Archive for the ‘American West’ Tag

The Palouse III – Loess & Farming   1 comment

The classic view of the Palouse from atop Steptoe Butte in eastern Washington.

The classic view of the Palouse from atop Steptoe Butte in eastern Washington.

I just returned from a trip to southeastern Washington.  The Palouse region north of the Snake River and stretching along the Idaho border was my prime destination.  Among landscape photographers, the Palouse is justifiably famous for its unique landscape of rolling, wave-like fields of wheat.  It is a very rich farming region, primarily known for its dryland wheat.  But it’s also one of the world’s premier lentil-growing regions.

As is the case for most of our planet’s resources, where and how we take advantage of the bounty is dictated by geology and geography.  This is especially true of farming.  The Palouse bears a lot of resemblance to other rich farming regions in the world in at least two respects: it is relatively flat and it’s covered in a special kind of silt called loess.  You can pronounce loess anyway you want.  But perhaps Lois is best reserved for some women by that name.  Most people in the know pronounce it somewhere between loose and lus, sort of luhs.  Brits put an r in there right before the s.

Some of the terrain in the Palouse of eastern Washington is left golden-bare even in late spring when most everything is vibrant green.

Some of the terrain in the Palouse of eastern Washington is left golden-bare even in late spring when most everything is vibrant green.

Loess is a windblown silt found in many places throughout the world.  It is made of angular pieces of rocks and minerals somewhat finer than sand.  It forms such rich soils because the minerals in it are diverse.  This is not always the case with fine debris deposited on the earth’s surface, but loess is special.

It is a gift of the Ice Ages.  All over the world, when glaciers retreated (both after the last time 10,000 years ago and during previous retreats), the fine debris scoured from the various rocks that the ice passed over was left bare.  Winds picked up this silt and sand and deposited it downwind, often far downwind.  Natural depressions, the base of mountains, or anywhere that wind speed drops, were natural places for loess to be deposited.

In springtime, wildflowers bloom on Kamiak Butte in the Palouse.

In springtime, wildflowers bloom on Kamiak Butte in the Palouse.

In the case of the Palouse, loess from the Ringold Formation and from glacial deposits exposed to the west and south was blown in and deposited essentially in dunes.  This is a big reason for the wave-like nature of the landscape.  It accumulated during the drier and windier climates between glacial advances, and did so for over a million years.  The loess in the Palouse reaches up to 200 feet thick in places.

Two little extra features of the loess deposits found in the Palouse help to make it such a rich dryland farming region.  For one, the Cascade volcanoes to the west occasionally supplied layers of ash into the mix.  This ash not only adds to the mineralogical diversity (and thus the richness of the resulting soil) but is also very good at holding water.  The Palouse soils are famous for their ability to hold onto the modest amount of water they receive.

The wheatfields of the Palouse in eastern Washington on the north side of Kamiak Butte.

The wheatfields of the Palouse in eastern Washington on the north side of Kamiak Butte.

The second feature is another happy coincidence.  The topmost loess deposits, blown in after the last glaciers retreated 10,000 years ago, also happen to be among the most diverse minerals-wise.  So they support the richest soils.  Mount Mazama in Oregon (now Crater Lake) blew its top 6700 years ago and its ash is prominently represented in these latest Palouse loess deposits.

So farmers have it good in the Palouse, growing their crops on a landscape covered in especially rich soils that hold water well.  There is one little problem though: these latest loess deposits are also the most prone to loss through erosion and poor management.  Just like so many agricultural areas in the world, this one requires careful management practices to conserve the precious soil.

Wind turbines are situated along the crest of a ridge in the Palouse, Washington.

Wind turbines are situated along the crest of a ridge in the Palouse, Washington.

The geologic story does not end here though.  The loess deposited in long wave-like dunes originally extended far to the west of where you find it today.  If you head west from the Palouse you run right out of rich dryland wheat country and into a different terrain altogether.  This is the so-called channeled scablands, spectacular result of the great Missoula Floods of the last Ice Age.  I will cover this great story in a coming post; suffice it to say these floods removed much of the region’s rich loess before human farmers ever got the chance to farm it.

A group of mergansers rides the Palouse River downstream near the town of the same name in Washington state.

A group of mergansers rides the Palouse River downstream near the town of the same name in Washington state.

People have been farming here since the late 1800s.  In the 1880s there was a land-boom after dryland wheat farming was proved valid in the previously settled Walla Walla area to the south.  In fact, the last decades of the 19th century saw far more people living here than lived in the Puget Sound region to the west.  Now of course it’s the opposite.  The Palouse is sparsely populated while the Puget Sound has Seattle, Microsoft and traffic nightmares.  There are signs of new growth here, as some people tire of the rat race and move here, expanding the suburbs of large towns like Pullman, Washington and Moscow, Idaho into prime agricultural lands.

The empty Palouse of eastern Washington at sunrise is all wheatfields and sky.

The empty Palouse of eastern Washington at sunrise is all wheatfields and sky.

But for now the Palouse remains a quiet, peaceful place where open spaces are the rule.  Stand atop Steptoe or Kamiak Butte and look out on the endless waves, bright green in early summer and golden brown in autumn.  You’ll only see scattered farmhouses, a few barns, a few two-lane roads with little traffic.  It’s a gorgeous setting, especially at sunset when the shadows are long, bringing out the unique textures and look of the place.  I will surely be coming back.

