Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Monterey, California – Part II

Continuing on our tour of the Monterey Peninsula area, we spent some time in the famous town of Carmel-by-the-Sea, situated at the south end of the 17-Mile Drive. As with the entire region, Carmel is noted for its scenic beauty, as well as being the home of many famous writers, poets, artists, and movie celebrities. Carmel is a wonderful town to walk, with many high-end shops, restaurants, and art galleries. While in Carmel, we paid a visit to the Mission San Carlos Borromeo de Carmelo, also known as the Carmel Mission. The mission was first established in 1770 and was destroyed by fire in the mid-1800’s. The current buildings were restored starting in 1884. Carmel Mission is considered one of the most beautiful missions in the chain of nine missions that stretches along California’s Central Coast.

I’ve been to the Monterey area a number of times in the past, but never took the opportunity to drive south along the scenic coastline of Big Sur. On this trip, we decided not to miss out on the chance to see the stunning views.

We didn’t make the entire drive from Carmel to the south end of Big Sur, but went as far south on California Highway 1 as the Nepenthe Restaurant. The highway winds along the western edge of the Santa Lucia mountain range mostly within sight of the Pacific Ocean, varying from near sea level up to a thousand-foot sheer drop to the water, providing some of the most spectacular views in the world. On the way back we also decided to take a side trip into Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park to look around the Big Sur Lodge and take a hike out to Pfeiffer Falls.

Big Sur Beach by Lou Ford
Big Sur Beach (Click on photo for info)

Though technically not in Monterey, I wanted to include one of the most picturesque and photographed lighthouses on the Pacific coast. Located on the scenic coastal highway (California Route 1), midway between Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay, Pigeon Point Lighthouse is the tallest lighthouse on the west coast of the US. We stopped to take pictures on our way to San Francisco from Monterey. Unfortunately, the tower has been closed to tours since 2001 because of collapse of brickwork supporting outside access walkways on the top of the structure, but the restored lighthouse keepers housing serves as a hostel for travelers. The four three-bedroom houses next to the lighthouse have overnight lodging for up to 50 people of all ages.

Pigeon Point Lighthouse by Lou Ford
Pigeon Point Lighthouse (Click on photo for info)

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Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Monterey, California – Part I

One of my favorite places in the country to visit is the San Francisco / Monterey area of Northern California. I was fortunate enough to travel to the area many times on business over the years and a couple of times on vacation. Taking a look back... Our latest vacation trip to the area was in May of 2007 – we had a wonderful time.

We started our vacation in Monterey and spent three days taking in the sights of one of the most scenic areas in the world. The city of Monterey is not very large - about 11 square miles sitting on Monterey Bay. The focal point of the town (at least for tourists) is Cannery Row, with the famous Monterey Bay Aquarium sitting at the end. Cannery Row is a street along the bay, made famous by John Steinbeck, lined with long abandoned sardine canning factories, which have been turned into numerous shops and restaurants.

As beautiful as the scenery around the area is, the highlight to any visit to Monterey has to be the Monterey Bay Aquarium, one of the premiere aquariums in the world. From the huge kelp tanks to the penguins to the sea otters to the Monterey Bay habitats, you can spend days in the aquarium and not see everything. It was fascinating just standing in front of the huge kelp forest tank watching the many species of sea life swim by. I could have sworn that I saw Mr. Spock swimming along with them.
But the highlight for me was the “Jellies: Living Art” exhibit. I didn’t realize that there were so many varieties of jellyfish – from microscopic to huge. The fluorescent-lit exhibits of jellies lazily floating around with the current were just beautiful. I understand that there is currently a seahorse exhibit that is equally as amazing.

Jellyfish, Monterey Bay Aquarium by Lou Ford
Jellyfish, Monterey Bay Aquarium (Click for more info)

A visit to the Monterey peninsula wouldn’t be complete without a leisurely drive around the famous 17-Mile Drive. The area features some of the most expensive mansions and most beautiful and famous golf courses nestled among some of the most stunning seascapes in the world. I know a lot of people say that 17-Mile Drive is nothing special – I assume that those people are not golfers. To me it is a golfer’s and a photographer’s dream. As my kids said to me the last time they were there with us, “Can’t we drive more than 50 feet without you jumping out to take pictures?” The rocky coastline with the crashing waves, along with bird rock and seal rock make for beautiful photos.

As someone who played a lot of golf in the past, including a round at Pebble Beach Golf Links, just being able to walk around the Lodge and pro shop and see the 18th hole makes it worth the drive. Pebble Beach is just the most famous of the many world-class golf courses on the peninsula, including Cypress Point, Spyglass Hill, Poppy Hills, and Spanish Bay.

