November 12th, 2019
Driving on California Highway 190 across the Panamint Valley in the midday heat it looks like a pale smudge on the mountain range to the north. That is, unless you are passing through in the hour after sunrise or an hour before sunset when the shadows reveal the dunes silhouette.
The Panamint Dunes don’t look like they are very far away from the highway but distances in the desert can be deceiving. From the resort of Panamint Springs it’s a 7 mile hike north across the desert to reach the base of the dunes. Even driving the washboard of Lake Hill Road you still have a 2 mile hike from the trailhead parking area. There is no shade or shelter along the path, which is really only a direction as the path petered out after a few hundred yards in one of the many washes.
Hiking towards the dunes it’s easy to know which direction to head but heading back it may be difficult to spot your vehicle even though it is in plain sight. As I hiked away from my car and towards the dunes I would occasionally look over my shoulder and pick a landmark to line up with my vehicle, until I could no longer see my vehicle, in which case I chose a geographical feature that I would use to navigate on the return trip.
Because of the dune’s anonymity and remoteness, it sees far fewer visitors than the more popular Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes or Eureka Dunes. For the ambitious, a hike that starts before first light is likely to reward them with dunes that have pristine ridgelines not yet disturbed by human footprints.
November 3rd, 2019
In the summer of 2007 my father, son, and myself set out on what would be the first of four week long road trips we would take in the west. I had just finished reading about the Transcontinental Railroad and wanted to follow some of the Central Pacific’s route through Nevada and Utah.
On the second day of that trip we ended up at the Golden Spike National Historic Site in Promontory, Utah, which of course, is the location where the Golden Spike was driven to complete the Transcontinental Railroad. On the way between Montello, Nevada, and Promontory, Utah, we followed most of the original railbed alignment stopping to walk on some sections and driving others.
I wasn’t sure what we would find when we got to the Golden Spike site, other than a visitors center, and was pleasantly surprised to find two locomotives sitting nose to nose on the tracks. Replicas of the Central Pacific Railroads Jupiter and the Union Pacific’s No. 119 steam locomotives were positioned in the spot were the two original locomotives would have been on May 10th, 1869.
We parked in the visitor center parking lot and immediately went out to the locomotives. After doing our interpretive poses imitating the iconic images from 1869 I walked around both of the engines snapping pictures from all angles. I tried to stay out of the way of the other person that was there taking photos, a train enthusiast from Australia, who had made the trip from the other side of the globe to Promontory specifically to see this. A conversation was eventually struck and we both agreed that we were fortunate to be there on a day with both locomotives on display.
The road trip finished up 5 days later and the photos eventually ended up on my website. Over the next 10 years I was able to sell a couple of prints of photos taken that day in Promontory and also occasionally refreshed the online image as my Photoshop skills improved. Then, in May of 2017, I received a request from the United States Postal Service to license an image to use as part of the creation of a stamp to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad.
My image would not appear as the stamp but rather it was going to be used as a reference image for artist Michael Deas to design the stamps. Agreements were agreed to, and contracts were signed, followed by the long wait. For over a year I had to resist the urge to shout it out on Twitter and Facebook. I even used hushed tones when discussing it with my family. I didn’t want to give the Postal Service any reason to think I violated the contract.
As 2019 started I would check the USPS website every few days looking for the official announcement. Finally, at the end of January the official announcement was made and it included an image of the 3 pane set. I stared at the screen comparing my photo to the left most of the 3, the clouds were more dramatic but the rest of the image matched in composition and perspective. My photo had been used to create the Jupiter stamp and it was starting to sink in. I had always regarded the completion of the Transcontinental Railroad as one of the United States greatest accomplishments and now, in a very, very, small way I was connected to the history of that accomplishment.
The official stamp release took place on May 10th, 2019, and myself, my wife, and 20,000 other people made our way along the 2 lane road to Promontory Point. It was reminiscent of the final scene of Fields of Dreams with a solid stream of vehicles making their way to a spot in the desert. All those people in all those cars ended up crammed into the area between the Visitors Center and the railroad tracks, listening to the face being projected on the big screen monitors that were set up. I think there was a stage with someone on it but I could never get close enough to tell for certain.
