Gold Point: Photographing a Ghost Town

Known originally as Lime Point, this area was first settled about 1880. The early camp was abandoned by 1882. In March 1908, a silver strike brought a new camp into existence. Called Hornsilver, it flourished for about a year, boasting about 800 residents, at least 11 saloons, a post office, telephone service and a newspaper. Most of the businesses closed the following year. After a number of small booms and busts, the town was renamed Gold Point in 1932. Two local residents eventually served in the Nevada State Senate, Harry DeVotie and Harry Wiley, whose wife, Ora Mae served as postmistress from 1942 until 1967. The post office closed in 1968, and in 1979 stabilization of the town was started by Herb Robbins.

The town of Gold Point currently claims a population of 27…

Gold Point Ghost Town

Street view of Gold Point main road

Gold Point Ghost Town street sign

desert scene with old outhouse in Gold Point

old rusty antique truck wreckage in Gold Point

Old gas station pump and yucca at Gold Point

Rusty bathhouse at Gold Point Ghost Town

abondoned house in Gold Point Ghost Town

old skull and rusty junk at Gold Point Ghost Town

front of abondoned home in Gold Point Ghost Town

old gallows with noose at Gold Point Ghost Town

The Crossroads at Teakettle Junction

Originally written for ParksFolio.com

Teakettle Junction- Death Valley National Park

The sturdy truck rolled to a stop, dragging with it a cloud of dust and the last crunch of rock under our tires.  Sliding out of the cab and stretching, I walked around the faithful rig as the dust settled again on the old road.  The three of us were seemingly alone under the clear blue sky as we walked toward the lonely wooden signpost where the two rocky dirt roads met.  In the distance a small dust cloud tracked the progress of another vehicle further down the road approaching us, the faint rev of it’s engine breaking the dry silence.  We gathered around the signpost, inspecting the various pots and kettles strung from the structure with rope and twine hanging lifelessly in the still morning air.  The dry, cracked wooden gallows supporting the abandoned ornaments read in bold lettering, “Teakettle Junction”.

Teakettle Junction

Scrawled on the outside of many of the kettles left dangling here are messages, names and dates of the travelers who have passed through this remote place.  We soon discovered there were further messages left inside some of the pots, some with stories of their travels and some with messages or poetry for their would-be readers.

The whine of the distant engine grew louder and soon the motorcycle weaved to a stop at the crossroads next to us, the driver climbing gingerly from his abused seat, stripping off his helmet and expertly lighting a cigarette.  Conversation began, as it usually does between travelers crossing paths in the middle of nowhere.  He was from Portland, riding support for a group of mountain bikers trekking through the backroads of Death Valley National Park.  They had overnighted in the backcountry and were making the arduous journey over the pass on these rocky, uneven roads that had proved challenging even for the motorcycle, let alone the adventurous souls peddling through the wilderness.

Our new friend asked some questions about road conditions and travel suggestions.  Luckily, we had a companion with experience on these roads in Death Valley and experience on a motorcycle and could offer valuable information.  We made sure he had enough water and supplies, offering him whatever he might need.  But like many people you will meet in hard, lonely places he was happy and content with what he had with him and graciously declined our offers.

Crossroads throughout the world are like this, the unofficial and impromptu meeting place of adventurers.  If you want a chance to meet interesting, confident, capable people with unique stories…the kind of people who seek out enriching experiences…travel.  Travel to places few people go, and at every crossroads, like Teakettle Junction, you will find them. ~

After this story  was published on ParksFolio.com, we began receiving comments. One of the comments was from a traveler who had left their kettle at the junction…

Hi!,
My name is Evelyn and I’m from Barcelona, Spain.
I was travelling around the world with my fiancé (we got engaged during our trip, in Sedona), and one of our stops was this Teakettle Junction. When we saw it, there were’nt as many teakettles as we thought there would be. But anyway, we left ours and continued with our journey.
The thing is, after our trip, once we got home, we started googling for pictures made after our visit, to see if we could find our teakettle in someone’s picture… And voilà!, you took that picture, our teakettle is the one with the initials K & E. (Kenneth and Evelyn). So thank you for taking that photo, it made our day! :)

Keep shooting,
Kind Regards,

K & E

Fire Over Kit Fox Hills

Originally written for ParksFolio.com

Sunrise in Death Valley at Kit Fox Hills

It was early.  Very early.

It was still dark when I cracked my weary eyes and peered sleepily out of the opening in my mummy bag stretched across the cot.  The weather had been a little windy, but nice and I had slept in the open that night so I could watch the stars.  I rarely sleep through the night when camping so I like to sleep in the open so that when I do wake, I can mark the progression of the constellations across the sky.

Orion was gone, so I checked my watch, 4 AM.  A short while later I noticed the slightest bit of light to the south and it looked like there might be some clouds in the sky.  Clouds are good for sunrises, clouds give the light something to play with, something to paint with vivid morning color.

