Friday, October 23, 2015

A Day in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming

Lewis Falls,  Yellowstone National Park. 

Departing Yellowstone National Park to the south, you pass Lewis Falls on the Lewis River just below Lewis Lake.  There are a number of scenic stops that you can make along Jackson Lake, but campgrounds there were closed or full, so we headed towards the large Gros Ventre Campground down near the Jackson Hole Airport and the tiny town of Moose, Wyoming.  Fortunately Gros Ventre had room, and the cottonwoods were stunning in their yellow fall colors.

Smartphones are a great resource while you travel, whether looking up lodging and restaurants, using a map program to navigate, or Google Earth to look for unpaved roads to explore.  It's best for a smartphone's battery life not to keep it plugged in all the time, and to let it get pretty well discharged before charging it back up again.  There's no telling where your devices might be in the charge-discharge cycle when you stop, but when I'm not driving, I can top off my devices in a campground using a 10,000 MAh battery.  You don't expect to lose your vehicle as a power source, but on this trip I did, so it was good that I had an alternate power source to ensure that we'd have enough power to call for a tow truck!  

The LG G4 phone I was using for some photos on the trip has 32GB memory but, only 16GB after apps and OS, so it was at 1% remaining space when I took this.  The SanDisk memory stick charging here is also a Wireless Memory Stick that works over wifi, so I had it automatically back up all photos from the LG G4 as I took them.  I'd periodically delete a few photos from before the trip, since I was pretty sure that I had them at home, and they were backed up to the Wireless Stick anyway.  When I hit a hotel room every few days, I could plug the wireless stick in to my laptop like a standard USB memory.  (It could do that wirelessly in a campground as well, but I use laptops with 17" HD screens, which have short enough battery life to be more convenient to use when connected to power.)

Devices attended to, we could settle in for dinner and a glass of wine.  It was a clear day, so there was no need to rush out for sunset.  We had picked up a 2014 Larch Hills Marechal Foch Reserve, from the North Okanagan wine region in British Columbia, Canada.  I had never tasted a Marechal Foch before.  Now I have.  It had a very different flavor profile than more common red wines like cabernet or syrah.  It was more like Argentinian malbec meets "young wine" (think Beaujolais), with perhaps a trace of residual sugar.

The next morning we headed over to nearby Mormon Row and the popular Moulton Barn.  I forgot that we had passed some long, deep, muddy puddles in the road on our way to the campground the evening before, so when I came upon the first one, rather than stop and go around it seemed wiser to click on the 4WD and just power through, sheets of water and mud spraying out to the sides.

There were only a couple of people at the barn when we arrived, but it quickly got more crowded.  There wasn't anything exciting going on in the sky, so the scene of photographers was about as interesting a subject as anything.

The area just to the north of this is known as Antelope Flats, and true to its name, a buck antelope had a few girlfriends alongside the road.  It being close to mating season, at times he would spontaneously jump around and prance and dance, either to impress them or simply as an outlet for his excess energy.  If they noticed, they pretended to ignore him.
We went back for breakfast, packed up the campsite, and spent the day enjoying the changing light in Grand Teton National Park, as well as checking out the fall colors along nearby Forest Service and 4WD roads.  I wanted to drive by Jackson Hole Ski Resort and picture it with a coating of snow.  Maybe I'll return for some skiing in a few months.

Jackson Lake was nice and calm when we drove by, so there were some nice reflections of Mount Moran.  Oxbow Bend was calm as well, with the added bonus of bright yellow aspen reflecting in the still water of the oxbow.  I've encountered moose here on several occasions, and moose, elk and grizzly bears at Willow Flats just to the west, but this time people at the Oxbow Bend turnout were looking across the water for a moose they had seen over there.

Other animals were pretty much in their usual places.  Horses were feeding in a large field north of the historic Cunningham Cabin, and across the Jackson Hole Highway bison were feeding in their usual place on the Wolff Ranch.  Bison were also near the northern end of the Mormon Row barns.  In the evening, several bull elk near Teton Park Road south of Jenny Lake were bugling to warn potential challengers not to try to take their harem of cows.
There were a few sporadic clouds in the air during the day, so for sunset we found a nice spot on Jackson Lake to watch them turn color.  A slight breeze during the most intense color gave way to calmer air as sunset transitioned towards blue hour, so that phase yielded the best reflections (photo below).  We had a very nice dinner at nearby Signal Mountain Lodge.

