About the Header Images

A quick summary of where the current images were taken and who I was with.

You may not realize it, but I shot all of the photos that appear in the header on this site. There are currently more than 90 of them and they’re set up to appear randomly. Each time you visit this site or click a link to another page here, the image up top should change.

I noticed just the other day that although all images were shot within the past 10 years, the vast majority were shot when I was alone. That made me realize how much I traveled by myself, even when I was married, and how the places and things I saw were beautiful or interesting enough to capture an image of.

Anyway, here are the images, with summaries.

Alfalfa

Alfalfa

This was an alfalfa field near where I spent my summer in Quincy, WA. I think I shot this in 2008. Alone.

American Coot Family 1 & 2

American Coot Family

American Coot Family 2

I shot these two images at Quincy Lakes in Quincy, WA in 2008. Alone.

Bark

Bark

Birch Bark 2

I like photos that show texture. These close up photos of bark were shot at Quincy, WA in 2008. Alone.

Barn Roof, Wagon, and Waterville Farmland

Barn Roof

Barn Wagon

Waterville Farmland

These three images were shot on the Waterville Plateau near Douglas, WA, probably in 2009. I was with my wasband.

Basalt Cliffs

Basalt Cliff

I’m pretty sure this photo was shot while repositioning my RV from Washington to Arizona by way of Glacier National Park with my wasband — one of the last “vacations” we had together — in 2009. I think it’s at Palouse Falls.

BC Mountains Pano

BC Mountains Pano

This was shot from a cruise ship on an Alaska Cruise with my wasband in 2007. Our last day on board took us between Vancouver Island and the mainland.

BHCB

BHCB

This was shot at Quincy Lakes in 2008 or 2009. I assume BHCB is an abbreviation for the type of bird. Alone.

Birch Leaves

Birch Leaves

I liked the way the sun shined through these leaves in the late afternoon. Shot at Quincy near the golf course in 2008. Alone.

Blue Heron & White Heron

Blue Heron

White Heron

I was kayaking with my dog at Lake Solano in Central California in 2014 when I shot these photos of herons.

Bowman Lake

Bowman Lake

This was shot at Glacier National Park in 2009 while traveling from Washington to Arizona with my wasband.

Bryce and Bryce Dawn

Bryce

Bryce Dawn

These two photos were shot at Bryce Canyon in 2011. I’d gone there with a client in January on a photo flight for this 360 interactive panorama: Bryce Canyon in Winter, Utah, USA.

Cache Creek

Cache Creek 1

Cache Creek 2

Cache Creek 3

Cache Creek 4

These four images of Cache Creek were taken from my helicopter’s nosecam on an early morning flight up Cache Creek in Central California in 2014. I was alone.

Cascades

Cascades

This image of a ridge and cloud-filled valleys was taken from my helicopter’s nosecam on a flight between Wenatchee, WA and Hillsboro, OR in 2012. I blogged about the flight here and shared video from the flight here. It’s notable not only for the perfect weather and amazing scenery, but because it was my dog Penny’s first helicopter flight — 90 minutes long! And yes, that is Mt. St. Helens in the background.

Cherry Drying Cockpit

Cherry Drying Cockpit

This is a shot from a GoPro camera mounted in the back of my helicopter during a cherry drying flight. It was probably taken in 2011.

Close Up Wheat

Close Up Wheat

This closeup of wheat growing in a field in Quincy, WA was shot in 2009. I was alone.

Combine

Combine

This aerial shot of a wheat combine at harvest on the Waterville Plateau in North Central Washington was shot in 2011 during a flight between Wenatchee and Coeur d’Alene, ID. My friend Jim was flying his helicopter; I was on board with a camera.

Corn

Corn

I like patterns. This field of young corn plants in Quincy, WA was capture in 2009. I was alone.

Cows in the Road

Cows in the Road

I was on my way up to my old Howard Mesa, AZ place one bright winter day when I came upon these cows following tire tracks in the road. When I approached, they just stopped and stared. I took a photo before continuing, herding them along with my Jeep. I can’t be sure of the date, but I expect it was around 2003 or 2004. I was probably with my friend Jeremy.

Cracked Mud

Cracked Mud

I shot this alongside the road to Alstrom Point on the northwest end of Lake Powell in Utah. It was probably shot in 2008. I was alone.

Crescent Bar View, Yellow Flowers

Crescent Bar View

Yellow Flowers

I shot these photo of Crescent Bar in Quincy, WA in 2009 not long after drying a cherry orchard down by the river there. I was alone.

Dandelion

Dandelion

I shot this photo of a dandelion seed puff in Quincy, WA in 2008. I was alone.

Desert Still Life & Desert Wildflowers

Desert Still Life

Desert Wildflowers

I shot these photo of hedgehog cacti blooms and California poppies near Wickenburg, AZ between 2009 and 2011. It was probably on one or two Jeep outings and I was probably with either my wasband or my friend Janet.

Fern

Fern

Patterns and textures again. This was shot in Alaska sometime during a cruise with my wasband in 2007.

Float Plane

Float Plane

I shot this image of a float plane taking off at an Alaska port while on a cruise with my wasband in 2007. It was shot from the balcony of our stateroom.

Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge

This image of the Golden Gate Bridge was shot during a trip to San Francisco in 2011. Not sure if I was alone — isn’t that odd? — but I was probably there for a Macworld Expo speaking gig.

Glacial River Rocks

Glacial River Rocks

I shot this closeup of rocks in a river bed while on a trip to Denali National Park in 2007 with my wasband.

Golf Balls

Golf Balls

Attach a GoPro to the bottom of a helicopter with the lens pointing down. Then hover over a golf course green and drop hundreds of golf balls. This is what it might look like. Shot in late 2011 or early 2012. My client was dropping the balls.

Grand Canyon Sunset

Grand Canyon Sunset

I’ve been to the Grand Canyon countless times so I don’t know exactly when this was taken or whether I was alone. I know it was shot before the summer of 2011.

Gyro Cache Creek & Gyro Pattern

Gyro Cache Creek

Gyro Pattern

I learned how to fly a gyroplane in the spring of 2014. These two shots were made with a GoPro mounted on the mast. In the first shot, I’m flying up Cache Creek; in the second, I’m doing a traffic pattern at Woodland Airport. Both were shot in Central California.

Hay Bales

Hay Bales

I’m pretty sure this was shot on the road between Upper Moses Coulee and Waterville in North Central Washington in 2009. I was alone.

Helicopter

Heli Header

This is a photo of my helicopter right after sunrise parked out near my new home in Malaga, WA. I shot this in 2014; I was alone.

High Tension

High Tension

This was shot in 2008 near the Chief Joseph Dam near Bridgeport, WA. I was on a daytrip with my wasband.

Hopi House

Hopi House

Another trip to the Grand Canyon. I suspect I was alone when I shot this one, possibly on a day trip by helicopter with clients from Phoenix. Sometime between 2009 and 2011.

Houses

Houses

Here’s another straight down image shot with a GoPro from my helicopter. This was Peoria, AZ in 2011 or 2012. I was alone.

Inspecting Bees

Inspecting Bees

I set up a GoPro on a tripod to record a beehive inspection in 2013. That’s me in the picture; I was alone.

International

International

This is a closeup of an old International truck parked outside the bakery at Stehekin, WA. I was there with my wasband and another couple on a helicopter trip in 2011.

Juvenile Robin

Juvenile Robin

Shot in 2008 at Quincy, WA. I was alone.

Ladders, Side

Ladders Side

Patterns again. These are orchard ladders neatly stacked at an Orchard in Quincy, WA. Shot in 2008.

Lake Berryessa

Lake Berryessa

An aerial view of Lake Berryessa in Central California, shot with my helicopter’s nosecam in 2014. I was alone.

Lake McDonald Sunset

Lake McDonald Sunset

This was shot on a trip to Glacier National Park with my wasband in 2009.

Lake Pleasant

Lake Pleasant

Another nosecam image from my helicopter. This is a dawn flight over Lake Pleasant near Phoenix, AZ. I was alone.

Maine Coastal Town & Main Fog

Main Coastal Town

Maine Fog

I shot these during a trip to Maine to visit some former friends with my wasband back in 2008 or 2009.

Marble Canyon

Marble Canyon

Another nosecam image from my helicopter. I’m pretty sure I shot this one on my way back from a Bryce Canyon photo shoot with a client in 2011.

Mini-Stack

Mini-Stack

An aerial view of the so-called “mini-stack” of at I-17 and Route 101 in north Phoenix, AZ. Probably shot in 2011 or 2012.

Mission Ridge Pano

Mission Ridge Pano

I shot this photo from Wenatchee Mountain near Wenatchee, WA during a jeep ride to Mission Ridge with my friend Don in 2014. What an amazing day!

Monument Valley

Monument Valley

I’ve flown over Monument Valley dozens of times. Once in a while, there’s a camera on the helicopter’s nose. This was probably shot in 2011. I was either alone or with aerial photo clients.

Monument Valley Wide

Monument Valley Wide

I used to do multi-day excursions by helicopter to Arizona destinations that included Monument Valley. While my clients took tours, I’d explore on my own. This is Monument Valley from the overlook, shot in 2010 or 2011.

Moonset Sunrise

Moonset Sunrise

I used to camp out at a friend’s place overlooking Squilchuck Valley near Wenatchee, WA. This was one of the early morning views from my doorstep. I was alone.

North to the Future

North to the Future

I shot this in Girdwood, AK in 2008. I’d gone up there alone for a job interview. I got an offer but turned it down. Beautiful place.

No Wake

No Wake

I shot this with my 10.5mm fisheye lens at Lake Pateros, WA in 2008. I was with my wasband.

Orchard Still Life

Orchard Still Life

These are apples culled from the trees in Quincy, WA. Shot in 2008; I was alone.

Peacock

Peacock

This is one of the dozens of peacocks strolling around at the Lake Solano campground in central California. I shot this in 2014; I was alone.

Penny Kayak

Penny Kayak

This is one of the few images I didn’t shoot. I was on a kayak trip in the American River near Sacramento with a Meetup group and one of the other members shot this and sent it to me.