I would need at least an hour to drive to a part of the valley with features that would work with sunrise light.  My makeshift bed sat at the north end of Death Valley in Mesquite Springs Campground and I wanted to at least get to the Kit Fox Hills area for sunrise.  If I was going to make it work I needed to get in the truck now.  I debated it for a minute or two then decided this might be my only shot for a showy sunrise in Death Valley.

In the truck and headed south the light was coming on fast and I realized I was running behind, I wasn’t going to make it.  No one else was up and the road, the park, was deserted in the early morning.  I increased my speed.

I wasn’t going fast enough.  An amazing drama of color and light was unfolding in the sky and I was racing along a lonely paved road to greet it.  I stopped at one point to take a few pictures in fear that I would lose light before I reached the hills.  A few images snapped off and I jumped back in the truck, the hues of this story were only getting deeper.

I eventually reached an area along Kit Fox Hills where I could shoot.  I jumped out of the truck with my gear and began walking, stopping here and there with the tripod to grab a shot or two then moving on.  I was trying desperately to get as much of this sunrise as possible AND look for interesting compositions at the same time.  I didn’t have the luxury of milling about thinking through angles, compositions, details and subjects.

At one point the light became so intense that I couldn’t get a shot that wasn’t overblown with oranges.  The entire valley, including myself, was on fire with orange light.  It was a very strange sensation to be physically lit with the morning glow I’d been chasing.  I was immersed in light for a fleeting moment and then it started it’s retreat.

The light moved, danced and changed color bouncing playfully around the valley.

On these trips I make a habit out of catching at least one sunrise while I’m there.  The sunrise experience is unique in each place and can be one of the most amazing experiences you’ll have.  The best part is that you will usually have the world all to yourself since most travelers won’t bother to crawl from their tents before light.  Sunrise and sunset are prime in the desert environment of Death Valley…not to be missed.

Shoshone Point at Grand Canyon National Park

Originally posted at Parksfolio.com-

Monolith at Shoshone Point - Grand Canyon National Park

We got the inside scoop on Shoshone Point from one of the Park Rangers at Grand Canyon National Park.  He had suggested it after we had mentioned we were looking for easy hikes due to my injured foot.  He had said it was a flat, easy trail only about a mile out and offered great views of The Canyon.

Normally pretty quiet, the trail was busy with car traffic when we got there.  Turns out the trail is actually a dirt maintenance road and the evening we were there it had been reserved for a wedding.  Luckily they were wrapping up just as we got there and we soon had the place to ourselves.

My wife and I both love photography and usually, while I am setting up for wide-angle panoramic shots, she is catching the shots I can’t get.  It’s a pretty effective system and I love to go back and look at her stuff after the fact.

Shoshone Point has a unique monolithic rock structure that sits at the point.  People get their picture taken next to it, some climb it.  As we sat out at the point sunset started and shot intense light across the canyon lighting up the canyon walls and making for some dramatic panoramic shots.  I was busy shooting the canyon but thinking the whole time about that monolith and how it must be lit up so nice with the intense sunset light.  It would be a cool shot, but I didn’t want to miss the bigger stuff in the canyon.

When we got home I started going through my wife’s pictures for post processing and found the shot.  She had managed to capture the monolith lit up during the sunset and it is an amazing shot.  This is why we make a great team!  Shoshone Point was pretty amazing and I’m glad we’ve got the shots to remind us.

Hunting Saguaro Blooms in Saguaro National Park

Originally posted at Parksfolio.com-

Saguaro flowers in Saguaro National Park

This year was a big year for cactus flowers in the southwest.  All around Phoenix the cholla and prickly pear were bright with colorful blooms because of the seasonal rains.  Saguaros bloom later in the Spring than most of the smaller cacti, so as we entered May I knew I should be on the lookout for saguaro blooms.  I had heard that they had already started popping up in Saguaro National Park West near Tucson, so my wife and I headed out to spend a couple of days at the park.

There is no camping in Saguaro National Park, so we camped just outside the park and drove in every morning to hunt for Saguaro blooms.  Apparently it was still early in the season for the Saguaros and we really had to do some serious searching to find any flowers, and the ones we did find were hard to get pictures of.

Saguaros bloom at the top of the main trunk and arms, which are usually 20 to 40 feet in the air and hard to shoot from the ground.  But after some serious hunting we finally found a saguaro with an arm that was twisted and bent toward the ground…AND had a bloom!  It was way off the road and we easily could have missed it.

We parked the truck and hiked across the desert to get to the old cactus bowing gracefully to show us it’s beauty.  My wife and I shot a lot of stuff on that trip but this shot is still one of my favorites from that Park.

Photography Tips for shooting in Grand Canyon National Park

Originally posted at Parksfolio.com-

I just returned from a nice trip to Grand Canyon National Park to shoot the Summer storms.  My wife and I spent 4 days in the park chasing rains, clouds and sunsets around the east end of the South Rim.  We managed to come back with a collection of really nice images and the trip as a whole was successful.

