Exploration and Discoveries
The excitement of exploration and the joy of (new) discoveries are two of the most often overlooked rewards of my photographic journey.
It was a clear, tranquil and cold start to the day. I started making photographs a short walk from my camp in the foothills of the Eastern Sierra well before sunrise in the wee-hours of a wonderfully crisp November morning. I was blessed with both enjoyable light and comfortable working conditions, which is often not the hand I am dealt when I find myself chasing the light and photographs in the wild places that I frequent.
This morning was especially pleasing and I felt grateful that I noticed. Just before dawn a lone coyote called out from a distance out in front of me. I paused in appreciation while wondering if it was watching me. I find the calls of coyotes to be enchanting. They truly are a special gift if you think about it.
Before I knew it, the early morning dawn gave way to the Blue Hour which in turn morphed into the Golden Hour which on this morning gave way to some splendid morning light. I took advantage of all of it making several nice photographs throughout the morning.
I returned to my vehicle at a little after 8AM. Stowed my gear and poured my second cup of strong black coffee of the morning. The next thing I knew I was back out on the main highway. Northbound on 395. Window down, country music on the radio and the "I can't complain" grin on my face told the rest of the story.
Working my way north I was still looking for photographs to make, but as I got later into my morning I was more or less now scouting for future photographs (interesting compositions what would be worth revisiting with different or better light.)
Up ahead I saw the evasive yellow sign announcing a road that I have wanted to explore for quite some time. This time, instead of speeding by, I slowed and made the right turn, crossed a cowcatcher, then turned off the radio as I transitioned from asphalt to dirt. A weathered and tired looking barb-wire fence ran along both sides of the road separating healthy looking ranch land from the lonely dirt road. I took a sip of coffee and wondered if the fence was there to keep the occasional passerby out or to keep the livestock in?
Several bumpy minutes later, I found myself parked on a small bridge with freshly painted white wooden rails on both sides. The bridges main purpose was to provide passage over the Owens River. Its secondary purpose, at least in my perspective (as a photographer) was to provide an elevated view of a rather lovely section of the placidly flowing river. I spent several minutes on each side of the bridge looking for possible photographs but saw nothing appealing in either direction. I did make notice that there indeed was a passable road that followed the river in both directions and vowed to return.
Morning was creeping closer to mid day as I executed a y-turn on the narrow dirt road and started back toward the main highway. Off to my right and high above a hawk floated effortlessly in the sierra-blue sky. I stopped right in the middle of the powdery dry dirt road to watch just as it dipped its right wing and began a graceful turn to the right. Shortly thereafter the right turn became a lazy clockwise circle pattern. Round and round it went and once again I had thoughts of wanting to be a bird "just for one day" I silently begged.
A little farther down the road the hawk was still circling high above as I came upon an intersecting dirt road on the right. I stopped and give the road a look and then asked myself a question I often do when I find myself in this situation "I wonder where that road goes?" With my curiosity in overdrive I spun the steering wheel to the right and said out loud "there's only one way to find out" as I slowly brought my vehicle up to speed on yet another unexplored road.
I crossed another cowcatcher then proceeded to bounce, rattle and shake my way along a dusty ribbon of washboard road that ran parallel to two sets of neglected split-rail fence, one on each side of the road. I glanced in my side view mirror and noticed that I was kicking up a pretty good dust trail. I wondered what it looked like to the hawk? I wondered.
As I slowed to decipher a fork in the road, four California Quail darted out of the brush on my right. They quickly scampered across the road disappearing into the dense brush on my left. Holly cow! I didn't expect that! I said out loud in a tone that emphasized my surprise.
I studied the fork. Looking for clues or hints of what each direction might have in store. Mostly I was looking for signs of danger or worsening road conditions. It would more than suck getting stuck so far off the beaten path, so caution and good decision making is always a priority. No obvious hints. No red flags. I choose the right fork, (probably because I'm right handed) and once again I was on the move. A couple more minutes up the road and a few large cottonwood trees came into view as I topped a small grade. Randomly scattered one on my left and three on my right, perfectly positioned by the Maker of our world.
A few short minutes later, I was stopped in my tracks. Encased in a cocktail of powerful emotions. Surprise, disbelief, joy, accomplishment and maybe a few more. Slowly, my brain-fog cleared and I regained reality. I processed the view before me and subconsciously I resisted the results. When I decided to make the turn and explore this dirt road I had visions of old rustic barns, interesting fence-lines or maybe a beautiful horse grazing in a wide open pasture. But, the scene before me had nothing to do with any of that. For all the decades that I have spent exploring in and around this general area I have not once conjured up this possibility. Never.
So there's a lake, or maybe it's a large pond hiding back here. WOW! I had no idea. But, I'm thankful for the discovery. I thought, as I now stood outside of my vehicle shaking my head in disbelief and smiling from ear to ear. A few minutes later I was mounting my camera on to my tripod on what was one of the most rewarding of days. This was the scene before me.
Now I know where this road goes! Here's to the excitement of exploration and the joy of (new) discoveries!