Tahoe Light Photography » Corporate, outdoor and adventure photography by Reno and Lake Tahoe freelance photographer Scott Sady.

Amazing sunset over Diamond Lake in the Trinity Alps wilderness Four Lakes loop backpacking trail in California.

Amazing sunset over Diamond Lake in the Trinity Alps wilderness Four Lakes loop backpacking trail in California.

by Scott,

A group of us have been backpacking together for the last 5 years or so. We always go someplace in the High Sierra range, but this year decided to hit the Trinity Alps for a change of pace. Not knowing what to expect, I did some research online and found very few details, and even fewer of the kind of details I want. So what follows is the most detailed trip report you will find about backpacking the 4 lakes loop in the Trinity Alps wilderness. This trip report is from a photographer’s point of view, and from the point of view of a group of folks who like to swim in secluded lakes and are not particularly fond of seeing people from where they camp. If you get anything useful from this trip report, feel free to share. Also check out some of our high sierra trip reports such as Dusy Basin, Humphreys Basin, the Sawtooth Range, and Thousand Island Lake. The relevant quads for this hike are Siligo Peak and Covington Mill. A wilderness permit and campfire permit are required, but are free and can be done at any hour via a self-registration box at the Weaverville ranger station. There are no trail quotas.

Also an amazing variety of high quality landscape photography can be purchased or licensed through my website.

final planning session

final planning session

iphone panoramic picture from the top of Siligo peak. You can see the start of the loop in the background to the right of the person (me) standing on the summit. It goes down into Deer lake, then up and over to Summit, far right. Not pictured, but similar, are the ups and downs to Diamond and Luella lakes. Finally the trail picks up on the far left of the image leaving Luella lake down into the meadow by Round lake, then back up nearly 1700 vertical feet over the pass to Granite Lake.

iphone panoramic picture from the top of Siligo peak. You can see the start of the loop in the background to the right of the person (me) standing on the summit. It goes down into Deer lake, then up and over to Summit, middle right. The trail to Diamond Lake is at the far right and Luella lake is behind us. Finally the trail picks up on the far left of the image leaving Luella lake down into the meadow by Round lake, then back up nearly 1700 vertical feet over the little-used pass to Granite Lake.

Day one: Echo Lake

Our original plan was to hike across the trinity alps from Long Canyon to Caribou lake and out. But after a little research showed that this region, unlike the high sierra, is full of many small, steep valleys which didn’t sound good to some of us who have not got out yet this year, we decided to tone it down a bunch and do a leisurely loop around the four lakes. We started at one of the southern most drainages to enter the area, Stoney Ridge. We then proceeded up and over Stonewall Pass and made a slight detour off trail to Echo Lake. This is south of the four lakes loop proper, but was a good 6 miles and nearly 4000 ft of elevation gain to start the day. Stoney Ridge trail is up above the stream, but the map showed water at Red Meadows. Ooops! The springs at Red Meadows were dry, so we ended up having to go up and over the pass until we crossed Deep Creek, the drainage from Echo Lake, before we could get water. Folks were a little dehydrated, given the near 90 degree heat during the climb, but soon recovered. Echo lake was a beautiful camp spot, with good swimming and lots of wildflowers around the lake. There is only one campsite here, able to hold about 3 tents, on the south side of the lake. We saw no people.

Our first nights camp spot at Echo lake, never saw a soul.

Our first nights camp spot at Echo lake, never saw a soul.

Sunset and wildflowers at Echo Lake in the Trinity Alps wilderness Four Lakes loop backpacking trail in California.

Sunset and wildflowers at Echo Lake in the Trinity Alps wilderness Four Lakes loop backpacking trail in California.

Our first nights camp spot at Echo lake, never saw a soul.

Our first nights camp spot at Echo lake, never saw a soul.

Day two: Echo Lake to Summit Lake:

Leaving Echo lake we passed above lower Siligo Meadows, where we saw beautiful meadow pools and our first hint of the wildflower diversity that was to come. Soon after we passed upper Siligo Meadows. There was one tent in this very large, flat meadow with a running stream. I would consider this a great camp site. Especially from a photographer’s point of view, we would have had setting sun light on a rugged mountain range in the background and wildflowers and a stream in the foreground. But not knowing the area, we decided to push a little farther to Summit Lake, the largest lake in the group, and according to the topo, containing the most flat ground nearby. The hike from Echo Lake to Summit Lake was only a few miles with plenty of water and views along the way. Between Siligo Meadows and Summit Lake we passed Deer Lake. There was one decent, but smallish campsite in the north-west end and if you are doing this hike and that campsite is free, take it. Deer lake had massive fields of yellow lupine and was deep and blue with few people around.

 

Lower Siligo Meadows, scenic but hard to reach.

Lower Siligo Meadows, scenic but hard to reach.

Upper Siligo Meadows would have been an awesome campsite. We should have stopped here instead of Summit Lake.

Upper Siligo Meadows would have been an awesome campsite. We should have stopped here instead of Summit Lake.

Climbing up out of Siligo Meadows toward Deer Lake.

Climbing up out of Siligo Meadows toward Deer Lake.

Deer lake as seen from Siligo peak, looking back at our approach from Deer Creek Pass.

Deer lake as seen from Siligo peak, looking back at our approach from Deer Creek Pass.

Deer lake as seen from Deer Creek Pass with the trail to Summit Lake visible high at left.

Deer lake as seen from Deer Creek Pass with the trail to Summit Lake visible high at left.

Deer Lake was covered with Yellow Lupine.

Deer Lake was covered with Yellow Lupine.

Our campsite at Summit Lake. It was the biggest, and clear, but too crowded

Our campsite at Summit Lake. It was the biggest lake with clear water, but too crowded. Though talking to people who had been there a few days, there was next to nobody there before the 4th weekend.

Summit lake was the only lake or even area on our entire hike not covered in wildflowers. These purple bushes were the only ones there.

Summit lake was the only lake on our hike not covered in wildflowers. These purple bushes were the only ones there.

Nathan trying his hand fly-fishing with the alpen-glow of the setting sun.

Nathan trying his hand fly-fishing with the alpen-glow of the setting sun.

Overview of Summit Lake. There are several campsites here, but even so was way too crowded.

Overview of Summit Lake. There are several campsites here, but even so was way too crowded.

Day Three: Summit Lake to Diamond Lake with a detour to the top of Siligo Peak:

Summit Lake was just over the pass from Deer Lake. It had several campsites, the best and most secluded of which were around the right side of the lake as you come down the trail. The largest, and the only one still free when we arrived, was right next to the trail. I think there must have been a Backpacker’s Magazine article recently on “How to hike the 4 lakes loop,” which probably stated, “Hike in to Summit Lake and set up camp, then do the loop as a day hike from there.” Granted it was fourth of July weekend, but there were people streaming into this remote backcountry lake at 10:30 pm. And since our campsite happened to be right near the trail, they just proceeded to set up their tents a few feet from us, essentially within our site. Poor form! Visually, Summit Lake had nothing going for it. It was the only Lake without wildflowers. I summited the high ridge on the far end of the lake and apart from a decent view into lower Siligo Meadows, it was unremarkable. Climbing up out of Summit Lake the trail “T’s” into the trails from Deer Lake and Diamond Lake. If you want to bag Siligo Peak, one of the highest in this area, you are now at your closest point. We scrambled up and were rewarded with amazing views of our trail. Diamond Lake is the next lake over from Summit. We hadn’t planned to stay there, as it only took an hour or so to hike to, but after descending through amazing fields of red paintbrush, purple pennyroyal and yellow lupine to get there, I begged for a stop.  There is one decent campsite at this lake and the possibility to pitch one tent on a flat spot atop a ridge at the far end of the lake. Since nobody was there, we set up camp and proceeded to explore the amazing wildflower-filled meadow down below the lake. The meadows below the lake, and the flower fields above the lake were a veritable humming bird forest. While I was crouched in the flowers waiting for the sunset, dozens of humming birds buzzed in the flowers all around me. Sunset came and we were rewarded with a rare, spectacular slow burn sunset floating through the color spectrum from hot yellow, to cool red-blue over a couple of hours. Literally. I stopped shooting and stars were visible and the sky still had a deep low red. Fortunately this sunset happened at the most scenic lake with an amazing granite mountain background and a massive field of multi-colored wildflowers, only a hair past their prime on July 4. We figured nature gave us the best fireworks anyone could ask for!

