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Aloha and welcome to a little blog about photography, travel, recent readings, and of course, Kauai. I hope you enjoy the observations, perspectives and images. Thanks for visiting.

Aloha,

Lee

Winter Views-- The Cosmic Dunes and the Bad, Bad Basin-- DVNP

August 25, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

Joshua Tree and High Desert Snow, Death Valley National Park, California

Descending Death Valley Road I am soon surrounded by Joshua Trees and snow in this is high desert. After an hour of winding roads I turn right onto a bumpy, gravel road and drive straight until I see the Eureka Dunes. I arrive late in the afternoon and pop the roof top tent. I'm not going anywhere tonight. Sunset session will be right here. I grab a beer and set up the tripod and chair. Now I just have to wait for the show.

Mocha Mountain, Death Valley National Park, California

High Desert Sky, Death Valley National Park, California

Pink Sky Above, Death Valley National Park, California
 

***

The Eureka Dunes are the highest sand dunes in California and the second highest in the US. They lie in a seldom visited corner of Death Valley National Park. I dry camped here for a couple of nights and photographed these majestic dunes in fierce wind and calm dawns.

Windblown, DVNP, California

Windblown (black and white), DVNP, California

A Fierce Wind Blows, DVNP, California

***

The windblown sand stings, but it covers up foot prints and leaves perfect curves in the dunes. A day following a wind storm is perfect conditions for photography as the landscape appears untouched and new. In this state I can see the Light and the Dark. The Known and the Unknown. And it is likely that neither are what we think them to be.

S Curves of the Summit, DVNP, California
 

Brainwaves of the Cosmic Dune, DVNP, California

Eureka Dunes, DVNP, California

***

Dawn in the desert is cold, especially in January. The mountains that surround me offer no warmth as they block the sun deep into the morning. The sand is cool to the touch. 

Calm Dawn, DVNP, California

The sky alights pink and then a kind of winter grey settles in. I hike the 45 minutes back to my truck, make coffee, and sip it as I pour over a map of Death Valley National Park. I decide to go to Badwater Basin next and I'm soon back on the bumpy "road".

***

Sunset at Badwater, DVNP, California 

Badwater Basin is a salt flat in Death Valley. It lies 282 feet below sea level. It is one of the earth's lowest points and harshest environments. Perhaps it is in these extremes that one can find clarity...

Salty Shards, DVNP, California

Clarity in the Chaos, DVNP, California

The Convergence, DVNP, California

 

Aloha, 

Lee


 


Winter Views-- Lassen NF, Alabama Hills, and Ancient Bristlecones: Back to Cali

July 31, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

Winter Morning (Dawn and Cold Stone), Alabama Hills, Alabama Hills National Recreation Area, California

From Oregon I return to California, where (eventually) I'll make it to the desert sand dunes of Death Valley National Park. But for now I'm full moon chasing across the cold country. I was supposed to be in Yosemite on my birthday, but my camp reservations were cancelled due to COVID protocols by the park service/state of California. So instead of Yosemite I went up to Crater Lake and Painted Hills. I camp in the Lassen National Forest under this full moon.

Full Moon Nears, Lassen National Forest, California

A Full Moon Sets above Eagle Lake, California

From the Lassen National Forest I'm making my way to the Alabama Hills. I knew before setting out on this photography trip I would need to be flexible. I often thought about what I heard in the Marine Corps— Semper Gumbi. It's a take on the Marine Corps motto-- Semper Fidelis or Always Faithful. Semper Gumbi means Always FlexibleIt still makes me laugh... Anyway, I stopped alongside this frozen lake and photographed the moon as it was falling behind the hill where I camped on the crisp, dry snow the night before.

Frozen, California

Mono Lake and 395, California

US Route 395 is one of the most scenic roads in America. The eastern Sierra Nevada and the adventure towns on the flats and foothills are truly spectacular. A photographer, hiker, climber, skier, nature lover of all kinds could spend a lifetime here, happily exploring. Some of my favorite places are Bishop, Lone Pine, the Alabama Hills, and the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest. 

