Tacoma to Orange County Feb 12

February 20th, 2011 | Posted by Steve in California | Mono Lake | National Parks | Yosemite National Park

Hi all,

This email covers my flight Saturday, Feb 12 from Seattle/Tacoma to Orange County’s John Wayne Airport.  [Some of these photos will appear elsewhere in the website.]

I was able to upgrade to a first class seat using personally owned frequent flyer miles.  I chose a window seat on the left (facing forward) as I hoped to get a shot of Mt. Rainier from the window.

I generally don’t like shooting photos from a high flying commercial jet because the angle of view is limited, the windows are often scarred which will effect photo clarity, the blue cast of the spectrum from that height often dominates the photo, and your fixed position in relation to the sun may drastically affect the contrast.

These problems notwithstanding, a jet is a good platform for snap shots or a travel log, which is pretty much what this is going to be.  I will use some awful photos from the flight to illustrate some great places I have been to or flown over.  I will also include some great photos of the same areas.

Our jet left pretty early so the dawn was barely outlining Rainier.  Then we flew into the clouds so that pretty much was the end of that.  Once above the clouds I tried getting a few pictures of the dawn, but these gave no example of scale and very little color.  Turning them into B&Ws did no better so out they went.

Much later into the flight we entered California air space.  The clouds had long vanished and the early morning light gave a mostly useless flat monochromatic look to the landscape.

It is important to realize that on my side of the plane the sun was above and to my left.  It was still climbing above the horizon and was barely above the view I had out of the window.  The best colors of a photo are often when you are shooting with the sun behind your back.  If I had been on the other side of the plane this would have been the case, but not that morning.

I also chose the left side because of what else I hoped to see on the trip home.  Southbound flights from the Pacific Northwest generally fly over the Sierra Nevada foothills on their way to LA or Orange County.  I had done this before and such was the case this time.

Looking eastward I saw one of my favorite places, Mono Lake.  Mono Lake is a Pleistocene era lake at the eastern face of the Sierras and the western edge of the Great Basin.  It is not quite 6400 feet in elevation and lies at the bottom its own large hydrological basin.  The flat plain you see around the lake is what used to be lake bottom some 10,000-13,000 years ago when the local climate was colder & wetter.   The California-Nevada State line lies about where the flat plain seems to meet the darker vegetation at far left.  Driving along Highway 167 eastward to Nevada through the old plain and you can still see where ancient wave benches lapped the edge of the long dried lake shore.

The area is remote. 13,000 people live in Mono County with only a thousand or so near Mono Lake itself.  Mono Lake has no outlet to the sea so like the Great Salt Lake it is very alkaline and salty.  The salinity of the lake is from 2-3 times that of the ocean so there are no fish, just brine shrimp, brine flies, and millions of birds passing through each year to dine on the shrimp and flies.

The lake has probably existed here since the Long Valley volcanic eruption some 760,000 years ago.  Some sources believe the lake is 4 times older than that.  Long Valley is covered a little later in this email.  The area is still geologically active.  Hot springs are found in the area and I have seen gas bubbles from activity below rising to the lake surface.  At the edge of the lake is a small volcanic cinder cone, Panum Crater, estimated to be only about 500 years old.  Imagine one of those erupting in your backyard!

As you can see from the photo the lake is quite large, it measures some 10 x 20 miles (that’s from memory, not fact).  The surface area changes noticeably whenever the lake rises or falls.

Mark Twain wrote briefly about Mono Lake.  Although exaggerated & somewhat inaccurate his chapters 38 & 39 in Roughing It still make for an interesting read.

In 1941 the Los Angeles Dept of Water & Power began diverting rain & snow runoff from the lake to Los Angeles.  The lake began to dry and threatened millions of migratory birds.  The Mono Lake Committee was formed to keep the lake from drying out.  It is only a very small chapter in the volumes and volumes that make up California’s water wars, but the Committee eventually won a legal battle with the LADWP to stabilize the lake level.

The Committee issues a yearly calendar.  I have been published in it 3 times including the cover for the 2006 calendar.  This is my photo that made the 2006 calendar cover.

