Photographic Historical Society Announces Symposium Program

Photographic Historical Society Announces Symposium Program.


This is a great event which happens only every three years. The George Eastman House alone is worth the trip. It occurs the week before PHSNE Photographica this year, and would be a great place to get those equipment bargains that you could then brag about at our own show the following week!

This is from their flyer:


Join us in Rochester, New York to meet historians, collec- tors, photo experts and dealers from around the world.

The PhotoHistory Symposium has been held every 3 years since 1970, bringing together those who make history in the field of Photographic History. The 2011 symposium had attendees from 22 states and 8 foreign countries.

Tour George Eastman House, his stately 1905 mansion and gar- dens and the international muse- um of photography and film. Many things have changed at the house since PhotoHistory XV including the new director, Dr. Bruce Barnes.

The new Technology Display includes many new exhibits, and is much more user friendly. The pipe organ in the house has been updated, adding a new North Organ. Listen to the organ during the lunch break. If you could come in a day early, the house will be open for you to tour on Friday.

Additional information contact:

Registration: Marian Early, 585- 232-3380, i-printphotos.@fron-

Show & Sale: Tim Fuss, 585- 482-8963,, get table registrations from him

PhotoHistory: Jack Bloemendaal, 585-288-6359, 

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Winding it all up

After making the decision to head for home, I still had to actually do it. The lure of being out on my own and seeing new things every day had been tarnished somewhat by the loneliness inherent in such an endeavor, but had not gone away completely. I still enjoyed looking out on new towns and new landscapes. I still felt the tug of the roadside sign announcing some locally, or even nationally significant event that had occurred on this spot, the faded remnant of a drive to build such aids to group memory, along with roadside picnic tables and sun shelters. I still liked to listen to the accents of the folks in minimarts and gas stations, realizing that the minute I opened my mouth I was the outsider. “Come from far, do you?” was the most common question. My answer never failed to get a big response. Massachusetts is the other side of the world, I guess, when you grew up in Sublette, KS, Colville, WA or Keyes, OK. It’s not that these people had litte understanding of the world around them, it’s just that they had not had the great influx of tourists or college students that, say, Napa CA, or Eugene OR has experienced. Without a chance, or a desire to travel much themselves, they have been less likely to hear someone from MA who is not speaking in the TV version of the Baaaston accent.

But finish this thing I must. After a couple of days in the Albuquerque area, I decided to just book it on home, after visiting relatives in Dayton, OH, highways all the way. With plenty of books on CD, I hunkered down to the highway and sped east.  I was missing a lot of what I came out here to experience– small town life on the back roads–but I look forward to another trip, with Lena next time, and chalk my shortcomings up to overreaching and under-achieving.

But hey, I got in almost 9000 good miles, so it’s not all bad. The trusty Chevy turned out to be a good companion and my almost 40 rolls and 30 sheets of film will keep me in the darkroom for a while. I have almost 1000 iPhone images for reference, at least three paintings worked out in my head and a few more swirling around in images that won’t go away but are not yet ready for composition. I hope to be very busy this winter. I am also ready for time with my wife, my friends and, at the end of the day, my own bed. I don’t think I’ll drive much over the next few weeks if I can avoid it.

I started this blog with the idea that it would be a way for me to sort of think out loud…well, electronically at least. It has been written in motel rooms, on picnic tables and in my tent. It has not benefitted from any editing, and is therefor filled with far more trivia and poorly constructed sentences than readers should have to bear. The fact that some have borne it and have followed my travels both astounds me and makes me quite grateful. The sense of an audience, no matter how small, has provided a sort of companionship for me. In the end, I’m not sure that I got lost, but I lost a lot of the retirement anxiety I was not even aware of having.

As Americans, we are often chided for our tendency to seek the “geographic solution” to personal problems. “If I move to ________, I’ll be able to start afresh!” Maybe I’m guilty of seeking the same thing here, but I think this was more about the process than place. Traveling, photographing, listening, watching; these are all processes that change what and where we are. I’ve tried to absorb as much as I could in the last 6 weeks, hoping that some of it would sink in and help me grow as an artist and as a person. The proof of the pudding, as they say however, is in the tasting, and the final outcome of this adventure may only be evident in my work over the next year or so. I hope to stay in the habit of posting- but with far fewer words and more pictures–the fruits of my travels and my efforts, both photographic and painted. I will probably start a separate website for it all, with a different format, but anyone looking for the work should google whiteymorange occasionally. There aren’t too many of us out there.