Petrified Wood

Petrified Wood

I’m not sure, but I think this was shot in Vantage, WA in 2008 or 2009. I was probably alone.

Phoenix

Phoenix

Another nosecam image, this time of downtown Phoenix. Shot in 2011 or early 2012; I was likely on a tour with passengers.

Poppies and Chicory

Poppies and Chicory

Another desert jeep trip near Wickenburg, AZ. I could have been alone, with my wasband, or with my friend Janet.

Poppies Plus

Poppies Plus

This wildflower closeup was shot on a trip to the Seattle area, possibly in 2007 with my wasband and his cousin.

Quail Mom

Quail Mom

A Gambols quail hen and her chicks, shot from my doorstep in Wenatchee Heights, WA in 2012. I was alone.

Rafting

Rafting

Put a GoPro in a head mount, get in a raft, and head down the Wenatchee River and this is the result. I was rafting with a bunch of friends in 2013.

Red Wing Blackbird

Red Wing BlackBird

Red Wing Blackbird 1

Red Wing Blackbird 2

I shot these at Quincy Lakes in Quincy, WA in 2008. I was alone.

Rocks Under Water

Rocks Under Water

I’m pretty sure I shot this in 2009 at Glacier National Park on a trip with my wasband.

Saguaro Boulders

Saguar Boulders Big

I shot this photo of saguaro cacti among sandstone boulders near Congress, AZ on a Jeep trip in 2009 or 2010. I was probably with my wasband.

Sand Dunes

Sand Dunes

This is an aerial shot of the sand dunes west of Yuma, AZ. This was probably shot in 2008 on a flight to the San Diego area with my wasband.

San Francisco

San Francisco

What a memorable flight! This was on a ferry flight from the Phoenix area to Seattle in 2008. Another pilot was flying my helicopter so I got to take photos. Low clouds over the coast forced us high over San Fransisco. Amazing views!

Sedona

Sedona

The red rocks of Sedona at Oak Creek. Shot in 2010 or 2011 while on a multi-day excursion with passengers.

Squilchuck View

Squilchuck View

The view from where I spent several late summers at Wenatchee Heights. This was probably shot in 2012.

Steam Train

Steam Train

This is an aerial shot of the old Grand Canyon Railroad steam train. I used to buzz that train with my helicopter any time I saw it from the air. This was probably shot in 2007. I was alone.

Stucco Scroll

Stucco Scroll

I shot this on a photo walk at the San Xavier Mission in Arizona with my wasband and a group of photographers.

Sunset

Sunset

I can’t be sure, but I think I shot this from Howard Mesa in 2006 or 2007.

Surprise Valley Drugs

Surprise Valley Drugs

I shot this in California during my 2005 “midlife crisis road trip.” I was alone. It was one of the best vacations in my life.

Helicopter Tail

Tail Header

An early morning shot of my helicopter parked out near my new home in Malaga, WA. Shot in 2014; I was alone.

Tetons

Tetons

Another shot from my 2005 “midlife crisis road trip.” This was at the Grand Tetons.

Turtle

Turtle

Shot while I was kayaking with my dog at Lake Solano in 2014.

Two Hillers

Two Hillers

I shot this at Brewster Airport in Brewster, WA on a day trip with my wasband in 2008.

Wheat Irrigation

Wheat Irrigation

Textures and patterns. What’s not to love about them? Shot in Quincy, WA in 2008. I was alone.

Yellow Headed Blackbird

Yellow Headed Blackbird

Yellow Headed Blackbird 2

I shot both of these photos at Quincy Lakes in Quincy, WA in 2008. I was alone.

Yellow Flower

Yellow Flower

A yellow flower. Probably shot somewhere in Washington state in 2011 or 2012. I’m sure I was alone.

Yellow Kayak

Yellow Kayak

Although my kayaks are yellow, this isn’t one of them. This was shot at Glacier National Park on a trip there with my wasband in 2009.

Another Reason Why I Love It Here

Wildlife watching from the door to my front deck.

I’d been told that there were bighorn sheep in the cliffs up behind my home. And more than once I’ve heard them knocking rocks around up there as they move along the cliff face. And occasionally Penny will bark like a crazy dog at the cliffs, obviously hearing or seeing something I can’t. But despite purchasing and using a set of binoculars last autumn, I haven’t been able to see the animals up on the cliffs.

Until last week. That’s when Penny’s urgent barking caught my attention and I spotted three bighorn sheep — two adults and a yearling — in my neighbor’s front yard. I rushed Penny into the RV to shut her up and grabbed my binoculars.

Unfortunately, I got more of an eyeful than I expected. Not only did I get a close look at one of the animals, but I also got a too close look at my neighbor, who’d come out stark naked to photograph them.

Life’s different out here.

Today, more barking got my attention. And this time, when I rushed Penny into the RV, I grabbed my Nikon, 300mm lens, and monopod. Then I went into my unfinished building, climbed the stairs, and opened the door to my future front deck. I zoomed in on one of the animals grazing in the yard. Her head was down but I waited. No sense taking a picture of her back. After about a minute, I was rewarded. She popped her head up and looked right at me.

