The long, long, long mile: Big Basin Redwoods State Park

How long does it take three photographers to walk a flat one mile loop through the Redwood Trail at Big Basin Redwoods State Park in Santa Cruz County, California? Answer: Almost four hours!

No excuses! It was a beautiful trail through a forest of expressive trees, and there was a lot for me, Marlene and Nicci to shoot.

Coastal redwoods (different from its relative the Sequoia) are found from southern Oregon to central California. Needing the coast weather they extend no more than fifty miles inland. These trees can reach 115 m (377 ft) tall. The bark can be very thick, up to 1-foot , and is soft and fibrous. When freshly exposed there is a bright red-brown color that gets darker as the tree is exposed to the elements. Its roots are shallow, wide-spreading and lateral. Redwoods are naturally resistant to insects, fungi, and fire because they are high in tannin and do not produce resin or pitch.

I remember when my children were young and we camped in a grove of coastal redwoods in Northern California. We went to a campfire program, but I left my flashlight at camp. I was good at walking by starlight, but the forest was so thick, we couldn’t see in front of us. Once I found a family who was walking back to the same campground, we followed them. I’ve never assumed that I could walk via moon and star lights again!

As for what lessons we learned:

  1. Always carry in your tripod. The forest is dark!
  2. Use a fast lens.
  3. Pack a lunch. Don’t count on a fast visit. Fortunately we brought snacks, and the cafe had a limited amount of lunch items.

Take a look at why it took us so long to walk that mile!

Failure, fun, fantastic: Auburn

They say we learn from our mistakes and Marlene, Karen and I did. Following a suggestion, we went to Lake Clementine near Auburn, but didn’t get to the right place. By the time we found the area where we could practice with our ND filters, the sun was too high–A fact we learned later. That was the failure, but we did learn. When using ND filters, you need to be out early morning or in the evening!

Fun, we did have. We drove on to Auburn where we had lunch, walked and took pictures. We went into the old courthouse and were allowed to take pictures anywhere we liked. It was fun.

Fantastic, happened when we started looking for a place to shoot the sunset. The place a restaurant owner directed us to, wasn’t suitable, and the sun was setting lower in the sky. Off we drove until we came to a private home with acreage, trees and a small pond. This would be perfect. With a lot of coaxing from me, (Okay, I strongly suggested that Karen get out of the car and ask the owners if we could park in their driveway and shoot the sunset at the property. I was driving.) Karen and Marlene bravely pressed the button on the gate code intercom. It paid off. We were allowed to park in the driveway and shoot the sunset.

So, on this great outing, failure led to fun, and more fantastic shooting opportunities. Next time we go to the area near Lake Clementine, we’ll do it earlier in the morning. It’s a small hike to the waterfall, and we’d all rather do it in cooler temperatures and when the sun isn’t so high.


Mustard and Alpacas: Napa California

We expected wineries but photo buddy Karen took us on a special tour of Napa and Napa Valley. We didn’t see the touristy Napa Valley as described here, taken from the Napa Valley website: “More than 400 wineries dot the fertile soils of Napa Valley, one of the world’s premier viticultural regions. But wine, as visitors quickly discover, is only the beginning. Lavish resorts and top-rated chefs work alongside the farmers who tend this land: the result is something understated and exceptional.”

We saw the real Napa Valley. During our day we saw Lake Solano Park, Monticello Dam, rolling green hills, mustard tucked in between rows of vineyards, livestock grazing, alpacas and where her husband’s family ranch used to be. And we visited Napa City towards the end of day for some fantastic lighting.

Let’s see, what did I learn? I discovered the difference between llamas and alpacas, and again took the ultra wide lens out for a spin. So take a look at the Napa we saw on our recent visit with Karen.

Do you know the way to San Jose? Livermore & Sunol Regional Wilderness Park

My trip to San Jose, for my yearly vision board session, with Marlene was going according to plan. We stopped in Livermore to shoot the sights and eat lunch.