Thanks again for listening.

Whitey (I’m the one on the right)

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From Zion to the The Flea

Cutting south from the eastern end of Zion Park, you drive through some of the most colorful canyon land that you can find anywhere. This is the area of the Vermilion Cliffs and Kodachrome Basin, after all. The beauty tends to die down a bit as you go south, with volcanic wastelands covering much of the area just north of aptly named Gray Mountain. I know  “wasteland” is a pejorative term, but I can’t think of one more apt. The dominant color around the road (Rt 89) seems to be a worn-out gray, even though this valley lies between the Painted Desert and the Grand Canyon. Perhaps it’s just nature’s way of providing contrast relief for the eye…

Approaching Page, AZ, you drive over the Glen Canyon Dam. As I have been reminded by Lizz after my post on the Grand Coulee visit, Page is a town built originally for the workers building the dam. 

The dam backs up the Colorado River in the first of a series of huge lakes, Lake Powell, which is followed downriver by Lake Mead and Lake Havasu, among others. The fight by environmentalists and others against this dam, along with the Marble Canyon Bridge that is just downstream, was fictionalized by Edward Abbey in his novel “The Monkey Wrench Gang.” He would, perhaps, have had some choice words for the fact that his books (though not that one) are now for sale in the giftshop atop the dam.

The bridge that actually supports Rt 89 over the canyon at the dam is a beautiful thing,  elegant in its simplicity and seemingly effortless vault of the canyon. 

Page itself has grown some since my last visit here in 1988, but remains a disturbingly green spot on the ochre and red of the surrounding desert. I’m sure I would be happy to have this oasis if I lived here, but it seems wasteful, somehow, emblematic of the fact that Lake Powell evaporates more water each year than the total the engineers originally thought would be lost to the river flow each year due to extraction for cities and agriculture. Somehow they never figured evaporation in to the calculations. The recent drought conditions show in the white rock above water level in the first shot. The marinas at Wahweap, just up the western shore of the lake from the dam, have had to be moved quite a way down the slope and many boat sheds and marine businesses along the highway are now high and dry.

As the land rises toward Sunset Crater and Humphrey’s Peak, the scenery changes again, with golden grasslands and pine thickets emphasizing the higher elevations and cooler clime of the Kaibab National Forest  and the Mogollon Plateau. My destination for the night is Flagstaff. A town I immediately got lost in and retreated from the next morning. I’m sure that it’s a great place, but all I saw in the glare of the setting sun is traffic and I was anxious to be settled in for the night in a motel I could afford. The gas prices on this trip have set me back a bit. Finally I found one and crashed, to get set for the long drive to NM the next day. On that leg of the drive I stopped in Winslow, Arizona (they have a “Standing on the corner” park) and Holbrook, where one of the last TeePee Motels lies on Rt 66, all set up with vintage cars, a billboard proclaiming it to be a heritage site for the state of AZ and a closed sign in the office window. I spent a lot of time shooting black and white images around he place and only after driving away remember that I have taken none with the iPhone… Sorry ’bout that

Arriving in Albuquerque after a controlled burn had taken place in the national forests to the northwest of the city I really thought the place had a smog problem. The wind had piled up a dirty gray haze over the valley, contained by the mountains to the east and south. I was happy to see that only a few lingering fingers of smoke remained in the area the following morning, as I set out for Santa Fe.

I stayed at a KOA campground in Bernalillo, just north of Albuquerque, for two days and I have to say that, as un-sexy and basic as those places may be, I have yet to be disappointed in my modest expectations–clean bathrooms and hot showers along with nice people. It’s a pretty utilitarian way to look at camping, but it’s also an inexpensive way to travel. Long ago, on an ill-fated family excursion with a tired  VW camper, a KOA Kampground outside St Louis provided a respite from the craziness of broken cars and cranky kids with a pool, reliable showers and constantly changing neighbors. Many of the folks using KOA campgrounds use them as a base for long visits, but the other type of traveler one is likely to meet at these places is the person/couple/family that pulls in just after dark and leaves by 7 the next morning, anxious to get on the road and spend as little as possible for a night’s lodging. Conversations are easy to start and often quite interesting. This time I met a couple who had just about everything they owned in a new Ford Transit van, on the way from Ohio to LA, and a couple of Aussie dudes, looking to drive across America on the cheap and then meet girls in Boston and NY.