 

Hiking up out of Summit Lake. The trail juncture at the top of Summit Lake is the best spot to cut off if you want to bag Siligo Peak, so we did.

Hiking up out of Summit Lake. The trail juncture at the top of Summit Lake is the best spot to cut off if you want to bag Siligo Peak, so we did.

Round lake and the exit out over to the Granite Creek Trail. No camping at Round Lake itself, but you could find a nice spot with water in the meadows below it.

Round lake and the exit out over to the Granite Creek Trail. No camping at Round Lake itself, but you could find a nice spot with water in the meadows below it.

The top of Siligo Peak.

The top of Siligo Peak.

Looking down at Diamond Lake from Siligo Peak. Small campsite there, but amazing wildflowers.

Looking down at Diamond Lake from Siligo Peak. Small campsite there, but amazing wildflowers.

The trail down to Diamond Lake winds through fields of red paintbrush.

The trail down to Diamond Lake winds through fields of red indian paintbrush.

The meadows below Diamond Lake held some of the largest fields of tiger lilies we had ever seen, and a bear.

The meadows below Diamond Lake held some of the largest fields of Leopard lilies we had ever seen, and a bear.

The meadows below Diamond Lake held some of the largest fields of tiger lilies we had ever seen, and a bear.

The meadows below Diamond Lake held some of the largest fields of Leopard lilies we had ever seen, and a bear.

Amazing sunset over Diamond Lake in the Trinity Alps wilderness Four Lakes loop backpacking trail in California.

Amazing sunset over Diamond Lake in the Trinity Alps wilderness Four Lakes loop backpacking trail in California.

Amazing sunset over Diamond Lake in the Trinity Alps wilderness Four Lakes loop backpacking trail in California.

Amazing sunset over Diamond Lake in the Trinity Alps wilderness Four Lakes loop backpacking trail in California.

Day four, Diamond Lake to Granite Lake:

We woke to grey skies and drizzle at Diamond Lake the next morning and took our time packing up. Shortly before departing, Nathan noticed a bear in the meadow just below us. We climbed up on some rocks and watched him root around for a while before heading off. The hike over to Luella lake was short and easy, with a small up and a long, switch-backing downhill to the lake. Parts of this downhill were only 6 inches wide on an extremely steep hillside, possibly not good for those with a fear of heights. This lake also was littered with wildflowers. We stopped for a swim and never saw a soul. I don’t think there is much camping at this lake. If you are solo, or in a small two-man tent, you can probably find a flat spot in the trees just south and east of the lake, but that is it. The trail drops another 400 feet or so into an amazing meadow near Round Lake. Round Lake is totally overgrown, but there are plenty of flat spots near water in the grassy, wildflower-filled meadow below the lake. That valley had flowers taller than my wife. From there our trail climbed straight up, steeply for about 1700 vertical feet to the pass over to Granite Creek. The Granite Creek trail is lightly used and poorly maintained. It was a little tough to follow for the first 400 vertical feet or so above the meadow because it was so overgrown. As it climbed out of the thick brush, it became obvious once again. This trail climbed through the largest field of Leopard Lilies any of us had ever seen. There were also other flowers of every color and height.  After that the trail climbed steeply for a while, then passed through the thickest indian paintbrush field I had ever seen about 2/3’s of the way up. We rested briefly at the summit, having so far come 5.4 miles and over 1800 vertical feet since leaving Diamond Lake. We then descended steeply 1.5 miles to Granite Lake. The trail on this side of the hill was overgrown as well. We saw giant dandelion flowers gone to seed (think make a wish and blow) in the middle of the trail in pristine condition. When we walked by and brushed them, half of the little parachute seeds brushed off, telling us nobody had passed this way since these flowers started going to seed. There were large wildflower fields on the way down particularly lupine. The valley that Granite Creek descended was interesting. It marked the intersection of the “Red” Trinities and the “White” Trinities, with half of the valley red rock and the other white granite, with an occasional falling boulder the only color overlap at the base of the valley. Also, the trail builders on this side of the hill do not believe in switchbacks. This trail went strait down, steeply and poorly until Granite Lake. Granite lake is hard to get to. There are many large and amazing campsites around 1/3 of it. Obvious horse pack use, but you have to bushwack to get to the water in all but the farthest campsites winding around to the east. The lake was visually un-remarkable being hard to access and with no wildflowers or other foreground. Just a steep drop to the water. Swimming was great however!

 

The approach to Luella Lake from Diamond lake is a long, steep down with many switchbacks.

The approach to Luella Lake from Diamond lake is a long, steep down with many switchbacks.

Luella lake was another great swimming lake with loads of wildflowers. No real camping here though. You could fit one small tent in a flat spot in some trees nearby, but that

Luella lake was another great swimming lake with loads of wildflowers. No real camping here though. You could fit one small tent in a flat spot in some trees nearby, but that’s it.

Leaving the flower-strewn shore of Luella Lake

Leaving the flower-strewn shore of Luella Lake

Hiking down toward round lake.

Hiking down toward round lake.

The meadows and stream around round lake at the base of the valley sported another insane display of wildflowers

The meadows and stream around round lake at the base of the valley sported another insane display of wildflowers

Monique in corn lillies taller than her near Round Lake

Monique in corn lilies taller than her near Round Lake

The trail juncture in the valley. The trail to Granite Creek is little used and hard to follow for about 400 vertical feet off the valley floor where it is overgrown, then switches steeply up on a more obvious path.

The trail juncture in the valley. The trail to Granite Creek is little used and hard to follow for about 400 vertical feet off the valley floor where it is overgrown, then switches steeply up on a more obvious path.

Halfway up the pass to Granite Lake yet another astounding field of wildflowers

Halfway up the pass to Granite Lake yet another astounding field of wildflowers

Halfway up the pass to Granite Lake yet another astounding field of wildflowers

Halfway up the pass to Granite Lake yet another astounding field of wildflowers looking back toward Siligo Peak

Halfway up the pass to Granite Lake yet another astounding field of wildflowers

Halfway up the pass to Granite Lake yet another astounding field of wildflowers looking back toward Siligo Peak

Two thirds of the way to the top of the pass to Granite Lake the trail passes through the largest field of paintbrush yet.

Two thirds of the way to the top of the pass to Granite Lake the trail passes through the largest field of paintbrush yet.

Two thirds of the way to the top of the pass to Granite Lake the trail passes through the largest field of paintbrush yet.

Two thirds of the way to the top of the pass to Granite Lake the trail passes through the largest field of paintbrush yet.

After a steep and poorly maintained hike down from the pass we crash at Granite Lake

After a steep and poorly maintained hike down from the pass we crash at Granite Lake

Nathan catches his first fish, a 3 incher. After much debate we let it go.

Nathan catches his first fish, a 3 incher. After much debate we let it go.

the one main campsite at Diamond Lake was spacious, with plenty of rocks to sit on.

Our campsite at Granite Lake was spacious, with plenty of rocks to sit on.

Day five, wake up at Granite Lake and go home:

We got up, fixed a quick breakfast and were ready to get back to our cars. I made a quick picture in the morning sunrise by balancing out into the middle of a log-jam and finding a cool burl in a log for my foreground. The trail from Granite Lake to the Granite Creek trail-head, which unlike the Stoney Ridge trail-head, had a bathroom and ample parking, was a super highway compared to everything else. It was nearly 5 miles from the lake to car, and it is obvious that this is a popular destination, stopping at the lake and going no further. We crossed swift creek about 1.25 miles from the trail head and this was a beautiful, clear creek with great swim holes and a scenic gorge and waterfall if you had time to downclimb into it. Feel free to share this post and it’s images. We really enjoyed this area and plan to go back. The High Sierra is more in-your-face dramatic in it’s scenery and lakes and nothing beats laying out watching the stars on a slab of smooth granite, but being below treeline for a change we found much more diversity in both plants and wildlife.

 

Granite lake has some really nice and large campsites, and there were few people in site when we got there, but you can tell people horse pack in there from the trail head 5 miles further down. Little of interest photographically at the lake itself, but I found this funky log during the morning sunrise.

Granite lake has some really nice and large campsites, and there were few people in site when we got there, but you can tell people horse pack in there from the trail head 5 miles further down. Little of interest photographically at the lake itself, but I found this funky log during the morning sunrise.

  • July 9, 2015 - 11:10 am

    Dotty Molt - These are absolutely beautiful ! And what an amazing story ! When can I come along on one of your backpacking trips !!! ?