While Livermore is nationally known as the home for the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, it’s a small, lovely town nestled in rolling hills. We walked around Historic Downtown, and I thoroughly enjoyed the way it was designed.

Next we stopped at the Sunol Regional Wilderness Park. I always wanted to get off the freeway to see what was hidden in the hills as I would go to San Jose, but never took the time. This was the time! It’s a beautiful area and now green because of our recent rains. There are many parks, lakes, etc. for residents to enjoy. Our stop was at the Sunol Regional Wilderness. Located in Alameda County and near the town of Sunol. It was primarily ranch land, and today cattle still graze in some areas. We enjoyed shooting in this beautiful park; however, our adventure went awry when we left.

I have no idea what got into me. Maybe it was the Greg Morris influence, but I saw that Calaveras Road continued on into Milpitas. I had my trusty GPS with me. And Marlene didn’t say “No, I don’t think it’s a good idea to go that way!” So off we went on a joy ride that would include mostly hairpin turns on an extremely narrow road. Not knowing the road, I was going around 18 to 25 miles per hour and the drivers coming the other way were cruising at about 40 miles per hour! Worse, remember those hairpin turns? They came around so fast and had to break when they saw me. Moving over wasn’t so much of an option with a shear drop on one side and a mountain on the other. At one point, Marlene suggested that the car came with a horn to use as a warning device.

We made it. But we weren’t able to pull over and take pictures of the beautiful scenery that included the Calaveras Reservoir. So, we made mental pictures, and I can’t show them to you. You can click on the link to see someone else’s images!

Going off plan proved adventurous, somewhat nerve racking at times, but gave me something to write about.



What’s in a name?: Capay Valley

Well, what is in a name? Everything! As a former journalist and copywriter, I know that a name is very important. When you name a new company, it has to fit the personality and style of the group. It also has to appeal and suggest a benefit to the potential customer. So here we are with our newly formed Tuesday group, and still no name.

Now you’re thinking, why do they need a name. It’s simple, for the reasons above. After weeks of thinking, bantering and laughing –mostly because I threatened not to let them go home at the end of a long day shooting–we have a name! It is Camera Totin’ Tuesdays. I won’t go into what other choices we came up with, at least not in print. It’s amazing how silly you can get on Diet Coke, tea and water! Boy, do we know how to have fun.

And the name’s working already. We have two women wanting to journey with us when they can. Sometimes we know exactly where we’re going, and other times we just drive and see where the road takes us. We are secure with a GPS and a “Home” button.

This journey took us into Capay Valley. Karen was our guide since she knew the area. This valley is a mostly rural area northwest of Sacramento in Yolo County. Dotted with small towns, it was beautiful with rolling hills and great color. It’s amazing what a little water can do. With mostly farms, the culture is quite different from urban Sacramento and its suburbs.

I think the name Capay has something to do with American Indian culture since a few different tribes have inhabited the valley. I wish I could say for sure because names do tell tales!


Fun day, snow day: Donner Lake, CA

Let’s see: boots, check; flannel lined leggings, check; three layers on top, check; knitted head scarf, check. I’m all ready for a fun day of shooting in the snow at Donner Lake.

Marlene, Linda and I went off early one Saturday morning to get ahead of the weekend crowds. However, to our surprise, there weren’t a bunch of people on the Donner Lake roads. It was beautiful with temperatures in the high 50’s (Fahrenheit) and sunny. What fun.

The reality is that we drove around the lake, drove to the mountain top and drove into the nearby town of Truckee. Yes, we did get out, walk around and shoot. But, we didn’t hike. Still, the thrill of stepping into a foot of snow was there. At one time, I did fall, butt down, into the fresh icy snow. When I fall, so do my two cameras hanging from a sling. I got up and wiped them down with a towel I brought along. They didn’t suffer. Neither did I.

Since this was my first time shooting in the snow, I read tutorials. Of course they contradicted each other! That’s the frustrating about learning photography, there are many ways to achieve the same end. So, I decided to bracket my shots. At least one of the three would be good, right? When I uploaded them to my computer, I decided that the original exposure shot was the correct one. They did need some processing in Lightroom to tone down the white and, sometimes, blue of the snow.

