We’ve had a dry, dry winter so far in California. And while the dry and unseasonably warm weather is playing heck with our ski season, our winter snow photography, and more importantly, the State-wide drought situation, it has allowed us to quickly dewinterize our Class B Roadtrek and hit the road.
Fortunately for us, we’re only a few hours away from some amazing scenes. Some we’re very familiar with, and some we’ve only just begun to explore. I thought I’d use this post to let you know where we’ve been and give you some of the inside dope if you decide to travel there yourself.
We’ve taken a few work-related trips over to the Silicon Valley area lately, and while there isn’t a great deal to photograph around there (unless you like photographs of traffic and big ugly buildings); there are some marvelous beaches and parks just over the hill. We’ve camped several times at Half Moon State Beach, and, at least in the winter, it’s a quiet, peaceful campground. And it’s right on the beach. Not cheap at $35 a night without hookups, but that is pretty much the going rate along the coast.
From there, you’ve got a wonderful stretch of Hwy 1 to explore. Head south and you’ll end up in Santa Cruz. Head north and you’ll wind up in San Francisco. We tend to aim south to avoid the crowds, and we simply stop at every State Park and turnout we come across. Make sure to check into your State Park campground before you go off exploring because your camping fee gives you free access to all of the local State Parks for the day of, and the day after your reservation.
While you never have to leave Hwy 1, I’d suggest you head a couple of miles inland to visit the little town of Pescadero. It’s a cute little place, and Norm’s Market makes great sandwiches and pies that you can take with you for a picnic on the beach.
Rochelle picked up a great idea from a friend of ours who lives at the beach. She bought herself a cheap pair of tall plastic garden galoshes. They’re perfect for taking photographs at the beach. I don’t know how many times I’ve been standing at the surf line, looking through my viewfinder and waiting for the perfect shot, only to have a wave come in and wash over my shoes. Our Roadtrek Agile is comfortable and pretty roomy, but I have yet to find a good place to dry out a soaking pair of running shoes. The plastic garden boots can be washed off and dried with a paper towel in seconds.
There are more than just beaches to photograph in the Half Moon Bay area. Make sure to check out the local marine reserves and seaside parks. The fog and mist from the ocean can add a lot of drama to a grove of Cypress trees.
While we’ve visited the Half Moon Bay area several times, we had never taken a trip to the stretch of coast just below Big Sur. And it was high time we did. We took a three-day weekend and drove over to Cambria and Morro Bay.
Cambria is a perfect little tourist town. There are lots and lots of restaurants, galleries and gift stores, and we found the locals to be both welcoming and willing to share their favorite photography locations. Which brings up a good point; always tell the locals you’re a photographer. In my experience, that’s the quickest way to get to know the spots that show off the scenic beauty of the location.
After a fantastic lunch at a downtown restaurant named Robin’s, we headed two miles up the coast to the San Simeon State Park to find our reserved campsite. It turns out, in the winter, we didn’t need to hurry. There were lots of sites. In fact, with no one at the gate, we were free to drive around the park and pick a site we liked. I have to tell you, after staying here a couple of nights; this is not my favorite campground. The sites are far too close together. But we were comfortable in our little Roadtrek and the campground was pretty quiet at night. The best part of the park is its proximity to the beach. It’s a couple minutes’ walk from just about anywhere in the campground.
I think a big part of the reason we purchased a van conversion for our home-away-from-home, was thinking back to the freedom and fun of the old VW Buses. I came very close to buying one when I was a teenager, and part of me regrets not taking the plunge. So when we saw a beautiful old VW Bus, complete with surfboards on top, on our walk to the beach, we had to stop and take a long look. Rochelle asked the family that owned it if she could take their picture with their van. Once we got home, Rochelle decided it would be fun to digitally paint her results. I really like the results, and so did the family.
We spent the next day in Morro Bay, checking out the marina, the harbor seals and the famous Morro Rock. Whenever we go someplace new, we spend most of the middle of the day “Scouting” photography locations. The one thing you don’t want is to be scrambling around a half hour before sunset trying to find a good location. Rochelle used her favorite iPhone application, The Photographer’s Ephemeris, as well as what is becoming her new favorite app PhotoPills, to track the direction of the sunset.
In the meantime, we were constantly checking the scene for those little photographic opportunities that come along when you least expect them, like this wonderful blue heron who was sunbathing along Morro Bay.
Photography can be tiring. You’re often up at dawn shooting and then spending most of the day hiking, scouting and exploring. I have to tell you, having a nice place to take a nap in the last afternoon is one of the best parts of owning a motorhome. This time, I took a nap while Rochelle checked out the local surfing scene.
While we were scouting, we ran across a couple who were looking out the bay through a powerful spotting scope. Turns out they were viewing the antics of a couple of sea otters. They were nice enough to let us have a turn at the scope, and even nicer to tell us to check out Piedras Blancas, just above Cambria the morning. The reason for checking out Piedras Blancas – elephant seals!
The next morning, it was off to visit the Elephant Seals. And my-oh-my, were there a lot of Elephant Seals to visit. It turns out the Elephant Seal mating season is between December and March, so our January visit was perfect, if unbeknown to us, timing. However, even though the seals are pretty close to the boardwalk, it was no easy feat to photograph these big beasts. For one, it was a slightly foggy morning. The fog eliminated the harsh contrast of the sun, but it also made it difficult to get any sharpness or details in our shots. Also, the fog blocked out a lot of the available light, so we had to increase our ISO to get a little faster shutter speed. And trust me, even though these guys don’t look like they’re moving much, they are. And any movement at all, when you’re shooting slower than about 1/200th of a second, is going to look awfully blurry when you get home.
Here’s something to remember. It’s not a great idea to shoot jpeg images when your subject is surrounded by sand and you’re shooting with a higher ISO. One of the things that jpeg does is automatically reduce the noise caused by that high ISO. That’s a good thing. The bad thing is, to a camera, grains of sand can look just like noise. What you end up with, after that jpeg engine has gotten through with it, is a pixelated, but somewhat artistic, mess where your beach used to be. The same holds true if you use a noise reduction program in your processing. So, a word to the wise – do these kind of shots in RAW.
Weekend trips like these do present some challenges in the winter. We live in the Sierra foothills and it’s often below freezing at night. So whenever we travel, I make sure we’re back in time so I can winterize our Roadtrek’s plumbing system before it gets too dark to see what I’m doing. I’ve got it down to a science so it really doesn’t take too long, but I always make sure to look at the check off list I created on my smartphone so I don’t forget an important step.
And next weekend, it’s back to the beach.