Monday, June 16, 2008

Homeward Bound

After stopping at the Reno Subaru dealer to get fluids changed and tires rotated, Millie and I were ready to make our long trek east all the way home along I-80. Nevada and the salt plains of western Utah were desolate with the exception of road signs here and there warning drivers to not fall asleep at the wheel (guess that is, indeed, desolate!).

Five solid weeks of sightseeing and photography had finally taken their toll, and I barely took any pictures or made any further detours to see tourist attractions the whole way home!

One thing I did notice on this trip (that I'd been oblivious to in past trips out west) were the numbers of extremely long coal trains going to and from Wyoming. Wyoming is the nation's leading coal producer shipping 446 million tons of the stuff a year to our older coal-hungry power plants. Production comes from only 21 mines, and all but one of these are surface mining operations growing at a rate of 10% a year. At that pace, I wonder how long it will be before all of Wyoming's mountains are gone.
Fortunately, I did find some glimmers of hope during the trip, and found them, surprisingly, in Wyoming as well. The largest wind farm I spotted on the entire trip was one just outside of Laramie where there were over 200 turbines humming along at the top of a ridge. This was about the size of one I saw in southern California last year. Now if we could just start filling up some of the vast Midwest wheat and corn plains with some of these turbines, we might honestly have a chance at stopping some of those hundreds of coal trains going in and out of Wyoming each day!

As I got closer to home, I began hearing news reports of the extensive flooding in Iowa. Many roads in the eastern portion of the state were closed including a section of I-80 (forcing a 110-mile detour). As I got closer, road signs kept advising motorist that the detour would start in Des Moines, however, when I finally got to Des Moines, the last sign said I-80 was now open. Thinking it might be a fluke, I stopped in town for awhile to listen to the next newscast, where they did indeed confirm that I-80 was now open. So I was able to stay on course and get home a few hours sooner than planned. Here were a few shots of what I saw that night:

As the sun set for the last time of our 6-week 8,000-mile adventure, I pulled the camera out one more time to take a shot. What a beautiful, amazing, fun trip it had been....but Millie, the T@B, the Subaru, and I were now all completely exhausted and couldn't wait to get home and stay there for a while!

Friday, June 13, 2008

Lake Tahoe

After leaving the Avenue of the Giants and the cool ocean breezes, the drive down into the Sacramento valley was long, hot, and mostly pretty dull with the exception of the golden covered hills I found just as the sun was setting:

My base camp home office for the week was an RV park in Truckee, CA conveniently located on I-80. Each night after work, I'd take the 30 minute drive south to Lake Tahoe to take a few shots at sunset. Parts of the lake are extremely deep (nearly 2000 feet) and cold. The waters along the deeper shorelines produce a wonderful emerald blue color while the sun is still high in the sky. But in the afterglow of sunset, when the sky glows with color, the still waters also begin to reflect those colors as well.

A spot well-known by nature photographers and locals, is hidden at the bottom of a cliff along the eastern Nevada shore just south of Sand Harbor called "Bonsai Rock". I finally located it on my 3rd night and found the unmarked trailhead to get down to the lake to take these shots. For a few of them, I had to stand calf-high in the lake, but boy was it fun!

For our final night in Truckee, Millie and I went up to the top of Donner Pass to hike a neat little trail through a few mountain streams and over large, smooth slabs and boulders of granite. There were even a few spots with snow still not melted (that Millie had a great time running through!).

We took the old Donner Pass Highway back down into Truckee, and spotted these rock climbers as well as other scenes. I can't imagine how the pioneers made it over this pass with their wagons on their way to strike it rich in California gold country 150 years ago (and obviously, some never did made it). A roadside memorial commemorates the infamous Donner Party's story of cannibalism for survival when they got stuck in these rocky hills
during the winter of 1846-47.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

California Redwoods

After leaving Bandon, our next base camp was the California redwood coast near Crescent City and Redwoods National Park (which is actually a collection of California state parks that initially protected these wonderful trees). To get a sense of just how big these trees really are, I parked my Subaru next to one!