The whitish looking formations are called Tufa.  They form only under water and are made mostly of calcium carbonate.  If you see them then the lake covered them once.

In Aug., 2004 I spent a few days at Mono Lake with Aaron.  The day we got there I shot this from the overlook at the Visitor’s Center.  It was about noon. I used a Pentax 6×7, probably the 135mm f4 lens, a tripod & Fuji Velvia film.

A desk calendar printed by The Castle Press in 2001 featured a cover with one of my Mono Lake photos.  This is the 2001 cover.

This was shot in the mid 1990s.  You cannot get a photo like this from the shore.  I was on a boat floating by.  I used a tripod, a Hasselblad camera, the 120mm lens & Fuji Velvia film.

There are two large islands on Mono Lake plus numerous smaller ones.  Because there are no fish in the lake there are virtually no commercial boats.  Years ago I got hooked up with Tim Hansen who fished the brine shrimp.  He freeze dried them and sent them off to pet stores for tropical fish food.  From 1995-98 I was able to book him and his boat 3 times for trips out onto the lake.  We visited the various islands and I’ve climbed to the top of each of the two largest islands, Paoha and Negit.  Negit, the darker island in the first cover photo is volcanic so the top of the island is the top of the volcano.  Paoha is partially volcanic.  By November, 2010 Tim had left the the brine fishing business and was elected to be a Mono County Supervisor.

Lee Vining, Ca is the only town on the lake.  It has a population of under 500.  If any of you ever get there eat at Nicely’s.   What makes Nicely’s interesting is the décor.  I think walking in there is like walking into the late 1960’s.

Mono Lake may have billions of shrimp and millions of birds, but it is over run by photographers, which means most of the year. Sometimes I think Lee Vining has more photographers than residents.  Getting a room there is not always easy or cheap.  One of the motels, Murphey’s (note the ‘e’), has great color photos of the area hanging in their lobby.  I stayed there October, 2010 on my way up to Washington State.  Knowing another color photo would just get lost in the shuffle I asked if they would hang a good B&W.  Yes was the reply.  This photo of mine (12” x 18”) is now hanging in Murphey’s lobby.  It is also hanging in my second bathroom at home in case my sister Leslie continues to forget that.

This is looking north from the lagoon at Little Norway Island.  In case no one has ever heard of Little Norway Island there is a U.S. Geographical Survey marker off to the left of this photo that says so.  Sometimes the marker is under water!

To find Little Norway look at a satellite overview of Mono Lake in Google Maps or MapQuest.  I think both use the same satellite photo.  Zoom into the area north of Paoha and north east of Negit.  The island split down the middle is Little Norway.  It is only a few miles out on the lake, but there is almost no transportation to get there.  I think it qualifies as one of the most remote places I have ever visited.

Here are a couple of other photos of the Mono Lake area.

This is near the top of Paoha Island near the NE corner.  That is the throat of a small volcano down there.  I am standing on part of the cinder cone a few hundred feet above the lake.  The cinder cone was made of very soft rock, kind of like the rock sold to put in a backyard garden.  Climbing was two steps up and one step back much of the way.  I had to use my tripod as a walking stick for balance because a slip the wrong way either way would have had me rolling down hill.

I like to call this “Miss September, 1999”.  It was printed in the Mono Lake Calendar & is I am still quite proud of it.

It is one in a series of photos I made at about the same place each October from 1994-1996.  The first shot in 1994 was very good and I believe the equal of this except with a different color palette.

My second series shot here in Oct., 1995 suffered from flat light that morning and I never even bothered to scan or print them.  This is from the 1996 trip.  It was probably shot Oct. 5.   Of the 3 years I trekked to South Tufa on early October mornings I had great light in two of them.

The story of the photo still makes me smile at the luck I had.  I was an attendee of a photo workshop in Lee Vining.  At one point during each workshop all of the attendees visited the South Tufa area to photograph the sunrise.

I set my alarm incorrectly so I got a late start that morning.  I slept in at least an extra half hour.  I threw on my clothes, picked up the workshop attendee riding with me (who was also running late) and we sped off in the dark from Lee Vining to South Tufa, about 10 miles distant.

