Carla Brennan's Blog

Reflections and Photos from The Big Trip and Beyond . .

A Pelican Briefing

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Last year I witnessed something extraordinary. In Davenport, along the cliff edge as the sun set, a continuous stream of brown pelicans flew north. Hundreds, probably thousands. I was there for at least 45 minutes and they kept coming.

I like pelicans a lot. And I like photographing them, especially in flight, but, sadly, the results are usually disappointing. However, that special evening provided unusual light, angles, and perspective on this great bird. And there were many, many repeated opportunities to click the shutter.

Pelicans are the iconic sea bird; they are the salty dogs of the avian world.

What’s so captivating about them? Their large size and comical face, distinguished by the preposterously elongated beak with its hidden stretchy pouch. That elegant broad wingspan and its ability to soar effortlessly along the sea, sometimes just a few inches above wave and water. The brown pelican’s fishing technique with its head long aerial dive, piercing the water like a spear. Their patterned plumage is a designer’s delight, featuring textured body feathers with a head of white, orange, yellow, red, black. And besides all that, they remind me of their ancient ancestors, the pterodactyls.

Most of the photos here are from that evening on the cliffs. But I have added a few other choice shots from other days. (Did you know that the collective noun for pelicans is “a brief of pelicans”?)

I just discovered this new documentary about pelicans, “Pelican Dreams” by the filmmaker who did “The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill.”

This gallery contains 19 photos

April 2015 • Morro Bay, CA

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April 5-7, 2015

Now that I have completed the blog posts for The Big Trip, I can focus exclusively on recent trips. When I started this blog in 2012, I hoped it would stimulate more writing. It has done that to a small degree. But blogging has been most effective at pulling the photographer out of me.

On Easter, Chris and I managed to slip away for two days to Morro Bay, about three hours south. Within Morro Bay State Park is a grove of eucalyptus trees that serve as a rookery for cormorants, herons and egrets, each nesting in succession. The row of trees closest to the Bay are lifeless and skeletal, having died from a lethal dose of bird poop. However, the birds still like to roost and nest there and the leafless bony branches make for good photographs.

The double-crested cormorants are the first to breed and they were just starting their pair bonding behavior. The males presented their mates with all manner of grass, seaweed and sticks for the new nursery. A constant stream of male cormorants, coming and going, flew overhead. As part of their courtship, the pairs squawked at each other, opened their blue-lined mouths and made sinuous – I suppose sexy to them – movements with their long necks. There was a lot of wing flapping too. During breeding season, the double-crested cormorants develop two sets of head feathers that are either black or white, creating a handsome and sometimes comical appearance.

For the short time we were there I repeatedly wandered the nearby trails along the water. I kayaked across the bay to the long spit of of sand dunes that nearly encloses the bay and hiked to the open ocean.

This gallery contains 48 photos

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DAYS 368-370 October 3-4, 2013 • Mercey Hot Springs and Home

From the Yosemite area we drove to Mercey Hot Springs, this oasis becoming both our first and last stop on our year journey. September 29, 2012 – October 4, 2013. Twenty months since returning, without fanfare, I am completing the travelogue and photo journal of our Big Trip.

The trip remains fresh in my heart; revisiting the photos brings ongoing pleasure. The impact of the open space, the timeless days and the endless, varied beauty lingers within. Insights from this year-long retreat on the road are still unfolding. I recommend a trip like this to anyone. It may seem impossible to arrange, to set aside one’s ordinary life for year, but once the intention is set the impossible sometimes happen.

Our Home in the Redwoods

Home in Ben Lomond, California

DAYS 367 October 1, 2013 • Yosemite National Park, California

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October 1, 2013  Yosemite National Park’s 123rd Anniversary
October 1, 2013  United States government shutdown

We had vague knowledge that the government shutdown was looming but hadn’t really considered its ramifications on us. On September 30, at the Mono Lake Visitor’s Center, a ranger reminded us that there would be no one there the next day if the shutdown was not averted.

On the morning of the 1st, we stopped at a coffee shop in Lee Vining near the eastern entrance to Yosemite. The only information we could find online said the park was allowing people to drive through on the main road (Route 120, an important east-west road through the mountains) but was not permitting anyone to stop, park or stay. They would be evacuating the thousands of tourists already in Yosemite Valley. (A few days later they would close the road altogether.)

We had only three days before The Big Trip would be over. Since avoiding Yosemite would be an enormous detour, we decided to drive through, do a little sightseeing and camp on the other side for the night. The entrance booth was unmanned and a large sign instructed people to stay in their cars and keep driving.

However, without rangers or employees to enforce this ban, people completely ignored it. Within 50 yards of the sign, tourists had already pulled over and were out taking pictures. This mass civil disobedience was amusing. Scenic vista’s parking lots were full and people roamed freely.

Yosemite Village, where most of the tourists stay, was chaos. Vacations that have been planned for years were disrupted. Visitors were given two more days to leave. Many of the visitors were foreign nationals.

The upside of this was, since people were more concerned about rearranging their plans than sightseeing , the roads were actually less crowded than usual. If you’ve ever been to Yosemite, you’ll know that the main drive through the valley is always an overcrowded zoo, heavy traffic, fighting for parking places and waiting in lines. Not the kind of national park experience I like.

Just outside the park was a small national forest campground. Although it was probably technically closed as well, since no one was there, we spent the night.

The next day we stopped at a coffee shop in Mariposa, just west of Yosemite. A German couple who had fled Yosemite were making new plans on the Internet to visit Big Sur – not a bad alternative. The shop owners were concerned that friend’s plans to be wed in Yosemite in two weeks might be scuttled.

This gallery contains 17 photos

DAY 366 – September 30, 2013 • Mono Lake Tufa State Reserve, CA

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Driving north on 395 we stopped at Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve. We had camped there about 10 years ago and had been captivated by the tufas, a natural formation exposed by unnatural events. Starting in the 1940’s, the mountain streams that feed Mono Lake were rerouted to Los Angeles to supply water (over 300 miles away). The water level of the lake gradually fell and revealed these underwater limestone towers. See them while you can. The lake is going to be restored and the tufas will be submerged again in 20 years, returning to their watery home.

I learned something new. There is a fall foliage tourist season in the Sierra’s and we were there for the start of it. As a New England, spectacular fall foliage displays were part of the our local identity. Tourists (called “leafers” by the natives) come from afar to see the show. I wanted to find out what California had to offer and if New England had a competitor.

Aspens were the primary color source creating rivulets of gold and yellow running down damp ravines on the mountainsides. What was missing in range and intensity of color was made up for by the beauty of the mountains they adorned.

Continuing past Mono Lake, looking for patches of turning aspens, I directed us to a national forest campground I had found on the map, imagining we’d be nestled in a golden leafy glow. But the elevation was too high and we were instead surrounded by dark green pines.

This gallery contains 20 photos

DAYS 365 – 367 September 28-30, 2013 • Mammoth Lakes, CA

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We spent a couple days camped in Twin Lakes Campground in Inyo National Forest just outside the town of Mammoth Lakes.

This gallery contains 13 photos

DAY 364 – September 28, 2013 Devil’s Postpile Natural Monument, Mammoth Lakes, CA

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Near Mammoth Lakes is a National Monument, Devil’s Postpile, a area with 60 foot columnar basalt formations similar to Devil’s Tower in Wyoming. I am not sure why early settlers considered these long rows of hexagonal stones to be the work of the Devil rather than God. I put my money on God or the Goddess. The best part of the hike was being able to climb to the top of the formation and walk on the flat surface where the columns fit together like a stone tile floor.

This gallery contains 12 photos