Walter C Photo Musings

OR / CA Volcanic Adventure 2017

I had REALLY BIG plans to see the Solar Eclipse and several National Parks that never materialized.  My adventure would have started in Las Vegas and weaved through NV, UT, ID, OR and CA returning from San Francisco.   But Life happens —Tabby, our 16-year old cat, had dental problems and his declining health took precedence over my travel plans and I had to cancel and abandon all.

Two months later, Tabby is doing fantastic.  $2K was money well spent on him, but I was still slightly bummed about missing my summer trip.  As October approached my sense of wanderlust could no longer be contained.  I decided Columbus Day Weekend would be my last chance for a 2017 trip.  Using airline miles and hotel points I quickly booked a low-cost 4-day trip, which included a $75 close-in fee for last-minute award travel. 

After completing my 50-states goal in 2015, I’m now focusing on National Parks and Monuments, and this trip would focus on Volcanic parks.  I also needed new images for my lecture …it’s on my LIST! as well as images for my 2018 AMERICA wall calendar.

Saturday 10/7 was my travel day.  I arrived at EWR around 9 AM and tried to park at my favorite off-site Parking Spot Haynes only to be told that they were full and were accepting reservations only.  A very nice gate attendant had mercy on me and allowed me to back up and enter the Valet entrance—she  then walked me over and provided that attendant with a coupon for regular rates.  (Lakeysha received recognition and appreciation from me on the company’s survey and social media site!)

TSA pre-check went smoothly so I went to the United Club for a second breakfast and to get some snacks for the long flight departing at noon to San Francisco.  This was followed by a short connector flight to my final destination of Medford, Oregon.

I love short-term west coast trips while maintaining my east coast body clock.  After landing at 5:22 local time and picking up luggage and rental car, it was a short drive to the Holiday Inn Express Central Point.  I was in bed and lights out by 7:00 PM with plans for an early rise and 3:00 AM departure. (Easy for me as it was 10:00 PM and 6:00 AM east coast time.)

The hotel provided me with a special bagged breakfast as I departed on my middle of the night drive to meet the sun at the rim of Crater Lake National Park.  The air was crisp only 46˚ when I started my Hyundai Accent (small sub-compact with great MPG) and freaked out the dog that was sleeping in the back of a capped pick-up truck nearby.

I quickly became aware that I was seemingly the only car on Route 62 East driving out of Medford into the darkness.  As the elevation rose from around 1600 ft. in the Rogue Valley, I watched the outside temperature gauge drop steadily over the next 2 hours to below freezing.

A 70s / 80s oldies station kept me company as my little Hyundai steadily climbed upward on a constant 10-20% slope of this stratovolcano called Mount Manama.

Dappled moonlight occasionally illuminated the passenger seat and distracted me, causing me to initially question where this random light was originating.  As the grade steepened near the summit a light misty rain on my windshield dampened my hopes for a spectacular sunrise.   

At about 5 AM I reached the entrance to the National Park to find the rain had turned to a light sticky snow and my mood quickly returned to excitement.  I was the first car making tracks through this first snowfall of the season at the 7000 ft. rim of the crater.

The light snow squalls alternated with clear skies and a bright waxing gibbous moon illuminated Wizard Island.  Familiar constellations like the Dippers and Orion were visible between the rapidly moving clouds as Venus shined brightly on the southeastern horizon.

I started shooting from a few locations along West Rim Drive trying to determine the optimal location to view the sunrise.  Dawn’s first light began around 6:30 before the sunrise at 7:15.  Conditions were more cloudy than clear but an amazing color show followed.  I departed immediately after the peak of the Technicolor light show, exiting Rim Village to circle around East Rim Drive to hopefully greet the rising sun. 

Roads were wet and slick and my ABS kicked-in a few times, forcing me to drive more cautiously around the winding turns toward Pinnacles Road.  Mist rising from the canyon below added even more visual spectacle.  The half-hour drive to the Pinnacles was well worth it to see these hoodoo-like volcanic fumaroles illuminated against the backdrop of an evergreen-covered hillside.  

The best light was over by 9:00 AM so I continued driving eastward on Route 62 down the eastern slope of this huge shield mountain to the beautiful Klamath Valley below.  It was around noon when I reached Klamath Falls and time to find gas.  I felt like I was still  home in NJ having a gas attendant fill the tank for me.  (NJ & OR are the only states remaining without self-service gas.)