Bighorn Sheep
Captured in pixels from the door to my future front deck.

This isn’t the only interesting animal we have around here. There are also golden and bald eagles and other birds of prey that I see daily. There are quail — which have youngsters right now — as well as robins, magpies, and hummingbirds. I hear owls but have never seen one here. There are coyotes, which I occasionally see but more often hear at night. There’s elk and deer in the area, but I’m not sure if they ever make appearances near my home. And, of course, there are bull snakes and rattlesnakes.

It’s nice to live in a place that’s remote enough for wildlife viewing out my window without being too remove to take advantage of the conveniences a small city like Wenatchee has to offer. I really like it here — I only wish I’d moved here sooner.

Whale Watching at Point Reyes

And so much more.

I went whale watching yesterday. At least that was the excuse I used to make the two-hour drive to Point Reyes National Seashore. The motivation to get out there by 9:30 AM was provided by the Sacramento Paddle Pushers, a Meetup.com group that had suggested the trip. (I’d gone on a 9-mile paddling trip with the SPP a few weeks before; they’re really active and do a lot more than paddling. Thought I’d blogged about it, but I guess not!)

I didn’t carpool with the group. Although I like the idea of carpooling — saving gas, companionship for a drive, etc. — I don’t like the idea of being tied to another person who I may or may not know very well. I like the freedom to make things up as I go along. And I absolutely detest waiting for other people to get organized or to give the green light for setting out on the next part of a drive. So I didn’t carpool. I drove out on my own, with Penny beside me and Google providing turn-by-turn driving instructions.

It was dark when I left at 6:30 AM. I not only wanted to get there on time, but I wanted the freedom to stop wherever I wanted to along the way. I headed westbound on I-80 as it got lighter and lighter and foggier and foggier. By the time I’d exited at Route 37, the fog was thick — so thick that I had to slow down going through the San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Then it lifted just enough to make normal speed possible and I continued on my way.

The route Google chose took me through some residential areas before sending me toward the coast on Novado Boulevard. There were cows grazing on lush green hills along the way. The road wound up and down and around, past small lakes as wisps of fog got caught up in trees and floated on lake surfaces. The early morning sun shined brightly above the marine layer, trying so hard to break through. I stopped at Stafford Lake Park to let Penny take a walk while I shot a few photos.

Stafford Lake
The scene at Stafford Lake Park yesterday morning.

Interesting Breakfast
Not sure how I wound up with a veggie breakfast, but it was good. It’s always nice to try something different.

Eventually, we wound up at Point Reyes Station. It was early — only 8:30 AM. I had a whole hour to go the last 16 miles, which Google said would take me 33 minutes. I decided to stop for breakfast. I wound up at the Station House Cafe, which was pretty much empty. (Heck, the whole town was empty at 8:30; it would be very different later on.) I sat at the counter and although my brain really wanted an omelet as good as the one I’d had in Winters the morning before, I went with something completely different: cheese grits and sauteed Swiss chard. As I told a Facebook friend later in the day, it was good, but bacon would have made it better.

Please don’t lecture me about leaving my dog in the car. First of all, I only do this when I’m certain that the temperature in the car won’t exceed a balmy 70° or 80°F or get below 40°F. On warm days, I always park in the shade if possible. And if I’m parked in town, I always leave the doors unlocked so anyone could simply open them up if there was a concern.

Penny has spent a lot of time in the car — whether it’s my Honda, Jeep, truck, or a rental car — and is quite accustomed to it. She usually just settles down and goes to sleep.

On that particular day, the high in the area was forecasted as 50°F and although there was no shade, I did leave both front windows down a good 4 inches. I locked the doors, but anyone with a long, skinny arm could have unlocked them.

I was back in the truck, finishing up my drive by 9:00 AM. The road wound through the tiny town of Inverness on Tomales Bay before cutting west across the peninsula into the park. I followed the signs and wound up in the nearly empty Drakes Beach parking lot. I took Penny out for another quick walk and moved the truck to a spot closer to the ranger station. Then I gathered my camera equipment together, made sure Penny was set with food and water, locked up the car, and went to find the others.

I brought all my good camera equipment with me that day: my Nikon D7000 and 3 lenses, including my 300 mm lens, which I thought might be good to capture images of the whales. I also had my Manfrotto monopod. Yes, I know a tripod would be better, but I detest using one in situations involving moving subject matter. My monopod gives me enough steadying on full-sun shoots.

And there was plenty of sun that day. The fog was mostly burned off, although there was a definite white haze in the air. I went to the building just as the ranger was unlocking it. There were a handful of people milling about, but no one I recognized. I didn’t think it worth querying people to see if they were with the group. Again, I was leery of tying myself to one or more people until I knew how the day would unfold.

Like most other people there, I paid $5 for a shuttle bus ticket. Then I went outside and followed the group to a nice charter coach that was being used to shuttle park visitors to two points of interest: the Point Reyes Lighthouse and a spot called Chimney Rock. The bus pulled away from the curb and the driver, a big man who obviously had a lot of passion about the park and his job, told us a little about the wildlife we were already seeing: black-tailed deer and Tule elk. He then put in a short CD that explained a little of the park’s history and told us about the dairy farms we were passing along the way.

