Sunday, April 26, 2009

California's North Coast

Fern Canyon, originally uploaded by Jeff Sullivan.

Once or twice a year I head up to Mendocino to go diving for abalone, and I also occasionally reach the California Coast further North on trips to and from the Oregon Coast.  Here are some notes for travelers and photographers if you're heading up that way.

Van Damme State Park just south of Mendocino has a fern canyon (photo at top above) a couple of miles hike from the campground. The cove there can be good for sunset or sunrise if there are clouds in the sky, and you can get a reflection of any sky color in the creek lagoon.

Russian Gulch State Park
Russian Gulch just North of Mendocino has a nice view of a bridge past a cove and tree-topped sea stack. You'll see some wildflowers on hikes in either Van Damme or Russian Gulch State Parks. There's also a small lighthouse just North of Russian Gulch (it requires a 1/2 mile walk to reach). There's also a botanical garden in the area (Fort Bragg I believe).

There's an old railroad trestle just North of Fort Bragg that can have nice backlighting just before sunset. You may enjoy shooting around Noyo Harbor in Fort Bragg as well.

Point Arena is about 45 minutes South, and it has the tallest lighthouse on the West Coast, which you can capture in good compositions from half a dozen directions.

Sunset at Greenwood State Beach
About halfway from Mendocino to Point Arena is Greenwood Beach, available via a short hike, where the sun will set near offshore rocks.

Three miles or so further south are Schooner Gulch and Bowling Ball Beach (visit Bowling Ball at low tide to see the round rock formations). Osprey are often diving for surf perch off of Bowling Ball (I watched up to 9 or 10 of them fishing at once).

If you drive up Highway 1 you can stop at Kruse Rhododendron State Park . The flowers peak in May, but may still be around by June. You can catch some fern and redwood shots there anyway.

You'll see some interesting cliff and surf views just North of Salt Point State Park.

The Sea Ranch area has a tiny church with bizarre architecture just East of Hwy 1.

Church in Bodega Bay
Further South, the town of Bodega Bay has a large white church that Ansel Adams took a well known shot of.

Whether you drive to the coast from Santa Rosa to Bodega Bay or Jenner, or via the Anderson Valley, you will drive past vineyards and wineries that could provide photographic opportunities, especially if you call ahead and identify one that will give you a cellar tour.

Driving down the Russian River towards Jenner there's a unique golf course set in old growth redwoods. Just past the town of Jenner near the mouth of the Russian River are a lot of sea lions and elephant seals waiting for steelhead and salmon to snack on.

Further North there's a great fern canyon (photo above) at Prairie Canyon State Park, which is co-managed as part of Redwood National Park. TV host Huell Howser said it was his favorite State Park, and he had seen hundreds of them (literally).

If you want to do something a little different, there's a dive shop in Fort Bragg that can rent you everything you need to dive or snorkel. Call ahead to see if they rent underwater housings that will fit your camera. The cove at Van Damme has abalone, nudibranchs, etc., but the kelp may be getting pretty thick by early June, and the somewhat warmer water in the cove a bit clouded with algae (Russian Gulch may be a better dive spot then, or you can get a recommendation from the shop). Check for particularly low tides during your visit and you may be able to catch some nice shots in tide pools.

Update May 2015: I've been busy exploring Southern California for my 320-page guidebook coming this September (  Now that it's off to the printer, I'm looking forward to resuming my broader travels!  In the meantime, if you'd like to buy the Northern California guidebook in the series, written by Gary Crabbe, I've placed Photographing California Vol. 1: North - A Guide to the Natural Landmarks of the Golden Statein my recommendations on Amazon.  If you access Amazon through this link, your purchases there will help fund these travels and reports: 

Point Arena in the fog, across Stornetta Public Lands

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Storm over Mono

There have been great clouds in the Mono Basin over the past couple of days. Now that the lake is warming, there's also a lot of algae growing, but the brine shrimp and alkali fly larvae aren't present in large enough numbers to keep up with it, so the water is a very interesting emerald color.

My day started near Mammoth Lakes in the Owens Valley. I was exploring some salt falts and enjoying the sunrise color on the Sierra Nevada.

An area of dried, cracked mud provided nice foreground detail for some vertical images.
At this point I had been working straight for minutes, so I decided that I needed a break, which I took in a nearby hot spring (it's a tough job, but someone has to do it).

While the morning air remained still, I stopped by some nearby vernal pools to see if I could catch a reflection of the Sierras. At one of the bigger ones was lined with a reddish algae, which contrasted particularly well with the blue sky and white clouds and snow-capped mountains.

Later in the morning I met landscape photographer Bill Wight to share a few of my "secret spots" in the Eastern Sierra with him, and to try to scout out a few new ones for the landscape photography workshop we'll be leading here June 3-6. Many sagebrush stripes and undercarriage drags later (my minivan doesn't have the clearance of his pickup truck, but that rarely stops me from trying), we had made our way up to Mono Lake and explored several of the less visited and lesser known sites.

First we focused on the exotic "sand tufa" limestone formations which form as calcium-laden water runs through sand.

The sand tufa structures look like intricate and delicate sand castles rising as much as 3 feet out of the ground, up to several feet across.
By this point clouds were building in the sky, so I suggested an area which would provide many opportunities to catch reflections. I experimented with my circular polarizer, using it on some shots to maximize water color and minimize reflections, then rotating it to still help with cloud contrast and definition with minimal interference on cloud reflections (as shown here).

Some of the reflections were found in side pools featuring salt-crusted, cracked mud... a great foreground!

The wind was still up as susnet approached, so I selected a site that would be fairly protected by the wind but still have a decent view of any remaining clouds to the East that might catch color as the sun set. The color show to the East wasn't as intense as I had hoped, but we had completed a long productive day of exploration and photography, so I couldn't complain.

Help people find my photos!

Stumble Upon Toolbar

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Rock Star

Recently I had the opportunity to take a few runs with pro freeskier Kevin Wherritt at Alpine Meadows Ski Resort. I only wish that I still had the knees for these kinds of antics myself!