Friday, August 31, 2007
Maybe it was the altitude. Maybe it was because I hadn't been on a horse in 6 months. Or, maybe I'm just out of shape. Whatever the reason, my trail ride up into Devil's Kitchen in Lassen Volcanic National Park (part of Lassen National Forest) wore me out.
But, it was worth it! As the cowboys say, "That there's God's Country."
My friend, Carrie, and I were guided up the path to the geothermal vents and springs by a cute, sweet, young woman named Kelsey from Drakesbad Guest Ranch. It was a relaxing ride, our horses were terrific, and the views were phenomenal.
We stopped the horses at the top of the ridge about 100 yards from the sulfur pools and hiked the rest of the way in. Almost immediately we could smell the sulfur, and combined with the lush forest and bubbling streams, it made for a somewhat ethereal experience. You could actually feel the sauna-like heat steaming from the vents as you looked over the rocks at the bubbling mud pools and sulfur-stained rocks. It's just one more spot that deserves a lot more time than the three hours we spent.
Lassen is one of those areas that has, up to this point, actually been saved from development by its weather. When winter hits, just about everything shuts down. The roads become impassable and snow socks in the whole region.
However, with improvements in home building, road building, and man's desire to fulfill his "Manifest Destiny", it's only a matter of time before the quaint little villages in and around Lassen National Forest become bustling towns, complete with a Burger King and Wal-Mart. You can see the signs already, as old establishments are being torn down and newer businesses take their place. The town of Chester, just outside the National Park, is seeing the biggest development with more people moving in to permanent homes and more lodges and businesses being built to cater to the rising population of visitors on vacation.
One sign that the slow, lazy days of living in the mountains is starting to fade is the arrival of fast drivers in new cars. Now, don't think I'm going on a rant about driving fast or spending good money on a fancy car. Heck, I love to drive fast, and I love nice cars. But... there is a time and a place for them, and a quiet mountain road ain't it!
On the one-lane gravel road leading to the Ranch, we missed being broadsided by about two inches by a guy in a brand new Land Rover doing 50mph around a blind curve that should have been taken at 25mph. A few minutes later, two new Jeep Cherokees whizzed by us at the same speed. The hustle and bustle of the big city is here, and it doesn't look like it's going to stop for any wildlife, including the old-timers in their rusty pickups.
As gorgeous as Lassen was, my artistic eye was astonished by the vistas along Hwy 36 as the sun dropped low in the sky. In a few days, weather permitting, I'll show you some fantastic images of yet another ethereal landscape.
Tomorrow, I head out to the Wild Horse Sanctuary in Shingletown to scout the place for good images for my Untamed series and for some good Hi-Def video footage for the documentary.
As always, I'll keep you posted...
Wednesday, August 29, 2007
I also did a little grocery shopping today. I didn't go to Vons. I didn't go to Albertsons. And, I sure as heck didn't go to Wal-Mart. I went to a local grocery called Sunset Marketplace. And, let me tell you, I'm glad I did.
Sunset has been around for over 15 years and is relatively small, but is one of the friendliest, cleanest, most delightful stores I've ever been in. From Jamie, the sweet cashier, and Alex, the friendly butcher, to Rachel, who helped me out to the car, everyone in that store was as nice and helpful as anyone could ask.
The shelves were all full, the food was fresh and beautiful, and the selection was exceptional. If you live in or near Redding, and haven't been to Sunset Marketplace, do yourself a favor, stop in and see my friends. Tell them I sent you. :-)
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
I didn’t need much time to recover from last night – a little yoga and some fresh fruit seemed to do the trick -- but I was still sleepy from my long journey the day before. My family and I went to lunch with the Cromie clan and I got my first taste of a Georgia summer rain since almost 10 years ago. It was great just sitting on the front porch watching the summer showers and feeling the cool rain splashes dance in the warm southern air. The trees were so green, the air was so fragrant… I couldn’t have asked for a better welcome home.After a little relaxation on the porch, I walked over to my neighbor’s to visit my friend Doug. (He was spending the next few weeks at his mom’s recuperating from knee surgery.) We spent about an hour talking about how Alpharetta was when we were kids, while his mom, Linda, and her friend, Becky, spent their time in the kitchen cooking up homemade chicken, biscuits, and all the "fixins" for their church dinner that night. It was a snapshot of the South I hadn’t seen since I moved to California. I took it for granted when I lived it, but I’ll admit, I miss it now.
