The National Parks Traveler has published my latest Checklist. This one’s for Great Basin National Park in Nevada. To read the article, click on the image above.
As for the image above, this was my first day and first hike in this national park. I’d driven up Wheeler Peak Scenic Drive and managed to snag a parking spot at a pullout across the narrow road from the actual Wheeler Peak Summit Trail parking lot, which was almost full (the parking lots are small in that park and they fill up quickly).
I knew I was not going to hike the 8-mile round trip up to and back down from Wheeler Peak summit – I wanted to, but didn’t feel I was in good enough shape nor as acclimatized for a hike up to 13,000 feet, even though my visit to Yosemite National Park the prior week helped some with that aspect. Instead, I opted for the 2.6-mile roundtrip hike to Stella Lake, which is accessed via the Wheeler Peak Summit Trail but with a 0.1-mile turnoff to the lake. It’s a beautiful hike through stands of quaking aspen, some of which sported leaves already turning gold. It is, however, a narrow, uneven, rocky trail and would be easy to take a fall if one is not watching their step. No, I didn’t fall, but one little girl I watched almost did, because she was wearing sneakers with no tread and not paying attention to the trail.
At this time of year, Stella Lake looks more like Stella “Pond.” You can even see a sort of “bathtub ring” of different colored grass and bits of driftwood around the lake to indicate a higher water level during an earlier part of the season.
The mountains you see behind you are Wheeler Peak, to the right, and Doso Doyabi (formerly Jeff Davis Peak), to the center.
Copyright Rebecca L. Latson, all rights reserved.
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The National Parks Traveler has published my latest photography column. This month’s column is all about capturing iconic as well as new perspectives of this particular national park. To read the article, click on the image above.
As for this image: I drove into Yosemite Valley several times during my week’s stay in the park. Every time, I’d pass by this one spot along the road – a small pullout large enough for a vehicle, right next to the rocky banks of the Merced River, which was a trickle of its former self. So finally, I stopped, took out my camera and tripod, and gingerly picked my way to a spot to photograph forest, river, and El Capitan (I believe that’s El Cap) all beneath a blue sky with wispy clouds.
Copyright Rebecca L. Latson, all rights reserved.
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I’d left Ely (pronounced Eee-lee), Nevada, around 6:30 a.m. for an hour’s drive to Great Basin National Park. I was about 30-ish miles south of Ely when I rounded a corner and started heading down into this wide, flat valley. The wind turbines, ribbon of road that looks like it goes way up into the mountains on the other side of the valley, and the sunlight highlighting the veil of haze captured my photographer’s eye and I just had to pull over and get a few photos.
In reality, that long road going up into the mountains is actually a dirt road on someone’s private property (lucky them). This paved road takes an almost sharp turn to the left and parallels the mountains before rounding the corner to the right.
And those wind turbines made a great geographic marker for me on the way from the park back toward Ely on the day I headed back home to Washington state. I’d left the Baker area at 2 a.m. so it was dark heading toward Ely. Distances are difficult to discern in the dark because you can’t see the landscape. However, when I saw the synchronous blinking red lights, I knew I was driving toward and past that small wind turbine farm and that Ely was closer than I thought.
Nevada has some amazing landscape and geology, and the roads are very good, but the stretches of road through the state are long and out in the middle of nowhere, seemingly far away from civilization (and gas stations).
I think rock climbers (and mountain climbers, too) are CRAZY! Of course, this is coming from someone who has more than a healthy respect (read fear) of great heights and gets a little vertigo just looking at photos of such things as people hiking Angels Landing in Zion National Park.
That said, one of the things I wanted to do while visiting Yosemite Valley in Yosemite National Park was try to first spot, then photograph, climbers hanging from the sheer granite wall of the famous El Capitan. I’d already googled where good places to stand and watch for climbers would be, and one of the best places is actually right across the road from El Cap. I remember first driving by that spot and wondering what the heck people were doing pointing their smartphones way up in the air. And then, I realized, they were trying to get photos of the climbers on the wall (duh, Becky).