  • July 19, 2015 - 4:31 pm

    jake - Hey I’m planning on doing this trip in a couple of weeks and I was curious how much water was on the trails? Should we pack extra or can we reach water without to much of a problem? Thanks!

  • July 19, 2015 - 4:47 pm

    ssady - Depends on which way you go in. If you go in like us via stoney ridge, then you won’t get water until you get up over the pass and near the outflow of Echo Lake. Everywhere else we seemed to find plenty of streams and lakes. I never carried more than 1L of water at a time, and only wished I had more that first day up stoney ridge.

by Scott

I have been ski racing for about 4 years now and made the decision early on to camp out when I was at Mammoth Mountain. It can be cold as hell in winter, I’ve had nights down to -19 F, but in winter, you have all the hot springs to yourself and it is easy to warm up and get to the hill. As the years passed and I figured out how to stay comfortable during the worst nights and where to find uncrowded hot springs and swimming holes, I have had plenty of opportunities to explore the area nearby. The more I explore, the more time I want to spend down there exploring. I have been a photojournalist for over 20 years working for the likes of AP and USA TODAY and for the last 8 years I have specialized in commercial photography, but my true love is the wild places and beauty of nature. I find landscape photography to be one of the most difficult things to do well. It is 45% hard work getting to unusual locations, 45% luck in hoping that the weather gives you something spectacular to work with and about 10% getting away from photographing what is in front of you and trying more to pre-visualize the end result and shoot interpretively. For me this has involved a lot of work with neutral density filters during the day and sunset hours and blending of exposures and focus points. And an whole lot of trial and error. So here is a quick look at some of my favorite places that you can reach in winter on the eastern side of the High Sierra, and high desert. The list is by no means complete. Any of these images and many more can be licensed from my online photography archive via keyword searches.

Working from north to south, Mono Lake is the obvious starting point. I don’t photograph here a lot, mainly because everybody else does. Expect this place to be busy. When I pulled up there was an photo tour van full of about 20 older men with giant tripods. Inexplicably they all left an hour before sunset. Mono lake is really a crap shoot. If you don’t get a spectacular sunset or sunrise, you don’t really get a picture. If you do, you get an amazing picture assuming you compose and expose right. I see a lot of folks shooting into the sunset, which is fine if you are one of those uber HDR folks or going for a silhouette. I think the HDR function should cause your computer or camera to explode when enabled, but that’s just me. As I was saying, you really need to look for a situation where the sky lights up away from the setting sun if you want anything other than HDR crap or a silhouette. Thunderstorms and sunrises during approaching storms are your best bet, but it is still a lot of luck. On my visit only a tiny portion of the sky lit up, but since it is only 20 miles from Mammoth, I will try again next year. Shoot in winter or during sunrise to avoid the crowds. Working with a 3-5 stop Neutral Density filter allows you to smooth out the water and give the scene a more dream-like feel. With longer exposures, you will need to set your self-time or use a cable release in order not to shake your camera when taking pictures. The water has receded so much recently that only a few spires are left in the lake. Remember not to walk or climb on these, they are very fragile.

Unique rock formations

Foreground-background relationships are one way to add interest.

Unique rock formations

Despite all these otherworldly spires, finding interesting compositions is actually a challenge

Unique rock formations

This one is in need of a proper sunset

Unique rock formations

Again only a few of the clouds lit up, otherwise this would have been a keeper

Unique rock formations

The only portion of the sky that lit up was where the sun set. So I carefully composed to exclude the actual uber-bright area right where the sun set and still get some color in the sky

Unique rock formations

In this one I put the setting sun behind the largest of the rock formations, but I still feel the clouds in that area are a bit too bright

Unique rock formations

Unique rock formations

The day I shot also happened to coincide with the full moon, so while the pack of photographers left, I waited for the moon to rise above the clouds. There was still enough ambient light to pick up detail in the tufas, and I got a cool full-moon flare spot.

Unique rock formations

Your eye often can’t see the afterglow, but this picture is well after sunset, shot by the light of the full moon and the long exposure brings out the residual colors in the clouds.

While skiing at Mammoth, I camp out in the Owen’s Valley across 395. From my campsite I can get to areas of warm to hot water for sunrise or a soak, and have a clear view of mammoth mountain, which in these photos during this pathetic snow year, looks pretty sad. A word on camping etiquette: The Owen’s Valley from north of Mammoth Lakes to Bishop is mostly BLM land. That means you can camp most anywhere and the camping is free. Besides rock climbing and fishing, the many hotsprings out here are the main attraction. The most common mistake people make that really pisses off the locals and may get you into some trouble is pitching camp right next to a hot tub. This is the biggest no-no ever. People will go out of their way to mess with you if you do this. Camping in the parking areas of the hot tubs is considered extremely lame since the tubs are for everyone to enjoy and parking areas nearby are small, but is still preferable to camping right next to the tubs. Instead, do what the locals and regular visitors do. Find a nice secluded spot with a great view away from the hot tubs, and drive or bike down for a soak. It used to be that only a couple of the tubs were well known enough to be crowded, but it seems that in the last year they have made their way onto Google maps, and now I see as many first timers as grizzled ski bums.

California desert landscapes

Sunrise over Hot Creek

California desert landscapes

Full moon eclipse over Mammoth Mountain ski area

California desert landscapes

Sunrise over Mammoth Mountain

The Bishop area has a wealth of stuff to explore. It is a rock climbers paradise with the Happy and Sad boulder fields, as well as a fisherman’s dream come true. A little more exploring brings you to some interesting petroglyph sites, of which this is just one. I’m still trying for the perfect picture here, maybe one day I’ll get better light at sunrise, but for now, this will have to do.

Sky Rock Petroglyphs in Owens Valley, CA.

Sky Rock Petroglyphs in Owens Valley, CA.

I’ve known of Crowley lake for a long time, and been underwhelmed by it for the most part. Just south of Mammoth on 395, it is popular with fisherman, and smells like it. But this year I found what lies at the end of a difficult dirt road on the far end. Scattered all along the eastern shore are wind and water scoured caves and delicate columns carved out of the soft volcanic rock walls. I have never seen anyone here, I think it is only recently truly accessible due to lowering water levels and that the water level may have been about where the columns now stand just a few years ago.

Unique rock formations

Crowley Lake’s unique shoreline.

Unique rock formations

Unique rock formations

One of the many wind and water carved caves along the eastern shore of Crowley Lake

Unique rock formations

Unique rock formations

Unique rock formations

Unique rock formations

Unique rock formations

Unique rock formations

Crowley Lake sunset

During my last set of races, I had more than a few days to spare and decided to check out Death Valley for the first time. I had driven through there, but never photographed it or explored. It is a very unique area, but plan carefully. This place is big. It seemed to me that everything I wanted to photograph was a 100+ mile round trip to get to, often on very slow and remote dirt roads. Given that and my limited time, I set myself only 3 things to check out. The Badlands, the Mesquite Dunes and the Racetrack. When you make the 26-mile, one-way drive on aggressive dirt washboard road to the racetrack to marvel at the mysterious moving stones, you soon find the answer to the mystery. This place is windy! Windy enough to blow 100lb rocks across wet playa clay. Windy enough to knock you down and blow your tripod over. Windy enough to cause sand-storms and white-outs. That was what it was like 2 out of my 4 days here. Zero visibility and eating dust. The only real upside of that was getting out onto the sand dunes one calm morning after a windstorm to find all the footprints erased and a pristine canvass awaiting. The Racetrack I had planned on photographing at night with the milky way rising over the stones, but the 50+ mph winds ruined that plan. I settled for a dusty sunset, but my impression is that sunrise would be better light out there. The badlands were just too dry. In years where there is a fair amount of water, the white, salt-crusted pentagons are more pronounced. When water is scarce, the edges tend to really curl up, ruining the symmetry. If you go to the racetrack, understand that you are on your own. The road is rugged and if your car breaks down there is no-one to help, no cell service, and a tow might cost as much as a new car. However, if you are careful, it is totally worth it. Not just for the racetrack, but for the desert wildflowers and the rugged volcanic landscape. Go in spring well after the last rains here. If you drive out here and the playa is still wet, consider that you just wasted an entire day. Because if you walk out onto a wet playa, your footprints will remain for up to 10 years. Most of the rocks I encountered had hardened footprints around them, ruining all photo potential. I had to walk miles to the far end of the playa to find even just a few pristine stones. So please, don’t be an idiot. Check with a ranger if you don’t want to risk wasting your time, but don’t ever go out onto a wet playa!

