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Sierras in January: Part 1

Alabama Hills Recreation Area - Near Lone Pine, CA

With all the recent activity on getting ready for my gallery showing and artist reception, I haven't had much of an opportunity to look through the photos from my recent trip to Bishop, CA. But I finally got a calm in the storm that is my schedule, so I thought I'd browse through them and post a few shots for you to see.

The trip to Bishop was only 3 days long and I went on it with the goal of capturing some beautiful snow scenes in the Eastern Sierra. But there's just a few problems with that specific goal... First of all, it's been a horribly dry winter, and the lack of snow in these mountains has been a topic of conversation all season. Secondly, almost all the main passes through the Sierras are shut down in winter, which means I wouldn't be able to get to very many places. And finally, a storm was supposed to roll through the area the second day I was there.

The storm was good news and bad news. The good news was that I would get some fresh snow on the landscape. The bad news was that the heavy cloud cover would make my sunrises and sunsets almost non-existent.

Overall, I was a little bit disappointed with my photographic performance on this trip. It felt like I was in the wrong place at the right time on several occasions and I was, for some reason, having a difficult time capturing the full magnitude of the beauty I saw. Normally, I can make a place look much better in the photos than in real life. But here...I just wasn't on my A-game.

But nevertheless, I think I got some good photos (and a few great ones) to share with you. I figured I'd divide my trip up into 2 blog posts, not by date, but by the two main locations I visited throughout the trip. This first post is everything from the Alabama Hills at the base of the Sierras near Lone Pine. I visited this area 3 times on the trip and I just loved it. The scenery is unreal - lots of fun to explore. The second post will be all my winter snow scenes from the areas around Mammoth Lakes and Lee Vining.

The Alabama Hills Recreation Area is an expanse of immense, round, granite rock formations that spread out beneath the majestic Eastern Sierra peaks. Tons of movies and commercials have been filmed here, and for good reason. There is really no other place on Earth quite like it.

Alabama Hills Recreation Area - Near Lone Pine, CA

Alabama Hills Recreation Area - Near Lone Pine, CA

The Alabama Hills contains a few semi-famous arches that I had the opportunity to visit. Truthfully, photographing these arches was not real high on my t0-do list because it seems like everyone has photographed these things and they've all done it about the same way. Also, many others have had much better sunrises and sunsets to work with than I did. But I took some shots anyway...nothing I would frame, but it was nice to check them off my bucket list.

This first one is Lathe Arch. It's hard to tell in the photo, but this arch is very tiny. It only spans about 3 or 4 feet side to side and rises about 18 inches above the rock below it. Interesting shape, though.

Lathe Arch in the Alabama Hills Recreation Area - Near Lone Pine, CA

And this bad-boy is Mobius Arch. I'm 6'2" and I can stand up straight underneath it. There are a ton of great photos of this arch all over the net. I wish I'd had a better sunset to work with here, but what can you do?

Mobius Arch in the Alabama Hills Recreation Area - Near Lone Pine, CA

The rest of these photos were taken all over the Alabama Hills. I was playing a lot with different foregrounds to help pull attention to Mt. Williamson in the background.

Alabama Hills Recreation Area - Near Lone Pine, CA

Alabama Hills Recreation Area - Near Lone Pine, CA

Alabama Hills Recreation Area - Near Lone Pine, CA

Alabama Hills Recreation Area - Near Lone Pine, CA

Alabama Hills Recreation Area - Near Lone Pine, CA

Stay tuned for Part 2 of my trip!

Monache Meadows

Over the weekend, my brother and I took a short camping trip to the Kern Plateau in the southern Sierra Nevada Mountains. The place we chose was into Monache Meadow where the south fork of the Kern River makes its way through beautiful mountains and forest.

Monache Meadow and Olancha Peak at sunset

We chose this area to visit because it is only accessible by 4-wheel drive vehicles by way of the Monache 4-Wheel Drive Trail (Road 34E38). I wanted to put my 4Runner through its paces and really test out the new auxiliary lights. Other bonuses to this area of the Sequoia National Forest are that it's dispersed camping, campfires are allowed and there are no fees required to camp there. I'm used to campsites where you have to pay a $15-per-night fee, you have to supply all your information short of a urine sample, the campsites are pre-designated and your only scenic view is of the back of a Winnebago. That's why I've always preferred backpacking over car-camping.

