Monday, December 29, 2008

Exploring the Mojave National Preserve

With the holidays approaching, Arienne and I decided to load up our van and explore the desert for a few days before joining her family for Christmas in Las Vegas. We didn't really have a solid plan but headed toward Barstow on Hwy 58. Going through the outskirts of Mojave you start seeing the quirkiness of desert life and the effects of downsizing at Edwards Air Force Base.
When we got to Baker on I-15, we followed signs south to an area we had never visited, the Mojave National Preserve. I'd seen some great photos Jack Dykinga had made in the preserve, so thought we'd take a look and headed down Kelbaker Road toward Kelso, an old railroad stop. The Kelso Depot has been freshly renovated and looked more like a suburban Vegas clubhouse than something out of the old west. Fortunately the old post office had retained its "charm."

Tracks at Kelso

Next, we headed out to the expansive Kelso dunes and went for a hike. The dunes were amazing, with signs of wildlife everywhere and remnants of the spring wildflower bloom. We'll have to come back to see that.
Just to the south we could see high granite spires sticking over the horizon so went that way and found a campsite where I could get out and photograph at sunrise while Arienne slept in.

There was a storm rolling in and despite my hopes for a great sunrise, the clouds blocked the good light. It was bitter cold with strong wind, so before long I crawled back in the van and made a second cup of coffee. Arienne was ready to face the world and we went on a nice walk through the unworldly gardens of cactus, yucca, and joshua trees. I can only imagine what it will be like in March or April when everything is blooming!

With a bit of time left we explored some dirt roads near Cima where we found what is apparently the thickest forest of joshua trees in existence. 

Off in the distance I saw an odd wooden structure and figured it could only be the remnant of an old mine. Piles of old tailings were a good clue. We followed a dirt road right to it and spent the better part of the day crawling down inside dark abandoned mine shafts. It was cool to see, and I think we found a gold nugget (fools gold most likely!).

So thats wraps up our first trip to the Mojave Preserve but you can bet we'll be back and next time we'll bring a 4wd so we can really get off the beaten path. If you have any favorite spots to see petroglyphs, wildlife, flowers, etc, I appreciate your input. 
As always, your comments are welcome, and each of the image are available as fine art prints. 

-Jerry Dodrill

Easy Street

As a rock climber of many years, I've endured numerous lectures from well intentioned folks about how dangerous climbing is. "Do you have a death wish? How can you justify such unnecessary risks?" These are age old questions that I continually fail to answer convincingly. A death wish? No. You've never felt more alive than when you're on the edge. But rather than describe the unexplainable about an activity which must be experienced to fully appreciate, I generally ramble on about the odd fact that statistically speaking, rock climbing is quite safe, and that the most dangerous part of climbing is the drive to and from the crag. Strangely, this is true. 
Climbing is indeed a high risk environment, and as a result, we learn redundant systems and methods of communication to mitigate risk. Its heads-up all the time, and because of the inherent risks, we're on our guard and are actually being relatively safe. But at the end of the day, its all too easy to load up your gear, fasten the safety belt, crank the tunes, and blast home. I've never fallen asleep while climbing, but like many of us, I've caught myself nodding behind the wheel more times than I'd like to admit. RedBull and Starbucks have kept me going many hours late at night when I should have stopped and crawled in the back seat. 

Having used this argument over and over to rationalize the risks involved in climbing, I at some point became aware of the staggering number of roadside memorials. One day I was driving along the levees over in the Sacramento Delta and began stopping to photograph them. It was immediately apparent how dangerous our roads are. The memorials are where they are for good reason. Each one was intriguing, unique, tragic, and packed with emotion. Personal items belonging to the deceased, religious icons, newspaper clippings, notes, ornately carved crosses, portraits, plastic flowers, wreaths and statues are left at the place of passing, often mixed with broken glass, bits of rubber and chrome. The weather decomposes everything, adding drama to these impromptu shrines. 

I've made a point to watch for the memorials during my travels and climbing trips, and stop when I can to make photos of the interesting ones. My mind wants to know the story; What happened? Where were they going? Who were they? Just another traveller at the wrong place/wrong time? With so many variables and high rates of speed, anything can happen and there is little time to react. It could be any one of us.

