Hey everyone.

We've been quite busy since the last update, so this is going to cover a lot.  We left Flagstaff and headed out towards Pinnacles National Park, stopping in Death Valley along the way.  Our two day layover in Death Valley was mostly spent sleeping because for some reason, whether it was the ungodly heat or just all the miles taking its toll, we just couldn't pull ourselves out of bed.  At any rate, it was a much needed rest that left us refreshed and ready for the seven hour drive to Pinnacles.

With all the traveling we do, a seven hour drive is like a trip to the supermarket; however, if the scenery sucks, time seems to go by very slowly.  It took several hours to get out of the desert and we felt every minute of it because the only thing we had to look at was mounds of dirt and each other.  When we were about two hours away from Pinnacles, the scenery changed drastically.  The mounds of dirt and rock slowly turned into big green rolling hills, and we spent the rest of the drive passing by vineyards, orchards, and orange groves.  The smell of plants and wildflowers permeated the car and made the remaining miles that much more pleasant.

Cave Buddies
We arrived at Pinnacles National Park around 2:30 and immediately set out to do some hiking.  The park, which was just upgraded from national monument to national park status in January (see, Obama did SOMETHING right), is very small and has just over 30 miles of hiking trails.  We decided to check out the Balconies Caves and Cliffs and chose to do a seven-mile loop to counteract the seven hours spent sitting in the car.  The hike up to the cliffs was very pretty and there were lots of wildflowers along the trail, including Melinda's favorite the Sticky Monkeyflower.  We then descended into the Balconies Cave, which is a talus cave created by huge boulders forming a roof over a narrow canyon.  The cave was dark and spooky, and we needed a flashlight to navigate up and down the rocks.  We finished off the day by hiking a section of the Condor Gulch trail, where it is possible to spot the elusive California Condor.  Unfortunately we didn't see any condors, but we did see plenty of vultures.  Condors are basically big vultures anyway.

A great view. The mountains, not me.
The next day we set out to do a long hike into the Pinnacles formations.  We started out by hiking into the Bear Gulch Cave, another talus cave, and then hiking up the "Steep and Narrow" portion of the High Peaks Trail before returning to camp.  The hike was long, roughly 8-9 miles, and at some points it was pretty brutal.  The steep and narrow section was very steep and very narrow. The wind was pretty intense as we neared the highest area but the view was spectacular.  On the last day, we took it easy and hiked the South Wilderness Trail which was a nice walk through hills and valleys.  We enjoyed the park a lot and hiked almost two-thirds of their trails in the short time we were there.  Our only complaint was the 100 or so screaming kids in the group camping area behind our campsite. They would scream and carry on well into the night, despite quiet hours starting at 10pm.  I think they were jacked up on Cliff Bars and Mountain Dew.

Wild animal inside of a tree
Wilderness Hike

Grass Hills outside of Pinnacles

After leaving Pinnacles, we FINALLY made our way to the Pacific Coast.  We decided to skip the Big Sur area, even though it's supposed to be crazy gorgeous, because camping was either a) impossible to find or b) 55-75 dollars a night for a patch of dirt, no water, no electric.  As an alternative, we decide to check out the beaches in San Mateo County, just north of Santa Cruz.  We stayed at a nice little campground (at a modest $25/night) inside of San Mateo County Memorial Park.  Although the name seems more fitting for a cemetery, the park was a wonderful little place nestled in the redwoods.  Driving down Highway 1 towards camp was like driving in a car commercial with the cliffs overlooking the Pacific.  The majority of the coastline was made up of small state beaches and parks, and we ended up passing a bunch of great spots on the way to camp. We were pretty excited to check out the Pacific Ocean, so we immediately unhooked the trailer and drove back down to Pescadero State Beach.  We stood atop the cliffside and watched the surf pound the coastline. It was pretty wild and a whole lot different from anything we've seen back east. This was also the first time we ever saw wild seals. There were about 10 or 15 down on the rocks near the beach so we climbed down for a closer look. They seemed fat and happy and were some of the cutest things we've ever seen. We discussed the logistics of taking one home with us, but thought better of it =) We drove south for a few more miles to check out the other beach areas so we could decide where to go for sunset. We first stopped at Bean Hollow State Beach and then drove a bit further to Pebble Beach. We noticed some tide pools while we were scouting out the areas and we managed to see a few colorful starfish in one of them.

We decided to stay at Pebble Beach for sunset since I was intrigued by a huge "punchbowl" like rock area where incoming waves would slam the surrounding rocks and then fill up the center with water, causing a huge jet of water to come hurling out toward the beach. I stood and watched it for a little while to make sure it was safe and I pretty much came to the conclusion that it wasn't. But it was the sweetest spot I had found so I figured I'd give it a go. 45 minutes later I was soaked, as was my gear, so I called it quits and shot a few other places around the area before I headed back to the car. Melinda just looked at me and shook her head. I think this is the moment she realized that for the next two months the car was going to smell like a wet dog. I ended up shooting at all 3 beaches before we left and came back soaked every single time.

