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Silicon Valley veteran doing Technical Community Management. Photographer with a strong interest in birds, wildlife and nature who is exploring the Western states and working to tell you the stories of the special places I've found.
Author and Blogger. They are not the same thing. Sports occasionally spoken here, especially hockey. Veteran of Sun, Apple, Palm, HP and now Infoblox, plus some you've never heard of. They didn't kill me, they made me better.
Person with opinions, and not afraid to share them. Debate team in high school and college; bet that's a surprise.
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Category Archives: Road Trips
Back from Yosemite, where over the weekend I spent Saturday assisting in teaching a class on bird photography and an introduction to Lightroom for Yosemite Audubon. We had 11 students, and a good time was had by all. Fun day, I was exhausted at the end, but in a good way. More on that when I have a chance to spend some time writing.
After that, I spent a day and a half in the park proper, driving from Oakhurst to Mono Lake via Tioga Pass and back on Sunday, and then on Monday I split time between the valley floor and a drive out to Hetch Hetchy and then home via the 120.
Lots and lots to talk about and show, as I can get it written. One thing I did for this trip was to rent a Fuji X-Pro-1 mirrorless camera and their 15-55 lens to experiment with and try some new things. I’m just starting to edit out the images from the trip (about 250 shots after the initial ding edit, plus three timelapses totalling about 500 images, and two pieces of video to experiment with). here’s one of the first images I took with the Fuji, up on tioga near Olmsted Point:
There is a surprising amount of detail in the image to my eye, and it needed wonderfully little post processing. I tweaked the luminance on the blue and yellow channels a bit (down in both cases) and dropped the green saturation some. Shot in aperture mode the exposure was literally right on, with a bit of boost to shadows and a bit of reduction in highlights, plus some clarity and vibrance.
Oh, and that image had no filter. Not even a UV, much less a polarizer. Just camera.
I can see the attraction of the mirrorless camera systems, and the images they turn out can be stunning. It’s not a perfect camera, though. There’s a lot to say about that camera, but the image quality is really quite good — but is it a quality you’d want to shoot? We’ll get there soon.
My trip this weekend was to the Morro Bay area to join a group down at the Piedras Blancas Elephant Seal Rookery. It’s peak time of year, as the females have been giving birth since mid-December.
The reason we got together saturday was that an early morning high tide was going to shrink the size of the beach, compressing the seals together. They were grumpy to start, the hope was that they would be grumpy AND cramped. There was some fighting going on, but the main alphas had their territories and mates worked out and didn’t argue much; it was the lesser males sparring and working on the pecking order, and it was the lesser males running like crazy away from the alphas and the females trying not to be caught.
So needless, there was a lot of action, but no heavyweight fights.
The morning broke to fog, which came and went throughout, and which gave the place a weird moody feel. I set myself up as a position I’d staked out earlier that gave me good angles up the beach. Others in the group set up in other locations or wandered the area. Images from the outing are being posted to this flickr group.
The females wean their pups for about a month, giving off a large percentage of their body weight to the pup, and then the pups wean, and the females go into heat. The males mate them, and then the females leave again.
There are sometimes significant disagreements about who gets to make with whom, and for the females, it’s whether the males can catch them. It’s not exactly consensual. The female’s tactic is to run, and if caught, throw sand in his face and hope he gets distracted.
Elephant seals can move surprisingly fast for something that big and bulky – for about ten feet, at which point they need to stop and rest.
The rule on the sand is pretty clearly “if it’s bigger than you are, run…” — the smaller seal invariably loses the argument, sometimes badly. Newborns are sometimes attacked by the adult males, but more often the males simply run over them if they don’t get out of the way. I saw a couple of cases of that Saturday — no significant injuries, but it had to hurt.
There are three primary sounds on the elephant seal beach: the adults make two primary sounds, one that sounds like a burp, and one that sounds like a fart. Now, imagine thousands of elephant seals all cramped together on a beach… the infants make a sound that more or less sounds like a malfunctioning car alarm.
The pups will stick around for some time after that learning to swim and building body strength, but the adult’s responsibility for them is now ended. Many don’t survive the first year. The males will molt and then head off into the waters again, so by March the beach will be mostly empty until the cycle starts again next fall.
After a few hours, we all headed off for some breakfast and chat, then I headed back to Morro Bay for an afternoon of serious birding.
All of my elephant seal images are now on my flickr account, or you can look at this slideshow:
Many thanks to Mike Baird and the Photomorrobay group for organizing this and letting me tag along…
These parks were here long before the state government deemed it necessary to deploy park rangers to all corners of the state, and the parks will remain here long after we are gone. Public spaces are just that, public spaces! We do not require services or supervision in order to enjoy them so the argument that parks will close without taxes is itself a red herring… what will happen is that the state will close off public spaces because their full employment is not ensured.
A reasonable compromise for a state with no money would be to remove the padlocks and open public spaces like parks and lock the doors on facilities that require staffing, such as visitor’s centers. If concession services are available then contract with private entities and remove the state from the providing of services to one of managing contact vendors who render a concession fee to support oversight.
So ask yourself, why is it necessary for a park ranger to be at his/her post in order for me to use a park that is by definition owned by the People of California.
- Because someone needs to maintain the trails so they are safe and usable, and fix them when they get washed out or damaged.
- Because someone needs to deal with the trash, because the visitors won’t.
- Because someone needs to clean the toilets, or get the pit toilets drained.
- Because when someone gets lost, they expect to be found.
- Because when someone gets hurt, they expect to be rescued.
- Because when the large party of loud, drinking teenagers shows up and raises their rabble, the people expecting peace and quiet expect it to be dealt with.
- Because the idiot who builds a campfire in a risky area and doesn’t watch it needs a babysitter to come by and save him from himself, before he burns the whole place down.
- Because when someone does do something stupid and start a fire, we demand it get put out,
Before you start thinking rangers are optional in these areas, you ought to sit down with a few and get to know them.
With Monday being a holiday, I took advantage of it to do an extended day trip, spending a chunk of it out in Panoche Valley and ended out at Merced Wildlife Refuge in search of a pretty sunset. The day started about 6:30AM, ended about 7:30PM, and covered about 320 miles.
The primary goal of the trip: get out, get alone, do some thinking, make some decisions. Oh, and Panoche Valley is a very interesting birding area in the winter, and full of interesting geological details and other things of interest worthy of pointing a camera at. The morning started out cool and damp — raining, actually — but the weather prognosis was clearing, so I decided not to go back to bed (tempting, though). I got on site about 8:30 at Paicines Reservoir, which was surprisingly quiet, other the the adult bald eagle (always a kick) sitting in a tree watching the area.
A big part of the trip was to give the new lenses a series workout and start understanding how best to use them, and to integrate the T3i into the mix and get a good feel for the picture quality and what it can do (and, compared to the 7d, what it can’t). I love being back in a two body photo gear configuration; for a trip like this, I put the 300+1.4x on the 7d, and the 24-105 on the T3i, and swapped in the 70-200 as appropriate. That seemed to work quite well through the day.
Every time I bird Panoche, I come back thinking I should spend time exploring it as a photo location. This time, I did, and I really came away wishing I’d done so before. the landscape is — the best description I can think of is “starkly beautiful”, ranging from wide open ranch lands to lots of convoluted hillsides to areas that look straight out of a desert. There’s a lot of oak, and that’s a tree I find fascinating and I’ve started exploring how to show that beauty.
It wasn’t a great day for photography; it started out early very damp and grey with weak light. I hoped it’d clear to partial cloudy, but by mid-day, it was in some areas fully cleared, leaving me with glary light and bad shadows, and the birding dried up as well (not complaining; while working on the shot below, I was serenaded at length by a singing california thrasher, and visited by a greater roadrunner. Both nice additions to this year’s list). That made some of the day more of a scouting trip, but I still found places where I could get some nice shots.