We were making the final climb up the road toward the lighthouse, when the man in front of me and I saw the same thing out on the ocean to our left: a whale! We’d already made our first spotting.

At the bus stop, we all got out and headed up the hill toward the lighthouse. There were about 20 of us in this first trip of the day. I took my time, taking in the view of the surf on the beach stretching out to the north. This was my third trip to Point Reyes and this particular view has become iconic for me. No matter when I come — late afternoon, midday, or morning — the pounding surf seems to disappear into the far distance, perfectly illustrating one of the themes I like to capture in my photography: infinity.

Infinity Waves
It looks like this pattern of waves against the shore could go on forever, no?

I caught sight of movement over a small hill and moved farther up the trail to investigate. On the other side of a clump of trees, on the hillside sloping down to the cliffs, were two black-tailed deer, grazing. I moved in among the trees for some photos while other bus passengers hurried by behind me, talking at full volume about anything other than their surroundings, oblivious to nature around them. Finally, someone spotted me with my camera and took a closer look. By the time I was finished, a small crowd had gathered with people snapping photos of the deer less than 100 feet away. To their credit, no one tried to approach them more closely.

Black-Tailed Deer
Shot with a 300 mm focal length lens, cropping this photo was not necessary; this deer was close.

I reached the top of the steps leading down to the lighthouse and stopped for a moment to take in the view. We were on a point of land facing due west with sweeping views to the south and northwest. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky. The blue of the sky and the blue of the ocean met in a somewhat blurred line out in the distance. The sound of the waves and calling birds laid a background soundtrack to the chatter of the people around me. There was almost no wind at all. An absolutely perfect day to be at Point Reyes.

Map View of Point Reyes
Google’s Map view of Point Reyes. The lighthouse is on the left (west) point; Chimney Rock is on the right (east) point.

There were 300 steps down to the lighthouse. A sign at the top of the steps warned that the climb back up was the equivalent of climbing a 30-story building. (I seriously doubt that. The stairs were shallow and easy. Maybe 20 stories.)

Lighthouse at 70 mm

This is an interesting illustration of the way various lens focal lengths affect the appearance of distances. The top image was shot from the top of the stairs at 70mm. The bottom image was shot about halfway down the stairs (on my way back up) at 10mm. Neither image was cropped; both are shown here at the same size. Doesn’t the stairway look longer in the second image?

Lighthouse at 10mm

Once at the lighthouse, I joined a few other people there who were actively looking for whales. We were rewarded many times. A pair of young whales, maybe 20-25 feet long, were making their way around the point. They’d surface together every 5 or 10 minutes quite close to us, send up two sprays of misty air, give us a good look at their backs, and then disappear under the waves. They did this at least a half-dozen times while I watched with the others. Good photos weren’t possible — there just wasn’t any exciting activity. These whales were motoring, not auditioning for SeaWorld. This is the best I could do.

Whales
Yes, there are two gray whales in this photo. No NatGeo photo op yesterday.

Lighthouse Tower
An example of symmetry — or as much as possible, considering the light and rust patterns.

Since I wasn’t getting any satisfying whale photos, I started looking at other things that were interesting. The lighthouse, flowers along the stairway, equipment in the lighthouse building. Other themes and techniques I like to explore in my photography include symmetry, patterns, filling the frame with an image, and putting foreground items against out-of-focus backgrounds.

Detail from Lighthouse
I don’t know why I like this photo so much, but I do. It seems to me that anyone can take a picture. But when a picture evokes an emotion — as this one does for me — it’s something worth looking at.

Iris Iris
Two examples of an interesting foreground — irises in bloom — against an out-of-focus background. Which do you think works better?

Red Maid
I’m not sure, but I think this one is called red maid.

Voilet
And I’m pretty sure this is a violet.

Indian Paintbrush
I’m pretty sure this is Indian Paintbrush.

Yellow Bush Lupine
Yellow bush lupine grows in huge clumps out on the peninsula.

One of the huge benefits of traveling alone is that you can spend your day the way you want to do it. No one to compromise with. No one to get bored and hurry you along. No one to drag you places you couldn’t care less about.

That was me yesterday. Spending as much time as I liked, seeing what I wanted to see. I know a companion would have lost patience with the amount of time I spent kneeling or even lying in the dirt to frame up some of these photos. I’ve had traveling companions like that in the past and I can’t begin to imagine the things I missed because of them.

(You could also argue that traveling companions can reveal a whole new world for you. I think that’s possible — with someone who is imaginative, open to seeing new things, and not opposed to changing plans as opportunities arise. But I haven’t had a companion like that for many, many years. Instead, I spent a lot of time stuck with someone who was tied to a schedule. Any suggested change resulted in, “But I thought we were going to….” I’d rather travel alone than deal with that ever again.)

Once I’d finished up at the lighthouse and made the climb up the 300 steps, I walked back to the bus stop. Along the way I peeked through the row of trees to see if the deer were still there. They were. And that’s when I noticed a third deer lying in the shade of a bush.

Two Deer
Can you see the deer in the background?