Saturday, August 25, 2007
Well, today is the day I came for. 20 years ago, I graduated from Milton High School – then the only high school in Alpharetta, now one of several.
I met my old friends, Marc, Steve, and Brandon, at the Roswell Doubletree Hotel around 6pm and we spent the first hour reminiscing and drinking beer like we’d never missed a day. We spent another hour in the hotel bar and then meandered over to the ballroom for the party.
In 1987, Milton High School had a graduating class of over 300, but tonight only about 60 of them (not including spouses and dates) were able to make it (and, I’d actually heard that at least one girl passed up the reunion to go to a concert!)
Despite the low turnout, it was a great time. Everyone had grown older, of course, and many looked quite the same as they did in high school, but what impressed me most was that everyone seemed to have grown up. At our 10 year reunion, people still held on to that clique mentality and still treated other classmates the same way they did in high school (the cool kids ignoring the geeks, the jocks making fun of the band, etc.) This time, though, it was different. The playing field was leveled, and those who were smug and self-centered in high school were now friendly and down-to-earth. It was a truly enjoyable evening.
One thing I was worried about, though, was remembering people’s names. Of course, we all wore nametags, but there’s always that awkward moment between when you recognize a face and when you remember (or don’t remember) their name. And, you can’t cheat by peeking at their nametags without getting caught. But, everyone was in the same boat, so not being able to connect a name with a face was easily forgiven.
The music was hit and miss, but, we had fun, and after a while, folks got out on the dancefloor and let loose. As the party in the ballroom wound down, a large group of us found ourselves carrying on in the hotel bar (the drinks were better there, anyway.) And, when the bar shut down, we all walked down the street to Tony’s and listened to a great band called The Breeze Kings (www.breezekings.com) and ended up closing that bar down as well. I think we made it back to our rooms by 2:30 or 3:00am, still wired and ready to go. Just like in high school, we outlasted the establishment and were still craving more. Just between you and me... I think it was the shared energy of the group, because we’d never be able to do that in our “normal” lives.
For me, it was a short trip (and two days of it was spent traveling), but I’m glad I went, because I truly enjoyed seeing old friends and acquaintances. I may sound like a doting parent, but I was so proud of how everyone turned out – happy, successful, and damn interesting! There were a lot of people I wish I’d gotten to know better when we were younger, and a lot of people who I look forward to getting to know better as I get older. I'm glad that so many people were able to come, and to the people who couldn’t make it... well, just know that you were dearly missed.
If you’re a Milton grad reading this blog, pass it on to your friends. They’d love to hear from you, and I’d love to hear from them. I’d like everyone to keep in touch with me, and I’d be more than happy to be a centerpoint for relaying news and information about what is happening in people’s lives. Just subscribe to my blog (click on one of the links to the right in the blue box) and I’ll make sure it happens.
Photos courtesy of Tracy (Thomas) Archer
Back on the blog... (sounds like a great album title, doesn't it?) Okay, I'll start by recapping the weekend:
Friday, August 24th:
I drove from Redding to the Sacramento Airport this morning. I was actually running late because I used my phone as my alarm and forgot to take it off "vibrate". Let's see if I remember that lesson.
You know, I actually like the Sacramento airport. Unlike the larger airports like LAX or Hartsfield in Atlanta, the Sacramento airport has trees and grass; It's small and not too crowded; It's personal and it is relaxed; It's a pleasant place to be. But, with it being a small airport, I was unprepared for the change in security procedures. I’m sure everyone is used to security screening: you take out your laptop, empty your pockets, and put anything metal in the bins. If you’re wearing heavy shoes, those come off, too. You walk through the scanner and if anything beeps, they run a wand over you. And sometimes they'll pull one of your items for a swab test. That's the extent of it. This crack team of TSA workers, however, had us take off almost everything – belts, shoes (including flip flops!), rings, hats, pacifiers, jackets, glasses –- you name it, we had to remove it. As I passed through the scanner, all I was wearing were my jeans and my shirt. Good thing I didn’t have to take off my pants... this was not the day to go "commando".
