I love the Pacific Northwest. The rain leaves it green all year and being a Californian and an Angelino, green all year is a treat. I recently found myself with some extra time on my hands and a camera in my hands so I asked a friend for a place I could burn a couple of hours near Gresham, Oregon. Oxbow Bend Regional Park was her quick reply.
All that green comes at a cost, the cost being cloudy skies and rain. Cloud cover has one advantage: eliminating the extremes of bright sunny skies and dark shadowy forest floors. Cloudy skies are like a huge soft box over the forest making even, consistent light. On the other hand, those streaks of light and the direction of light helps separate subjects from each other and create depth of field. Taking a page from my portrait experience, I chose to make separation using depth of field. My “nifty fifty” lens opens to a wide f 1.8 and makes amazing bokeh.
Even though I live near the coastal redwoods, the moss that grows on the trees in Oregon and Washington is like magic to me. This time of year it creates a green hue throughout the forest.
Opportunity is everywhere in the forest whether looking for a calm and peaceful morning or scouting for bald eagles and ospreys.
No bald eagles or ospreys were spotted this trip. I look forward to the next chance to visit Oxbow Regional Park (even though it is over 600 miles away.)
The last post about Rosie the Riveter started me thinking about other monuments in San Jose. The city, founded by Spain to feed the missions around San Francisco bay-Santa Clara, San Francisco de Assis, and San Jose (located in Fremont, CA), predates the founding of the United States. It has housed citizens from Spain, Mexico, and the United States. Of the three nations that have owned California the one with the shortest claim is Mexico. Newly independent Mexico took possession in 1824 and renamed it Alta California to designate it from lower or Baja California. The Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848 saw the transfer of Alta California to the United States along with much of the Southwest. The land changed hands, but the residents just got a new flag and constitution. They were the same as when California was owned by Mexico. This brief time period is the background for the statue of Captain Thomas Fallon on the west entrance to downtown.
At a cost of $900,000, one would be excused for thinking some sort of community approval process would have been in place in 1990 before it came time to place the statue of American Captain Thomas Fallon holding a Bear flag and poised to hoist it up a flagpole, in the 1846. The placement of the statue was far from being a celebration of the city. To the Mexican American community, it represented oppression of Mexicans and the US annexation of California just two months after the declaration of war against Mexico, according to www.theclio.com/entry/41221
Captain Fallon had a varied life. The Bear Flag he is holding in the statue came from John C. Fremont whom he had joined on the third expedition into California. The Bear Flag revolt didn’t hold, and California joined the union at the close of the Mexican American War with the infamous Compromise of 1850. He spent some time in Santa Cruz where he married a Californio girl from Santa Cruz in 1849. He also spent some time in the gold fields, and later returned to San Jose where his famous Fallon house still sits across from San Pedro Square in downtown San Jose. He was also the tenth mayor of San Jose. All in all, Fallon would seem to be a person for whom a statue might be appropriate.
The city arrived at a compromise to put Thomas and his companion on the pedestal. According to the plaque affixed to the statue, three other public statues were placed around the city. One of those is a serpent at the entrance to Plaza de Cesar Chavez. Every summer for the San Jose Jazz Festival and every December for Christmas in the Park, tens of thousands of San Joseans and others are greeted by the serpent at the head of the park.
What do you think? Is it better to bury the statue in some warehouse next to the Indiana Jones’ Ark of the Covenant or to leave it and tell his story and the story of its placement? Do you think local schools should use the statue to teach local history? If so, what grade? State history is taught around the country in 4th grade. Is this too soon? Should we wait for high school? While these questions sound like they are tailored for San Jose the statues in your city have stories to tell also. When should they be told and explored?
This past spring and summer there was a lot of public discussion about monuments. What should communities choose to honor from the past and whom should we choose to represent the ideals of our country? Should we honor one of the greatest presidents in our history in a sculpture that can be interpreted as both freeing slaves and keeping them in submission? What about a great general who decided, when offered the position as head of the US Army, to join an insurrection intended to end the US in his region instead? In spite of the current controversy, monuments play an important role in telling the story of our past and signaling what it means to be citizen.
San Jose has several monuments around town, as is befitting for a city of one million people. In St. James park there are memorials to President McKinley and Robert Kennedy. Only one of them is a statue of a person. In the History Park we have a newish statue of Rosie the Rivetter. The real Rosie doesn’t originate in San Jose but a little north along the San Francisco bay in the city of Richmond. She is based on the World War II poster of Rosie. The purpose of the poster was to encourage women to take jobs formerly held by the men who were fighting in Europe and Asia against the Axis powers. Women were called upon to support the war effort by actively participating in what President Roosevelt called the “arsenal of democracy” to defeat the enemies of the United States and democracy around the globe. “Rosies” were in every industrial town throughout America. Without their work making steel, assembling aircraft and ships, making artillery and artillery shells, and everything else needed in the war effort victory would have been elusive.
