I've been fortunate in the last few years to meet some really fine photographers like Lori Carey, Joe Smith, Tracy Schultze and Rachel Cohen (among others). Something that most of these photographers participate in is a year end list of their "favorite (or best) photos". We submit them to a well known and well regarded Bay Area photographer, Jim Goldstein, for his annual "Blog Project- Your Best Photos"annually. So this is my list.
I had the good fortune to maintain my regular routine of monthly travel (except October because of the Dodgers - dem bums). I started off the year with two trips to Red Rock Canyon in the Mojave, visited Dodger Spring Training and Homolovi State Park in Arizona, took two trips to the Central Coast, went to Utah and the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, went to each California League stadium, Petco Park, San Francisco (AT&T Park) and environs with Lupe, and took a fabulous Four Corners trip, which included Mesa Verde, the Black Canyon of the Gunnison, Hovenweep National Monument and a quick jaunt to Joshua Tree to see my buddy, PJ Finn. Whew! Who said retirement was boring?! I made about 8000 images this year and 7,990 were pretty bad. Well, not really, but these photos represent my personal favorites.
The first photo (above) was taken in the fading light of a September afternoon at the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park from the south rim near Chasm View. To me, it seems to capture the "up close but oh so deep and mysterious" look of this magnificent canyon.
The next two favorites are also canyon photos and both from Imperial Point on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon at opposite ends of the day. The first was taken while walking around with my amiga, Liz Kylin, in the late afternoon and a few days later I got up early to catch the sun as it just started to hit the point. You'll get a sense of how fascinating the light of the canyon can be from these two very different photos near the same vantage point (taken with the same camera).
Let's move from canyon country to the coast. My number 4 favorite is a photo of Morro Rock - a place I return to year after year (since the 1980's). I finally took a photo I liked of it.
Next is a Mojave Desert photo taken after a steady 24 hour rain and the clouds were still lingering and creeping over the ridges into the valley below.
The next photo is a long exposure of the pier, at sundown, in my beloved Gaviota State Beach. I'm not a fan of the ugly yellow boat hoist at the end of the pier - but, hey, that's Gaviota.
My amigo Joe Smith has really encouraged me to use more black and white and the last 4 are in that medium. The first is of Pacific Coast Highway north of Malibu on a late summer afternoon.
The next photo is of Round Tower in Hovenweep National Monument. This structure was probably built between 1150 AD and 1350 AD by Ancient Puebloans.
This photo of iconic Spider Rock at sunset is probably my favorite of the year. Yes, I know its been photographed thousands and thousands of times but I like the simplicity and shadow of this black and white.
Lastly, you wouldn't really expect the old Southwest Dude not to have a railroad track photo, right? Right. My last is from a favorite spot near Cantil, CA.
Since it is the end of the year I want to express my gratitude to each of you who follow my blog and vicariously travel the roads of the West with me. I hope you get some sense of how much I enjoy sharing my "traveling life" with you and I hope you know how great it is to have you along.
I'd like to also give a shout out to my pals and fellow inspirational photographers, PJ Finn, Craig Pindell, Scott Hays, Don Wendell, author extraordinaire, Chris LaTray and fellow travelin' fool, Scott Jones. I'm fortunate to have you dudes in my life (even if most of it is online).
Lastly, I also want to acknowledge the greatest blessings of my life which are my three children, my two daughters in law and my sensational wife. I don't know how they put up with me - but they do and I'm so damn lucky.
My best to all - let's have a brilliant 2019.
I loaded up the Casita and headed for the Mojave Preserve on Monday, December 7. A few months back I heard that the Mitchell Caverns had re-opened for visitors after being off limits for seven years. The Mitchell Caverns are part of the Providence Mountains California State Park which lies in the Mojave National Preserve in the Mojave Desert. I made reservations to visit the Caverns on Friday, December 7. My camping buddy and soul brother Marty joined me on Wednesday but we didn't anticipate how cold and rainy and windy it would be. The first day I arrived it was cold and pretty but a change was in the air. I have a favorite boondocking spot (or 3) out there but, since the forecast was for heavy rain, I opted to stay at good old Hole in the Wall campground. It is, without question, one of my favorite spots in the West.
On Tuesday, I drove down to old Route 66 and Amboy Crater.
Every year, in the summer, a few people seem to die near Amboy. It boggles the mind as the crater is close to the parking area and it seems impossible to get lost. While wandering around the volcanic piles I found a makeshift memorial to an Orange County couple who were found dead there in 2017. It's heartbreaking - even more so when you see how close they were to getting back to their car.
Here are some black and whites from the first couple of days.
I woke up on Wednesday morning to flash flood warnings on my telephone. I did as much as I could to prepare for the coming storm. I went for a walk and enjoyed the pre-storm calm.
Marty arrived and we enjoyed a fun evening hanging out, having great conversation, listening to music and watching a biography of the great Jack London on my iPad. The next day we went for a short hike and the rain started. We went back to the trailer and hunkered down. At one point, we looked outside and realized that we were the only people left in the campground. It was slightly unnerving as we both kept getting iPhone warnings about impending weather doom. Turns out that it did rain - steadily for several hours. However, it was never a truly "hard rain" and there was no flash flooding.
