From mid-September until snow closes the road at Mammoth Lakes, usually in mid-October, you can drive your car to the Minaret View Point where you’ll pay the entry fee or show your National Park entry card and drive to the end of the road at your destination. During summer months you must ride their shuttle busses. The road to the parking area narrows and heads downhill for 12 steep and winding paved miles to the parking lot near the Devils Postpile. The trail follows the middle fork of the San Joaquin (waa-keen) River. From the parking lot, it’s less than a half-mile/twenty-minute stroll through the woods to the viewpoint at the bottom of the post pile. The pillars face southwest and are in morning shadows. Direct afternoon light is too flat. I arrived at noon and found a mix of sunlight and dark shadows on the pillars. With a wide-angle lens you can stand at the base of the formation and fill your frame with close-up details of a huge log-jam of stones with 3 to 7 sides, fallen from the rim of the sixty-foot sheer wall of volcanic pillars - a spectacular pattern for photographers.
All the hardwoods in the forest were at the peak of their autumn color during the second week of October 2009 in Upstate New York. An all-day drizzly rain created my favorite lighting conditions and filled small streams and gullies in Letchworth State Park. A very wide-angle lens gave me the effect I wanted on a very wet forest.
Five miles north of Hilo, Hawaii, watch for the “scenic route” sign pointing the way to old Highway 19, the Mamalahoa Highway. This section of the old road is four miles long. A half-mile down the narrow and jungle-lined road is the office of the Hawaii Tropical Botanical Garden. This is a must-stop for any nature photographer. The fee is well worth it. The gardens are another mile beyond the office where you purchase your ticket. Park at the office, and a shuttle bus will take you down to the gardens near the edge of the sea. The incredible variety of palms will be enough to keep you busy all day. There are trails leading through twenty-five acres of yellow bamboo, bromeliads, blooming gingers, ponds covered with water lilies, and thousands of rare tropical plants collected from all over the world.
Bodie was one of the biggest and “baddest” of California’s gold mining boom towns in the 19th Century. William S. Body discovered gold in these mountains in 1859. Thirty-five million dollars worth of gold and silver was discovered in Bodie’s mines between 1877 and 1888. The town’s population quickly swelled. Each new arrival hoped to strike it rich. Hundreds of active mining claims were filed. Most of the new residents worked the mines and lived in tents and wooden shacks. Wood was scarce. Winters were harsh, and lumber was needed to build a more substantial town. A forest of Jeffrey pines, miles to the south, was cut and milled. The lumber was delivered to Bodie on a newly-built railroad. The town grew to ten-thousand residents.
The longest white sand beach in the entire chain of Hawaiian Islands is located a few miles west of Kekaha, an old sugar mill town in the southwest corner of Kauai. To find Polihale Beach, drive west, past the Barking Sands Airfield and the Pacific Missile Range Facility, to the end of the pavement on Highway 50. Steer to the right at the fork and drive about a half-mile to a left turn onto an unpaved and pothole-covered road through the cane fields. Reset your trip odometer and drive three-and-a-half miles from the pavement to a junction beneath a huge monkeypod tree. After a stop to photograph it, turn left at the tree and drive about a half-mile west to the beach. Park and climb over the dunes to the longest and most deserted beach in all the Islands. You’ll find very few people out there on the southwestern edge of the island. It’s a wonderful place for panoramic photographs around sunset time.
On my map it’s called Sonora Junction, the point where Hwy. 108 ends at Hwy. 395 in the middle of a treeless landscape. This plateau stretches south for ten miles to Mount Emma, at 10,525 feet. You can see different colors of aspen groves climbing the slopes. Aspens reproduce by cloning. Every tree in a grove can be the same color and markings on trunks can be identical. Sonora Pass autumn color is found between Hwy. 395 and the summit at the top of the pass at 9624 feet. The U.S. Marine Winter Warfare Training School is located on the Sonora Pass road, a couple miles west of Hwy. 395. Most of the aspen color along the Sonora Pass is found between the U.S. Marine training center and the summit located 17 miles farther west.
At the north end of the Salton Sea, huge groves of date palms line Highway 111, south of Indio. Pick a side road that cuts through a grove and find a spot to park with a view of tall palms stretching far into the distance. Compress your view of the groves with a telephoto lens or expand it with an ultra-wide lens. The date industry in the Coachella Valley dates back to the late 1800s when thousands of shoots were imported from Algeria. Today, the town of Indio produces 85% of the dates grown in the United States. Groves that once covered the northern stretches of Coachella Valley have been replaced by development.
Twenty-seven miles south of Tonopah, NV, Highway 95, on its way to Las Vegas, runs right through the center of the town of Goldfield. There are plenty of relics of past glories to be found here. The stone archway of the old athletic club still stands on a side street, called Main Street, about a block from the highway. The west side of the stone arch is most ornate and frames the Ish-Curtis Building (1907), one block to the east. This view is best in afternoon light, like the front of the Goldfield Hotel. Many of the biggest and most impressive structures face the west and the setting sun. The old school house, now undergoing renovation, faces the east.
Developer Abbott Kinney built a large crisscross system of waterways on the western edge of Los Angeles in 1905. Canals with gondoliers and arched footbridges attracted newcomers to California and helped sell property to the public. As the automobile became more popular, the canals were viewed as outdated, and most of the waterways were filled in by 1929 to create more roads. By 1940, the remaining canals had fallen into disrepair, and the sidewalks were condemned by the city. The canal district remained in poor condition for more than 50 years before being renovated in 1992 with all new sidewalks. The canals reopened in 1993 and have become a very fashionable and expensive residential neighborhood and one of Los Angeles’ hidden treasures. There are now four east-west canals and two north-south canals located south of Venice Boulevard and east of Pacific Avenue. For a quick look at the center of the canal area, drive north or south on Dell Avenue and cross a narrow bridge over every canal.
It’s called the Berlin-Ichthyosaur State Park. A large sign near the entrance to this Historic District points out the ghost town and the nearby site where many large fossils were recently discovered. There is a small museum near the entrance where you pay an entry fee. Drive up the hill to a small parking area in front of the old assay office. From here you can walk the trail around the historic mining town. The elevation here is about 7,000 feet. The mine’s old machine shop has no doors and is open to the public. An old Dodge truck is parked in front of the machine shop. Light streams through the mill’s open windows and creates contrast problems. I shot a bracketed series of exposures inside the machine shop and through the windows of the mill to assemble an HDR image, combining over-exposed images with under-exposed images to create a photograph of the scene with the full range of light I actually saw. I then moved outside and photographed the old truck and the exterior of the machine shop.
Notes and images from Bob Hitchman.