Santa Fe is a thriving metropolis, complete, my brother-in-law quips, with “hot and cold running quiche.” The old town is tight on parking, shopper heavy and quite lovely to walk around, in a touristy way. I spent only enough time here to find that I could not get into the Georgia Okeefe Museum, since an appointment is necessary in this season. Outside of the center of town, in La Cienega, lies The Downs racetrack, unused for racing at this point but home to the marvelous Flea, a market that operates every weekend in the sprong and in the fall. I dropped in for what I thought would be cursory look-see and got stuck.
Unaccountable mixtures of religious art from many different culture and western themed kitsch shared equal billing with serious antique dealers, rock shops (BIG rocks) and car trunk yardsales.The main tented area is called “The Mothership” and many of the traders (they told me that this was a very different thing than being a dealer) were happy to talk and loved my cameras. I had one offer to trade a large African piece for my Mamiya TLR. I begged off with a “no room in the car” line for most of the purchases, but the prices were amazingly low, and the quality as well as the eclectic nature of the goods was remarkable, especially when it came to religious statuary.I expected the Catholic bent of this offering, but neither its Medieval German putinor this reclining Bodhisattva, African fetish objects and certainly not Spock!

One of the traders spoke of Santa Fe as the new Constantinople, the center of trading– east with west, city and country; the ground where religious and secular traditions overlap and people come to intermingle. A bit poetic and hopeful, perhaps, but this is a very different atmosphere from the antique shows and sales I have attended in the east. One of the traders echoed this in speaking of the Brimfield MA shows, which he had done for years. “Santa Fe is different; more relaxed, more comfortable, with a lot broader focus.”

This was the second to last weekend of the season, and some of the dealers had chucked it in for the year and gone on buying trips to Africa, the keys, Asia; wherever their spirit and pocketbooks drew them. Others would be moving their act indoors for the winter, but all were sure that next spring would see them there again. The Flea seems destined to remain a strong tradition. If you get a chance to be in this neck of the woods, I would suggest you leave the Latte’s and high-culture galleries of the city center behind for a morning and get out to The Flea. It’s a great experience.

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After TonoPAH, I booked it for Utah and a state park called Snow Canyon, just off Rt 18 , NW of St George. I figured it would be cheaper than a national park (true), less crowded (also true) and a good staging ground for visiting Bryce and Zion (not quite true). What I didn’t figure on was the astounding beauty of the park itself. Coming down from the high desert that continues into Utah from Nevada, the first indication that the landscape might be changing was this cinder cone.

Yes, the whole area shows lots of signs of volcanic activity, but this one (according to the sign in the park) is figured to be about 600 years old, not 6000. The road drops off to the right after that point and starts a rapid descent into canyons galore, and a visual shift from sage green, gray and tan to RED! The park entrance is right there and you drive through lava flows, inverted topography (where the top layer is actually the earliest layer since it consists of lava that flowed into river beds. Later, the sedimentary rock around it eroded away, leaving the harder lava at the top of the stack.) and lots of white and red Navaho sandstone, frozen into dunes and cliffs of deep red, coral, bright white and tan, with black lava beds and angular boulders all through the area. The photos do NOT do it justice. The second shot is from near the entrance. From there you drove down into the canyon. Here is a shot of my campsite, in the “overflow” area. I said it was less crowded, I didn’t say it wasn’t crowded. The campground was great, with lots of friendly people, big rocking chairs on a terrace at the office where you could just sit and watch the light change on the canyon walls, and clean, abundant showers and bathrooms. Believe me, when you are living in campsites, the condition of the amenities makes a big difference

There were lots of folks my age in the park, all looking surprisingly fit and athletic. I’m used to the idea that most people are a lot more athletic than I am, but this was a noticeable thing. It turns out that they were mostly there for the Huntsman World Senior Games, a big thing I’d never heard of. The woman who camped next to me the second night had come in from NY for volleyball, the people on the other side were there for soccer and softball. Not believing the evidence of their own eyes, they all politely asked me which sport I was competing in. So kind. I resisted all wise-guy responses.