Even as I sit at the gate, ten minutes later, I still see people getting dressed, putting belts back on, tying shoes, and putting on jewelry. I even saw one guy running down the aisle to his gate with a big grin on his face, trying to hold up his pants while his belt swung wildly behind him. I'm thinking next time I'll show up at the airport in my boxers and get dressed at the gate. That ought to speed things up a bit. ;-)
Long story short, the flight to Phoenix was uneventful, but for the flight from Phoenix to Atlanta, we were overbooked, had to move to a bigger plane, got diverted to Charlotte, North Carolina because of storms and arrived in Atlanta around 11pm. It was a long, long day, and, you can believe, I was glad to finally be home. I expect I'll sleep in tomorrow. (I need to save my energy for the reunion party!)
Next: Party Party Party!
Sunday, August 26, 2007
I know many of you (how many of you are there, anyway?) would love to see daily updates on my project, but sometimes I'm not near an internet connection, so forgive me if I miss a day or two here and there.
In the next two upcoming entries, I'll fill you in on my very interesting flight to Atlanta and my 20 year Milton High School Reunion party. But, right now, I'm on a dial-up connection, and am away from my laptop, so I'll keep this entry brief, saving the details for when I get back to my satellite connection and my regular computer.
But, I do have a special request: If anyone that attended the reunion has photos of the party, Please send me copies! I was having so much fun that I didn't take a single picture. And I'm a photographer! Shame on me.
You can email the photos to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
And, tune in Tuesday, as I'll have new updates for you. Until then... as Casey Kasem used to say, "Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars!"
Wednesday, August 22, 2007
Hot Hot Hot!
It’s been a scorcher today. Without the air conditioning on in the RV, it felt like an oven. Now that it’s cooled off a little bit outside, I can shut the air off and just turn on the fans to bring in the breeze. Poor cats.
Good news! I was talking to a friend in Redding who told me of a wild horse sanctuary nearby. It’s on a 5000 acre ranch near Shingletown, CA (www.wildhorsesanctuary.org). I have a call in to them to talk about a visit. This means I can photograph the wild horses now, without having to wait until I get to Wyoming. See… every time I get delayed, something good comes out of it.Shane’s gotten a bit farther on the Rover – he’s installed the engine mounts (which he had to make from scratch!), and will now be able to make those minor adjustments to make it fit perfectly. I got some good video footage of the installation, too. Completion of the project is still going to take a while (waiting for custom-made parts from other shops), but should have it complete by the end of September. I know, it’s way behind schedule, but that’s to be expected when you’re tackling something that nobody has ever done before.
Tuesday, August 21, 2007
I haven't found any Biodiesel yet, but this is getting close. Today, I found ULSD (Ultra Low Sulfur Diesel) at a local Redding TA Travel Center. ULSD is the government's latest response to reducing emissions from diesel fuels. As opposed to conventional diesel sulfur content (which can be as high as 500 parts per million), ULSD is limited to 15 parts per million -- a significant reduction. And, it's relatively affordable. Prices hover around the same price as traditional diesel (which can vary from around $2.85 to $3.99 per gallon). I've been running my generator on ULSD for much of the afternoon while I work on my images and try to keep the RV cool while sitting in the hot parking lot at the Rover Hybrids shop, and have noticed a significantly reduced exhaust fumes. So far, so good!
And, ULSD is just one option. There are numerous others, including Biodiesel, Vegetable oil, Ethanol (for gasoline engines), algae... the list goes on. To help keep things straight, I've provided a "bio fuel chart" from the Sierra Club's latest online newsletter.
Click on the chart to enlarge itChart Courtesy of Sierra Club
Well, those tapes taught me a valuable lesson -- that I look like a complete jackass when I get frustrated with and complain about other drivers. Watching myself act that way has caused me to be more patient and understanding behind the wheel.