Whenever I come back from a shoot at one of the major National Parks or Monuments I get a lot of questions about how I get the images I do.  The questions are all usually pretty similar and range from what equipment I shoot with to tips on composition.  I get a lot of questions about post-processing and have a semi-regular series on my blog with tips and pointers for shooting and processing digital  images.

After this trip, I decided I would address some of these questions as they specifically relate to shooting at Grand Canyon.  These are pretty basic photography tips meant for those who might be new to photography or struggle with how to approach a massive subject like The Canyon.  This certainly doesn’t cover everything, but I would consider these my top 5 photography tips for shooting in Grand Canyon National Park.

 

1. Bring a Wide Angle Lens…

Grand Canyon National Park Photography Tips - Panoramic Shots

The Grand Canyon is huge.  If you’ve never seen it in person, it can be really difficult to grasp just how massive it is.  To really achieve the kind of panoramic shots that you usually find in magazines and posters, you really need to be shooting with a fairly wide angle lens.  I will typically have a 10-24mm lens on my camera for something like The Canyon.  A 10mm lens will cover about 125 degrees of view in the frame.

Also note, when shooting such a wide angle it will take an aperture setting of f11 or higher (number) to get as much of the composition in focus.  I will typically try for a f18 or f22 setting which can often require a slower shutter speed making a tripod necessary.

2. Don’t forget the Rule of 3rds, don’t forget to break it…

Photographic Tips for Grand Canyon National Park - Rule of Thirds

The Rule of Thirds is a basic compositional tool that has been in use for a very long time.  It’s an easy trick for creating balance in a composition and drawing the viewer’s eye to the main subject more naturally.  It’s a guideline not a hard and fast rule, so don’t get too hung up on it.  The idea is to visually balance your composition in to thirds vertically and horizontally (like the grid on the image above) then align your subject, or subjects, around the intersections of those lines.

In the above image you can see that from top to bottom I have the image split in thirds with the sky in the top third, the canyon in the middle third and the foreground in the bottom third (or 1/3 sky to 2/3 land).  Also, left to right, I have the glowing cliff edge and the river in the left third, and the sunset in the right third of the image.  Pulled together, this creates a very balanced image that allows the viewer’s eye to move easily and naturally throughout the scene.  Had I centered the sunrise (as many beginners will do) the scene would have felt unbalanced with too much detail on the left side and nothing to balance it to the right.

3. Not every shot needs to be panoramic…

Photographic Tips for Grand Canyon National Park - Zoom shots

With a subject as large as the Grand Canyon it’s easy to get lost in the panorama.  You want every shot to take in the whole experience but that’s just not practical (nor really possible).  Instead, you can try using a tighter lens and focusing on smaller scenes that tell a bigger story.  These scene above was taken with a 105mm zoom lens and narrows in on the most dramatic part of the story the canyon was telling that evening.  I shot this same scene with the wide angle lens and it was underwhelming, the story was dwarfed by the rest of the scene.  But with the zoom lens my wife was able to capture the sun’s rays washing the canyon walls as they pierced through the dark clouds.  The mood was much more intense in this image than anything I could have captured in wide angle.

Also note the use of the Rule of Thirds in the image above, bottom third is the canyon with the top two-thirds as the sky scene.  Also note the sun is near the intersection of the the top-right third grid section.

4. Using a Neutral density filter…

Photographic Tips for Grand Canyon National Park - Using a Neutral Density Filter

The Grand Canyon presents the same challenges associated with shooting ocean scenes, where the sky is often significantly lighter than the foreground with a strong and deliberate horizon line.  Especially at sunrise and sunset, you will experience dark shadows in the canyon and potentially bright skies.  In order to extract detail from the canyon in low light, a longer exposure will be required which can overexpose the sky (as in the picture above).  This can be countered with the use of a Neutral Density Filter (either physically or digitally)applied to the lighter portion of the shot.

A Neutral Density Filter will allow you to split the exposure of a given shot to correct for the extreme differences in available light.  Using digital filters makes it easier because you can adjust the location and correction of the filter effect after the shot.  Physical filters can be trickier and require a little planning and forethought.  I will often take multiple shots of the same scene at varying exposures so when I get to the digital dark room I have more to work with in case my first exposure choice was off.

5. Don’t forget the little things…

Photographic Tips for Grand Canyon National Park - Nature Shots

Sometimes it’s really hard to pull your focus away from the main event at the Grand Canyon.  The canyon is such a sight to behold, especially for first time visitors, that it’s easy to forget you’re surrounded by more subtle beauty as well.  My most important photography tip to first time visitors to the Park is to step away from the canyon for a bit and really look around.  The forest, wildlife and architecture found at Grand Canyon can be just as inspiring as the canyon itself.

No one visits Grand Canyon National Park without taking a few pictures, even if that means simple snap-shots with your phone.  But hopefully a few of these tips might prove useful during your visit to help capture some memorable images.  And if I can leave you with one last unofficial tip: Have patience.  Be patient for the right light, be patient in finding the right vantage point but most of all…be patient with the people.  Seeing the Grand Canyon is on a lot of bucket-lists and everybody wants their time with the canyon.