As I had booked two nights in the park, I could travel locally and not have to set up the tent again the second night. I again had failed to take into account the scale of the landscape out here in the west. I spent the whole morning walking and photographing in Snow Canyon and only after 12 did I move to visit the northern section of Zion, Kolob Canyon. I had realized by then that I would have to go through the southern section of the park on my way east, and one admission would get me both. Bryce was clearly for the next trip, the one where I convince Lena to come along and I have a Senior Pass to the National Parks ($25 a pop gets pricey after a while). 

To you who will read this and say “What? You missed Bryce? After all we said to you???”, I say yes, I missed a lot of things on this trip. but I didn’t want to drive three quarters of the day just to say I’d done it. There may be a way to fit Bryce and Zion into two days, but I failed to find it, not with the entrance of either of them almost an hour’s drive from your campsite. I will return, however, for red rocks do get into your blood if you’re a visual person. The light out here is astounding.

The next day’s drive through the main road of Zion, Rt 9 was more like Yosemite than I had hoped. The traffic backed up at the entrance and even though I had a pass, I had to wait to get in. After getting past the gate, I was a morsel of food in the great alimentary track of the park, oozed along by the peristalsis of driving tourists alternately oogling and photographing whatever is at hand. The Zion River Valley itself is amazingly green and shady, with brilliant yellow Cottonwoods at this time of the year, a striking contrast to the red and white rock that rises above it in great walls and pillars, architectural studies for the creation. I was definitely one of the ooglers. I think I even said OOOO! and AHHH! more than once each. Unlike Yosemite, the rock walls are closer here, and it is a warm place, not just in color but in temperature. It was in the mid 70’s while I was there–at least during the day. Evenings were mid 50’s, so camping was pleasant as well. The warm closeness of the rocks and the places on the side of the road where you could actually walk in a bit, rather than fear you’d fall into the abyss, made us (the traveling bits of food) sometimes spill off the road and onto sandy spits that twisted down and into the canyon a ways before dropping off. All in all, it deserved a much more extensive exploration (see my comments about how these places belong to the hikers).and just to prove I was really here, the trusty Chevy!

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The Owens Valley and Nevada

The trip down from Tioga (9,945 feet) to Lee Vining and Mono Lake, is a long slow slide, interspersed with steep, curving switchbacks on roads that seem to cling miraculously to the mountainsides. The process of finding a place to stop and take a look around is complicated by speed (you are going, it seems, a mile a minute with gravity urging you on) and the line of cars that can build up behind you, even on the downhills. The turnouts are often small areas that come up on you quickly and you have to hope that you don’t overshoot and become a statistic. These are different, of course, from the official overlooks, but sanctioned nonetheless, with flat, paved arcs broadening the road without guardrails or parking lines. They offer at least the illusion that you are taking an original image, but that idea doesn’t hold up when you think about it. They paved these spots because people kept stopping here top take pictures, right? Originality be damned! I took way too many pictures in Yosemite, but I challenge anyone with a camera not to.

The edges of our great National Parks are soft edges, buffered in many cases with the larger National Forests that surround them. On the east side of Yosemite, it is the Inyo National Forest sign that appears just yards after exiting the park. This section is a bit stark, starting as it does quite high in the mountains, on the dry side of the range. The climate is very, very different on this side of the pass, and while there are still forested hillsides, they exist mostly in conjunction with one of the lakes and reservoirs that fill the valleys on the side of the road. Much of the vista is bare rock or scrub.Ellory Lake, elevation 9538 feet.

The Lee Vining Valley, which stretches out to the south and east from the road, seems vast, and the sign placed there by the Park Service suggests you think about just that, the vastness of the Great Basin, into which you are about to descend. At the bottom of the road from Yosemite, the abrupt appearance of gas stations and Rt. 395 is a bit jarring, though not as jarring as the cost of gasoline on this side- $5.37 a gallon was the cheapest I was able to find in the area. I put in $20 worth and hoped I could find cheaper fuel down the road. as it was it took 70 miles or so before the price came under $5, and then only just.