I consider that a Lesson learned.
Monday, August 20, 2007
Redding's ABC affiliate, KRCR, came by yesterday to do an interview with me about my Vanishing America Project. It actually went well. I felt good in front of the camera, said what I wanted to say, explained the project well, maintained a neutral ground in the political battle over the environment, and was pleased with the whole process.
Unfortunately, my first time in the spotlight wasn't to be...
The Redding News ran my story at 6:30 and 11, but had technical difficulties, so both pieces were cut short... but, I had fun with it, and I'll use the experience to help me improve my technique for the next time.
And, I have to admit, I look good on camera! Who'da thought? ;-)
Yesterday morning I drove about an hour north of Redding to the town of Mt. Shasta. It was a beautiful drive as I crossed over the Western edge of the Cascade Mountain Range and Lake Shasta. Due to a very dry season, there wasn't any snow to speak of, but the lush coating of evergreens definitely made up for it. The only disappointment was Lake Shasta itself, which was down over 100 feet. It was sad, looking like an open-pit mine that had recently been puddled with a little rain.
Upon arriving in town, I met up with my friend, Debbie, who gave me a fantastic tour of the area, including the numerous small lakes scattered around the mountains. It was, indeed, picture postcard perfect. The air was crisp and cool, but the sun kept the temperature warm enough to put off wearing a jacket until the evening.
We had a fantastic lunch at a great little pub called Billy Goat's Tavern and later had an incredible dinner at an organic Japanese sushi restaurant called Vivify, owned by Sachio and Ayako Kojima.
There are a lot of great things to photograph in Mt. Shasta and the surrounding areas, and, fortunately, the community is keeping a watchful eye on development to make sure the areas are protected. The only real danger is the climate itself, which is producing less rain and snow, resulting in a lower water table and causing the lakes, rivers and streams to slowly dry up. Now, I'll admit, I don't know if this is merely a temporary naturally-occuring condition or not, but the residents are definitely concerned. I'll be sure to keep an eye on it and let you know what I'm able to find out.
On a different note, later today I have an interview scheduled with Redding's ABC affiliate KRCR, channel 7. It's my first TV interview. Wish me luck!
Saturday, August 18, 2007
Today, Shane and I will take some measurements of my RV storage compartments so we can have some custom fuel tanks made, and then he's going to teach me to weld! (We should probably have the local fire department on hand for this one...)
Tomorrow, I head up to Weed (population 3300) with a friend to do some exploring.
And, Monday, I have my very first interview scheduled with Redding's local ABC news affiliate, KRCR!
Thursday, August 16, 2007
I spent most of my day today working on my blogs, my reports, my journal, and sorting out the 10 hours of video that I've shot since my trek began, so when Shane came around suggesting we go downtown, I was ready to go out and play.
We began by picking up his lovely wife, Tina, who is 5 months pregnant with their first child (a girl!) -- and heading out to Market Fest, a combination music festival and farmer's market in downtown Redding on Market street (of all places.)
After listening to the band and picking up some peaches and a few vegetables, we meandered over to Market Street Steakhouse for dinner. I love this place! Not only did I have a good time flirting with the cute female staff, but the meal (a tender Filet Mignon) was phenomenal! I honestly can't remember the last time I had a steak that good. And the wilted spinach with a side of peppercorn ranch and bacon dressing took my breath away.
However, I had the most fun of the night talking with Nicole and Cami (two lovely women at the bar), and with our hot little hostess, Sarah (it's not complete without the "h"), and Heather, our beautiful waitress. And, since Shane and Tina are due in January, I used the opportunity to flirt with girls and asked them to help us come up with names for their baby girl. So far, the name Paige seems to be holding strong. (Paige is actually the name of one of Sarah's children.)
All in all, it was a great night. I had a great meal, and a lot of fun talking with some very attractive young women. I can only hope I have more evenings like this on my journey.
Nicole, Cami, Sarah, and Heather -- thank you for a wonderful evening, and I hope we see each other again real soon! (And, drop me an email if you get a chance.)
