Category Archives: Photography

2005, the way home: day 4

Original post: 2005-05-27: Return from Mojave, Day 4

Photos: Mojave to Illinois, May 2005

By the third or fourth day of travel, the muscles start to relax, and the mind and eyes and heart open up a little. Things are easier—and easing. There's less of that hesitation before heading off—even if you still don't know where you're going, there's less friction involved in going there.
Some of it is for simple reasons: after a few days of tent folding, you get to be pretty efficient at doing it. And, no matter what it is that you've packed, the stuff that you don't need has packed itself into harder-to-reach places where it is out of the way of the stuff you do need, which is packed, although somewhat un-neatly, right where the trunk or back doors open. Reach in, grab it—put it back, shut the door, and go.

Where should you go? Drive across Oregon. In fact, do it twice—but we'll come to that later.

Before heading out from Lava Beds, there was one curiosity—representative of many curiosities across the US if you know where to look for them—that I saw on the way out. Captain Jack's Stronghold—one of the last stands of the Modoc out west. I had never heard of Captain Jack, the Modoc, the Modoc Wars, etc. I mean, it makes sense intellectually that there were people were there in California living before other people came across the land from the United States or across the water from Spain or wherever, but it's visceral when you get to pause somewhere and consider what it means. Captain Jack's Stronghold is interesting. It's just a bit of volcanic land that the Modoc had prepared into a series of sunken pathways and small caves and otherwise unfriendly territory—unfriendly if it's not your home, at least. When it's your home, you know it, and you can use the land to your advantage to hold off a much larger army—for a while, at least, longer than expected.

I don't understand it. I just appreciate the underdog nature of the thing, the resistance to a manifest destiny that claims your manifest homeland. When you walk through those volcanic passageways, what else could you feel but to feel like the defender?

From there: north to Oregon.

I had never been to Oregon before—couldn't tell you about anything that was there other than Crater Lake, which was still mostly closed due to snow at that time. I just assumed that Oregon was covered, south to north and west to east, with big ass trees. Total lumberjack country. 

But the high desert covers about two-thirds or more of the state, from the Cascades all the way to the eastern boundary. There are trees, sure, but along the route I took the trees had to fight for purchase with another long stretch of old volcanos and lava flows.

It's so weird. I didn't realize how much of the country was a wasteland—and I mean that lovingly. I mean that as someone who would drive to Death Valley anytime I was within six hours of that fantastic hellhole.

Everyone knows Portland, Oregon is weird. That's no surprise. But that's the people. The rest of Oregon is also weird—not in any remarkable way, just unexpected, I guess.

So, on that drive across Oregon, north to south, one short partial day, I stopped at a few places in the Newberry National Volcanic Monument in the Deschutes National Forest. Moving at top speed across the lava lands, there wasn't enough time to stop and see anything that was far away from the more touristed parts of the trails, which is a useless bit of self-pride, but—hey—stop and see what you can while you're getting to where you're going.

One thing I wish I had visited was the Lava River Cave, a mile-or-so-long lava tube that wasn't yet open for the season (not until after Memorial Day), but offered a "you're on your own if you go" kind of guarantee that I declined to take them up on—an unusual act of forbearance for me, but I seem to remember a residual bit of freakout from exploring the lava caves in California that appealed to my more cautious brain cells.

Black Crater
Captain Jack's Stronghold
Captain Jack's Stronghold
Big Obsidian Flow
Paulina Creek Falls
Lava Butte
Benham Falls, Deschutes River

2005, the way home: day 3

Original post: none

Photos: Mojave to Illinois, May 2005

Day 3 was underground at Lava Beds National Monument, for the most part—that's what you should do, should you find yourself surrounded by lava caves.

I've been sifting through the old pictures and the old maps here, and there's one thing that has been bothering me. In 2005, I hadn't yet started playing with long exposure photography yet. So there's nothing but Very Literal Photos from this day--whatever could be captured with a flash or limited natural lighting. But there are very few photos overall, and no good ones.

Something to keep in mind for a trip there: pack your own bump camp and lights. You'll need them. Some of the walls and ceilings are ridged like fishspines and they will fillet your scalp. I bought a cheap bump cap on site at the visitor center—something with LBNM stamped on the front. And I'm pretty sure I just went into the caves with a single Maglite Mini flashlight, although it seems pretty unlikely that that would have allowed me to see anything in the caves. I see that I bought 4 D-batteries at the visitor center also, so I must have had the old Coleman flashlight I got from selling Boy Scout popcorn—so long ago I know I got that as a prize when we were still in St. David.