When traveling for a couple of months at a time the days and places run together. When I review the trip in my mind I tend to remember where I was with memories of the full and new moon. Full moon photographs with a new landscape, and stars on the new. On this trip I chased the full moon in Lone Pine, Grand Canyon, Nashville, and White Sands National Park. 

Bowling Ball (A Full Moon Falls Off the Sierras), Alabama Hills National Recreation Area, California

Walking through the frozen snow. Crunch, crunch, crunch..., Alabama Hills, California

First Light Spreads over the Alabama Hills in Lone Pine, California

***

It's the first week in January and I heard that the road up the mountain to the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest was still open. This was surprising to me as I expected the road into the White Mountains to be completely impassable at this time of year. I had no idea how bad the road would be, but I decided to give it a try. I only encountered a few pockets of frozen snow on the shaded turns along the lower section of the pass. The upper portion was completely snow covered, but the gate wasn’t locked. In May 2016 or 17 I made it to this point, but was forced to turn back by a locked gate and a mountain of snow. This time I had better luck and was hesitant, but happy because I wanted to see the old trees that live up there.

I Love these Old and Gnarled Trees, Ancient Bristlecone Pine National Forest, California

As I climbed the mountain the snow became deeper and the corners became more than a little sketchy. I even rescued a Prius that had slid off the road on an icy curve. I would continue onto the Schulman Grove, but I decided that I wouldn’t stay long. Something about a road that climbs 9,000 feet without guardrails makes me more than a little cautious.

Red Sky at Night, A Photographer’s Delight, Sierra Nevada Range, California 

I am standing near the summit of a mountain pass and a song by Incubus plays in my mind. The refrain sings “...and I am happy...” Watching the light blaze through the winter sky I take in the warmth of the moment. I am full of happiness and gratitude. I am reminded— amidst this mountain scene—nay, by this mountain scene-- of my incredible smallness. Awesome is the power outside of me. Outside is a good place to be.

Some Sunsets are Hard to Walk Away From (Last Look for the Night), the Sierra Nevada Range, California

The light show continued the following morning as I descended the mountain and continued onto Death Valley Road. Leaving the Mountains of Light behind I felt a tinge of sorrow. It was such a beautiful place and one that I know so little about. New scenes and locations— especially ones as gigantic as the Sierra Nevada— are intimidating. Where to begin? What can I expect? How will it go? What lies hidden in the mountain and the valleys below? Daydreaming of explorations to come, I wind my way down one road and up another.

Soon Joshua Trees will be all around me and it will be clear that I have indeed left one place and have entered into another.

And in Death Valley I might as well be entering into another dimension.

From the Mountains of Light to the Valley of Death (A Good Morning Drive), California

Aloha, 

Lee
 


Winter Views-- The Painted Hills, Oregon

July 26, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

The Painted Hills, Painted Hills National Monument, Oregon

The forecast called for a snowstorm to hit the entire Cascade range around Christmas day so I escaped to the Painted Hills on Christmas Evee.

Here’s the sky that welcomed me to this magical landscape of colored stripes and gentle hills.

Christmas Eve at the Painted Hills, Painted Hills National Monument, Oregon 

After the light show I searched for a campsite and found one off a dirt road at Priest Hole. It was right along a river and would make a peaceful place to welcome Saint Nic. I celebrate the season with a delicious dinner of Beyond Meat Italian sausage, spinach, tomato sauce, pasta, and one of the best beers of the trip-- Dark Reckoning Imperial Porter from Morgan Territory Brewing.

Clouds above the Painted Hills, Painted Hills National Monument, Oregon

Christmas morning 2020. I’m standing on a hill in the dark, waiting for a sun that will not appear until the late afternoon. Clouds fill the sky above, and the gently rolling landscape slowly comes into view. The land awakes, and in the muted light of an overcast morning the badlands that surround me become filled in with color. Burgundy and beige. Soft browns and golden yellows. Hues that seem rich and sophisticated.

