I left Interstate 10 at Exit 260 in Tucson and headed south on Interstate 19. At Exit 92 I headed west and drove about one mile to the oldest continuously occupied church in North America - San Xavier del Bac. More than 200 years ago, Franciscans picked this site to build their mission and start construction of the present adobe church called “White Dove of the Desert.” From the outside, a white dome is a landmark that can be seen for miles. Only one steeple was ever finished, affecting the symmetry but not the beauty of the architecture. The workers never finished building the east bell tower, so only one completed tower rises above the facade. With the right camera angle, it is not noticeable. To the east of the cathedral is a wide trail that climbs to an overlook on a nearby hill. This easy climb leads to a view that includes the white dome at the rear of the building that is not seen from the front. Thunder storms blown in from the Gulf are common in southern Arizona during the monsoon season, a welcome addition to a clear desert sky over San Xavier.
If you are planning to take an African safari to photograph wildlife in Kenya, Tanzania, or Botswana, start by applying for or updating your passport and then getting in a few days of practice at your local zoo. A trip to a zoo will give you the opportunity to learn how to operate your camera properly so that you can capture the best possible photos of all the creatures you will find in the wild. Even if you have no plans for international travel, a photo trip to the zoo can be interesting and enjoyable. You are prohibited from using a flash unit in most zoos. Flash can frighten and chase off the creatures. A flash will usually give you “red—eye” type problems and glare on glass enclosures. Some zoo enclosures have artificial lighting. Make a few text exposures to fine—tune your white balance, especially if you are shooting JPEG format. When you are shooting RAW files, all the data recorded is available later to correct and fine tune your images. Almost any error you make when shooting a RAW image can be corrected later. JPEG images are processed in your camera and much of the data is discarded. Some cameras can shoot both formats at the same time so you have a choice later. Check with zoo officials to determine if tripods or a monopod are permitted. On a busy weekend, someone is likely to trip over your tripod leg. I pack a monopod to avoid this.
I’m always looking for new locations for photography. After 32 years of traveling North America, it’s getting difficult to find places I have never explored. I have made many trips to the state of Washington but I have never spent much time exploring the Columbia River, the boundary between Oregon and Washington. The hills and canyons along the Columbia River are very dramatic and add a strong backdrop for photographs of the area. Mid-summer turns the hills a golden hue. More colorful images can be created with a summer visit to the Yakima Valley as fruit orchards display a vivid spectrum for photographers.
When there are record rainfalls on northern and southern California, wildflower displays cover southern deserts, including the Sonoran Deserts, from Organ Pipe National Monument to Anza—Borrego and the Mojave Desert. I usually head for the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve. Get ready for the next spring wildflower season with details on the best locations in Antelope Valley, just north of Los Angeles. My Photograph America Newsletter is full of tips on solving wind problems, choosing the right close—up gear, and finding an up—to—the minute internet wildflower hotline. There’s been a lot of development here with the towns of Lancaster and Palmdale now almost one continuous community. The city of Palmdale is an aerospace industry center. The town of Lancaster has a dozen motels. There are also lodgings in the town of Gorman, on Interstate 5. When I arrive in Lancaster, I stock up on groceries for breakfasts and lunches in the field. I pack bottles of water and ice in an insulated cooler. It’s a long drive back into town for lunch. As far north as Avenue A, the northern boundary of Los Angeles County, I found more large fields of poppies mixed with a type of very low—growing, dark blue lupine, called pygmy—leaved lupine. When there is no space to set up a full—sized tripod, I pull out my six—inch—long, table—top tripod. It’s solid and steady, though not very adjustable. If the ground is uneven and the six—inch tripod is too tall for the shot, I drop a beanbag on the ground as a camera support. Sometimes, I use a 5x7 inch piece of plywood with a small ball—head bolted into the center. My most basic camera support is a twelve—inch steel rod, sharpened on one end and threaded on the other end to screw into the bottom of a small ball head. Depending on the soil, I just push it into the ground and attach a camera.