So yesterday afternoon, while driving through the valley, I parked along the road (at a nice, wide, long parking area all along that road) brought out my 100-400mm lens, and started scanning the sheer walls. With a little pointing from others nearby, I finally found these two guys (thank you, climber, for wearing that bright orange shirt). Took me awhile to suss them out, though, because I am not kidding when I tell you the climbers are so tiny against the sheer grandeur of El Cap’s cliff wall. These photos hopefully give you an idea. The first photo is the original captured at a focal length of 100mm. Can you spot them hanging from the cliff wall? They are just a tad left of center.The second photo is a 93% crop of the first, so you can see them a little better (the orange shirt helps). Even with that crop, they still look tiny against the granite elements. I have other photos taken at a focal length of 400mm, but think this original and crop make a better point of humans conquering the elements – in this case, conqering the granite height of a famous landmark in the park.
Oh, FYI – I was curious as to how climbers get back down, once they’ve made it to the top. They can rappel back down, but also, there are trails that take them back down to the famous Camp 4, which is considered the “climbers’ camp.”
Copyright Rebecca L. Latson, all rights reserved.
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I’m getting ready for a Big Road Trip to Yosemite National Park, Devils Postpile National Monument, and Great Basin National Park. During the pandemic. I’m not one of those vaccine- or Covid-deniers. I believe in wearing masks, keeping a social distance, and washing my hands (a lot!). I’ve taken the Covid vaccine and the other day got my annual flu shot. So here I am, preparing for this trip. How am I doing it in a pandemic? Actually, very similar – pretty much exactly the same – as when I traveled to Crater Lake National Park, Redwood National and State Parks, and Whiskeytown National Recreation Area back in 2020. For those of you interested in learning what preparations / precautions I took, read on. For those of you who roll your eyes and think the thing is a hoax or not serious at all (despite all the REAL facts, not Faux Fox News facts), then you might as well just move right along and look for something else to read.
Ok, with that out of the way, here I go.
I’m a solo traveler. I much prefer it that way – especially during the pandemic. I can go where I want, when I want, do what I want, and if I feel like stopping and spending 30 minutes or longer photographing an area of interest, I don’t have to worry about the other person in the car being bored out of their mind and wanting to get to their hotel room. I also don’t have to worry about entertaining anybody else. When I am on a photo trip, I am all about the photography.
I’m driving, not flying anywhere. Even if there was no pandemic, I still wouldn’t fly much at this point in time. I’m sick of it. I don’t really like to fly, but it’s a means to an end and I spent 20 years flying to national parks when I lived and worked in TX. So, when I finally was able to get the hell out and move to Washington state, one of the first things I did, a year later, was trade in my little Honda Fit (which was perfect for commuting to and from Houston) and purchase my first-ever SUV. And, I LOVE it! I can pack what I want in it without worrying about weight limits and, if needed, I can sleep in it. Besides all that, why the heck would I want to fly amongst people who bitch about wearing masks on the plane and then get totally unruly and cause themselves and everybody else problems? Plus, I enjoy driving. The journey to a national park is part of my enjoyment … although I am not looking forward to the 15-hour drive I’ll have during that first day of the trip.
I wear a medical id bracelet so in case of an emergency, first responders know who to call and can access my medical information. It’s a good idea to have one of these, whether you travel alone or in a group, actually. I use Road ID, but I know there are other similar operations out there.
I pack two large suitcases. One has all the clothing/underwear/toiletries/first aid supplies I’ll need (and then some, actually) for my time away, and the other one has nothing but food, condiments, and utensils (bowl, small plate, knife, fork, spoon). And my coffee maker. And my hot pot to boil water for reconstituting freeze-dried meals.
I spray my pants and shirts with permethrin to protect against ticks and other pests. I use DEET or other repellant to protect my bare skin from insect pests.
I wear bright / neon long-sleeve shirts. That way, my arms are protected against the sun and if something happens to me, I’ll hopefully be easy to spot off the trail.
I carry bear spray. When I flew, I had to wait until I landed and then find someplace that rented out bear spray. Now that I drive my own vehicle, I can get the bear spray and have it with me all the time.
Yes, I take all of my food with me. While this does not preclude going to a drive-through (sometimes, I crave McDonalds if it is nearby), I have absolutely no intention of eating inside any building other than my own room. What do I take with me? Well, it’s a personal preference, of course, but here ya go:
Ground coffee. I love my coffee (Peet’s Italian Roast), but usually wait until I return from a day in the field to drink it. I don’t want to have to pee all the time, and I need/want it while working through the day’s images when I return in the evening.
