Official Kinetic Officials, Arcata, California, USA
A human-pedaled giant silver lobster, a fire truck with a fire-belching hookah, a taco truck with a band, and dozens of outlandish, welded monstrosities, all of which had to navigate 42 miles of roadway, sand dunes, water crossings, and fiendish rules in front of inglorious officials and thousands of spectators.
Just another festival on the Arcata Plaza.
Even though there were some cranky people who resented the farmer’s market being relocated, most people were dazzled by the absurd performances of otherwise normal citizens.
The Kinetic Grand Championship is complete for another year!
The upper photo shows officials officially checking off the official checklist for vehicle safety and many kinetically important rules. Bribes were flowing.
Kinetic Sculptures Engulfed By Fans
The middle photo shows the throngs of spectators trying to see all of the sculptures up-close. Several of the sculptures are visible above the crowds. They are bigger than life!
The bottom photo shows the race underway as they took several laps around the Arcata Plaza before exiting the safety of town in search of ultimate glory or profound shame. Those may sound like opposite results but they were all in the eye of the beholder. In other words, if they weren’t caught cheating they may have achieved glory but they would be ashamed if their fellow competitors thought they had completed the race without some creative route navigation, propulsion augmentation, or equipment enhancements along the way.
The Kinetic Grand Championship 2010
It is just the way that spring is supposed to be celebrated!!
Three days of human-powered, all terrain, endurance silliness.
There are a few so-called Kinetic Sculpture Races around the world. But the original one was held in Humboldt County, California, USA in 1969. It is now called The Kinetic Grand Championship.
It is a three day 42 mile (67 km) race on roads, beaches, sand dunes (Deadman’s Drop), bay and river crossings, and slippery slopes. The contraptions are human-powered, usually by peddaling. Elaborate and highly suspect propulsion systems involve chains and gears welded into a nightmare of breakdown potential. Some entries deserve to be called sculptures because of their exotic artistic structure and elegant engineering. Others are really humorous because nobody in their right mind would expect the thing to work.
And there you have the essence of the silliness. There is honor in being absurd and eccentric. The impractical imagination and naive energy required to enter some of these contraptions is truly exquisite.
If you just had to pedal down the road that would be easy. But the skinny tires for efficient road cycling are horrible on the beach and the dunes. And the sturdy structure required to withstand Deadman’s Drop (a ridiculous plunge down the back side of a tall dune into very soft sand) can add enough weight to sink your dreams into Humboldt Bay when you go in the water. So you also need to be able to deploy significant floatation. And everything has to be on-board and carried with you for the entire race, including toothbrushes and teddy bear.
The race starts with the noon whistle on the Plaza in downtown Arcata. The contraptions line up on one side of the road and the pilots and crew are on the other and with the whistle the Le Mans start is underway. After several laps around the plaza to the delight of thousands of cheering fans they head out via farm roads toward the beach and three days of voluntary pain and shame. And some few will gain wonderful glory.
With a silly race there has to be silly awards and silly rules. There are. According to the official website: “…when Hobart Brown started the Kinetic Sculpture Race 40 years ago, he lost the race he created! Now one of the most coveted awards is the “Mediocre Award.”
Other awards include “The Golden Dinosaur,” which is the first sculpture to break down after the start line, “The Golden Flipper,” for the best flip of a sculpture in sand and water, and “Poor Pitiful Me.” Racers can also “Ace” the race, which means they race the entire course for 42 miles without pushing or ”getting caught” cheating. Each award is handmade by a local artist!”
The race starts tomorrow and is now held on the weekend of the US holiday of Memorial Day. My wife and I met at the Kinetic Sculpture Race in 1980. We have seen the start of most of the races since that time.
As you can imagine it is a photogenic event. I will be there using my ladder again for a vantage point over the crowds.
In a quiet back corner of the park. The bird songs mix with the background traffic sounds of Paris.
You have the last throw. Your teammate is depending on you to find a way to get closer to the bright orange cochonnet.
(You can see the silver ball near the middle of the photo below the outstretched hand. It has just been thrown in the traditional pétanque motion. The orange cochonnet is in the distance surrounded by the previously thrown balls.)
Each team has a specialist in placement (pointing) and another who can drop their shot onto an opponent’s boule (ball) and knock it out of the way. The skilled ‘shooters’ have an amazing success rate of blasting the other team out of the way and leaving their boule near the target.
Pétanque is a popular French game. It is recreation that doesn’t require multi-million dollar sports stars and can be played by almost anyone. It is also known as boules, which is the plural form of boule-the French word for ball. It is played on whatever native soil is at hand in the village square, restaurant courtyard, or park.
The competition and the good-natured teasing are both rich. Since it is a sport that can be played for life old friends spend countless hours trying to beat each other building rivalries and stories. Pétanque is played in tiny villages and in large cities. The throwing balls are steel and weigh ~700 g (1.5 lbs.) and are about 7.5 cm (3 inches) in diameter. Weight and size depend on the style of the player and what their role is on the team, pointing or shooting. The cochonnet is wooden and is about 3 cm (~1 inch) in diameter.