Thanks for reading.  Stay tuned for more on eastern Washington in the next post.  Hope you enjoy the images.  Please be aware they are copyrighted and not available to download for free without my permission.  Please contact me if you have any questions.  If interested in one of the images, just click it to get purchase options.  Thanks for reading!

A solitary clump of blooming lupine decorates a piece of bunchgrass prairie in the Palouse, Washington.

A solitary clump of blooming lupine decorates a piece of bunchgrass prairie in the Palouse, Washington.

Oneonta Gorge   29 comments

Oneonta Gorge is a lush slot canyon in Oregon's Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area.

Oneonta Gorge is a narrow and verdant canyon in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge Scenic Area.

This is a lovely canyon that lies not far east of Portland (Oregon) in the Columbia River Gorge.  Being lush, verdant and wet, it offers the kind of scenery and a feeling that is quintessentially Pacific Northwest.   It is Oneonta Gorge, and to explore it requires a bit of an adventurous spirit.

To get there, drive east of Portland into the Columbia River Gorge along Interstate 84.  Keep going past Multnomah Falls and take the next exit (#35, Ainsworth).  Loop around and head back west, turning left at the stop sign on the Historic Highway toward Multnomah Falls.  In fact, an alternative is to travel the Historic Highway all the way out from Corbett (see previous post) past Multnomah Falls and on to Oneonta.  If you take the freeway, all you need to do is drive a couple miles back west along the Historic Highway.  You’ll first come to Horsetail Falls on the left.  Keep going (or stop and take a photo!) for another quarter mile and you’ll see a small tunnel off to the left.  The road does not go through the tunnel.  Cross over Oneonta Creek on a small bridge and pull off at the wide spot just past the tunnel.

Logs are swept down Oneonta Gorge in Oregon during heavy winter rains.

Logs are swept down Oneonta Gorge during heavy winter rains.

Walk back towards the tunnel and you will see a small set of stairs that drops down to Oneonta Creek.  Depending on the time of year, you will either be able to hike up the creek a short way without getting wet or you will quickly get your feet wet.  In either case, in order to proceed very far up the narrow gorge, you’ll need to scramble over a large log jam (be very careful) and then wade up the creek.  Bring old sneakers and wool socks with either shorts or quick-drying pants.  It’s cool in the canyon so warm clothes are a good idea.

The walls of Oneonta Gorge in Oregon are covered in moss and other plants that are kept wet by the constant water seeping from above.

The walls of Oneonta Gorge in Oregon are covered in moss and other plants that are kept wet by the constant water seeping from above.

You can wade up the gorge only about a half-mile before you come to a waterfall, which will halt your progress.  The walls along the sides of this narrow canyon are covered with moss and ferns.  During the wet season (winter and early Spring) you will likely not get all the way to the falls, and you can even be stopped at the far side of the log jam in high water.  In hot summer months you will be able to wade all the way up.  But since this is a very popular place during the warm season now, definitely go during the week.  Better yet go up when the weather is cooler and you will probably have the place to yourself.

The Oneonta Gorge in Oregon narrows to a point where not much light makes it down to the creek bottom.

The Oneonta Gorge in Oregon narrows to a point where not much light makes it down to the creek bottom.

Over the past week I’ve gone up twice.  The first time the water was much too high to continue past the log jam, but on my second visit I saw that the water had dropped quite a bit.  So I waded upstream in the icy water (brrr!).  The last section to the waterfall passes the narrowest and deepest part of the creek, so that was as far as I got.  If you were to swim, you could get all the way.  But it would be a cold swim!

The narrows of Oneonta Gorge in Oregon were created over uncounted years by the creek's frequent flooding.

The narrows of Oneonta Gorge in Oregon were created over uncounted years by the creek’s frequent flooding.

In Onenta Gorge, Oregon, the approach to its waterfall is guarded by deep water in spring's high water flows.

In Onenta Gorge, Oregon, the approach to its waterfall is guarded by deep water in spring’s high water flows.

Hope you enjoyed the photos of this incredible canyon.  I’m sorry these images are not available for free download.  The versions here are much too small for use anyway.  Just click on any you might be interested in to gain access to the high-resolution versions.  Then click “add image to cart” to go to a tabbed price list.  Your image won’t be added to the cart until you see the prices.  Thanks for your interest and cooperation.  See ya next time!

The Columbia River flows west toward the sea in deep evening as the moon shines above.

On the way back from Oneonta Gorge, wet feet didn’t keep me from stopping along the way and admiring the evening glow on the Columbia River with the moon and Orion’s Belt glittering above.

Crown Point: A Short Scenic Drive from Portland   3 comments

The rolling pastureland near Corbett in northwestern Oregon just begs to be ridden horseback.

The rolling pastureland near Corbett in northwestern Oregon just begs to be ridden horseback.

I recently visited this lovely place not far east of town at the west end of the Columbia River Gorge.  With the injury I can’t do much hiking, horseback riding (of course) or even the gym.  Long drives are a bad idea too.  So I’ve been going up to my favorite little photo spots nearby.  This is one of those spots.

