Rochelle and I have two things that get us out of the house on a regular basis. One is our Roadtrek Agile Motorhome “Charley” and the other is our love for photography. It’s a pretty cool combination. Charley takes us wherever we want to go, without giving up any of our much-cherished creature comforts. And our passion for photography gets us out of bed, and off to visit some amazing scenes that many folks might skip in favor of an extended breakfast.
Lately, we’ve been spending some of our long weekends north of San Francisco in what I’m going to call the “Great Photography Triangle”. Our triangle starts at a point just north of the Golden Gate Bridge in Marin County. From there, we travel in a northwesterly fashion through the Point Reyes National Seashore to the second point on the Sonoma Coast. From there, our travels take us directly west to the picturesque town of Petaluma. And finally, we travel south to reach our starting point, which we merrily pass by on the way home.
Of course, no photography outing consists of straight lines. In fact, our “Great Photography Triangle” looks more like a drawing from a two-year old, with lots of crisscrossed lines, smudges, hand prints, cereal spills and, well, you get the picture. Photography isn’t so much about finding an exact spot as it is about finding the light. And if the light isn’t there, maybe you can find a nice bakery instead which, by the way, is always my number one backup plan.
Before we get too far into the photography part of the story, I need to give you some advice about where to stay if you’re visiting the area. I don’t know why it is, but the whole San Francisco area sometimes feel like a giant “No Camping” zone. This means, of course, that the few campgrounds that exist fill up quickly on weekends, holidays and the summer. And don’t plan on overnighting it at a local Wal-Mart. Most of them in the Bay Area are not open to boondockers. So unless you’re planning a trip in the middle of the week in the off-season, it’s best to reserve ahead.
On our most recent trip, we stayed at the KOA campground in Petaluma. We stayed two nights and it was fine. However if you’re prone to claustrophobia, you might want to look elsewhere as the spots are pretty tight. On the plus side, the place was spotless and offers a store, propane, a petting zoo and an abundance of showers. A site without hookups ran us $40 a night, but that’s the Bay Area for you. On the plus side, Petaluma has an inviting little downtown with restaurants, shopping and galleries. It’s big enough to be entertaining, but small enough to avoid being overwhelming. You can even find a place to park your Roadtrek.
We’ve also stayed at Bodega Dunes State Park, which is just a little bit north of Bodega Bay (Remember Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds”?) on Hwy 1. The spaces are good-sized and the showers were new and clean. But I have to give you this warning if you’re thinking about staying on the Sonoma Coast – it’s really, really windy! We stayed on the upper loop in a site that had a bit of a wind break and it wasn’t too bad, but in some of the other sites, you’d risk having your camp chairs whisked away to the Land of Oz.
Our favorite place to camp in the area is Samuel P. Taylor State Park. It’s close to Point Reyes National Seashore which has a lot of photographic possibilities and it’s also close to the little town of Point Reyes Station which has a lot of gastronomic possibilities. Put those two together and you have the makings of an awesome weekend.
Samuel Taylor is in the middle of the woods in a deep coastal canyon, so you can avoid the wind. And the spaces are big too, so you can avoid your neighbors. If you’re into bike riding, make sure to check out the “Cross Marin Trail”. You can catch this nicely maintained bike trail right from your campsite, as it passes directly through the middle of the park.
Besides being a great place to camp, Samuel Tayler is a quick drive to the Point Reyes area, which offers some interesting sight-seeing and photographic opportunities. My favorite and just about every other photographer in the worlds’ favorite, scene to shoot is the wreck of the Point Reyes. Located behind a little market in the town of Inverness, the Point Reyes has been showing her “good side” to photographers for decades.
While the boat is fun to shoot in just about any conditions, if you check your tide tables you can shoot the wreck and it’s reflection as well. I think the conditions are best during the late afternoon on a cloudy day. If you’re in the area, make sure to check it out at different times of the day – the light, the clouds and the tide all make a huge difference in the way your photographs will turn out.
Another fun place to shoot is found further south at the RCA/Marconi Wireless Station, where you’ll find the famous Tree Tunnel. If you’re a fan of leading lines and great repeating patterns (and what photographer isn’t?) you’ll love this Cypress lined drive with the art deco designed wireless station sitting majestically at the end of it.
Further up the coast, near the Bodega Dunes State Park, you’ll find some of the prettiest beach scenes in California. I know most people think “Big Sur” first if they’re asked where the most impressive California beaches exist, but I’ve always found the Big Sur area a bit intimidating. And after my knee replacement, some of the hikes are a bit beyond my comfort zone. But that isn’t the case on the Sonoma Coast. The beaches are accessible for every level of photographer, even those of us who sometimes just want to pull over and catch a sunset from the comfort of a well-equipped van.
