Carla Brennan's Blog

Reflections and Photos from The Big Trip and Beyond . .

Journey Through the West – August 2016 Part 1

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Journey Through the West – August 2016
Part 1

Our ultimate destination was Crestone, CO, where I was scheduled to attend a retreat. We gave ourselves a week to get there, a week to stay, and a week to return home. This would be our longest trip in the NEW IMPROVED remodeled camper. It features more head room, new windows, greater counter space, a small table and a padded bench.

We spent our first night at the summer residence of an old friend of Chris’s in the Sierra Nevada Mountains near Sattley California. Her home doubles as a retreat center and I wanted to see it if it might be a suitable location to host a nature-based meditation retreat in 2017 for Bloom of the Present. A lovely place, with green lawn, a small pond, an indoor swimming pool and hot tub, space for group meeting, a modern attractive kitchen. Yes, definitely a good possibility!

During the ride back to Truckee the next day we passed mountain forests interspersed with cattle ranches. In one grassy field I noticed, to my surprise, that instead of livestock, there were numerous large dark birds with long downward curved beaks. I immediately recognized these to be ibises. But I had only previously seen them along the Atlantic and Gulf Coast as wading birds. What were they doing in these high – 6,000+ feet – dry mountains of California? They were actively poking the ground for food, insects I assume.

I insisted that Chris stop and back up. Hurriedly grabbing my DSLR camera I jumped out of the truck. I had the wrong lens. I fished out my smaller bridge camera but I couldn’t make it work. Flustered, I exchanged my wide angle lens for a telephoto on my first camera. But by then the birds had begun to disperse and only a few remained at an inconvenient distance. A mile down the road, we passed another dense flock of these white-faced ibises, as they greedily hunted food in a muddy pasture. I now regret not stopping for another photo shoot.

After dillydallying in Truckee (something we are very good at) – Starbucks, Internet, thrift shop, lunch – we finally headed east on Route 80 toward Nevada. I had picked out Angel Lake near Wells, NV as a possible destination but it was clear we wouldn’t get that far with our late start. So I chose Water Canyon Recreation Area near Winnemucca as a reasonable alternative. Campsites were free and many were shaded by large trees that grew from the damp soil of the small creek that cut through the desert canyon.

That night was the peak of the annual August Perseid meteor shower so I got the idea to try my hand at some astrophotography. I knew the basic principles but I did not have the ultra wide angle lens that is suggested. There were a few other obstacles, too. We were closed in a canyon and the moon was half full, brightening the sky. There was also an ambient glow from the town of Winnemucca. We witnessed plenty of shooting stars with our naked eyes, but they seemed to avoid falling whenever I released the shutter. I caught a few faint trails but nothing of much interest. Standing in the quiet warm dark air with camera and tripod I became inspired to play with “light painting,” shining my flashlight on trees, shrubs and hillside to create a mysterious luminous effect. Chris got into the act and I photograph him drawing lines and patterns with his red flashlight. (See below.)

We stayed there another night, in part to recover from the overwhelming multi-day effort it had taken to complete everything to get on the road in the first place. I was pretty tired and spent much of the day in my hammock, rising occasionally to wander and see what appeared nearby. Grand views and dramatic sights are great but I am often more intrigued by small intimate discoveries close at hand. I watched the reflection of leaf light in the small stream and the dance of the water striders on the green surface. They are sometimes called Jesus bugs because of their ability to walk on water.

I also witnessed a bird use the top bare branches of the tree above me as a base from which to dart out and snatch insects buzzing by. The species was unfamiliar to me. It was dark with rose red patches on breast and face. It was behaving like a flycatcher but it’s call was all woodpecker. My birding app finally identified it as a Lewis’s Woodpecker, a new bird for me. My lens was inadequate for a close-up but I still took a few photos, capturing it in various gestures of flight.

Please do not reproduce photographs without permission. Prints of some photographs may be available for purchase. If interested, contact Carla at:

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