To get there from Portland. drive east on I84 past Troutdale, east of Portland, Oregon.  A few miles from Troutdale you will take the Corbett exit.  Drive up the steep winding hill and at the top continue east (left) on the Historic Columbia River Highway.  You pass beautiful pastureland with  stunning views of the mountains on the Washington side of the river.  Not far down the road you’ll see a sign for Portland Women’s Forum Park.  This is a simple pull-out on the left that allows a view of Crown Point and on up the Gorge.

A view up the Columbia River Gorge in the Pacific Northwest, with Crown Point and Vista House overlooking it all.

A view up the Columbia River Gorge in Oregon, with Crown Point and Vista House overlooking it all.

This view is justifiably popular with photographers, especially at sunset.  The low sun often spotlights Crown Point and the iconic Vista House on top.  Vista House was constructed, along with the Historic Highway, by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).  The CCC was created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt to help get Americans back to work during the depression.  The rock-work and rails are very well built and very picturesque as well.

The landmark Vista House at Crown Point, Oregon, settles under a dusk sky.

The landmark Vista House at Crown Point, Oregon, settles under a dusk sky.

You can continue along the Historic Highway past Crown Point and down along the river.  You will pass many waterfalls, including Multnomah Falls.  I wrote a recent waterfall post, so check that out for photos of some of the cascades in the Gorge.

The Vista House at Crown Point at the western end of Oregon's Columbia River Gorge.

The Vista House at Crown Point at the western end of Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge.

 Thanks for reading.  Click on the photos to see the high-res. versions, which are available for purchase as prints, downloads and more.  Make sure and click “add this image to cart” to get the prices and make choices.  Don’t worry, they won’t be added to your cart until you see prices.  Thanks for your interest.

The largest river in the American West is the Columbia, which rolls westward to the Pacific at dusk in this image.

The largest river in the American West is the Columbia, which in this view from Crown Point rolls westward towards the Pacific at dusk.

Yellowstone & Grand Tetons Sampler   6 comments

The Snake River's Oxbow Bend in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming reflects autumn colors.

The Snake River’s Oxbow Bend in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming reflects autumn colors.

I am in the process of updating my website with pictures I’ve made in the past few months.  Yes, I know.  I have been suffering that most common of website owner maladies: utter neglect!  I guess I don’t really love my website.  All I like is the color of the background and the photos, of course.

The Lamar River Valley in Yellowstone National Park is a peaceful place at dusk.

The Lamar River Valley in Yellowstone National Park is a peaceful place at dusk.

Here are a few of the shots I have re-edited, spruced up, and made ready for the world.  All are from the first leg of my recent trip around the American west, of Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks.

White Dome geyser in Yellowstone National Park erupts under a starry night.

White Dome geyser in Yellowstone National Park erupts under a starry night.

If you are interested in prints or downloads just click on the picture.  The versions here are very low-resolution, but when you click you will have the option to purchase high-res. versions.  All of the images are copyrighted and thus illegal to download, sorry ’bout that.  Please contact me for more information or special requests.  The direct link to my main website: MJF Images.

 Hope you enjoy them.

The Grand Tetons are a must-stop on any road trip through America's Rocky Mountain states.

The Grand Tetons are a must-stop on any road trip through America’s Rocky Mountain states.

An icy early autumn morning along Yellowstone's Firehole River and the enormous steam plumes rising from Grand Prismatic Spring.

An icy early autumn morning along Yellowstone’s Firehole River with colorful steam plumes rising from Grand Prismatic Spring.

Bare trees and a frosty meadow form a dramatic setting for lifting morning mist at Yellowstone National Park.

Bare trees and a frosty meadow form a dramatic setting for lifting morning mist at Yellowstone National Park.

Bison roaming the road at Yellowstone, and a tourist who had no idea they were that big.

Bison roaming the road at Yellowstone, and a tourist who had no idea they were that big.

 

The marvelous Swan River Wildlife Refuge in NW Montana, at the foot of the purple Swan Mountains.

The marvelous Swan River Wildlife Refuge in NW Montana, at the foot of the purple Swan Mountains.

 

Sulfur Springs, a remote thermal area in Yellowstone National Park, reflects the pale light of evening.

Sulfur Springs, a remote thermal area in Yellowstone National Park, reflects the pale light of  a crescent moon.

Sunset from Munra Point   5 comments

Sunset over the Columbia River from Munra Point, Oregon.

Sunset over the Columbia River from Munra Point, Oregon.

Munra Point has become one of the places I head to when I’ve got some time before the sun goes down and I want exercise and also a chance at a good photo.  It lies in the Columbia River Gorge, not far east of my home in Portland.  It’s a steep and strenuous hike but relatively short.  You can make it to the top in about an hour if you’re in decent hiking condition and don’t stop for anything but a drink of water.  The view down over the Columbia is hawk’s eye, and with the right timing great sunset photographs are possible.

A view from Munra Point south toward the high country gives an idea of how spectacular the hiking can be in Oregon's Columbia River Gorge.

A view from Munra Point south toward the high country gives an idea of how spectacular the hiking can be in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge.

Munra Point lies about a half hour’s drive from Portland.  Heading out Interstate 84 into the Columbia River Gorge, you will pass Multnomah Falls.  Not too far beyond this tourist hotspot, but before you come to Bonneville Dam, you will cross over Moffet Creek.  It is marked by a small sign so keep a lookout.  At the exit for Bonneville Dam get off and turn around, heading back west on the freeway.  As you approach Moffet Creek, get in the left lane, make sure nobody is on your tail, and turn off onto the shoulder.  A guardrail marks the approach to the bridge, and you will drive as far down the left side of this guardrail as you care to, putting it between yourself and the road.  Park and walk down to the creek, where you’ll cross under the bridge formed by the (higher) eastbound lanes.

