Wednesday, October 31, 2012

So Close, Yet So Far... Santa Catalina...

I've often said that, as much as I love to travel, that I love shooting in what is, essentially, my backyard. Southern California offers some amazing opportunities. The recent entries on Joshua Tree and Calico bear that out. Hop in the car, gas it up, and hit the road.
 
But what do you do if driving isn't an option? What do you do if you want to go somewhere to which no road goes?
 
Well, you get on a boat, that's what you do.
 
In this case, the destination was the Santa Catalina and the City of Avalon, roughly 81 miles northwest of downtown San Diego.
 
Now, because of the distance, there is no ferry service from San Diego to Catalina. It was discussed back in 1986, but a moratorium on business expansion in the City of Avalon stood in the way of that service being offered. Besides, it would be a solid four to five hour trip, and that's just silly. Instead, a quick 45 minute drive north provided us the boarding point for the Catalina Express, which only had to make one hour and twenty minute trip from Dana Point to Avalon Bay.
 
I've made the trip to Catalina, from either Dana Point or Newport Beach (which is about 15 miles north of Dana Point) a number of times and, usually, it's an uneventful trip. Every once in a while, though, nature happens. In this particular case, "nature" took the form of the largest school of dolphins I've ever seen. It was enormous, and they were playful:
 

 
 
Once on the island, you have two choices: You can either rent a golf cart, or you can walk around wishing you had. We opted to rent one, as it would afford us the ability to not only see a lot more of the island, but would also get us to those higher points where the vistas are truly inspiring. Thank you Catalina Limos:
 
The first one they gave us didn't run, so they gave us this brand new one... Cool...
 
One of the cool things we discovered about the golf cart was that it was actually well-suited for a photo caravan. Check this out:
 
From left to right: Quantaray 19-35mm, Canon G12, Canon 100mm macro, a bottle of water.
In the space at far right, out of focus, is an iPad...
 
Now, as I said, the main reason for renting a golf cart is to get you to those vista points; those points you would be loathe to walk to. Now, you might suspect that a golf cart rental isn't cheap and, at $80.00 for three hours, you would be right. But, once you get to those vista points, any concerns over what you paid just evaporate:
 
A view of Avalon Bay from high above...

Avalon Bay...
 
A sailboat off the coast of Santa Catalina Island...

Homes overlooking Avalon Bay...

This is, without question, a tourist destination. The calm, warm waters are outstanding for diving, and the beaches are about as pristine as you could hope to find anywhere in southern California. Relatively few people live here (less than 4,000), and there are very few motor vehicles. Everyone drives a golf cart and, if you want to bring a car or truck over, you need to get a special permit and actually have a reason for having it on the island.
 
Tourists come by the literal boatload, every day, though. In fact, if you don't buy your ferry tickets well in advance, you may not get to the island at all. 
 
The most imposing feature of Avalon Bay, without question, is the Catalina Casino, which was built by William Wrigley in 1929 (Catalina has actually played host to the Chicago Cubs spring training camp way back when). It houses a theatre, a ballroom and a museum. The theatre alone seats over 1,100 people, and has a single move screen.
 
I hear the theme from James Bond every time I look at this picture...
The box office at the Catalina Casino. Currently showing ? "Taken 2"...


One of the entrances into the Catalina Casino...
 
Catalina is home to various species of wildlife, including both bison and deer. While I can't speak to the issue of bison, the deer on the island are very comfortable; probably too comfortable, in fact, around humans. You don't have to approach the deer. They will approach you:
 


Deer on Santa Catalina Island...

Unfortunately, given the time of year, we didn't have a lot of time on the island. We arrived at about 11:15am (after taking the first ferry out of Dana Point at 9:50am), and had to board the ferry back to Dana Point at 4:10pm. There are more ferries, leaving earlier in the day, in the spring and summer. Just be sure to book well in advance, since these ferries fill up quickly. It's worth it, though, to get more time to explore the island.

Unlike the trip from Dana Point, the trip to Dana Point didn't enjoy the presence of an enormous school of dolphins. There was one here, one there, but nowhere approaching what we saw on the way over.

That was perfectly okay, though, as we were, photographically speaking, spent, and wanted only to relax on our trip back to the mainland...

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Joshua Tree National Park...

I quit smoking back in January. I still get cravings every so often but, for the most part, I don't even think about lighting up these days.
 
Being a non-smoker reaped some very definite benefits recently, when I ventured out to Joshua Tree National Park, located in southeastern California, with a group of photographers from San Diego. Not only did I not have to flip out from nicotine withdrawal during the 2-1/2 hour drive, but the miles of hiking we did during the day went by a lot easier. I shudder to think how tough it would've been had I never quit.
 
Anyway, this would probably be the last "group shoot" I would be able to attend with these folks, so I wanted to make sure I made it. I've been to Joshua Tree before, but wasn't really happy with the photographic results I came away with. I remember thinking about that, specifically, as my buddy Dan pulled up in front of the house.
 