Sunset at Pebble Beach

Seal seeing
The next day we visited Ano Nuevo State Park, which is a park that protects the northern elephant seal.  Prior to 1900, the elephant seals were slaughtered for the oil that could be rendered from their blubber until there were less than 200 seals left.  The elephant seal was given protected status, and now there are thousands of them.  During the winter months, the elephant seals come ashore at Ano Nuevo to mate and give birth.  When we arrived, all of the older seals had returned to sea, but the weened pup seals were present, as were the juvenile female seals that were molting.  The weened pups were either sunning their fat bellies on the beach, throwing sand on their heads, or out in the shallow water teaching themselves how to swim for their journey out to sea.

 Despite only being a few months old, they looked like they had been packing in the tasty cakes.  The ranger informed us that the pups consume more than 25,000 calories each day before they are weened from their mothers.  We tried to calculate how much food would equal 25,000 calories: 20 Chipotle burritos, 41 Big Macs, 75 Cup of Noodles.  I don't think it's humanly possible to eat that much in one day, but it sure would be nice!

We wanted to go and lay down right next to them

Later that morning, we visited Pigeon Point Lighthouse.  I scurried down a pretty steep bluff to the beach, only to be greeted with high tide. I had to wait until the waves rolled back out and then run as fast as I could around a huge rock outcropping to the other side before I got soaked. I made it, but ended up getting soaked in the process of shooting anyways.

Pigeon Point Lighthouse

Russian Ridge
Before leaving the Pescadero area, we decided to go inland a bit and visited Russian Ridge Open Space Preserve.  We hiked about 4 miles through the hillsides looking for fields of wildflowers. There are so many interconnecting trails that you can basically just pick and choose which routes to combine to make a nice loop. Sometimes we would be walking through huge rolling meadows, other times we would be in dense wooded areas.  After hiking around for a bit, we grabbed some sandwiches at Arcangeli's Deli and Bakery in the town of Pescadero.  Their herb foccacia bread was so good, I can't find the words to describe it.  We also grabbed a giant loaf of warm garlic artichoke bread, chocolate croissants and lolliberry scones.  It was a wonderful surprise to find such good food in such a small town.  If you're ever in the area, be sure to stop by. 

We thought this sign was funny
Wild Poppies

After four days in Pescadero, we drove north to the Point Reyes area.  We had to drive through San Francisco and over the Golden Gate Bridge to get there, and of course the GPS made the drive much harder than it should have been.  Instead of just staying straight on the road to the bridge, the GPS had us making lefts and rights, and more rights, and more lefts.  It ended up being a pretty cool drive anyway.

So this next part requires a little back story. Way back in the beginning of October, we made some time to stop in the Aspen, Colorado area to shoot at Maroon Bells.  I had already missed the fall color, but I wanted to at least see it and say I've been there.  I arrived at the Maroon Bells parking area around 4-4:30 in the morning and met another photographer named Randy that arrived about the same time we did. Neither of us had been there before and it was completely dark, so we walked the trail together.  Over the next few hours we chatted away and talked about our travels as we nearly froze to death that morning. Randy lives outside the San Francisco area and he told me to give him a holler when we were in the area.  He offered to show us around and take me shooting, so when we knew we were going to be near San Francisco, I emailed Randy and arranged to meet up.  I'd like to first say that my wife and I enjoy each other's company very much. However, we both agreed that it was nice to actually have somebody besides each other to talk to ; )

 After we dumped the trailer off, we made plans to meet at Muir Woods and go shoot some of the giant Redwoods. Randy was worried a bit about the crowds, but I think he was even surprised with the amount of people there. It was packed tighter than the front row at a Justin Beiber concert. Somehow we found each other in the sea of chaos and promptly got the hell out of there. We decided to head over to the Point Reyes area, where Randy showed us an old boat that had run ashore in the Tomales Bay.


Randy and I getting ready to shoot at Rodeo Beach
The boat can be seen from the road, but would be easily missed if you didn't know it was there.  The wind was pretty wild that day and since Point Reyes is one of the windiest places in the USA, we felt the full force of it non-stop.  We tried to visit the Point Reyes Lighthouse but when we arrived at the cliff-top parking area, we were greeted with a packed parking lot and 50 mph wind gusts.  We checked out Drake's Beach on the drive back to the town of Inverness, and I'm pretty sure we all had our daily serving of sand during the 10 minutes we spent on the beach.  Randy treated us to a late lunch with dessert at a cafe in Inverness (Thank you again!!!) and we made plans to shoot sunset at Rodeo Beach, which is closer to San Francisco.  The sunset turned out to be pretty great, and it happened to have the only clouds I saw in our 4 days staying in the Point Reyes area. I might have overlooked this spot if not for Randy so I was really happy we decided to go here.

An awesome end to a wonderful day

After the shooting was over it was time to part ways. It was probably one of the best days of our entire trip so far. It's funny how just a chance meeting can lead to having a new friend. We really appreciated Randy taking the time to play tour guide with us for the day, and on the way back to camp I think we both felt a bit sad that the day was over. I think despite all of the great stuff we see and experience, sometimes you forget that one of the most important things are the friends you have and the time you spend with them. So Randy, thank you for everything, you are one hell of a great guy. To anyone reading this, make sure to check out his photos at If you have a naked wall that needs a photo, give him a holler.  You won't be disappointed!