The Landscape is Patient and Calm, Holding Time and Mysteries in these Little Valleys of Painted Hills, Painted Hills National Monument, Oregon

The Land is Wise and I Wish to Know Her, Painted Hills National Monument, Oregon

***
From where I am standing I can easily see a girl with a dog a little further up the hill. She has been sitting on the hillside since before I arrived, well before dawn. Who travels alone into nature on Christmas morning? We talk. She’s from the east coast and couldn’t travel home for the holidays so she decided to find solace. Out here. I hope she finds it. I hope, too, that the pandemic will end and all will feel safe to travel home. And all will feel safe to travel away. To places both far and near. May all beings be happy and free.

There was still quite a bit of snow on the mountain pass leading from the Painted Hills to Bend so I decided to hang around the John Day Fossil Bends National Monument a little while longer. I drove to the Sheep Rock District and hiked the Blue Basin Trail in the morning, returning to the Painted Hills late in the afternoon.

Later Christmas Day the Sun Came out and Presented M a Gift of Light, Painted Hills National Monument, Oregon

Sea Change in the Oregon Hills, Painted Hills National Monument, Oregon

Moon Over the Oregon Landscape, Painted Hills National Monument, Oregon
 

***

On my last day in the Painted Hills, the morning was one to remember. The heavens filled with pastels, delicate hues of pinks and blues spread across the sky. I watched in wonder, happy to be here. Happy to be in nature. Happy to see the sky change and the landscape come to life.

To Talk with Mother Earth and Father Sky (Wisdom for the Ages), Painted Hills National Monument, Oregon

The picture above, To Talk with Mother Earth and Father Sky, is my favorite photograph from Oregon and one of my favorites from the entire 4 month trip. it is definitely top 5. For sure. I think it it 8 vertical photographs stitched together. I used a nodal slide to help keep the horizon line straight for maximum balance and resolution. There's so much that I like about this landscape: it's gentleness and flow, the many curves and elevations, the light and dark colors and the lines imbedded in the hills. The pastel sky of first light, too, helps to tie it all together. Yes, one of my favorites. 

Painted Hill and Morning Sky, John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, Oregon

Snow on Distant Mountains, John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, Oregon

Sky, John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, Oregon

***

I left the Painted Hills and that amazing last sky and make my way south. While driving through Oregon down into northern eastern California I saw almost as many MAGA and Trump signs as I did Red Tailed Hawks. Needless to say, I stopped for the Hawks and not the signs.

Red Tailed Hawk, Oregon

This was back in late December so the November elections— and electoral qualms— were still fresh in everyone’s mind. Voter issues--ranging from fraud to count-- were in the public dialogue daily so at the time I could understand the prolonged support for the outgoing President. Fast forward to March and April and I’m driving through Florida, Tennessee, Louisiana, Texas, New Mexico, and Arkansas and I am still seeing Trump signs and flags. Some of the flags even had Trump’s face on Johnny Rambo! Those always made me take a second look just to make sure I wasn’t hallucinating. Keep in mind this was five months after the election, and three months since the current administration took office.

Take Off, Oregon

In my lifetime I have never seen a four year President retain such popular support. And after speaking with several people during the trip who believe that President Trump is the greatest President of their lifetimes, I am convinced that the 2024 elections will be just as interesting and important as the 2020 and 2016 elections were.

Sometimes I feel that living on Kauai I’m in a little bubble. But this road trip across the US— 18,000 miles and 23 states— showed me a lot. Or I guess I saw a lot and had a lot of time to think. About the land, the environment, the people, the politics, the news, the conversations I shared at cafes and campfires. America is a beautiful place. I just hope she’s not broken, but I think she may be. If she is indeed broken, as I suspect, I hope we can fix her. Together. Yes, I hope we can.

Fly Away with Wings Flapping, Oregon

 
Feel free to comment on any of these topics if you like. I will read each comment with the same respect in which it is written. We can agree and we can disagree. And both are OK because that's one way we can learn about each other.

Aloha, 

Lee


Winter Views-- Crater Lake National Park: The Land of Fluff and Puff

July 20, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

First View of Crater Lake, Crater Lake National Park, Oregon

I remember thinking to myself, Where’s all the snow?

I was soon to find out....

I drove up from Shasta and saw the snow packed peaks scattered around the horizon. The Cascades are a beautiful range and their conical shapes dotted the landscape at what seemed like regular intervals. The overall impression was, strangely enough, of Japan. And that impression would only get stronger as I approached Crater Lake from Chiloquin. 