I spent most of the day in the back near where the stamps were being sold and picked up a bunch of first day covers as well as posters of all 3 stamps, all the while casually mentioning the story behind the Jupiter stamp to anyone who would listen.
The biggest surprise of the day came when we were standing in line to make a purchase at the National Park Service gift center. As the line moved forward we passed a rack of re-usable shopping bags featuring a photo of the Jupiter on one side and No.119 on the other. At first I was only thinking what a great idea it would be to use the bag to put all of our purchases in while we waited in line, but then I looked closely at the photo of No. 119 and realized it was one of the ones I had taken back on that road trip in 2007.
November 3rd, 2019
My first patrol aboard the Coast Guard Auxiliary Vessel Silver Charm was in October of 2005. I was a wannabe photojournalist who wanted to put a story together about the San Francisco Fleet Week air show from the perspective of being on the water. A former manager of mine who was in the Auxiliary put me in contact with the owner of the Silver Charm and arrangements were made for me to be a passenger on one of the 4 day long patrols that they would do that year for Fleet Week.
The patrol position was on the west end of the air show box, 800 yards north of the St. Francis Yacht Club and roughly about a mile and a half east of the Golden Gate Bridge. The perspective of shooting from that position was much different than shooting from the crowd line of an air show, the maneuvers look different, you don’t get a great view of the photo passes, but you do get a good view of the aircraft as they exit and enter the show box.
I took a lot of photos on that patrol, wrote an article, but the photo that nagged at me was the one that I wasn’t able to capture. During the Blue Angels demonstration they do a maneuver called a “sneak pass”. The setup for the sneak pass is done by diamond formation doing a Left Echelon Role that starts over the Marine Headlands in the northwest and ends east of Alcatraz. While the formation captures the crowd’s attention and gets them looking toward the east the Lead Solo comes in from the west over Fort Point and drops to an elevation 50 to 100 feet above the bay’s waters before passing along the showline at a speed of 700 mph. On our 2005 patrol it passed by no more than 100 feet to our south and even though I tracked it through the lens of my Canon 20D neither the focus or shutter were quick enough to be effective. Even if I had managed to catch a sharp image it would have been silhouetted.
But alas, that first attempt got me thinking. If the boat was in a position directly in the flight path with the weather conditions conducive to vapor, and I had the equipment that was capable, I could probably get a pretty awesome shot. Ideally, I wanted fog at the Golden Gate in the morning that pushed back in the afternoon so that vapor would appear around the wings and fuselage of the aircraft. I would also need to get lucky with position as it was difficult to predict exactly where dead center of its flight path would be and I wanted to be either right in the flight path or slightly to the south.
The photo I envisioned of the Sneak Pass had become my White Whale. For the 14 years following that initial patrol I would go on at least 1 of Silver Charm’s Fleet Week patrols. Linda Vetter (co-owner and coxswain of Silver Charm) and later her husband Terry Blanchard would do their best to get me in a position if it didn’t conflict with the demands of the patrol. A couple of years we were in the right position but the air was to dry to show vapor and other years conditions were right for vapor but the position was wrong. The equipment I was using was not sufficient no matter which year it was.
In 2019 I had the opportunity to go on Silver Charm for Friday, Saturday, and Sunday’s Fleet Week patrols. It was also the first year that I had the opportunity to shoot with a Canon 7DmkII attached to my 100-400L lens and I was hoping that this would be the year that all of the three factors would come together.
On Friday’s patrol we were in an ideal position and I captured a decent image of the aircraft as it approached us at 700 mph but the air was to dry for much vapor to occur. On Saturday’s patrol our position was just a bit too far to the north and I ended up shooting into the sun. However, the results from the first two days showed promise that I finally had a camera body with the a fast enough focusing system and an fps rate that I could get 3 or 4 images within the ideal range, whereas my previous camera body was good for 1 or 2. I was shooting with the lens at 300mm and I considered the ideal range to be the distance where the plane filled between 1/3 and 2/3rds of the frame.