Pétanque is something like a cross between the Italian game of bocce and the American game of horseshoes. Bocce is ideally played on packed, crushed oyster shells. The object is to roll your ball down an enclosed lane to end closest to the target ball, the pallino. Sometimes the bocce ball is thrown in an arc also. Horseshoes are thrown (underhanded) in an arc, sometimes spinning, toward a target stake. The pétanque ball is thrown underhanded, but with the palm down, with a back spin, in a high arc. And pétanque is played without a defined field. The cochonnet is thrown across the patch of dirt and the players aim towards it wherever it falls. Sometimes more than one pétanque match is played at a time on the same ground.
In all three games knocking the opponents out of the points is an honored skill and a key strategy, as it is in shuffleboard and curling also.
These players in the back corner of Luxembourg Garden in Paris appeared to be old friends. They probably pass many hours together in this spot. And their matches make a good spectator sport for people walking through the park.
There are more Paris photos in my France gallery. Please follow the Photography link above.
The snow kept falling. Eventually we couldn’t see out the windows. But the massive logs still blazed in the old stone fireplace.
We didn’t need to leave so we settled in and enjoyed the rustic mountain setting.
Everything about Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood in Oregon is over-sized and handmade. It is a place filled with rough cut stone and exposed timber beams. It also hosts artwork from the 1930’s.
The idea with Timberline Lodge was to build a lodge for mountain recreation and relaxation and to use as many craftspeople as possible to do it. It is an artistic creation. It was a project of the Works Progress Administration (WPA).
Master craftsmen trained unskilled, unemployed workers to carry out the hand labor necessary to make the stone, wood, and wrought iron elements. Handmade quilts, drapes, rugs, and other fabric art were a central part of the finished lodge.
The lodge was built in 15 months and was dedicated on September 28, 1937 by Franklin D. Roosevelt. It was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1977.
However you feel about the make-work projects of the Great Depression the facts are that many lives were given meaningful employment and we benefit from their service to their country.
You can still enjoy the paintings, carvings, handmade furniture, and beautiful restaurants and sleeping rooms that they created. It is a spectacular mountain lodge. We have stayed there several times just before Christmas and it is a wonderful place for holiday memories.
And to be honest, we weren’t snowbound. They have very effective snow removal capabilities for the roads and parking lots.
But pretending to be snowbound creates an entirely different feeling. It is a world apart. A stolen day or two in a unique setting.
And if you get up early enough you can wander through the lodge taking pictures without anyone in the photograph. Can you imagine yourself and a friend sitting in those old handmade chairs reading or talking while the snow falls outside?
Decomposing Rock, Sand, and Landscape Evolution, Joshua Tree National Park, California
The Earth is often referred to as ‘the third rock from the Sun’.
WARNING: This post contains graphic images and explicit geologic explanations!
When the molten core of the Earth invades fractures in the overlying rock it forms seams or large bodies (batholiths) of new rock as it hardens. Because the cooling and hardening occur below the surface (rather than by violent ejection via a volcanic eruption) the molten rock cools slowly and large crystals form. A variety of crystalline igneous rocks are formed. What type of rock depends on the composition of the molten material and the cooling rate.
These granitoid rocks weather into individual coarse crystal grains which we call sand.
In arid climates like the Mojave Desert in southern California these sands provide a difficult challenge for plants. The coarse grains don’t provide many nutrients. The sand doesn’t hold very much water. It evaporates or drains quickly. There isn’t very much water to begin with.
Slowly as the sand continues to weather, nutrients and smaller particles are produced. The material retains more water and small plants can survive. Over time these nutrients and water support larger plants.
These three rocks in Joshua Tree National Park tell the rudimentary stories of landscape evolution and plant succession in an arid climate on granitoid rock formations.
The crumbled sand on the left shows small water channels. The sand has been carried by the water and deposited in a small alluvial fan deposit. Plants are starting to occupy deeper pockets of sand in the shade under the rocks. It is a micro model of the vast alluvial fan landforms that occur at the base of the mountains and ridges throughout the arid west of the U.S.
The three crumbling granitoid rocks are interesting shapes resting on an exposed larger bolder. The low-angle evening light highlights the granular makeup of the rock. That is what drew me to this spot initially. But as I looked at the photo I realized that it told a bigger story.
I got feedback on this photo during an art exhibit critique. The reviewer thought that I should have cropped off the left side of the photo up to the edge of the rock.
That might make sense for art composition or to have an abstract photo of three generic shapes. But I feel very strongly that photographs need context. I am not drawn to abstract snippets of scenes. Some people are and they succeed with photographs of splotches on pavement or smashed cans on the ground etc.
If I had cropped this photo the three rounded shapes could have been pottery or any other material, but just shapes. Most of the story of the formation of arid landforms and plant succession would have been lost. I call the photo ‘Making Sand’ and I had hoped that the name would call attention to the context of the three shapes. But maybe it was an obtuse name that nobody thought about.