Tomorrow, I plan on doing a little exploring around the area. There is a lot to see: The Sundial Bridge at Turtle Bay, Shasta Dam, Lake Shasta and Mount Shasta, Lassen Volcanic National Park, and Whiskeytown, to name a few. A quick ride over to the local airport for a rental car, and I'm on my way!
I'll let you know tomorrow what I found...
Sundial Bridge image courtesy of Turtle Bay Exploration Park
Wednesday, August 15, 2007
It was a fairly uneventful drive -- a little traffic in Reno -- but other than that, it was gorgeous. The majority of the drive took place in Lassen National Forest on Hwy 44. Hundreds of acres of trees, streams, and fields -- picture postcard landscapes everywhere you looked.
After coming out of the forest, and winding my way down some quaint country roads, I pulled in to the Rover Hybrids lot in Redding to meet with owner Shane Ballensky just in time for lunch. And after a huge burrito from Burrito Bandito down the road, Shane and I went back to the shop and, well, talked shop.
He showed me everything he's been working on for my project... from the vehicle all the way down to the individual components that filter the used vegetable oil that I'll be using as fuel. We're actually converting not only the RV to run on veggie oil, but we're converting a 1994 Land Rover Defender 90 series as well. And, since you can only run veggie oil through a properly converted diesel engine, Shane has replaced the stock Land Rover V8 gas engine with a Cummins diesel engine. Not a small task, but definitely a necessary one.
Now, all of this actually does have a purpose: I'll be towing the Defender behind the RV so I can have access to all those wonderful places that the RV can't get to. And, I can't very well protect the environment in a gas guzzling V8 now, can I?
While Shane is working on the conversions, I'll be trekking through Northern California, Oregon, and possibly Washington to get some images and video footage for the project. (Washington, and in particular, Walla Walla, is where my friend, Lisa Curtis goes to school. Lisa has been working on a fantastic presentation about how climate change affects California's Mono Lake. You'll be able to see her PowerPoint slideshow on the Vanishing America website once it goes live.)
And, of course, I'll keep you all posted on my progress... stay tuned!
Tuesday, August 14, 2007
I left the lovely Boulder Creek RV Resort at around noon today. I would have left earlier, but I did a short workout when I woke up, and had to take a nap to recover. The drive up to Reno was pretty, but fairly uneventful. I stopped at a tiny BBQ joint in an even tinier town called Lee Vining. It’s a tourist stop across from Mono Lake. The tri-tip sandwich was almost as uninspiring as the service.After lunch, I headed north on the 395 toward Reno, hoping to reach the city by about 8pm. Unfortunately, that wasn’t to be the case. After crossing over into Nevada’s Douglas County, I hit a huge line of traffic. After about 30 minutes of listening to the AM station for traffic updates and waiting for information from passing cars, I found that the 395 was closed due to fire evacuation. So, I turned around and headed south to meet up with the 208. From the 208, I took Alternate Route 95 up to Fernley. Fernley is situated at the junction of the A95 and I80.
Along the way, I was fortunate enough to see some beautiful landscapes... cool mountain streams meandering through open pastures, and shallow creeks cutting through deep canyons with sheer cliff faces on either side. As I've said before, things happen for a reason. I was also treated to a fiery sunset on my way in to Fernley.
I only had another 35 miles to Reno, but it was already 9pm and my eyes were getting tired. (That’s what 9 hours of driving will do to you.) So, I pulled into a rest stop off I80 and settled in for the night. I’d rather not stay in a rest stop, but between the three big rigs parked here, my multitude of alarms, locks, and security stickers, I feel well protected from any kind of theft or vandalism while I’m here.
Tomorrow, I should make it all the way to Redding.
Today, I head farther north up the 395 to Reno -- the next stop on my way to Redding.
Yes, I know there are quicker ways to get to Redding, but that's not the point of this trip. The idea is to "stop and smell the roses", not zoom by them so fast that all you get is a pink blur. Since I'm due in Redding on Wednesday, I don't have time to stop and shoot this time around, but at least I get to see it, and then, when I come back through here in a month or two, I can take the time necessary to make some beautiful images.