And, we met a few nice people who were more than willing to chat. I get it now Greg! What did I learn from this experience? I discovered that whatever your physical capabilities you can have fun in the snow. Just make sure you’re covered for whatever weather Mother Nature brings–boots, hat, enough clothing layers and good friends.

Going and looking back: Grass Valley, California

We are in a morphing stage. Since Greg’s passing, our Tuesdays With Seniors group hasn’t been the same. We’ve reformed and are now enjoying the company of pre-seniors. It was during this time that our two new members, Rita and Karen, and I went to Grass Valley and the Empire Mine State Park.

I had been there twice with Greg, and he was the tour guide. He mostly showed me the town, various high points and the countryside. He used to live in Nevada City and for him it was a homecoming.

I find Grass Valley old town a little less touristy than Nevada City. We went to both, but shot mostly in Grass Valley. Once again, I needed to shoot the familiar scene a little differently. I didn’t do HDR or carry a tripod as I had done on my two previous visits. I tried different angles and got in a little closer in some shots, especially at the mine.

This time our visit to the Empire Mine, where I did use a tripod and shot HDR,  yielded an unauthorized brief tour of the cottage. The ranger in the office turned her head and allowed the docent to take us in. We were like children in the candy store, that is until the alarm went off. Our docent, probably feeling like he got caught with his hand in the candy jar, was busy trying to turn off the blaring sound. Soon we heard an additional but different blare–the second alarm! We took our shots quickly because we knew that once the alarms were turned off, our sneak peak into the cottage would be over.

But, the fun isn’t over, and I look forward to more adventures with this re-formed group. We will have a new name which will be decided tomorrow during our Napa visit.


Bernie Sanders lost a vote and supporter: RIP Greg Morris

First of all, my photo buddy, friend and mentor, Greg Morris was never one to not speak his mind, especially on politics. So, when I first got the news of his death during the morning of January 31, the first thing I said to my husband was: “Bernie Sanders just lost a vote.” Richard knew what that meant because we’ve been expecting that phone call for a couple of weeks.

Greg not only introduced me to his candidate, Bernie Sanders, but to a great deal about photography. He loved HDR, his tripod and talking to people. He’d always remind me to bring my tripod along on photo outings. Just once, I caught him hand holding his camera.

Greg chats with a homeless man in Midtown, Sacramento.

He also introduced me to towns (Locke was a favorite), rivers and out of the way places I would have never known existed. The greatest part, he never took a freeway! That’s why it took us so long to get anywhere. He was our driver and guide, never taking gas money. So, Marlene and I would treat him to lunch at various places he knew of. Small restaurants with great food. Only once did he disappoint us. He promised us the best pizza in Downieville; however all the restaurants in that small town were closed for the season!

Greg poses as the famous Mona Lisa in Locke. He then had me pose in another cutout.
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Thank goodness the Downieville grocery was open. It may not have provided us with pizza, but my rice bowl was good.

We never got a chance to go back for that pizza during the season. Greg passed away from a cancerous Glioblastoma brain tumor. From the diagnosis to the end was three short months. Soon the guide became the guided as Marlene and I took him out locally for photo shoots. It amazed me that as frazzled as his brain was becoming, once we arrived at the shoot, he’d get his photo gear ready and was once again the amazing photographer.

Greg’s outing with us was to Discovery Park, Sacramento.

As much as he loved photography, he loved his family: daughters Tiffany, Erica and Mimi; his two granddaughters, and niece Shonna and her family. We are all going to miss this guy with the wonderful sense of humor who would sing to cows, do weekly crazy selfies and post them on Sacramento Photographers, chat with strangers, give restaurant wait staff a humorous time (It was usually the same old line.), help new photographers and not only post great pictures, but give us a history lesson too.

RIP Greg. And, Bernie, don’t worry, I’ll vote for you. Greg did convince me.