It is another example of what harsh conditions plants can survive in. And by surviving there and contributing their organic matter remains they make it easier for the next plants. It is not abstract art but the meaning is probably still not apparent to most people. I try to combine artistic composition with context with a little intrigue to tell a story. I think that knowing where the story takes place enhances the image rather than detracts from the composition. It is a balancing act.
Until a person has an art reputation it is hard to get people to stop and look and think about what you are doing. These are just rocks on the ground, big deal.
Yvoire, France is a beautiful medieval stone village.
It is easy to imagine the setting of village life in the mostly intact old town section. It is harder to realize the difficulties of providing food, water, and defense for this lakeside village.
Yvoire is on the south shore of Lac Léman (Lake Geneva) on a prominent point between Geneva and Évian-les-Bains.
There is arable land surrounding the village. And the substantial ancient châteaux nearby suggest there was a time of plenty for the noblemen. But the village peasants led a difficult life.
The village square was a place to gather. The cathedral and its cemetery were located adjacent to the square. It was the location for market day commerce. The water fountain was also located in the square.
I don’t know how much time villagers had to sit in the shade, but this must have been their main gathering place. Religious and civic festivals took place here.
It is still a place to gather. But now it is a place to imagine the past rather than take care of life’s necessities. Looking at this shady water tank I think about all the generations that talked about village news or celebrated holidays at this spot.
The Yvoire village square is well preserved. Adjacent to the square is an épicerie (small market/delicatessen). Fortunately the shopkeeper spoke no English so that is where I learned to order cheese. I struggle with French and it is intimidating. But ordering cheese is an important activity, especially at village outdoor markets.
Yvoire is easy to get to. It is a popular tourist destination and has a large municipal parking lot for the busy holiday season. We were there in May so it wasn’t too bad. Since we didn’t have a car we took the train from Geneva along the north shore of the lake to Nyon, Switzerland and walked downhill to the harbor. Then we took the ferry over to Yvoire. The trains are frequent as they are the main connection between Geneva and Lausanne. The national boundary separating Switzerland and France passes through the middle of the lake.
Sightseeing Helicopter, Mont Blanc, Chamonix, France
I have never understood why people put flames on the side of cars. It is an odd tradition.
But I didn’t go through a hot rod car phase. To me cars are just transportation-utility. The quieter, the better. Quiet means efficiency and good engineering. But I guess some guys need their car to be loud to get attention or their diesel truck to sound like a … garbage truck. Why?
But the pilot of this helicopter, man or woman, is driving a hot rod. I guess you deserve to paint bright yellow flames on your transportation if you are running on Jet A fuel screaming over jagged mountain ridges. Perhaps the painted flames are to attract attention to this flying service.
It is flying at about 3658 m (12,000 ft.) in the French Alps. It is a sightseeing helicopter based in Chamonix, France flying over Mont Blanc. They provide trips over the glaciers and mountains and can even include a gourmet lunch stop.
I was photographing Mont Blanc from Aiguille du Midi. It was a rare clear morning (above the clouds anyway) in May. I had been trying to show the immensity of Mont Blanc using a super wide angle lens on a tripod. I had just taken the camera off the tripod when the helicopter appeared, so I tried to quickly change lenses and zoom in on it as it flew below us. It was a good challenge for me, since I had been using a slow shutter speed, etc. I didn’t get all the settings changed that I should have because I was nervously trying to hurry while the helicopter was flying by. In sports parlance, I choked. But I learned too.
When I travel I carry only one camera and two lenses. So I have to be able to change lenses and settings quickly when opportunties arise. Some photographers carry two or more cameras and several lenses. So they can just raise another camera with a different lens when they need it.
But my goal when I travel is to have one camera pack and one carry-on rolling bag. Clothes are minimized so that I can fit in the tripod and power equipment in the rolling bag. (I highly recommend the Manfrotto 714B tripod. It collapses down to 18″ with an integrated head, so it fits in a carry-on.) I avoid checking luggage and work hard to minimize weight. It is a fun packing and planning challenge. This way I am more mobile-from plane to train to walking as needed.
This experience with the sudden appearance of the helicopter on Mont Blanc helped me be more prepared for the sudden appearance of a big horn sheep in Joshua Tree National Park a couple years later. And that experience will help me with the next unexpected photo opportunity. Experience is a good teacher.
Tomorrow I am going to photograph a university graduation ceremony. I am doing it just for the fun and interest of photographing the pomp, the people, and the emotions. I put on headphones and listen to music and escape into the unplanned images that occur. It is a creative exercise.
Self Portrait, Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA
The desert is a harsh setting. Only the adapted and fortunate survive. Lessons have to be learned quickly. Decisions carry serious consequences.
National parks and monuments in the desert are good places for contemplation. The landscapes are enormous and the mind can wander farther than the views. You are not distracted by artificial urgencies. The commercial world is not represented.
The desert allows a person to sort through the experiences of the past and evaluate the lessons that should have been learned. It is also a perfect setting for clearly thinking ahead and planning the future, if you can plan the future. You can at least decide on a path. Sometimes you will have to adapt to changing conditions, but the lessons previously learned can help you be prepared to deal with unexpected challenges, with integrity. Your values help you focus on the things of lasting importance so you can keep moving forward.