Poison oak occurs along the Munra Point trail starting in April.

Poison oak occurs along the Munra Point trail starting in April.

This sounds like unofficial parking for a trailhead because it is.  It’s also why you’ll probably have this hike to yourself.  You will see a small trail heading into the woods near the east bridge abutment.  Head up here and travel a short distance parallel to the freeway, heading east.  Then you’ll see a trail heading up to the right; take it.  An old weathered sign at this junction states “this trail not maintained”.  If you see the sign, you know you’re on the right track.  Start climbing.

In the Columbia River Gorge, hiking high up on the ridges brings you to flowery meadows, most of which are too steep to admire the flowers close-up.

In the Columbia River Gorge, hiking high up on the ridges brings you to flowery meadows, most of which are too steep to admire the flowers close-up.

The trail offers a few switchbacks, but mainly gets right down to the business of climbing a steep ridge.  Watch for poison oak in season (spring and early summer).  Near the top you will have to do a little scrambling, but there is nothing that will really scare you unless you have a great fear of heights.  As you approach the summit, you will break out into meadows filled with flowers in springtime.  The last quarter to half-mile  offers a great chance to get pictures looking down and westward along the length of the Columbia River.  If you plan to take pictures at sunset, bring a flashlight for the final stretch back down to your car.

Grass widow is a common springtime flower on the Munra Point hike in Oregon's Columbia River Gorge.

Grass widow is a common springtime flower on the Munra Point hike in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge.

The summit, called Munra Point, is very rocky and offers a 360-degree view.  You can keep hiking the ridge-line to the south from Munra Point.  There is even a trail to follow, at least for a mile or so.  Eventually you will enter thick timber and begin climbing again.  Turn around or plot a loop using GPS or compass and map.  There are adjacent trails which will take you back north to the river, where you can use Gorge Trail 400 (which parallels the highway) to return to your car.

Hiking near the top of Munra Point can feel like you're on top of the world.

Hiking near the top of Munra Point can feel like you’re on top of the world.

I have hiked here with friends before, but usually it is one of those hikes that I do on the spur of the moment, when it is late in the day and I think the light might just be right for an epic photo.  Also, often near the end of the afternoon I feel the need for exercise, and this hike provides that in abundance.

Grass widow grow on Munra Point with the Columbia River far far below.

Grass widow grow on Munra Point with the Columbia River far far below.

The sun sets in a position aligned with the river in late winter and again in very early autumn.  In other times it is either south or north of the course of the river.  The flowers bloom starting in mid- to late-March, at a time when the sun sets well north of the river.  It would be nice if things would line up perfectly, but that isn’t the case.  Still, any time of year offers great photo opportunities.  And as a bonus you will get a natural stair-climber workout.  Who needs the gym when you have this?

The sun sets over the mighty Columbia River as seen from Munra Point in Oregon.

The sun sets over the mighty Columbia River as seen from Munra Point in Oregon.

Hope you enjoyed this little look at an off-the-beaten-track hiking destination in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge.  Pssst!  It’s a secret, so only tell your closest hiking buddies.

Dusk and approaching darkness make descending from Munra Point a job for a flashlight.

Dusk and approaching darkness make descending from Munra Point a job for a flashlight.

Close and Low: Photography without Shame at Yellowstone   3 comments

White Dome geyser in Yellowstone National Park erupts into a beautiful morning.

White Dome geyser in Yellowstone National Park erupts into a beautiful morning.

While looking over the 10,000 or so images from this recent trip around the West, I’ve been finding little jewels in the heap of…well, let’s just say there are many photos not worth keeping.  Realizing that I already looked at these photos once, however briefly, I know they don’t necessarily have immediate impact.  Their charms are typically more subtle.  Best of all, many demonstrate important photography habits that I practice more or less naturally, and are worth sharing.

This photo I made while camping in a (very) chilly Lower Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park.  This is my favorite geothermal area in the park (with Norris being a close second).  I love photographing here in the evening (see image below), well after the sun has set, and also in the very early morning.  I was there in mid-October, so mornings were downright freezing.  This means plenty of steam, but it also means you will probably see buffalo rousing from their beds in the morning.  These iconic beasts often spend the night in thermal areas when nights turn cold.

Moonlight and steam on a cold night at Hot Lake in Yellowstone's Lower Geyser Basin creates a mystical scene.

Moonlight and steam on a cold night at Hot Lake in Yellowstone’s Lower Geyser Basin creates a mystical scene.

The concept that the photo at top demonstrates is this:  there is almost no photo, certainly no landscape or nature composition, that is not worth trying from a very low shooting position.  It is often the case where the lower the camera is, the better.  So you need to get down on your belly or have a tripod which allows you to set the camera very close to the ground.

Bison begin the day's grazing after spending a cold night in Yellowstone's Lower Geyser Basin.

Bison begin the day’s grazing after spending a cold night in Yellowstone’s Lower Geyser Basin.