While I was enjoying my day, taking lots of photos, and really having a great time being outdoors in such a beautiful place, I was also chatting with the folks around me. One by one I met up with about a dozen of the SPP members, including Lynn, who’d organized the meetup. The group had broken into smaller subgroups of twos and fours, each wandering around the park at their own pace. Nice. No pressure.

I rode the bus to the Chimney Rock stop. There were three points of interest there: the elephant seal beach, the historic life boat station, and Chimney Rock point. The elephant seals were closest, so I took that path, getting into a conversation along the way with a woman from Las Vegas who was also traveling alone — and enjoying every minute of it. She and I would cross paths a few more times before the end of the day.

At the end of the path was a lookout point where we could clearly see hundreds of young elephant seals and their mothers stretched out on the sand, sunning themselves. Every once in a while, one of them would start barking or screeching or making some other weird noise. Seals would swim out of the water and shimmy up onto the beach. A harbor seal splashed around in the weeds just offshore. There were no breakers in the sheltered cove, making it ideal for the young animals to rest and learn how to swim.

Elephant Seals
Elephant seal weanlings sun themselves on the beach with their mothers.

Seal Beach
There were hundreds of seals along the stretch of sheltered beach.

I chatted with a volunteer naturalist about the seals and the flowers I’d been seeing throughout the day. She was extremely informative and had some visual aids to show how the features of the elephant seals change throughout their lifetimes. While we chatted, a male seal swam up to the base of the cliff right below us. Meanwhile, a ranger worked with some kids to teach them about the seals. (Really, parents, why aren’t you taking your kids to places like this?)

My Ex Brother In Law
You can kind of get an idea why they call them elephant seals — the males get an elongated nose as they age.

Chocolate Lily
Chocolate lily. This plant also grows in the mountains near where I live.

Afterwards, the naturalist walked back along the trail with me and another member of the group to show us a relatively rare chocolate lily in bloom. I’d only seen one before — on a wildflower hike in Washington State near where I live — and it was nice to see one again out in the wild.

Although the historic boathouse was open that day for tours, I decided to skip it. Instead. I walked out along the 1.6 mile trail to Chimney Rock. I got a nice photo of the boathouse and Drakes Bay from along the trail. I also snapped some photographs of some of the flowers I’ve already shown above.

Historic Boathouse
The historic life boat station with the old pier and seal beach in the distance.

The trail to Chimney Rock was interesting mostly because it ran along a relatively narrow spit of land with open ocean on one side and Drakes Bay on the other. The ocean side had dramatic rock cliffs with more seals sunning themselves on small beaches. At the end was a rocky point, a fence to discourage wandering along the cliff, and some benches. Off the point, a buoy bounced it the waves, making a mournful sound. Some members of SPP were having lunch.

From Chimney Rock
View from along the trail to Chimney Rock. The beach was full of sunning seals.

I’d chosen to carry camera equipment instead of food and was quite hungry by that point. It was after 2 PM. I was starting to get a little worried about Penny being stuck in the car for 4-1/2 hours. It was time to head back.

I met up with Lynn again at the bus stop. Most of the group was going to stop in Point Reyes Station — coincidentally, at the restaurant I’d had breakfast — for a meal. Others were going to the Cowgirl Creamery nearby. Neither plan sounded that good to me; I wanted to try something different and preferred to avoid the temptations of cheese. And I knew I couldn’t wait around for the group to gather. So I decided to stick to my solo plan for the day.

Back at the main parking lot, Penny was fine but glad to see me. I put her leash on and walked her out along one edge of the parking lot where there was a picnic area with grass. Despite the No Dogs sign, there were four other dogs on leashes nearby. Penny got a lot of pee and barking out of her system before we climbed back into the truck and headed out.

My stomach did the driving, retracing our route past the cows and various park turns toward Point Reyes. When I got to Inverness, I spotted Vladimir’s Czech Restaurant, which had outdoor seating. Soon Penny and I were sitting beneath the shade of an umbrella, eating stuffed cabbage with a hearty grain bread. The sound of live musicians playing Irish music (for some reason) drifted out the restaurant’s open doors, flooding the patio with a cheerful sound.

I made a few more stops on the way home — Point Reyes Station, which was packed with people, and Muir Woods, which was just emptying out — before heading home. I’ll cover Muir Woods in another blog post; it deserves one.

It had been another great day out. Yes, I’d seen some whales, but I’d also enjoyed experimenting with photography again, doing some good walking, and being out in great weather. Although I’d debated spending the night in the area and doing more the next day, I soon realized that an overnight trip would be better during the week when it wasn’t so crowded. I have a month left here in California; I need to plan a nice two or three day trip with Penny before I head back home.

Maybe next week? Got nothing else planned and the only schedule I need to check is my own.

Paddling with the Birds (and Turtles) at Lake Solano

It’s more than just an upper-body workout.

On Thursday, I took my kayak out to Lake Solano near Winters, CA.

I blogged a little about this lake last week — I’d driven through the campground there and was amazed to see dozens of peacocks strutting around. I took lots of photos.

Map of Lake Solano
The area of Lake Solano where I paddled on Thursday.