I ended up driving fairly far up New Idria, mostly to see what was there, and then backtracking and going out through Little Panoche. Once I popped out the other side, it was off to Santa Nella for a late lunch (the in-n-out is open!). And once I was there, I convinced myself to head off to Merced to look around and try for a nice sunset. Merced was really quiet, though, the Geese had headed to an evening roost nearby but off the refuge, and the Cranes were in small numbers and not particularly close to the tour route. The sunset I’d had hopes for turned into more or less a dud, enough so that I cleared out early.
Still, though, a nice and productive trip, although this is likely my last visit to Merced until fall. Some decent birding, some nice intense work with the cameras, and a nice day out where even the cell phone can’t interrupt. I’m just starting to work through the images, but some of them seem pretty nice. I’m really liking these new lenses and the quality of the images they generate, and the T3i is living up to my expectations and beyond as a second body. It looks to be a nice combo with the 24-105 for general shooting. More on that when I have a chance to do some more experimentation…
This shot is of a barn on a ranch on the early part the drive through Panoche. I loved its look, and how it was well-lit while framed in shadows. I ended up deciding to use two different shots of it, and then realized it would make a nice black and white as well, so I went and did conversions. I like all of these (but I think the first image in monochrome is my favorite). What’s your thought?
In the first, the sky was a bit too blown out, so I ended up cropping it out, but I like how I ended up with that composition. These are all processed with dFine and Viveza 2, and the monochromes through silver efex pro (which reminds me, I’ve been meaning to upgrade…). That’s a much more complex workflow than “just” Lightroom, and that’s part of the set of decisions I’ve been chewing on the last few weeks (or longer) as well. More on that in a future blog post…
There’s a lot of interesting subject matter in Panoche Valley, and I’m just scratching the surface, but now that I’ve taken some extended time there with an eye to the environment and not just the birds, I’m starting to see places to shoot and seeing the times and weather where it can make them sing. It’s an area that’s going to be a long term project, though, that’s for sure…
Not that I’m complaining..
One of the realities of nature photography is that you can only control nature so much — all the planning in the universe won’t prevent some challenges, like a change in the weather. Sometimes you go and epic pictures fall in your lap. Sometimes you go and conditions are such that you just grind it out and hope some of the images are good. And sometimes you sit in the hotel room listening to the rain and wish you’d cancelled….
This week was my spring trip to Yosemite. It’s been a truly weird year weather-wise, in case you haven’t noticed. Spring is late, cold and wet. The wildflower season has been at best, late and erratic. Bird migrations are off as well. All in all, it’s been tough planning around “spring”. But finally, word came out the dogwood was starting to bloom, and I really, really didn’t want to schedule time in Yosemite after Memorial day — as it was, it was clear the park was getting busier and the hotels around it closer to capacity. I finally decided I needed to go, or decide to wait for some other time. So I set everything up for a few nights in the park.
Of course, then I watched the weather, as a late, wet, cold, spring storm decided to hit Northern California and the Sierra. The couple of days prior to my going, yosemite was seeing highs near 70 and plenty of sun. the day before I was due to arrive, the storm moved in and the temps plunged donw into the 40s, and more storms were moving in as the week progressed. There is, unfortunately, a fine line between hitting the edge of a storm and the unbelievable skies that can create for your landscapes and having the clouds move in and close everything down in a sodden grey mass; and many times, you won’t know which you have until you get there and have to haul out the umbrella.
To be honest, I seriously considered canceling. I thought the weather was going to be iffy, but I felt it was worth a shot. So I went, making a later start on Sunday in hopes of trailing the storm and hitting the motel, then driving into the park to scout and see if there was anything interesting to photograph in the late afternoon. I ended up arriving on the Valley floor about 5PM. The temp was in the high 30′s, and the clouds were pretty heavy., but there were a few opportunities at shots.
I stuck around for a couple of hours, and then it started sleeting. That was enough for me for the night, and I headed out to grab a few last supplies and hit the room for the evening. I chose not to do dawn patrol because of the temps and worry there might be ice or chain issues on the roads, but I got up early and was in the park around 8AM, to bright skies and a rather pleasant set of views.
This was the day I knew I’d have dry weather. What I didn’t plan for was for the clouds to build back in as early as they did. By noon, we were back to mostly drab grey, although it did warm up, that afternoon it may have even hit 50. Welcome to “spring”.
My original plan was to travel out towards Hetch Hetchy for birds and critters. The road out was on chain requirements just after Foresta, and Foresta itself was under a few inches of snow. I scouted out there a bit, didn’t go into the chain areas, and finally headed back to the valley. I decided to head out to Wawona (to scout, and for gas) and it was fascinating to see how much snow had been dropped — 6-8 inches and the drive through that area looked like a winter trip. Other than road construction, nothing really caught my eye, so I decided to focus on the valley floor and headed back.
While I was doing that, the clouds were moving in. And so were the crowds. The park was busy, making parking a challenge in places, and to top it off, I was starting to feel like crap, with a headache building and generally feeling like a bug was coming on. On the other hand, the water flow in the Merced was amazing, and the waterfalls were even more amazing. I mentally shifted away from photographing birds and critters and instead decided to focus on the falls.
There are many falls in Yosemite that are only active during spring melt, and which dry up again after a few weeks, so unless you come during this period, you’ll never know they’re there. Some of them are stunning to watch.
Some of the more familiar falls were kicking, too. Bridalveil was as full and active as I’ve ever seen it.
And it wasn’t until I took these shots that I realized I’d never photographed Horsetail Falls at all.
Unfortunately, I kept feeling worse; by 3PM, I was exhausted. Almost fell asleep twice parked and watching the falls to judge how to image them. Ultimately, I decided I wasn’t doing myself any good and pulled the plug. On the way out, however, I saw the clot of people that signposts “critter!”, and in the middle was the ranger, which usually means the critter is a bear. So I found a place to park, grabbed the binocs and camera, and headed back to where everyone was clustered.
Meet “White 1″, a 28 month old cinnamon black bear — not all black bears are black, but this color is fairly rare in Yosemite. He was busily foraging for grubs in the fallen tree. Ryan the ranger was thrilled — as he said “I have a wild bear doing wild bear things, and everyone is behaving so I don’t have to yell at anyone”. And then he pointed to one person who was busily running through the meadow “well, except him, but he’s a pro”.
That was @yosemitesteve, who films for the park and does the awesome Nature Notes series available on Youtube. If you haven’t discovered them yet, do so — check out his one on Frazil Ice. And kids, don’t try that on your own… I ended up with the “wrong” lens on the camera, the Tamron 28-300, which is unfortunately really soft at 300MM, as you can see from that image. If I’d been thinking more carefully, I should have swapped to my critter lens, but didn’t. And when I went back to get it, of course, the bear ran off just as I attached the big lens to the camera body — of course. So all I have are some rather soft pictures as a great practical example of why I try NOT to use that lens beyond about 150mm except in an emergency (and this came up over on the Stack Exchange photo site, and I ended up chiming in on it).
Photographing a bear qualifies as an emergency. As bears go, it’s a rather small animal, being quite young. But still — I wish I’d grabbed the other lens. But still — being able to just watch an animal like that for a while totally made the trip for me.
After the bear skedaddled, I got back in the car and headed back to Mariposa for the night (Having your hotel room an hour away creates tradeoffs, which I talked about on my Wednesdays in Review). It was at dinner that I suddenly realized I was exceptionally thirsty.
So a nice meatball sub and a liter and a half of water later, I headed back to my room, already feeling better.