Be sure to take a short drive out to Bodega Head. You risk getting blown away (it can get windy), but the views are incredible.
And if you happen to be in the area on Sunday, make sure you check out the Bodega Bay Farmer’s Market from 10:00 to 2:00 for some fresh-baked goodies and wonderfully fresh produce. After you’ve filled up, and stocked up, you can start your leisurely trek up the coast, stopping at any number of turn outs for some photography fun. We made it as far as Jenner, where the Russian River meats the sea, on our trip. I know that isn’t very far, but you’d be surprised how long it takes to get from point A to point B when you’re stopping every couple of miles to check out the surfy scenes.
The northern part of our photography triangle is also where you’ll find my new favorite bakery. It’s called WildFlour and it’s located in a tiny little hamlet called Freestone. It’s well worth looking up because you’ll get a first-hand opportunity to understand why some people just love scones. Dang they’re good here. Like nothing I’ve ever had before. And you can break out your camera and that dusty macro lens while you’re there because WildFlour has a huge vegetable garden that’s open to the public. You might figure out that many of the ingredients that go into their fresh-baked bread and scones come directly from the garden.
Very close to Freestone and the WildFlour bakery is the little town of Bodega (not to be confused with the Bodega Bay over on the coast). Bodega has a couple of claims to fame, one of which is that Bodega was the shooting site for many of the scenes from “The Birds”, including the famous schoolhouse scene. You remember that one, don’t you — all those kids running out of the school house, beating away the fake birds that were pecking at their heads? But, what I really like in Bodega is the Saint Teresa of Avila Church, mostly because Ansel Adams took a photo of it back in 1953. I tried the shot myself (who wouldn’t?) but I think I need to go back and do it again 20 or 30 times until I get it right.
Our most recent trip to the area was organized by a friend of ours up here in Sonora. His son, Michael Ryan is a photographer who lives in Petaluma and who was kind enough to offer to show a few of us around some of his favorite shooting sites. And trust me, if you ever have an award-winning photographer offer to show you around an unfamiliar area, make sure you take him up on it. We could have been driving around for weeks and never found the scenes Michael shared with us.
Of course, it helped that we had some great weather to play with while we were there. Now, when I say great weather, I’m talking rain, clouds and fog and that might not sound like “great” weather to you. But to a photographer, these kinds of weather events are what make life worth living. Well, that’s probably a little bit of an exaggeration, but not much. A little bit of action in the sky can turn a dull photograph into one that might spend part of its life hanging on a gallery wall. Hey, I can dream, can’t’ I?
In any case, we had a guide, some great weather, nice friends to hang out with and all of the conveniences of our little motor home Charley– perfection!
My favorite photographs of the day were taken just before, and right after, sunrise from the top of a coastal hill. The way the fog came and went, and changed the scene in front of our eyes was simply spectacular. I wanted to see everything in my camera, so I started off with a super-wide lens, but on Michael’s advice, I changed over to a telephoto so I could isolate my favorite scenes. It was great advice. It’s hard to remember that, in photography, less is often more and simplicity can actually be more eye-worthy than just “getting everything in the shot”.
Once the sun started to get a little bit higher in the sky, we headed to lower elevations to take some photos in the fog. I was having fun shooting the other photographers, and bicyclists and trucks, and Charley and, well, just about everything. I’ve come to the conclusion that fog makes everything look better. But Rochelle found that the fog itself can make for a pretty cool photograph when she spotted a fog bow over a grassy meadow.
What in the heck is a fog bow, you’re probably asking yourself. Well, it’s really just like a rainbow, but instead of the sun. Here’s the definition direct from NASA:
A fog bow is a similar phenomenon to a rainbow; however, as its name suggests, it appears as a bow in fog rather than in rain. Because of the very small size of water droplets that cause fog – smaller than 0.05 millimeters – the fog bow has only very weak colors, with a red outer edge and bluish inner edge. In many cases when the droplets are very small, fog bows appear white, and are therefore sometimes called “White Rainbows”.
And I bet you never thought you’d learn anything reading my blog, huh?
If you’re thinking about heading over to the “Great Photography Triangle” sometime soon, drop me a line on my contact page. I’d be glad to answer any questions you might have before you go.
But if you really want to explore the area, just go to Michael Ryan’s website. at michaelryanphotography.com He is going to be doing some small-group (just a couple of people at a time) photo guiding on selected weekends. And I can’t think of a better way to get to know the area in a limited amount of time.
And no post would be complete without one of Rochelle’s Painted Photographs.