The shame part of the tip comes from the fact that people will often stare at you while you’re in “strange” shooting positions.  I will usually start off shooting the composition from a bit further away, then move closer as I shoot.  Usually the best photos are the closer ones.  When I am very low, hand-holding the camera, I will often crawl on my belly towards my subject.  In the case of the photo at top, White Dome Geyser, I was doing my best imitation of “army guy crawling under razor wire” when I felt a rumbling in my belly.

The moon is enlarged through the steam over Hot Lake in Yellowstone National Park.

The moon is enlarged through the steam over Hot Lake in Yellowstone National Park.

At first I thought it was just my stomach telling me it was past breakfast time (I had been shooting for a couple hours, since before sunrise).  But the geyser quickly made it clear what the rumbling meant as it began to erupt.  I managed to get a few frames off before I started getting pelted with hot water and had to scramble away.

As I got up and looked around, there were at least a couple observers chuckling and nudging each other.  Sure, I felt a little embarrassed, but I also knew there was a good chance I got a nice shot.  Always remember this:  your photo will last longer than you, while your shame usually lasts mere minutes; you will have forgotten all about it by next day.  So go ahead, photograph without any shame.

Steam drifts over Yellowstone's Lower Geyser Basin on a starry evening.

Steam drifts over Yellowstone’s Lower Geyser Basin on a starry evening.

 

 

Favorite Photos of the Big Western Loop   3 comments

A bison grazes the late autumn grasses on a cold sunny Yellowstone morning.

A bison grazes the late autumn grasses on a cold sunny Yellowstone morning.

I thought I’d put together a best of post featuring my idea of my best photographs of this recently completed mega-roadtrip.  In 14 weeks I visited Montana, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada, California and Baja California, Mexico.  What a trip!  There are some star-scape shots that I’ll save for another post, but these are essentially my favorites.  Hope you enjoy them.  Please don’t try to copy or download them from here.  They are copyrighted.  Click on an image to be taken to my website, and if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me.  Thanks a bunch!

A beaver-dammed channel of the Snake River in Grand Tetons National Park is the perfect mirror for sunrise.

A beaver-dammed channel of the Snake River in Grand Tetons National Park is the perfect mirror for sunrise.

The moon creates a surreal scene in Lower Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park.

The moon creates a surreal scene in Lower Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park.

On a cold autumn morning on the rim of the Black Canyon of the Gunnison in Colorado, the fog spills ogg the plateau and into the canyon.

On a cold autumn morning on the rim of Black Canyon of the Gunnison in Colorado, fog spills off the plateau & into the canyon.

A frozen meadow at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, slowly thaws as the sun appears.

A frozen meadow at Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming thaws as the sun appears.

An older alpha male wolf in Yellowstone National Park is unsure how he happened to get so close to the human.

An alpha male wolf in Yellowstone National Park is unsure how he happened to get so close to the human.

The Animas River in northern New Mexico flows peacefully past cottonwoods and aspens in their autumn glory.

The Animas River in northern New Mexico flows peacefully past cottonwoods and aspens in their autumn glory.

Penyasco Blanco and the sky, at sunset in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico.

Penyasco Blanco and the sky, at sunset in Chaco Canyon, New Mexico.

A full moon shines on the Goosenecks, a series of incised meanders on the San Juan River in SE Utah.

A full moon shines on the Goosenecks, a series of incised meanders on the San Juan River in SE Utah.

Ship Rock stands under a glowing moon in the northeastern New Mexico desert.

Ship Rock stands under a glowing moon in the northeastern New Mexico desert.

A Monument Valley Sunset from the Mittens looking west.

A Monument Valley Sunset from the Mittens looking west.

The moon clears the horizon at Monument Valley, Arizona.

The moon clears the horizon at Monument Valley, Arizona.

The sun peeks into the narrow confines of Antelope Canyon, Arizona.

The sun peeks into the narrow confines of Antelope Canyon, Arizona.

Lake Powell along the Utah/Arizona border glories in sunrise.

Lake Powell along the Utah/Arizona border glories in sunrise.

The Page Balloon Regatta culminates in a panoply of glowing balloons.

The Page Balloon Regatta culminates in a panoply of glowing balloons.

This outcrop of sandstone at Spencer Flat in the Escalante country of southern Utah shows a complex pattern of merging dunes in ancient times.

This outcrop of sandstone at Spencer Flat in the Escalante country of southern Utah shows a complex pattern of merging dunes in ancient times.

The road in Zion Canyon, Utah is lined in places with cottonwood trees.

The road in Zion Canyon, Utah is lined in places with cottonwood trees.

In the Kolob Canyons of Zion National Park stands an old log cabin.

In the Kolob Canyons of Zion National Park stands an old log cabin.

Canyon Flow II

The sky and walls of LaVerkin Creek Canyon in Zion National Park reflect vibrant colors in the small stream that the trail follows.

The desert sun sets over the ubiquitous sandstone outcrops that surround Page, Arizona.

The desert sun sets over the ubiquitous sandstone outcrops surrounding Page, Arizona.

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A bull moose walks along the Snake River in front of the brightly lit peaks of the Grand Tetons in Wyoming.

The tilted layers of sandstone at  Snow Canyon State Park are moonlit and stand out against the starry sky.

The tilted layers of sandstone at Snow Canyon State Park are moonlit and stand out against the starry sky.

Water from springs collects in Snow Canyon, Utah.

