Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Part Two- the Oregon Coast

Part Two of our May adventure began when we arrived at Fort Stevens near the mouth of the Columbia River.  I will say more about our beautiful camping van later, but it was completely fitted for two travelers- queen bed, stove, oven, bathroom, fridge and generator. It was easy to drive. Once in our camping space, we immediately went to the beach to see the famous wreck of the Peter Iredale.  It was a sunny day and crowded.  Pam got this nice photo while I struggled on the opposite side with a ton of people - some digging in the sand, etc.

We saw a fog bank building to the south and rolling towards us. Within fifteen minutes, it captured the beach, and beach goers began heading to their cars as the air cooled. I had a completely different view of the Peter Iredale.  Pam sure got the better image.

The next morning, we were awake early and eagerly heading south to our first stop at Ecola State Park for the classic view of the seastacks at Cannon Beach.

The beaches in Oregon are public property, and access is frequently offered.

Our next stop was on the opposite side of the sea stacks seen above. Easy parking was offered, and we explored the beach looking toward Ecola.  This young lady was exercising her two dogs by throwing a rubber toy into the surf.  They would retrieve it, and tease her until they wanted her to throw it again.

We continued south with stops to see additional ocean views. At Yaquina Bay, the state park offered a view of the iconic bridge over the river.

The park at Yaquina also had a lighthouse marking the entrance to the bay and easy parking for our beautiful Mercedes van.

It had two captains seats in front. A slide out for the bed was located behind the driver's seat. Behind the slide out were storage cabinets on the driver side and a kitchen on the passenger side. To the rear were shower, toilet and wash basin.  The Mercedes was powered by a husky diesel that handled the mountains smoothly.  The vehicle width was a normal van width, which made it easy maneuver.  We loved it.

One of the highlights of the coast was the Devil's Churn at Cape Perpetua.  At high tide, ocean swells roll in to a narrow fissure in the lava rocks that resemble a funnel.  The waves dance and swirl in patterns that are never repeated.

Continuing south, the coastal highway tracks inland before returning to Sunset Bay. As we left our camp we paused at an ocean view that was best presented in monochromatic tones.  Our time there was  limited, but I have to project what this would be with a good storm rolling swells onto the shore.

On May 16, the rhododendrons were reaching peak bloom, and our good fortune was to arrive at nearby Shore Acres State Park to enjoy a wonderful formal garden rich in colors. This is the gardener's cottage.

We found explosions of color.

 There were intimate settings with subtle rhody colors ....

and this garden pavilion, that surely was the scene of many social events.

We reluctantly left Shore Acres and continued on our southerly journey.  Nearby we found the Coquiles River Lighthouse.  Wish the lighting had been better.

Our adventure continued as we followed Seven Devil's Road to find the Face Rock Overlook.  Did not recognize any "face" in the sea stacks, but no matter. The beach surely provides a nice stroll. 

Oregon seems to have a fascination with "Devil". They have Devil's Churn, Devil's Washtub, Devil's Elbow, Seven Devils Road and maybe more.  Our own interest was wider, to include the rugged coast, lighthouses, sea stacks and abundant flora.  Shore Acres was arguably the high point of it all.

On the next leg of our trip we worked in coastal Redwoods and Crater Lake.

Paul  Schmitt

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Part One- Riding the Empire Builder to Oregon

For several years, our bucket list of travel has included a cross-country rail trip. We were attracted to the view at ground level of the western landscape, the uncrowded and unhurried pace of travel and the ability to move around the train. Prior trips on the AMTRAK Autotrain to Florida always introduced us to interesting people in the dining car.  We were not disappointed with our three week trip this May.  The AMTRAK crews were always helpful, and we saw some beautiful country not seen from the interstate.

Our route began on a regional train from my brother's home in Kalamazoo to Chicago Union Station.  After lunch in the busy station and a short wait in the lounge, we were aboard the Empire Builder heading to Portland, Oregon for a two day journey.  Our sleeper car was a comfortable private lounge as we rolled through Wisconsin and then Minnesota. Before midnight we were in St. Paul and ready for some sleep.

It turned out that the rear of train was a good place to photograph, and early on the second day the view was of a brilliant sunrise.

As we rolled across on day two in North Dakota, we discovered that the train is a preferred way to travel to the small towns along the northern stretch of high plains.  At each stop, there were cars with family awaiting a returning traveler.

These stops were also fresh air breaks where you could step out and walk about for five or ten minutes. The train does allow the traveler to move about more freely than aircraft, and actually meet fellow travelers, but it is nice to walk without the ground moving underneath.

By the end of the second day, many of the coach seats were empty - indicating how many passengers were finding the train preferable to other routes to northern parts of the Dakotas.

There is no smoking on any AMTRAK train, so the short stops were announced by the conductor with the amount of time available for a smoke break. Breaking that rule would result in being put off at the next stop, which could be remote.

As we rolled across the plains, it struck me that often the highest point in many counties was atop the grain elevator along the rail line.  The idea of winter in North Dakota also was apparent.

Imagine a blizzard of driving snow against this solitary farm house on the rolling prairie.  Whew!