Ramen instant cup-of-soup (Maruchan is my favorite brand)
Annie Chun instant noodle soups
Freeze-dried meals of various brands: Mountain House, Backpacker’s Pantry, Peak Refuel, Alpineaire, Heather’s Choice. Mountain House is my fave because it’s always well-seasoned. The other brands tend to be a bit on the bland side so hot sauce or a little extra salt comes in handy – and I bring hot sauce, salt, and pepper with me. REI.com carries a great assortment of each brand, plus, if you are a member, you’ll get a dividend at year’s end (or thereabouts) that’s 10 percent of whatever you spent over the year.
Canned tuna in olive oil (the most flavorful, imo)
Gel packs for hiking (I like Clif Shot and Hammer brands). They taste good, give me a boost of energy, are easy to carry in my photographer vest pockets, and I don’t spend time trying to chew and swallow bars with the texture of sawdust
Toblerone and Hershey’s chocolate bars
Loaf of bread
Snack chips (of course!)
Little packets of mayonnaise, ketchup, and mustard
Clif Energy Bars (I love their nut butter-filled bars and their sweet & salty bars)
Little cartons of cream that I keep in a small, thermal, lunchbox. I love cream with my coffee. I’ll take half & half if there is nothing else available, but I hate those little packets of non-dairy creamer and I’ll only drink black coffee if I have no other recourse. Yes, I’m spoiled.
I bring my own water. I get those jugs of water at the grocery store. I used to think it was an old wives’ tale, but from personal experience, I can tell you that drinking water from the tap in different areas/states/counties/towns brings on – for me anyway – diarrhea, because each place has its own set of microbes in the water. Nothing to kill me, but def enough to create havoc with my digestive system for several days. Besides, I like keeping lots of water in the SUV, in general, so I can quickly refill my water bottles after a day out in the field.
I also bring Gatorade to help with replacing the salts lost during a hike. After reading Andrea Lankford’s “Ranger Confidential,” I discovered hyponatremia can be every bit as bad as dehydration.
In addition to the first aid supplies I pack in the suitcase, I have a small storage bin of first aid supplies, in addition to extra toilet paper, paper towels, Kleenex, rubbing alcohol and peroxide that I always keep in the vehicle.
I have rheumatoid arthritis and high blood pressure, so I always pack my meds with me.
I wear glasses, so always carry a spare pair in addition to prescription sunglasses and those sunglasses that fit over prescription glasses. After the emergency eye surgery I had (which caused me to cancel / reschedule some of my June Big Road Trip), I am cognizant of protecting my eyes to the point of hypervigilance.
I carry some sort of fire starter with me, just in case. It’s one of those 10 essentials.
Sleeping bag – I prefer to sleep in the bag on top of a hotel/cabin bed, so I take it with me. Also, if I am ever stuck in the middle of a snowstorm or something, I have something to sleep in / keep me warm.
Blanket for the car. Again, along similar lines if I am stuck somewhere and it gets cold, but I also use the blanket to cover up the stuff I have in the rear seat.
A couple of towels and a hand cloth or two – these are mainly to keep in the vehicle.
Extra hiking boots
A couple of small hunting knives – both for protection and in case I need to saw/chop/cut something.
A couple of tripods (I like carrying a spare heavier tripod for those times when it’s extremely windy). I also often use a lighter tripod as a hiking staff in addition to keeping my camera stable. A 2-fer-1 usefulness.
Hats for both sun and cold weather
Large flashlight, small flashlight, LED lantern, headlamp. I have two headlamps – one that shines regular light, and one that only shines red light suitable for night photography.
Clorox disinfectant wipes, Wet Wipes, hand sanitizer – I used the Clorox wipes for wiping down everything I might conceivably touch once I am at a hotel or in a cabin. It’s the first thing I do after checking in and getting my room key.
Lots and lots of face masks. My sister is a seamstress extraordinaire who spent an entire year (actually, she is still doing it) sewing for the family these awesome facemasks with three layers of fabric in fun patterns – most of mine are all national park- or camping/travel-themed.