Water from springs collects in Snow Canyon, Utah.

The tilted layers of sandstone at  Snow Canyon State Park are moonlit and stand out against the starry sky.

The tilted layers of sandstone at Snow Canyon State Park are moonlit and stand out against the starry sky.

A colorful dawn breaks over Death Valley National Park in California.

A colorful dawn breaks over Death Valley National Park in California.

A common animal for visitors to spot in Death Valley, California, is the resourceful coyote.

A common animal for visitors to spot in Death Valley, California, is the resourceful coyote.

The sand dunes of Death Valley National Park can turn golden in the first light of morning.

The sand dunes of Death Valley National Park can turn golden in the first light of morning.

The massive bulk of Tucki Peak looms behind the dunes at Mesquite Flat in Death Valley, California.

The massive bulk of Tucki Peak looms behind the dunes at Mesquite Flat in Death Valley, California.

The full moon sets just as morning light hits the cracked salt flats near Badwater, North America's lowest point, in Death Valley, California.

The full moon sets just as morning light hits the cracked salt flats near Badwater, North America’s lowest point, in Death Valley, California.

There are numerous sculpted caves in the granite of Baja California's desert.

There are numerous sculpted caves in the granite of Baja California’s desert.

Saguaro cactus are reflected in a pool of water left by a precious desert rainstorm in the northern Baja Peninsula, Mexico.

Saguaro cactus are reflected in a pool of water left by a rare desert rainstorm in the north Baja Peninsula, Mexico.

The crescent moon shines behind a towering cirios on Mexico's Baja Peninsula.

The crescent moon shines behind a towering cirios on Mexico’s Baja Peninsula.

The sun rises over the desert of Baja California Norte, Mexico.

The sun rises over the desert of Baja California Norte, Mexico.

A big saguaro cactus soars into the Baja skies.

A big saguaro cactus soars into the Baja skies.

A rare rainbow graces the desert during sunrise in Baja California, Mexico.

A rare rainbow graces the desert during sunrise in Baja California, Mexico.

A type of gall growing on a desert plant in Mexico's Baja Peninsula resembles a Chrismtas ornament.

A type of gall growing on a desert plant in Mexico’s Baja Peninsula resembles a Christmas ornament.

A young Mexican couple in love.

A young Mexican couple in love.

A cave on a northern California beach looks out on a sunny Pacific day.

A cave on a northern California beach looks out on a sunny Pacific day.

The Pacific Ocean and the day's last light stretch west from the Cape Mendocino Lighthouse in Shelter Cove, California.

The Pacific Ocean and the day’s last light stretch west from the Cape Mendocino Lighthouse in Shelter Cove, California.

The Lost Coast of northern California is the scene of a peaceful winter's sunset.

The Lost Coast of northern California is the scene of a peaceful winter’s sunset.

The fishing harbor at Monterey, California is illuminated with winter's late afternoon light.

The fishing harbor at Monterey, California is illuminated with winter’s late afternoon light.

 

 

Winter on the California Coast and a storm approaches at dusk near Cambria.

Winter on the California Coast and a storm approaches at dusk near Cambria.

The rocky coastline of the northern Baja Peninsula in Mexico is a peaceful place to be at dusk.

The rocky coastline of the northern Baja Peninsula in Mexico is a peaceful place to be at dusk.

Near Point Lobos on the central California Coast, the sunset illuminates the beautiful groundcover that characterizes this part of the coastline.

Near Point Lobos on the central California Coast, the sunset illuminates the beautiful ground-covering succulents that characterize this part of the Pacific Coast.

Lost Coast, California   5 comments

Eel River Sunrise

Northern California’s Lost Coast is located in northern Mendocino and southern Humboldt counties, north of San Francisco.  Steep mountains plunge down to a rocky shore.  Lonely beaches with waterfalls and good abalone hunting face out on great surfing breaks.  Just inland, wildlife abounds in the forest and small communities are separated by majestic redwood groves.

The rising sun sets the sky afire in Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California.

The rising sun sets the sky afire in Humboldt Redwoods State Park, California.

The Lost Coast includes the King Range, a rugged, steeply uplifted piece of geology with many valleys oriented parallel to the coast – a very unique situation.  California’s  western-most headland, Cape Mendocino, occupies much of the Lost Coast.  These two geographic facts give the place its isolated character.  And as usual, the geology of the region is the underlying factor driving everything.

The Lost Coast of northern California is the scene of a peaceful winter's sunset.

The Lost Coast of northern California is the scene of a peaceful winter’s sunset.

Geology

The famous San Andreas Fault, which parallels the coastline all the way north from San Francisco, leaves the coast here and merges with the offshore Cape Mendocino Fault (which runs perpendicular to the coast and out to sea).  This is where three of the Earth’s tectonic plates come together.  The North American Plate, the Pacific Plate, and the small Gorda Plate join in what geologists call a triple junction.

The plate tectonic setting for the Lost Coast of California is dominated by the triple junction just offshore from Cape Mendocino.

The plate tectonic setting for the Lost Coast of California is dominated by the triple junction just offshore from Cape Mendocino.