Good luck, be safe and happy shooting.

First Time Down the Rogue River…Again…

On our first anniversary my wife and I flew to Hawaii and spent some time in Honolulu before hoping over to the Big Island. I was in the middle of a huge knee problem and could barely walk, which was just as well since all the NPS managed sites were closed. Still, not being able to get around very well, or sleep well, really put a damper on our trip. So as our second anniversary grew closer and I was once again plagued with some ridiculous recurring injury I knew I was going to be frustrated with the trip. But I’ll be damned if we’re not going to go. Suck it up, Buttercup…we got adventuring to do!

Merelyn carrying large dry bag

This time around our plane dropped us off in less-than-sunny Oregon, Portland to be exact. A good drive from where I wanted us to be and, I imagine, a longer drive from where my wife wished we were headed. You see, a few years ago I joined Dave Wherry in Zion for a sweet day of hiking and while we were there he imparted a piece of married-guy wisdom on me that I took to heart. Dave shared a strategy that he and his wife had found successful when it came to deciding how to spend their anniversary. Each year, one of them would take the lead and plan the trip, the next year they would swap. This struck me as a brilliant idea and a sure way to insure that each half of the couple gets their fair share of their preferred type of anniversary trip.

Our first anniversary was to Hawaii. My wife planned that one, and it was awesome. Our second anniversary was my trip to plan and I really, really wanted to get her on some whitewater. I proposed the trip and she agreed…we would spend our second anniversary on the Rogue River.

We spent the first night in Portland after getting into town and meeting my sister-in-law for dinner. By freak chance she happened to be passing through Portland the same night we got into town. The next morning we tried to work out an opportunity to visit the Columbia Sportswear HQ, as all good Omniten do when in Portland, but it didn’t work out and we had a river to catch. So we headed south to drive the length of the state of Oregon and meet up with the rest of our salty crew in Northern California.

We made a quick stop for essentials in Grants Pass before driving the last leg into California before dark. Driving down the narrow and twisty curves of 199 I couldn’t help but notice how shallow the Middle Fork of the Smith looked. The canyon was boney with more rock than water, a clear indication of a dry summer season. As we swerved through the narrowest part of the canyon along the highway my wife spied a dog hiding in the brush along the narrow shoulder of the road. It was a bad spot, trapped between a curvy road on a blind corner on one side and a nearly sheer mountain cliff on the other. Either way you cut it, that dog was in trouble and neither one of us could let it stand.

We circled back and pulled into a turnout just up the road from where the dog was trapped. We waited in the car, getting a look at the dog without drawing too much of it’s attention. We didn’t want it to bolt into the road while cars where still whizzing by around the blind curve. We thought about what to do, how to approach the situation, but all prospects seemed to end badly when taken to their ultimate conclusion. Then I spotted a lull in traffic, at least I hoped it was, and I hopped out of the drivers seat hoping I could coax the dog to me easily since I was in no shape to chase it down. Luckily, the dog had similar thoughts as soon as it saw me open the door and was halfway across the road by the time I was standing by the car. She made it to us and we got her in the back seat without a fuss. Dog saved. Sighs of relief all the way around.

But now we have a dog. In a rental car. In the middle of a lonely road in Oregon. After dark. And we are running late to meet our crew to be able to get on the river the next morning. Great.

The reaction when we showed up at my buddy Scott’s house with a dog in the back seat was about what I expected, “What the fuck is that?”

A stray dog was a bad thing to have on your hands the night before a 5 day trip into the middle of nowhere. So I started making some calls. I used to live in the area and still know a few people here and there that live in Northern California. Luckily, a close friend of the family was willing to come pick up the puppy and take over the responsibility of figuring out what to do with her. We were in the clear! We had a quick dinner, got to visit a little with old river friends and meet the couple of folks I hadn’t rafted with before, and then got some sleep.

Loading up for the trip

Morning on the Rogue River

Early the next morning, just before first light, we got out of bed and started the process of packing for the trip. Most of the heavy lifting had been done the day before by the local segment of the crew and we were left to sort out our own personal gear and extra supplies. Then we were off, back up 199 and toward the put in at Grave Creek. The long drive up was uneventful as usual and putting on the river was the same carefully orchestrated chaos it always was and soon we were on the water. Happily. Thankfully. Blissfully.

Morning on the Rogue River

In my early years on the Rogue River we would complete the 34 mile trip from Grave Creek to Foster Bar in 3 days, pushing through pretty quickly. Later, with my dad learning to enjoy the river as a whole more than just the whitewater, we stretched the trip to 4 days. The guys I raft with had stretched the trip again since the last time I had rowed the Rogue to a luxurious 5 day trip. Running 34 miles of water in 5 days is a very relaxed pace, especially on the Rogue. We would get up, have breakfast, hit the water and by lunch time we were breaking out snacks and making camp. It was a lot less time in the boat that I am used to and a lot more time to think about Blossom Bar, the technical class IV toward the end of the trip. This was played up quite a bit, as usual, as we all talked about all the things that could go wrong at Blossom if we didn’t make “the move” at the top. This went on unnecessarily for 4 days before it was actually time to run Blossom.