Of course none of us knows what lies ahead. Each of us plays our small but pivotal role within our family and community. If we are fortunate we are also supported by family and friends.
The reason for this philosophical post is that for the first time since I retired in January 2010 I can look ahead and plan my path with more freedom. Over the past several months I have been working under a contract to edit and prepare training material for a satellite image processing course. This was an activity that I was working on when I retired. Fortunately, it was one of my favorite parts of my work and I got to work with good friends.
Last week we held the training course in Texas. The participants were great to work with and it was fun. It is reassuring to interact with dedicated people who will lead innovation in the work that you spent your career on. I will probably help teach the course again next winter, but it definitely feels like I have completed that work. I may continue to support that satellite remote sensing and digital soil mapping work periodically.
But this is the start of a new path. I was fortunate to have had a challenging career filled with what I thought was useful work. Now the photography and maps will be the main focus.
I start this path with a new photo exhibit in a local wine tasting room in the beautiful seaside town of Trinidad, California. The opening reception was yesterday at Moonstone Crossing Tasting Room. My wife and I both have art on exhibit there and it was fun to spend the afternoon with our friends talking about our endeavors.
My path ahead includes this blog, so I hope that you enjoy the brief travel escapes. Today I have been more philosophical, but I will generally focus on travel stories. We will also travel on dedicated photo excursions. The next subjects will be southern Spain, Morocco, and Italy. I will continue to work on my website and develop new and custom map products. I will also work on new local images for photo note cards.
And, of course, I will continue to treasure my wife, our two wonderful daughters, and our families. The lessons that I have learned have taught me that the consequence of that decision is a contented and meaningful life. They help me adapt and enjoy the path.
Pardon me for the personal nature of this post. The photo is in Joshua Tree National Park and is a self portrait.
But the ceiling of the St. Tugdual Cathedral, probably not. There are no Michelangelo masterpieces on the St. Tugdual ceiling. And it is in a little town along the north shore of Brittany.
The painting and lettering are still very striking. And the Breton banners add a medieval regal feel.
The light shining through the stained glass windows was beautiful on the gray stone.
Treguier is a beautiful little village a few miles from the ocean. It has a rich religious history. This cathedral is named after a monk who became a saint. He died in 564.
I am in Texas tonight to help teach a satellite remote sensing course. I am tired from the class so I won’t write very much tonight. I enjoy this photo because it reminds me of the hours that I spent in this ancient place.
In the early days of mountain recreation most of the Alps were referred to by some people generically as ‘Switzerland’, even if they were actually in France or Italy or Austria etc. It was a descriptive term to describe the stunning high peaks.
The big mountains had been feared for millenia as places of danger and homes to beasts and dragons. Nobody had been to the tops and imaginations ran wild. People feared that there would be no oxygen. Myths and fables were vivid and terrifying.
As people gained wealth and leisure time in the 18th and 19th centuries walking in the mountains became popular. People wrote poetically about the alpine splendors.
The big peaks were magnets for alpine adventurers. The Alpine Club of England actively pursued reaching the summits. Local guides were highly valued for their mountain knowledge. Huge egos and intense competition surrounded first ascents.
Mont Blanc near Chamonix, France being the tallest peak in western Europe (~4808 m or 15,771 ft.) was the biggest draw. The early climbers used large crews of guides and porters to carry the crude equipment and scientific instruments. Many of them carried out experiments to test the myths and collect basic data. They slept in the mountains rolled up in heavy carpets. A typical attempt on Mont Blanc also required dozens of bottles of wine and large piles of meat, cheese, and other food.
After Mont Blanc was conquered the elite climbers moved their sights to the other iconic peaks such as the Matterhorn, the Eiger, and Jungfrau, all of which are in Switzerland.
There are great but terrifying stories of the obsessions for these peaks. The stories are told very well by Fergus Fleming in Killing Dragons The Conquest of the Alps where most of this information came from. One group of climbers lost three men down the sheer upper rock face of the Matterhorn. They hadn’t been able to obtain the type of rope they wanted and were desperate to reach the summit during a break in the weather, so a portion of the team was using a rope the size of a common clothes line. It didn’t hold.
The mountain villages at the base of the big peaks became destinations for hikers and climbers. The Eiger and Jungfrau are both in one chain near one another. Grindlewald, Switzerland served as a base for attempts on The Eiger. Wengen, Switzerland is nearer to Jungfrau.
Today you can take an electric train up the canyon wall of the Lauterbrunnen Valley to reach Wengen. Cars are not allowed. It is a famous ski village and home of the Alpine Skiing World Cup race called the Lauberhorn downhill. Between the winter and summer holiday seasons it is a quiet and beautiful place. You can hear the many waterfalls in the distance, wind in the trees, and bird songs, but not traffic noise.