Mesquite Sand Dunes in Death Valley National Park in pristine condition the morning after a frequent wind storm.

Mesquite Sand Dunes in Death Valley National Park in pristine condition the morning after a frequent wind storm.

Mesquite Sand Dunes in Death Valley National Park in pristine condition the morning after a frequent wind storm.

Mesquite Sand Dunes in Death Valley National Park in pristine condition the morning after a frequent wind storm.

Mesquite Sand Dunes in Death Valley National Park in pristine condition the morning after a frequent wind storm.

Mesquite Sand Dunes in Death Valley National Park in pristine condition the morning after a frequent wind storm.

Mesquite Sand Dunes in Death Valley National Park in pristine condition the morning after a frequent wind storm.

Mesquite Sand Dunes in Death Valley National Park in pristine condition the morning after a frequent wind storm.

Mesquite Sand Dunes in Death Valley National Park in pristine condition the morning after a frequent wind storm.

Mesquite Sand Dunes in Death Valley National Park in pristine condition the morning after a frequent wind storm.

Mesquite Sand Dunes in Death Valley National Park in pristine condition the morning after a frequent wind storm.

Mesquite Sand Dunes in Death Valley National Park in pristine condition the morning after a frequent wind storm.

Mesquite Sand Dunes in Death Valley National Park in pristine condition the morning after a frequent wind storm.

Mesquite Sand Dunes in Death Valley National Park in pristine condition the morning after a frequent wind storm.

California desert landscapes

Roadrunner, if he catches you your through…

California desert landscapes

The Badlands

California desert landscapes

And headed lower

California desert landscapes

The salt crusted-floor of the badlands

California desert landscapes

Teakettle Junction on the way to the racetrack

The mysterious moving stones of the Death Valley Racetrack.

The mysterious moving stones of the Death Valley Racetrack.

Multiple mysterious moving stones of the Death Valley Racetrack.

Multiple mysterious moving stones of the Death Valley Racetrack.

The mysterious moving stones of the Death Valley Racetrack.

The mysterious moving stones of the Death Valley Racetrack.

 

 

  • May 6, 2015 - 8:21 pm

    Linda Crowell - What amazing,photographs Scott.i would like to get a couple of the ones from Mono Lake.

by Scott

I probably would not turn such a small subject area into a blog post at all if we didn’t come across one of the top wildflower hikes I have ever been on. Actually both of the 8 mile round trip hikes we took in the Point Reyes National Seashore were exceptional and worthy of sharing. But first let me back up to how we found ourselves there. I’m a big Lord of the Rings fan, so for my birthday, my wife got me tickets to see the San Jose Symphony orchestra perform the live soundtrack to the Lord of the Rings movies. It was pretty cool, they had a big screen and a special edition of the film with the music and singing parts removed, but the rest of the sound intact. The symphony was so spot on that I often forgot they were playing live, except that somehow the emotional intensity of the movie was amped up a notch. Anyhow, since we were going to be in the Bay Area in spring, I remembered photographing fields of iceplant in bloom near Pigeon Point lighthouse and decided I would check it out. From there we would work our way up the coast for a couple of days, ending up near Mt. Shasta so I could kayak a section of the Pit river that had a nice 30 foot waterfall on it, which normally doesn’t run except that they were doing maintenance on the powerhouse turbine, so water was actually flowing down the river for a change.

Well, long story short, it was foggy every day we were on the coast, and the day we were packing up to head to the Pit, they finished repairs on the turbine ahead of schedule and de-watered the river once again. So I spent a lot of time playing with my B+W 10 stop neutral density filter, trying to make interesting shots of water in motion, since the flat grey skies rendered everything mostly uninteresting. I also chose to wait until after sunset at the lighthouse to use a higher ISO and the mist off the ocean to render the lighthouse beam. The iceplant did not disappoint and if we had scored a nice warm pacific sunset, it would have been a worthy picture. But as a consolation prize, we did get to see a seal pup being born right off the lighthouse deck. The mother seal spent about an hour coaxing the newborn, placenta still attached at this point, up onto the rocks to warm up.

Back to Point Reyes! We camped in the Samuel P Taylor state park nearby and drove in. One day we went to Bolinas to check out the hotsprings that are only accessible at extremely low tide, but as advertised, they were crowded with hippies and, novelty of being right on the ocean aside, don’t hold a candle to the ones near Mammoth Mountain. Since we were in Bolinas, we took Mesa drive up to the bird observatory and beyond and hiked the 4.2 miles in to Alamere Falls. This was a spectacular hike, with great ocean views and a wide, easily graded trail. We even saw a guy pushing a stroller about 3 miles out. However, once it branches off the main trail and heads the nearly 1 mile to the falls, the trail is overgrown, has a lot of poison oak and a fairly technical scramble to get to the upper falls. The upper falls come from a small creek into a wide bench, and from the bench, tumbles over a cliff about 50 feet or more onto a secluded beach. To reach the beach is a legitimate class III, hands mandatory scramble down loose rock with severe consequences if you fall. That said, I made it carrying a giant camera backpack and a tripod, so it can’t be that bad. To see high-quality versions of these images and many more, or for image licensing please search through my online photo archive.

Alamere falls in Point Reyes national seashore 50 miles north of San Francisco, California is a wonderful 4 mile hike that ends in a waterfall that spills onto a secluded beach.

Alamere falls in Point Reyes national seashore 50 miles north of San Francisco, California is a wonderful 4 mile hike that ends in a waterfall that spills onto a secluded beach.

Alamere falls in Point Reyes national seashore 50 miles north of San Francisco, California is a wonderful 4 mile hike that ends in a waterfall that spills onto a secluded beach.

Alamere falls in Point Reyes national seashore 50 miles north of San Francisco, California is a wonderful 4 mile hike that ends in a waterfall that spills onto a secluded beach.

Alamere falls in Point Reyes national seashore 50 miles north of San Francisco, California is a wonderful 4 mile hike that ends in a waterfall that spills onto a secluded beach.

Alamere falls in Point Reyes national seashore 50 miles north of San Francisco, California is a wonderful 4 mile hike that ends in a waterfall that spills onto a secluded beach.

California desert landscapes

A 10 stop ND filter helped smooth out the sea and bring a little interest into an otherwise grey picture. Pigeon Point lighthouse is also a Hostel and you can stay the night. It has a cool old hot tub out back for guests to use.

Pigeon Point Light house and Hostel south of San Francisco, California along the pacific coast.

Pigeon Point Light house and Hostel south of San Francisco, California along the pacific coast.

Newborn harbor seal pup with placenta on the California Coast near Pescadero

Newborn harbor seal pup with placenta on the California Coast near Pescadero

The old Davenport Pier on the california coast near Davenport, just north of Santa Cruz, ca.

The old Davenport Pier on the California coast near Davenport, just north of Santa Cruz, ca.

The old Davenport Pier on the california coast near Davenport, just north of Santa Cruz, ca.

The old Davenport Pier on the California coast near Davenport, just north of Santa Cruz, ca.

The rugged california coast near Davenport, just north of Santa Cruz, ca.

The rugged California coast near Davenport, just north of Santa Cruz, ca.

The rugged california coast near Davenport, just north of Santa Cruz, ca.

The rugged California coast near Davenport, just north of Santa Cruz, ca.

Our next hike, which is probably one of the top 5 wildflower hikes in California, was the Tomales Point Hike. This absolutely spectacular hike starts from the historic Pierce Ranch on the complete opposite side of the park from above hike. From the Pierce Ranch, follow the easily marked trail 4.7 miles out to Tomales Point where Tomales Bay meets Drakes Bay in a stew of tumultuous waters. Along the way there were non-stop fields of purple irises, some form of yellow lupine, waist-high fields of white and blue wild radish flowers, and near the end, golden California poppies. And when there weren’t enough flowers to hold your interest, the area is a Tule Elk reserve, and the critters were all over the place rutting and grazing and just staring at us. The final show stopper is that, instead of ending in a cliff at the point as I expected, a small trail winds down to sea level at the end, though if you get swept off by the unpredictable waves in this area, there’s no saving you. Ocean views are nearly constant and we only saw a few other people once we got more than a few miles out, and that on a Friday.

California poppies, wild irises,wild radishes and many other flowers make the 4.5 mile Tomales Point trail in Point Reyes national seashore one of the top 5 wildflower hikes in California.