Rogue River whitewater

The up side of such short water days was the additional time at camp casually sipping a cold beer, snacking on various goodies, visiting with old friends and telling stories. For Merelyn this was what I had hoped for, some time to get to know these people who shaped much of how I perceive the world and view adventure. River friends become so much more than just friends, they’re family. And even though I don’t see them nearly as often as I like, when we all come back to the river it connects us deeply. These were also people deeply connected to my father and there was a piece of me that really wanted Merelyn to get to know him a little better, through them. I know she felt the same way and took every opportunity to listen, sometimes requiring effort, to their wild and winding stories about my father on the river.

Rogue River camp

Important as the people were to this river trip, I also wanted Merelyn to get to know the river. I suffer from an unquenchable love of rivers and the primal feeling of running it’s current. I have wanted to share that experience with the woman I fell in love with for a long time. It’s only fair to bring my two loves together so they can acquaint themselves with each other and come to an understanding. I think I was successful. The river was beautiful and generous with us, the low water and the slow pace of the trip made it an easier run for a first timer and even though I’m sure Merelyn would rather have been on a pristine sandy beach in Hawaii, I know she came to enjoy the river as well. The river is a relentless seductress and it is impossible, given enough time, to resist it’s sensuous melody. Toward the end of the trip Merelyn turned to me, possibly begrudgingly, and admitted that the Rogue River made for a good anniversary trip. Good enough that it could be repeated whenever it was my turn to plan our anniversary.

That’s good enough for me!

Merelyn on the Rogue River

Dave on the Rogue River

Dave on the Rogue River

It was absolutely impossible to run the Rogue River again without thinking about my #Omniten friends. Our guided trip together last year down this same stretch of river was a memorable trip and I miss those people tremendously. As much as I really love running a private trip, in control of my own raft and my own oars, I still had an amazing time with Columbia and the whole crew in Oregon last year. Maybe some day I’ll be able to get some of them out on this river under a private trip. That would be incredible. As it was, this trip seemed like it was half-sponsored by Columbia Sportswear anyway since a ton of their gear made it down the river with us. My wife was head-to-toe Columbia most times at camp with Omnifreeze shirts for the day and Omniheat baselayers at night, Drainmaker Shoes, and a puffy. I also had my Drainmakers, various Omniheat gear and the killer new Turbodown puffy jacket. Killer gear makes it on all the trips and Columbia stuff is always with us.

Rogue River Columbia Drainmakers

It’s always hard to say goodbye to old friends knowing that you’ll likely not see them again for a long time. Especially when a river, a few boats and a handful of campfires are involved. I’m glad that Merelyn got to get to know them on the river where they are most purely themselves. That’s the funny thing about river people, you don’t really ever get to know them until you know them on the river. They aren’t the same when they’re not on the water. After our 5 days on the Rogue we were running out of time and had to make quick work out of our goodbyes and hit the road. With handshakes, hugs and heart promises to do it again soon, we drove our dusty little rental care out of the takeout and up over the mountain toward Grants Pass. We grabbed some dinner in town and hammered through a week’s worth of missed emails and messages and high-tailed it up to Portland again where we spent WAY too much money on a hotel room and crashed for the night.

The next day we woke up and headed downstairs just as the Portland Marathon was wrapping up. That explained why our hotel room was so expensive. I headed down to the parking garage to grab the rental car and discovered it had a dead battery. It took nearly 4 hours for us to finally get a new vehicle so we missed out on a lot of sight seeing that morning around Portland but we did manage to make arrangements to meet a friend from Columbia for a late lunch. Daniel Green carved out some time on our last afternoon in Oregon to meet us for some food and beer at Base Camp Brewery. Brew was pretty good (I sampled just about everything they made) and Daniel was great company. Even if we didn’t get to make it to the Columbia HQ while we were in town, getting to see Daniel almost made up for it.

Tastings at Base Camp Brewery

On our way to the airport we had another freak coincidence as we noticed a couple of very close friends of ours checked-in on Facebook at a restaurant in Portland. They had come into town to celebrate their anniversary as well and were flying out the same afternoon. We managed to meet them for a few minutes at the airport before we had to head through security. It’s small world, especially when one travels often. It’s fun to know that we have friends everywhere and there’s always a pretty good chance we’ll run into someone. For me that’s especially true in Oregon.

It turned out to be a great trip, even if I was partially laid up and in pain. I have a hard time finding any way to complain when I get to be on the river. Merelyn had a great time too and I can’t wait for the next opportunity to get her out on some whitewater. Hopefully next time I’ll be able to get around a little better and she won’t have to work so hard. No matter what, we’re definitely doing this again.