The lake isn’t anything to brag about. Really, it’s more of a very long, narrow pond. When I mentioned it to a local friend, his response was “What lake? Never heard of it.” In fact, Google Maps doesn’t even refer to it as Lake Solano — instead, it’s just Putah Creek.

What attracted me to it was the calm, smooth water. An easy paddle — something I was really looking for after my 9-mile paddle last Saturday on the American River. (If you’re wondering why I didn’t blog about that trip, it’s because I’ve been just too darn busy to blog most of the things I do these days. Maybe if I ever slow down.) Secondary was the wildlife — including birds — that I expected to find along the way. I’ve bring my camera and turn it into a “Photo Paddle.”

The weather couldn’t have been better. Temperature in the low 70s and not a cloud in the sky. I put on my swim shorts and a tank top, packed a picnic lunch that included a salad, some almonds, some string cheese, and a bottle of icy water. I grabbed Penny’s life jacket and the waterproof case I used to keep my phone safe on the water. Then I loaded up the kayak into the back of my truck and headed out. It was around noon.

I took the freeway to route 128 and headed west through Winters, stopping only long enough to put some fuel in the truck. A short while later, I was pulling into the parking lot for the day use area near the bridge, ignoring the signs that said “No Pets Beyond this Point.” After all, it wasn’t as if Penny and I were going to have a picnic in the park. We were there for the boat ramp.

I backed the truck down the narrow ramp, pulled down the tailgate, and slid my kayak into the water. I put the picnic lunch in the watertight compartment and my bottle of water in the cupholder in front of my seat. I carefully stowed my camera bag on the floor of the boat, shoved up toward the bow where it was more likely to stay dry. Then I put Penny’s life jacket on her, fastened her leash to it, and put her in the boat. I attached the leash to the elastic tie-downs on the front of the boat and left her to move the truck. I parked it in the shade, locked it up, and returned to the boat.

I decided not to wear my life jacket, although I did bring it with me as required by one of the many signs in the park. I’d use it as a backrest. The water was calm and smooth and not very deep. The possibility of me flipping the boat and then being unable to keep my head above water was pretty much nil.

I pushed the boat out a little and climbed on board. I settled myself into the comfy seat, put my feet on the supports on either side, and paddled out into the lake. After fiddling with my camera while the boat drifted in lazy circles, being pushed by a mild current and light winds, I started paddling upstream (northwest) with Penny sitting on one of her dog beds fastened to the bow.

I started seeing photography subjects immediately. The first was a heron, which I’ve always had trouble photographing. The birds are extremely spooky; it’s next to impossible to get anywhere near one. Fortunately, I had my 300mm stabilized lens. I managed to frame a few shots before it took off.

Heron
This great blue heron was standing in deep water when we drifted by.

Heron
Another heron along the shore of Lake Solano.

Later on, I shot another one on the other side of the lake. As I expected, he didn’t wait around. If it weren’t for the 300mm lens, I never would have captured these images. I really like that lens for wildlife photography.

Heron in Flight
Although I didn’t capture an image of the heron taking off, I did get this shot of it flying away. (Frankly, I’d rather look at wildlife than photograph it.)

After that, it was mostly various types of ducks.

Ducks
A pair of Barrows Goldeneye ducks. IDed by my friend Dale.

Ducks
A pair of Common Merganser ducks. Also IDed by Dale.

Duck on a Log
A female Common Merganser.

Paddling was pretty easy, even though I was moving upstream. There was a little bit of a breeze behind me and the current, for the most part, wasn’t even noticeable. I took my time, pausing plenty of times for rest and to just look around me or snap photos.

Eventually, we reached the lower end of a long island (see map above). I brought the boat up on a gravelly shore and stepped out. Penny jumped out and I unfastened her leash. It was a nice place to stop for lunch — sunny and quiet with a nice view down the lake. I settled down with my picnic lunch of salad, cheese sticks, and almonds while Penny sniffed around the island and nibbled goose poop. (Of course, that could explain why her digestive system hasn’t been quite right since then.)

Lunchtime View
I sat on the shore and looked down the lake while eating lunch.

After lunch, we continued upstream on the southwest side of the island, which seemed a bit shadier. Since spending the winter in Wenatchee, I’ve lost most (but fortunately, not all) of my year-round tan and I’m a bit susceptible to sunburn. The creek got narrower as I paddled upstream and the current became noticeable. I kept going, paddling around fallen trees and rocky sandbars.

Finally, we reached a place where there were “rapids” — if I could use so strong a word — as water rushed over rocks. I suspected I was pretty close to the top end of the island and got the idea that I could sort of portage the boat up the rapids by dragging it and then come back down the other side. I climbed out and gave it a try. I got about 100 feet upstream — far enough to look beyond to see whether I was near where the water split around the island. It didn’t look as if I was. So I turned the boat around, got back in, and paddled through the rapids back downstream.

Rapids
Here’s a GoPro BowCam image as we left the “rapids” on our way back downstream. (You didn’t think I’d do this trip without a GoPro on board, did you?)