Extra trash bags
Now, for the camera stuff. Again, I’ve got that kitchen sink mentality. If I’ve got them, I’ll take them. That, plus I have, indeed, broken a couple of lenses and a couple of cameras during trips to Hawai’i Volcanoes National Park (super strong wind blew over the not-so-sturdy tripod and camera setup) and Yellowstone National Park (camera and telephoto lens too close to the passenger side door and fell out when I opened the door). I always try to be so careful with all my camera gear, but accidents happen. Trust me when I tell you that while it certainly exercises one’s creativity when framing a photo with a lens you don’t really want to use for a particular subject but have no other alternative, it is also a First World crappy feeling, not to mention expensive when repairing or replacing.
Tons of memory cards. During the very first photography workshop I ever attended (Arizona Highways Photoscapes) back in 2008. I brought along plenty of memory cards, but ended up giving a few of them away to people who had only brought a single memory card with them. You need to bring plenty of memory cards with you so you don’t waste valuable photo time trying to decide which photos to keep and which to delete to make room for future shots.
Extra spare batteries. Very important. Granted, most cameras nowadays have a pretty good battery life, but some cameras – I’m looking at you, Fujifilm – have a battery life that sucks for air. I love the GFX series, but, at least with the GFX100 and GFX100s – even when you turn the camera off, the settings still show up on the top LCD screen, and that, in turn, leaches away the battery juice over time. I don’t know why Fujifilm did that. I could care less what my camera settings are when I turn the camera off. Anyway, I bring plenty of spare batteries with me, as well as a phone charger for the car and a separate one for my hotel room/cabin.
Battery chargers – spare batteries will only work so long before they need more charging.
Filters – graduated neutral density (grad ND), neutral density (ND), circular polarizer (CPL) and regular UV protection. All of them are “thin mount,” meaning you can’t stack filters on top of each other. I use this type of filter because I don’t like the vignetting I get when using a wide-angle lens with a regular filter. I’m also pretty redundant and pack plenty, because I’ve been known to crack one of two filters at times. Saves my lenses … well, most of the time – except for that Hawaii trip …
Wireless shutter releases – Ok, I use them for selfie profile pics of me and my camera against a beautiful landscape.
Lenses – I’m redundant with the lenses, too, but that’s because I have room to pack them and the memories of broken lenses still haunts me. The main lenses I always take with me, spare room or not, are:
Telephoto 100 – 400mm
For the Fujifilm cameras: 23mm (equivalent to 18mm), 30mm (equivalent to 25mm), 45-100mm zoom (equivalent to 36-79mm)
If I have more room, then I’ll also consider packing the following:
11-24mm (Canon) or 12-24mm (Sony)
If I flew, I’d try to take 2 – 3 camera bodies with me. Driving, I can take more. Why so many? The memory of damaging a couple of camera bodies ….
Lens cleaning tissues and microfiber cloths
Travel laptop – 15”
Several portable hard drives – redundancy is a photographer’s best friend, so I like to download the photos from the memory card onto two separate hard drives in addition to the laptop. I then pack away the used memory cards rather than reformat them at the time, because I’m a pessimist and am always worried that something will happen to laptop or hard drives during the trip. I keep the photos on the memory cards until I’ve returned home, and then I reformat them.
I have considered taking a memory card backup storage device like Nexto or Gnarbox but haven’t read enough reviews about them. However, if there was ever a time I would not be able to take the laptop, then I’d plunk the credit card down and get one of those devices.
Ok, let’s talk about lodging. I wrote earlier that I much prefer a room to a tent. I’m 60 and have had rheumatoid arthritis since my mid-twenties, so while I could still car camp, I won’t ever be doing much in the way of backcountry backpacking, and I just much prefer a room, if I can afford it. During the pandemic, I look to stay in cabins, which are usually set apart from one another and I don’t have to worry about walking a crowded hallway, taking a crowded elevator, pushing elevator buttons used by others, or taking a crowded stairwell. That’s not always an option, but for this trip, I managed to get a cabin for the Yosemite portion, and a sort of motel-type room at a small resort near Great Basin national park. If I had done the smart thing and invested in a little travel trailer, that would be my ideal mode of travel. For now, though, I’ll go with my SUV and renting a room/cabin.