The mountain lodge in this photo is in Wengen. It is a storybook beautiful village. From the balconies of this lodge you can see Jungfrau and other incredible peaks. Residents take pride in their homes and lodges. Even firewood is stacked in artistic displays. The mountain trains, cable cars, and hiking trails provide access to amazing country. I guess we are those kind of people who enjoy looking at the mountains and are not brave enough or driven enough to need to climb them. But the stories about those who are, are spellbinding, especially after seeing the mountains ourselves.
Is it warm where you are? Do you have sand on your feet?
Do you have time for a leisurely stroll down the beach? Can you hear the samba and the waves washing over the bright sand?
Can you sit for a few minutes and watch the football and volleyball matches on the beach?
In the northern hemisphere it is supposed to be spring. As I look up through the redwood forest canopy the sky is filled with heavy rain. There is enough light to see the water accumulating on the redwood branches and sprays (the name for small branches of redwood needles). Big heavy cold drops are splashing on the ground below the branches. It is good to have a normal rainfall year. I should be thankful, and I am. But it will be good to have some clear days soon. We haven’t seen much sun for months. I guess I needed a photo of a sunny place. Maybe you do too.
This photo shows a beach vendor on Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. The vendors are strung along the broad walkway along the beach. Each vendor’s hut is named, e.g., Côco Verde.
It was a warm morning before a hot day in Rio. This vendor is advertising several fish dishes, fried potatoes, and drinks. The caipirinha is referred to as the national drink of Brazil. It is made by crushing limes, sugar and ice, and adding cachaça (fermented sugarcane). Batata frita are fried potatoes and corvina is a type of fish.
The prices are in R$, the Brazilian currency called the ‘Real’. The exchange rate when this photograph was taken in 2006 was: 1 Brazilian Real = 0.46002 US Dollar.
The bright blue sky and this warm colorful scene are a welcome change from our “spring” weather. I hope you enjoyed this beach escape!
Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary, Arcata, California, USA
We have this great little university town, and a garbage dump, and wastewater, and marshland.
We are right on Humboldt Bay and the Pacific Flyway.
What can we do with these elements? And while we are at it, can we provide recreation and wildlife habitat?
So many things in life are about choices. More than 30 years ago the people of Arcata, California, USA chose well. They decided not to enlarge the garbage dump next to the bay. Instead they capped it. They aggressively supported recycling and waste reduction for decades before it became universally apparent that it was a good municipal policy for cost reduction and resource utilization. Then they re-established the former freshwater marshes and integrated the function of the marshes with the last stages of the wastewater treatment system. They created a wildlife sanctuary and recreational trails. Today the former dump and the current wastewater treatment facilities are frequently used recreational areas and host many bird watchers. They are actually treasured by the residents. Here is how the City of Arcata website describes the marsh area:
“The marsh restoration was integrated with several other projects such as the salmon aquaculture project and the alternative waste water treatment project. The Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary was dedicated July 4, 1981.
The Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary is home to the City of Arcata’s innovative wastewater treatment facility. The sanctuary is 307 acres, including freshwater marshes, salt marsh, tidal sloughs, grassy uplands, mudflats, brackish marsh, approximately five miles of walking and biking trails and an Interpretive Center. By integrating conventional wastewater treatment with the natural processes of constructed wetlands, Arcata has succeeded in turning wastewater into a resource.
Located at the north end of Humboldt Bay, the sanctuary is situated along the Pacific Flyway, a major migratory route for thousands of birds that breed in the far north and winter in California, Mexico and Central and South America. These wetlands provide homes and migratory resting places for over 270 species of birds. With seventy-three species here year-round along with numerous species of plants, mammals, insects and amphibians, there’s always something to see.” ( http://www.cityofarcata.org/departments/environmental-services/water-wastewater/wildlife-sanctuary )
I was given an assignment to provide photographs of the local area to the Arcata Chamber of Commerce for a Visitor and Relocation Guide booklet. I had many local photos already but there were important scenes missing. It was winter and we had had a long spell of rainy, cloudy, foggy weather. The deadline was approaching and the light was terrible for photography. Then one beautiful Sunday it cleared. I followed the highlights of the sun all day. I photographed what it shone on; aiming west in the morning, working the shady community redwood forest at mid-day, and aiming east toward town as the setting sun shone on Arcata.
This photo is from the marsh looking northeast toward downtown and Humboldt State University on the hill. Dark clouds moved in above the community forest and provided a nice background for the sun spotlighting Arcata. I stood at the top of a ladder for three hours as the clouds moved overhead. The light varied dramatically and the water surface changed with the winds. A large snowy egret had landed in the dry cattails on the little island in the foreground. I was hoping that he would fly low over the water and be reflected in the marsh pond. But I guess he was resting and the sun set before he moved again. Sometimes chance elements come together unexpectedly, but other times your plans for a composition don’t work out. It was a beautiful evening at the marsh so I had no real complaints. This is the cover photo on the Visitors Guide.
Follow the tracks to the lip of the chute. Would you push off over the edge? This is a testing ground for courage, skill, and route-selection. But you will need an experienced mountain guide.
