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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.

Car Mods and the View From Santiago Peak

Well this is going to be a little bit different kind of post than my usual new pics, how-to's, announcements or testimonials. This one is about my truck...

Wait! Come back, ladies! I'll be brief about the truck and then it's on to some pretty pictures that I was able to get because of the truck! I promise.

2000 4Runner with Gobi Stealth Rack

Okay, so I recently completed a big project on my Toyota 4Runner in order to make it more capable for the type of work I plan on doing and the types of trips I plan on taking. First, I installed a sweet roof rack from Gobi that replaces my factory roof rack rails with a very handy basket-style rack. It'll make it easier to carry big loads of gear and anything I don't want to keep in the car, like gas cans and/or my mountain bike.

After the rack, I personally installed 8 auxiliary lights for nighttime off-roading and camping. There are 4 lights up front, 2 in the back and 1 on each side. The lights up front pierce through the darkness as I travel through new territory. The lights in the back will serve as reverse lights as well as utility lights for when I need some illumination as I pack up gear, cook a meal or even help someone change a tire in the darkness (which already happened). The lights on either side can serve as utility lights as well, but also are great for illuminating the inside of hairpin turns going up and down switchbacks.

2000 4Runner with Gobi Stealth Rack

Installing the lights took a total of 30 hours over a very, very hot 3-day weekend last month. Totally worth it. I'll be taking a trip to the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the next month or two where they will really come in handy.

Alright, enough about my truck...

Yesterday, I decided to spend my labor day off-roading up to Santiago Peak in the Cleveland National Forest. For those of you outside of Orange County, Santiago Peak is the highest peak in Orange County (actually, I'm not even sure it's technically in Orange County or Riverside County). It's the taller of the 2 peaks of Saddleback Mountain, the tallest and most prominent geographic feature to the east.

Basically, if you were driving from inland towards the Pacific Ocean, this peak is the last peak over 5000' before you hit the beach.

When I reached the top, I could see all the way out to Catalina Island off the coast and up to Long Beach in the north. The east and south were blanketed mostly by a late-summer storm, but still had great views. Actually, that summer storm made for a very interesting sky.

Here's the view looking south:

Looking South from Santiago Peak, Orange County, CA

Looking west towards the Pacific Ocean with Rancho Santa Margarita, Mission Viejo and others in the foreground:

Looking West from Santiago Peak, Saddleback Mountain, Orange County, CA

Here's a panoramic view of Orange County to the Pacific Ocean. Be sure to click the image for a much, much bigger version!

View from atop Saddleback Mountain overlooking Orange County

Anyone living in OC will recognize those radio towers atop Saddleback Mountain:

Radio Towers atop Saddleback Mountain

Here's the view looking west again. Notice Catalina Island off to the right:

Looking West from Santiago Peak, Saddleback Mountain, Orange County, CA

One of these days, I'm going to make this long drive to the top of Saddleback for sunrise or sunset. With the lights I installed on my truck, the dark trail will be a cake walk 😀

Looking Back On An Old Picture

I wanted to post some new pictures for you this week, but I simply don't have any. I haven't taken any new pictures in quite awhile, but that's to be expected this time of year. The summer is kind of my "off-season." The beaches are too crowded, the sunsets are bland, the hills are dry and it's too hot to hit the desert. I'm hoping to visit the Sierra Nevadas this summer to quench my photographic thirst, but we'll see if that actually pans out.

So instead of posting new pictures, I thought I'd share an old picture - one from way back in April 2004. It's from back when I was still shooting Fuji Velvia slide film on my old Minolta Maxxum 7. I had the cheapest lenses I could get and was just barely getting into filters. Here is a scan of the original film:

Fallen Tree in Canyonlands National Park, UT

I took this picture in Canyonlands National Park after a freezing night of rain and snow. My uncles, my dad, my brothers and I had backpacked in the day before through intermittent rain to reach our first camp just in time to set up our tents and eat some grub. Luckily for me, we awoke to fresh powder on an otherwise arid landscape. There's no noticeable snow in this shot, but the stormy sky did help create a mood.

I was at the ripe old age of 17 when I snapped this frame. I used Cokin brand grad gray filters (if memory serves), my old Slik tripod and a Sigma brand lens in the neighborhood of 28-135mm.

It's not a perfect shot and I'm sure I would do it differently now (for better or worse), but I wanted to share this picture because this particular image always stood out for me. I was very proud of the composition, exposure and filter use at the time. Also, it was my first "real photo trip" into the backcountry with an SLR camera. It's one of my first memories of really applying my skills to get a shot I was proud of.

A lot of memories have come and gone in the 7 years since (wow, is it really 7 years?), but I can still remember setting up this shot when I think back to it. Good times...