Rosie in the History Park is positioned in front of a gazebo that could be in Anywhere, USA in the war era. She stands behind the tracks for an electric trolly that took workers to industry and shipyards across American in a time when rationed gas made taking public transportation a no-brainer. (The History Park as working single pole trolly cars too!) Our Rosie tells multiple stories.
First, Rosie is a tribute to the women who worked in the war effort. Mimicking the famous war poster, she has her hair behind a red bandana, is wearing blue collar working overalls and heavy boots, and is flexing that left bicep to remind us she is doing “real” work, not of the office variety. Rosie is telling another story. This second story is the one of exclusion. Rosie is important because she was not allowed to do this work before the war. Neither were people of color. Rosie’s work is men’s work. Frail women need not apply, and all women were frail. Our Rosie is white, reminding us that before the war men of color were not welcome either. Even though she is silent, she tells us both stories as she flexes in front of the hedge and the innocent gazebo.
My picture of Rosie is in black and white, the film of her day. It seemed right keep her in her own 1940’s context. If you walked by with your phone (oops, I mean camera) your memory would no doubt be color. That’s okay. The real Rosie didn’t walk around in a real black and white world. Her red bandana was as bright in 1942 as it is on the statue.
I like to find natural wonders that can only be photographed for limited times or days during the year. My quest started with Horsetail Falls in Yosemite. It took six years to get a photo and the journey was part of the joy of capturing the unique “fire fall” in February. (I have a post about it from about a year ago down below in the past postings.) This year the challenge was to photograph Keyhole Arch in Big Sur, California. Instead of six years, this was only year two. I’m experimenting with video so I’ve attached a short clip of the day.
Let me know if you like the video option. I’m experimenting and not committed to the format yet.
To a gear head a car show is about horsepower, posi-traction, and a host of other modifications that improve speed and performance for certain cars from specific eras. Things like flatheads, and slicks go with unique vocabulary like “Tri Fives”, posi, and a host of other specific “in the know” terms that both limit understanding from outsiders and are the ticket to the “in crowd”. In some ways, community car shows tend to have the same model and makes of specific cars, the crowd pleasers that guarantee a well-attended show. After all, who doesn’t like looking at large finned 57 Chevy Bel Airs, 55 and 56 T-Birds and 65 Mustangs? There is always a chance to see muscle cars from the late 60’s and early 70’s. What’s not to like?
Back in the day before aerodynamics was everything and designers presented to us smooth sleek bodies without exterior extras, cars were designed as pieces of practical art. I’m sure it is no mistake that the art deco style of the twenties helped influence automotive design. Elegant sweeping fenders, beautiful v-styled hoods, interior lamps and burl wood dash boards added flair to an otherwise pedestrian piece of transportation. A small but obvious part of the car’s art was the ornament at the front of the hood. Hood ornaments were both practical and artistic. In the early days Henry Ford’s Model T hood ornament doubled as a thermometer for the radiator. Mostly, hood ornaments are reflections of an era and part of the marketing and persona of the car.
The design team for this early Ford used their metal and chrome to give the proud owner a flying bird that not only ads an artistic flair, but it also adds to uniqueness of the car. Denoting its speed, Chrysler used the Clipper ship for a while. Here are a couple of variations
In the 1930’s and 40’s fast translated to this Ford Greyhound. What about this hawk from the Chrysler? One of my favorites is the 1940’s version of a bullet train, very Streamline Moderne. The theme of the fifties was the jet age and Chevrolet used the jet and the line behind it to signify speed. This car is beyond fast it’s supersonic.
Industrial art was part of the car business from the beginning. I guess you could say it made cars more than the sum of their parts. Some of those parts were much more than mechanical and served an esoteric personal function. More than mere transportation, this industrial art speaks to another part of the automobile world I had missed all these years.
Do you have a favorite? Maybe something unique to a small brand that has ended up on the trash heap of the auto business. I’d love to hear your preference.
California was on fire. The forests were burning, grassland was burning, the air was barely breathable. Lightening started one of the fires near San Jose while a gender reveal party got out of control due to some pyrotechnics in the dry summer grass in Orange County. Things were bad.
But opportunity knocks in strange ways sometimes. To a camera it just looked like a great big orange filter in front of the lens; perfect for warming up everything in front of it including some fantastic sunsets. For my sunset I wandered to some local percolation ponds set up by the local water agency. In addition to recharging the ground water, these little ponds provide recreational opportunities like fishing, day hiking, and places to take pictures, I took advantage of the orange sky both as a reflection pond and a filter one night when the state was a big inferno this past fall.