I would go in there like a pro now—headlamp and helmet and kneepads—and really get back in the corners.

Isn't it silly to float backwards to a time where you did something and think about how you would optimize the experience? Don't take it so serious—it's just a picture anyway. And even just looking at the existing pictures and maps lifts thoughts and feelings and memories and smells and textures and so on.

What I want to do when I go somewhere new is go go go. Hit the ground running and don't stop. But it's the wrong way to do it, really. I know it but I feel the pressure to move anyway.. What I did at Lava Beds makes more sense: spend a few days and get your feet wet. (A curious thing to say in the high desert, but...) Let the tent stay in place for more than one night. Find a place to sit with a nice sunrise or sunset—and then do it again the next day. The most surprising memory flashes are the ones where I know I was just sitting somewhere for a long time doing nothing—watching, writing, thinking, nothing. At the campsite, on top of Schonchin Butte. In front of Symbol Bridge Cave. I don't think I prefer solo travel, but this is the part of travel that I prefer solo: doing nothing. Just soaking in whatever environment. Hearing whatever sound. Tasting whatever taste (in the desert there is that metallic taste in the air—or maybe not metallic, what is it?). Watching small things crawl or fly from here to there. Blending in. Disappearing.

Valentine Cave
Valentine Cave
Hopkins Chocolate Cave
Hopkins Chocolate Cave
Skull Cave

2005, the way home: day 2

Original post: 2005-05-25: Return from Mojave, Day 2

Photos: Mojave to Illinois, May 2005

On day 2 I drove from the campsite near Reno to Lava Beds National Monument in California. (Now that I'm looking at a map, I see that I was very close to Lake Tahoe, which I didn't even notice at the time.)

Here's how I like to travel: (1) find a destination; (2) find the national parks on the way to that destination (and the destination itself can be a park—bonus). I had never heard of Lava Beds NM. I only knew that I was driving north. Lassen Volcanic National Park was my first choice, but it was still under snow from that wet 2005 spring. (Finally made it to LVNP in that firesmoke summer of 2008: photos.) The next available park was Lava Beds.

(Can we just stop here a moment and admire the consistent simplicity of National Park Service park URLs? Lava Beds is Lassen Volcanic is Yosemite is And so on. *chef's kiss*)

Sometimes it's nice to know what you're getting into before you go somewhere. Other times it's nicer to just wing it. I know I've caused some of you more than a few gray hairs with my approach to things—but let's be honest: if you have the basic things you need, and you're flexible in your approach but prepared in your fundamentals (and you have enough common sense to self-evaluate honestly), serendipity will treat you well. US-395 into California from Nevada—what do you really need to know? How to identify campsites on a road atlas (it's easier than searching for them with your phone, he yelled at the kids on his lawn). How to use a credit card to buy some groceries. How to acquire a sleeping bag, tent, and cookstove before embarking. The rest is set up for you. Two hands, one wheel, two feet, two pedals (three for you adventurous souls), and off we go.

Here is a dilemma: would I recommend that you visit Lava Beds?

Give me a moment to think...


What is Lava Beds NM? It's a pile of lava tubes, lava caves, shield flows, cinder cones, and other volcanic debris. And rattlesnakes! The main attraction is below ground: you can crawl around in the lava tubes.

But would I recommend it? No. I know you. You're looking for the big thrills: El Capitán in Yosemite; Old Faithful in Yellowstone; the Grand Canyon. Are you really going to get pumped about looking at another lava tube, another lava bed where another crater pumped lava out to create another area of still-after-thousands-of-years not-able-to-support-life stretch of rock? You would hate it

I could have spent another month there, poking around, first getting as far as I could in every cave I could find, then testing out the mountain lion and rattlesnake warnings on the above ground trails. (Who was that guy talking about common sense earlier?)

It occurs to me that I've never posted any pictures from this trip, so I'm adding them to Flickr as I go along: Mojave to Illinois, May 2005

Valentine Cave

Schonchin Butte

Mount Dome, from Schonchin Butte

Mammoth Crater

From Schonchin Butte

From Schonchin Butte

There are few things better than sitting on the peak of something and watching the sun set or the sun rise.