I planned my trip to occur just as the summer coastal foggy season was starting, but to also catch the last of the rhododendron blooms. I was hoping to get a shot of both together, but it was not to be. The fog rolled in briefly late one evening as I was walking Millie near the campground, but each day after that was sunny, dry and clear as a bell. Guess I should have spent this week in Oregon and the previous week in the Redwoods!

At least one benefit of the clear days were these crescent moonrise shots over the ocean south of Crescent City:

Crescent City itself isn't a particularly pretty town, but it does have this very neat lighthouse that sits on an island a few dozen feet offshore. You can walk to it at low tide, but I obviously arrived a bit too late! Since I was there during the photographically dreadful midday sun, I decided to put away my color point-and-shoot and pull out the infrared camera to make it more interesting:
Highway 191 takes you east of Crescent City on a twisty route through Jedediah Smith State Park
A very fun dirt road traverses the park called Howland Hill Road that takes you through some of the oldest redwood groves in the state (nope, trailers not allowed on this road, so the T@B had to stay home!)
As I headed back to my campsite that evening at dusk, driving along Highway 101, I saw something big and black leasurely crossing the road just in front of the car ahead of me...just a large black bear out for his evening stroll across 4 lanes of traffic! What a way to end the day!

My next California destination was Eureka, about 2 hours south of Crescent City, and getting there was most of the fun.
Here was a quick stop along the scenic parkway in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park:

After getting the T@B parked at it's campsite, I headed back up to the Lady Bird Johnson Grove in Redwoods National Park. At the trailhead was a plaque and some photos of the day Richard Nixon and Lady Bird Johnson were there in 1969 when he dedicated the grove in her honor. Strange to think of walking in big-time politicians' footsteps along this trail (imagine if these grand old trees could talk!).

The most unusual redwood I saw on the trail, was this one. A huge section of the base of it's trunk had been completely burned out and hollowed...yet it continues to live on and thrive. Little wonder these trees have survived the last 1000 years. Lets hope they can survive the next 1000.
Eureka and the smaller town of Ferndale (about 10 miles south) have some remarkable examples of Victorian architecture (as well as a few nice art deco buildings as well):

After taking one last romp on the beach just north of Eureka, it was time for Millie and I to bid adieu to the Pacific and begin our journey east towards home. We drove one final, glorious scenic redwood drive along the famous "Avenue of the Giants" in the Humboldt Redwoods State Park.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Southern Oregon Coast

Another day, another boring old run along the beach with a stick! Here, we had stopped at the magnificent Cape Perpetua to view the tidepools at Neptune Beach:

A bit further south, north of Florence, was the magnificent Heceta Head Lighthouse. Even though it was pouring rain at the time, I wasn't about to pass it up! As a was photographing, I kept hearing barking sounds. It was the sounds of sea lions relaxing on the beach beneath the lookout point I was at. There are some caves along the coast here that they like to hang out in (there's even a tourist attraction that's built an elevator down into one of the cliffs so that you can observe the sea lions inside the cave).

My stop in Florence was just for lunch, but it was another place I would have loved to spend more time at. Just south of town were miles of sand dunes along the oceanfront-- hard to see in the pouring rain, but they were there!

My base camp for the southern coast was Bandon, and it was my favorite beach town in Oregon. The first evening sunset there continued to be a wash out, so I took some shots of the storm clouds over their lighthouse instead. The next night turned out to be better, with the sun finally coming out between the clouds before it set. Also interesting along the beach north of Bandon were some wild yellow lupines-- I'd seen purple lupines in the wild before, but not yellow ones!

South of Bandon, was the quiet little town of Port Orford with spectacular large surf hitting it's beach.

From Port Orford to the California border, the Oregon coastline becomes much larger and more wild. Going north to south seemed the perfect way to experience the Oregon coast, saving the best parts of it for last.