During the last week of September, autumn color spreads across northern Vermont. Photographers, searching for the best locations and the most scenic small villages, should drive in a large loop around the northern part of the state. From Stow, Vermont, head north through Smuggler's Notch over Mount Mansfield through the crossroads at Jeffersonville. Cross the river, turn east, and follow Route #109 to Waterville where you’ll head north to Montgomery Center and turn right on Route #58 through Hazens Notch State Park to find this narrow, unpaved road through a dense forest of autumn color. You'll see the best color late in the afternoon.
Along the California Coast are large groves of tall cypress, a wonderful subject for photography on a foggy day when multitudes of vertical tree trunks disappear into the mists. Arrive mid-morning, wait for the sun to burn through the top of the fog banks, and you’ll see long rays of sunlight streaming down through the forests, a magical sight.
Red Rock is the most popular destination for locals looking for weekend recreation. If you fly into Las Vegas, pick up a rental car and head west on Highway 215 to Charleston Street, the northern entrance to the loop road into Red Rock Canyon. Or you can take Blue Diamond Road heading west to enter the canyon on the Isouth end of the loop. The Red Rock Canyon loop road follows the base of a mountain range that is one of the most dramatic backdrops for any city in America. It is filled with trails and a scenic loop road that climbs into deep canyons along the Sandstone Bluffs.
Fort Point sits under the southern anchorage of the Golden Gate Bridge. This brick fortress was built by U.S. Army engineers from 1853 to 1861 to protect the mouth of San Francisco Bay from any hostile fleet. The fort is open to the public. Climb the old cast iron stairs to the upper levels of the fort that was once manned by 150 soldiers and armed with 127 huge cannons. Through the openings to the right of each of the arches in this photograph is a small gun opening. There’s a great view of the Golden Gate Bridge, looking straight up from the top level of the fort. On a rainy or foggy day, the soft, diffused light through these arches fills dark shadows with detail. There are rusty old details of ironwork and cannon to photograph. Now protected by National Park status, rangers on duty in Fort Point wear the uniforms of the Civil War era.
The next town north of Morro Bay is a small seaside town called Cayucos, which hosts an annual Polar Bear swim meet every year at noon on January 1, New Year’s Day. Locals and visitors brave cold weather to dive into 54˚ ocean water. No wet suits are allowed. If you are in the area, stay overnight, and get out there early to find a spot on the pier for an aerial photograph of thousands of crazy people running into the surf. Photographers line the full 953-foot length of the pier. I was a little late arriving but managed to squeeze in for a photo of the action.
Along roads through the Palouse are some great old barns and many good places to stop and photograph patterns of wheat fields. Look in every direction and you’ll see scenes as ephemeral as the light, the time of day, and the movement of clouds across the sky. The landscape changes from rocky, pine-covered forest to rolling hills covered with wheat fields. Watch for old windmills along the road. Stop and climb up any hill along Martin Road. You’ll find a view of sweeping wheat fields receding into the distance.
The Joshua tree is a symbol of the Mojave Desert, growing in large stands across higher elevations of Southern California deserts. This strange-looking tree is not a tree at all but a giant member of the lily family, its branches covered with needle-sharp daggers. Like the saguaro cactus of the Sonoran Desert, Joshua trees are often featured prominently in desert landscape photography of the Mojave. Out in the middle of Southern California, not far from Palm Springs, is one of the best places to find great numbers of mature yucca brevifolia, in Joshua Tree National Park. There are many other reasons to visit and photograph this fascinating part of the desert.
Small lakes high in the mountains above Kings Canyon National Park are great destinations for a day hike or an overnight backpacking trip. Follow the signs from Generals Highway to the Wolverton Trailhead. One mile up the ridge, the trail reaches Wolverton Creek where I was slowed by many small cascades dropping through the forest. Each photo required seven bracketed exposures to capture the extreme range of morning light on the water against a dark ponderosa forest beyond. The only way to capture scenes like these is with HDR techniques.
The main reason to visit Sequoia National Park is to photograph the giant sequoia. The best groves and the largest and oldest living trees that are easily accessible are located in the Grant Grove area and farther south in the Giant Forest area between the General Sherman tree and Moro Rock. Kings Canyon appeals to hikers. The wild river and the waterfalls are worth a few days for photography. When you are planning your trip, go online and buy a trail guide with maps and descriptions – a hiking guide to these parks that ranks trails as Easy, Moderate, or Difficult and breaks them down by location. You can quickly find all the easy hikes into Sequoia groves or hikes to waterfalls, lakes, or meadows.
McWay falls drops from a wooded ridge and free-falls onto a sandy crescent beach beside a turquoise-colored cove. At high tide, the waterfall drops directly into the Pacific, a rare occurrence for waterfall fans. The waterfall faces northwest and is shaded until late in the afternoon. A setting sun supplies a warm, rosy glow across the whole scene.
Notes and images from Bob Hitchman.