Life as seen through my lens…
Category Archives: Travel
Wow. Has it really been nearly 5 years since I posted here? I need to fix that!
My photography remains a hobby but I have moved from a place where I’d shoot anything and everything around me to one where other aspects of my life have left me with less time to shoot and process and promote. I am relatively(?) active on Facebook, but Flickr (where I used to be really active) has become more of a means for me to share large bodies of work I create for certain groups through volunteer work (such as Girl Scouts). I’ve also chosen to close down my SmugMug account – the expense of keeping it live was not worth it. There are other ways for me to sell my photographs and I just didn’t have the time to keep it up-to-date. Plus, with SmugMug and Flickr being owned by the same company now, it made no sense paying two subscriptions to the same company when all I really want to do is share my pictures.
Anyway – going forwards I will try and update this site with some sort of frequency – it certainly won’t be every day. It is more likely to be weekly at best, but I will endeavor to keep it coming!
On the subject of photography and photographing things I love, this time of year a very special thing can happen at Yosemite National Park. Known affectionately as the “Firefall”, for a short time window in the second half of February the light of the setting sun shines at such an angle that it hits a seasonal waterfall that flows from the top of the cliff to the east of El Capitan and makes it look like a stream of lava or embers is flowing down the rock face.
For this to happen, you need water in the seasonal waterway that feeds Horsetail Fall, you need an unobstructed sky to the west so the light from the setting sun can actually reach the water, and you need for there to be no obstructions such that the water actually flows into the waterfall. With the recent weather we have been having here in California, there is plenty of water to feed the falls, but thanks to the extreme cold weather we have been seeing recently, the water has frozen and the falls are not falling!
To add to that, there has been significant snowfall in the Yosemite Valley itself, which has led to limited parking opportunities, and anyone wanting to see the “firefall” will have to park back at the Yosemite Valley Lodge (close to Yosemite Falls) and will have to hike a couple of miles in the snow to the best viewing spots; Mother Nature is doing her best to carry out some crowd control for this now overly popular event. This event draws many spectators every year, most of which are photographers. To get a good photograph of the event you need some serious gear including tripods and long lenses, and something to sit on, as to get a good view you need to get there fairly early in the day. Lugging all of that, across deep snow, for a couple of miles, and then back again in the dark, is likely to put off many visitors that would have made the trip in milder weather.
For those that do make the effort, if everything aligns, it is a truly magnificent sight that is hard to comprehend even if you understand all of the elements involved in making it a reality.
I will be watching conditions in the park closely over the next week. If they change I will likely find myself heading there this year to try and get a shot or two, but if conditions remain as they are as we get closer to March I’ll forgo it this year. Once you get past February 24 the angle of the light from the setting sun changes such that it doesn’t hit the waterfall any more and the “fire” is extinguished, until next year!
This time last week I’d just about got home from an impromptu visit to Yosemite to catch photos of a spray moonbow (rainbow in the spray of a waterfall caused by the light of the full moon). There are apparently only 4 waterfalls in the world where this can happen when the conditions are right, and we have one a bit over 3 hours drive away. The conditions were right last week, so pretty much on a whim I decided to take a chunk of time out of my week to go see this for myself.
Shooting the moonbow meant I was up late into the night (and into the following morning), and as the Yosemite Valley is a magical place by the light of the full moon, I proceeded to journey around the valley to get moonlight shots of my “happy place”.
Before I knew it, it was 4:30 in the morning and I was up on Glacier Point looking down on the valley, so I decided to stick around for the sunrise which was only a bit over an hour away.
Cold and tired I sat in my car and napped for an hour before dragging myself from my dreams to go and watch the sun rise.
I was not disappointed. The scene started to get lighter as the sun neared the horizon, and then as it emerged above the line of distant mountains just behind Half Dome the warming rays of the sun hit my face and warmed my body and soul.
For a person who is spiritual (not religious) it was a very moving experience. I’m sure if I were a religious person I’d be putting a religious spin on this, but regardless, it was a wonderful way to start the day with a fresh appreciation of the beauty that is there if you only take the time to pull yourselves away from your daily distractions for a while to appreciate it.
If you ever get a chance to witness a sunrise in a place of beauty such as Yosemite National Park, do yourself a favor… make the effort to get up early and experience it for yourself. I promise you won’t regret it… and you can always make up the lost hours of sleep later!
On a last minute whim, I took a 3.5 hour drive yesterday afternoon to go to Yosemite National Park to try and catch a picture of a moonbow. A moonbow is a rainbow formed in the spray of a waterfall from the light of the full or nearly full moon. According to the internet, there are only 4 waterfalls in the world that have the right conditions for this to happen, and after finding out about these very recently I wasn’t going to miss the chance of capturing one.
It seems that half of the photographers in California (and beyond) had the same idea, because as it turned dark, the best vantage points for seeing this event were packed with photographers and their gear.