The Week in Project 365 Photos [2009-W06]

Hey, this is a late post on this topic, but it's not like I'm running a high traffic site here. Here are my photos for Project 365 from a week ago. Tomorrow I'll post photos from this week, thus completing a manipulation of space-time by separating a week by a day. Or whathaveyou.

Library Stamp
Note: The inside of The Ground Beneath Her Feet by Salman Rushdie is more interesting than the side, which is shown here.
Library Stamp [2009-033]

Yeah. I cook. Not particularly well, but good enough for a guy living on his own.
Dinner [2009-034]

All in a Day's Work
For Johnson Space Center's Safety and Total Health Day, there were a number of booths and demonstrations, including this one by Clear Lake Kuk Sool Won. I think I'd like martial arts such as this. But. I don't think I'll be in the area long enough to really get into the groove. 
All in a Day's Work [2009-035]

In the Dark
The best from Shiner -- give it a try. 
In the Dark [2009-036]

Outside Mission Control
Detail from above the entranceway to Mission Control Center at Johnson Space Center. 
Outside Mission Control [2009-037]

Spiritus Mundi
This is an elegant little sculpture -- and by little I mean huge -- by Pablo Serrano sitting in front of University of Houston-Clear Lake
Spiritus Mundi [2009-038]

The latest milestone which I've subjected my car to. 
45678 [2009-039]

Photo Backup Scheme

I'm obsessed with the idea of how to backup the digital life that I've strewn across the internet and also accumulated on my laptop. Last year -- and I suppose this year also, if I turned it on -- my laptop was dying. When I was at ISU in France in summer 2006, I fell asleep on my laptop and busted the adapter. After two years with a power adapter borrowed from a European computer, the cord melted, sparks flew, etc. Naturally, I blame the French.

How to back up photos has taken the bulk of my archival brainpower. If my laptop died, the worst possible scenario is that all of my digital photos that weren't burned onto CDs would be annilihated. It would be selfishly devastating. Maybe that sort of thing doesn't keep you up at night, but I worry about it. It's not the loss of property that worries me -- it's the loss of history that worries me. What I've seen is what I've become. I'd like you and others to see it as well, if only out of my own narcissistic tendencies (i.e., please tell me my photos are amazing).

The system I've developed for myself goes as follows. The basic idea is to (1) keep the whole of the photos in multiple places so they can't be destroyed in a single oops moment; (2) put the best out there where others can enjoy them.

1) All of the digital photos that I've ever taken are backed up online at You can't see them all. For every set that I add to Flickr, I unlock the corresponding album on There are a lot of junk photos there; there's a reason they weren't all added to Flickr. The photos are all open for rating, so perhaps the cream will eventually rise to the top. Or not. I don't care. The purpose of is solely backup, not entertainment.

2) Flickr. I try to add only my most interesting photos to my Flickr account. The truth is: the more photos there are, the fewer you will see. Too many is overwhelming. That's why the number of photos in my Flickr account is decreasing even though I'm adding new photos every week. I'm separating the chaff, which will still be visible at

3) Panoramio. I really like Panoramio, though it is not as full-featured as Flickr. Panoramio is cool because you geotag your photos, and if they're selected by the staff, they show up in Google Earth. As a geophile, I enjoy scanning the Panoramio layer in Google Earth, getting a feel for what the places actually look like.

4) Panoramas. (Not to be confused with Panoramio.) For years, I've been taking shots that I later wanted to stitch together into panoramas. Finally, in October, I discovered hugin to do this. And I've been on a roll since then: see my panoramas on Flickr.

That said, I've been working slowly through my old photos. It's a long process. My goal is to process one album of photos every week. At this rate, it will probably be a year, maybe two, before I finish. It takes time to add tags, descriptions, geographic locations where the photos were snapped, etc. Some of this is easy: editing the information on Flickr; some of this is difficult: editing the EXIF data on the photos.

So far, I've completed three albums this year:

Big Bend National Park, 26-28 January 2005 Big Bend National Park, 26-28 January 2005

Guadalupe Mountains National Park, 28-29 January 2005 Guadalupe Mountains National Park, 28-29 January 2005

Saguaro National Park, 30 January 2005 Saguaro National Park, 30 January 2005

Conclusion: "Yes! I am inveenceeble!"

Postscript: Hey, Ben, the next album out of the showroom will be for you: life in Mojave.