The slip-sliding characterized by the San Andreas to the south gives way to a subduction zone to the north.  The Gorda Plate is slipping beneath the North American Plate.  This means that a line of volcanoes lies inland.  The Cascades begin at Mount Lassen and extend north past the Canadian border.  But much closer to the coast, an enormous torquing action occurs, which is why the uplift is extreme here.  The rocks are heavily buckled and folded, forming the rugged King Range.

The part of the northern California Coast between Fort Bragg and Eureka is called the Lost Coast.

The part of the northern California Coast between Fort Bragg and Eureka is called the Lost Coast.

The coast’s spectacular scenery owes its existence to this triple junction.  Rapid uplift of a coastline is marked by frequent earthquakes and landslides, and this area is no exception.  Offshore sea stacks, for e.g., are often the result of enormous landslides in the past.  And of course landslides are often precipitated by earthquakes.  All the while erosion is taking place,  from constant wave action.  And the uplift of the coastal margin gives the waves a constant source of new rocks to erode all the time.

Ice Plant, a non-native, blooms in winter-time on the Lost Coast of California.

Ice Plant, a non-native, blooms in winter-time on the Lost Coast of California.

I stopped in the little town of Garberville, just off Hwy. 101.  It is a typical northern California town, filled with real characters.  Not all of these people, believe it or not, are old burnt-out hippies.  For the first time during this trip, I didn’t feel out of place in my VW camper.  Now if I only had a dreadlocks wig as big as one of those giant octopuses that live in the nearby ocean, I would have fit in perfectly.  Actually the town is peaceful, with a magnificent stand of redwoods nearby in the Humboldt Redwoods State Park.

A cave on a northern California beach looks out on a sunny Pacific day.

A cave on a northern California beach looks out on a sunny Pacific day.

Then I headed over the extremely curvy and hilly two-lane that leads from Garberville out to the coast at Shelter Cove.  What a road!  The last hill descending off the King Range to the coast is extremely steep, granny gear both ways.  The little settlement of Shelter Cove is spread out, and seems to be populated by people who enjoy their isolation.  I wouldn’t necessarily call them anti-social loners, but there is a reason why they live  here.  Almost 1000 people live here, but I am sure many of the spectacularly-located houses are 2nd homes.

A beach house on the coast of California.

A beach house on the coast of California.

I experienced a nice sunset, getting there early enough to explore the rocky shore below the little park.  This park is easy to find if you turn left at the first T-junction after the big downhill.  The grassy park, set up on a terrace above the sea, is centered around the Cape Mendocino Lighthouse (see below).  It’s a simple walk down to the rocky shore from this park, and you can continue south past the boat ramp around Shelter Cove itself.  The rock is black, and forms dramatic silhouettes with the numerous tide pools.  Be careful though, and consider rubber boots if you’re planning on exploring and/or photographing.  It’s slippery and there are sneaker waves.  It’s wise to remember the venerable warning to never turn your back on the ocean.

The rocky coastline at Shelter Cove on California's Pacific Coast is a tide-poolers heaven.

The rocky coastline at Shelter Cove on California’s Pacific Coast is a tide-poolers heaven.

Cape Mendocino Lighthouse

This stubby structure, which dates from 1868, did not need to be tall since it was originally placed atop a 422-foot (129 meters) cliff on Cape Mendocino.  It was shipped to the site and hauled up the steep mountainside.  The first ship sent to start construction at the site ran aground, and all supplies were lost (everyone survived though).  Over the years, the light saved many lives, and in more ways than the obvious.  For one thing it was a great lookout.  On one occasion a keeper spotted a ship that was on fire.  He brought help just in time to save all aboard.

The Cape Mendocino Lighthouse, now restored and located in nearby Shelter Cove, glows just after sunset.

The Cape Mendocino Lighthouse, now restored and located in nearby Shelter Cove, glows just after sunset.

But the frequent earthquakes and landslides were a constant hazard, and the lighthouse was eventually abandoned in the early 1960s.  The lighthouse was later saved when a local group had it moved and restored.  For the last 12 years it has shone at Shelter Cove not far south of the Cape.  But its business end seems a bit empty without its original Fresnel lens (which was replaced years ago while it was in service).

Coiled and mounded kelp is a common sight along northern California beaches

Coiled and mounded kelp is a common sight along northern California beaches

I also enjoyed some time in the redwoods at Humboldt Redwoods State Park.  There is a 2-lane road (appropriately called “Avenue of the Giants”) that parallels Hwy. 101, allowing you to stop and walk through the big trees, or enjoy the beautiful Eel River (which winds its way through here on its way to the sea).

An amazing variety of stones are present on this northern California beach.

An amazing variety of stones are present on this northern California beach.

It’s a beautiful and remote stretch of coast, one I can highly recommend visiting.  The coast both to the south (as far as Point Reyes) and to the north (the Oregon border and beyond) is also beautiful.  I didn’t get the opportunity this time to explore the Lost Coast fully.  There are hiking and mountain biking options, plus several fire roads that take off from the Shelter Cove Road.  I encourage you to go further than I did in exploring this rugged part of the California Coast.  I know I’ll do so when I return.

The Pacific Ocean and the day's last light stretch west from the Cape Mendocino Lighthouse in Shelter Cove, California.

The Pacific Ocean and the day’s last light stretch west from the Cape Mendocino Lighthouse in Shelter Cove, California.

The (crowded) California Coast   Leave a comment

A late afternoon winter's sun illuminates the rugged California Coast.