From Klamath Falls I continued south on Rt 97 and Rt 39 crossing the state line into California.  At Tulelake I turned westward towards Lava Beds National Monument.  Volcanic flows were obvious and everywhere in the Tule Lake Valley.  I photographed beautiful yellow and beige wildflowers growing throughout the field of lava clinkers and cinders.

In addition to the lava beds, this park is also famous for its many caves and lava tubes.   At the Visitor Center one must apply for a caving permit.  Since I was wearing boots which I also wore when visiting Wind Cave N.P. last August, it was determined that I could potentially spread the dreadful fungus-causing (WNS) White-nose syndrome which has been affecting cave bats since 2012.  I didn’t want to add to the problem so I chose not visit the caves.

I asked the Park Ranger about alternate routes out of the park.  He showed me a map and told me about Glass Mountain in the Medicine Lake Highlands of Modoc National Forest and added that it was made of Obsidian (volcanic glass). 

After an hour’s drive on paved and unpaved roads I succeeded in finding the tiny sign indicating the turnoff for Glass Mountain which the ranger marked on a photocopied hand-drawn map.  As I switch-backed up a narrow dirt road with amazing vistas, I questioned how smart a move it was and wondered if my little Hyundai could handle it.  Upon reaching the summit I was rewarded with finding the Holy Grail — an outcropping of pumice with black bands of the obsidian flow!

After another very long  switch-backing drive down Glass Mountain, roads eventually led me to McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park where I photographed the impressive waterfall—once referred to by President Theodore Roosevelt as “the Eighth Wonder of the World.”

Sunset was fast approaching and I still had another hour’s drive down Rt 277 to Redding, California where I checked into the Hampton Inn ending my 400+ mile volcanic first day.

Monday morning started around 4 AM with a 2-hour drive East on Rt 44 up to the next stratovolcano, Mount Lassen.  From the warm Central Valley, I again experienced the temps drop to just above freezing by the time I reached the north entrance of Lassen National Volcanic Park near Manzanita Lake. 

I was a little concerned when I realized I had less than a 100-mile range remaining in the gas tank.  I should have filled up in Redding, but was pleased to find a 24-hour self-service pump near the campground. 

Some light cloud cover and the mountain’s long shadow eliminated any chance of a colorful morning light show.  However, with a full tank of gas I continued south on Rt 89 and circled the volcano to its eastern side which had clear skies and a piercing sun, blinding me through my very dirty windshield.  I feared oncoming traffic, however at this early hour I was again the only car on the road. 

Driving past Chaos Crags and Jumbles I encountered the Devastated Area where I shot a few images of trees backlit by the low morning sun.  I found myself dodging rocks of all sizes on the roadway.  Rock slides were apparently commonplace, even where their source wasn’t obvious.  Perhaps small quakes or tremors loosened them from high above.

I could not find any clear vantage point to shoot the sunlit Reading Peak until finally reaching the southeast corner near Kings Creek.  As my car crested the summit, my phone finally chirped letting me know I had cell service for the first time.  I pulled over near the 8,511 foot elevation sign, to call Susan to say “good morning” as I had done the day before from the snow-covered West Rim at Crater Lake.

It was only a short drive over the crest to the parking area for Bumpass Hell.  This 16-acre geothermal feature was my primary must-see at Lassen.  The trail is often closed because of snow pack and usually opens by Independence Day—2017 was one of its latest openings on August 22nd!

After stepping outside to a crisp 34˚ morning, I layered up with a few sweatshirts, knit hat and gloves to prepare for my 3-mile hike.  Signs at the trailhead warned of the dangers ahead and asked the hiker to question if they could handle the “moderate” hike.  It advised to bring extra water, flashlights, hiking boots, and most importantlyto stay on the boardwalk or else you might misstep and descend into Bumpass Hell!

Kendall Van Hook Bumpass, for whom this site is named, was a 19th century pioneer and miner, who, in 1865, broke through the thin crust surface of the mud bank into the scalding muck beneath and consequently lost his leg by amputation.  The water temperature at the “Big Boiler” has been measured at over 300˚F making it one of the hottest geothermal fumaroles in the world.

My east coast body clock was serving me well, but my east coast sea level (BOD) biological oxygen demand was a major disadvantage.  The thin air above 8,500 ft. forced me to stop quite often and reflect on the warning and question if I was truly up for the challenge.  The trail climbed 500 feet to a crest where one first smells the sulphurous odors from the geothermal basin 300 feet below.  First sighting of steam rising from the basin was reward enough to push onward down to the boardwalk area.  The 1.5 mile hike took me 1 hour!

