end. I don’t know how she managed the three kids for so long by herself. She is a miracle.

But it was time to come home.

Leaving the Alabama Hills behind, I headed north up Owens Valley. The fall colors were beautiful on the eastern slope of the Sierras:

Eastern Sierra Autumn

Sunset was special at Twin Lakes above Bridgeport:

Autumn Sunset, Twin Lakes

In the morning, temperatures were in the low twenties and ice was everywhere. I had a straight shot home over Sonora Pass and then across the central valley to Berkeley.

You can view a map of my recent travel towards the bottom of my first story in this series.

Crossroads of the Cowboy Universe

The Alabama Hills lie below Mt. Whitney and above Lone Pine in Owens Valley.

You can view a map of my recent travel towards the bottom of my first story in this series.

If any of these Alabama Hills landscapes look vestigially familiar, it is because the Alabama Hills have been used extensively for filming by Hollywood. One dusty intersection has appeared so often in pre-1960 cowboy flicks that it is known as “the center of the cowboy world.”

Here’s a map showing where in the Alabama Hills some movies were filmed.

I spent a great deal of time photographing the Alabama Hills in the late afternoon, at sunset, at sunrise, and in the morning:




Mount Whitney Sunrise

Above Lone Pine, I camped near the Alabama Hills and directly below Mt. Whitney.

What a wonderful, glorious suprise to wake up just before dawn, clamber up a rock, and see the sun peeping over the east wall of Owens Valley and hitting Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the continental United States.

A little later, everything had become golden:

Whitney Portal Dawn

You can view a map of my recent travel towards the bottom of my first story in this series.

Lonely Road

It’s a long and lonely road from Stovepipe Wells in Death Valley to Lone Pine in Owens Valley.

But the scenery in the rugged Panamint Range is worth it:

Panamint Range

You can view a map of my trip towards the bottom of my first story in this series.

Zabriskie Quilt

I arrived below sea level in Death Valley in the early morning after photographing sunrise from near Hells Gate.

You can view a map of my trip towards the bottom of my first story in this series.

The landscape at Zabriskie Point, with its folds and crevasses and cliffs, reminds me of a textile, or maybe even a quilt.

Zabriskie Point 3

Zabriskie Point

Death Valley Sunrise

After photographing sunset at Rhyolite, I spent the night in a motel-casino in Beatty, Nevada. This motel-casino was truly a disturbing place, with the constant clink of gambling machines invading the air made fetid and stale by old tobacco smoke. Here’s more about my feelings regarding Nevada culture (an oxymoron). View a map of the area towards the bottom of my first story in this series.

Before the sun was up the next morning I was on my way west on Nevade Highway 374. At the Hells Gate entrance to Death Valley National Park, I took a cutoff past the Wonder Mine. A little above the Wonder Mine, I pulled off by the side of the road to photograph the sunrise.

Death Valley Sunrise

Rhyolite and Ozymandias

Rhyolite is a ghost town at the eastern entrance to Death Valley. (View a map of the area towards the bottom of my first story in this series.)

Once Rhyolite was a bustling metropolis with a three-story shopping district, carriages, and fashionably dressed people.

Today there’s nothing but the whistling wind, and dusty signs warning tourists about rattle snakes.

Rhyolite Vista

When I visit places like Rhyolite, I am inevitably reminded of the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley’s Ozymandias:

I MET a Traveler from an antique land,
Who said, “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desart. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read,
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
“My name is OZYMANDIAS, King of Kings.”
Look on my works ye Mighty, and despair!
No thing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that Colossal Wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Will our civilization–so grand and impressive to us–vanish like Rhyolite and Ozymandias?

Rhyolite Ruin

Julian, my eight-year old, and I visited Bodie, another famous ghost town, earlier in the year. Here’s the story.

Seeking Methuselah



Endurance, photo by Harold Davis.

Bristlecone Pines are the oldest living things in the world, and the largest group of Bristlcone Pines are high in the White Mountains on the eastern side of Owens Valley. (View a map of the area towards the bottom of my first story in this series.)

These trees grow best in harsh conditions where it’s hard for other species to compete with them:

Twisted Sistr

A hike around the Methuselah Grove, where the oldest of the old trees lives, is like a visit to God. If ever there were a real temple or church, this is it.

Methuselah itself is not identified by the Forest Service (the ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest is part of Inyo National Forest). This lack of specific identification is intended to protect Methuselah, the oldest of all living things, from vandalism and souvenir hunters.

But hiking on the trail around the Methuselah Grove, I felt sentience — ancient, sleepy, wise — and that the eyes of the old ones were upon me:

The Eye in the Ancient Forest

Beyond Westgard Pass

Westgard Pass lies on lonely Route 168 between Big Pine and the great open desert country of basins, ranges, and valleys. (View a map of the area towards the bottom of my first story in this series.)

Westgard Pass is closed to commercial trucking (the road is too narrow, steep, and twisting). Beyond Westgard Pass, to the east is a small, isolated college in Deep Springs, a ranch or two in Oasis, and nothing much else in terms of towns or people until you hit Goldfield or Beatty in Nevada, hundreds of miles away.

Oh yes, at the otherwise barren intersection of Nevada Highway 266 and U.S. 95 there are a series of legal whorehouses in the middle of nowhere. Invariably created from a number of pre-fabs stitched together, these hermetic and airconditioned institutions have big signs saying “Brothel,” “Open for Business,” and “Free Parking All Night.” If you are curious about legal prositution in Nevada, here’s the Wikipedia article on the topic, and here’s a site put up by the marketing arm of the legal Nevada prostitution business organization.

As far as I am concerned, human society in Nevada is pretty gross. Stinking of stale tobacco smoke in every room, Nevadans have even managed to make consensual sin with another person look lonely and solitary.

This picture shows Westgard Pass, which I think of as the gateway to the desert, from above.

The Deepest Valley

After reluctantly leaving Hot Creek, I headed down Route 395 into Owens Valley. (View road map of my route here.)

Between the Sierra crest on the west rising to heights above 14,000 feet, and the White Mountains to the east — with summits above 12,000 feet — Owens Valley is the deepest valley in the United States. It’s elevation varies, but is typically around 4,000 feet, so you are looking at a valley that is 8,000 feet deep. Deeper, in other words, than the Grand Canyon.

Here’s a photo looking across the valley towards the Sierra crest:

Sierra Crest Across Owens Valley

I think that Owens Valley is one of the surpassingly beautiful places on this earth. It is still fairly undeveloped, although beginning to get a little more crowded.

Early last century, the city of Los Angeles engineered a notorious heist of the water flowing through the valley. In some ways, this may have helped preserved the remote, undeveloped, and beautiful feeling of Owens Valley. (Although this was surely not the motivation of the Angelenos, who merely wanted to wash their cars, water their lawns, and fill their swimming pools.)

The photo at the top of this story shows the inner Owens River gorge, which has become a climbing mecca. The climbing spot is to the left and behind this picture.

Further down Owens Valley, the river becomes a gentle creek, as you can see in this picture I took of an Owens River swimming hole in the early morning:

Owens River Swimhole