By late October, the vineyards across the Napa and Sonoma Valleys have turned yellow. By the second week of November, the remaining leaves change to shades of red. Here, in the San Francisco Bay Area, you will discover landscapes similar to the rolling hills of the Palouse in southeastern Washington State and autumn color as vivid as New England’s. Intertwine your photography with wine tasting tours through the area’s famous wineries and a few of the best restaurants in America. Newsletter #106 includes directions to my favorite spots for sunsets across the vineyards of Northern California. The grape harvest can begin as early as August, but the picking usually occurs in mid-September. By late October, grape leaves that are still on the vine have turned yellow. By early November, leaves begin to turn red. A ripe bunch of grapes makes a nice close-up subject surrounded by bright red leaves. It’s easy to find a few unpicked clusters of grapes that were missed by the pickers. Stay a week and watch the colors change. If you can’t schedule an autumn visit, mid-summer is almost as good. The vines are bare in winter and early spring. March is the mustard season when the fields are yellow.
Washington’s North Cascades National Park, in the northwest corner of Washington State, has some of America’s most beautiful mountain landscapes. Nature photographers who have not yet discovered this wilderness will find countless waterfalls dropping from ridges below jagged peaks and hundreds of glaciers, more than any other national park. Miles of trails through dripping rain forests connect jewel-like alpine lakes. Rainstorms blowing in from the Pacific are blocked by the North Cascades Range. Rain falls on the west side of the Cascades, creating a moss-covered rain forest. The highest point along the road through the park is called Rainy Pass. More snow falls here and piles up into deeper snow packs than in any other national park in the lower forty-eight states. A few miles east of the summit, ponderosa pine forests cover dry mountains rolling down toward the Columbia River Valley. Driving eastward, away from the Cascades, you’ll see dry, rolling hills receding into the distance.
Many strange red sandstone formations cover a landscape called Little Finland, also known as Hobgoblins’ Playground or Devil’s Fire. These little-known formations are located fourteen miles east of the eastern entrance into Nevada’s Valley of Fire State Park on the other side of Lake Mead in a remote part of the Nevada desert. The nearest large town is Mesquite, Nevada. Four-wheel-drive is recommended but a high-clearance vehicle will take you there. My issue #113 has all the directions to this remote location and tips for a successful exploration. If you love photographing the deserts of the Southwest, you must add this place to your list.
I set out to find and photograph autumn color across the Midwest. I did some research to determine exactly where the best autumn color is usually found. Over the years, I saved articles on places to visit around the Great Lakes Region. I pulled that stack of articles from my files and started planning. I decided to concentrate on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. I have wanted to explore and photograph the shores of Lake Superior. From California, I planned to drive east, across the Dakotas, through Minnesota and Wisconsin, up to Lake Superior and across the north shore of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula where I found great autumn color and discovered fascinating places to photograph. There are miles of roads along the shoreline of Lake Superior that are not shown on most road maps. Buy a DeLorme Atlas if you plan to explore the Upper Peninsula. I mapped out my route, following back roads across the state of Minnesota. I headed to Duluth on the western tip of Lake Superior. As I neared the lake (fifty miles south), the autumn color started to appear. I drove up State Route 23 toward the town of Superior. Color was lining both sides of the road.
Fifteen miles south of the Monterey/San Luis Obispo County line, five miles north of San Simeon, and just south of Piedras Blancas Lighthouse, is the Elephant Seal Viewing Area. Watch for a large, paved parking area on the beach side of Highway One. Park at the edge of a sidewalk where you can set up your tripod and shoot over a low railing. The nearest elephant seals are only a few feet below the sidewalk. You can easily get tightly framed full-face portraits of these creatures with a 300 mm telephoto from the railing. Almost wiped out for their oil-rich blubber in the 1800s, a few dozen elephant seals survived on a remote island off the coast of Mexico. Today, the elephant seal population is estimated at 100,000. Populations of elephant seal rookery sites in California have steadily increased during the past century.
At Año Nuevo State Park, north of Santa Cruz, California, no elephant seals were seen until the 1950s. The first pup was born there in the early 1960s. Currently, thousands of pups are born every year at Año Nuevo, on both the island and mainland. The growth of the site near San Simeon has been more spectacular. No seals were there prior to 1990. Currently, the San Simeon site hosts more breeding animals than Año Nuevo State Park during winter season. Every year more elephant seals, born here on this beach, return to mate and raise more pups. They are making a great comeback. When I arrived at this mile-long beach, it was covered with thousands of elephant seals.