Blossom Bar-

For those of you who have not run much water, class IV rapids can get ugly pretty fast. We talked about it a little on our Columbia trip, how technical Blossom Bar could get and what we needed to do to avoid a bad day. Not long before this trip, someone had had a bad day at Blossom Bar and the evidence was still there as we went through. Just to show you (especially YOU, Omniten), this is what a bad day looks like at Blossom Bar if you don’t make “the move” at the top.

 

Rogue River Blossom Bar

…About that Dog-

20140929_184418_resized

After we had left, our good friends Pam and Steve contacted a local that had expressed some interest in the dog. They left the puppy with her on the condition she’d follow through with the vet, check for a microchip and, if all came back clear, take care of her. Later that first day after getting the dog, someone recognized her from posters that had been left around town. It turns out the dog was in Northern California getting specialized training. She was a Belgian Malinois, a prized pure bred related to a German Shepherd and just as trainable. A Canadian family had bought her from a special breeder and had spent a decent amount of money to have her trained in the states. They had flown in to pick up the dog, her name is Aspen, and drive her home to Canada. Somewhere along 199 before Grants Pass she somehow got out of her crate and was either thrown or jumped from the back of their truck. She had been out there at least a few days before we found her.

Once the local woman who had taken her realized what she had, she made a phone call and Aspen’s family was on the next flight out to come get her and bring her home. Aspen is now at home with her family.

Gotta love a happy ending.

The Magic of a Mexico Sunrise

I don’t know what it is about a Mexico sunrise that makes them so unique but they are unlike any other sunrise I’ve ever shot.

On all my trips I make sure I’m up to watch the sun come up at least once while I’m there, my recent trip to Puerto Penasco, Mexico was no different. Sometimes it’s a bust and there isn’t much to see, but the experience of watching the world come to life in a new place is still amazing. Occasionally, though, my early morning wake up is rewarded with an incredible show of light and color. That’s what my wife and I were rewarded with on our most recent trip to Mexico.

Puerto Penasco Sunrise

 

We were lucky enough to get to stay in a great little condo rental at the Sonoran Sun, right on the beach with great balconies overlooking the Sea of Cortez. Both mornings I managed to get up in time to see some of the great, soft pastels that seem to be unique to Mexico. The gradual transformation from star lit dark, to soft light with deep blues, to a dome of changing colors spotted by puffs of softly colored clouds makes for quite a show over a hot cup of coffee. It’s especially fun in these coastal fishing towns where the quiet surface of the water is dotted with boats of all shapes and sizes collecting the morning’s bounty for the fish market.

Puerto Penasco Mexico Sunrise

 

Puerto Penasco Mexico Sunrise-1

 

We used to go to Puerto Penasco all the time, at least a couple times a year, but it has been a long while since I’ve been down there. It has changed quite a bit, but there are still aspects of it that are familiar and remind me of why I love Mexico so much. It’s close enough to us here in Arizona that there really is no good reason why we don’t go more often. I’ll have to make more effort to get us down there again soon.

Thanks to Seaside Reservations for setting up the trip and providing the condo. They were great to work with and we will use them again.

If you are interested in seeing more images from this Mexico trip you can visit my travel gallery here.

Adventure Takes a New Direction…

Standing quietly under the broad, green canopy of a twisted old mesquite tree with my camera in my hands I watched a dozen wild horses graze quietly on tufts of green grass while the early morning light streamed through the dust stirred up around them. I thought to myself, “If only I had brought the gear to make coffee, this would be a perfect morning.”

Wild Horses at Butcher Jones Recreation AreaI recently made the decision to buy a motorcycle. The desire to ride has always kind of been there but I just didn’t have a direction. Several years ago when I started attending the Overland Expo in northern Arizona I was drawn to the “Adventure Motorcycles” and the awesome stories from riders who had seen a good portion of the world’s gritty underbelly from the seat of their trusty bikes. The little Film Festival at Overland Expo was full of presentations, documentaries and dreamy films of adventure on two wheels…

..and they were winning me over.

I think my buddy, J Brandon, could smell the desperation to ride on me (after multiple days of camping I’m sure that’s not all he could smell). The final straw for me was sitting in the Overland Expo theater watching a presentation by Phil Freeman of MotoQuest. He spent most of the presentation talking about opportunities to ride in Alaska and see some of the most amazing country North America has to offer. Then he started talking about some of the other places they ride like Mexico, Iceland, Tierra Del Fuego and India and that was it, I wanted to ride…I wanted to be able to do those trips.

At that time, J extended an open invitation to come ride with him in the Sierra foothills next time I was in the Reno/Tahoe area. So when my wife and I made plans to head up to Tahoe in July for her birthday I decided to take J up on his offer and get myself on a motorcycle for the first time in probably 6 or 7 years. That first ride took a little work to knock the rust off what meager riding skills I ever possessed, and a decent helping of patience from J. But once we got out on the road I started to feel more comfortable. I also started to feel a lot more desperate to have my own motorcycle.