California poppies, wild irises,wild radishes and many other flowers make the 4.5 mile Tomales Point trail in Point Reyes national seashore one of the top 5 wildflower hikes in California.

California poppies, wild irises,wild radishes and many other flowers make the 4.5 mile Tomales Point trail in Point Reyes national seashore one of the top 5 wildflower hikes in California.

California poppies, wild irises,wild radishes and many other flowers make the 4.5 mile Tomales Point trail in Point Reyes national seashore one of the top 5 wildflower hikes in California.

California poppies, wild irises,wild radishes and many other flowers make the 4.5 mile Tomales Point trail in Point Reyes national seashore one of the top 5 wildflower hikes in California.

California poppies, wild irises,wild radishes and many other flowers make the 4.5 mile Tomales Point trail in Point Reyes national seashore one of the top 5 wildflower hikes in California.

California poppies, wild irises,wild radishes and many other flowers make the 4.5 mile Tomales Point trail in Point Reyes national seashore one of the top 5 wildflower hikes in California.

California poppies, wild irises,wild radishes and many other flowers make the 4.5 mile Tomales Point trail in Point Reyes national seashore one of the top 5 wildflower hikes in California.

Tule Elk and many wildflowers make the 4.5 mile Tomales Point trail in Point Reyes national seashore one of the top 5 wildflower hikes in California.

Tule Elk and many wildflowers make the 4.5 mile Tomales Point trail in Point Reyes national seashore one of the top 5 wildflower hikes in California.

Spring time is when the female elephant seals spend a few months on shore molting and birthing. It is called a catastrophic molt, and if you look closely at the skin of many of the seals in the picture, they look like burn victims, with the skin peeling off. But once they scratch their old hides off and the last of the young are birthed, it is out to sea till next season. The elephant seals can be easily seen from a short hike out to Chimney Rock, or the Point Reyes Lighthouse. The lighthouse also has the best views of the spectacular 11-mile long Point Reyes Beach. We hiked out there our last day, in 50 mph winds which made the blowing sand feel like shotgun pellets, but the wind parted the fog for a bit giving us our closest thing to a sunset all trip.

Elephant Seal females molting on a beach at the Point Reyes national seashore.

Elephant Seal females molting on a beach at the Point Reyes national seashore.

The historical Point Reyes lighthouse in the Point Reyes National Seashore 50 miles north of San Francisco, California.

The historical Point Reyes lighthouse in the Point Reyes National Seashore 50 miles north of San Francisco, California. It’s pretty much only open Friday – Sunday, so we didn’t get to go down and see it up close.

Sunset on the 11 mile long point Reyes Beach in the Point Reyes National Seashore 50 miles north of San Francisco, California.

Sunset on the 11 mile long point Reyes Beach in the Point Reyes National Seashore 50 miles north of San Francisco, California.

Sunset on the 11 mile long point Reyes Beach in the Point Reyes National Seashore 50 miles north of San Francisco, California.

Sunset on the 11 mile long point Reyes Beach in the Point Reyes National Seashore 50 miles north of San Francisco, California.

  • April 30, 2015 - 3:08 am

    Linda Crowell - Yoor photos are absolutely amazing. They blow me away every time!

by Scott and Monique

Hi there, Monique here, adding a few of my notes to this post about the Big Island of Hawaii! We decided to celebrate our 10 year anniversary with a trip that included some relaxing, and, of course, lots of adventuring as well. Since we honeymooned on Kaua’i, but neither of us had ever been to the big island, we decided to spend our 2 weeks exploring the “off the beaten path” areas of Hawaii. One of the most essential things to have for this endeavor is the book “Hawaii The Big Island Revealed.”  We used the author’s other book for our Kaua’i trip way back when, so we knew we could count on some secluded beaches and adventurous hikes without hordes of people. I planned the 2 weeks with the strategy of seeing as much as we could in the very different parts of the island. So the key to this plan was to stay 3 or 4 nights each in different areas of the island.

We started on the Kona side of the island, but since neither of us like crowds and the city, nor do we like the fancy-pants resort life, we opted to stay in a modest, quaint hotel in the lovely ranch town of Waimea. This was our home base where we just popped down the hill to explore some of the lesser visited beaches. A big bonus of staying in Waimea: The Big Island Brewhaus, a micro brewery with a variety of excellent beer on tap and tasty fresh mex food in a brightly colored, eclectic setting. We happened to be there on open mic night and were totally entertained by the talented musicians that happened to play that night. By the way, any of these pictures and more can be licensed for use simply by typing in “Hawaii” into the keyword field of my online photo archive and browsing for the photos you want.

The Queen

The Queen’s Bath, a freshwater cave near Kiholo Bay on the big island of Hawaii near Kona

Crossing giant fields of lava on our cross-country trek to find Kiholo Bay and the sea turtles

Crossing giant fields of lava on our cross-country trek to find Kiholo Bay and the sea turtles

Kiholo Bay is a beautiful place that requires some walking to, so despite the fact that we say about 5-10 sea turtles per hour, we only saw two other people during our two days visiting this place located near Kona on the big island of Hawaii.

Kiholo Bay is a beautiful place that requires some walking to, so despite the fact that we saw about 5-10 sea turtles per hour, we only saw two other people during our two days visiting this place located near Kona on the big island of Hawaii. Turtles seem to like the confluence of fresh water into the sea. So look for places along the coast with springs or small rivers entering the ocean and that is where you are likely to find the turtles.

Kiholo Bay is a beautiful place that requires some walking to, so despite the fact that we say about 5-10 sea turtles per hour, we only saw two other people during our two days visiting this place located near Kona on the big island of Hawaii.

One of the things I really wanted to see when we went to Hawaii, was to see turtles up close. I thought it might be a little hard, but after one day here with no other people I had my sea turtle fill for the trip. Kiholo Bay is a beautiful place that requires some walking to, so despite the fact that we saw about 5-10 sea turtles per hour, we only saw two other people during our two days visiting this place located near Kona on the big island of Hawaii.

hawaii travel sea turtleshawaii travel sea turtlesWe then set out to Hilo, on the east side of the island. I really liked the town itself, it seemed much more laid back than the Kona side. We stayed at a bed and breakfast just north of town called the Hale Kai, I recommend it. We spent several days exploring waterfalls, fruit stands, farmers markets and parks. Make sure to check out the Hilo Palace Theater, built in 1925. Even if you don’t see a show there, try to pop your head in and take a peek at this historic building.  The highlight of this part of the trip was our hike in Emesine Cave. About half way up on Saddle Road towards the middle of the island we parked the car along the side of the road and followed the directions in our trusty guide book to a pristine lava tube. It is a 5 mile round trip hike just to get to the opening of the lava tube. We estimated we then probably walked about another mile or so inside it. I can not even begin to describe what an awesome experience it is to be in this environment. We even saw a few sets of animal bones perfectly resting in their original shape of where the animals died. If you decide to do this adventure, remember to bring several headlamps and flashlights with you. We geeked out a bit with our light painting photography. But we also enjoyed the hike, and we even shut off our headlamps a few different time and experienced the blackest of all dark in the world. Whoa, it was pure black!

The famous Waipi

The famous Waipi’o Valley on the Big Island of Hawaii. An uber steep, 4 wheel drive only (though it is paved and you could make it with a small car with a good transmission) road is the only way in or out. It boasts an awesome black sand beach and a scenic waterfall that was dry when we got there. A hiking trail switches back up the cliff on the far side of this beach into true wilderness.

The Hawaii tropical botanical Garden near Hilo. This giant Botanical garden was a real treat with some crazy looking plants, and this coming from someone who really would normally not be impressed by this sort of thing.

The Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden near Hilo. This giant Botanical garden was a real treat with some crazy looking plants, and this coming from someone who really would normally not be impressed by this sort of thing.

The Hawaii tropical botanical Garden near Hilo. This giant Botanical garden was a real treat with some crazy looking plants, and this coming from someone who really would normally not be impressed by this sort of thing.

The Hawaii tropical botanical Garden near Hilo. This giant Botanical garden was a real treat with some crazy looking plants, and this coming from someone who really would normally not be impressed by this sort of thing.

Fruit stands dot the roads.

Fruit stands dot the roads.

Fresh Coconut it one of my wife

Fresh Coconut is one of my wife’s favorite foods, and there was plenty to go around.