Dehydrated. Which explained why I felt like crap. And honestly, I know better, I really do. I’ve known since high school that I dehydrate early and often, and when I’m travelling, have to be careful — the air in most hotel rooms is fairly low humidity, and I tend to lose a lot of water in my breathing. And even though I thought I was taking in enough water, I evidently started the trip a bit dehydrated, and it spiraled. So sometimes, even if you think you have details covered, they get away from you (another truism about only being able to plan so many details; the one you miss messes with you). I actually have a protocol for staying hydrated on the road; for various reasons, I didn’t follow it properly, and it caught me. (yes, my life is an endless mental checklist of things I’ve learned not to forget over the years — and which I sometimes forget anyway). That’s a lesson learned — again.
I was asleep before 9PM, and slept 11 hours. And woke up thirsty. And woke up to rain. Which I expected. The new storm moved in overnight, and things looked ugly. I still felt somewhat ugly, and I’d decided the night before that if the weather was bad as expected, I’d cut the trip short and head home, because there was a 2nd, bigger storm chasing that morning storm into the area. The chances I’d had much good photography in those conditions was minimal, IMHO, so I decided to cut and run.
I drank another two liters of water on the drive home; it wasn’t until I was within 10 miles of home that my body started telling me my hydration levels were fine again (do I really need to explain how you can tell? No, I didn’t think so).
So some thoughts on the trip. Instead of the planned 2 full days and two partial days, I got one full day and a few hours the afternoon before. Instead of spring weather, I got late winter blustery and dull grey skies (and sleet). I took a total of 350 images, a percentage of that was pieces for HDR generation. My ding rate was about 10%. I ended up putting about 50 images into my primary library including HDR material, with a total of 27 “keeper” images. the rest went into my retired library (technically good, but overlapping the keepers and not as interesting, but there if I want a different take of need them in some way). I drove 620miles, and I spent about $500 on the trip.
Was it what I planned? Not remotely. Did I come back with some good images? Yes. Was it worth it? Just to stand and watch the bear for a while, absolutely freaking totally yes. Despite being disappointed at having the wrong lens handy for the pictures, I don’t care. Much.
Would I do it again? Yes, but without the dehydration; that impacted the day a lot more than I realized until later (I don’t know about you, but when I get dehydrated, I get slow and tired, low energy, a headache, grumpy and a bad attitude; so I didn’t push myself into doing as much as I would have if I felt better. oh well). Part of that is practical; I wasn’t going to reschedule my time off at work again. I wasn’t going to push my Yosemite trip out past Memorial day. Staying home instead was an option, but hell, a chance to go to Yosemite?
But I do wish I’d hit more spring than late winter. And it’s a bit annoying that a couple of days after I pulled out, the rain is gone and the weather is heading back into the 60′s. This storm was perfectly timed to annoy me.
Still, when you’re doing nature photography, it’s important to remember nature doesn’t always cooperate. And just roll with it. (and drink plenty of fluids).
And I ended up with zero shots of dogwood blossoms, after all of that. Because they were gonig to be a big part of the 2nd day of photography. oops. well, next year.
And that may be the important lesson of a trip like this (other than “drink that bottle of water NOW, and open another”) — a place like Yosemite, you don’t visit once and have a finished portfolio. Too much to cover, too many different things, too many different looks — adding images every trip is how you do this, over time and with some patience. And in the final judgement, the images I added weren’t the ones I’d planned (except the chapel image, which I’ll write about tomorrow), but they were the ones that deserved to be added based on what was going on when I got there. And with that, I won’t complain about a little sleet and a headache. After all — Yosemite? Or going to work.
One of the things I’ve been doing leading up to this trip is figure out what I want to accomplish while I’m on the road. Yosemite is one of those places you can just point the camera in random directions and press the shutter and end up with good images, but a little thought and planning can leverage that time and push forward other initiatives as well.
In previous trips I’ve focused more on the grand imagery of the park, classic shots and classic locations. This trip I want to try to spend more time looking at Yosemite on a smaller scale — the trees, not the forest, so to speak.
All of this is open to change based on weather and opportunity, but here’s my current thinking. I’m looking to spend three nights there, with a room in Mariposa. I could have gotten a room at Wawona (and I like that hotel) but I’d rather spend the money other ways, so I’ll drive a bit more and spend a lot less. Yosemite Lodge at the falls was full, as was Yosemite View Lodge at El Portal, and Cedar lodge had rooms but for a bit less money, it seemed to make sense to stay in Mariposa. Because the hotel situation looks opretty busy, I expect the park to be fairly busy, unlike my stays in February and March when most of the visitors are up at Badger Pass, but far from the crowds you get after Memorial Day.
Day 0 is driving in; I’m considering doing a birding trip through San Benito county to get into central valley, and arriving later in the day. It would be a good excuse to show up with a cold dinner and hang out at tunnel view, weather cooperating. Or down somewhere on the meadows looking for opportunities for classic landscapes.
Day 1 is the first full day. Expectation is to get up rather early and get out on the road to Hetch Hetchy, exploring the Mather and Foresta areas. An early start gives me a better shot at wildlife, get there before other folks are up and around, and that area should be quiet in any event, so the wildlife won’t be driven out of site by the crowds. That’s an area Ic an look for mountain quail and cassin’s finch and interesting woodpeckers, also good opportunities for mule deer and coyote. If I get lucky, maybe fox, maybe bobcat. we’ll see. but the trick is to get out there early for the mammals, explore hetch hetchy, slow trip back looking for birds, and be back on the valley floor for a late lunch. The afternoon and evening is for exploring the valley floor.
Day 2, I go out the other direction. don’t need to start as early, but I want to explore big trees. On the way back, I want to try to do some photography of the Wawona Inn and see what happens. When I’m done, again it’s on the valley floor.
Day 3, hopefully a pre-dawn start and onto the valley floor for early wildlife. I expect to spend most of the morning exploring Happy Isles area. I’m not sure my knee’s going to let me go out to Mirror Lake, but if I can, I will.
Things I specifically want to shoot include the chapel, the Ahwannee, Wawona Inn, and exploring around the Merced River. Instead of the iconic vista landscapes, I want to focus more on smaller, intimate ones, do more work with the macro lens, and work a lot more in the 70-120mm range. I’m hoping for blooming dogwood, but we’ll see what I have when I get there. I’ve got half a dozen birds on my list (the two above, white-faced woodpecker, pileated, mountain chickadee, and golden crowned kinglet) plus wahtever is in the area for spring. Bears are always on the list is opportunity safely arrives, but I’m hoping I can find a bobcat and I’m fairly confident I’ll find coyotes. Mule deer are a given…
And of course, as soon as I get there, I’m sure this will change… And of course, it’s waterfall season there, and I’d be an idiot to ignore them. But I don’t want to just go take new versions of the images I’ve already taken…
I’ve just finished spending a couple of hours prepping my camera gear for the trip. I’m about a week out, and now is a good time to do a first pass at heavy cleaning, choosing what to pack, and thinking through my shot plan.
Why now? Because with a week left, I still have time to make sure everything works, get it repaired (or replaced with a rental), take things out for cleaning if needed, and make sure I have what I need with time to get to the store or order things to get here in time before I leave. If you wait until the last minute and suddenly realize you have a broken thing? you’re screwed.
So today was cleaning day. Everything got pulled out of the bags and looked at; every glass surface got cleaned and evaluated, the sensors got wet cleaned and checked, all of the external surfaces got wiped and all of the gear got evaluated for problems.
What am I packing? Two bags.
Bag 1 is a shoulder harness that carries my main 7D and the 100-400. It just fits and protects it while traveling. Typically, when I start shooting, this bag gets stuck somewhere and I don’t touch it again until I’m done, but I don’t waste space in my main bag with the camera that’s active. Attached to this is my R-strap harness, and in the pocket of the R-strap is my second battery and my second flash card (I currently use the Lexar 16 GB 300x CompactFlash and have yet to have a failure).
I swap in a freshly charged battery before cleaning the sensor, because if your battery runs out, bad things happen.
