I always liked to travel, to revisited old places and to see the change in people and nature. It’s like reading the same book and notice every time something new or just a bent page. Although I was in California many times, my camera missed some of the most important places that one can visit … Well, not this time… this time I will see them all.
Yosemite National Park is one of the most spectacular places in North America, hiding in the heart of Sierra Nevada mountains, home of the highest waterfall in North America and the famous granite faces of El Capitan and Half Dome. This place shelters the world largest single living tree of the giant sequoia. The park is a magnet for any outdoor enthusiasts and photographers alike. No wonder that this park is on every photographer’s bucket list. Spectacular view points from the Valley floor up to High Sierra offer amazing canvas regardless of weather, season, or time of the day. Sometimes, when nature and providence agree to work together, an inspired chance comes to freeze the moment in one spectacular image.
My next destination on the list was Mono Lake, an extraterrestrial like location that I really wanted to visit for many years. Located just 13 miles east of Yosemite, near the town of Lee Vining, California, this lake is no ordinary lake. It is the oldest in North America, over 1 million years old! A real nature’s curiosity with water two times and a half saltier than the ocean. You can see that in its whitish and rocky shores. Famous for its tall formations called tufa towers, Calcium carbonate spires, the lake gives you chills and makes you feel like you are on a different planet.
The lake offers photography opportunity and a relaxing spot to mediate. The endless composition possibility, both for sunset and sunrise, makes it one of the photographs all-time favorites. Milky way especially is amazing right over this celestial landscape, as well as the infinite possibilities to experiment with shadows and lights during the night.
Two hours south of Mono Lake along Highway 395, Alabama Hills raise their broken silhouettes towards the sky. Also known as Mobius Arch, this one of its kind landscape is curiously located in the middle of the desert, near the city of Lone Pine on the foothill of Mt. Whitney and the high Sierra Mountains. No doubt, one of the places most looked after by photographers and film makers alike, Alabama Hills change their colors and shape during the night in the middle of complete silence and darkness.
The park is formed by unusual rock formations, red boulders scattered throughout the area and dozens of natural arches of different size and shapes. In the dark one can easily combine unexpected compositions with the stars and the arches when the land finally touches the sky. Make sure to pick up a map for the park, the wilderness of the place comes with a price: there are not too many signs or people to ask for directions!
No wonder that this place is a popular movie location for Hollywood productions! If you ask the hotel concierge in Lone Pine about it, he lost the count of the hundreds of movies filmed here. Godzilla, Iron Man, The Gladiator, Maverick, even Star Trek Generation, are just a couple of the worlds recreated in Alabama Hills.
A visit to the Beverly and Jim Rogers Museum of Lone Pine Film History is worth the time. This is not only a piece of local history, this is American history.
The last stop in my inspired trip was in Death Valley National Park. This place is the hottest in North America, literally. Very dry, the valley is situated in the eastern California right on the border with Nevada. Eager to reach the lowest point in North America and the second lowest point in the Northern Hemisphere, I was curious to find the Bad Water Basin, up to 86 meters under the sea level! If you have never been there it is very hard to imagine the heat wave, if you’ve been there you know what I’m talking about. After two days in the middle of this Indian legendary land, I started to realize that the hot South Texas summers, at home, are quite refreshing comparing to this place. Land of extremes, the desert has a primordial beauty, often described by its courageous travelers as the “path to hell”.
The park is enormous and it presents photographic opportunities at every step. The iconic sites would find a place for all preferences and tastes: The Artist’s Drive is a spread of colors, unexpected color combinations that nature throws on the old mountain versants. Another stop to consider is Zabriskie Point, perfect to take sunset and sunrise shots of beautiful and desolated badlands colors. If you are in the mood for no ordinary games you can step by the Devil Golf Course, an old lake that disappeared 2000 years ago, leaving an infinite course completely covered in salt where one can hardly walk through. Since you are there, pay a visit to Bad Water Basin nearby but make sure to hydrate and avoid high temperature picks. Pay particular attention to follow the park rangers’ suggestions and if you believe to be safe at night don’t forget about the waves of heat that blow regularly here, as if straight from the flames of Hell.
In addition, the silky look of Mosquito Flat Dunes is a pleasant attraction and a nice photography spot for unforgettable pictures. This place has really marked my nature interests. My wife and I are eager to come back and check the many other amazing views that this place has to offer in the winter cooler days.
PS: at the entry to Death Valley National Park, coming from Lone Pine, on the road 190, there is Rainbow Canyon where US air force pilots train for low altitude flight. If you are lucky and have enough endurance in the desert heat, a jet fighter might be crossing the canyon so close that one can see the face of the pilot, and long enough to position the camera and take the shot of the month!