Not Powell’s Colorado River

John Wesley Powell defied the myth of the Colorado River’s invincibility and led the first expedition through the Grand Canyon, according to His bravery and heroism, some might say foolishness and bravado, put him in the middle of Americas exploration of the west. Along with the great migration to the Oregon territory, the Gold Rush into California, and the voyages of exploration by John C. Fremont, Powell sought to map the Southwest and pave the way to tame America’s wild west.

By the 1920’s the Colorado River was seen as the answer for farmers and residences from the dry climates of seven different states. Negotiations between seven states, Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming centered on distribution of water and the prevention of another break in the canals like the one in 1905 that created the Salton Sea in California. The states didn’t want another disaster. A dam to capture the water and distribute it would serve two purposes: to tame the river from seasonal flooding and provide irrigation to the Southwest. The best place to dam the Colorado was in Black Canyon between Nevada and Arizona about 39 miles outside of Las Vegas. By 1922 Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover was able to broker a deal for the distribution of water opening the way for the construction of the dam.

Today, the Boulder Dam, now renamed Hoover Dam for the president who authorized it construction, creates Lake Mead and tames the wild Colorado River. Far from being the wild torrent John Wesley Powell navigated, today anyone can rent a canoe or kayak and paddle the rivers gentle waters. My twelve-mile day started just below the 800’ cement Hoover Dam. My guides, Antonio and Danelle from Kayak Las Vegas, were great throughout our paddle. We stopped to look at streams flowing into the river from the canyon, took some time to sit in hot springs and were awed by the sheer faces of the canyon walls. We even saw a bald eagle.

Las Vegas Kayaks took care of all the details. We rented quality rotomolded plastic sit-inside kayaks. They provided paddles, PFDs and lunch. All we had to add was a good attitude and a camera.  I added two cameras during the day; a Nikon AW100 mounted to a tripod and strapped to the deck and an Olympus OM-D10 MII in a dry bag.

I used the Nikon for video and the Olympus for some quality stills.  Good company with my new for-a-day friends and beautiful scenery made for a great day on the Colorado River on a pleasant spring day.

What about you? Have you been on the Colorado River downstream from Hoover Dam? What was it like?

Coyote Valley: The Other Silicon Valley

Before it was known as the Silicon Valley, Santa Clara county grew crops and raised livestock for the entire country and exported products throughout the world. The springtime beauty of the flowering orchards and the variety of crops grown here from the 1880’s through the 1960s made the area a lush paradise.

Beautiful and profitable, the ranches and farms gave way in the 60’s to IT firms like IBM and were followed by Google, Cisco, Adobe, and Apple. With the new firms came suburbs to house all those workers and places like Cupertino and Los Altos, Campbell and Milpitas became extensions of old towns like San Jose and Palo Alto. While the houses seemed to sprout like the crops used to, the valley is not completely lost to asphalt and cement. To the South and east of San Jose the land continues to be farmland and woodland. Open space purchases have preserved the natural habitat of the area.

Today I’m headed about 15 miles south of downtown San Jose to the Coyote Creek Open Space Preserve. The wooded area is adjacent to land that has been farmed for over120 years. The farm with the biggest signage is Spina Farms at the corner of Santa Teresa and Bailey. Many locals know if for its fall pumpkins. Down here between San Jose and Morgan Hill we run into old agricultural Santa Clara county.

I ran into some recently disked (turned over) farmland on my way the preserve. The spring always brings wild mustard that not only brightens up the area it provides needed ground cover for later in the summer when the months of heat without rain  would result in the topsoil being swept away by the daily breeze coming in from the San Francisco Bay. Passing the orchard and the mustard, visitors are greeted by a venerable oak tree. As in most of California we have both live oak and black oak. Anytime you leave the cities in California you are going to run into an oak tree. The oaks are long lived and provide needed shade during the hot summers in most of the state. They feed the squirrels and provide perches for a variety of birds. Perhaps the oak, not the poppy, should be the state symbol.

Moving beyond the parking lot out 4+ mile walk takes us above the valley on a path that is adjacent to some private property and grazing land for the ongoing cattle industry in the south county.

I’ll be back with some more photos. If you like the little ditty and photos let me know.

A quick note about the cameras for the photos, color photos were taken with a Yashica 124 MatG with the new Kodak Ectachrome (slide or positive film). Black and white photos came from either an 80’s era Canon AE-1 Program 35mm camera or my 50’s era Voightlander Vito B shooting Ultrafine black and white negative film. It was all scanned using an Epson v700 using the holders from a v800, which are vastly superior to the stock holders.

Horsetail Falls-Yosemite National Park

It’s February and that means people from around the world go to Yosemite National Park to capture a photo of Horsetail Falls. In a previous post I mentioned the years it took me to capture this photo. This week I wanted to revisit the experience.

