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.
Michigan’s Upper Peninsula
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.
Seven Magic Mountains
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.
Taos Pueblo, New Mexico
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.
Notes and images from Bob Hitchman.