Last Week I bought a bike. It took some searching and a fair amount of advice, pointers and general help from J to nail down what I was looking for and what would be an acceptable price. I eventually found a guy selling a really clean 2000 Kawasaki KLR650 and got him to settle on a price I was comfortable with. Now I am working to outfit the bike for adventure travel while I look for opportunities to ride locally without undue suffering in the heat.

Why I chose a KLR-

The Kawasaki KLR650 is often referred to as the “Jeep” of dual sport motorcycles. It’s damn near impossible to destroy, can go anywhere and is fairly inexpensive to buy, maintain and repair. Kawasaki didn’t change the bike for 30 years so the aftermarket parts and accessories are literally everywhere. It doesn’t do any one thing exceptionally well, but it does all things pretty well making it nearly the most versatile motorcycle available. Their attraction for adventure riders is the same attraction that 4×4 guys have with jeeps and gun owners have with AK-47s…they work, in a lot of adverse conditions, with little support and if they break it’s pretty easy to get them going again.

To me, it’s a good choice for a bike that needs to be able to go everywhere I want to go without too much fuss. And it will look bad ass bouncing down a dirt road with a couple of fat panniers, a duffel bag and a case of beer strapped to it while I chase down fish tacos in Baja.

Bush Highway on the KLR

I have been trying to get some bike time all week and put some miles on the bike to build my comfort level and feel out the new ride. Meetings had been getting in the way all week, but today I got up at sunrise and blocked out some time to hit the road while the temps were cool. When I set out this morning the sun was just cresting over Four Peaks to the east, shooting rays of orange light through the haze that was already forming over the dusty farm land on the reservation at the edge of town. I cruised through the farmland and headed out on the Beeline Highway.

While pouring over some maps, I had found a little road leading to a small recreation area on the north side of Saguaro Lake that I didn’t even know existed. I was curious to see what kind of lake access was back there and, even more, I wanted to scout a new hiking trail and possible dirt roads for the KLR. I turned off the Beeline at the Bush Highway and after a few miles took the turn onto Butcher Jones Drive. I could feel the air cooling as I descended into the canyon toward the lake and when I pulled up to the Butcher Jones Recreation site I was pretty impressed.

Riding the Bush Highway on the KLR

The beach wasn’t much to look at but the whole site looked pretty well cared for with clean bathroom, nice picnic tables and a really nice grassy area surrounded by old mesquites. It was still pretty early and there was only one other vehicle there belonging to a couple of older fishermen who had set up shop a little ways down the shore. I stripped off the riding jacket and helmet and walked around for a bit enjoying the rare coolness of the air, unheard of in August. With only a few boats out on the lake and the only other visitors a couple of quiet old gents, the lake lay still and glassy soaking up the early morning sun.

Jones Canyon Cliffs

Part of the reason I chose this route was to scout a new trail and see if it would be something I would want to explore when my niece and nephew get into town later this month. The Butcher Jones Trail is listed as an easy trail and only about 5 miles round trip, which is perfect for a couple of younger kids. I found the trailhead and started hiking to get some trail time in before the sun got too overbearing. The trail starts off paved, and follows a metal guardrail that curves along the lake shore for a while seemingly for fishing access. The trail is in shade throughout the morning thanks to the tree canopy overhead and the tall ridge it skirts.

Hiking trail at Butcher Jones area

Then you pass through a boundary into the wilderness and the trail becomes a proper trail. Still fairly easy though narrow and with some minor exposure. The trail doesn’t seem to be traveled much and is overgrown in many places with much of the trail winding through thick unmaintained mesquite groves. Much of the trail is rocky and the wildlife seems to be active. I didn’t see any snakes, though I was on the lookout and expected to. It looks like a pretty cool trail overall and I can’t wait to bring the kids out to explore the rest of it.

Boat anchored at Saguaro Lake

When I returned from my quick scouting expedition I was greeted by an amazing and fairly rare sight. From where I stood coming off the trail it almost appeared as though fog had settled into the grassy area under the mesquite grove and rays of light streaked through the canopy of the trees illuminating a dozen wild horses in ethereal light. I slowly moved in closer and watched as the group grazed lazily in the grass, played with each other and rolled blissfully in the dirt kicking up dust. This was about the time I lamented my lack of coffee and wished I could stay and watch the horses all morning. It was a perfect Arizona morning experience and I wanted to stretch it out as long as I could.

Wild Horses at Saguaro lake

A few more people arrived and as the “tourists” rolled in talking a little too loud, getting a little too close and gawking a little too much…they ruined the moment. I grabbed my gear and stowed my camera then hopped on the KLR and headed out, slowly and quietly as I could so as to not unnecessarily disturb the horses. A few looked up and watched as I rode by on my way out. I continued down the Bush Highway toward Mesa to complete the loop home. I stopped a couple more times to take a pictures and catch the last of the morning light.