Park staff has made it more difficult to capture this phenomenon in 2020. After the 2019 season resulted in partial destruction of the southern beach along the Merced River and a trash heap from photographers, NPS has closed the southern location. They have limited photographers to the Northern viewing location (Rowell’s View) and limited the area to walk in only.

If you plan on going check with the Yosemite NP web page. The photo above was taken before the fall turned the bright orange it is so famous for. I post the yellow version of the fall to encourage you to take several shots as the waterfall changes color from silver to yellow and then orange. If you’re lucky you might see it flicker pink just before the light is gone.

Don’t limit yourself to the fall only. This photo was taken at the North site (Rowell’s view) in the afternoon at about 3pm. The streaks of the clouds and the contrails of airplanes add to the beauty of Yosemite Valley. Look around for other views while you’re there.

I want to leave you with a humorous story about the 2016 photo. We had arrived early to set up, enjoying getting to know the other photographers and talking about gear in the late afternoon. As if to mock the photographers and all the expensive equipment on the beach, this bald eagle came by to see what all the ruckus was about.

Someone in the crowd shouted “Eagle” and no one had a camera trained on this magnificent bird. He perched in the tree, did a parade lap, and flew away. This poor photo is the only one taken by the people around me. It was all I could do to get the camera off the tripod and focus it on the beautiful bald eagle.

Do you have stories about Yosemite photo trips? I’d love to read them.

The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation-a book review

The Impeachers: The Trial of Andrew Johnson and the Dream of a Just Nation by Brenda Wineapple Random House, New York, December, 2019

Books that examine a big historical incident are frequently about current events as much as they are about the past. The title of this book couldn’t be more contemporary. As the news is daily filled with the impeachment of Donald Trump, a look back at the first impeachment is certainly topical for our times. Does the impeachment of Andrew Johnson hold clues for the current actions of the House and Senate?

Brenda Wineapple doesn’t waste any time getting into the either the meat of the issue or the concerns Congress needed to address. Starting out with the actions of President Johnson after the assassination of President Lincoln, Wineapple really shines as she lays out the actions of Johnson to redirect Reconstruction away from Congress and into the Executive branch. The reader is left with no doubt why Congress felt they had to exercise their impeachment rights. It wasn’t only his actions that had to be contended with, however.

As Congress waded into the first impeachment and trial to remove a sitting president they struggled with the meaning of high crimes and misdemeanors and how the House would face the investigation, presentation, and referral of the articles of impeachment to the Senate. No actions taken by previous presidents had risen to the level Congress chose to examine as high crimes and misdemeanors. Wineapple is in her element in this portion of the book. She handles the specific actions of President Johnson and the counteractions of Congress to check his power with the clarity of a lawyer in court. Readers will emerge from this first section of the book with a clear understanding of both the actions of each party and how Congress attempted to use their coequal power to direct the readmission of rebellious states back into full participation in the government. She is also very clear that without a concrete and specific plan for readmission, the battles and lives of soldiers were in vain after the surrender at Appomattox. Congress’ insisted that adherence to the 13th Amendment and acceptance of the 14th Amendment were among the top conditions for readmission. The President’s contrary views and actions on the subject are also clearly laid out.

Actions in Memphis and New Orleans that resulted from the Presidents executive orders while Congress was on recess take center stage as part of this book. Wineapple’s skills as a writer are on display as the tension build and the two sides careen toward a showdown. Who will control reconstruction and the readmission of the states back into the Union?

The next section of the book involves the way the House managed the trial and the reception in the Senate. Focusing on brief biographies of the main players in the House and Senate, she attempts to drive the narrative by explaining what may have happened and the reveal the outcome. Of course, we already know the results of the Senate trial. Perhaps this is why the second section is a little flat.

The last section of the book addresses the aftermath of the impeachment and trial. I don’t think I’m giving anything away to say Andrew Johnson briefly returns to the government as a Senator. Wineapple also uses this section to wrap everything up. This is where I expected to read her insights about impeachment: the nature of the proceedings and the lessons learned about this extreme step allowed by the Constitution but fraught with peril. I had also expected her to act as judge and make a decision or at least give some insight about the incident. Did the President overstep his authority or was this just politics? What do we know as a result of these proceedings that we didn’t know before hand?

It seemed to me the deeper into the book I waded I was less engaged in the text. While I was very curious about the first impeachment of a sitting president, I was also hopeful I would emerge with a better understanding. But alas, it was not to be.

Anyone who would like additional background about impeachment and the actions that might cause Congress to challenge a sitting president in this manner will gain some insight from The Impeachers. However, if you’re looking for insight into the line between politics and high crimes and misdemeanors, you may be disappointed. Almost like it was three different books, the first section is well written, well laid out, and very engaging. The second section loses steam but many readers will enjoy the mini biographies and layout of the trial. I found the conclusion disappointing.

