American West, beach, california, Drone, Nature, Personal, Philosophy and Photography, travel

California 1, Part 2

The road after Monterey was new and exciting to me. Every panel and exit sign looked like a page from Steinbeck’s novels. Monterey, Cannery Row, Salinas, Moss Landing, Santa Cruz. The land I drove through was just as literary as agricultural. A city slicker with a fast car and a Western heart, I glided down the California 1 looking to my left and to my right, trying to guess what was the name of the crops grown along the road.

When the fog clears, Moss Landing is a fun sight to behold. It somehow reminded me more of the purpose-driven landings of the Northern Pacific coast than what I usually see in Southern California. Also the fact it’s called Moss Landing and not Moss Marina must be indicative of some difference. If the fog does not clear, you can still hear the clear calls of the sea lions who welcome themselves on the piers and pontoons.

After the busy bypass of Santa Cruz, the solitary wilderness becomes once again the most faithful companion of the California 1.

A few miles north of Santa Cruz I had to quickly pull over for what instantly became my favorite road sign west of the Mississippi. Someone had painted a capital red HAVE FUN on a white wooden board. Maybe I needed the reminder, the explicit injunction to have fun and enjoy the moment. That made me wonder if sometimes we are so absorbed in doing what we like and doing it well to the point that we forsake the importance of having fun.

Had someone asked me, “are you having fun?”, I would have enthusiastically said yes, but it’s also true that the road had not been devoid of overthinking. Primarily about where to stop and whether to stop and what photos to shoot which ones could or should be taken another time maybe a better time what does the future holds I remember when I was a child and this was the kind of trips we’d take with my parents from Portland, OR to San Francisco and where have all the flowers gone long time passing.

That sign cleared my mind as an instant mantra. Make sure you are having fun and quite literally enjoy the ride, and all the rest will come naturally. I smiled and took a deep breath, sat down, rolled down the windows, turned off the radio and put the car in gear.

I knew this was going to happen at some point, because most of the peninsula boasts some impressive mountains, but I did not expect the 1 to climb so abruptly as the gentle shore was replaced by humbling wind-swept cliffs. I stopped frequently, carefully crossing the road and carefully peeking over. I have a mixed relationship with heights but holding a camera usually makes me bolder – probably because of our usually unjustified exchanges of confidence between unrelated domains.

The California 1 descends to kiss the Ocean again at Waddell Beach. It appears to be a pretty cocktail of Ocean spray, wind, sand, and mountains that make the Beach a popular destination for hikers, kite surfers and hand-gliders.

One thing struck me since the very first miles past Santa Cruz: the extremely young age of the people I would run into. Now, I’m not that old myself but I am way past the age of college. At most gas stations, state beaches, parking lots, all I would see was college kids going surfing and enjoying the beach driving old Ford Explorers. I was not surprised, given the number of Universities scattered around the Bay Area, but it was amusing to feel as if I was really tapping into the cliché.

Such thoughts was I musing on when I saw another road-sign. “Slow for pie”, it said, in a neat cursive writing. That was not as good as “HAVE FUN”, but it was a refreshing change from the usual moralizing panels instructing drivers to slow down for kids, pets, cattle, trucks, pedestrians, bikers, horses, deers, bears and more horses. I slowed down indeed, I pondered it in my mind for ten seconds, I made a U-turn, and reverted back to the farm to which the sign belong. It was the Pie Ranch. I’ll keep it short, because if you go there, it’s worth a stop, while if you don’t plan on going there, I will only make you envious. The Pie Ranch is an educational farm south of Pescadero on the California 1. Among many wonderful things that they do, they bake pies out of amazing ingredients that are virtually all seasonal, local, and organic. I drove off with a blackberry peach streusel pie that gave us two wonderful breakfasts in San Francisco.

More miles. My eyes were on the road, my mind was on the load (the newly adopted pie). More beauty made me stop. The part of the road between Santa Cruz and Pescadero is overall astonishing and I’ve made many mental notes to come back and dedicate more time to each place.

Pescadero is incredibly magic. You’ll find some big rocks jotting out into the ocean, beaten by the wind and the waves.