We picked up a few more people at one of the trolley stops on the San Diego Trolley Green Line, and headed to the north, and then to the east. We made excellent time, getting to the Visitor Center in a little over two hours. We met up with the rest of our group, got some lunch, mapped out our plan for the day, and ventured into the park.
 
One of the biggest draws of Joshua Tree is rock climbing. We're not talking just big rocks, we're talking about rock which are both enormous and plentiful. Almost everywhere you go; whatever trail you hike on, you see people with rock climbing gear. I've not yet succumbed to the temptation, but it's a marvel to watch some of these people:
 
A rock climber in Joshua Tree National Park...
 
Joshua Tree National Park truly is a magnificent place. Franklin Roosevelt originally designated the area a National Monument in 1936 but, following the passage of the California Desert Protection Act in 1994, it was named a National Park.

Joshua Tree is a study in southwestern climate and topography. This is where the Colorado Desert and the Mojave Desert converge. Despite being the latter half of October, it was still pretty warm during the day. I've been out here in summer, and I can say that I would've passed on this trip had it been held earlier in the year. It gets brutal out here, and the climate is something you just don't take lightly. And, if you get into trouble (take a fall or suffer a rattlesnake bite; both of which are quite possible), you'll quickly learn that most of the park suffers from a lack of cell phone service, as well.     
 
So, yeah, you prepare before you head out here, and travelling here with a group isn't a horrible idea, at all.
 
From a photographer's perspective, Joshua Tree National Park is a deep well of photo opportunities:
 
It's beyond me why this skeleton is out here...
This tire, clearly, has seen better days and, apparently, those days were back in the 1940's...






Petroglyphs visible on the rocks...


There was walking... A lot of walking...

Now, as beautiful as this park is, and as much as you should endeavor to, one day, enjoy its grandeur, there is one place that you should avoid ever being, and that is on the downwind side of this:

The only bad place in the park to find yourself in a stiff breeze...

 
Sunset views from Skull Rock...
 
Something that should be mentioned here is a comment about attire. Even in the fall and winter, it can get hot in the desert, but extremely cold at night, and you'll want to be dressed accordingly. Unless you're going on an extended hike, having additional clothing in the car is the way to go. Soft soled shoes or hiking boots are a must on a lot of the trails in Joshua Tree.
 
So is a hat:
 
The last time I wore this hat in a desert, it was a very different desert...
 
And, after all is said and done, it's always good to do trips like this with good friends. In my case, I made it with my good friend Dan, guide extraordinaire:
 
Our intrepid guide and chief photographer wrangler, Dan Chusid...
 
So, if you have some time to visit an absolutely extraordinary National Park, and you happen to be anywhere near southern California, visit Joshua Tree National Park.
 
And bring your camera...









 

Pittock Mansion...

My last day in Portland was spent at the historic Pittock Mansion.
 
Pittock Mansion was built by the publisher of The Oregonian, Henry Pittock, and his wife Georgiana (who founded the Portland Rose Festival). It's a 22 room mansion built in the French chateau style, and it's pretty amazing. The views of downtown Portland, from the estate's 46 acres, are simply breath taking.
 
We had to watch the clock, as I had to be at Portland International at about 4:30pm. But we got there in plenty of time to explore the three floors of the mansion, as well as much of the grounds:
 
Pittock Mansion in Portland, Oregon...

This is a damn fancy bathroom...

I want a shower like this...

One of the guest rooms in Pittock Mansion...

The main staircase in Pittock Mansion: One flight up, one flight down...

The front of Pittock Mansion...

The back of Pittock Mansion...

The porte cochere at Pittock Mansion (thank you, Caroline Wine!!)

A walking path on the grounds of Pittock Mansion...

The art gallery on the lower level of the mansion...

A sitting room in the mansion...

The family room in Pittock Mansion...

Downtown Portland, Oregon as seen from the grounds of Pittock Mansion...
 
The family stayed in the mansion until 1958, when the owners considered selling it. The mansion was severely damaged on Columbus Day in 1962, to the extent that the owners considered not selling it, but rather demolishing it. The City of Portland purchased the estate in 1964 for (I swear, you just can't make this stuff up) $225,000.00.
 
That's only $30,000.00 more than what I paid for my home in San Diego in 1999.
 
The City spent the next 15 months restoring the mansion, and opened it to the public in 1965. Rumor has it that, at one point, the Grateful Dead tried (unsuccessfully) to purchase the property.
 
If you find yourself with some time on your hands in Portland, I would have to strongly recommend taking a drive up to Pittock Mansion, take a camera, and kill some time...
 
Yours truly, armed with my Canon 5D, on the grounds of Pittock Mansion in Portland, Oregon...
(Photo by Carrie Warlaumont)














 
 

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Portlandia (Keep Portland Weird)...

Portland, Oregon is a very different kind of place.
 