A late afternoon winter’s sun illuminates the rugged California Coast.

I’ll say right off that California is one of the most beautiful states in the U.S.A., and is arguably one of the most gorgeous places that I’ve ever been in the world.  But I wish I had been born earlier and could have experienced it in the early 20th century, no later than the 50s.  While I’m in the wishing mode, I’d actually like to have roamed around here in the missionary days.  Or trapping and exploring with Jedediah Smith!

The California Coast is the attraction to driving Highway 1.

The California Coast is the attraction to driving Highway 1.

Other than the desert, and the far NE and far NW corners of the state, California is really too crowded and developed for my tastes.  The coast has about three times more traffic and people than I prefer.  And so despite its physical beauty, it falls down on my list of favorite states.  It’s not in the bottom half, but it doesn’t quite crack the top 10 either.  Alaska, Hawaii and Oregon are the top 3, in case you’re curious.

An Anna's hummingbird feeds on flowers in a garden on the California Coast at Big Sur.

An Anna’s hummingbird feeds on flowers in the garden at Big Sur Coast Gallery.

The traffic and pollution in southern California are pretty bad, and the traffic in the Bay Area is a big turnoff as well.  I particularly don’t like the fact that in southern California both the air and immediate offshore marine environment are polluted.  Light pollution, the disappearance of stars from the night sky, is also a huge negative for me.  All that said, the high Sierra, the Redwood Coast, parts of the wine country (the Alexander Valley for e.g.) and of course the Mojave Desert are places I will return to again and again.  These are very worthwhile destinations for anyone who loves the natural world.  Mostly these places are not very crowded.

A garden on the California Coast draws hummingbirds with its blooms, even in winter.

A garden on the California Coast draws hummingbirds with its blooms, even in winter.

I am currently on the Monterrey Peninsula. I had traveled almost all of the California Coast before now but had missed out on the section north of Santa Barbara and south of Santa Cruz.  So on the way home to Oregon now, I am taking the opportunity to drive up this coast.

It’s a very beautiful piece of coastline: rocky headlands, crashing waves, mountains which plunge directly into the ocean.  It reminds me strongly of the Oregon Coast.  But here is the problem, as far as I can see.  If you want to travel a coast that has abundant natural beauty, along with quaint towns, picturesque lighthouses, etc., why not go to Oregon?  It’s less crowded, there is more of the spectacular stuff, and beach access is much much better than in California.

Winter waves on the California Coast near Big Sur hit the legs of the tripod.

Winter waves on the California Coast near Big Sur hit the legs of the tripod.

Granted, this time of year, between Christmas and New Years, I should not be surprised that it’s crowded.  Many people take off during this week, families with kids on school break especially.  But I’ve been on the Oregon Coast at this time of year, and it is nowhere near as busy as the Big Sur/Monterrey area.

I have seen so many folks from other countries, particularly Europe, while traveling this coast over the past few days.  While for Californians this is closer than Oregon (so I get why they are here), I don’t really understand why I don’t see so many visitors from other countries on the Oregon Coast.

Have a Seat

Those from other countries are planning this as a travel destination.  Of course they also want to see San Francisco.  But why not fly into that city and travel north?  I simply can’t understand why anybody would want to see L.A.  The San Diego area is awfully warm this time of year, compared to Oregon, so that makes sense.

I am sure this part of the California Coast would be much more calm and uncrowded during a different week.  When I was south of Big Sur, on Christmas night, the highway north was blocked by a landslide.  It was deserted, and I loved being perched high up on a cliff, camped while the wind and rain from an overnight storm buffeted my van.

An inlaid sculpture highlights one wall of the Carmel Mission in California.

An inlaid sculpture highlights one wall of the Carmel Mission in California.

The day after Christmas was beautiful, and the number of people on the road stayed low.  But over the next few days, and as I moved north, the car numbers increased steadily, until now on the weekend before Christmas in the Carmel area it is downright overcrowded.

When the road finally opened (I snuck through at night after the workers were gone) boy did the cars ever come from the north.  Just north of Big Sur I watched long lines of cars heading south, and was glad I got in a hike and otherwise enjoyed Big Sur before the rush.  It’s a little frantic around here, and I’m not used to it.  Now before you write a comment and point out that I am one of those visitors, I am already well aware of this.  I had to see this area at least once.

A green home on the California Coast south of Big Sur basks in winter sunshine.

A green home on the California Coast south of Big Sur basks in winter sunshine.

I am going to post a strong travel recommendation.  I would never do this if I had a legion of followers.  I prefer that people continue to come here and leave Oregon alone.  But if you are considering a trip along the California Coast, reconsider.  If you started in Portland, Oregon and headed south to San Francisco, or began in the south and headed as far north as the central Oregon Coast, that would be an epic trip.  If you don’t want to do the one-way rental car, you could always return via the quicker Interstate 5 inland.

So that’s enough of my whining.  I will end by saying that it would be much much worse if the people were not so darn friendly here.  Most everyone I’ve met, travelers and locals alike, has been nothing but warm and friendly.  So there!  I’ll post some recommendations next time.

Near Point Lobos on the central California Coast, the sunset illuminates the beautiful groundcover that characterizes this part of the coastline.

Near Point Lobos on the central California Coast, the sunset illuminates the beautiful groundcover that characterizes this part of the coastline.

 

 

 

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