The view is from Aiguille du Midi on the shoulder of Mont Blanc near Chamonix, France. The mountains surrounding Chamonix form a world famous extreme skiing and snowboarding destination. There are lift serviced ski areas but this photo is of the back country terrain. There are famous routes near here that decend into the Chamonix Valley or into Switzerland or Italy. This is the crest of the French Alps, the Haute-Savoie.
One of the most famous routes is the Vallée Blanche. It is about 22 km (13.5 miles) long and typically takes about 4-5 hours. An experienced mountain guide is strongly recommended. At the mountain guide service website there is a questionnaire to help you determine if you are capable and prepared for the route. The answer to the question, “What ski level is required?” is below:
“This high mountain itinerary is neither groomed, secured, marked, no is there any surveillance. The fact that you are a good skier on red or black runs will not necessarily make you a good skier on the Vallée Blanche. During the 22 km of downhill skiing, it is possible to run all different types of snow : power, crusty, heavy…plus the narrow passageways leading down through the crevasse field. The stress factor is not to be neglected : a tapered snow spur, ice crevasses, the wind factor, cold temperatures…all these elements can limit your technical capacities”. ( http://www.ohm-chamonix.com/fiche.php?id=00&ling=En ).
The danger is real. Many lives have been lost in these mountains. But the challenges still draw adventurers. The fulfillment and accomplishment provide rewards. I have skied many mountains in the USA, but I admit that these mountains are intimidating in the extreme. Just looking at the tracks in this photo makes me nervous. It is amazing that they were even able to build cable car lines up to the summits of some of the peaks. The construction also took courage and skill.
Chamonix is one of my favorite places. It is a beautiful, small alpine village and was the host of the first Winter Olympics in 1924. The town is busy in the winter and summer holiday seasons, but less so in May and September. Chamonix is served by trains and it is easy to drive to. To find out more about Chamonix (check out the animated panoramas): http://www.chamonix.com/page.php?page=0&r=welcome&ling=en
Photo: 1/2000 s at f/8. There are more French Alps photos in the Photo Gallery at my website: www.earthmapphoto.com
We didn’t know what we would find in Rochefort-en-Terre when we left the coast. It had been overcast and drizzly so I hadn’t been able to photograph as I had planned. But the late afternoon seemed to be clearing so we decided to go for a drive to a village we had read about in the interior.
We drove the country roads from Pénestin to La Roche-Bernard, crossed the Vilaine River and passed through the villages of Marzan, Péaule, and Limerzel. The roads were narrow and wound through the rolling hills between fields of corn and scattered patches of woods. There were very few other cars and only occasional stone farm houses.
This is a beautiful and rural part of southern Brittany along the the lower boundary of the Morbihan département. Brittany formally became a part of France in 1532 but maintains its separate Breton identity and traditions.
When we reached Rochefort-en-Terre the clouds were opening up but floating over the village at a steady pace. The sun shone through the openings at a low angle and highlighted the stone buildings, flower baskets, and cobblestone streets, although this photograph was taken in a shady courtyard. Gradually the openings became larger and it got quite warm.
Rochefort-en-Terre is a beautifully restored old village. There are several terrace restaurants, a cathedral, and of course, gift shops. It is popular and crowded in the summer holiday season, but it was quiet when we were there in September.
This game and toy shop was interesting but we couldn’t fit wooden toys in our carry-ons. The shopkeepers took pride in their village. They knew that its beauty is what drew the visitors and shoppers. Even the town hall was covered with flower baskets. It is a great village for strolling and for a long lunch. Photo: 1/400 s at f/2.8
Bird Researcher, Coast Range, northern California, USA
Each spring hundreds of people migrate to the northern coast of California. They come to see migrating and resident birds. They also gather for camaraderie, art, education, and fun.
The event is called Godwit Days, California’s North Coast Spring Bird Migration Festival.
The event is held in Arcata, California, USA.
Participants can spend up to a week going on field trips, with the main events happening over a weekend. These field trips provide easy walking tours of ancient redwood forests, grasslands, coastal marshes, rocky shores, and high elevation forests. Participants can also take kayak tours and other boat trips in coastal waterways and bays. There are over 100 field trips. There are also workshops, lectures, and opportunities to view huge birds of prey up close and visit an operational bird banding and research facility.
Whatever your impression of bird watchers is, the range of ages and interests of Godwit Days participants defies stereotyping. The things they seem to have in common is an enjoyment of the outdoors and learning about birds and the natural systems that they thrive in.
This is the second year that I have volunteered to take photographs of the event to provide promotional photos for Godwit Days. This year I was assigned a high elevation forest field trip, a field sketching workshop with local illustrator and artist Gary Bloomfield, and a shorebird field trip to local restored marshlands.
This photo is from the high elevation forest field trip. The tour travels about 40 miles inland to the Coast Range. By ‘high elevation’ they mean 1200-1800 meters (4000-6000 feet). Most of the other field tours are near sea level so it is a relative term. On this field trip participants heard or saw about 30 different bird species, even though the birds were still mostly at lower elevations or had not arrived yet from their winter homes to the south.