Actually, I pack THREE bags. I have a small packing cube that I store in my main luggage that carries my non-shooting accessories: Those include my chargers, my card reader, an air rocket, my sensor loupe, the sensor cleaning kit and a couple of microfiber cleaning cloths. This stays in the room and covers all of my non-shooting needs and can get me through most field emergencies (like goop on the sensor). With care, you may never need to wet clean a sensor in the field, but if you’re in the field and need to, you better have the tools.
(Digression 1: I love packing cubes. they’re inexpensive, they let you build up standard sets of things, and they’re light and portable. I found once I started using them, my chances of leaving something important behind went WAY down, because I could build a set of standard packs of things (from sensor cleaning gear to toiletries to all of the stuff I need to support the laptop) in different cubes, and as long as I knew each pack was complete and packed — so there were fewer variables and fewer chances of missing that USB cable for your backup drive. Keeping formal lists for each pack kit and a list of needed pack kits is a good way of organizing your life so you don’t get somewhere and screw yourself because you forgot some $5.00 widget that’s a six hour drive away).
(Digression 2: my philosophy of lens and sensor cleaning: less is better. I almost NEVER wet clean sensors. Maybe twice a year unless something gets on them I can’t get off otherwise. The best way to not get stuff on sensors is to stay out of the sensor bay. With the 7D’s auto sensor cleaning, you almost never have to go in there yourself. With the 30d, which is a generate of body before that technology, I’m constantinly cleaning the damned thing because it’s a dust magnet — so it gets ritually blown out with the air rocket before and after every shoot that I use it. I will only wet clean a sensor if air blowing fails, and I will only air blow if the auto-sensor system fails. I’ve gotten in the habit of power cycling the 7D every couple of hours, just to cycle the sensor cleaner while in the field, and that’s cut my issue with dust blotches. For lenses, I’ll use a cloth a lot. I’ll use cleaning fluid only if the cloth doesn’t solve the problem, although a couple of times a year I deep clean everything like I did today. But I try not to do more than needed — but I try to do what’s needed frequently. fewer liquids and chemicals is good, but ignoring the dirt is bad).
(Digression 3: Can you remember when you last replaced your microfiber cloths? If you can’t, throw them out and buy new ones. they’re cheap. And all that crap they’re taking off your lenses is going somewhere, right? Yup, onto the surface of those cloths, along with crap picked up in your bag, oil from your fingers… I try to replace my cloths every six months. I don’t want one deciding to put that crap back onto a lens in the field)
Back to my bags… Bag 2 is my Lowepro Photo backpack, which has done yeoman duty. IUt’s also about ready to be retired but I haven’t decided with what. I’ve tried some different options and nothing has pleased me, so I continue thinking about it. Someday I’ll do something. Until then, I stuff everything in this bag. In it is the 30d body, my 300 F4 (with 1.4x attached), my 180F2.8 macro, a 580EX and a 580EX2 lens, a Better Beamer, another air rocket, more cleaning cloths, and a few toys I hate doing without, especially my Hoodman HoodLoupe and my hot shoe level. I also carry spare AA batteries, a bunch of extra flash cards for the 30d and the spare 30d battery. I also carry my filters in packs that can be attached to the camera strap if I want.
Filters… Politically loaded topic. Should be its own blog post. But here’s my take:
I carry two filters for each lens size; I currently carry lenses with 67mm, 72mm, and 77mm fronts. I carry a circular polarizer and a 4ND neutral density. If you stack them, you can get about 8ND if you need it. In all honesty, that’s not enough ND, so I want to start carrying an 8ND filter as well, but haven’t, because I am arguing with myself about whether to add in a 77mm 8ND and two step-down filter rings, or whether to go to the square filter format (Cokin “P”) — because I know that focus is going to be a royal pain in the butt with an 8ND filter on, so I’m thinking the square filter will work better logistically than a round. maybe. If I was sure, I’d do something. Until I’m sure, I’ll keep arguing and do nothing. But I see no real reason to carry anything but the polarizer and the ND’s, because everything else (especially graduated ND things) can be “fixed in post” or by shooting in HDR. Which is why I say this is a politically loaded topic…
All of my lenses have a UV filter, another good way to get photographers arguing. Well, two of mine currently don’t, because one lens had one fail and I haven’t replaced it, and anotehr, when I pulled it off to clean it, went sproing and I am retiring it. And while I’ve always been on the side of having a UV filter on my lenses as insurance — I’m not so sure right now. But that is a different post for a different day.
So everything gets taken out and cleaned. I’ve wet cleaned my sensors, because it’s been 9 months since I’ve needed to, and because when I checked the 7D I found a hair in the sensor bay, and in trying to take it out, I proved once again I’m a klutz and touched the sensor and left a fingerprint. the hair finally lost to a pair of forceps I keep handy for these things… the fingerprint reminded me I needed to clean things up anyway, and hence this blog post. (kids, don’t stick your fingers in the sensor bay. really. especially if you’re a klutz).
I reformatted all of my cards. Do you know how old your cards are? they wear out, so replace them BEFORE they fail on you in the field. Mine are a year old, I’ll live with them for now. I’ve charged all my batteries, made sure they’ll keep a charge. I’ve checked my cleaning cloths, and new ones are going on order. I’ve found myself two UVs short of a full set, but I’m going to leave that for this trip. ditto the 8NDs, which I’ll probably regret not having. Since I did this today, I can order the cloths and get them in without sweating. If I waited to the last minute?
The other thing I’m thinking through while doing this is whether I want to rent any gear. I’m thinking my next gear purchase is a T3i to replace the 30d; I can’t justify a 2nd 7D body, but I do want to upgrade the 30d. The logical upgrade is either a T3i, a T2i, or a 60d, and I think the T3i is the best option for me. But I don’t want to turn this trip into a field testing exercise, so I’ll wait. Part of me wants to grab a Sigma 10-20 (wider! must go wider!) but that’s not the focus of this trip, so I’ll decline. I really want to spend some time trying out a 70-200 F2.8 with teleconverters as a possible upgrade to the 100-400 (idea from Art Morris) that combo really intrigues me. So I’m considering that, but I dunno.
And once these bags are packed, one less thing to worry about at the last minute, which is when you’re most likely to be in a hurry, and forget that minor but crucial widget…
So day 3 of the road trip is over. I’m tired, in a good way; sitting in a motel room in Morro Bay looking at the results so far — 1900 images and counting. Tomorrow is another day around Morro; the harbor is full of loons, but the otters are being coy and distant, and as usual, early and late you’re dodging fog. But I’m not complaining…
Just starting to sort through the images, but here are a few that caught my eye…
Finally time to take some vacation, so I have no idea what I’ll be blogging on for the next week or so — of if I will. I’ve been chewing on various plans for the trip for the last couple of weeks, and sweating out the weather to try to minimize the chance that I’ll spend my vacation in a motel room watching it rain… Because of that, I decided not to go up the Oregon coast, although I’d love to spend some time up there.
I decided I just didn’t want to do more driving than exploring, so I decided not to head down into the desert this year (again) — Salton Sea would have added 350-400 miles to the trip, and I just felt that was overkill. Since the knee still isn’t hot on lots of off-pavement hiking, that also made me decide to keep it simpler, so no death valley or Anza-borrego or Joshua tree. the combination of not knowing the areas (sad to say, it’s been 35 years since I’ve been to Joshua tree, and I have never been to death valley) and the distance involved and the days I wanted to spend just seemed to not make it worth it — I didn’t want to spend all my time scouting and little time shooting, or finding the things I wanted to do my knee wasn’t up to. so I have to focus on getting in better shape, and commit to a longer time in the area to allow for both scouting and shooting without being rushed.