The Flats before the Snow, Chiloquin, Oregon

The flat farmlands surrounding Chiloquin had several inches of hard snow, but nothing like the multiple feet of powder that I soon encountered after making a right turn on the approach to Crater Lake.  I soon climbed into a winter wonderland that began to look just like "Hokkaido". I said to myself in astonishment.

Crater Lake: Oregon's Mini-Hokkaido, Crater Lake National Park, Oregon

When I saw the lake, and island, and all the snow(!) I was convinced that Crater Lake NP is a mini Hokkaido. Seriously. It was like I was experiencing deja vu in the wind blown snow. Akan-Mashu National Park in Hokkaido is a stunning landscape of three calder lakes. One of which, Lake Kusharo has an island in the middle. Just like Crater Lake! 

***

I left Hokkaido for Maui many years ago because I was tired of shoveling snow. On the day I flew out, I actually threw away the winter clothes I was wearing— coat, hat, gloves— when I arrived at Chitose Airport before my departing flight. I was like, Never again! 🤣). But here I was. Back in the beautiful landscape of fluff n puff. Funny how things change and stay the same.

***

There was no camping available in the park so I camped at an Oregon snow park-- basically a plowed parking lot adjacent to a snowmobile, cross country ski, and sledding area. Rustic in amenities, it was actually quite nice— vault toilets, very quiet, and there was even a warming hut where I could cook and eat out of the snow. The night’s low reached 5 degrees F, and I woke up in a frosted, ice box (note to self--  get a propane heater for the roof top tent before next winter).

Snow, Crater Lake National Park, Oregon

I thought I would snowshoe and overnight in the backcountry, but I was afraid I would die so I decided on just a hike before dawn. I finally found all my winter clothes and got dressed in about 7 layers. Strapped snowshoes on my feet and set out into the great, cold unknown. 

Looking over the Wizard, Crater Lake National Park, Oregon

About 100 meters into the snowshoe hike ( in the dark) I realized that I forgot my sunglasses. "Aah, I don’t need them," I thought to myself. "It’s dark and I’ll be back before the sun gets too high", I though. Silly me. I definitely needed them. Or goggles. The wind blown snow stung my eyes, and at times made it impossible to see as diamond dust shined in the light of my headlamp.

Morning Light, Crater Lake National Park, Oregon

But because of this wind blown snow — and accompanying intensely cold and fierce wind— I was able to get these images.
on the way back. I think this one with the sunstar and tree is better than anything I did of the lake that cold, December morning. As long as you are alive, it is almost always worth it.

Tree of Life, Crater Lake National Park, Oregon

Aloha, 

Lee

 

***

 


Winter Views-- California Cascades: Shasta and Lassen

July 13, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

Shasta's Alpen Glow, Lake Siskiyou, Mt. Shasta National Forest, California

My original itinerary had me going along the California coast to Big Sur and Malibu and then inland to the desert at Joshua Tree before going up to, what I hoped would be, a winter wonderland in Yosemite. But California's response to COVID nixed those plans rather slowly and unevenly over a two week period. So being ever flexible I looked for other places to photograph and camp and chose Mt. Shasta, Lassen Volcanic National Park, Crater Lake National Park and the Painted Hills National Monument. I had never been to Mt. Shasta and didn't really know what to expect. I was thinking something like a hippie ski town and that's kinda what it was. Friendly, outdoorsy, and beautiful nature all around Shasta-Trinity National Forest. And the mountain just has the most beautiful shape. The twin summit is like a perfect wave or a perfect haircut full of fashion and confidence. 

The Beautiful Curve of Mt. Shasta, the second highest mountain in the Cascade Range. Mt. Shasta, California

I camped about 4 miles past Lake Siskiyou in the National Forest, off a heavily iced road. The campsite was quiet (I was the only one there) and of course, cold. I was supposed to ease into the cold weather, but the above mentioned park closures forced me into my -20 F North Face bag earlier than I had planned. This bag was to become my lover and my Patagonia down parka was my best friend. Without these two items of kit the trip and the photography would have been impossible. 