I recently returned to Virginia City, the site of the richest gold and silver mines in the World and the most colorful Victorian—Era/Old West town (with working steam locomotives) you will ever photograph. After a day of photographing the hills around Virginia City, Nevada, with my nephew, we ended the day at the Palace Saloon on C Street in Virginia City, one of the best preserved of the Victoria—era gold and silver mine communities. California is called the golden state, Nevada is called the silver state. The boom of California’s gold rush of 1849 slowed as the easy—to—find placer gold was picked from the banks of streams in the Sierra Nevada Range. Many of those who did not strike it rich in California, but had the funds to move on to richer diggings, headed to Alaska. Others headed east when reports of greater riches came out of mountains to the east in the territory of Nevada. Prospectors discovered a dry land where few streams flowed and where placer mining was not possible. In the area south of Reno, a minor stagecoach stop in those days, gold and silver ore was discovered on June 8, 1859 in great quantities, starting near the surface in a canyon to the east of Virginia City. Soon, deeper and deeper mines were necessary to follow veins that extended for thousands of feet into solid rock. Machinery that could dig that deep was expensive. Itinerate prospectors, with a pan and a mule, were forced to become employees of rich investors. Miners soon formed unions that grew strong enough to demand wages that reached as high as four dollars a day—a fabulous wage in those days, probably enough for a miner to dine at the Palace Saloon.
If you are interested in early American history, this is where it all began. Thomas Carter, one of my mother’s ancestors nine generations ago, arrived here ten years after the Mayflower arrived. He settled in Woburn, Massachusetts, where a painting of the Reverend Thomas Carter hangs in their library. I recently visited Cape Ann, Massachusetts, where I explored the towns of Gloucester, Rockport, Essex, Ipswich, Newburyport and Plum Island. While I was in the town of Newburyport, I got a close-up view of a full-size replica of Christopher Columbus’ flagship, Santa Maria. It was moored behind the Custom House Maritime Museum on Water Street. I got some dockside photos with a wide-angle lens. The same lens was useful for a walk through the narrow streets of Newburyport, my new favorite New England City. I found a historic New England inn in a very convenient location just one block from the Newburyport harbor. I left my rental car in their free parking lot and spent the rest of the day photographing this historic city and looking for a café with a view, that had lobster rolls on their menu. The whole Cape Ann trip was a great success, especially the last-minute motel selections and all the fresh lobster.
On the streets of Newburyport, I photographed dogs being walked on leash. My camera was down at their eye level. Auto focus helped and I got a few keepers, especially with small dogs, like Oliver, this longhair dachshund. Dogs always like a little attention.
Maine, a great place for dramatic seascapes. Autumn color adds to the striking scenes of this peninsula. Photograph fishing villages, rocky beaches, and much more. Acadia National Park has one of the best harbors for sunrises and sunsets. You will find puffin photography and discover remote fishing villages. With tide tables you can set up your tripod for tide pool photography. Set your alarm clock and arrive at the summit of Cadillac Mountain for classic sunrise photos. Nearby is the historic fishing village of Stonington, Maine, on Deer Island, on the Schoodic Peninsula and the fishing villages of Corea and Beals Island.
The Cornwall Covered Bridge is located eight miles north of Kent. It was built in 1864 and is one of only three covered bridges still standing in Connecticut. A concrete support in the middle of the Housatonic River holds up this 242-foot town lattice truss bridge. Pedestrians and bikes have the right-of-way on the bridge. Cell phone photographers moved out of my way when I set up a serious-looking digital SLR camera on a tripod. I moved in close and low to shoot the sunny side of this bridge with a wide-angle lens and included a blue sky to contrast with the red bridge.
Calico, a mining town in the Calico Mountains of Southern California, was settled in 1881. It was the most prolific producer of silver ore in California by producing $86 million in silver from its mines. The town supported a population of 4,000 before the price of silver crashed in 1896. The town of Calico was completely abandoned by 1907. Calico is called the official California Silver Mine. Bodie is the official California Gold Mine. The ghost town of Bodie is in a state of “arrested decay,” whereas Calico has been completely rebuilt.
The wide—open spaces of Nevada are scattered with the crumbling remains of long abandoned ghost towns which sprung up around gold and silver mines in the 1800’s. At least 1,700 documented sites of abandoned and still—active mines can be found on maps of Nevada. My newsletter on Nevada Ghost towns has details on twelve of the most photogenic ghost towns in the mountains of central Nevada and the southern deserts. Tips on when to travel and the best time of day for the best light are included with photographs of the mines and the miners’ shacks plus the remains of old store fronts and saloons. The town of Belmont, Nevada, forty—five miles north of Tonopah, became the largest city in southern Nevada and was the county seat of Nye County in 1867, attracting a population of almost two—thousand people before the mines shut down in the late 1880s. Many ruins remain from the 1800s. There is a block—long row of businesses on both sides of the main street. Only two still have standing facades. The others have standing stone walls interspersed with more recently—built cottages. An old fire engine, some farm equipment, and rusty mining machinery has been parked along the main street. At the top of the main street is a large, restored building now called the Belmont Monitor Inn and Steakhouse. It’s now a bed and breakfast establishment. The building originally housed the Combination Silver Mining Company offices. Next door is a saloon with an old buggy parked out in front.
Notes and images from Bob Hitchman.