So I’m headed to the central coast, planning on a day and a half or so in Carrizo, and then a day+ around Morro Bay to do some birding and relax. Then down to Orange County to visit mom and do some more birding, where I’ll probably hit Bolsa Chica and a couple of places and spend some time down on the coast. Really low key, more emphasis on — gasp — relaxing than running around doing things, and covering more familiar territory (my entire history at carrizo is half a day in 2008, but at least it gives me some context).
After that, back to work for a week, then taking a second week off. which some co-workers think I’m insane to do it that way, but — that second week will involve some time in Yosemite, and so I get to come home and be with laurie and do laundry and catch up on email, and I’m hoping waiting an extra week means I’ll get in on some early spring and dogwood action when I go visit the valley… So I expect to spend 3-4 days around Yosemite just at the end of the month.
I’m keeping this really fluid — between weather and some potential complications, things may still change. but so far, it seems to be coming together well, and it’ll be nice to see mom and spend some time with her. And I saw a report that the first western kingbirds of spring have hit the Carrizo area…
So we’ll see what happens next week while I’m on the road, and get back on a blogging schedule once that’s done..
(continuing a discussion on my recent birding/photo trip along the central california coast. go here to start at the beginning)
So it was now time for me to explore Morro Bay. But first, a digression.
Why Morro Bay?
I live in Silicon Valley, and have for for over 25 years, but I grew up in Southern California and my family still lives down there. This implies I’ve travelled the roads to LA a few times. I long ago got over feeling like the hour I save by driving down I-5 is “worth it”, so my preference is to head up and down 101 along the coast. A bit slower, but worth it.
In 2008, Dad got sick. Went into the hospital. Didn’t come home. Between Christmas 2007 and October 2008 when we finalized all of the details on the estate, I logged about 12,000 miles on the car JUST driving back and forth across the state. I honestly can’t tell you how many trips I took, 2008 was and probably always will be a grey blur. But a lot of those trips were long weekends, and on a lot of those trips, I started doing short side trips on the way home to unwind. Occasionally my “weekend” consisted of driving a couple of hours out of my way and seeing what I found (sometimes up highway 1, sometimes crossing from 5 to 101 through one of the passes like 198 or 46 — just checking out different parts of the state. Driving, far away from people, responsibilities and cell phone towers — was a bit of an escape.
I also started stopping in Morro Bay, because (among other reasons) it’s about half-way between the two ends of this journey. Drive four hours, stop for a couple of hours, grab a meal, then carry on. Many times, that was my weekend. I first visited Morro Bay when I was trying to decide how serious I was about birdwatching as an avocation, and hit a point where I wanted to get out and on my own and explore a bit and see if this really was something I wanted to commit myself to; I chose Morro Bay because it’s a major birding area with a great diversity to it — and I loved the trip and the location. Ever since then, I’ve used Morro Bay as a stopping off point on trips up and down state or when I need to get away. It’s close enough that I can daytrip if I really want to, but it’s a perfect place for an overnight trip or weekend to get away and unplug.
It’s no secret Laurie and I have talked about retiring (or relocating) out of the valley at some point. I’ve wanted to move to the Oregon Coast for years, and we have a great love for cities like Seattle and Portland and Vancouver. I could settle in to a city like Newport or Astoria quite happily, though, and some day, we might. Morro Bay, I found, embodies much of what attracts me to the Oregon Coast, and that became a great attraction. The town is small and friendly; it’s casual and has a nice, slow pace, but it’s close to civilization with San Luis Obispo within reasonable drive. It’s a great outdoor town and I’ve come to learn it’s full of really interesting people — many of whom used to work in Silicon Valley and fell in love with the area and moved down there when they could. There’s a very active birding culture, and there’s are a number of very good and fun photographers that I’ve come to know either in person or in email. It’s very common — almost every trip — for someone to wander up if I’m shooting around the harbor just to say hi and talk photography for a bit, or to offer suggestions on interesting places to take pictures or find an interesting bird. it’s just one of those places you occasionally find that you visit and it makes you feel like you’re home (or want to be).
So Morro Bay became my escape, and as I visited it, I learned more about it and I found new and interesting things to do there, and now it just seems weird if I don’t spend some time around the town if I’m in the central coast. When I need to crawl into a cocoon for a bit, it’s a great place for me to do it. And because it’s like that (Victoria, BC is another town like that for me) that’s one reason I was careful to make sure I stayed in Santa Maria and explore new locations — it would have been fine to just stay in Morro Bay for the weekend, but I wouldn’t have really pushed myself or done anything new, and I needed the break, but I needed to push myself, too. This trip succeeded at both.
I have a few standard visiting places in the Morro Bay area. I normally start at the sweet springs preserve in Los Osos:
I love that place.
After that, it was time for lunch. Over in Baywood, across the estuary is the Good Tides Coffee house, a nice cup and a pastry, and the ability to sit and watch the estuary for a while (in the same location is Maya, a nice mexican restaurant I like to eat at; in fact, I came back to it for dinner that night).
I then drove up into the estuary and towards Morro Bay proper. I usually stop at the bayside marina because it can be a good place for otters to hang out, And then the Cormorant Rookery near the golf course in Morro State Park.
I’ve been experimenting with shooting that rookery a few times now. I must admit that for the most part, the rookery is winning. it’s a freaky place; you hike out to it along the water (hope for low tide). It’s up on a bluff a bit, and the cormorants are nesting up in the trees, so it’s hard to get good angles that show off what’s going on up there. I had fog this trip (of course), and that complicates it further. I’ve been there at times where the fog’s been heavy and turns the area into something really spooky — if you’ve never heard a rookery’s noises, you can’t understand what it’s like being near it in the fog.
Double-crested cormorants, egrets and herons all nest there. Pelagic and Brandt’s cormorants nest on the rock with the western gulls and peregrines. it’s both very accessible and difficult to photograph well, and I guess I’m going to have to keep trying…
After the rookery, I stopped at tidelands park; the main harbor was really quiet, so I headed over to the rock, where it was pretty quiet birding but there some otters hanging out. As it turned out, I ended up hauling out my camp chair and sitting down and watching and photographing the otters for about three hours. there were three hanging out and mostly sleeping, a young male, a mom and her young pup.
To sleep, Otters wil wrap themselves in a kelp plant because they use that as an anchor. It prevents them from drifting off as the tide changes.
Like Pelicans, I can sit and watch otters forever. I never get tired of photographing them, and they never disappoint.
After that, I was beat. 11 hours on the road, over 1,000 images taken. I headed off to the hotel room to check in and put up my feet and start importing the images. Importing ended up taking over 7 hours — one reason I decided it was time for that new laptop. I crashed early, got up early (but slept through my alarm) and headed out to the rock again to see if there was anything interesting to photograph. Other than a small flock of Brant Geese on the far side of the harbor, the answer was no. I did get a chance to say hi to one of the local birder/photogs who was out early as well, and we chatted a bit about the upcoming Morro Photo Expo and whether we were going, but that really needs to be its own posting.
After that, I headed north on highway 1 looking for things to shoot. What I mostly got was fog, I admit that the previous day had worn me out and I was looking forward to being home, but there wasn’t a lot that really caught my eye. what did — a few vistas around Big Sur — were out in the sun, but mid-day and flat lighting made those things to come back adn explore more some other time.
Point Lobos was encased in a fairly heavy fog, so I bagged it and drove in. Some days it’s just not worth it to fight for an image.
One lesson learned: I’ve lost enough hair that I can no longer pretend I can get away without a hat (and sunblock). Sitting out along the harbor for hours with the otters, even under a heavy fog/marine layer and no real sun, left me nicely sunburnt. Which, being a southern california boy, I don’t feel like it’s summer without one good sunburn, but I spend the next week or so doing a great imitation of a bad zombie movie as everything flaked and peeled, so before I do that again, I need to get a good hat and some good sunblock, and I just have to get in the habit of using it.