Someday I’d like to go on a photo safari, a real safari with big cats and cheetahs. But until then, I look for opportunities in my backyard. You could argue, and I would agree, that I get a chance for safari when I paddle with whales in the Pacific Ocean. I would add I never get tired of photographing whales and the other creatures they swim with. Off the water one of the local treats I have is San Jose’s own zoo. It had a major revision about 10 years ago to be a more school and kid friendly place.
They did a marvelous job with the kid friendly places and expanded a few of the exhibits. One of those enclosures was for the lemurs. A small primate, lemurs share many characteristics with other primates including opposable thumbs and stereoscopic vision. This means that can hold tools, like rocks to bang things open, and have depth perception which allows them to distinguish between things close by and far away. Maybe because of these two capabilities or maybe due to something else, they are a curious lot. Like their larger cousins, homo sapiens, they display curiosity, elation, and frustration. This makes them great subjects for a casual day at the zoo.
The other portrait today is a good ‘ol American Prairie Dog. What makes them fun to photograph is their tendency to be skittish. I suppose on the prairie this is a good thing and helps them live another day but in the enclosure it makes them look hyper-active. Our little guy here looks like he is taking the measure of me instead of the other way around. It was nice of him to pose because I wasn’t going to give him directions which way to turn his head or which foot to put his weight on.
On safari I would have to rent a very expensive and heavy lens to capture the antics of both these animals. In the zoo I can get close without the expense. In fact, I took these photos using a Tamron 70-200mm lens. I own it as a standard piece of equipment for people portraits. It is very sharp, not too heavy, and didn’t break the bank to buy. It is fast enough I shoot it hand-held. The field of view using this lens on my Nikon D200 is the equivalent of 300mm on a 35mm or full frame digital camera when used at maximum length. I was able to shoot these frames at the lowest ISO of 100 which made them clear and clean, thanks in part to the large aperture of 2.8. The aperture also helped me with bokeh, making the background blurry and my subject nice and sharp.
While I want to go on safari, there are plenty of opportunities in my backyard to keep me busy and give me real live practice for some future road trip. I encourage you to not overlook your own backyard. I’m sure there are subjects close by.
It looks like a tropical island; clear water falling over the cliff into the sea, cool, clean, and picturesque. McWay Falls might be one of the most sought-after photos of California’s central coast. Just seeing the iconic photo feels like a vacation or a splash of cold water on a hot day.
The journey to the waterfall begins in Monterey. The storied city by the non-bay has been both a mystery and destination for over 200 years. Vizcaino founded the city in 1770 under the Spanish empire. His description to the king and queen, possibly a little embellished to make him look good, is located at the very unsheltered southern end of Monterey Bay. The Portola Expedition walked past it twice and didn’t find it due to the flowery language Vizcaino used to describe the bay that housed the small presidio and town. Today, it is home to a world famous aquarium, some great seaside dining, and a chance to kayak with sea otters, get close to seals and sea lions, and take a three hour whale watching cruise that will result in viewing at least a couple species of dolphins, humpback whales and perhaps 3 other whale species. If you follow this blog you know I’m a whale paparazzi so I know wherein I speak.
Begin by driving south from Monterey on California’s famous Highway 1. You will go past Carmel and the famous 9-mile drive, and after a while over the world-famous Bixby Bridge, built during the Great Depression. At 260 feet above Bixby Canyon, the arched bridge causes traffic jams all by itself as people from around the world stop to take a picture. Another 45 minutes or so south will take you to Big Sur and Julia Pfeiffer State Park. The short road to McWay falls is just south of the park entrance. If you decide to go, I recommend you take a day and enjoy the beach and the redwood forest at Pfeiffer SP.
There is plenty of day hiking for you and the kids, if you have them, and a small gift shop for the obligatory t-shirt or other memorable trinket to prove you were having a good time. It’s also good insurance if you don’t get the photo. Oops! I slipped back to the film days when you never knew until the roll of film was developed. Today, with your digital camera, you’ll know if you got the shot before you leave the scene. Your challenge will be to get a unique picture that doesn’t’ look like you bought a postcard. You will walk a short way to the overlook photo spot, no drive ups here, and there is no beach access. There is a small incline on the pathway, but it isn’t difficult. The best time of day for a great photo is during the golden hour so have your fun during the day and then arrive about two hours before sunset.