We spent some time in Mount Tamalpais Sate Park. It's a huge wilderness wonderland that has some really nice hikes. We hiked the Steep Ravine Trail and Dipsea Trails which was only a 3.5 mile loop.  The hike was pretty easy until we had to ascend what seemed like 1000 steps on the way back up.  I forgot to lighten my camera bag thinking the hike would be easy and I paid the price. Lots of extra gear made for a lot of extra pain.  We also stopped back at Muir Woods.  After seeing how crowded it gets, we arrived right when they opened.  We wandered around the redwoods for about two hours.  Once the tour buses started to arrive, we decided it was time to leave.

Muir Woods Redwood

We ventured back to Point Reyes and drove around and explored some of the other small beaches. We decided to hike down to McClure Beach, where a gust of wind almost kept us from actually making any forward progress, it was nuts. When we actually made it to the beach, I had the great idea to walk toward a series of large rocks near a coastal bluff.  The wind grew stronger the closer I got since it was being funneled between the cliffside and the large rocks stuck in the ocean.  I had my hood pulled over my face and could barely see with all the sand blowing. When I made it to the other side of the bluff, I looked out the corner of my eye and saw a huge seal about 2 feet from me looking up at me with his huge black eyes. He scared the crap out of me. I manage to at least get one shot off before I decided the amount of sand blowing was just too much and decided to make my way back. It was pretty brutal since now the wind was right in my face and it felt like I was being power washed with sand. We finally made it back to the car and for the next 2 days I was getting sand out of my ears and it was embedded in my scalp until I took a shower.

Alemere Falls trail
The next day, we decided to do an 8.5 mile roundtrip hike to Alemere Falls, which is one of two tidal waterfalls (that I know of) in California. Despite the distance, the trail was pretty easy and had wonderful views overlooking the Pacific.  The end of the trail is a little tricky because the trail forces you down a slightly eroded cliffisde.  There was a lot of loose gravel and broken shale, so we descended cautiously.  Before we went down, a group of girls approached us and advised us that we needed a rope in order to descend/ascend the trail to the waterfall.  I was kind of perplexed since I knew the climb down was supposed to be a bit sketchy, but I never read that a rope was necessary. The girls told us that, of the four of them, only one went down because the other three girls were needed to pull the brave soul that ventured down back up. I thought maybe the cliff had given way and the climb was tougher now, so we went around the corner and checked it out. It was probably one of the easiest climbs down and back up a rock face I have ever done and we made fun of that group for the rest of the day. I don't think they make rope short enough to even work in that situation.  The waterfall was pretty epic.

The climb down to the beach

It's not often you see a huge waterfall crashing down onto a beach.  Since it was low tide, I had to stand in the ocean to get anything worthwhile. For anyone that is curious, the Pacific is cold, really really really cold. Melinda even got a nice soaking from a wave when she was taking my photo. I then made the point about why I always come back soaking wet when shooting the coast. I don''t plan on getting soaked, it just always seems to happen no matter how hard I try to avoid it.

Shooting with back against ocean is never good!
Alemere Falls

On our last day in Point Reyes, we decided to venture into San Francisco.  We were going to wander around Chinatown, but after driving through most of it trying to find parking, we realized it looked a lot like Baltimore City and we asked ourselves if it was even worth it. We expected something a bit different, so we scrapped the idea and headed back out of the city to the Marin Headlands, where numerous overlooks provide nice views of the Golden Gate Bridge and the city skyline.


 We drove back into the city to check out the Cliff House and the Sutro Bath ruins for sunset.  The Sutro Baths used to be a giant multi-story complex with heated saltwater pools complete with diving boards and slides.  All that remains is the foundation and a few pools of water.  My original plan for shooting that evening was to head out to one of the beaches to shoot the bridge at sunset, but when I walked down to the Sutro Baths I had a tough choice to make. I really liked the area and I figured I could get a decent shot here, but I would have to forgo that classic bridge photo. I was pretty torn, but I decided to stay and shoot at the Baths.

The Sutro Baths at sunset

Typically, we aren't fans of sightseeing in huge cities.  San Francisco seems to be a bit different than most cities, with its numerous parks and beaches.  Since we mostly concentrated on exploring the areas surrounding the city, we missed out of much of what the city has offer.  Perhaps we will revisit the city sometime, hopefully when the heavy coastal fog is present as it makes for awesome photos.  We are continuing up the coast to Mendocino for a few days before heading inland toward Mount Shasta.  Until next time…

Some bridge

Round 2 at an awesome cafe
A little dead birdie
Rockin' grub
Pebble Beach AKA Another world

Pounding surf

Bean Hollow Beach
: P


  1. Wow, Jordan, you guys are having the most fantastic time! I know most of the areas you mention in this post - even the cafe in Inverness! And the steps on the Dipsea Trail!!!! Really enjoying your trip vicariously and the amazing photos. What memories you will have.


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