I do, actually, have a birding hat, a Tilley’s I’ve worn for years. But it’s getting a bit long in the tooth, and it’s a bit — informal — for general wear. And the reality is, like my dad, I need a hat I wear habitually when outside, and I have to find one I will wear that doesn’t (as Laurie has so described my Tilleys) make me look dorky. Okay, dorkier. So off to REI I go. (there’s a practical reason fo rthis beyond sunburn; my dad had multiple class one melanomas in his later years; that puts me at about 20% higher risk of melanoma than the normal population; my history as a bit of a sun hound in my SoCal youth doesn’t help that, either — so I need to get serious about protecting myself outside more than I do. That, and when I peel, I itch…..)
My next trip? hopefully up to Bodie, Mono Lake and Tioga pass for 3-4 days or so. We’ll see. I’ve been doing a bit more research and have a better feel for what I want to accomplish up there, and it’s an area I really want to see soon. But honestly, it’s been a few years since I’ve made it up into Oregon and the pacific northwest, and that would be nice, too… but that’s a more extensive trip, and I’m not planning more than a long-weekend kind of thing for the next few months. And honestly, I keep thinking that if I can get a longer trip organized somehow, it sure would be nice to get back to Yellowstone… (but that ain’t gonna happen this year…)
View central coast trip in a larger map
(don’t forget to check out part 2.)
So a couple of weeks ago, I went down to SoCal to visit family and spend a few days at the old homestead. I arranged things so that I could take a couple of days on the way back and go a bit of a road trip and relax and do some photography.
I’m trying to turn these trips into challenges, to use them to stretch my photography and to explore new areas or new techniques (or preferably both). One thing I’ve realized is that I’m very comfortable (and pretty good) at shooting the type of work I normally shoot but really uncomfortable away from those specific styles. Not a huge surprise, most folks are like that — but I feel that to really take my photography to the next level, I need to widen the types of photography I do and become capable and comfortable in a much more diverse set of photography formats. Push myself way out of my comfort zone, and then get comfortable there. (at the SAME time, honestly, photography is still one of those things I do to relax and recharge the batteries, and so there’s a tension here between never relaxing and never growing. These days, with everything that’s been going on, the needle is pointing further towards relaxing, but I need to change that up a bit).
I purposefully didn’t plan the photo trip until I got to SoCal, because I wanted to spend some time researching options and deciding what to do on the fly. With only two or three nights in a hotel, the options were somewhat restricted (no Bryce or Zion, for instance, because I’d spend too much time traveling and too little time on site). Part of the exercise here was to treat this as a photo assignment and do the research, choose the venues and the shooting plan — and then do it and see how the plan and the results match out and how well I adapt the plan to the conditions. It’s an attempt to simulate getting an assignment and then being able to understand how to carry it out.
I ended up having to decide on two ideas. One was to work up the 395 along the eastern Sierra and explore the Bishop to Bodie region (tioga pass, mammoth, bodie, etc). The other was to head up the coast and do some coastal shooting.
I ended up opting to stay on the coast for two reasons; first, I felt that a couple of nights in the eastern sierra was just too short for what I wanted to cover and I reducing the scope to fit the time available just made no sense. Since it’s been decades since I’ve been in that area, I’d need time to explore and scout as well as shoot, and I just felt I was trying to cram too much in (instead, I’m hoping I can take a trip out there for a few days after labor day. maybe. we’ll see. If not, it’s on the short list. But then, a birding trip to Salton Sea has been on my short list since 2006 and I still haven’t gotten there…)
I didn’t, however, want it to turn into another trip to the same places in Morro Bay, I knew there was a place in Pismo I wanted to go back and shoot, so I decided to overnight further south on the coast and then spend a full day shooting from the starting point into Morro bay, and then a second day in Morro and then take highway 1 home and stop in Point Lobos for a few hours of shooting.
One complication — a feature — is that along the coast, this time of year, it’s often foggy, grey and misty. In all, potentially a challenging shooting environment. That sealed the deal, let’s go find new stuff and go shoot it in the fog!
I ended up holing up for the night in Santa Maria, which was far enough north to minimize the travel needed before I started shooting, but far enough out that I was able to cover a fair amount of ground I’d never explored before hitting Morro Bay and more familiar territories. I chose two locations to explore: Guadalupe Dunes park for the possibility of some interesting dune formations, and Oso Flaco lake, because it’s a fairly well known birding site and I could accomplish a couple of things at the same time (perhaps). Adding in Pismo, that gave me two areas I’d researched but never visited, a third I knew about but had only visited for a short time a few years ago, and whatever caught my attention in the meantime.
I arrived near dinner time in Santa Maria and checked in and grabbed food — Santa Maria isn’t the most diverse culinary city in the universe, so I ended up at a Red Lobster (perfectly acceptable) followed by the starbucks for a coffee for dessert. And then went on a scouting drive. I drove about 40 miles E up the 166 towards the central valley looking for interesting stuff. One project I’ve been thinking of kicking off is a series on the california oak, looking for especially interesting trees and the remains of the fallen warriors. I’ve done a little shooting towards this, but haven’t really dedicated a lot of time to it. the trees on the 166, to my eye, were younger and just not very grizzled and not really all that interesting. One or two possible candidates but nothing I’ll prioritize going back for soon. Perhaps the 95 degree weather affected my judgement (it being a major heatwave in the state at the time….). Still, it was an interesting drive and exercise to explore for a purpose. But I really need to start keeping a formal scouting journal and a list of candidate locations for variious projects and potential shots…
Next morning I got up really early and got on the road and drove into Guadalupe and off to the dunes. I arrived — to fog.
Expected, but heavier than I had hoped. Guadalupe dunes looks like a fascinating place, but at 7 in the morning in the fog, it was me, a ranger, some really insane surfers and the sand. I spent some time trying various things, but ultimately, I wasn’t really happy with the results. the fog was heavy enough that the surf was effectively invisible (did I mention the surfers were insane?), and shooting birds in the fog just makes them look grey and uninteresting, at least with fog that heavy. I spent most of my time looking for interesting shooting options with the dunes, but just not finding many.
The sand just didn’t have much in the way of interesting textures for close up work, and the wide angle stuff in the fog was just — boring.
I do feel like I continue to struggle with this type of shot in general; there are a couple of things I need to focus on here. My lens setup doesn’t go wide enough for my tastes (I’ve talked about that previously here) but rather than blame it on “not the right gear”, I’m trying to push myself to figure out how to take interesting shots with what I have before succumbing to the “new toys” syndrome, because I really see this as a lack of technique and what I need to do is force myself to practice and work on this; if I did buy a wider lens or two, what I’d end up with are boring pictures set at 10mm instead of 28mm.
After that, I drove up highway 1 to Pismo, where things got better.
Laurie and I discovered Margo Dodd park in Pismo a few years ago when we were looking for a place to take a break during a drive back from visiting my family. It’s right on the water, a small grassy area with a few picnic tables — but it overlooks a wonderful rocky area, tidepools and some interesting vistas. I’ve always meant to go back and photograph there. it’s next to a rock where gulls and cormorants nest (and it turns out pigeon guillemots!) and I thought there were going to be some interesting opportunities. I also knew I’d run into brown pelicans, and if you haven’t figured it out by now, I can watch (and photograph) pelicans forever…
So I did. The fog was much lighter. it was late enough that the cormorants were fledged, but a few were still feeding young. I found a couple of fairly young gull chicks, but very little in the way of active nesting, it was all later than that. And pelicans flying everywhere in formation…
But that location was more than birds. Instead of closing off photography, the fog here gave me opportunities to create some interesting images. I especially like this one. If the fog were lighter, I think it would have been boring, it gave the tree just that right tough of mystery. If there were more fog, well, it just turns into a grey blog. This was what I was looking for when I decided to go up the coast and shoot in the fog.