The day after it rains anywhere is usually wonderful but, in the desert, it is extraordinary. The smell of the creosote bushes permeates the air and the sun feels brand new. Marty and I got up early and went to the Mitchell Caverns which were terrific and highly recommended. For me, however, the landscape views that day were unforgettable.
Here are some photos from the Mitchell Caverns. The first photo is actually a mine - not a cave - on the walk to the Caverns. The second photo is the entrance to the Caverns...(on the right- the entrance on the left suffered a cave-in many years ago).
The short drive back to the campground after our cavern tour was spectacular.
A private ranch, Blair Ranch, still operates out there in the high Mojave. This is a view of the ranch from the Providence Mountains Visitor Center.
The next day Marty left around noon and I spent the afternoon lazing in the sun and reading. Sometimes, it's not the hikes or the sights or the drives - it's these moments I enjoy the most from my life on the road. Book in hand, cold cup of water, and sun in my face in the expansive and quiet desert. Yes.
The next day, my last in the Preserve, I decided I'd try and see Goffs Schoolhouse. I've tried a few times before and it was always closed. I drove until I got reception on my cell phone, called, and they said, "come on by!". I ended up spending much more time than I anticipated. The day was warm and the managers, Gus and Stella, were hospitable and helpful and kind. After seeing their work I ended up joining the MDCHA (Mojave Desert Heritage and Cultural Association). Goffs is an even more fascinating place than I'd anticipated. Not only the schoolhouse but the dozens of exhibits outside encouraged me to stay and wander for as few hours. Here are some photos I made of the place.
Lastly, you probably know I have "a thing" for two lane highways, trains and telephone poles. To, me, they visually represent the hopes and dreams of the West that I have romanticized since my youth. I did get a nice photo that gets two out of the three.
The Preserve is about a 4 hour drive for me and I'm already planning my next trip. Thank you for coming along!
Craziness and Cowardice in the Desert
Recently I read a story, in High Country News, about a campground in Colorado that was overrun by gun "enthusiasts". It sounded pretty bad and reminded me of a trip I took to Mojave a year or so ago.
I was camped in the site you see above at Hole-in-the-Wall campground. It was quiet and calm and fairly private. One late afternoon, while entering the trailer, I grabbed a small exterior handle to hoist myself inside and didn't see that a bee had decided to latch on to the back of handle. I felt a burning sensation and then - DAMMIT! I'd been stung. I saw the poor dying bee, sticking to the side of my hand, but felt little sympathy for the SOB. I went to the first aid kit and got the tweezers, pulled the stinger out of the side of my hand but it immediately started swelling. I took three aspirin, ate a pain filled dinner and iced up my hand.
At about 8:30 that night I decided I'd better turn in but, wimp that I am, my hand was hurting and continuing to swell and I couldn't fall asleep. I read and listened to the radio and finally, I'm guessing around 11:00 fell asleep.
At around midnight I awoke to a light, bright as day, shining in my trailer. I then heard the gunning of engines and went to open the door and my campsite was bathed in light from some jerk's spotlight that he had mounted on his Jeep. I was pissed. I decided to get dressed and have a word with my new neighbor. As I was getting my pants on I heard several more vehicles drive around the campground and started to get a little nervous. Still, I was mad and with adrenaline kicking in decided to confront these morons.
Charging out of my trailer I heard the "Pop-pop-pop" of gunfire. I stopped. Directly across from my campsite there were four or five men armed with rifles and shooting at something in the vast darkness.
OK - new plan.
I high-tailed it back to the trailer and locked the door (which I never do) and looked for my bear spray and machete. Yeah, that's me...I bring bear spray and jungle clearing implements to a gunfight.
The gunfire, now sporadic and accompanied by loud, drunken shouting continued for probably 20 minutes. I decided, at that very instant, to become a pacifist and not confront these "people". I tried to go back to sleep and the throbbing in my hand really kicked in (from the adrenaline kick I'd guess). I had the persistent thought that I might have to go to the emergency room, an hour away in Needles, if the swelling continued. After awhile the gunfire stopped completely although my campsite was still lit up like Fifth Avenue and 45th street. Around 3:30 or 4:00 AM, I eventually fell asleep.
I woke up the next morning to the racing of engines and more loud voices. I looked out the window and there were probably 6 or 7 Jeeps and maybe a dozen guys packing them up. I made coffee, fretted a bit about my hand, and stepped out into the sunlight. I heard these guys talking and discussing their plans for the day. They were talking about a route on the old Mojave Road. As they got ready to leave one guy, with a minor conscience, I suppose, walked over and said, "I'd tell ya I was sorry about the noise last night but we're all retired cops and we don't apologize- hahaha". I didn't say a word. I did give him a bad ass glare, however.
They were gone within 30 minutes. I jumped into my truck and drove to the nearest Ranger Station to report these community pillars.
It was closed and locked.
My hand got better.
