The Delta

It was a smoggy day in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, but that didn’t stop me from wanting to take pictures of it.

Nothing says Sacramento River like a rusty old barge.

Nothing says Sacramento River like a rusty old barge.

The Delta isn’t necessarily everybody’s preferred destination in the Golden State, but it’s for that reason that I’m fond if it.  While most people associate California with ocean bluffs and mountainous national parks, it’s important to remember that our capital, the historic heart of California as an American concept (rather than a Spanish concept), sits on the swampy marshes of a flood-prone river delta.

Sacramento was the inland port that brought people to the gold mines in the Sierra Foothills.  Through Sacramento traveled the eager, opportunistic masses that brought California into statehood through their lust for mineral riches.  Sure, San Francisco was an important gateway (or… say… a golden gateway perhaps), but Sacramento was home.

That is to say, if San Francisco was the mouth, Sacramento was the stomach, and the Central Valley and Sierra Foothills were the small and large intestines.  Bakersfield was, and still is the rectum.

Just kidding, Bakersfield.  We all love Merle Haggard.  But I digress.  Here is another picture:

California's Southern Louisiana.

California’s Southern Louisiana.

Leaving Sacramento, I went westward to Yolo County, a place whose residents are surely more than tired of bros exclaiming their joy at discovering there is in fact a place called Yolo County.

For people familiar with Yolo County, they probably know it for Davis, the home of the University of California, Davis, and for being an endless stretch of farms and freeways that go places you want to go.  Little known, however, is that the western half of Yolo County is made up of oaken hills and trickling creeks.

"YOLO!" is something people here are probably sick of hearing.

“YOLO!” is something people here are probably sick of hearing.

Yolo County was so named not for drunk UC Davis students carousing about fields, but rather for a Native American word meaning something like, “place abounding in rushes (the plant, not the action),” or perhaps it was from the name of a chief named “Yodo” or “Yoda.”  Yes, let’s go with “Yoda.”

Yolo Oak

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A Darker Bay

When doing landscape photography, one must remind oneself that not everything has explosive colors, staggering vistas, and remarkable contrast.  For the most part, our earth is pretty plain.  But I insist that photography isn’t necessarily about beauty, it’s about reality, in all its extremes.

The Bay Area is a beautiful place, yes, but the droughts have been harsh and the Bay is selectively photographed to include only the most scenic parts.  What tourists don’t quite know is that the San Francisco Bayshore is a brackish estuary lined by muddy sloughs and smelly marshland.  On a dark autumn day, the effect is a desolate grayness.

Slough

The southern tip of the San Francisco Bay by San Jose gradually morphs between bay water and Silicon Valley via an extensive breadth of salt flats and impenetrable wetlands such that, if you’re standing at the bayshore, you might not even be able to see the bay, even if perched on a hill.

Looking back towards Palo Alto, one can see a network of channels that I would imagine look similar to the Mississippi River Delta, except with hills.

Bayshore

On a less gloomy note, I would like to briefly post some pictures from the opposite part of the Bay Area, up in Sonoma County by Santa Rosa.  In this picture, the seasonal dryness is emphasized by the colorlessness of the coastal hills, compared to the greenish stain of the drainage in the foreground.

Sonoma Farm

Closer to the coast, because of the oceanic moisture, the earth stays mostly green, although the harsh, rocky cliffs and high winds prevent any sort of lush growth or tall trees.

Coastal Fence

At points, the heavy Pacific fog rolls back and the sun shines against the foliage, allowing the green of the stunted conifers to shimmer.

Coastal trees

And just for fun, here’s a coastal shot:

Sonoma Coast

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Autumn in the Eastern Sierra

The attempt at kickstarting this project through Kickstarter failed, so the goal of creating a photo book is now distant.  However, I’m not giving up on pursuing the project as hobby, and I’m going to be using this blog as the means through which I can generate content and receive feedback.

What is the goal?  Create a collection of photographs detailing each and every county of the State of California in contrasting seasonal contexts.

So I start with my first journey, and really my first foray into the world of using a camera that isn’t also a phone.

Two weeks ago, I traveled east of the Sierra Nevada to attempt to capture whatever fall foliage there might be.  Here are some of the highlights.  Since this is a county-based idea, I will proceed county by county.