Oh… astute readers will realize that I haven’t talked about Oso Flaco at all. When I arrived there, I realized that the location left my car a bit too exposed for my comfort level; with it fully packed and full of “stuff” and gear, I really wasn’t hot to let the car out of my sight to go hiking, so I aborted and filed it away for another trip, later. Especially given how foggy it was there…
So onwards towards Morro. And I’ll talk about Morro and the rest of the trip in the next posting.
Case in point, we are talking about taking a family vacation to San Diego early next year (look out Kedrosky!) and decided that renting a minivan and driving down would be cheaper than flying and less hassle to boot. It’s a lot of time behind the wheel but no worse than trudging through an airport pissed off about having to pay $150 to check bags.
Whenever Laurie and I do our driving vacations — which we’ve done since before they made airports so damn painful — friends and co-workers have always wondered if we were insane. Now that airports have become so insane, people are starting to realize that plopping on a plane isn’t the only option, and in many cases, not the best.
We almost always drive vacations (and we never, ever fly to SoCal) for a few reasons: first, we tend to carry a lot of gear, including the computer stuff and cameras and etc. So under most circumstances, flying generates compromises we can avoid by driving. Second, driving is almost invariably cheaper. Third, in many cases, especially these days of three hour waits for connections and flight delays, TSA delays, baggage delays and rental car delays, it’s not significantly slower to drive. And finally, not only does it give us a chance to just sit and talk and be with each other, there’s a whole bunch of stuff between here and there worth seeing and looking at you won’t see at 30,000 feet. The journey CAN be the reward; hell, sometimes the destination is the excuse, not the reason.
When we did our Yellowstone trip this fall, I kept notes on costs and timing. Yellowstone is about the limit of what I’d consider reasonable for a “normal” vacation. Two days driving each way, with rational driving times each way. Silicon Valley is about 16 hours driving from Silicon valley; I prefer to keep each leg about 8-10 hours. That takes you through a lot of territory, though: from silicon valley, it’ll get you to Vancouver, Yellowstone, Salt Lake, Denver, Taos, and all points east. By limiting driving to 8-10 hours, you don’t have to play the “crack of dawn” patrol, you can stop and explore places of interest, eat without a drive-through window, and get into a hotel at a rational hour for a rational sleep. You’re not stressed or harried or exhausted when you get there.
(hint: it’s even MORE interesting to find spots along the way and make the entire journey part of the trip, but we wanted to maximize our time in the park, so we hustled out way each way; I did, however, flag four or five places as future photography locales… But for us, a typical trip to Victoria or Vancouver would involve a day or two in Portland and a couple of stops up and down the Oregon Coast, rather than putting all of our time into one place. Once you get into this “along the way” type of travel, lots of things open up, especially areas you’d have real issues getting to via an airport…)
Here’s a comparison of what it’d take to drive to Yellowstone, versus flying. In many ways, this is the extreme case: Yellowstone is about as far as I’d want to drive on a ten day trip (week off plus two weekends), so you’re spending the maximum amount of time in the car, which you’d think would benefit the airplane. Not necessarily.
For the driving, we left Saturday mid-morning, and arrived in Yellowstone around dinner time on Sunday, stopping overnight in Winnemucca, roughly half way. At the time, gas was headed down but we still paid an average right around $3.70 a gallon. The drive to Yellowstone is almost exactly 1,000 miles.
We drove 1,000 miles getting there, 1,000 miles around the park in the days there, and 1,000 miles coming back, spending a total of $400 for 107 gallons of gas. 2/3 of that gas was used in transit, so the fuel cost for travelling was around $250. Factor in car maintenance to be fair: $70 for the 3,000 mile lube, and some percentage of the 60,000 mile service and tire costs; practically speaking, that’s probably another $70, and I’m probably being generous (my last major service plus 2 new tires ran a grand. factor that cost into 30,000 miles, and you get about $70 for 2,000 miles).
So, the total cost of driving to and from Yellowstone is about $400.
Flying? I did some checks on flight costs at the same time we travelled. For Yellowstone, that’s either West Yellowstone or Bozeman. A typical flight to Bozeman at the same time would have cost you about $500 per person round trip and take 8 hours, flying through Denver or Salt Lake. I just checked, and today it’s about $400ish in December, but next June, we’re back at $450-$500 for a time when a rational person would take that trip. West Yellowstone is slower and more expensive, with only a couple of flights (totalling 90 seats) a day, and it’s seasonal. Then add in a rental car, which when I checked in September was averaging $130/week out of those cities.
So your travel costs end up running you at best about $1,000-$1,100. And if you fly to Yellowstone, you’ll arrive just in time for dinner Saturday — in Bozeman. It’s late enough you won’t actually get into the park until Sunday morning. Leaving? you either get the crack of dawn patrol for a flight out around 7AM, or a late flight out and get home at midnight on Sunday.
Net result? If you fly, you get a Sunday in the park coming in, and a Saturday in the park going out that you don’t get driving. And for the privilege, your cost goes from about $400 to $1,100, over 2X. I’m not counting hotel or food costs here because the same meals get eaten (only in different places) and hotel rooms get used — although most likely, the room on the road while driving will likely be cheaper (ours were about half the cost or more).
As to the hassle factor of driving? you can’t tell me that the joys of the TSA, of flight delays, of 3 hour connecting flight waits, of checking and retrieving luggage and renting cars — and airport food — is any great shakes. It’s all in the attitude; getting into the mindset that the trip is part of the journey and not just a way to the destination opens up many options. And, well, having time to unplug and just talk to the people you’re with? Or heading off a side road and exploring? (well, laurie calls it “getting lost again”, but I prefer to see it as adventuring into the unknown). Massive fun.
Flying options options; I wouldn’t want to drive to chicago or tampa, not unless it was part of a longer, extended trip. OTOH, a two day drive from where you live opens up many places — from silicon valley, pretty much everything west of and into the rockies.
And if you stop and think about it a bit, there is basically no way you can do an airport run from northern california to southern california faster than driving these days, not once you factor in the time getting to and from airports, TSA lines, renting cars, etc. etc. At best, it’s a wash. and driving’s much cheaper. I can’t see why anyone flies back and forth on that shuttle, honestly.
so for me, it’s car first. We’ve done flying trips to Vancouver and Victoria in the past (flying into Victoria directly, into Vancouver, and into Seattle and crossing the border), and you know what? Have fun in the plane (hah). I’ll just hop in the car. You may get there a bit sooner, but I’ll be relaxed and happy when I get there, and I’ll have all of my stuff. What did you decide not to bring to fit into the overhead and checkin restrictions, anyway?
What I don’t understand is why when airlines decided on what business model they were going to follow, they chose “greyhound bus” as what they wanted to be when they grew up….
Update: One of the commenters made an important comment:
It’s hard to argue with most of what you wrote, but flying does allow me to take do a trip like a 4-day weekend in Vancouver from time to time.
And that’s an important thing to keep in mind: the trade-off between time and money. If your time is short, then spending money to minimize travel time, but when you do, it’s knowing that you’re taking a more expensive option for speed. That’s fine; I certainly wouldn’t drive a 4-5 day trip to Vancouver.
Ditto a day trip to SoCal; if I had to go to SoCal and return same day for a meeting (first, I’d try NOT to, but that’s a different issue), then I might fly, because otherwise it’d be a really long day; in that case, sitting in a plane or airport might be preferable to driving. But if I could schedule it to drive down, take in the meeting, overnight, and drive back while stopping at, say, Morro Beach on a Saturday, well, sign me up…
So ultimately, NONE of this is absolute. And if your idea of a perfect vacation is to sit on a beach in Cancun drinking margaritas — that’s great, too. But heck, you could sit on a beach near San Diego and drink for a lot less, I bet, and have pretty darn good weather, too. Or Phoenix, for that matter.
it’s summer vacation time — and not suprisingly, we’re headed North.
if it’s Sunday, it must be Vancouver. We left San Jose about 10 Saturday, got into Portland in time for a nice Dinner at Stanfords, took off a bit after 8 sunday morning, and hit the hotel room about 3:30, and were sitting in Yaletown Brewing for a nice dinner at 5.