Each of my assignments was interesting and fun. The field guides were very informative and provided a fun atmosphere. And I got to see and learn about things in my own ‘backyard’ that I haven’t seen before.
This event is a good way to learn about the birds and habitats of the north coast of California and the clouds of spring migratory birds that travel through the area. You can learn more about it at: http://www.godwitdays.com/
Many voyages started and ended in this former railway station on the banks of the Seine. The station was the hub for the rail system serving southwest France from 1900-1939. There were 16 underground tracks with the main station, great hall, and hotel above. Eventually the newer electric trains became too long for the platforms and the station evolved through several other uses including postal services and film set. It was opened as a museum in 1986 (http://www.musee-orsay.fr/en/home.html).
Now travel from this station is imaginary but still transformational. The art collection is from the period of 1848-1914. Many of the impressionist masterpieces are displayed in this museum. There are side halls and alcoves off of the great hall pictured here. The floorplan is intricate and it is easy to get ‘turned around’ in the rooms which are on several levels.
We first visited the Musée d’Orsay after spending a few days in Juan les Pins, France on the Mediterranean coast. While in Juan les Pins I had found a somewhat quiet route for running from the small town toward Cap d’Anitbes. South of town the seafront homes were large beautiful villas behind stone walls. On a sunny morning as I was running along I noticed a particularly impressive villa and stopped to look at it and enjoy the view across the water to the harbor. It was a beautiful and memorable spot.
Later when we visited the Musée d’Orsay as I was walking through one of the side halls I noticed an old painting that looked familiar. After a moment I realized that it was a painting of that same villa on Cap d’Antibes. The painting was made in the mid-1800’s so the road looked different, but the stone wall and the villa looked almost identical and were painted from the same location where I had stood. I went to find my wife to show her. I walked around for quite a while trying to find her. By the time I found her I had forgotten how to get back to the room where the painting was. And I never did find it again. But maybe next time….
The Musée d’Orsay is certainly a place that you can visit repeatedly. But there is also good news about the collection itself.
From May through September 2010 there will be two exhibitions of 220 pieces from the collection on display at the de Young Museum in San Francisco. The exhibit is called ‘Birth of Impressionism’. We look forward to it but I am amazed that they would move that artwork.
Maybe I will find that painting of the villa when they are on display in the de Young. Photo: 1/60 s at f/2.8.
Do you need a long walk on the beach? Will it be time alone to sort through your thoughts or a chance for an uninterrupted talk? Are you going into town to get salt water taffy? Do you need a book or a maple bar and coffee? Are you going to look at the current art on display or to buy a kite? Is the tide low enough to get around the points and get in a long run to the south? Are you going dune-jumping, or playing hide-and-seek in the beach grass, or are you building a classic sand castle with a moat?
Family memories are made by the bucketful at beaches like this. I was introduced to this beach by my wife and her family. Her parents had bought a beach cabin here and there was a long family tradition of summer trips to Cannon Beach, Oregon.
The rock in the distance is Haystack Rock. It is a famous Cannon Beach landmark. It is a seastack, or an isolated resistant rock left behind during coastal erosion. Cannon Beach is a small town that provides great vacation get-aways, art, and fun. Our own daughters have many memories of our family time there. Our photo albums are filled with a progression of photos of them from toddlers to adults out on the beach, or playing in the dunes, or taking the secret trail through trees over the dunes to the beach.
A beach like this is so many different things to different people. The Killamuck and Clatsop people provided whale blubber to the Lewis and Clark Expedition near here. The beach is about 80 road miles west of Portland and individuals and families have moved here or visited here for generations.
On sunny summer days the beach near town can be packed. On stormy winter days it is empty. Each person and family bring with them their interests and needs. Each person finds different things under the Haystack. Photo: 1/2000 s at f/5.6.
You don’t hear the rustle of the leaves on the gravel path or the scooters in the distance.
The long warm afternoon is fading but the autumn leaves still provide a reflected glow. There is enough light in the opening under the trees. You are still caught up in another time and place.
It is a good book. Time has been forgotten. Your mind is filled with vividly imagined villages, laughter, arguments, passions, fear, danger, and music. You are challenged to follow intricate manipulations of strong characters. Or you are fascinated with the details of the real people involved with major historical passages.
Everyone else is leaving Luxembourg Garden. They are heading home to start getting ready for dinner. Or they are walking to a nearby café to relax for a few more minutes. But you are still with the people in your book. You have found a quiet perfect bench for reading. There are no disturbances. You are on your own island in the bustle of Paris.
It is a good book. A real book. No battery to run down. No advertisements. No brand loyalty. Just the author and your imagination. The heft of the book and the feel of the paper. The tradition of turning pages.
We were also leaving Luxembourg Garden when I saw this little tree-lined path and the solitary reader out of the corner of my eye. We walked on to the exit gate and were about to leave when it sunk in what a beautiful situation that little path was. I asked for my wife’s patience while I walked back and tried to tell that story without interrupting the reader. I know that I crunched leaves but I tried to walk quietly. He didn’t look up.