Each day on the rails offered four places to occupy - our sleeping compartment, the dining car, the fresh air platform at longer stops and the observation car.  The dining car introduced us to interesting people such as the father and daughter from England who later joined Pam in the  observation car.  If you wanted a short nap, our compartment was perfect.  Sometimes the view from the compartment was preferred. The platform at a stop was good for a chat with a conductor.  All in all, all four were good.

During the second night, the Empire Builder was split into one section going to Seattle and ours going to Portland.  We slept so well that we did not feel the cars being uncoupled.  When we awoke, the train was smoothly rolling along the upper Columbia River.

We enjoyed a nice boxed breakfast in the observation car.  (The dining car had gone to Seattle, but that was fine.) The view of the Columbia was beautiful.  And, even better, we were close to being on time.

Arriving in Vancouver, Washington, the train then backed across the Columbia River rail bridge and into the Portland station.

It was a quiet Sunday morning in Portland, and the weather was perfect. Our Uber driver was there almost immediately to swiftly take us to the next part of our adventure.  In a little over an hour we were settled in a camper van and ready to explore the Oregon coast for six days. 

Sunday, April 22, 2018

Photographing Now

It's been difficult to photograph here in the Finger Lakes of New York with a late winter, and a "no show" spring until today.  I have been concentrating on what might be called intimate landscapes and bird behaviors.

Here are some recent images that brought joy to my outings.

I love Wood Ducks.  This drake is flaring his wings to display to the nearby hen duck.  A gust of wind lifted his crest, making my trip out on a very cold morning very worthwhile.

A day later I again fought the cold hoping for another close encounter with the same pair of ducks.  The pond had a thin glaze of ice and they never appeared, but a flock of Golden-crowned Kinglets descended from the hemlock trees to capture small insects locked in the thin ice.  This colorful fellow perched only twenty feet from me.

Once home and examining my photos closely, I realized I had one image of the tiny bird with a midge in its beak. Wow!

A few weeks ago, I lured a friend to make a rugged hike into two remote waterfalls just an hour south in Pennsylvania, on the west side of the Pine Creek Gorge.  The first stop was Jerry Run where the major drop was too dangerous to enter. We settled for a beautiful little drop with moss lined banks that had coat of ice.

We continued to our ultimate goal at Bohen Run.

On a frigid morning in March, I chanced upon an early season fisherman at Ithaca Falls.  I do not understand how he could cast with bare hands. It was really cold, plus windy.

But, my focus was again on the intimate landscape, and this scene was more fulfilling to me.

In addition, I have done some revisions to my website that include a new gallery of exhibition quality images, a gallery of recent images, and the addition of Death Valley images in the Travel folder. There are some striking landscapes in the Death Valley gallery.  You can see these at:  All of the images are available directly from SmugMug as display prints and also as nice mouse pads.

Thanks for your interest.

Paul Schmitt

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Death Valley has its Downs and Ups

Before this trip, I only met one person who did not say something like "Why would you go there?" I understand the name and its having recorded 134 °F on a particular July day in 1913.  Hey, that was a long time ago! Anyway, I went in late February for temps between 33 to 60 °F. Stick with me, and you may be convinced to put it on your travel list.

Arriving by air in Las Vegas, I ran a gauntlet of slot machines right at the disembarking gates.  Actually, I think they are there to grab the last dollars from departing visitors. My time in Vegas was only as long as it took to claim my rental SUV, and begin the two hour drive to Furnace Creek. It was an easy road with only one town of any size along its length. I even saw light ephemeral snow as I cleared Mountain Springs Pass.  I was looking forward to a three-day program offered by Canon, featuring the professional photographer, Erin Babnik. She was inspirational.

Furnace Creek is an oasis near the Badwater Basin. It has a park visitor center, campgrounds, lodging in both the upscale Furnace Creek Inn and the adequate Furnace Creek Ranch, and a sparse general store. The visitor center was well- staffed and offered excellent guidance in selecting an itinerary suitable for one's interest and abilities.

Death Valley is a large national park with few of the services we take for granted.  Topmost among those is a gasoline pump.  Prepare yourself for sticker shock. It was $4.24/gallon at Furnace Creek, compared to $2.63/gal at Beatty outside the park.  Ouch!  The concessionaire has you with no alternatives.

The iconic view for a first time visit is Zabriskie Point just outside Furnace Creek on the road to Vegas.  Be there well before sunrise to catch the soft, warm light on Manly Beacon seen in the right foreground. The best morning has some broken clouds to the east to prolong the good light.

You will not be alone either at the paved overlook, nor on the lower viewpoint seen below.  There is another option requiring an earlier start.  The trail to Golden Canyon from Zabriskie Point offers some lower view points that place Manly Beacon higher, relative to the distant blue sky.  (That is on my list should I be fortunate to return another year.)

The beautiful textures and colors are one notable aspect of Death Valley to me.  Looking ninety degrees away from Manly Beacon, the park offers some rich features.  As I explored one area, the ravines suggested a sweet confection that blended dark, milk and white chocolates.