Traveling solo has its rewards and its setbacks. I’ve always traveled solo and revel in being on my own, with time to myself. It’s liberating to be apart for a bit from other people/family. When I return home, I appreciate even more seeing family and sleeping in my own comfy bed. Solo travel is not necessarily for everybody, though. I know one woman who would never ever want to travel by herself. She absolutely needs to have someone else with her. And, if I have car problems, it’s just me, myself, and I having to fix the issue.
Regarding safety, because I travel solo, I do what I can to make sure my family knows where I am and can be contacted in case of an emergency. I leave names, addresses and phone numbers of where I’m staying with my family, and make sure to text, call, or email them whenever possible, just to let them know I am ok. I take my iPhone and wear my Apple Watch because both have GPS in them, which I have turned on. I also have an App called Find My Friends that my sister also has, so we can keep track of one another. When out in the field, I try to be as observant of my surroundings as I possibly can and tend to stick to the more-utilized trails.
I think that about covers what I do when traveling and the precautions I take regarding the pandemic. If you’ve made it to the end of the post without rolling your eyes at some point, I congratulate you. Just remember, this is how I roll. Not everybody takes the kitchen sink with them. Not everybody likes to travel by themselves. Not everybody wants to pay or has the money to pay for a hotel or lodge room. Not everybody likes to drive – especially long drives. Different people have different modes of travel, and they take different things with them that they want/need. Perhaps my post, here, will give you an idea for your own travels, or maybe not. However you travel, please stay safe, and please keep in mind the safety of others. If you travel to a national park, remember to bring your masks, because wearing one is required to go inside any park building. It’s a small thing to do, doesn’t hamper your supposed freedoms, and really does protect other people – even the ones you don’t like.
Copyright Rebecca L. Latson, all rights reserved.
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“National Park Service officials on Monday directed that all visitors, employees, and contractors entering NPS buildings and in crowded areas of parks must wear a face mask, regardless of their vaccination status.”
And I say GOOD! I have absolutely no problem whatsoever wearing a piece of cloth over my mouth and nose inside a building. It protects me, it protects others. It doesn’t infringe on my freedom and I don’t feel one bit whiny about it. The Delta variant aint goin’ away. So, when you visit a national park and want to go into one of the park buildings, then take and wear a mask …. or don’t go in at all.
Ok folks, it’s official. If you are planning to visit a national park and want to go INTO one of their buildings, then you need to wear a mask. No, I’m not talking about wandering around outside – although if you are at a crowded overlook, wearing a mask can’t hurt.
Click on the image above to go to the article published in the National Parks Traveler to see which parks are affected. Hint: lots of ’em.
So, don’t be a putz. Just wear the damned mask and protect yourself and others. It’s not a big deal.
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In today’s edition of the National Parks Traveler is an article about mandatory masking within buildings in national parks that are ‘”(I)n areas of substantial or high community transmission” of the Covid virus.’ This is regardless of whether you are vaccinated or not.
A number of parks have already announced this on their Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts (North Cascades, Glacier, Mount Rainier, Yosemite, Yellowstone, etc.). If you are planning a trip to a national park anytime soon, then you might want to check first to see if you need to bring a mask.
It’s not a political thing, folks. It’s a health matter. I and my family are fully vaccinated but you can bet I’ll be bringing my cool masks that my sister made along with me on forthcoming visits to a couple of national parks (provided nothing unforeseen occurs – like what happened with my recent eye surgery).
Stay safe, play it safe, keep others safe. It aint over yet, folks. The sooner you get vaccinated, the sooner those variants go away or are kept from forming (I’m lookin’ at you, Delta and Lambda variants).
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Do you know what a secondary phloem is? I didn’t. But I saw this interesting site of the redwood tree’s parting of the outer bark to show the inner bark and took a photo of it. And, that’s what this month’s photography column I wrote for the National Parks Traveler is all about. I call it “Fun Fact Photography” and it’s facts about the subjects in some of the photos I’ve captured.
Have you ever seen something during a wander in a park about which you’d like to know more? All you have to do is snap a photo of it.
Whether you’re visiting Yellowstone National Park for your first time or your fifth time, you should check out my latest Traveler Checklist published this morning in the National Parks Traveler. This list provides you with ideas and suggestions for things to see and do during a visit, when the best times are to see the park, and so much more.
To read the Checklist, click on the image above.
Copyright Rebecca L. Latson, all rights reserved.
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