As we parked the car it was cold and the horizon was brightening with the coming dawn.  I bundled up against the cold, loaded myself up with gear, and set off toward the point of the shore where I wanted to greet the dawn.  I finally got there and I began to set up my shot, but I couldn’t see well.  It was still too dark to see anything up close.  I turned on a small flashlight and at least half a dozen photographers nearby started screaming at me to turn off the light!  I had no idea they were there!  Off went the light and I continued to set up by feel.  Still not ready to shoot I became more and more alarmed as the horizon became more and more colorful.

Then I discovered I had forgotten to load the camera with film!  It seemed to take forever to load the film and I thought I had lost the best light.  Finally ready I quickly shot off a roll of 10 images using various exposures around f 16.  This is one of the shots.  It is about a 2-4 second exposure.  Most of the photos on the roll are it’s equal.

This was submitted twice to the Mono Lake Committee for consideration for their calendar.  The first time it was rejected.  The second time it was accepted becoming the September photograph for the 1999 Calendar.  It was also 1 of 20 photographs accepted for the Mono Lake Committee’s 20th Anniversary Exhibition.  It was on display at the Committee’s office in Lee Vining, CA. in September and October, 1998.

This was shot on Fuji Velvia film, Pentax 67 medium format camera, 75mm lens, with a skylight filter.  The filter was unnecessary except as a protection for the lens.

A little more info & one last photo.

I first visited Mono Lake in the Summer of 1960.  As my kids were growing up the family vacationed in Mammoth and visited Mono Lake often.   Much of the lake shore and surrounding environs are not easily accessible so a 4 wheel drive vehicle is a must.  Many of the 4 wheel drive roads do not approach the lake because there is a point where solid land suddenly (I mean suddenly!) gives way to wet bog or soft dry volcanic sand.  Take my word for this, I know from personal experience.

The best maps are USGS maps and are not always accurate.  Getting as close to the lake as I could I have driven all around it once with my nephew Keith & taken the family around it via longer routes.  There are abandoned cabins and what is left of the old Bodie & Benton railroad.  By the way, the railroad never reached Benton.

The last Mono Lake photo.

This cabin used to stand to the south of Lee Vining, but was torn down some years ago when Hwy. 395 was widened.

Lee Vining sits on Highways 395 & 120.  120 is the eastern gateway to Yosemite National Park.  As the plane flew on I looked for Yosemite Valley.  I got this shot of Half Dome.

Not very good.  Try these instead.

This is Yosemite Valley from the parking lot at the base of the Wawona Tunnel.  Half Dome on the horizon in the distance.  El Capitan is the monolith at the left & Bridal Veil Falls at the right.  This is one of those places in the world where it is almost impossible to shoot a bad photo.  I was with one of the boys, Aaron I think, when I shot this.  I recall a lot of other photographers were there.  4 of us in a row were all shooting Hasselblads from tripods.  This photo was published in 2001.

Here is Half Dome in a clearing storm.  It was shot in the mid 1990s.

Half Dome is a granite dome, one of many in the Sierra Nevada mountains.  It is over 8800 feet in height and rises over 4700 feet from the Yosemite Valley floor.  The Half Dome profile is iconic and is one of the most instantly recognizable mountains in the world.

Other than your own tent the nearest lodging to Half Dome is Curry Village on the valley floor.  The trip from Curry Village to the summit & back is about 20 miles total.  It is often done as a day hike, but I wouldn’t recommend that to anyone.

I have reached the top twice, once in 1994 & once in 1996.  In the summer of 1994 Aaron & I started a hike with our Boy Scout troop from the valley floor.  We reached Little Yosemite Valley, about 6150 feet, by mid afternoon.  After dinner I mentioned there would be a full moon and probably be enough light to climb the dome.  Six of us including Aaron went for the idea and left our camp at 7:30pm while it was still light.

Miles later and just before the final ascent there are several hundred feet of stairs carved in the granite.  At the top of the stairs the final climb of 500 feet or so is via cable.  You don’t want to lose your footing while on the cables as the pitch is very steep.  The upper half of the cable area is more gentle, probably less than a 30 degree slope. You can walk that part without the cable assist if you are so inclined, and I have done that, but I stayed close to the cables just in case.