Eucalyptus forests abound in Hawaii. These non-native trees were originally brought in from Australia and the Phillipines as a plantation crop, for wood pulp, but were not profitable on Hawaii, so the fast growing invasive species soon choked out native trees and plants on entire hillsides.

Eucalyptus forests abound in Hawaii. These non-native trees were originally brought in from Australia and the Philippines as a plantation crop, for wood pulp, but were not profitable on Hawaii, so the fast growing invasive species soon choked out native trees and plants on entire hillsides on the eastern side of the island.

Rainbow over the airport in Hilo as planes com in for landings.

Rainbow over the airport in Hilo as planes come in for landings.

Rainbow over the airport in Hilo as planes com in for landings.

Rainbow over the airport in Hilo as planes take off.

Rainbow over the Japanese gardens in Hilo, where a clock stands stopped at 1:04 am. After a second devastating Tsunami struck here with a 20 foot wave at 1:04 am in 1960, the state prohibited residential rebuilding in the twice affected areas, turning much of the land into public parks.

Rainbow over the Japanese gardens in Hilo, where a clock stands stopped at 1:04 am. After a second devastating Tsunami struck here with a 20 foot wave at 1:04 am in 1960, the state prohibited residential rebuilding in the twice affected areas, turning much of the land into public parks.

The Japanese gardens in Hilo, where a clock stands stopped at 1:04 am. After a second devastating Tsunami struck here with a 20 foot wave at 1:04 am in 1960, the state prohibited residential rebuilding in the twice affected areas, turning much of the land into public parks.

The Japanese gardens in Hilo, where a clock stands stopped at 1:04 am. After a second devastating Tsunami struck here with a 20 foot wave at 1:04 am in 1960, the state prohibited residential rebuilding in the twice affected areas, turning much of the land into public parks.

Big Banyan trees near the Japanese gardens in Hilo, where a clock stands stopped at 1:04 am. After a second devastating Tsunami struck here with a 20 foot wave at 1:04 am in 1960, the state prohibited residential rebuilding in the twice affected areas, turning much of the land into public parks.

Big Banyan trees near the Japanese gardens in Hilo, where a clock stands stopped at 1:04 am. After a second devastating Tsunami struck here with a 20 foot wave at 1:04 am in 1960, the state prohibited residential rebuilding in the twice affected areas, turning much of the land into public parks.

The farmers market in Hilo is the place for deals on good food. 6 papaya for a buck. Can

The farmers market in Hilo is the place for deals on good food. 6 papaya for a buck. Can’t beat that!

Entrance to the touristy Kaumana Cave near Hilo on the big island of Hawaii.

Entrance to the touristy Kaumana Cave near Hilo on the big island of Hawaii.

Entrance to the touristy Kaumana Cave near Hilo on the big island of Hawaii.

Entrance to the touristy Kaumana Cave near Hilo on the big island of Hawaii the lava drippings had crumbled and people defaced the entrance by carving into the stone. Jerks!

Swimming in Wai

Swimming in Wai’ale Falls on the big island of Hawaii near Hilo.

The highlight of our trip, the utterly pristine lava tubes of Emesine Cave, a remote 1 mile hike on the big island of Hawaii

The highlight of our trip, the utterly pristine lava tubes of Emesine Cave, a remote 1 mile hike inside the tube on the big island of Hawaii. Plan a full day adventure for this and don’t be stupid. This is a for real hike out and back, a hard search to find the opening, and parts of the roof could collapse on you at any moment. Lava tubes usually only survive a few hundred years and this one is utterly pristine, so keep it that way!

The highlight of our trip, the utterly pristine lava tubes of Emesine Cave, a remote 1 mile hike on the big island of Hawaii

The highlight of our trip, the utterly pristine lava tubes of Emesine Cave, a remote 1 mile hike inside the tube on the big island of Hawaii

The highlight of our trip, the utterly pristine lava tubes of Emesine Cave, a remote 1 mile hike on the big island of Hawaii

The highlight of our trip, the utterly pristine lava tubes of Emesine Cave, a remote 1 mile hike inside the tube on the big island of Hawaii

hawaii travel lava tube

 

The highlight of our trip, the utterly pristine lava tubes of Emesine Cave, a remote 1 mile hike on the big island of Hawaii

The highlight of our trip, the utterly pristine lava tubes of Emesine Cave, a remote 1 mile hike inside the tube on the big island of Hawaii.

After spending some time in the Hilo area, I dragged Scott to a “hippy-dippy” retreat center in the Puna area called Kalani. He actually liked it! The food is amazing, and we did a few yoga class, and even an aerial silks class. Making this our home base, we were able to visit some of the interesting warm spring ponds in the area. This would have also been the perfect home base for seeing/ photographing the lava flowing in to the ocean, but it stopped doing that several months before we arrived.

Sunset and waves crashing along the coast of lower Puna on the big island of Hawaii.

Sunset and waves crashing along the coast of lower Puna on the big island of Hawaii.

The cleanest air in the world is supposedly at Cape Kumaukahi Point on the big island of Hawaii. Apparently the air currents that travel over this point cross over 3000 miles of open sea and nothing else before reaching here. Scientific instruments are scattered here and there taking air quality readings, and there are some cool hot springs, called the Champagne Pond that go right into the ocean and where sea turtles like to hang out.

The cleanest air in the world is supposedly at Cape Kumaukahi Point on the big island of Hawaii. Apparently the air currents that travel over this point cross over 3000 miles of open sea and nothing else before reaching here. Scientific instruments are scattered here and there taking air quality readings, and there are some cool hot springs, called the Champagne Pond that go right into the ocean and where sea turtles like to hang out.

The cleanest air in the world, a natural hotspring flowing into an ocean bay, and some local brew. Oh, and no people, like ever! It

The cleanest air in the world, a natural hotspring flowing into an ocean bay, and some local brew. Oh, and no people, like ever! It’s no surprise adventurous folk like the Big Island so much.

Our next stop was Volcanoes National Park. We stayed at another Bed and Breakfast that I would also recommend called Hale Ohia Cottages. What a small, sleepy “town.” We spent the days hiking on incredible lava formations through craters, and Scott spent each night photographing the milky way rising out of the glowing Halema’uma’u Crater.

Since flowing lava is currently not visible, the next best thing, is to view Halema

Since flowing lava is currently not visible, the next best thing, is to view Halema’uma’u Crater by night at Volcanoes National Park from the observation deck at the Jaggar museum on the big island of Hawaii. One of my main goals was seeing lava moving down to the sea, unfortunately at present the lava flow on Hawaii is tiny and on inaccessible private property.

Night shot of Milky Way galaxy and Halema

Night shot of Milky Way galaxy and Halema’uma’u Crater on Hawaii. Out of three days here, we had one mostly clear night when all these pictures were taken.

Since flowing lava is currently not visible, the next best thing, and if you have never seen a living volcano before, a truly spectacular thing, is to view Halema

Since flowing lava is currently not visible, the next best thing, and if you have never seen a living volcano before, a truly spectacular thing, is to view Halema’uma’u Crater by night at Volcanoes National Park on the big island of Hawaii. One of my main goals was seeing lava moving down to the sea, unfortunately at present the lava flow on Hawaii is tiny and on inaccessible private property.

Desolation trail at Volcanoes National Park on the big island of Hawaii.  One of my main goals was seeing lava moving down to the sea, unfortunately at present the lava flow on Hawaii is tiny and on inaccessible private property.

Desolation trail at Volcanoes National Park on the big island of Hawaii. One of my main goals was seeing lava moving down to the sea, unfortunately at present the lava flow on Hawaii is tiny and on inaccessible private property.

Ki

Ki’lauea Iki trail through the old crater floor in Volcanoes National Park on the big island of Hawaii. It amazes me that in my lifetime, this was a frothing see of molten lava that people just drove up to and had a few beers while watching. One of my main goals was seeing lava moving down to the sea, unfortunately at present the lava flow on Hawaii is tiny and on inaccessible private property.

Ki

Ki’lauea Iki trail through the old crater floor in Volcanoes National Park on the big island of Hawaii. It amazes me that in my lifetime, this was a frothing see of molten lava that people just drove up to and had a few beers while watching. One of my main goals was seeing lava moving down to the sea, unfortunately at present the lava flow on Hawaii is tiny and on inaccessible private property.

Lava fields cover old roads in Volcanoes National Park. It amazes me that in my lifetime, this was a frothing see of molten lava that people just drove up to and had a few beers while watching. One of my main goals was seeing lava moving down to the sea, unfortunately at present the lava flow on Hawaii is tiny and on inaccessible private property.