We returned to Jackson Lake for sunrise the next day, which I describe in my next post:

End of the Road for My SUV!

Sunset at Jackson Lake, Grand Teton National Park

Thursday, October 22, 2015

End of the Road for My SUV!

First light on the colorful aspen at Oxbow Bend, Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming (Canon 5D Mark III)
The day started like any other fall day on the road: the pink over blue Belt of Venus light leading to a  sunrise, golden hour light and calm morning reflections, fall colors, then driving to the next location on the itinerary.  Usually I don't finish the drive in a tow truck, with my SUV on the back!

Let's talk about the good news first.  Sunrise on Jackson Lake was uneventful, with no clouds, but gorgeous nonetheless.  The Belt of Venus color can be fantastic if you know how to coax its color out of the sky and into your camera, and the pastel pink and blue tones on this morning didn't disappoint.

Fortunately the lake was calm, so the colorful light show in the sky was doubled in the water.  As the sun approached on the eastern horizon, the Tetons were bathed in golden light.  So far it was shaping up to be a good day.

Not far away was Oxbow Bend (above), where colorful aspen trees were lighting up in the first rays of the sun.  There was another spot to the east which had a nice stand of colorful aspen in front of Mt. Moran as well.

Schwabacher Landing (LG G4)
A few miles south on the way to Jackson was Schwabacher Landing, which can get really crowded at sunrise, but it wasn't all that crowded by the time I arrived.  The sun was behind me, but with a little bit of waiting and some coordination with people walking by, I was able to get some shots without people or shadows in them.  The Tetons here make a long, narrow subject, perfect for the 16 x 9 aspect ratio of my LG G4 smartphone, but it was out of memory.  It has 32GB of memory, 16GB of that left for photos.  The LG G4 has a microSD slot for memory expansion, but I was using one microSD in my GoPro, and had misplaced my spare.

Fortunately, prior to the trip I had been asked to try out the 32GB SanDisk Connect Wireless Stick.  It looks like a USB flash drive that you'd plug into computers, but it connects to your smartphone via wi-fi.  Earlier in the trip I had started a complete gallery backup from the LG G4, and not only did that transfer over 4200 existing photos, it also transferred new photos as I took them.  So all I had to do on the smartphone was delete old photos, since they were already backed up.  I also filled my 64GB iPhone 5S with photos on this trip, and I was able to back up files from that as well, then delete them on the phone.

SanDisk Connect Wireless Stick with iPhone 6S+
Smartphone memory issue solved, it was on to Jackson for breakfast, grocery shopping, then I could move on to the next area to shoot.  In this case, the location change was from Grand Teton National Park and Jackson, Wyoming to Salt Lake City.  I should return home from there to prepare for a workshop in 2 weeks, but "shoulds" are for wimps.  Having invested so much time and so many miles to get that far, I could extend the trip underway to swing through Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, and continue on to Colorado to catch fall colors in Aspen, at the Maroon Bells, in Telluride and Ouray before returning home.  I'd still have a week to get ready to go back out.  Or I could wait until next year, but something could come up and it could end up being the year after that.  Heck, I may not live that long.  Life and time are precious; there's no time like the present.

But as the saying goes, life is what happens when we're busy making other plans.

Somewhere between Jackson, Wyoming and Salt Lake City, a few miles south of the small town of Cokeville, in the middle of extensive hay fields, and outside of Verizon's service area, the Explorer made a noise.  An unhappy noise.  A warning noise.  A message in the dashboard was trying to tell me something, but driving into the bright glare of the afternoon sun, I couldn't read the fading light of its aging display.  Then it was gone.  Everything was apparently fine.  Without a warning indicator, the infamous "check engine" message, I couldn't use the engine code reader to give me some clues.

The peace didn't last long.  The light came on again, I was able to read it this time, and "Low Oil Pressure" meant that I needed to pull over ASAP.  The road was elevated with essentially no shoulder.  Just as I spotted a driveway coming up across the road, the engine cut off, so I had to wrestle the now-powerless steering and brakes to cross oncoming traffic and bring the vehicle to a stop.  The stall could have been an engine safety shutdown, but I would need to have it towed to somewhere where a mechanic could assess the failure.  Fortunately Lori Hibbett had flown in to Seattle to join me earlier in the trip, and her AT&T phone had one bar of service, so we could call for a tow.