I'll be pulling out in about 2 hours. I've had a productive and restful stay at Boulder Creek, and look forward to seeing some interesting landscapes as I pass by Yosemite, Mammoth, and Mono Lake. It should be about a 6 hour drive, but I'm sure that time will fly by!
Monday, August 13, 2007
It's Sunday, and I'm finally on the road to Redding.
This officially marks the beginning of my Vanishing America Journey!
To kick things off, I had breakfast this morning with Monique Marvez from Jack FM's morning show in San Diego. She is stoked about having me call in from the road to giver her and her listeners updates on my progress. Monique has been a stand-up comic for over 10 years – most of which was spent on the road traveling the U.S. just like I'm doing. (That's one of the reasons she's interested in this project. We have some common ground.)
After breakfast at this cool old (and original) Hollywood hills café, I hit the road. In keeping with my vow to avoid the Interstates at all costs, I'm taking Hwy 395 so I can avoid the cities and swing by Yosemite on my way to Redding. It's a little out of the way, but that's what this trip is all about: seeing things I wouldn't normally see otherwise.
By evening I had made it up the Eastern Sierras as far as Lone Pine, a little town nestled in on Hwy 395 between Sequoia National Park and Death Valley National Park, about 3 hours northeast of Bakersfield. Apparently it's a stopover for folks on their way to Mammoth.
It took me about 7 hours and I passed through some very interesting scenery on my way up here. Most of what I drove through was desert scrub, with an occasional mining town thrown in to break the monotony. But, the most interesting part was on the way to Coso Junction Rest Area in Rose Valley, about 10 minutes south of Lone Pine. For several miles prior to reaching the rest area, you could see from the highway huge outcroppings of dark volcanic rock and red volcanic sand. It was an incredibly stark contrast to the smooth rolling scrub hills of the Eastern Sierras. This area, as I later found out, is geothermically active, helping to create natural wonders like Fossil Falls and Mono Lake.
I need an extra day to catch up on my writing, emails, editing, etc., so I'm spending the night at the Boulder Creek RV Resort -- a very nice, quiet campground right off the 395, about 5 miles south of Lone Pine. It's a very pretty place, for being out in the middle of nowhere, and it's extremely affordable -- $27/night with full hookups, a pool and spa, lounge with cable tv, a very nice general store, and a surprisingly pleasant staff. If you're camping in an RV, I highly recommend this as a stopover. Just be prepared for a lot of wind!
And, I'm glad it's out in the middle of nowhere, because you can see lots of stars, and even the Milky Way. And, that's a good thing, because the Perseid meteor shower is supposed to be visible tonight!
On a side note, the image and website on the RV seems to be generating buzz already! I have to admit, it was exciting when Don Goldberg dropped me a line after seeing me drive through the LA area on my way up here. His was the first contact I've had as a direct result of seeing the rig. Since then, I've received another email from a nice person named Loreto, who lives in Chile, who found my blog online!
While I'm flying under the radar, I still have time to answer emails from folks like Don and Loreto, but soon, after I get a few interviews under my belt and do a couple of segments for Fox & Friends, I expect to be so busy that I won't have much time to answer all my emails. But, I will try!
Monday, August 06, 2007
The vinyl is all printed and the installation begins at 6am tomorrow. 6am!
I've been waiting and working on getting this wrap done since I arrived here in Anaheim on July 3rd. It is now August 6th, and I'm ready to get going, so they can start at 3am for all I care.
Of course, the longer I stay, the more things come to my attention that need to be photographed... the Fox Theatre, the Santa Ana River, Carbon Canyon Redwoods, El Toro military base, the Long Beach refinery (or whatever that mass of industry is called), Mojave Airport... the list goes on.
But, that's what I'll run into this whole trip: there are so many things vanishing in America, and I can only document a portion of it. I'd love to be able to shoot it all, but if I did, this project might never end.
So, I'll do the best that I can while I'm here and move on to the next destination -- in this case, Redding, California, for the vegetable oil conversion on the RV.
Oh, and I'll be sure to post the shots of the completed wrap. I can't wait!