The images here were made this past week out in the desolate Mojave Desert. At some point I'll figure out what to do with this growing body of work. Until then I'll just quote a warning from the Grateful Dead: "When life looks like easy street, there is danger at your door." 

You've lived another year. Congrats, and be safe!

-Jerry Dodrill

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Nov. 5, 2008. Did you get a newspaper today?

I drove all over town looking for one. I hadn't realized how many newspaper machines there are. They are everywhere! But they are all empty. News stands, drug stores, super markets, the liquor store, gas stations... nothing. I thought about stealing one off a neighbor's front porch. Drove to the Press Democrat printing facility in Rohnert Park. Nothing. Sold out. Not a single paper. My wife was looking in a recycling bin at the loading dock when a guy came out. He was sympathetic, looked around then said, "They screwed up and didn't print enough. Meet at Walmart in an hour. I'll have one for you."

We drove to Walmart, about a mile away, and hung out watching the odd big box social phenomenon. The guy rode up on a bike one hour and fifteen minutes later. He had bags of papers on his shoulders. They had finished a second run and he was filling the vending machines. He smiled and gave me one.

"NEW DAWN" was the headline, above a full page photo of President-Elect Barack Obama.

Now on NPR I hear that the whole country is sold out. Go figure.

Got mine.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Autumn in The Valley

Where has the summer gone? Autumn leaves are falling, and what better than a rainy day with a fire burning in the fireplace to catch up on things. Here are some images from the most recent of many excursions over the last few months.

This past week I had the good fortune to watch the turning of the fall colors in Yosemite Valley while teaching a photography course for Elderhostel. When I drove in on Saturday the dogwood trees were bright red, maples yellow, and oaks gold.

Milkweed Eruption, Cooks Meadow

Smoky God Beams near Wawona

Sunrise, El Cap Meadow

Maple, Merced River Canyon

Trippy Autumn Reflection

Majestic Oaks

River Sunrise and color in El Cap Meadow.

The class went well and everyone was excited. As we broke after the final meeting, a great gust of wind blasted the Valley. In ten minutes the Autumn Glory was blown to pieces. Drifts of brightly colored leaves covered the ground, pine needles piled up on the road, and the first winter rain began to fall as I drove home. A perfect week.

Join me for a photo workshop in 2009! May in India, June at Lake Tahoe and October back in Yosemite! More dates announced shortly.


Monday, July 14, 2008

Banner Trip

“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature's peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.” –John Muir
Brad stood nervously on the precipice like a child on the high dive for the very first time. This was his first mountain climb and by the gleam in his eye, I’d guess that it won’t be his last. Jared came up beside him, and Bob popped up over the edge to join us on the summit of Banner Peak (12,945’). The heavens prevailed above while the Earth fell away for thousands of feet to the alpine lakes and chaotic world beyond. For now, we were completely in the moment, filled with nature’s peace, and were indeed receiving the mountain’s good tidings.

Jared had called out of the blue, asking if I wanted to go on a backpacking trip with him and some friends. Arienne was heading off on a business trip and I had some flexibility, so being a sucker for spontaneity, I said “Sure!”

Jared Chaney was a high school class mate of mine, though we didn’t really get to know each other until college. For a few years we were seemingly inseparable. We were both art majors, shared a house, worked together, climbed, mountain biked, and of course chased a few girls. We ended up knowing each other so well that on road trips we barely conversed except to debate opposing positions on irresolvable issues. On climbs we became a well-oiled machine; our system and communication polished to the point of utmost efficiency. It is rare that you find a climbing partner or friend like that.
(Jerry and Jared on Leaning Tower, Yosemite, 1994)
In 1995 Jared left to study architecture at Chico State. Our partnership was broken and we pursued different paths. He got married, had kids, built a house in Ukiah, and established a successful career. I pursued my own career, continued seeking mountain adventures, and found a beautiful bride of my own. Though we rarely saw each other for thirteen years, Jared is one of those friends who you can go long periods without seeing, then pick right up as if only a week had passed.