It was late on a Friday afternoon, so Salt Lake City 150 miles to the south would be the best option for finding a mechanic working on a Saturday.  Thank goodness for premium roadside assistance plans covering tows up to 200 miles!  Not being able to look up shops or do a lot of calling to identify a shop open Saturdays, we had the SUV towed to the Courtyard Marriott at the airport so we'd be able to catch a shuttle to the airport and rent a car to get around.  When we arrived, I called every mobile mechanic in town, so see if one would come out late on a Friday or early Saturday.  No one called me back Friday, even the places which supposedly worked 24 x 7, but Saturday morning I did get a single call back, and the mechanic was there less than an hour later.  At first he was optimistic that the oil pressure sensor may have failed, since it had clearly been worked on, but he eventually tried to turn the engine with a large wrench, and it was seized.  The oil was topped off and there was no coolant mixed in from a broken gasket, so the mode of failure most likely had to do with the oil pump itself, possibly the timing chain which drives it.

Although I had kept the vehicle in immaculate shape to get me in and out of remote places, and I had recently put another $1000 into it to hopefully get another 100,000 miles out of it, the book value was only $2000 and a rebuilt engine would cost more, so it was a total loss.

One shuttle to the airport and one rental minivan later, we were leaving at noon for the 8-hour drive home.  Of course the minivan had weather stripping on both sides of the windshield that whistled loudly over 50 MPH, at what sounded like the exact frequency of my SUV's warning beep!  A couple of stops and a few feet of gaffer's tape, and the whistling minivan was silenced.

The following day I was able to locate a place that would buy my vehicle using its pink slip in Reno, but pick it up in Salt Lake City a couple of days later.  Done, except for the fact that I lost the vehicle and its $2000 value, plus expenses associated with the breakdown.  I guess that I need to come up with my next project, and include a new vehicle in the budget for it.

After the trip, I bought an Apple iPhone 6S+ using the Apple Upgrade Plan, and the SanDisk Connect Wireless Stick worked like a charm with that as well.  Although the USB connection is mainly to keep the Wireless Stick charged, but I was pleasantly surprised to discover that when I plugged it into my laptop, it worked like a USB drive as well, and I was able to copy photos from all three smartphones directly to the laptop.

Although we think of hard drives as being a weak link in our photography toolkit (right behind vehicles), smartphones also fail, often by being dropped in water, so I'm glad to have to have an easy backup solution for the photos on mine.  If you think that you might want to pick up a SanDisk Connect Wireless Stick for storage expansion, backup, or wireless transfer of files among your wi-fi capable devices, SanDisk has given me a coupon code to offer you 30% off:

It handles a lot more than smartphones and photos, you can stream music or HD movies to up to 3 devices at once.  Learn about the product here: or watch a product video: 

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of SanDisk . The opinions and text are all mine.

Final Leg Home, Without My SUV

Uh oh, "Low Oil Pressure"!
After a breakdown on Friday and a diagnosis by a mobile mechanic on Saturday, it was time to drive from Salt Lake City, Utah back to Topaz Lake, in the Eastern Sierra on the California/Nevada border.  We reserved a rental full size SUV at one agency to fit our gear in, but it was unavailable when we showed up.  They tried to pawn off a RAV4 as full size, then substitute a pickup truck at 2X the price, but we eventually found a minivan elsewhere at a much more reasonable rate.

From our refuge at the Courtyard Marriott near the airport, we were on the highway west in minutes.  Crossing the rest of Utah and all but the last few feet of Nevada would be a trip of over 550 miles, about 8 hours.  First you pass south of the Great Salt Lake.  We had to pull off near a Morton Salt facility due to a very loud whistling sound, caused by the weather stripping on both sides of the minivan windshield.  Copious amounts of gaffers' tape later, the musical vibrating minivan was silenced.

Next you cross the Bonneville Salt Flats, for about an hour.  Near the far end is where the Bonneville Speedway is, where drag races are held, land speed records are broken, and many car commercials are filmed.  This week none of that would be happening, since a heavy rain had left standing water on much of the salt flats, and water-softened rock salt elsewhere.  There were reflections in the water and mirage reflections int he distance, and it was impossible to tell the difference between the two until you were close to the area that you thought had been flooded from a distance.