Mt. Shasta is 14,170 ft. You can drive right up to the tree line and although I did, the parking area and mountain side were pretty crowded so I ended up spending most of my time around the quiet banks of Lake Siskiyou.

Lake Siskiyou Reflections, Shasta-Trinity National Forest, California

Morning Fog Clears, Shasta-Trinity National Forest, California​​​​​

On the Road in the Shasta-Trinity National Forest, California​​​​

It's about a 2 hour drive from Mt. Shasta to Lassen Volcanic National Park and while access inside Lassen would be limited, I wanted to do what I could in this park, which I had never visited. The drive over winding country roads was pleasant, but I worried what these roads would become if snow or ice fell. Pockets of shade would likely be tricky and I made a mental note not to speed nor to brake too hard. I decided against buying dedicated snow tires and instead ran my old BF Goodrich All Terrains (snow rated). I had chains, but was loathe to use them on. And I am happy to say that I made it through the entire trip without once putting them on. 

Light and Shadow and Forest of Evergreen Trees, Shasta-Trinity National Forest, California

A bald eagle looks down from an old scraggy tree, Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

As the road climbed up towards Lassen, the snow began to lie thick along the side of the road. Blue skies belied the cold of December in the Cascades. The only thing open in this area of the park was the entrance road, but even it was closed after about two miles or so. Behind the Road-Closed Gate was a faint line of unplowed snow that lead up the hillside into Lassen's backcountry. I parked here and walked around Manzanita Lake, looking for wildlife and a place to photograph sunset and sunrise. I found a bald eagle, but didn't see the otters, which I had read about earlier. The walk was pleasant and as evening approached a chill blew in with a few clouds.

Eagle in Deep Blue Sky, Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

Half Moon and Winter Chill, Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

Eruption? It's Been a Minute, Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

Frozen Manzanita Lake and Ever Changing Sky, Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

After the pink sky turned to grey, I walked back to the FJ and drove out of the park, looking for a turn off into the Lassen National Forest where I would sleep for  the night. Overnight a slight drizzle turned to sleet and then to snow and I awoke inside an ice box. The roof top tent-- no matter how amazing it is-- is still a tent. And like a tent, it takes maintenance. Before departing I had to brush off the snow so that I could close the tent. The outside fabric was stiff from the cold, but it closed up fine.

 Sunrise Sunstar, Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

First tracks over forest road. Cautious and cold I turn onto the highway and see that here, too, the plows have yet to come. It’s early still-- sunrise more than and hour away. Only short spells of light around the winter solstice here in the southern Cascades. First tracks and it’s clear that I am the first to arrive at Lassen Volcanic National Park today. No other tires or human foot prints have marked the midnight snow. Quiet, calm and yes, freezing. The tradeoffs of visiting the national parks in the winter are many. Many of the northern and mountainous parks have area, road and season long closures. Most if not all campgrounds are closed or snowed-in. Water is not readily available as most spigots have been shut off and the pipes drained for the season. Driving is stressful and the weather unpredictable. But the solitude and freshness of view are inspirational.

Eagle Dare, Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

Everything Looks Good in the Snow, Lassen Volcanic National Park, California

On my way back to Mt. Shasta intermittent stretches of highway are hidden by the pines and the shadows hold black ice that changes lives. Headlights flash, warning me to take caution and care. I soon see, all along the right side of the road, articles of clothing, blankets, dishes, gear. A pillow. And then a camper lies separated from a silver truck, which lies a hundred yards away. I pull over and stop. I take out my first aid kit and walk towards the driver and passenger to offer assistance and see that other travelers have stopped to do the same. They slid on the ice, unusual for this time of year. One of the bystanders says to me as I approach. Sirens are the next sound to break the silence and I slowly head on. Just a few minutes down the road a truck floats in the forest, suspended between two trees. How it got there I'll never know. But a man who holds an iPhone shakily surely knows. These Winter Views come at a cost. I must be sure that it is one that I can afford. Caution and Care. I shall proceed with caution and care. 

Pine Comes, California

***

Next up, Crater Lake and the Painted Hills

Aloha, 

Lee