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.
Notes and images from Bob Hitchman.