Twelve miles east of the California/Nevada border is Jean, a roadside oasis with a gas station, a restaurant and one hotel which has been closed by Covid-19. Traveling north or south, you will see signs along Interstate 15 pointing out the route through Jean to the Seven Magic Mountains. The seven-mile route follows the original road from LA to Las Vegas. Visible from the freeway are seven tall stacks of very large boulders, 35-40 feet high, painted in day-glo shades of primary colors. Close-up photos of the stone columns don’t mean much without including the surrounding expanse of desert. I wanted to move way back with my camera to show how small and isolated these seven stone stacks really are. I found a spot for my tripod and waited for groups of tourists to get their shots. It took over an hour for all of them to leave. I didn’t want anyone in my photos. If the parking lot is filled with tour buses on a sunny day, you’ll never get a magic photo without lots of tourists with phones. Arrive here very early or very late in the day. The Seven Magic Mountain project cost $3.5 million in private funds. No tax money was involved. This anomaly is something different, abnormal, not easily classified and not on my list of locations I plan to photograph in the desert around Las Vegas. These stone towers will probably be gone by the time I return to Las Vegas - I had to photograph them. Leaving the Seven Magic Mountains, stay off the freeway and continue driving northeast on the frontage road, right into Las Vegas.
The two main buildings of the Taos Pueblo were constructed between 1000 and 1450 A.D. Ancestors of the present Taos Indians have lived here for at least a thousand years. No one really knows how long Taos Pueblo has been here, but like Acoma Pueblo, Taos is claimed by its people to be the oldest continuously inhabited community in the USA. Afternoon light reaches many of the more interesting parts of the south house called, Hlaukwima. Visitors are permitted to cross the stream and explore both of the main buildings. Do not pass the red barriers, the large sawhorses that keep visitors from some areas, like the six ceremonial kivas. Many of the rooms in the lower levels of the pueblo are shops and galleries. Most of the upper level dwellings are reached by ladders. Ladder-climbing and wading in their river are forbidden. The Taos people drink the water of Rio Pueblo, flowing from their sacred Blue Lake, without any filtering or other treatment. There is no plumbing or electricity inside the pueblo walls.
The Taos Pueblo is usually open from about 8:30 am to 5:00 pm. The gates are closed for some private tribal ceremonies. About twelve days each year, the public is invited to watch some of their ceremonial dances. Cameras are not allowed in the pueblo on ceremonial days. The pueblo is often closed for one or two days prior, to prepare for a ceremony, and is sometimes closed the day after a ceremony, to clean up the grounds.
On the north shore of Prince Edward Island, 3.5 miles east east of the village of Malpeque, watch for Lower Darnley Road on Route 20. Turn north and drive until you see a sign at the junction of Thunder Cove Road. A couple minutes on this gravel road will take you to the edge of the cliffs above Thunder Cove. Park in the middle of a large curve in the road and you’ll find a narrow trail leading 65 feet down the cliffs to the beach. Down on the sand, walk 15 minutes west to find some bizarre geological formations carved by storm-driven waves blowing in from the north. Arrive during a high tide and you’ll have trouble getting around the points extending farther into the ocean. A lower tide will expose more of the strange formations and reveal reflecting pools that mirror the images you’ll want to photograph.
Depending on which way you’ll be shooting, these formations will work for you in morning or afternoon light. A thick fog will add drama to the scenes. A sky full of clouds will be better than a bald, blank sky. If you will be passing through here just once, photograph what you find and work with it later. Allow at least an hour for the beach hike and a thorough photo session. Avoid summer weekends here when this beach is covered with tourists and all the parking spaces are full.
The Outer Banks are a long, narrow band of barrier islands extending a hundred-and-fifty miles down the coast of North Carolina. This fragile, offshore ribbon of constantly shifting sand separates the Atlantic Ocean from coastal bays. While staying two nights at a small motel in Buxton, near the southern tip of Hatteras Island, North Carolina, I got out on the beach for two sunsets and two sunrises. The most dramatic cloud formations over the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse formed during the late afternoon when thunderstorms darkened the skies to the north. Some of the most satisfying images I made during my week of exploration along the Outer Banks were patterns of beach grass, and wind-blown sand ridges sandwiched between the surf and the sky. Patterns of sand fences, half-buried in the dunes, created leading lines and gave a greater feeling of depth to my beach scenes.
To save the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse from the encroaching sea, it was moved a half mile inland in 1999. The lighthouse is now the same distance from the ocean as when it was originally constructed in 1870. Known as America's Lighthouse, the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse stands 208 feet and is the tallest brick beacon in the nation.
Out in the Big Bend of northwest Florida, the mouth of the Suwannee River is twenty miles from US 19 to the small coastal village of Suwannee. Just before reaching the village, I spotted the side road marked with a sign pointing out the Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge. Five miles into the refuge, palms scattered across the marshes near the Sanders Creek bridges made some nice compositions. A trail headed downstream along the edge of Sanders Creek. I got quite a distance from the road and my car as I photographed palm tree reflections in the dark stream and great white herons perched on cypress knees. Coming up the trail, headed straight for me, I thought I saw a large black dog. Standing two-feet tall and striding along briskly, it suddenly stopped as it noticed me and my camera. It turned and slipped into the stream. I could see that it was a very large alligator. I quickly returned to the car. The Lower Suwannee National Wildlife Refuge covers almost 53,000 acres. It would be easy to get lost in this swamp.
Notes and images from Bob Hitchman.