On the one hand, it's a very normal, sane city that's come to accept an underlying identity that many people may not understand. It's almost as if Portland is one city by day, but a very different city at night. So, of course, the photographer in me set out to capture the city at night.
 
We found our way downtown, and I was immediately struck by the sheer mass of humanity that was in downtown Portland on a Saturday night. Of course, any city can, and often does, serve as host for a never-ending stream of late-night revelers. But Portland's different; just a little different.
 
Portland has an area of town with a lot of food carts. They have so many food carts, in fact, that you can find maps online showing where the various food carts are located. It doesn't matter what kind of food you want, you can find it here:
 
Food carts along the street in downtown Portland, Oregon...

An area of more established, permanent eateries...
 
Portland has a motto: "Keep Portland Weird". They embrace it. They revel in their weirdness and, in a strange way, it's kinda' fun. And, lest you think I'm making it up, they have bumper stickers proclaiming their desire for their weirdness to remain intact:
 
 
 
Away from the food carts and the hustle and bustle of that area, things quiet down pretty dramatically. We made our way around the city to see some of the weirdness that prevails in other areas of Portland.
 
One of the first sights we happened upon was, in fact, the aptly named sculpture "Portlandia":
 
 
"Portlandia", by Raymond Kaskey...
 
"Portlandia" is a sculpture by artist Raymond Kaskey, and it sits atop the entrance to the Michael Graves' Portland Building on Southwest 5th Avenue. It's the second largest copper repousse sculpture in the United States. The Statue of Liberty is the largest. Portlandia was actually made in three separate sections in Maryland, and shipped and assembled in Portland.
 
Another sculpture, and certainly somewhat more odd, is of a salmon. Now, perhaps you might not think that a sculpture of a salmon would be an odd thing to feature in a town such as Portland and, in fact, perhaps you might be right. Then again, perhaps you might not be thinking of a sculpture of a salmon perched three stories above the street, crashing through the corner of a brick building:
 
 


I have absolutely no explanation for this and, apparently, neither does anyone in Portland...
 
So, as far as I could tell, Portland was certainly living up to the whole "weird" thing they love so much. We weren't done, though. Before heading in for the night, we had one more stop to make. When in Portland, you simply have to make the pilgrimage to Voodoo Doughnut:
 
The sign outside the original Voodoo Doughnut...

We'd wanted to visit the original Voodoo Doughnut, but the fact of the matter is that the line was ridiculously long. Anywhere else on a Saturday night, people are out in the bars drinking away the previous week. In Portland, though, they go out for doughnuts. And, even if we could've found a parking spot by the original Voodoo Doughnut, we would've had to wind our way through the marching band that was on hand for... well... just because.

Thankfully, there's more than one location of Voodoo Doughnut; there are, in fact, three of them. We found our way to Voodoo Doughnut Too, located on Northeast Davis Street. There was a line here, as well, but nothing like the one downtown. And, despite the line, we found ourselves at the counter in relatively short order.

The counter at Voodoo Doughnut Too...
Their selection of doughnuts is impressive, and you're not likely to find too many doughnut shops anywhere which so brazenly combine different flavors. Voodoo does it, though, and they do it remarkably well.

I remember seeing Voodoo Doughnuts featured on the Travel Channel show "No Reservations" with Anthony Bourdain. One of the highlight moments of that show was when Bourdain enjoyed a maple bacon bar. Now, as much as I like doughnuts, and as much as I love bacon, I wasn't completely convinced that the two should be combined. It seemed an unholy marriage of decadence and over-indulgence.

But I tried it anyway.

And it was good.

It was damn good.

A bacon maple bar. Despite my initial reservations, it was quite possibly the finest doughnut I've ever had...

I couldn't possibly stop at just one doughnut, though. Without knowing when my travels might bring me back up this way, I had to sample more than just one. As I made that decision, it was as if my doughnut-to-be actually found me. Some might call it appropriate. I call it a mass conflagration of doughnut, Oreo cookies, and peanut butter. Voodoo Doughnut calls it the "Old Dirty Bastard":

An Old Dirty Bastard. The doughnut, not me...
I can say, without a second's hesitation, that these were probably the finest doughnuts I've ever had. Seriously. They're amazing. They're not the cheapest doughnuts in the world (the two shown rang in at $4.75 for the pair), but they are worth every single penny, period.
 
And, just in case you want to spread the doughnut love around to family and friends, you can always treat them to a coffin full of doughnuts. Admittedly, it's a small coffin but, seriously, could I make this up?
 
Because nothing says "Love ya'!" like 36 Old Dirty Bastards...
 
It was no longer a mystery to me. Portland is weird, and they like being weird. And, to be completely honest, I simply can't imagine the town being nearly as much fun if they insisted on being normal...
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Let's Talk Apps...

From time to time, I'll be talking about cell phone apps as I find good ones. Let's face it, it's almost impossible to get thro...