For the most part, Penny was pretty comfortable up on the bow, taking in the view. After her initial frustration of seeing so many ducks so close up and not being able to get them, she settled down. She took great interest in the weeds and sometimes river rocks right below the surface. She may even have seen a fish or two — she certainly reacted as if she’d seen something interesting.

Penny in the Bow
My dog will go anywhere with me.

The paddling was easy in the smooth, calm water with a hint of a current behind us. We were back at the bottom end of the island in no time. With no hurry to be anywhere else, I turned up the northeast side of the island and started paddling upsteam again.

Calm Water Reflections
Here’s another BowCam shot. The water was mirror smooth in some places.

Canada Geese
There was more to this scene than just a pair of Canada geese.

I shot some more photos along the way. The Canada geese shot was particularly memorable. As I paddled up the northeast side of the island, I saw a goose standing alongside the creek. I got my camera ready as the boat drifted upstream. That’s when I realized that there were two geese standing side by side. I snapped two good shots of them and then took a moment to just look at them. That’s when I saw the deer behind them, moving away into the brush. I’d been so focused on the geese that I’d missed the deer. And I’d been so surprised to see the deer that I didn’t react with my camera. Photo op lost, but that’s okay.

All of the birds — except the geese, of course — were spooky. Any time I got close, they’d take to the air. As I paddled up the side of the island, I got rather close to a pair of ducks. The GoPro captured footage of them taking off.

Runaway Ducks
A screen grab from the BowCam video. The ducks were airborne in less than 2 seconds.

I reached the rapids at the top end of the island and turned around without stopping. By then, I was ready to go back.

Later, back in the main body of the lake, I managed to capture some images of turtles, sunning themselves on logs. Like the birds, they were pretty spooky and I could only snap photos from quite a distance away.

Turtle on a Log
Bet you didn’t know turtles could climb trees. Per my friend Terry, this is a red eared slider.

Great Egret
This great egret was fishing across the lake from the boat ramp.

I caught sight of a great egret not far from the boat ramp and paddled over as close as I dared to get one final photo.

Afterwards, I paddled back to the boat ramp and brought the boat onshore. I fetched the truck, loaded up the boat, and climbed into the cab.

I took one quick ride through the campground to look at the peacocks again before heading back to our temporary home.

It had been a nice, relaxing day out. According to my GPS track, I’d paddled about four miles. Best of all, I had some really nice photos to share from my day out.

The Peacocks of Lake Solano Campground

A campground drive through turns into an amazing photo opportunity.

There are a few weird little things I like to do. (Actually, there are probably enough weird little things to fill a book, but we won’t go there now.) One of them is driving through public campgrounds to check out the facilities.

I don’t remember when I started doing this. It might have been way back when I first started doing road trips with my wasband in the 1980s. Or it might have been in 1995, when I began doing road trips on my own. In any case, when I’m on the road just wandering around and don’t have anyplace special to go and I see a state or county park campground that looks interesting, I detour to drive through it.

I’ve seen a lot of really neat places to go car camping this way. A lot.

Lake Solano, west of Winters, CA, was just a point on the map when I went out for a drive to Lake Berryessa midday yesterday. The satellite view on Google Maps didn’t show it to be anything special. But when I drove by it on my way up route 128 into the mountains, I noticed its calm, clear water stretching alongside the road. And after a 9-mile kayak paddle the day before that had left me very sore indeed, the calm water of the little lake looked extremely inviting for a paddle one day in the future. So on the way back, I drove slowly past the lake. And that’s when I noticed the sign for the campground.

A campground near a lake. Of course, I had to check it out.

It’s a nice campground with plenty of wooded site. I didn’t really notice whether water and electricity were available. The reason for that was the initial distraction of seeing what looked like a small person carrying some sort of netted frame along the road ahead of me. My brain asked, “What the hell is that?” I looked harder and soon realized I was seeing the side of a peacock with his fan of feathers fully extended. It was the fan that looked like a frame with a net.

I pulled over on the side of the road and grabbed my camera. I’d brought my Nikon D7000 with me, hoping to see something photographic at Lake Berryessa. (I’d been disappointed.) The bird was standing in the middle of the road, rotating slowly so all the females in the area could see him. When he faced me, I snapped a photo with the 24-70mm “everyday” lens that I keep on the camera.

Peacock

Surrounded by PeacocksAnd that’s when I realized that we were pretty much surrounded by peacocks and peahens. They were strutting through the empty campsites, along the road, and into the brush. Occasionally, one would let out a shrill call. Penny stared at them through her window. I used my phone to grab a photo of that.

I spent the next twenty minutes driving around the campground, snapping photos out the truck window of the peacocks and peahens. When I realized after a few minutes that I wasn’t scaring them off, I took a moment to put my 70-300mm stabilized lens on the camera. Then I kept shooting. Yes, every single one of the shots on this page was taken from inside a running diesel pickup truck.

Peacock

Peacock

Peacock

Peahens

Peacock

Peacock

I did get a chance to check out the boat launch, which was perfect for canoes, kayaks, and other non-motorized boats. And I looked at a bunch of campsites, trying to judge whether my mobile mansion would fit into any of them.

But mostly I looked at the peacocks. I never realized just how beautiful these birds are.