From the Nevada border to Wells there were some interesting mountains.the Toano Range and the Pequop Mountains. From Wells you can see the colorful aspen-decorated Humboldt Range, where I've camped at Angel Lake in the past.

Immediately after Wells was the exit for Deeth, where I encountered interesting and chaotic weather on a photography trip to the Rocky Mountains in the fall of 2006.

Next you can see the Ruby Mountains, where aspen appeared to be in peak color.  It was tempting to look towards Nevada's best-known leaf-peeping site or Lamoile Canyon and consider the trip out and back from Elko, but the drive today would be long enough without adding side trips to it.
The center of the state tends to be pretty dry and uninhabited, which is either beautiful or barren, or both.  It's not hard to see in the middle of the state how important mining is to the economy, as you pass mining machinery for sale, roads with names like Newmont Mine Road, and the mines themselves, with mountains of tailings growing toward the sky.  The boom and bust cycles as people chase one resource or another also tend to leave some interesting abandoned towns and facilities that can be interesting to explore.

We exited US-80 by Fernley, home to a large warehouse, and continued through Yerington, where we were treated to a moonrise during sunset.  The following evening the moon would rise entering a total eclipse.

The trip started September 7 with Lassen Volcanic National Park, passed through the Olympic Peninsula, to the Canadian Rockies, then down the Rocky Mountains to Grand Teton National Park.  It ended September 26 with the return from Salt lake City.  I was hoping to add a week-long extension to Colorado to enjoy fall colors there, but life is what happens while you're busy making other plans.

Returning early would give me time to prepare for my two-night photography workshop in Bodie State Historic Park.  Besides, if I'd have to be replacing my SUV, I had that unplanned expense to deal with... good thing I didn't have the breakdown another 600 miles further from home.  But if you do take long trips, I can't say enough for roadside assistance plans which give you the protection of a tow up to 200 miles!

I'm going to post the story of this trip on my blogs in installments, in reverse order, so that once they are all posted, they can be read straight through in chronological order to the end, no matter what section new readers may arrive in.  Here's the new post describing the prior day, leading up to the loss of my SUV:

Total lunar eclipse, as seen from home at Topaz Lake on September 27, 2015

Planets, Orionids and Zodiacal Light

Meteor with Venus, Jupiter and Mars rising in zodiacal light during the Orionids, October 22, 2015
Who saw or photographed some Orionid meteors over the last night or two?  In the photo above, a meteor crosses over the path of Venus, Jupiter and Mars, rising in zodiacal light during the Orionid meteor shower around 5 am this morning, October 22, 2015.

Although the streak is clearly a meteor (note the characteristic green color), technically it's not an Orionid, since the radiant point for the Orionid meteor shower is out of the upper right corner of the frame.  So this meteor is traveling at nearly a right angle to what its trajectory would be if it were one of the Orionids.

It may however be a Leo Minorid meteor, since its radiant point is to the left of Venus Jupiter and Mars this morning.  The Leo Minorid meteor shower peaks the morning of October 23, but it is a minor shower with an estimated 2 meteors per hour, but minor showers sometimes have an unexpectedly high rate, so tomorrow morning could offer a surprise from the Leo Minorids along with after-peak Orionids.

There are also random, sporadic meteors, particularly in the early morning, as your position on the earth rotates to the leading side of the earth as it travels through space rotating around the sun.

The Zodiacal light is sunlight shining off of dust in our solar system, the light tilted up from the lower left in the photo above.  You can experience the Zodiacal light, or false dawn, this time of year when a a pyramid-shaped glow can be seen in the east an hour before dawn's first light (or 80 to 120 minutes before sunrise). This light is caused by sunlight reflecting off of dust particles in space in the same plane as earth and can resemble the lights from a city. It is tilted to follow the same ecliptic plane that the planets travel in.  Zodiacal light is best seen under dark skies, in places with minimal light pollution.  You can catch the Zodiacal light for another 2 or 3 mornings this month, but after that the moon will be too full and it will no longer set early enough to leave you with a dark enough sky to see this pre-dawn light.

You can see the Zodiacal light as the planets rise in this time-lapse video captured this morning before and twilight light started to brighten the sky:

Venus, Jupiter and Mars in Zodiacal light during the Orionid meteor shower this morning