Mono lake is a strange place, flat and sterile to look at, with it’s most famous visual claim to fame being the Tufa mounds in the lake and along parts of the shore. The shots of these on line are always shrouded with mist, making them mysterious and monumental. Today they were just small piles of stuff from a distance, and the state of California wanted money to let me see them any closer. I declined. I did go into the very good visitors center at Lee Vining, where the kind ranger on duty was the first to tell me of the Clown Motel, to be discussed later.

Heading south on 395, the Sierra Nevada dominates your right view, the Inyo Mountains , (far less grand but I wouldn’t want to try to walk over them) line the left, and the Owens Valley spreads out before you. It is a grand sight, light green and glowing with autumn yellow aspens along the river. Wide and fertile, the valley was “discovered” in the 1850’s. Gee, why didn’t they just ask one of the people who already lived there about it? The scale of your view from above Bishop is so wide and long that the valley seems to be a bowl with shallow slopping edges that run up the mountainsides. It is roughly 6 by 150 miles, give or take, and depending on what sign you read. Towns like Bishop, Big Pine and Lone Pine appears 20 minutes before you reach them as green areas to either side of 395. As you get close, you slow to 35, sometimes 25 MPH and then resume 70 as the town slips into your rearview mirror and the next one appears in the distance. The valley is far less productive these days because the water that once fed it was siphoned off for the city of Los Angeles, far to the south. There was a major lawsuit and… well, read about it on the link I provided. The towns are holding on, even appear a little prosperous, but they are still one-light affairs, though Bishop is bigger.

The last one of the three I mentioned, Lone Pine, is a gateway town to two major destinations, Mount Whitney and Death Valley- the highest point in the lower 48 and the lowest point just a matter of taking a right (up) or a left (down) in town! The road to Whitney is called the Whitney Portal, in fact.

A little aside- My name, Whitey Morange, was consistently mangled by databases at colleges that sent material for my art students. Whitey, a possible racial slur, was changed to Whitney, which suggested to the computer programs that I was female, so Mr Whitey became Ms Whitney with some regularity. On one memorable occasion, the spell checker atThe Maryland Art Institute corrected that to Mt.Whitney. I had now attained the status of a geological feature! I therefor had no choice of where to stay on entering Lone Pine.I had thought to go onto Death Valley from Lone Pine, but the next morning I discovered a third wonder of this little town, the Alabama Hills, which had appeared from a distance like a string of droppings from some giant horse going up toward the Sierra Nevada. When you get down into them, they present an astounding landscape of oddly shaped and weathered stone hillsides, laced with trails and valleys perfect for the movie shoot-out. I spent most of the next day there, taking roll after roll of film and even 6 or 8 shots of 4×5. What an amazing place!  I can just see those old westerns now – minus the Chevy, of course.So in the end, I blew off Death Valley and headed back up toward Tonopah, NV. I just had to see the Clown Motel! I know, I missed all the good stuff… story of my life.

Tonopah (accent the final syllable, I have been told) is a crossroads in the desert, a once thriving Silver mining town and the home of Jim Galli, a photographer and camera guy I know of from APUG (Analog Photo Users Group). Keeping with my solo style this time around, I neither contacted him to say I was coming nor tried to find him while I was there. I’m getting to be awfully stand-offish on this trip! He has taken a number of memorable images of Tonopah, so I won’t try to match them. I knew only one thing while I was there:This place has, shall we say, mixed reviews on line. People say it’s cool, people say it’s disgusting and decrepit… I say it was an alright spot to sped a night, but I wouldn’t want to live there, or next door, in the original town cemetery (from 1901 to 1911).It did amaze me that this grave had no name but flowers just the same. The motel owners have built steps from their parking straight down into the cemetary. They also had an interesting office…and that was just one wall. Every other surface was equally decorated! The room was a bit lower key, with just two patron saints/clowns over the bed and one on the door.

I was only a little weirded out…, really. Actually it was relatively clean, very calm and sold out. I gather the place is often full. I lucked into the last room. The people were great.