After being away from the desert for several months I almost couldn't bear it anymore. I planned a trip to Mojave but the idiots in Washington DC were threatening another government shutdown which would essentially shut down the Mojave Preserve.
After kvetching about this online my friend and Desert Expert Extraordinaire, Lori Carey said, "just get up to Red Rock Canyon". So, I did. The above photo shows the spot that I was able to secure for several days of desert bliss. Red Rock Canyon is only two hours north of Los Angeles but it certainly seems as if you're in another state, or another planet. It is about 80 miles from Bakersfield and 25 miles from the town of Mojave. The State Park link is here.
There is not a lot of civilization nearby this piece of unusual rock formation. As a result, it's uncrowded and provides solitude despite its proximity to Los Angeles. Many old Westerns have used this as a filming locale and it does have it's own unique charm. One day I jumped in the truck and decided to check out the local towns. The highway and the railroad tracks were lonesome on a late autumn afternoon. Just the way I like them. Have you ever felt "in your element" too? I
The weather was terrific. Highs during the day reached the upper 60s. It did get chilly at night but I was nestled in my little home away from home.
There are multiple hiking trails in the area. A highlight of the trip is the short Hagen Canyon Loop Trail. It's only a little over a mile but every bend leads off to another scenic spot which will tempt you into exploring. I spent an entire afternoon out there walking, wandering, resting, and making photographs. The geology is quite spectacular and there are some species of wildflowers that are only found here. It feels unique because it is...certainly no other place like it in California. At times, I found myself marveling at how much it looked like southern Utah.
My annual Death Valley Trip has been altered due to the Mesquite Spring Campground being closed from storm damage and I'm meeting my dear Bay Area family right back here in February. It certainly has on "Old West" feel. On the next trip I'll spend more time in the nearby El Paso Mountains and the Trona Pinnacles are just an hour away.
Thanks for joining me on this little Western getaway. We'll be back soon.
Most Americans are familiar with the great WWII general, George Patton. Certainly any student of that war can probably tell you, chapter and verse, of his exploits. There is no question he is one of the most colorful characters in American history.
My father's second cousin was General Omar Bradley, the "Soldier's General" and so we always felt that Bradley was the superior general on moral grounds alone but there is no question that Patton was a "genius for war". His daring leadership, especially of the 3rd Army as they roared through France and Germany, is legendary. He also possessed tremendous foresight and predicted that mechanized warfare would be decisive in the next major war after his service in WWI. He was, of course, right as his German counterpart, Erwin Rommel, the Desert Fox, would emphatically demonstrate at the outbreak of WWII in North Africa as well as the German onslaught of the European low countries. There is much to say about old George and if you're interested in reading more about him I recommend, "Patton: A Genius for War" by Carlo D'Este and "War As I Knew It" by Patton himself.
Patton grew up in San Gabriel and knew the Mojave Desert. The following is from the Wikipedia page about the Desert Training Center:
Major General George S. Patton Jr. came to Camp Young as the first commanding general of the DTC. As a native of southern California, Patton knew the area well from his youth and from having participated in army maneuvers in the Mojave Desert in the 1930s. His first orders were to select other areas within the desert that would be suitable for the large-scale maneuvers necessary to prepare American soldiers for combat against the German Afrika Korps in the North African desert.
As a WWII history aficionado I had known of the training ground and visited Camp Young and the Patton Museum near Chiriaco Summit in the desert but hadn't gone to any of the other "camps". Fortunately for me, the wonderful people at the Mojave Desert Land Trust sponsored a tour to two of the Desert Training Center Camps, Camp Iron Mountain and Camp Granite. We were met by a terrific BLM archaeologist who knew the area and its history quite well. This was the first spot we went to near Camp Iron Mountain. I was told by military personnel that this was probably an "OP" or observation post. Perhaps old Patton himself climbed the hill and looked over his troops from this vantage point?
The next spot we stopped was at Camp Iron Mountain at the foot of the Iron Mountains. I was fascinated by the remnants of the camp from, lo, those many years ago which included a spot for religious services. In particular the line wire and other debris left by our troops as they prepared to fight overseas and, for some, to experience an early death in sacrifice for not just our American freedom but for the freedom of the world.
A couple of desert creatures also caught my eye. I could write more about the gentle tarantula (the only spider I like!) but I'll save that for another post. Here is a big boy out looking for love and a well camouflaged lizard.
We ate a small and delicious lunch and visited our last stop at Granite Camp where the Desert Shrine was still beautifully intact. Apparently, the troops had to go miles to find the proper rock for the construction of these sanctuaries.
It was a beautiful desert day. The weather was perfect and a few clouds rolled in at the end of the day. I couldn't help but pull myself away for some landscape photos. The first is a panorama and then I made some black and whites that I hope you'll enjoy as they seem to capture some essence of the Mojave to me.
I also made some good old color photos too. In reviewing these photos I was reminded how easy it is to breathe and why I receive such solace in wide open spaces.
I had a wonderful time on this one day trip but it made me hunger for a longer stay. Next trip will be to the Mojave Preserve at the beginning of December. Thanks for coming along.
This will mostly be a journal of my travels. I may include other items that interest me. Feel free to join in.