KLR Saguaro LakeI think I will do this ride again. Maybe every week as I get used to the bike and continue to work on my riding skills. Maybe next time I’ll remember to bring some coffee.

 

 

Overland Expo 2014: What do you mean it’s not about the gear?

Overlanding is self-reliant overland travel to remote destinations where the journey is the principal goal. Typically, but not exclusively, it is accomplished with mechanized off-road capable transport (from bicycles to trucks) where the principal form of lodging is camping, often lasting for extended lengths of time (months to years) and spanning international boundaries.

This was my fourth year visiting Overland Expo.

It’s easy to get caught up in the show.  Every year Mormon Lake finds itself swarming with giant shiny vehicles, classic overland rigs, and custom monsters designed solely to roam the Earth in style.  It’s hard not to get excited about all the chrome, steel, grease and rubber promising adventure and travel like you’ve only imagined it could be.  From restored off-road classics to bright and showroom-shiny marvels of technology the Overland Expo definitely focuses on the vehicles.  But this is no car show.

Range Rover-1

If you’ve got the vehicle, well there’s always the specialized gear to go with it.  You can’t have an off-the-beaten-path adventure without the right field-recovery kit, or high-powered winch, or maybe you need a bad-ass light kit, roof rack or gnarly new bumper.  If your rig is settled, maybe it’s the camping gear you need?  Rooftop tents, pop-up adventure trailers, fully integrated camp kitchens with pressurized hot and cold water and a solar powered refrigerator.  As a gear-head I get it.  I want to see the newest improvements in technology and the bright-and-shiny “best of show” on display so I can picture myself aggressively throwing sweaty handfuls of money at the vendors praying that I’ll get to take it home and love it and pet it and name in George.

Vehicles of Overlanding-4

Maybe you’re not in the market for anything in particular.  Then it’s simply the spectacle of the Overland Expo that pulls you in.  Everywhere you turn there are massive land-crawling monsters of mechanization decked out with every impossible combination of equipment reminiscent of a post-apocalyptic-Mad-Max-sci-fi thriller.  If you should happen to witness one of these massive lumbering beasts in action, growling with every movement and belching diesel-drenched awesome from it’s battle-blackened exhaust pipe, I dare you not to stare in wide-eyed child-like wonder.

Vehicles of Overlanding-2

But there’s another side to the Overland Expo, the real side, the soft pink underbelly where you’ll discover the human element that tells the real story.  People travel from all over the world to converge on the little wind-swept patch of dusty grass outside Mormon Lake to be a part of a unique community that gathers here to celebrate global travel and human culture.  When you venture past the noise and gleaming metal you’ll discover a common theme in the stories of the sun-baked, trail-tested, road-wise representatives of this community.  They are people who laugh easy and place high value on friendships, good cigars and a well crafted story.

Overland Expo 2014-1

The gear becomes less and less important as you realize the human side of the equation wholly eclipses the mechanical.  People that have been away from home, friends and family for months, maybe years, at a time in the holy name of adventure.  In some cases it is a permanent lifestyle change wherein every material possession is sold, donated or abandoned to make life on the road a full-time pursuit.  Others save for years, or sell assets to take extended leave from the day-to-day drudgery of an old career and escape.  Others, usually the younger Overlanders, have found ways to work on the road in fields that don’t require a desk, a chair or a brick-and-mortar storefront allowing them to make enough money to keep moving from one adventure to the next.  The underlying subtext that permeates every story is the urge to experience the larger world first hand, face-to-face, to see it, smell it, taste it and make it a part of themselves.

Overland Expo 2014-6

Spending long months, or years, traveling the globe and living with, around and in your vehicle is a unique experience that may be difficult to relate to if you haven’t been there yourself.  It can be difficult among your “normal” friends back home to find a sympathetic ear for your story about blowing out your suspension in the middle of the African desert on a lonely, rutted dirt road.  It’s hard for the non-traveler to find context with your fear, anxiety and ultimate triumph in that situation.  Finding people to relate to, and who can relate to you, is an important piece of belonging.  For all it offers, the most important value of the Overland Expo is the ability for these people to gather as a community and share their passion with like-minded, similarly-experienced people.  The more unique a community is, the stronger it’s connection and the Overland Expo has the feel of a family reunion where everyone is the crazy uncle with the good stories.  It is, for the most part, a community that doesn’t care if you travel by motorcycle, car, truck, van, Earth Roamer or 1993 Mercedes-Benz UNIMOG U-2450 UNICAT.  The important thing is that you travel, experience the world, get off the beaten path as much as possible and see the world with your own eyes.  If you can make that leap and be brave enough to drive a road that makes you nervous, visit a city with a name you can’t pronounce and have food you don’t recognize with someone who’s language you don’t speak…then these are your people.  Come out next year, say hi, and ask them about their latest adventure.  You won’t regret it.

Overland Expo 2014-2

For another perspective (and a little more information about Overland Expo itself) check out the recent coverage by Val-in-Real-Live about OX14.