But with a little bit of research, I found Monache, which I figured would carry all the benefits of seclusion that backpacking brings with all the convenience and fun of having a car with you. And it definitely delivered. It's a great place to camp if you have a 4x4 to get you there.

After getting settled in to our campsite along the Kern River, we headed out to the huge Monache Meadow to catch the sunset. I played with some lichen-covered rocks, reflections and the river in the foreground of my shots with the gorgeous Olancha Peak in the background to catch the sunset colors.

Monache Meadow and Olancha Peak at sunset

Monache Meadow and Olancha Peak at sunset

Monache Meadow and Olancha Peak at sunset

We stayed until twilight before heading back to camp...

Monache Meadow and Olancha Peak at twilight

After some grub, we were in for a cold night. It got all the way down to 27 degrees. Some of you out in the midwest may be chuckling right now, but that's pretty damn cold for this Southern California kid! But despite the painful cold, I got up before sunrise to catch the morning light on Bakeoven Meadow. I was pleased to see the entire meadow was covered in frost, which made for some real fun subject matter.

Bakeoven Meadow at sunrise

Frosty Plants in Bakeoven Meadow at sunrise

Frosty Plants in Bakeoven Meadow at sunrise
^ Click for a larger version

Frosty Plants in Bakeoven Meadow at sunrise

Fence in Hessian Meadow at sunrise

Fence in Hessian Meadow at sunrise

Overall, the trip was a fantastic experience and I'm pretty pleased with the shots. Feels like it was a productive 2 days. I'll definitely be returning to this area in the future. I'd really love to see it in the springtime.

Trip to Sierras – Part 3

Dana Mountain and Gibbs Mountain

Time for Part 3 of my 4 installments of pictures from my trip to Lee Vining a couple weeks back. (Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 4). This post covers the second half of day 2 - my favorite time from the entire trip. Click any of the panoramas for larger versions.

Picking up from the previous post, we had just finished up some quick pictures at Lee Vining creek. Well-rested, rejuvenated and excited about the sunset, we headed back up Tioga Pass to visit a gorgeous meadow I'd seen earlier that day. It would be the perfect place for sunset. But we still had several hours before the light was right and I saw a stretch of birch trees I wanted to check out for some possible fall color. Although the fall color wasn't phenomenal, the thicket of birch trees turned out to be lush and beautiful to venture through. A little creek winding its way between the trunks served as a great foreground subject for one of the shots. My favorite is the panorama below.

Birch Trees

Birch Trees

Birch Trees and Creek

After the birch tree forest, we made a quick stop on the side of the road to capture some better fall color and a rare black and white of a mountain peak.

Fall Color in the Sierras

Mountain Peak

Then it was off to the meadow...

We first stopped at Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite. My original plan (from scouting the spot earlier that day) was to stick around in Tuolumne Meadows until sunset. We got there early, claimed the spot I'd scouted earlier that day and then I started planning my shots. It was gorgeous for sure - Tuolumne River flowed gently through the meadow and mountain peaks stood majestically in the background. Only problem was...I just wasn't jiving with it. The compositions just weren't working no matter how hard I tried to troubleshoot them.

Good thing I had a plan B.

I decided we should ditch Tuolumne Meadows and make our way back up Tioga Pass to the lesser-known Dana Meadows. Covered in snow and with Dana Fork winding perfectly through the foreground to reflect the stunning Dana and Gibbs Mountain peaks in the east, I knew this spot was what I was looking for. I swear, this meadow was so picturesque that if you asked a hundred people to imagine a mountain landscape, 99 of them would be picturing this spot.

All I needed was a gorgeous sunset and, thankfully, nature served up some amazing light absolutely drenched in color. The snow picked up all the pink and purple just as I had hoped and, with my trusty split NDs in hand, I was able to walk away with my favorite pictures from the whole trip. You can tell how much I loved this spot by how many damn similar pictures I took of those same mountains and creek!

Dana Meadow

Dana Meadow

Dana Mountain and Gibbs Mountain

Dana Mountain and Gibbs Mountain over Dana Fork

Dana Mountain and Gibbs Mountain

Dana Mountain and Gibbs Mountain

That's the end of Day 2! Just one more post to go!