On Sunday it was cold and windy on the bay as we arrived at our patrol assignment. The fog covered both towers of the Golden Gate Bridge and Carl’s finger stretched towards Alcatraz. Rule of thumb is that if the fog doesn’t clear the towers the Blue Angels won't do their demo. As the tour boats that we were tasked with keeping out of the airshow box arrived near our patrol location we switched our position as the second boat from the south with Coast Guard boat from Station Monterey who was on the corner. We found out over the preceding 2 days that they got more respect from the tour boats than we did.
By the time the Blue Angels started their show the fog had pushed back and sat west of the Golden Gate Bridge. As the diamond formation set up behind the bridge for the Left Echelon Role I double checked my shutter speed and focal length. As the formation started its climb heading east I scanned the west over Fort Point looking for a descending dot. Spotting it with my eye I raised the camera and followed it through the viewfinder. As it approached the ideal range I pressed the shutter button while concentrating on keeping the aircraft in the frame as the boat rolled with the waves. In 7 frames the aircraft passed by overhead, 3 of which I was actually able to not cut off part of the aircraft.
The rest of the air show was anticlimactic. I had a strong feeling that I had caught the image I had been looking for, it looked good on camera’s screen but I wouldn’t know for sure until later when I had downloaded it to my PC. Had I finally captured my white whale? In the end I can't sit back and accept that it's not possible to do better no matter how pleased I am with the results. Next year I hope I get the opportunity to go out and try again.
October 29th, 2019
Merlin's Magic, a North American P-51D Mustang sits on the Reno ramp at sunset. For many years during the 1990's and 2000's the highly polished warbird was a regular competitor at the Reno Air Races.
October 29th, 2019
The first Vought F4U Corsair was delivered to the U.S. Navy in 1940 but due to landing performance issues it became a land based fighter bomber for the U.S. Marines. Known as "whistling death" by the Japanese the aircraft served with distinction in both World War II in the Pacific Theater and during the Korean conflict. In total there were 12,571 F4U Corsairs were manufactured between 1942 and 1953.
October 29th, 2019
Nothing says the Southwest like chili peppers hanging to dry and a bleached steer skull. I stumbled across this scene while wandering the Santa Fe Plaza in New Mexico.
October 29th, 2019
Destiny or a chance encounter? Two sailing rocks on the Racetrack Playa in Death Valley National Park appear to converge from opposite directions leaving a trail behind them. The Racetrack Playa is known for its 'sailing stones' which are rocks that mysteriously move across its surface leaving a trail in their wake.
October 29th, 2019
Solitude. The Racetrack Playa is in a remote section of Death Valley National Park. During the day I only saw 3 other vehicles and 5 people pass through the area. I spent the night there camping in the back of my truck. I was probably the only person in at least a 5 mile radius, if not 20 miles.
October 29th, 2019
The trail left by a sailing rock on the Racetrack Playa in Death Valley National Park is evidence of the rocks motion across the playa. The Racetrack Playa is known for its 'sailing stones' which are rocks that mysteriously move across its surface.
October 29th, 2019
After Interstate 40 bypassed Winslow in the late 1970's, and Route 66 was removed from the maps, Winslow had seen a steady decline. In 1997, after their success in restoring the historic La Posada Hotel, business leaders gathered together to design and build a park in downtown Winslow that paid tribute to the Jackson Browne & Glenn Frey lyrics in the song "Take it Easy" and it was decided to build a park in Winslow's downtown area.
The Standin' On the Corner Foundation sent out requests for proposals to dozen of architects and settled on a design that included a mural and bronze statue depicting a 1970's man standing on the corner wearing jeans, boots, shirt and vest with a guitar standing on the toe of his boot. The park also had planters with built-in seating, native landscaping trees, lighting, and inscribed bricks. After two years of dedicated effort the dedication celebration took place on September 10 & 11, 1999.