Alpine County: the remote corner of the state.  It has the smallest population of any California county: 1,175.

Alpine County

What I like about the Eastern Sierra is its stark remoteness.  While Alpine County isn’t technically part of the Eastern Sierra (since most of it lies west of the Sierra Crest), I appreciate this shot for capturing how the lush montane forest immediately meets the desert sage as the mountains descend into a valley.

I have a lot more pictures of the much more traveled Mono County.

Mono County has a population of 14,202.  It’s still small, but not nearly as small as its northern counterpart.  It’s named for Mono Lake, the central feature of its geography.

Mono Lake

A fraction of Mono Lake with the White Mountains in the background.

Mono Lake was named for the Mono People, a native Paiute tribe indigenous to the Eastern Sierra.  Mono Lake may be one of the oldest lakes in North America, but starting in 1941, the City of Los Angeles began diverting water from the Mono Basin, shrinking the lake and threatening its existence.  Due to conservation efforts, Los Angeles was required to restore the lake to previous levels, a process which is ongoing.

The lake is an enigma.  It stands on a barren piece of earth, in the rain shadow of the Eastern Sierra, and yet it provides such a lush environment for migratory birds.  Its famed tufa columns (not pictured here) seem to defy sense and gravity.

The lake is cool and all, but what really attracts me to Mono County is the diversity of landscape from the desert…

CA-120 east of Mono Lake

…to its mountain passes…

Sonora Pass

…and all its peculiarities in between.

CA-120 east of Mono Lake

White Mountains

There are many more pictures where that came from, but I would like to continue on to a county dear to my heart: Inyo County.

Inyo County contains both the highest point in the 48 contiguous states (Mount Whitney) and the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere (Badwater Basin of Death Valley).  A special gem of the county is the John Muir Wilderness of the Inyo National Forest, east of the Sierra Crest and the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.  It is truly sublime.

Bishop Lake

Bishop Pass

It even had a fair bit of autumn foliage.

Quaking aspens by Bishop Creek

I’d like to end this with two pictures from places that aren’t technically in the Eastern Sierra, one from Tuolumne (too-ALL-oh-me) County (better known for Yosemite)…

Sonora Pass in Tuolumne County

…and one from Fresno County, known for farms, air pollution, cattle ranches, and the breathtaking alpine tundra of Kings Canyon National Park:

Dusy Basin

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Some sample photographs

Here are some sample photographs from the photographers with whom I’ve discussed working.  My brother in-law, Eric Gerfen, and a close childhood friend of my brother’s, Mike Seeman, are both photography hobbyists who like landscapes and off-the-beaten-path areas to photograph.  This is some of their work from the past.

Sequoias in Tulare County, picture by Eric Gerfen

Sequoias in Tulare County, picture by Eric Gerfen

Tuolumne Meadows in Tuolumne County, by Mike Seeman

Tuolumne Meadows in Tuolumne County, by Mike Seeman

Los Padres National Forest, Ventura County I believe, by Eric Gerfen

Los Padres National Forest, Ventura County I believe, by Eric Gerfen

Here is one of mine below.  My equipment was less than par, so while the subject should remain somewhat similar to this, future photographs taken on better equipment should have more depth of color and detail.

Kings Canyon in Fresno County, by me

Kings Canyon in Fresno County, by me

And one last one by Eric Gerfen below.

Carrizo Plain in San Luis Obispo County, by Eric Gerfen

Carrizo Plain in San Luis Obispo County, by Eric Gerfen

This is to give you an idea of how I envision the photographs which would be contained in the planned book.

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The California Fifty-Eight Project

Hello y’all,

I’m Jeff and it has been a recent dream of mine to create a collection of photography, facts, and personal writings about each of the fifty-eight counties of California, and assemble them into a book for distribution.  I believe that each county in California has a different spirit, look, psyche, and story to tell, and it would be my honor to be a part of bringing each piece of land into the limelight.  I often feel like in tourist publications, many regions of the state often get neglected and lie in the shadows of the more famous landmarks and parks, and this neglect does not do the great diversity of California justice.

Thus, if all goes as planned, I shall embark on this journey to give each part of California their due service.

I’ll add more to this blog once this project takes off.

 

California Gold

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