The clear skies with low-angled sun created picture-perfect conditions and I spent an hour capturing the magic at Bumpass Hell.  The return hike was an equally slow climb out of the basin where I encountered incoming hikers and told them it was going to be worth their effort.

Driving back down the mountain to the Southwest Entrance I stopped to photograph boiling mud pots at the Sulphur Works before exiting the park at Mineral and continued westward on Rt 36 towards Red Bluff.

I spent the balance of the afternoon driving northward to be closer to Oregon for my Tuesday flight home.  I spent the night at the Holiday Inn Express at Yreka near Mt. Shasta, another volcanic wonder of Northern California.

Tuesday morning I was out the door at 5 AM and very pleased to find the breakfast buffet was ready an hour early!  I loaded up on fuel for both body and car and drove northeast towards Lava Beds NM where I missed seeing Petroglyph Point on Sunday.  

I took Rt 97 though downtown Dorris, drove past the second tallest flagpole in the world, and then turned right onto CA 161 to find a colorful sunrise at Lower Klamath National Wildlife Refuge—the Nation’s First Waterfowl Refuge established by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1908.  The waters were covered with mallards, gadwalls, scoters and black brant geese, making great photos against the pink skies to the east.

My journey continued south on Rt 39 through Tulelake and onto Petroglyph Point Archeological site, which showcased the carved geometric art of the Modoc peoples dating between 2500- 4500 years ago.

By mid-morning, it was time to make a mad dash back to Medford for my flight home.  I chose a less traveled historic route across OR-66, Green Springs Highway through the new Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, where Pilot Rock, an extinct volcanic neck similar to Devils Tower, rises above the mountain ridge on the Pacific Crest Trail.

The thrilling winding road down the Cascade Mountains toward Ashland made me glad I was on the inside lane of this no guiderail highway—an exciting white-knuckled finish to my adventure.

I spent 60 hours on the ground and drove 880 miles, visited several National Parks, Monuments, Forests and Refuges, capturing hundreds of images celebrating the Volcanic Legacy of Southern Oregon and Northern California.





Upper Midwest Adventure Summary

After my 48-hour adventure to Minnesota, Wisconsin and North Dakota, I have a few general observations:

  1. People of the Upper Midwest are genuinely nice and their driving manners are exemplary!
  2. Frontier Airlines was a great discovery!  Low fares, new  planes, nice people, and flies from regional airport in Central NJ—I’ll definitely be flying with them again!
  3. Camera wise, I didn’t see any significant difference between the Canon 5DMKII versus the 5DS…just bigger files.
  4. Completing my 50 states in North Dakota was wonderful—saving the best for last!
  5. Despite the rainy weather for half of my trip, and post-peak autumn conditions, the landscape was beautiful and worth a return visit another time.

Upper Midwest Adventure – Day 3

The rains ended during the night as I glanced out the window to see Venus and Jupiter shining brightly in the southeastern sky.   I got out around 5:30 hoping to find the classic Fargo Theater sign neon still aglow but was disappointed to find the were lights turned off—still a good shot.

I then tried to find a vantage point along the Red River for some water & sky images, but again was disappointed to find all the parks gated for the night.  I returned to the hotel for a late breakfast (7 AM on the weekends) before departing for a day touring Northern Minnesota.

I drove eastward on MN Rt-10 through expansive farmland, occasionally pausing to shoot some grain elevators silhouetted in the predawn glow.  I made it to Detroit Lakes as the sun broke the horizon just before 8 AM.

Passing through the village of Audubon, I noticed signs for Hamden Slough National Wildlife Refuge and decided to follow them northward through the fields.  This is glacial black soil country and the wet dirt roads were difficult to maneuver in my rental Camry.

I didn’t know what to expect from a wildlife refuge in farm country.  Signs indicated I had entered the refuge but it just looked like more of the same.  Finally I saw a small pond in low area with a few ducks near the rushes.  The sun was bit higher and the field grasses were aglow with red light.  I found an information booth which offered a history of the refuge and defined the environment as Prairie Pothole Wetlands.

Around the next left turn of the field grid system I was treated to an amazing spectacle —a larger pond filled with Trumpeter Swans (Cygnus buccinator) illuminated in the low-angled sunlight.  The windows went down and I grabbed the 5Ds with 100-300 tele and fired away—I appreciated having the extra 100 mm reach in this new zoom design.

I then risked getting out of the car for closer shots.  The swans went silent while they assessed the risk of my presence.  I stood still and they accepted I wasn’t a threat, returning to their happy social honking and I continued to shoot some of the best shots of the adventure.