The day after getting the call, six of us (Jared, Bob, Brad, Chris, Rick, and I) were grinding up the switchbacks on Rush Creek Trail, out of June Lakes on the East side of the Sierra Nevada. The sun beat down unrelentingly without a breath of wind, and smoke from forest fires fouled the usually crystal clear Sierra air. We took the trail to Clark Lakes, intending to unwind for a few days. Though the mosquitoes were insane, the campsite was amazing. We dumped our packs and went fishing. I caught a few brook trout and cooked them in the fire with garlic, wild onions, and lemon. Tasty! There were big views over the canyon edge and the sun, setting through thunderstorms and billowing smoke was spectacular.
That night we sat around the campfire reminiscing about youthful adventures, recounting anecdotes long forgotten, and swapping tall tales with new friends. Eventually, the conversation turned to tomorrow. What should we do? Maps were pulled from packs and pored over in the flickering light. Thousand Island Lake was the unanimous destination, though the mosquitoes were feared to be unbearable. We’d have to keep moving.
Beyond the lake, Mount Ritter and Banner Peak loomed up, dominating the view. I had wanted to bag these peaks for years and started my campaign to motivate and instigate. It wasn’t a completely selfish agenda …well perhaps… but the majority of the group was really excited to give it a go. With this plan, we would have no leisure trip. The easiest route from our camp would be fifteen miles round trip with about six thousand feet of elevation gain and then loss. If climbing had been our original goal, we’d have camped closer to our objective.

We started just after sunrise and fought through a vicious cloud of blood sucking mozzies the whole way, probably loosing a quart of blood between us. The pests motivated us to keep moving.
(click the photo above to enlarge and you'll see the cloud of mosquitos in the sky)
Before eleven we had crested Glacier Lake Pass (11,158) on the west side of the mountain and were at Lake Catherine below the Ritter/Banner glacier. Two of our party decided to wait here while the rest pressed on toward the summit of Banner Peak.
It was rough going but not technical getting up the glacier, scree, and talus that led to the summit. The barometer was dropping on Jared’s altimeter, so the elevation was off. It said we had another eight hundred feet to go, but when Brad climbed up on that block he found nothing but the heavens above. We had arrived.

(L-R" Bob, Brad, Jared, Jerry)
Jared had done a lot of rock climbing, but this was his highest elevation to date and first big Sierra Peak. Bob, Jared's uncle and the oldest of our group at 59, was strong as an ox and un-relenting in his effort. He had climbed Mt. Shasta previously, but this was his first big Sierra peak. It was Brad’s very first climb, and I don't know how many for me. Quite a few.
The descent became rushed as thunderstorms moved in overhead, hail and rain pounded, the wind howled, lightning cracked, and thunder boomed, echoing for an eternity through the granite canyons. It was awesome. We hurried down wet snow and slippery talus fields, nervous that the metal trekking poles we carried would become lighting rods. Thousand Island Lake, and our camp site beyond, were receiving a moderate flash flood, but it didn't quite hit us.
The wind blew its freshness into us, and the storm filled us with its energy. Our feet ached as we hiked back to camp, but our cares had fallen off like the autumn leaves. We fell into silence on the trail, each in our own thoughts, mesmerized by the rhythm of footsteps, content to have received full value from the day.

“To see an old friend in a distant land, is like a refreshing rain after a long drought.”
-fortune cookie wisdom
As I get older I appreciate personal history with friends more and more and value the people with whom I have grown up and experienced both the joy and sorrows of life. It was great making new friends, and fantastic seeing Jared again, climbing, cooking over an open fire, sharing a tent, debating philosophy and religion… carrying on just like old times.
Back in Santa Rosa, we separated our gear in a dirt pullout. I’ve never been one for long good byes, but after such a great trip in the wilderness, it was hard to just drive off and jump back into the fray of life and business. There wasn’t enough time to part ways in a manner that respected the time and experience we had just had together. So we said the normal cordialities; “nice to meet you.” “Hope to see you again sometime.” “See you later.” “Thanks for everything.” Handshakes, hugs all around, and off we went, back to the rat race, talking on cell phones almost as if nothing had happened. But even as we left, I noticed the sun burns and perma-grins acquired during our thrilling adventure were still plastered on our faces. The mountain glow may fade in a few days, but will stay in our memories forever.
© 2008 Jerry Dodrill