Off a little more to the left it suggested some other sort of a dessert.  Perhaps I suffered from too little breakfast at 5:00 am that day?

On the first afternoon, I went to Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes which is about ten miles north of Furnace Creek.  Getting to the east side of the sand dunes calls for a mile hike, beginning on crusty alkali flats and ending on shifting mounds of sand. It is an arduous hike, seeming to require one and a half miles of effort to return to the highway.  The view of the dunes was worth the effort..

An hour before sunset, the nearby dunes already captured beautiful shadows that defined the wind swept features.  I believe I could return here over many years and always find something inspiring.

As the sun dropped behind the distant Panamint Mountains, the highest dunes took on a form reminding me of some silky cloth.

As you can surmise, most of the great images are offered early and late in the day.  The next morning began at the Badwater Basin which is the lowest point in North America.  It is 282 feet below sea level.  The basin stretches for miles before rising to Telescope Peak some twenty miles distant.

On rare occasions, heavy rains flood the basin and, as it slowly dries, the salty water forms into plates. This photo is special to me.  Canon loaned me a $2000 tilt-shift architectural lens that had the ability to capture a focused image from 3 feet to infinity. I can only dream of owning such a lens.

Other parts of the Badwater Basin have interesting features that come from flash floods. As the wall of water exits a canyon, the entrained debris quickly settles out, beginning with the largest boulders and ending far out on the plain, where it forms a mud playa. Like the image above, it slowly dries into fascinating mud tiles. In the afternoon, we explored the many shapes offered. 

Much of our third day was devoted to post-processing images, but that evening we visited what appeared to be somewhat in between salt and mud playa.

With the Canon program concluded, I chose to stay in Death Valley another day and a half.  A retired park ranger offered some advice for my first free day that begin at 5:00 am driving to Beatty, Nevada.  It was 51°F in Furnace Creek (elevation -190 ft.) and 33°F at Beatty (elevation 3300 ft.).  Beatty offered several benefits at 6:00 am - gas for $2.63/gallon, hot coffee and a sandwich shop for my midday break.  The ranger insisted I begin with a full tank. Smart.

My first stop was the abandoned mining town of Rhyolite (1904-16). I explored it close to sunrise. It was actually a rather large town, and had an electric power station and a railroad spur. But the gold played out quickly.

What is left are remnants of a boom town.  A caboose and water tank remain near the fenced railroad station.

A one-room house sits alone framing the distant mine office building.

Only a few walls of the mine office have survived.

An overstuffed chair remains some hundred years after the mine closed.

I reluctantly left Rhyolite with the knowledge that my plan to drive the length of Titus Canyon Road would take 3-1/2 hours plus any time to stop for photographs.  Ranger Bob have planned out a full day for me, as you will see.

The first twelve miles were over sagebrush flats on a rough road holding my Jeep Compass to about 10 mph. It steadily gained elevation up to Red Pass at around 5700 ft.  By the way, the road is one way, as in single track and very unfriendly to long vehicles.

Then it got interesting.  I had on my list photos of mines and geology. I found my first mine opening just before the boom town of Leadville.  It's not exactly exciting, but finding one that was accessible, and not barricaded, was satisfying for me.

Leadville was the product of the Roaring 20's and did not survive very long. 

A few mines are seen high up on the mountain slopes, and otherwise a few buildings remain. Someone probably lived in this ramshackle hut.

Further down the road was the remains of a car, maybe a Model A Ford?

Farther along was one of rare year-round springs in what are called the Grapevine Mountains.  A few birds were there, and reportedly mountain sheep come for water every three days.  It must have a long human history as revealed by petroglyphs on a huge rock wall.

From Red Pass, the road generally lost elevation save a climb over a minor  pass into Leadville.  Leaving the ghost town, the road entered a canyon, often becoming quite narrow.

 Along these canyon walls, I found patterns which suggest hard rock intruded into softer layers to create interesting patterns. It suggested to me a sperm whale with its mouth open. 

I also liked this pattern.

I soon exited the canyon and had one more destination,  Ubehebe Crater.  About 2000 years ago, rising magma reached ground water and a massive explosion resulted, leaving an 800 feet deep crater. You can hike to the bottom on a rather steep trail of fine pebbles.

At this point in a long day, I passed on the experience offered.

Once back in Furnace Creek, I explored the remnants of the borax mining industry including the famous Twenty Mule Team wagons and the other relics displayed. (Sorry, they are all out of mules now.)  It appears that the dry climate - 9% in February - contributes to relics of the past not decaying.

The wheelwright's skills are remarkable as seen in the little museum at Furnace Creek.

Water barrel on borax wagon
Brakes on borax wagon

On my final morning, I took the time to slowly explore Twenty Mule Team Canyon just past Zabriskie Point. As I found earlier, the geology of Death Valley creates beautifully varied colors and patterns.  There must been some sulfate deposits up on the top where the turquoise color is seen.

This was my last image of the trip.  Surely these images explain the attraction of Death Valley. Just don't go in the summer.

Hope you enjoy the story.

Paul Schmitt