Driving in Nevada can get very monotonous, even though there is a stark beauty to the landscape. I headed out Rt 6 and took the Extraterrestrial Highway (NV 375) south to NV 93 and Area 51, connecting with the road to St George, Utah, and Snow canyon State Park, where I was to spend the next two nights. I’ll end this one with a picture of a friend I met on the way


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Yosemite Park

The next day, the weather and the park were both lovely, if a bit crowded. This place is the busiest park in America, and I can see why, in a way. The views are larger than life and present themselves as “wilderness packaged”. I don’t mean that the park service does anything to falsify or package the beauty of the place, but the way that we experience the roadway park is pretty much the same for everyone, every time. I stood in one spot and realized that I had stood there in August of 1958, seeing the exact same view of Yosemite Falls, having the same feelings of wonder and at the same time, a certain emotional as well as physical distance, like it was a memory even the first time.

The tree, was probably alive in 1958, though. By the way, that tree was a favorite spot for Japanese tourists to be photographed. I saw three busloads of Japanese tourists come especially to stand by that tree and have their pictures taken. It wasn’t the backdrop, but the tree itself. I couldn’t find out why. The falls, in case you’re looking for them are not running- too dry. You can see the path just right of center.

The grand views of glacier-carved mountains from the flat valley floor are in some ways a picture-show outdoors. Distance minimizes parallax and creates images that look much the same from everyone’s camera angle. The features of Half Dome, or the other side of the Grand Canyon from these viewpoints seem to be theatrical back-projections for a movie. These glorious places are of a scale not easily comprehensible to folks looking out from “overlooks” and “vistas” on the side of the road, or even, I suspect, from any one point on a trail. They are very, very difficult to photograph with any success. The postcard says it all. It is the immensity of each of these places that is its glory and, at the same time, the thing that makes the place ungraspable for a day-tripper like me. Places like Yosemite and the Grand Canyon belong, more rightly, to the hikers, for the reality, the soul of these places is in what is next to you, and the work you put into getting to the place you want to be, that hilltop or canyon that is not seen from the “outlooks”.

I’m just a driving tourist this trip- well, every trip, actually, and I join all of the German and Japanese, and Chinese folks, the cars filled with young families and oldsters, the ones who come on buses and the ones in rented RV’s, moving from vista to vista, stopping at all the places on the road that the people who really know this place, the Park Service, have conveniently arranged for us all to “Oooh!, and Ahhhh!” without driving off the road. For the most part, it is a remarkable well orchestrated dance, this movement of thousands of viewers, campers, hikers, bikers and day-trippers through a mountainous, dangerous set of roads, every day, with a minimum of hassle. I saw very few Rangers during this trip, and I know that the ones I didn’t see were probably just as busy as those I did, and I have to take my hat off to them. This place could easily be a madhouse, even on a beautiful October day. The fact that is was merely crowded and not crazy is a wonder commensurate with the natural wonders that make up Yosemite.

Here is the obligatory “Tunnel View” shot (there is a tunnel just at this point on Glacier Rd) …and the people all taking said shot. There were always young men and women who insisted on standing on the wall that kept you from a very nasty fall. Nobody died while I was there.

Given all that, I did have a couple of favorite places, even if they were shared with dozens of others at each stop. The first is Washburn Outlook, on the road to Glacier Point. It lacks the almost straight-down view of the valley floor that is possible at Glacier, but offers a real sense of the range of the place.

This is the Pano version, as seen by the iPhone, but it’s a pretty fair representation. The second one is a pano of the view straight down into the valley, where I stood for the 1958 shot.

The second favorite spot is Tioga Pass, or actually some of the spots along the road to the pass, especially the area just after Tamarack Flat, where the rock is pretty much still holding out against the trees. It’s a naked, powerful place, the setting for Night on Bald Mountain, and you feel you could just slip off the edge of the world around every corner. The trees that are there are tough, old things, clinging on with a tenacity that is visible; roots snaking over naked rock for any available purchase, crowns cloven by lightning or dead from exposure, greenery strung out along the lee side. It’s pretty much the edge of where they can survive, the treeline, but it seems nobody told them, and they’re holding on for dear life.

I took mainly film shots of those trees, but here is a shot of the road sliding off the edge of the world as we know it… or maybe the photographer was sliding off… who knows?

In the midst of all of this there are meadows, as lovely and unexpected as the first crocuses that pop up in the yard in February. There is even a small lake along the road, with only a few people stopping to enjoy it, mostly photographers. I even see tripods and long lenses! Of course there are many more mountain meadows and many lakes, some pointed out with roadside arrows and trailheads for the real tourists, but not for me. I just have what they built the roads to.