We reached the summit at 10:00 pm.  Aaron & I stopped near the ‘visor’ or ‘diving board’ to rest.  The ‘diving board’ hangs out over the valley.  Every few years someone leans too far over and the rangers collect what is left of the body from down below.  From the top of the dome the lights in the valley seem very far away.

By the time we reached the top I was pooped and knew full well I still had to walk back.  We began our climb down at 10:15pm.  In the dim light two of our party got lost at the base of the stairs and started heading toward a cliff that overhung Little Yosemite Valley.  We caught them before any harm was done and continued down the correct trail.  By midnight Aaron was totally done in.  The Scoutmaster and I had to coax him back to the camp, which we reached by 1:00am.   The whole thing was quite an experience, but a stupid thing to do.

Beginning this year you need a permit to hike the dome.  It is only available ahead of time and the permits are not available in the park.  With up to 1000 visitors a day in the high season the Park Service had to step in to limit the impact.  Did I mention the nearest outhouse is some 5 miles below Half Dome in Little Yosemite Valley?  No?  Well it is.

The next photo from the plane is of a place called Long Valley, a hole in the earth from an ancient volcanic exlosion.  Again, not a good photo.

Long Valley is the flat area covered in snow. Mammoth, CA & Mammoth Mountain Ski Resort are along the western rim of the Long Valley Caldera.  Lake Crowley, known for its fishing lies along its southern rim.  You can just see Crowley behind a mountain near the right of the photo.  If you are driving north on Highway 395 a few miles outside of Bishop, CA the road begins a 2850 foot climb ending near Tom’s Place, CA.  This climb is over the lava flow from the giant Long Valley volcanic eruption some 760,000 years ago.

Long Valley is one of the volcanic largest holes on the face of the earth measuring some 20 x 11 miles.  When it blew up the ash from the explosion covered much of the western U.S. area & probably killed most animals within a few hundred miles.  The area is still volcanically active and is very scenic.

The next two photos I did not expect to take at all.  In the early part of the 20th century a series of reservoirs were built in the Sierras to supply power to a growing Southern California populace.  These lakes have also become resorts for fishing, skiing, hiking and other year round activities.

This photo is of Huntington Lake, built in 1912.  It is named for Henry E. Huntington, a railroad magnate of that time.  The town I live in, Huntington Beach, CA is also named after H.E. Huntington.

On one of the arms at the top right (which faces Southeast) is Camp Oljato operated by the Pacific Skyline Council BSA out of Foster City & Palo Alto, CA.  I spent a week at Camp Oljato in 1995 with our boy scout troop.  Huntington Lake is apparently also home to Camp Kern, another Boy Scout camp run by a different council.  I have never been there so I am not so sure on this information.

This next photo is of one of the reservoir/lakes lower in the chain.  It is Shaver Lake, it is larger and has quite a population living around it.  Camp Chawanakee, pride of the Sequoia Council BSA, is situated on this lake.  I spent one summer week there (2000 I think) with my brother in law Dave, my nephews Pat & Andy, and part of their Boy Scout troop.  Amazingly, Dave got the allergy attack from all the dust, not me.

This last photo is of Simi Valley in the foreground and the San Fernando Valley in the background.  Simi Valley is some 80 miles from my house, but already the jet was loosing altitude for the approach into Orange County.

The major freeway running vertically (which is actually west at bottom & east at top) through most of the photo is 118, the Ronald Reagan Freeway.  The Reagan Presidential Library is outside of the photo at the lower right.

Almost midway in the photo the freeway runs through the Santa Susanna Pass.  Part of the old Santa Susanna Stage Road still exists up there near the freeway.  It was one of the mail routes between Los Angeles & parts of central California back in the 19th century.

As soon as this photo was taken the announcement was made to turn off all electronic devices so off went the camera.

My next email will be of some of the historic parts of Savannah, GA & the nearby Civil War fort, Ft. Pulaski.  Hopefully it will not be as long as this one.





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