Notwithstanding the gusty winds, the shore was too gorgeous not to attempt to frame it from above. I had one more full battery in my drone, and it quickly took off. It’s always interesting to notice how those little guys handle the wind far better than we think they would.

Look at the second jetty, if I can call it this way. There are two tiny black spots: those are people, and this should let you figure out the impressive magnitude of this natural work of art. My flight didn’t last long, because a flock of seagulls quickly caught eye of something braving the wind as well as them, and quickly moved over to have a closer look (and repel the aggressor). Out of respect and out of fear, I don’t take chances with probing birds. I landed right away – and a few seagulls followed way too close for comfort until the very touchdown.

At this point… my plan changed a bit. My original idea was to follow the California 1 all the way to San Francisco, park at the Golden Gate lookout, look out at the Golden Gate, and then meet Anne-Claire at the hotel. Truth be told, I had been on the road for more than eleven hours and I was feeling a little tired. I drove through San Gregorio, Half Moon Bay, and fancy Pacifica (I finally understood why the Chrisler car was called this way). In Half Moon Bay, a street, Ruisseau Français Avenue – literally meaning French Creek Avenue – caught my attention and I promised to enquire during my next trip. Why French creek? Did some French explorer come and baptize the place “French River” and his colleague said “Jean, let’s be realistic, this is more like a French Creek”? Maybe. We will never know. Or we will.

Anyway this was my intellectual level when, close to Daly City, I saw the sign for San Francisco via the Interstate 280 and I said “Alright, let’s bring her home”. I feel a little bad, because I cheated myself out of my original plan for a handful of miles, but they might have prolonged my trip by one full hour easily – and I knew I didn’t want to cross urban San Francisco from North West to South East at rush hour with twelve hours of driving on my back. I was happy to find out though, thanks to Wikipedia, that the Interstate 280 is “referred to as one of the most scenic urban freeways in America”. It was scenic indeed, and the elevated winding road got me away with a few nice captures of San Francisco during my final approach.

There I was, tired and happy. More than 450 miles, twelve hours and twenty minutes and two meals after leaving Los Angeles International Airport. This had been a mighty trip, a day to remember. A day of slow driving and windy roads, a day of fun and pie ranches and elephant seals and foggy mountains. A day of blue highways.

Supplement

I meant to dedicate the following day to taking photographs of San Francisco, but unlike the day of my arrival the air was hazy with local fog and smoke carried from distant fires.

The only worthy image I could capture is this skyline of San Francisco from Treasure Island, monochrome for obvious reasons. You can go on my Instagram and see a detailed version of the same panorama in ten photos.

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Art, beach, california, Drone, Redondo Beach, Sensor Fresh, South Bay

Friday Morning Mood

I biked to my Friday breakfast burrito at Joe’s, so I could detour by the Pier on my way home. It’s not a heroic feat, but it did take a little motivation to ride my bike at 5:50 instead of just slipping into the Mustang whose engine would have hummed a smoother transition from sleep to wake.

(The recommended soundtrack to these images is Chet Atkin’s album Sails).

The motivation paid off, I think. I love the Pier at any time of the day, but especially in the early morning when it’s all half asleep and pink and light blue.

Californian sunrises are definitely underrated.

I played a bit with the break wall, too.

Then I was happy and went home.

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beach, california, Drone, los angeles, Nature, Redondo Beach, South Bay

Redondant Gallery

In the past few weeks my photography has been very Redondant: that does not mean that I always photograph the same thing, but rather that much of my work revolves around Redondo Beach and the immediate surroundings.

On the cusp of Spring and Summer, our Western skies turned into a kaleidoscope of gorgeous displays, some offering a foretaste of the heat to come, other reminiscing of colder months.

A few days ago, I got this classic afternoon vibe.

And the view was amazing from Malaga Cove as well, with a flock of pelicans heading my way. It’s actually rare to see the mountains so well in the hotter months.

This is a similar view but shot from higher up, precisely from the Queen’s Necklace Overlook in Via Del Monte.