The road from Tioga Pass to the edge of the park and then down through the Inyo National Forest and the Lee Vining Valley is as spectacular as the park itself, but I’ll leave that to the next post- Lone Pine.

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Approaching Yosemite

The decision being made about heading east rather than south, I booked two nights in a campground in Yosemite and drove the six hours (not four, as I had hoped) it took to get there with some sense of sadness, but also a little relief. I was no longer headed out, but back, and back has a lower excitement quotient. Perhaps I could steal Bellingham’s unofficial motto and call this part of the trip the “Journey of Subdued Excitement.” It wasn’t like I was simply going to travel roads recently driven, I have lots of new things to see as I head south and east. I guess east just doesn’t have the same cache´ as west. Nobody says “Go east, old man.”

My relief may be the flip side of that same thing. Excitement is tiring at times, and I’m ready to admit I’m tired. I stopped compulsively calculating miles, even days on the road some time ago, but I did realize today that I left Acton just a month ago. I figure I’m halfway through the trip, minus the layover in Bellingham; that puts me on track to get back to MA some time in the first week of November. The car seat feels just a little too much like home at this point.

The area around Santa Rosa is pretty built up. It could be Wellesley or West Hartford, CT, except it has a West Coast air to it. It is, in fact, the only place so far where I have taken a wrong turn and gotten turned around. I headed out of town on Rt 12 only to find that I had come back into the town from another direction… missed the road sign telling me to take a right and went with the traffic- left.

Rt 12 is definitely not the fast way to get anywhere. There are lots of lights and the signs designating this as a “scenic drive” appear in front of fast food restaurants- for a while at least. Then it all thins out a bit and you are in wine country. There are many, many small, family vineyards here in Sonoma County, and there is a tasting room every 20 feet. I wouldn’t want to negotiate driving these roads after the city folks had been in a few tasting rooms. A cop’s delight or a cop’s nightmare- depending, of course on whether you catch the drunks before they get into an accident or not.

As you get further south and east and into Napa, the vineyards begin to get much larger. There was one in particular that seemed to go on forever. At the end of the fields was a large chateau with a sign saying that the vineyard was a joint venture of two major French labels most known for champagne. I guess California grapes have been noticed in Paris.

As you get into Solano County, above Fairfeld, the land flattens out and you’re in The Delta- the Sacramento River Valley Delta, that is. I always thought that a delta was the land at the end of a river. This is far from the sea, so I’m unsure what the name means, but it’s everywhere on the signage in this part of the state. I’m heading east, still on 12, going toward Lodi, and the Creedance Clearwater Revival song about getting stuck there just keeps playing over and over in my mind.  In the end, I turn off before I can get stuck (except with that brainworm) an do some pretty boring freeway stuff to get past Stockton and on to Yosemite Avenue- this is it!

Well, not quite. Yosemite Avenue is actually just the start of a long drive through nut orchards and wheat fields on the way to the foothills. Then there are those foothills, then the serious climbing. All the way, it’s staying pretty dry and brown, the hills growing back into that combination of gold and green that I saw further west. But as I get into the real climbing, near Moccasin, headed for Big Oak Flat, the ground begins to change. Now the golden grass of the fields seems to have big black teeth sticking up through it, and the small buttes before me appear to be topped with a layer of crumbly, brown stone, like the crust of a fruit crumble. This ain’t the delta anymore.

Big Oak Flat itself is the top of the world and the end of civilization as we know it. It has an outpost feel to it, and the IOOF lodge that dominates the approach to town looks good for some pictures. I vow to head back here the next day not knowing that I still have almost an hour’s drive to my campsite, which is much higher up and further from civilization than I had imagined it. There is Groveland to go through, too much a “last chance to get a hot meal/hotel room/souvenir before the park” sort of place for my liking, and then 24 miles of the Stanislaus National Forest before the gate. A quick meal and tent set-up and then the realization that firewood is not to be had without a five-mile retrace of my steps. Who knew? Firewood policy, and campfire policy in general has been quite different from park to park this fall. In some, firewood must be purchased locally, in others, no fires are permitted at all. Here, its “light ‘em if you have ‘em” time, but I don’t got ‘em. So I get into my tent against the cold and damp of the high mountain air and write a bit of this stuff before crawling into the sleeping bag for a chilly night of it.

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