Move around for stronger photos

This sculpture caught my eye as I was drinking a cup of coffee.

I saw this incredible sculpture at Tiburon, California a few weeks ago. The community had commissioned a sailboat for their plaza by the bay. I was having coffee across the street when the glint of the sun off the sails caught my eye. Looking across the street I saw the base of the piece was actually a seat placed in front of the sail. How clever, I thought. Closer examination revealed the sails were placed above a reflecting pond. I was hooked so I picked up my camera and started to take a few photos. I decided to leave out people and focus solely on the sculpture itself.

Black and White worked well because of the strong graphic element-elegant and flowing

You can see from the examples, the artist created a cornucopia of possibilities from his simple task to make a sailboat.  As you view the photos remember that the photo you had in mind when you decided to take the picture is not the only view or picture to be taken. Move around and discover other possibilities that you might not have seen in the beginning.

Each angle offered a new view-the shark
Each element of the sculpture is separate, a bench, reflecting pond, and sails

Postcards from the Palo Alto Art Show-Point of View


David duChemin writes about composition and intent all the time. The overarching theme on his blog and in his classes is composition is more important than equipment. I couldn’t agree more. The two photos here are a good example. I’m happy with each but for a different reason. The top photo gives the impression the artist is doing a self portrait. In the second photo you can see she is working from an image and has something other than a self portrait in mind. The second photo is about multiple artists working next to each other. Each photo tells a different story.

A photograph without intent is a snapshot. A carefully composed photograph can tell a story.

Postcards from the Palo Alto Art Show

We stopped by the Palo Alto Art show on August 25. Of course I took my camera but being an artist I had no intention to photograph other people’s art. That would be like stealing their intellectual property. So what do I photograph? The answer jumped out at me as watched the chalk artists create their art on the street. Amazing talent!


The Island Life

Sunset from San Juan Island
June, 2019

I love the island life. My island doesn’t have umbrella drinks, hot sandy beaches or reggae music. My island has foggy mornings, evergreens and conifers, and orcas. I can drive to my island. San Juan is my island. Situated below Victoria Island in Canada and northwest of Seattle it is famous for orcas, mild weather, a laid back atmosphere, and beautiful forested scenery.

Orcas from the whale paparazzi boat

The journey gets it start on a ferry. While it may seem as though the ferry is still part of the getting-there, this ferry frequently has surprises in store. As the highest peak north of Seattle, Mount Baker is one of those surprises. One of the volcanos in the Cascade mountain range, it’s snowy peak can be seen from the water on nearly the entire journey from Anacortes all the way to Friday Harbor. It’s majesty can easily be eclipsed by a pod of resident or transient orcas. While I strongly recommend a trip on one of the whale watching boats (I call them the whale paparazzi) during your visit, it is still possible to spot orcas, dolphins, and other large sea life on the ferry going to Friday Harbor. Another surprise might include a tall sailing ship in the Salish Sea as you traverse the distance. The Spike Africa is one of the schooners you’re likely to spot.

The journey starts on a ferry
Lime Kiln State Park. The evening before I took this photo we saw a red tailed fox here.

Once on San Juan Island, you’ll find multiple opportunities to visit an island that is both a tourist destination and has an agricultural economy. Don’t miss a drive around the island to view the coastline but look to the interior as you go. If you from an urban area, it’s almost like stepping back in time. Highlights in your circumnavigation of the island include Roche Harbor and Lime Kiln Point State Park. The lighthouse at Lime Kiln State Park is one of the locations the resident pods of orcas have been studied for decades. The folks in the lighthouse are anxious to talk about their observations if you strike up a conversation.

San Juan Island has healthy agricultural roots.
Kayaks at Lime Kiln State park

A big plus when stopping at Lime Kiln is the immediate depth of the water. I have stood at the viewing location and seen orcas go by so close it seemed I could reach out and touch them as they went by. Don’t count of seeing the orcas so close but it is common. If you miss your chance I highly recommend you spend your $100 a head to join the whale paparazzi boat for a 3-4 tour. Regardless if the orca are one of the three resident pods or a transient group, the boats will find them. On a recent visit we ended up in Canada in the search for orcas. Of course since we were on the boat we didn’t need passports to enter Canadian waters.

One of the joys of a visit to San Juan Island is the opportunity to rent a kayak and paddle the waters around the island. You can pick a short one hour paddle or go out for multiple days. Outfitters will show you how to paddle the boats, you’ll be with a group of people, and the guides are ready to point out the seals, bald eagles, and other abundant wildlife during your paddle.

Ample opportunities abound for wildlife viewing. This bald eagle was watching us watching him from our kayak.