When we tell people we drive on these trips, we always get asked why. Vancouver is so far away — why not fly?
First, we like driving. It gives us a chance to unplug, unwind, and enjoy the journey. I used to do most of the driving; since buying the BMW, Laurie won’t let me drive now. I’d complain, but… I don’t mind.
Second, it’s really not that far. It’s about 1000 miles, 14-15 hours driving in good weather. That’s about twice the distance of San jose to Los Angeles, and it’s easy to do in two easy shifts — no marathons required.
Third, it’s a lot cheaper. gas: about $110 + hotel: $80. Travel time (start to finish): 34 hours. To fly? Supershuttle to SFO, $75 each way. Tickets to Vancouver: $350 per person each way. Throw in a rental car — about $225/week for two weeks. And an extra day in our destination hotel: $200. That’s, um, $200 to drive, versus flying: about $1700.
And if we fly? Out of SFO, we can either fly around 8AM, or about 7PM. If we fly out at 8AM saturday, we have to be at the airport 90 minutes before that, an hour’s drive away, and the shuttle will add in a fudge factor. So we have to get up at 3AM? or fly out about 7PM, not get to the hotel until close to midnight — room service time, if it’s still open. Flying’s been made so inconvenient — why bother? For an extra $1500, we get one extra meal in Vancouver and one more evening in the city. instead, we had a really good meal in Portland. (and this assumes we’re staying here. we’re not — we’re actually spending time here, Victoria, Seattle and Portland — in practice, at least three plan transfers (shudder) if we fly.
And finally — with a car, you can pack stuff in it and bring it home. Like, say, a case or two of good wine from British Columbia, Washington and Oregon. Try that in coach class. And since we aren’t spending all of that money on plane tickets, we can spend that money on wine instead. and good meals…
We end up saving $1500 or so; we lose about 8 hours net time in Vancouver, somewhat less time on the return trip from Portland (same day, no overnight), and actually gain time not worrying about the flying hassle on transfers to other cities. . Nice tradeoff.
Have you sat down and considered the tradeoffs on your trips? It might surprise you.
the drive north was almost non-eventful (which is nice). Highlight (or lowlight) of the trip was driving up 5 past Mount Shasta (a beautiful, if hot, place to visit) when we get passed by a car. Laurie goes “what is that hanging from his car?”
“That” turned out to be the hose from a gas pump, still inserted into the gas tank, On the other end, the connector (designed to separate if some idiot drives away from a pump without removing the hose) had died a hero, and was sparking its way down the road. Between the hose, the sparks and the fact that the guy was driving like a royal idiot (way too fast, way too aggressive) we made sure to give him a wide berth. We followed him at a good distance for a few miles, when suddenly he braked and made a mad dash for the side of the road (nearly going through the fenders of a car to the side of him…..), and stopped. when we went by, he was standing next to the car, staring at the hose.
one can only wonder at how this happened. And what the gas station attendant thought.
We made Portland (actually, Clackamas) in time for an early dinner at, and a nice drive up to Vancouver on Sunday. It took us about 20 minutes to cross the border at Peace Arch, and arrived in Vancouver in the early afternoon, checked in to the hotel, and went off in search of food….
Hard to believe that only a couple of days ago, we were in Vancouver. We arrived back in San Jose this morning about 11, a few days early.
One of the joys of winter travel — weather changes plans. On the other hand, in all of the years we’ve driven into the northwest on off-season trips, this is the first time we’ve significantly changed an itinerary or cut a trip short. But as we left Vancouver for Portland (border crossing: 18 minutes), we knew the weather was degenerating badly. Long before we got to our hotel in Portland, we’d decided it was a good time to cut and run. So we cut our reservation there to one day (to the encouragement of the hotel staff, I’ll note).
And as the portland blog entries show, that night, it snowed. I have to admit I was impressed watching Portland dig into action with the snow — for a city that sees it intermittently, they sure seemed to have their act together. we got up early on New Years Eve morning, trudged through the slush to pack the van, and ran for the border.
South on I-5 to eugene, where we stopped for coffee’s (near our portland hotel was a coffee place advertising the Mordor Moka: ‘one cup to rule them all’, but our wish to get the hell out of there overrode our desire to figure out what they were doing), then south to the 38, and out we squirted to the coast. the 38 hugs the river; there’s no pass to cross, so it’s a nice getaway to know about if you are trying to avoid I5 south.
It worked, too. Popped out at Reedsport and kept driving. Finally gave up about 8PM last night in Ukiah, after we got out of the 101 mountains. Pretty much rained most of the trip south, but rarely heavily. Once we hit Ukiah, I decided that was enough — it was tempting to head for home, but I felt discretion was the better part of valor, so we found a motel, crawled in and crashed. We we’re both out by 10:30.
I do have to give special thanks to our temporary neighbors who felt it necessary to have their kids celebrate news years at midnight in the parking lot of the motel. I can’t tell you how much fun it was to be awakened by this. Oh, and I sure hope that our turning on the TV at 6:30 this morning and dragging all of our luggage out to the car didn’t wake you up. damn, I was clumsy this morning, kept whacking the door with bags and all that.
I’m very glad we hauled to Ukiah, given the driving today. Lots (lots!) of rain, very wet roads, and lots and lots (lots!) of nasty wind. In a van. crosswinds are not my best friend. We saw four or five accidents on the way in, fortunately, none of them involved us or came close to it. The advantage of being middle-aged, a slow driver, and in no bloody hurry. Still, we made it in before noon.
And boy, am I glad we bailed. According to news stories, from the Northwest media, if we’d tried to get out today, we wouldn’t have — chain requirements from Portland to Ashland on I-5 (300 miles of chain requirements), and the only reason it stopped there was because they closed the passes. Basically, I-5 was closed from Ashland to Redding, at best, with limited travel and chain requirements.
This is why we’ve always planned to bug out via the coast. It’s slower, but it works. If you try to sneak out the pass and guess wrong, you can spend two or three days in beautiful downtown Weed or Yreka or some other garden spot (hint: the best restaurant in Yreka is the deli counter in the Raleys. honest)
With the chain requirements, even getting to the coast today would have been problematic. Many of the coastal routes were closed; the 38 that we used was closed today by downed trees. Portland itself basically shut down, and they were telling everyone to not leave their houses.
Not fun. At some level, I’m sad we missed our time in Portland, but hell, our time in Portland was going to be spent in a hotel room watching the news people say things like “don’t drive! whatever you do, don’t drive!”. That — we can do here in the comfort of our place…
So I don’t regret it a bit, although it was a long, fairly technical drive for both of us. and we’ve already agreed to re-celebrate new years this weekend at something other than a taco bell (only thing open) and a noisy motel…
The border crossing took 18 minutes or so. Not bad, given the color orange. But it helps to cross at 8 in the morning…
We’ve made it to Portland. Given how the weather is turning, we plan (assuming we can) to get out of here and cut things short, crawl down to Eugene and then cross over to the coast and make for Eureka. Depening on weather and how long that takes, we may or may not try to make it home tomorrow.
In all of the off-season travelling we’ve done up here, this is the first time we’ve hit weather that made us change travel plans. And having just looked out the window, Portland is a white mass of frozen water right now. It’s snowing.
Go figure. It’ll be interesting to see what the travel looks like in the AM. Even worse, the place we’re staying in, which we thought had real internet hookups, is still stuck in the dialup ages, so the powerbook is wired to the phone, and transmitting wireless to Laurie’s powerbook as a shared private network… Not fast, but it works painlessly…
snowing. Portland. jesus. who’da thunk?