When conditions are good, a bow can be seen in the spray from both Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls, however yesterday the conditions for a moonbow in the spray from the Upper Yosemite Fall were clearly missing, as was the moonbow (there was a little splash of color in a small section of mist, but not a full moonbow by any stretch of the imagination, and nothing that could be seen with the naked eye).
The story at the base of Lower Yosemite Fall was totally different though. As I joined the 50 or so other photographers that had taken up position in the viewing area at the base of the fall, the moonbow was clearly visible as a silvery arc in the spray. There wasn’t quite enough light in it to have the human eye see color, but a long camera exposure can overcome this so you can see the moonbow in all its rainbow-colored glory!
This month’s full moon will likely be the last one this year that will lead to a decent moonbow in Yosemite Falls, as because of the low snowpack in the Sierras, it is expected that the volume of water will drop off enough before next month’s full moon that there won’t be enough spray to make this happen…
Yesterday was a fun day… my daughter (mother of these two adorable monkeys) had to work, and my wife was helping as a volunteer at a Girl Scout weekend camp, so I did my grandfatherly duties by looking after these two for the day. As the weather has been unusually warm and sunny (California – drought – all that fun climate change stuff), I decided to keep them happy and busy by taking them to the beach.
After an hour’s drive we arrived in Half Moon Bay where we parked up and spent a few hours on Poplar Beach. You have to pay for parking there, but it’s not that expensive, and the parking fee has the advantage of serving to keep the numbers of visitors down, so while we didn’t have the beach to ourselves there was a lot of room to run around and play.
Poplar Beach is long and sandy, and the sand is good for making sandcastles too, so both little monkeys set to the task of sand construction with their sand toys…
It wasn’t long before the lure of the waves became more interesting than the sand, and so after a few rounds of wave-tag, I had two rather wet little monkeys.
After a change and a short drive down the coast-hugging Highway 1, we stopped at Pescadero State Beach. This beach has a nice mix of rock-pools and sand, and has some nice sheltered rocky coves for when the wind is blowing. In the summer this beach can get very fog-bound and cold, but on this mid-winter day it was warm and sunny, so in their swim costumes the little monkeys took to the beach for round two of some beach fun.
Both having been unexpectedly soaked in the waves at Poplar Beach, neither of them was interested in the water, so instead they made more sand castles, and also explored (climbed over) some of the rocky terrain.
The day was getting long, and so after a couple of hours here we bundled back into the car for a little drive further down the coast to Pigeon Point Lighthouse where we stretched our legs and explored the area around the lighthouse. We even saw a couple of spouts from migrating whales out in the Pacific Ocean.
It was here we found the telephone box. One of the things about California’s Highway 1 is that a lot of it’s run has no cellphone coverage because of the surrounding terrain and the remoteness… so at various stops along the route you can find working phone boxes. Watching the two monkeys explore the booth made me think that their generation will likely be the last one that really knows what a ‘traditional’ phone looks like. These curiosities will likely disappear for good, resigned to history like the VCR, cassette tape, and other pieces of tech that we have left behind in our never ending drive to improve the devices we live with.
Anyway… after exploring the lighthouse we headed for home, but first a stop for some food, and for that we stopped at Cameron’s Inn Pub and Restaurant in Half Moon Bay. This California-ized British Pub is the perfect place to stop and enjoy a drink and some food, while immersing yourself in all of the best parts of a British Pub. It’s kid-friendly too, which with a 2 and 4 year old pair in tow was a blessing! After a lovely meal (they do some wonderful English food, which for an ex-pat like me is a real treat), we explored an old London double-decker bus before getting in our car for the hour long drive home.
Accompanied by music from Disney’s Frozen, played from the internet on my smartphone, through the speakers of my car, we sat in the expected queues leaving Half Moon Bay along route 92, and got home just as both little monkeys were ready for bed… after a quick bath to wash off the sea water and sand that had accumulated through the day, both were in bed and snoring within minutes – the sure sign of a fun day with Granddad.
We tend to fill our lives with “busy stuff” just to keep ourselves occupied. I am as guilty of that as the next person, but every now and again I force myself to get away from all that “stuff” so I can make time to enjoy the wonderful things around me.
On one such escape I found myself at the beach by Pigeon Point Lighthouse, a few miles south of Pescadero on California’s Highway 1. On this unusually warm sunny winter’s day I left my car at the side of the road and started walking along the trails that weave through the vegetation. Sprinkled along the trails are benches such as this one where you can sit and enjoy the scenery.
The view from the bench is perfect for reflecting on what is important – the ocean, the rocks, the beach, the wildlife, and the lighthouse – all metaphors for how we should all be living our lives. I could have sat there for hours enjoying the view, but then I would be missing out on much more beauty that the Pacific coastline has to offer.
As much as anything else, this little excursion taught me that I need to do this more often. Rather than just doing “busy stuff” I need to get out more and enjoy the beauty that this wonderful planet we all call home has to offer.