We had spent many hours in the garden that autumn day. The gardeners moving full-grown trees, the Gendarmerie on patrol, crêpe vendors, runners and walkers, statues, and pétanque players were all interesting. Maybe you have now spent a few moments in the garden on that afternoon also. I hope that you enjoy this photograph which I call, Solitary Reader. Photo: 1/500 s at f/2.8.
This photo is currently on display in the Juried Photo Exhibition ‘Northwest Eye’ at the Morris Graves Museum of Art in Eureka, California through May 9, 2010. There are many interesting photos in the exhibit. I hope you can visit it, if you are in the area.
Bright Evening, Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA
Each of these two photos is interesting in its own way, to me. I was trying to educate myself on composition and lighting. And I have a lot to learn. As with all art what interests one person may be inconsequential to another.
There are the technical aspects of apeture, shutter speed, ISO, focus etc. Then there is the personal composition-why that vantage point; what is shown in the photograph; what is not shown; what is suggested; what was he thinking; was it just intriguing at the moment without a coherent intention; was it just a reaction to a setting?
I don’t know if I had a coherent intention but I was interested in these exposed granitoid boulders, the sand that crumbled off and accumulated below them, the scruffy collection of grasses and forbs, the sky, the horizon of rock, the lighting, the big isolated oblong boulder leaning heavily on the solid clean exposed rock, the tilted boulders behind on the left, and the three little bumps on the top of the rock on the right. Taken together the group of features caught my attention.
I went there twice. I set up the tripod in the same spot two evenings in a row. They’re not exactly the same composition, but they are close.
Cloudy Dusk, Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA
This is Joshua Tree National Park in the Mojave Desert in southern California, USA. It was August and the evening light was intense just before sunset. After sunset the light faded slowly and the dusk lasted a long time. There aren’t many visitors in the park in August even though these were weekend afternoons.
The sky in the upper photo is clear and the sun was low. The light and shadows are strong. The rock seems solid and permanent. It is a harsh scene. Each feature is strong and separate. Photo: 1/60 s at f/22.
The sky is clouded in the lower photo and the shadow behind the leaning boulder is faint. The main light source is still from the left, as this view is to the north. This photo was taken the day before, but an hour later, than the other photo. The lower photo is softer in general, but also the features blend together. The grass and forbs don’t seem so different from the rock. The sky is more interesting. The photo is more contemplative. Photo: 1/8 s at f/14.
The two photos are dramatically different, but nearly identical. If either of them are interesting to you please let me know which one, and if you want to, let me know why. Do you have any comments about the differences?
There are more Joshua Tree National Park and Mojave Desert photos in the Photo Gallery at my website: www.earthmapphoto.com
A violent thunderstorm and drenching rain had passed over the lake. It had truly been, ‘a dark and stormy night’.
We were staying in a small, lakeside hotel in Yvoire, France on Lac Léman. Our room looked over the lake, a harbor, and the terrace restaurants below us. The heavy downpour had created havoc. The restaurant staff had to frantically put away all the tables and chairs and take down the semi-permanent terrace awnings. As they cranked down the awnings heavy sheets of water drenched them. Table cloths and napkins were scattered by the wind. Lightning lit up the lake and showed us flashed glimpses of the sailboats anchored in the harbor.
The French word for this is orage – a violent thunderstorm. (We had first heard this word when we were eating dinner on the beach in Montpellier, France several years before. It seemed like a nice sunny evening. But the restaurant staff scurried to take down the tables and umbrellas. They tried to let us know to find shelter, “Orage, orage!” We headed back to our hotel and before long an intense lightning and rain storm moved through the town. We learned about the orage.)
I had a plan to photograph in the beautiful medieval village of Yvoire at dawn, before anyone was on the streets. I got up at around 4:30 am and quietly left the hotel. It was misting and water was running down the steep cobblestone streets leading up into the village. It was still dark and quiet. I walked through the main streets and went back downhill to another harbor next to a beautiful old chateau. I set up my tripod on the breakwater on the outside of the harbor. It continued to rain so I covered my camera and waited for the dawn. But it was just too rainy, so I found shelter in a small public restroom and waited.
After a while the rain stopped, but it was still overcast and the light was bad. Everything looked drab. I took some photos and then wandered back through town, returning to the hotel disappointed and frustrated. As I was getting ready for breakfast I noticed that it was brightening outside. I grabbed my pack and hurried back to the other harbor.
As I entered the harbor area the sun emerged at lake level under the clouds. It reflected across the surface of the lake like a spotlight on the harbor, the boats, and the chateau. Over the next half hour I got several successful photos of the harbor, the central square, and the chateau. During the several days we were in Yvoire, the few successful photos were taken during that half hour when the light was right! In the calm after the orage.
I tried for a long depth of field to show the full length of the pier. And I enjoy the reflected masts on the right side. Photo: 1/100 s at f/18. You can see other Yvoire photos in the Photo Gallery at my website: www.earthmapphoto.com