San Francisco has an extensive bay, and several islands within it. A trip to Alameda Island proved to be good entertainment for the grandkids, and grandma as well (photographing the kids).
We hiked about a mile and a half out to the sand dunes at Año Nuevo state park, and were excited to find the giant forms of sleeping Elephant Seals there.
Elephant seals don’t eat or drink while on land, instead subsisting on the fat stores acquired during their many months at sea. When they leave the breeding beaches, males and females take differ routes to feeding grounds either along the coast (males) or open ocean (females), but both feed at extreme depths, up to 5000 feet deep in dives lasting almost 2 hours. (There are some special adaptations for that activity, to be discussed later). Preferred foods are usually benthic forms like rays, bottom-dwelling sharks, squid, hagfish, etc.
From David Attenborough’s “life in the freezer”
We spent a lovely sunny afternoon at Ano Nuevo state park watching the elephant seals, but on the way to marvel at these gigantic beasts, we passed a pond with some Brown Pelicans, flying from fresh water to the nearby ocean. It was too good an opportunity to photograph these majestic flyers to pass up.
For those following the travelog, yes we made it to California, just an hour before a major winter snowfall hit Donner Pass. Cars were delayed 17 hours on I-80 and chains we didn’t have were required after 36 inches of snow fell on the Sierras over the weekend.
The grandkid cousins had a chance to play together and exercise the McNab border collie that lives here in CA. She’s great entertainment for the kids, and gave me a chance to practice my high speed (and she is definitely a high-speed chaser) photography.
From Elko to Winnemucca along I-80, we cruise up and down the mountains and valleys that run like long fingers north to south. A blanket of snow and scattered clouds filtering the early morning light make this usually monotonous landscape very photogenic.
West of Winnemucca, the valley basins are more expansive, merging into one gigantic bowl, the Great Basin sink. Water from rivers draining the eastern side of the Sierra mountains eventually makes its way into the Great Basin, some of it collecting in temporary or even permanent lakes. This is the only source of water for agriculture in western Nevada.
and now we will climb the eastern side of the Sierras, hopefully in advance of the giant snowstorm headed there.
It’s a short drive down the Lincoln Highway from Evanston, WY to Salt Lake City, and what a scenic drive through a gorgeous red canyon it is.
The Lincoln Highway was one of the earliest transcontinental routes for car travel from New Jersey to California, traversing 13 states. Now that would be a real cross section of America, instead of this abbreviated picture I’m presenting here.
Having driven through sparkling, crystal clear landscapes from western most Wyoming, I had big expectations of the sight that would greet us as we broke through the cliffs into the Great Salt Lake flats. But, a dense inversion layer of smog greeted us in Salt Lake City, and instead of mountains, city, and lake landscape, we saw this.
If I have matched up google images correctly with our stop for lunch on the southern shore of the lake, it should have looked something like this.
But the best view of this amazing body of water was still ahead of us at the Bonneville salt flat, where the salt-laden earth has dried into a hardened concrete and land speed records are set (currently 622 mph in a rocket-powered vehicle). Imagine the g-forces the driver of that car withstands as he rockets (literally) down the 10 mile speedway.
The drive through the rest of the salt desert went by quickly, and soon we were greeted by Wendover Will at the Nevada border. My husband claims he always looked forward to seeing cowboy Will greet them on their trips from California to Nebraska in the summer. It’s good to know that some things don’t change over 50-60 years in the west.
Take the vast, open prairie of South Dakota, and remove the cows and farms, add some bunch grasses, sage brush, and pockets of stunted juniper, along with a few rolling hills, and you have Eastern Wyoming.
Somehow on our way from I-90 to I-80 in eastern Wyoming, we got off the beaten track and stumbled across a road through a picturesque canyon right before sunset. One of those construction signs with lighted messages warned us, “wildlife next 10 miles”. This was quite exciting because we had seen a total of exactly one hawk the entire day. Sure enough around one corner, there were three mule deer standing next to the road, but they quickly scurried away.
We spotted a raven or two as we drove along the smaller roads, but the winter landscape in this part of Wyoming seems devoid of wildlife: few hawks, no coyotes, no antelope, no jack rabbits, no cattle, no people. It might as well be the Gobi desert.
In the twilight we negotiated our way back to I-80 and were treated with a glorious sunset.
The next day, following I-80 west from Rawlings to Evanston and then into Utah, the Wyoming landscape got more and more interesting, as rolling hills of sagebrush gave way to rocky cliffs, deep canyons, and taller juniper interspersed with a few pines. But the sparseness of human settlement did not change. This is land for the very rugged, independent, individualists of us, who really enjoy their alone time.
Wyoming is challenging, and mystifying, and interesting, and welcoming. Towns have unusual names like Winner (where you introduce yourself by saying you’re a Winner-ite), Chugwater (how do you suppose it got that name?), and Guernsey (are there actual cows there?). Friendly hotel and restaurant personnel provide wonderful service, with nary a country twang in their speech. And I bet they are strong enough to throw a hay bale up on a pickup!
It’s bleak season in Minnesota, so we’re on the road again, this time across country to Northern California. So I’ve decided to take my readers along on a photo journey crossing a part of America.
South Dakota, like it’s northern neighbor is flat as a pancake along the I-90 corridor. It’s the land of big skies, because there is no relief in the land. It’s the land where buffalo roamed, chowing down on those nutritious mixed, native grasses. It’s sparsely populated away from urban areas, one farm per several road miles. And it’s dotted with black cows and hay bales. A few of the scenes we encountered…
One advertisement for Firestone Winery in Rapid City read: “in wine there is wisdom, in water there are bacteria”. Wall, SD got its name from the literal wall of bluffs running north from the badlands to its terminus at I-90 where a town grew up, and it got its fame from an enterprising young pharamcist and his wife who offered free ice water to thirsty travelers making their way west. And thus a popular tourist attraction was born.
Next on to Wyoming…
What a fabulous year of sight-seeing, from Peru to the U.K and Iceland, to the wilds of California and Minnesota, and scenic coastlines of northeastern North America. It’s so hard choose the favorites, so instead I chose representative ones that bring back fond memories. I hope you enjoy the re-run of the previous year’s landscapes.
And now on to 2019…
Our travels took us far and wide this year: Peru, England, Scotland, Iceland, California a few times, New England and Maritime provinces of Canada, Florida, and of course, northern Minnesota. There were so many interesting, colorful, and unique encounters with wildlife it was hard to pick favorites, but my choices are partly based on diversity of subject material. Of the ones below (that made my top 15 list), which are your favorites? (You can click or tap on each image to enlarge it to full screen and use the back arrow to return to the post.)