I continued  northward on MN Rt-59 then eastward on MN Rt-113 through White Earth Indian Reservation grabbing window shots along the way.  I was heading to my primary target of the day—Itasca State Park in search of the headwaters of the Mississippi River.

Northern Minnesota was well past peak and 90% of the trees were winter bare.  However golden needles of Tamarack (Larix laricina) a deciduous conifer provided wonderful splashes of color.   The headwaters experience didn’t disappoint.  You can cross the Mississippi River in a variety of ways.  Although tradition calls for getting your feet wet, I chose to stay dry and use the walk bridge and log to cross.  The light was fantastic making some good images.

Feeling great about the morning I hurried back to the car with plans oo go on to Bemidji and possibly Voyageurs N.P.  When I started the car a “Maintenance Required” light appeared and changed everything.  I made the decision to not risk things by going farther north, but rather return to the airport along the main roads.

Arriving in Minneapolis a few hours earlier than planned, I enjoyed a late afternoon walk through Minnehaha Falls Park, part of the Mississippi River National River and Recreation Area.   Although I had to abandon my north country plans, I was rewarded with great peak foliage and shooting a 53-foot waterfall made famous in the Song of Hiawatha .(Interestingly Longfellow never saw the falls!)

Back to MSP and the end of the adventure.  Summary and slideshow to follow soon!

Upper Midwest Adventure – Day 2

A rainy start to my day didn’t dampen my spirit of adventure or resolve. 

After a restless night and early rise I was out the door around 6:30 driving eastward to Wisconsin.  Sunrise was due at 7:56 but there was no expectation of that as my wipers cleared a light rain falling in the morning darkness.  The news reported that had it had not rained for weeks and they were happy to have it—I didn’t feel the same.

I found my way to Willow River State Park but sat in the parking lot staring at the rain on my windshield for about an hour.  Without rain gear, there was no way I could hike to the falls without damaging the cameras.

I reluctantly departed and decided to drive north to find another waterfall about 30 miles away with closer access.   As I left the parking lot, the Tire Pressure Warning Light came on and I became very concerned considering I was in the middle of nowhere.  I’ve had experience with this light before—one time it meant a very quick flat and other times it was just the result of the air temperature or a slow leak.

I cautiously drove north to Somerset, WI and was fortunate to find a small tire center open that discovered a roofing nail leaking air badly from my rear tire.  A half hour later on my way with new confidence.  Northview Service had WiFi and I was able to check the weather radar. There seemed to be a short lull between two bands of heavy rain so  I decided to return to Willow to attempt to shoot the falls.

I made the one mile hike into the gorge on a wet leaf-covered path that was steeper than any I’ve ever walked before.  The light was very low perfect for long exposures of the impressive Willow River Falls.   I stayed long enough to get some good images but departed quickly for the heart-pounding climb back to the parking lot before the expected next band of rain.

As I began to drive back towards Minnesota the rain returned with a vengeance. I abandoned my other shooting plans and began a 4-hour rainy drive towards North Dakota, hoping to arrive before dark.

The rain never lightened during that treacherous drive.  Around 3 PM as I crossed the Red River,  “I Can Hear Music”  featuring Carl Wilson’s exquisite vocals played on the radio and welcomed me into North Dakota.  (Listen )

In Fargo I stopped at the visitor’s center for maps and brochures and volunteered that it was a special day for me, completing my 50 state list in ND.  They asked if I was aware of the their club.  I said I wasn’t.  Apparently many other people also visit ND as their final state, so they started the  YOU SAVED THE BEST FOR LAST” Club. 


I  was then ceremoniously presented with gifts (T-Shirt / Magnet / Lapel Pin / Membership Card and Certificate) and posed for photos.  It was the high point of the day!

I then went to visit the Roger Maris Museum at the local mall and then checked into the Homewood Suites Fargo for a rainy evening of blogging.  Hoping for clear skies tomorrow!

Upper Midwest Adventure – Day 1

A few weeks ago, while sitting in my car between presentations checking e-mail, I saw a promotional flash sale that seemed too good to be true.   I quickly phoned Susan to double check my calendar.  Am I doing anything 10/22 – 10/24?”   With her confirmation that the dates were indeed open for me, I quickly jumped on the offer and purchased a roundtrip ticket on Frontier Airlines for $1 each way—with taxes I paid $30 for a roundtrip ticket from TRENTON to MINNEAPOLIS.

Why Minneapolis?  Well, it happens to be nestled between two states still missing from my “States LIST”—WI and ND.  A 48-hour adventure to the Upper Midwest will complete the list and hopefully yield some interesting photos for my AMERICA calendar.