I know the islands that get all the press are the ones with hot sunny white sandy beaches and lots of umbrella drinks. I like those islands too, but stretch you life experience a little and check out the islands of Pacific Northwest. Don’t forget your camera.

Susanville and the Longest Bar in Northeast California

Pioneer Bar in Susanville, CA

Susanville is a unique place. Situated near the base of Mr. Lassen National Park, it is the only town with full services in the Mt. Lassen neighborhood. Long the staging place for cowboys, ranchers, logging, and mining. The town was profiled in a 2007 PBS special titled “Prison Town” that examines the economic effects to a community that chose to host a state prison, however, I wasn’t interested in the prison, I wanted to see the old town and learn a little about this part of California.

Northeast California’s longest bar

Armed with my curiosity and my camera, I walked from the county fair uptown to the old retail section on Main Street. Not unlike how we shop for art, I was looking for a place that would capture my imagination and lunch. I took a few photos as I walked, looking for something artsy and something that would set Susanville apart from any other California town in the Sierra Nevada’s or the foothills. Obviously, the local CVS wouldn’t do. I needed something that had been around for a while, something with secrets.

As I wandered Main street the sign for the Pioneer Café caught my attention, in part because at two o’clock in the afternoon it was illuminated. The sign has a certain style to it that speaks of yesteryear which called me like one of the sirens in the Odyssey. I was greeted by the 36 foot long bar, the longest bar in northeast California. I knew this place has stories to tell.

Murals tell the story of Lassen County

The 19th century residents of Susanville were no more anxious to pay taxes than you or me. With so much ranchland both states of Nevada and California claimed the area for taxable purposes. One common tale is that the when tax collectors came by residents “agreed” to be part of whichever state suited their lowest-tax-needs. For some taxes Nevada was chosen but for others California was a better choice. Some residents naturally preferred one state over the other which caused some hard feelings. Legend has it there was a scuttle between the two sides as they worked out the border. Instead of shooting each other they went to the bar and settled the issue over a few beers. Is this the bar where the fabled event happened? No one knows for sure so the Pioneer Bar claims it must be the place!

Over the years the Pioneer has been the site for a good drink, a place to play pool and snooker. For a while it had a “Gentleman’s Room” upstairs. You don’t have to give it much thought to figure out what was going on. They don’t call it the wild west for nothin’.

Today the building is occupied by the Lassen Ale Works. Home of a couple of unique brews and good food. I had a Pastrami Ruben served on marbled rye with a good horseradishy-based dressing and wonderful beer battered onion rings with and their Uptown Pale Ale

. I’m no Guy Fieri so I‘ll just say I enjoyed my meal and recommend it. Their menu has a brief history of the place. For more details check out their history tab of the website As I waited for my meal the murals on the wall that tell the story of the county and the overall attitude of the place worked on me. The back room is a good place for the little league team to celebrate their on-field victory while the front of the store has that marvelous bar and white linen tableclothed dining. In the back is a painting that commemorates the racing heritage of Moto Guzzi, a tip of the hat to the passions one of the owner’s.

Moto Guzzi’s V7 racing heritage

I had a great conversation with the manager, Margaret Liddiard who is full of stories about the bar and the area. She filled me with stories that fit in the category of “things I forgot” and her pleasant attitude was the icing on the experience.

Here’s a few photos to give you a feel for the place. Don’t take my word for it, when you’re in the neighborhood, stop by for a meal, a brew, and some old tyme eye candy.

Lassen Ale Works is one of the local micro-breweries.
Linen on the table and good food await you.
Murals tell the story of Lassen County.
The illuminated sign caught my attention at about two o’clock in the afternoon.

Postcards from the Pacific Northwest-Silver Falls State Park

Silver Falls State Park in Oregon is a local gem for mid-state Oregonians. For us urban Californians it offers a couple of things we generally need to drive to see, waterfalls and endless forests. According to the Oregon state parks website ( this is the “Crown jewel” of their state parks system. The Trail of the Ten Falls is a 7.2 mile loop with a view of ten falls including a behind the falls view. We did the two ends of the trail during our visit.

Photographically it’s always a challenge to take a photo that is somehow unique. It could be from a different perspective or perhaps include a member of your party.  When we return from a vacation place we put a collage of photos from the trip on a wall. We get a revolving art show and warm fuzzies from our trip.  Of course, there are always phone pics to show off when we’re out and about.

We visited on a sunny clear day. Anytime we visit Oregon we are ready for rain (why else would it be so green year-round?) but there was no need for ponchos on this visit. With only 800 feet of elevation change throughout the hike the attitude is easy and there is a lot of company.

Here are a couple of “Wish you were here” postcards.

Looking for additional inspiration? Browse over to 

Behind the falls look
Notice the walking path goes behind the waterfall.