The Redondo Beach Pier has been offering some very rewarding sights, too. I love to get cozy with the timeless impression you get down there.

And every image becomes dense with the emotional recollection of Kodak Chrome.

But what you see from the Pier is most magical and awe-inspiring, too: consider this morning view of Redondo, Torrance, and Palos Verdes shot from the southern side of the pier. The sky looks like a cross-seasonal patchwork mixing marine layer and scrambled cotton candy clouds.

Since getting my FAA Part 107 license in April, I’ve felt the growing lure of the endless skyways over the South Bay (at least where they are not restricted by LAX and Torrance Airport).

Thanks to the drone, I can see how lucky the hawks and the seagulls can be as they soar high above our beautiful shores.

And if you go up high and look to the north, the view is not shabby one bit.

The drone has often become my go-to for driveway photography. Meaning, all I have to do is go to my driveway, unfold the propellers, and climb to the allowed clearance. And this is what I see.

You know as they say, work smarter not harder. Once upon a time, whenever I saw a dramatic sunset in the making, I would grab my gear and run to the Esplanade. Sometimes I would get there in time, sometimes it was a bust. Now, when I see some promising sunset, I can just release the drone and have a look from up high. This does not only let me catch more sunsets, but also affords a new framing of the sunset into the geographical and esthetic fabric of our city.

And I can embrace all of the beauty in the space of a single gaze.

But do not worry, some special accents of our Redondo State of Mind can only be captured by being there, boots on the ground: so you will still see me with my camera in hand trying to frame that perfect sunset, although I know very well that the best shot is always yet to come.

You can see more of my photography of Redondo Beach and the South Bay on the dedicated page in my website or on my Instagram.

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beach, california, Drone, los angeles, Palos Verdes, Sensor Fresh, South Bay

Gloomy Cove, Pretty Cove?

As you might already know, I have issues with June Gloom. Just as I dislike May Gray and No Sky July and Fogust. As some of you might also know, I have decided to (kind of) embrace it and look for facets of beauty in the gloomy weather.

That is why this morning I took my drone to Malaga Cove, Palos Verdes, to see if that wonderful neighborhood is just as marvelous when the Sun does not turn the scenery into a dazzle of emerald, gold, ivory and turquoise.

Let’s find out!

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california, los angeles, Our World, Philosophy and Photography, South Bay, travel

My LAX kind of feeling

I am not a big fan of flying. First, I’m sort of heavy set and each time I sit in an airplane I wonder if they got even smaller or I gained more weight (and I usually delude myself into thinking it’s a bit of both). Second, I don’t do well with turbulence: I am rationally aware and persuaded that they won’t cause the plane to crash and that they are a little bit like driving on a bumpy country road at dusk with poor headlights, still my body doesn’t like them. For a couple of years, even a gentle rumble would make my body brace for a Tower-of-Terror-style drop: not having flown for a year and a half, from October 2019 till March 2021 kind of eased that feeling – my body did a bit of a reset. More importantly, I love to drive. I love my car. I love to stop, I love to own my itinerary and be able to make last minute stops and detours.

And yet, I love airports. I especially love LAX. At night, we stand on the Esplanade at look into the North and see the flashing red lights of the surrounding structures. For us, that is the connection with the rest of the world, especially with Europe. That’s where family and friends come from, and return to their homes. To me, it’s like a Stargate.

I especially love picking up people at airports. I smell the excess fuel dumped by incoming aircrafts. I hear the the tourists crossing each other, some arriving, some departing, trolleyed around by the nightmarish car-rental shuttles. I rub against the Stargate, feel its overwhelming potential to take me anywhere and I politely decline: “No thank you, I’m just picking up”.

The light, the clouds, and the mood were just perfect when I picked up Anne-Claire last Thursday, and I was really glad my nimble Fujifilm X100V was at my side on the passenger seat.

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beach, california, Drone, los angeles, Redondo Beach, Sensor Fresh, South Bay

Drone Narrative – Setting Sun

I love how the drone helps me put everything in a new frame. I’ve always been a sunset-chaser. “I really hate sunsets”, said no photographer ever, but before the drone, the sunset was a piece of its own. Now, through aerial photography, I can frame the sunset into a broader narrative, for instance the sunset and the city.