Lava fields cover old roads in Volcanoes National Park. It amazes me that in my lifetime, this was a frothing see of molten lava that people just drove up to and had a few beers while watching. One of my main goals was seeing lava moving down to the sea, unfortunately at present the lava flow on Hawaii is tiny and on inaccessible private property.

There is a wonderful petroglyph field along chain of craters drive near the ocean in Volcanoes National Park on the big island of Hawaii. One of my main goals was seeing lava moving down to the sea, unfortunately at present the lava flow on Hawaii is tiny and on inaccessible private property.

There is a wonderful petroglyph field along Chain of Craters Drive near the ocean in Volcanoes National Park on the big island of Hawaii. One of my main goals was seeing lava moving down to the sea, unfortunately at present the lava flow on Hawaii is tiny and on inaccessible private property.

Friendly Ernest the Goat at the Volcano Garden Arts center near the entrance to Volcanoes National Park on the big island of Hawaii. Cafe Ono is also on the grounds and is hands down the best restaurant in the area. One of my main goals was seeing lava moving down to the sea, unfortunately at present the lava flow on Hawaii is tiny and on inaccessible private property.

Friendly Ernest the Goat at the Volcano Garden Arts center near the entrance to Volcanoes National Park on the big island of Hawaii. Cafe Ono is also on the grounds and is hands down the best restaurant in the area. One of my main goals was seeing lava moving down to the sea, unfortunately at present the lava flow on Hawaii is tiny and on inaccessible private property.

After leaving Volcanoes National Park, we took a day trip to the south part of the island to see the green sand beach among a few other things. We stayed our last several nights South of Kona near the Kealakekua Bay in a bed and breakfast that I will not name because it was a pretty whacky experience! I am all for alternative, organic and back to nature, but the owner was so over the top, it was actually comical. Scott got a free crystal reading too! Our main efforts in this area of the island focused on getting up at sunrise each day attempting to find the wild dolphins that frequent several of the bays in this area. We snorkeled a lot around here too, and even swam what we estimated to be an ironman length swim across the Kealekekua Bay and back. On our final full day, we found a dolphin pod with about 6 or 7 adults and 2 babies that kept flipping out of the water. We waded in slowly since it is a no-no to harass them, and they naturally swam right near us several times. This was also one of the highlights of our trip!

A turtle lounges in the sand of the Punalu

A turtle lounges in the sand of the Punalu’u black sand beach on the big island of Hawaii.

Famous green sand beach near south point on the big island of Hawaii. Before crossing over to dirt roads, there will often be locals offering a $5 "passage" fee to transport you in. If you do not have a high clearance 4x4, and even if you do, but are not an experienced off-roader, PAY THE FEE. I have been driving 4x4

Famous green sand beach near south point on the big island of Hawaii. Before crossing over to dirt roads, there will often be locals offering a $5 “passage” fee to transport you in. If you do not have a high clearance 4×4, and even if you do, but are not an experienced off-roader, PAY THE FEE. I have been driving 4×4’s since my dad taught me to drive on sand bars when I was 13 and this was touch and go in good weather. So many deeply rutted tracks constantly diverge and then occasional end in cliffs or holes or other impassible spots. As a general rule, if you drive yourself as we did, stay on the highest tracks.

Famous green sand beach near south point on the big island of Hawaii. Before crossing over to dirt roads, there will often be locals offering a $5 "passage" fee to transport you in. If you do not have a high clearance 4x4, and even if you do, but are not an experienced off-roader, PAY THE FEE. I have been driving 4x4

Famous green sand beach near south point on the big island of Hawaii. Before crossing over to dirt roads, there will often be locals offering a $5 “passage” fee to transport you in. If you do not have a high clearance 4×4, and even if you do, but are not an experienced off-roader, PAY THE FEE. I have been driving 4×4’s since my dad taught me to drive on sand bars when I was 13 and this was touch and go in good weather. So many deeply rutted tracks constantly diverge and then occasional end in cliffs or holes or other impassible spots. As a general rule, if you drive yourself as we did, stay on the highest tracks.

Famous green sand beach near south point on the big island of Hawaii. Before crossing over to dirt roads, there will often be locals offering a $5 "passage" fee to transport you in. If you do not have a high clearance 4x4, and even if you do, but are not an experienced off-roader, PAY THE FEE. I have been driving 4x4

Famous green sand beach near south point on the big island of Hawaii. Before crossing over to dirt roads, there will often be locals offering a $5 “passage” fee to transport you in. If you do not have a high clearance 4×4, and even if you do, but are not an experienced off-roader, PAY THE FEE. I have been driving 4×4’s since my dad taught me to drive on sand bars when I was 13 and this was touch and go in good weather. So many deeply rutted tracks constantly diverge and then occasional end in cliffs or holes or other impassible spots. As a general rule, if you drive yourself as we did, stay on the highest tracks.

 

 

Heading away from South Point, the landscape is rolling fields and farms.

Heading away from South Point, the landscape is rolling fields and farms.

St. Benedict

St. Benedict’s Catholic Church near Honaunau, the more famous of Hawaii’s two painted churches. St. Benedict’s dates back to between 1899 and 1904. Father John Velge painted the myriad frescos on the walls and roof and local volunteers lovingly maintain it.

St. Benedict

St. Benedict’s Catholic Church near Honaunau, the more famous of Hawaii’s two painted churches. St. Benedict’s dates back to between 1899 an d1904. Father John Velge painted the myriad frescos on the walls and roof and local volunteers lovingly maintain it.

Dolphins playing in Honomalino Bay on the big island of Hawaii. Monique and I really wanted to swim (naturally) near dolphins. The big island of Hawaii is fairly famous for hosting pods of dolphins in its many secluded bays that "sleep" by circling the bay during the day in a sort of autopilot that passes for rest. It is important not to disturb these guys as that may make them tired and vulnerable to predators. We decided to tread water in what we guessed was their natural path and let them come by us. In an hour of treading water, the dolphin pod passed us 3 times, once only 5 feet away, without altering their behavior.

Dolphins playing in Honomalino Bay on the big island of Hawaii. Monique and I really wanted to swim (naturally) near dolphins. The big island of Hawaii is fairly famous for hosting pods of dolphins in its many secluded bays that “sleep” by circling the bay during the day in a sort of autopilot that passes for rest. It is important not to disturb these guys as that may make them tired and vulnerable to predators. We decided to tread water in what we guessed was their natural path and let them come by us. In an hour of treading water, the dolphin pod passed us 3 times, once only 5 feet away, without altering their behavior.

by Scott

Monique and I took a few weeks last fall after our wedding photography season started to wind down to head out and visit Southern Nevada. Despite living in Reno for the last 15 years or so, I have never actually explored any of the desert southwest part of my own state. We headed down 95, passing through some funky old towns and even ghost towns (to come on another blog post,) spent a few days at the Valley of Fire State Park, which was one of the highlights and a must visit for anyone passing through southern Nevada, then up the eastern portion of the state to Cathedral Gorge and back home. This blog post focuses on the Valley of Fire state park a few hours outside of Las Vegas.

First, try to go in the off-season. The weather is great here pretty much all the time, but folks still insist on packing in here in the middle of the summer when temperatures can hover above 100 degrees. I believe the campsites here are first-come, first-serve, which is refreshing, so if you have a big RV or a generator, aim for Atlatl rock campground. More space and more noise, so your generator noise won’t stand out so much. Arch rock campground is smaller, you couldn’t fit a big RV in most of it, and may be generator free. But it is awesome! Pass the main area and pick a spot on the back loop, preferably on the west side of the road. The cool rock formations of these campgrounds make them nearly private and seem bigger than they are. If you can’t get a campground, don’t worry. The place is surrounded by BLM land, and if you head out the east entrance and down toward Lake Mead, the lake is so low that you can pretty much pull a camper out onto your own private peninsula in spots. As for what to visit, the park isn’t huge and there aren’t a lot of hiking trails. I found the campgrounds to be at their emptiest around 10am. Check out the fire wave, but try to use a map and your noggin to figure out a shortcut other than the designated park trail. Not only is it shorter, it is way more scenic. But since there is only room to park about 3 cars there, if you figure it out, don’t tell. The main paved road that heads back toward the wave offers some great cross-country hiking on the sandstone formations (literally, petrified sand dunes with amazing color variations.) I favor the west side of the road for exploration, but cool things can be found on either side. This really is the highlight of the park, wandering around through mini canyons and colorful rock formations, but it can be hot and without trails, you won’t be taking granny on this one. There are some cool petroglyphs at Atlatl rock, but some jackasses have written their names around them. There are much more along the trail to the mouse tanks, but they are harder to get close to. Probably why they don’t have peoples names written all over them. Be sure to check this blog again in a few weeks to find some beta and a super-secret, amazingly cool, middle-of-nowhere spot to visit close by Valley of Fire. Check out my online archive of Nevada State Park images as well my full archive of images available for license or reproduction.