I encourage you to move around and take more than one photo. It is almost inevitable that you will take “the postcard shot”, but there is a pretty good chance that really isn’t the one you want. Bragging rights when you mount that image on your wall on quality poster sized photo or fine art paper, and find the money to mount it into a proper frame to hang on the right wall, demand a shot that is just a little unique. This isn’t the time for a phone photo unless you only want to view it with electricity on a screen. You’ll need the best camera you own to get a wall size printable image.
While you can continue south on Highway 1, the trip to San Simeon and Morro Bay is very long and not highway fast. If you waited until the golden hour for your photo, the drive will be wasted by the darkness. Return to Monterey for the night and blast down CA 101 the next day for a more pleasant trip home, especially if you have kids. One of these is on my wall in a 20”x24” frame. I think CPQ printers outside of Nashville printed it for me. It is matted and framed in a natural wood frame. I never get tired of it.
Do you have a McWay Falls story? I’d love to hear it.
The trees are legendary. Old, big, and red, they only grow here along the coast of California, well the ewoks have them but, being in a different galaxy and time, they’re too far away. Sequoia sempervirens, known as the California coast redwood to all but the naturalists among us, may grow to a height of 367 feet and 22 feet in diameter. They are not only unique for their size, the way they are watered is also unique; they get about 40% of their moisture from the coastal fog, according to the National Park Service. Recently, I had the chance to walk among the redwoods during a visit to the Forest of Nisene Marks State Park in Aptos, California.
Aptos isn’t a large community. Nestled at the edge of the redwoods and only five minutes from the Pacific, it offers some of the best California has to offer. The hike was not difficult, and the temperate climate made the walk through the woods pleasant. With a small creek going through the center of the park and the redwoods soaring above, it was hard to believe we were so close to an urban setting. The views were astounding as the morning sun streamed through the canopy onto the forest floor, illuminating saplings, ferns and the red bark of some of the trees. At the same time, the shadows made some of the up ended roots looks foreboding and, may I say, spooky.
This is a place to walk alone or with a friend and share the day, share life, and be thankful. I hope you have a location near you where you can step back, forget about the job, COVID, politics, and bills, and rejoice in the wonders of life. Peace, it’s what we all need.
The tides and current can be murderous. The fog is legendary. And then there’s that suspension bridge. When you put them together on the wrong day paddling a kayak from the San Francisco Bay out into the Pacific Ocean to Point Bonita could be a recipe for disaster. With some careful planning, however, the recipe turns into delight. Delight is what a couple of buddies and I had on a recent overcast Saturday morning.
By the numbers we paddled about 8 miles from Fort Baker to Bird rock, just past Point Bonita, and back. The tide was only about a foot and the wind was under 5 miles an hour, just right for some unique views of the Marin coast, the bridge, and the gate to the mighty San Francisco Bay.
The headlands have a few extra secrets to reveal from three feet above the water surface. The most obvious is being up close and personal with seals and anything else that swims or flies by. The big rocks that look small from the bridge or the viewing parking lot make an impression. Although the natural topography and wildlife are exciting, our paddle started with the overwhelming size and scope of manmade objects.
One of the overwhelming impressions driving or walking over the bridge is the height and size of the two towers. Paddling next to the north tower and under the roadway accentuated this effect and left me feeling small and insignificant. The numbers don’t really do the experience justice. My kayak is 17 feet long and sitting inside I’m about 3 feet above the surface of the water. At 746 feet tall and 8,981 feet long, it is imposing to look at when sailing by, but paddling next to the tower with a base of 33ft by 54ft and a load of 61,500 tons is a humbling experience. Feeling like an ant next to the tower and the realization that the force of the current and the immoveable steel structure reminded me who was going to pay the price of a slip up or collision.
The low slow pace of paddling had other benefits including seeing the unseeable. Before the construction of the bridge the northern side of the bay was protected by Fort Baker. Pill boxes and other defensive reinforcements for ammunition and various generations of artillery were placed throughout the hill and positioned to stop an unknown enemy from entering California’s best sheltered port. Unseen by pedestrians and motorists, a low placed artillery casement remains behind the north tower, on view for slow moving, hand powered boats and a reminder of days when the safety of the Western coast of the United States was protected by short range, manually loaded and non-guided ordinance (see the video above).
It seemed fitting that two of the three kayaks on our Saturday morning trip were wooden.
Being right on the water made for a few interesting low angle pictures of the Point Bonita Lighthouse as you can see.
When I started kayaking over 20 years ago, I never dreamed I would have some of the experiences I’ve been privileged to participate in central California. From paddling with grey and humpback whales, to being completely surrounded by a pack of dolphins and seals to paddling under the Golden Gate Bridge, I count myself one lucky fella.