For this trip, I borrowed some equipment from CANON and I’m eager to see what 50 megapixels looks on a 5Ds body on a few new zooms an EF 16-35mm f/4L IS and an EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6L IS.

I’m also flying out a small regional airport for the first time.  TTN is about 45 minutes from my home with an easy drive through bucolic Somerset and Mercer counties with no hassle reasonable parking ($8/day) and a short walk to the terminal.

The airport WiFi was very weak in the main terminal and even worse after security.  The page loads were so slow it wasn’t worth the wait…reminiscent of the early days of AOL dial-up.

Frontier is a budget airline where everything has a price, including carry-on bags and even the ability to select your own seat.  I love a bargain and made it a mission to see how cheaply I could fly.  I checked-in online and fearlessly passed all the offers accepting the no cost option of whatever seat was available

Prior to the trip I also decided to buy a new smaller hard case for my cameras.  Frontier does allow one personal item such as a briefcase.  I found a small case that was within the(14x18x8) limit not considered a carry-on.  The cost of the case was $29 on eBay cheaper than $30 carry-on fee would have been at the gate.

Within this case I successfully packed 2 cameras with 3 lenses, 13” MacBook Pro, i Pad mini, GPS, assorted power chargers and accessories.  The hardware was buffered with some underwear, socks and a toothbrush.  On my body I layered a  polo-shirt, denim shirt, pullover sweatshirt and a coat; even though it was a balmy 76 in NJ, I expect it would be chilly in MN.

The Frontier airport staff seemed young, hip and friendly.  There were no lines for security and TSA procedures were the same as larger airports including arms-up x-ray, and pat down of my bulky sweatshirt. 

The transition between the incoming plane’s arrival and passenger deplaning to our boarding seemed very quick.  No jetway at TTN so we lined-up and walked outside and up portable ramps near the plane.  It only took a few minutes until we were soon ready for takeoff.  The flight crew was equally cool and quirky as orange-haired “Crystal Dawn” gave the safety announcements.  The A319 was about 60% full and as soon as the cabin door closed, we were allowed to spread out and find better seats.  Of course, food and drink was for sale, but I brought a bag of nuts and Craisins to graze on while I wrote this blog.

My flight landed at 7:38 CDST, I rented a Camry from Hertz,  and drove a few miles to stay for at the Hampton Inn St. Paul-Woodbury using  Hilton Honors points.   Tomorrow AM I’ll cross the St. Croix river into Hudson, WISCONSIN (#49) and shoot some waterfalls at Willow State Park.   Photos coming soon!

Macro Walk

After days of gloomy weather, clearing skies prompted a late afternoon walk at a local park with one of my favorite lenses, the Canon EF100 mm f/2.8 USM Macro.  This popular lens introduced in 2006 is still available today and retails around $550 new, or $300 – $400 for used or refurbished.  A newer “L ” version with image stabilization is also available for around $900.


This 100 mm macro is an optimal focal length and very versatile.  It offers 2X magnification as a short telephoto, as well as 1:1 close focusing for capturing detail at a reasonable distance. Although autumn color was the subject of the day, it’s also an excellent lens for portraiture.

In my opinion, the 100 mm USM Macro is one of the best value lenses available from Canon; very sharp, distortion free, a great walk-around lens.

Judging a Photo Contest

For several years, I have judged the Hunterdon County Library Photo Contest and this week I enjoyed my return visit for their annual show.  I also judge several other photo shows, which seems somewhat ironic considering that I personally have never entered a photo contest.

Some photography contests have strict judging guidelines, following the 12 criterion of the Photographic Exhibitions Committee of the Professional Photographers of America; other contests are more relaxed and judging is based on the whims of the jurors.  In general, all contests are judged on technical quality, composition and artistic appeal.

The Hunterdon show is an amateur contest which includes a student category.  I always enjoy seeing the images of young artists who haven’t yet been stifled by life, rules or expectations.

When I walk into the gallery, I do a very quick scan of all the entries and 99% of the time the winners emerge from that first impression.  I’m often surprised to find so many entries that are technically not up to par, either too dark, too light or simply out of focus.  

Other personal peeves include overly-manipulated images with unnatural coloration or hyper-sharpening .  Although I am judging the image I also consider the presentation and I reject sloppy matting or framing, and conversely I’m wary of images with over-the-top custom framing or photos that exceed the contest’s size limit.  Yes, bigger is better, but playing by the rules wins the ribbon as well as my respect.

After rejecting the technically deficient, it comes down to originality and artistic appeal which is very apparent to me at first glance.


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