 

 

The Elephant Arch at Valley of Fire state park is one of the easiest to reach, being right along the road at the east entrance.

The Elephant Arch at Valley of Fire state park is one of the easiest to reach, being right along the road at the east entrance.

Monique hiking along some of the strikingly colorful rock formations at Nevada

Monique hiking along some of the strikingly colorful rock formations at Nevada’s Valley of Fire state park.

Monique atop The Wave, which is one of the signature formations in the park. Not quite as impressive as the wave in Utah, but at least you don

Monique atop The Fire Wave, which is one of the signature formations in the park. Not quite as impressive as the wave in Utah, but at least you don’t need a permit to go there.

Sunset at The Wave at Valley of Fire state park in southern Nevada. This particular spot seems to really draw in the photographers, though I thought there were way more interesting formations if you just went exploring.

Sunset at The Fire Wave at Valley of Fire state park in southern Nevada. This particular spot seems to really draw in the photographers, though I thought there were way more interesting formations if you just went exploring.

The Wave at sunset. We had pretty boring skies while we were here most of the time. But if you want my opinion, don

The Fire Wave at sunset. We had pretty boring skies while we were here most of the time. But if you want my opinion, don’t even bother photographing here during daylight. The light is almost always harsh, plunging one side of the wave or the other into shadow. Hope for a glorious sunset or sunrise and you should have a great picture.

I had to do this shot because as I was way back shooting the sun setting over this formation (3 pictures ago) a group of photographers rushed in, out of breath and obviously angry that they missed the light. They stomped right into my composition, though to be fair, they probably didn

I had to do this shot because as I was way back shooting the sun setting over this formation (2 pictures ago) a group of photographers rushed in, out of breath and obviously angry that they missed the light. They stomped right into my composition, though to be fair, they probably didn’t notice me one ridge back. Anyhow, one guy finally wedges himself in the little bowl and starts exclaiming, “This is it! This is the shot, blah blah…” So after I left I went down there to see what all the fuss is about. This is shot at 14mm and was the closest thing I could come up with from that angle that was remotely interesting to me. How do you think it compares to the other photos.

This picture I liked way better than any of the wave shots. The best thing, is it is part of a shortcut to the wave. You will never find this if you follow the "designated" trail, so get out your topos and happy hunting.

This picture I liked way better than any of the wave shots. The best thing is, it is part of a shortcut to the wave. You will never find this if you follow the “designated” trail, so get out your topo’s and happy hunting.

This is part of that same shortcut.

This is part of that same shortcut.

This is one of my favorite rock formations mostly because of all the color. you have to hike about 20 minutes from the road to come across it, but all the hiking here is relatively easy.

This is one of my favorite rock formations mostly because of all the color. you have to hike about 20 minutes from the road to come across it, but all the hiking here is relatively easy.

Another vantage point.

Another vantage point.

This is a small, but colorful arch near the campground. There are hundreds of these micro-formations throughout the park

This is a small, but colorful arch near the campground. There are hundreds of these micro-formations throughout the park

Mr. Tarantula. We wanted to see desert tortoise, but had to settle for this

Mr. Tarantula. We wanted to see desert tortoise, but had to settle for this

Sunrise at Valley of fire. This was almost a great day.

Sunrise at Valley of fire. This was almost a great day.

Another shot from the same sunrise. It was grey, and raining, but since I only had a couple of days I stuck it out with my jacket over my camera and waited. About 1/2 hour after what should have been sunrise, the clouds started breaking giving me some nice light on the rocks. The light rain kept up and a rainbow began to form. I started salivating thinking I really had a great picture coming on, then all of a sudden it went dead grey again. This was as strong as the rainbow ever got.

Another shot from the same sunrise. It was grey, and raining, but since I only had a couple of days I stuck it out with my jacket over my camera and waited. About 1/2 hour after what should have been sunrise, the clouds started breaking giving me some nice light on the rocks. The light rain kept up and a rainbow began to form. I started salivating thinking I really had a great picture coming on, then all of a sudden it went dead grey again. This was as strong as the rainbow ever got.

Balancing rock is one of the formations right next to the visitors center. There is a trail up to it from the bottom, and the road winds right by it with no place to stop except below it, where the backgrounds were boring. I wouldn

Balancing rock is one of the formations right next to the visitors center. There is a trail up to it from the bottom, and the road winds right by it with no place to stop except below it, where the backgrounds were boring. I wouldn’t have taken a picture of this rock, except while coming down from my sunrise shooting, there were beams of light passing behind it.

Some cool stone cabins built by the CCC in the early 1900

Some cool stone cabins built by the CCC in the early 1900’s.

Some of the more interesting rocks and colors can by found by hiking cross-country, mostly to the west of the main road.

Some of the more interesting rocks and colors can by found by hiking cross-country, mostly to the west of the main road.

More of the colorful rock formations west of the main road.

More of the colorful rock formations west of the main road.

valley_of_fire_18southern nevada tourism

Monique really tunes in to details on the rock, like this lovely lady.

Monique really tunes in to details on the rock, like this lovely lady.

And these geometric patterns.

And these geometric patterns.

Me lounging in the rocks above our campsite.

Me lounging in the rocks above our campsite.

The view from our campsite. Didn

The view from our campsite. Didn’t expect a sunset on our last night, then the clouds popped up out of nowhere. Not enough time to get back to the wave, plus I was already into a few beers at camp.

The back way into the Arch rock campground. If you have a big RV and a noisy generator, go to Atlatl rock campground to be with your brethren. If you are tent or car camping or in a can or small RV, Arch rock campground is amazing!

The back way into the Arch rock campground. If you have a big RV and a noisy generator, go to Atlatl rock campground to be with your brethren. If you are tent or car camping or in a van or small RV, Arch rock campground is amazing!

Looking down at our campground from high on the rocks above. We are hidden in our little Aliner on the bottom right. Because of the rocks, most of the campgrounds on the outside of the road have a very private feel.

Looking down at our campground from high on the rocks above. We are hidden in our little Aliner on the bottom right. Because of the rocks, most of the campgrounds on the outside of the road have a very private feel.

If you can

If you can’t find a spot at one of the two campgrounds in Valley of Fire state park, don’t despair. Head out the East entrance, make a right and head south about 5-10 miles. There will be a paved road on your left heading to Lake Mead and passing through a very small settlement along the way before turning to dirt at what used to be a boat ramp. I think it’s Five Cove Rd, but it could be the road to Stewart’s Point. Anyhow, once you pass the boat-ramp (now about a mile or so from the water,) pick a dirt road and carefully follow it. If your really lucky, it will take you to a spot like these guys.

Lone Bighorn Ram walking across some of the more interesting rock formations at Valley of Fire state park in southern Nevada.

Lone Bighorn Ram walking across some of the more interesting rock formations at Valley of Fire state park in southern Nevada.

Bighorn sheep peek-a-boo! My sunrise shot didn

Bighorn sheep peek-a-boo! My sunrise shot didn’t really pan out, but as I walked back to the car all soaking wet, I saw this herd.

It

It’s good to be the king. Nevada bighorn ram and his herd at Valley of Fire. Get up early if you want to see these guys. They seem to vanish in the middle of the day.

nevada bighorn sheep ram

The herd in the first light ready to get out of the open and away from the coming tourist throng. Glad I was up at dawn, by myself of I never would have seen them.

The herd in the first light ready to get out of the open and away from the coming tourist throng. Glad I was up at dawn, by myself of I never would have seen them.

Finally, Star Trek nerd scavanger hunt. Find the bridge where Capt. Kirk died. Movie productions used to leave a lot of crap out in the desert after their shoots, until tougher environmental laws forced no-impact production methods.

Finally, Star Trek nerd scavenger hunt. Find the bridge where Capt. Kirk died. Movie productions used to leave a lot of crap out in the desert after their shoots, until tougher environmental laws forced no-impact production methods.