I caught a glimpse of the Sun setting over Redondo, last night. Summer solstice was just a couple of days ago, which means that the Sun sets at the most Northern point. From Redondo, the Sun is basically setting behind Malibu. That was quite a show.

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The beauty of living by the beach is that even when you’re just going to pick up groceries at Smart & Final, you can still take the long way and walk by the beach. The beauty of being a photographer with a compulsive gear acquisition disease is that there’s a good chance you’ve got the tool for each situation. A few months ago I gave in and bought the camera I had wanted for the past five years, the camera that had actually brought me to Fujifilm but that first I could not afford, and then I could not justify. Last September I could finally afford and justify the Fujifilm X100, in its fifth edition (V). Long story short, it’s the perfect camera to fit in the pocket of my new REI jacket that keeps me super warm in the 20 cold days we have in California.

I walked down to the beach and this is what I saw.

The sand had been smoothened by the wind. No footsteps. No tracks. Just sand. It looked like a pure desert. I stepped closer to the sea. Another angle? Okay, because it’s just too beautiful.

For a second, I considered walking back up to the Esplanade. Not so much because I was defiling the carefully polished sand – yes I gave that some thought to be honest – but because of the sand whipping my bare legs at every gust. Con gusto. I also thought that my lens would probably like it as little as my calves. But hey, we all serve some greater purpose. Drive on and look at the texture of the beach.

The sea looked like this: it was a swirl of mint and blue and ice and foamy frosting.

As usually, I lost track of time as I strolled South. I was witnessing Redondo at its best, when the R ends up standing for Rapture. Rapture Beach.

In the end I got to Avenue H, and I decided I had taken in enough beauty. I was elated. I felt as if I had attended a thousand masses from a thousand churches. It was time to step back into life.

Redondo Beach, Sensor Fresh

Rapture Beach

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The high wind and surf advisory was right. Those, they are usually right. And they are surprisingly precise, they know almost down to the hour when it starts and when it ends. I got a new jacket yesterday at REI. To go to the snow (as they say here), so that I don’t freeze to death while Anne-Claire is out running and I don’t start whining “It was so cold” once she’s back.

ANYWAY I packed all of my cameras (I really did) and headed to the beach this morning. The wind had kept us awake most of the night, so I might as well do something useful with it. Redondo Beach did not disappoint.

The Topaz Jetty, and Redondo Beach Pier in the background

There were very few people but a lot of birds. Some parts of the beach were actually paved with birds.

Birds contemplating the high waves in Redondo Beach

I tried calling these birds because it would have been a beautiful group shot, instead of a butt shot, but they did not tern around.

Terns don’t turn when asked to

The Topaz Getty, with its iconic lifeguard tower, is one of my favorite landmarks in Redondo Beach. I wish I had not left the 23mm in the car, but I think this image still conveys the way it majestically stands facing the weather. I also really like the Lifeguard trucks.

The Topaz Jetty and Lifeguard Tower

As I walked back to my car, on the Esplanade, I saw the same birds and they would still not tern. I can’t blame them, the Ocean was nothing short of mesmerizing.

Terns and Heermann’s gulls thinking about the weather

After all, I was not behaving much differently than them, looking out into the Ocean.

Redondo Beach and Palos Verdes

My parking meter was nearly expired so it was time to go. Instead of just driving home, I followed my hunch that the Point Vicente lighthouse could be quite the show, and so I headed there. On the negative side, the elements were even more unchained down there. It was wild! But the view was amazing, totally worth getting battered by the raging wind.

The Point Vicente Lighthouse in Palos Verdes

At that point, my eyes were full of sand and my hands were starting to feel numb, but most of all I could not find the restrooms at the Interpretive Point, so I just packed everything up, got into my warm car and drove home.

If you liked these photos, you can find them – with many others – in the section of my website dedicated to the landscapes of the South Bay!

Redondo Beach, Sensor Fresh

Stormy Weather

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