Probably the most famous and most photographed sight along the drive is the Lone Cypress, symbol of the Pebble Beach Company, and object of much controversy regarding trademark and intellectual property infringement. The first time I came to the area was in 1969. Then you could walk out on the rocks to just a few feet from the tree, however, today you have to stay back at the road. The pictures of the Lone Cypress are still very stunning with Monterey Bay in the background.

Lone Cypress by Lou Ford
Lone Cypress (Click for more info)

On the coast, just off the 17-Mile Drive, lies the town of Pacific Grove, noted for its Victorian houses, the Point Pinos Lighthouse, and the annual migration of Monarch butterflies to the area. It’s also noted for the pink flowers that flourish along the coastline.

Pacific Grove by Lou Ford
Pacific Grove (Click for more info)

During our time in Monterey we had a very enjoyable stay at the Monterey Bay Inn, a small boutique hotel located on Monterey Bay. The hotel has very reasonable rates, free parking, and was very convenient – a scenic and easy 10-minute walk to Cannery Row and the Monterey Bay Aquarium. We had a spacious room on the fourth floor with spectacular views looking directly out over the bay. I really enjoyed sitting on the balcony watching the otters and sea lions with the binoculars supplied in every room. Another nice feature was the complimentary breakfast every morning served right to your room.

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NEXT POST: Monterey, California – Part II

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Another Step Back in Time

Observing Amish life around Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, certainly takes you back to a time when everything was much simpler. You can experience another step back in time by visiting the very popular Strasburg Railroad in Strasburg, PA. The railroad has been in operation since the mid-1800’s, currently running a number of authentic, turn-of-the-century steam locomotives and passenger cars and is a Mecca for railroad enthusiasts and photographers.

A ride on the Strasburg Railroad through the scenic farmlands of Lancaster County is enjoyed by young and old alike. It’s a leisurely, 45-minute narrated roundtrip between the towns of Strasburg and Paradise. The train makes one stop along the way at Groff’s Picnic Grove where you can hop off for a picnic and return to the station on a later train, if you like. You have the option of riding in a coach car, dining in a dining car, or living in luxury in the President’s Car or First-Class Parlor Car. There are also many special events during the year like Wine and Cheese Trains, Victorian Teas, Veteran’s Day military specials, Easter Bunny Trains, and the always popular Santa’s Paradise Express.

On a Saturday afternoon a few weeks ago I went over to the railroad to take a few pictures – it turned out to be one of the “Day out with Thomas” days. Thomas the Tank Engine was there, along with hundreds and hundreds of his closest friends. It was a madhouse, but I was fortunate enough to get a good parking space. Because of the crowds, there weren’t too many good photo opportunities, but I did manage to get a few shots of the train coming into the station. I’m not that familiar with Thomas the Tank Engine since he became popular in this country after our kids were older, but watching the kids and their parents turned out to be very interesting. I’ve never seen so many small children so excited – they were riding on a train pulled by their hero, Thomas. It was pure joy. If you have children who like Thomas, I would highly recommend catching one of his visits to Strasburg. His next scheduled visit is Dec. 4 – 6, 2009.

Speaking of railroad enthusiasts, if you’re really into railroading, you also can’t miss the Railroad Museum of Pennsylvania, right across the road from the Strasburg Railroad. The museum displays over 100 locomotives and cars from the mid-19th and 20th centuries, including the priceless Pennsylvania Railroad Historical Collection.

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NEXT POST: Monterey, California

Friday, October 2, 2009

Living in Amish Country

After living most of my life in and around the city of Philadelphia, PA, we moved out to the Amish farmlands of Chester and Lancaster counties in May, 2008. What a change from the hustle and bustle of the big city and suburbs. The slower pace and beautiful scenery of the country is a welcome change. From the wonderful farms to the interesting scenes of Amish life, the opportunities for photographs are endless… although I have to admit I haven’t been taking full advantage of it.

The thing that has impressed me the most about the Amish people over the last year is how hard they work. Not just the men, but the women and the children of all ages. It’s not unusual to be driving along a country road and see a young woman or a 12-year old boy working the fields behind a team of six plow-horses.

I always try to keep my eyes open for good photo-opportunities, but I have to admit that I’ve missed a number of good shots for one or more of the following reasons:

  • I didn’t have my camera with me at the time (I know – a cardinal sin for a photographer).
  • I couldn’t stop the car because the location or traffic made it impossible. Driving in Amish country is generally easy and peaceful, but at certain times you get a strange mix of traffic on some of the roads. You start with the slow-moving horse-and-buggies and farm equipment, add in a bunch of big-rigs flying up and down the country roads to avoid the turnpike tolls, and mix in hordes of impatient tourists on sunny weekends… I’ve seen many dangerous situations unfold.
  • I didn’t want to violate the beliefs of the Amish regarding having their picture taken. The reason generally given for their aversion to pictures is the second commandment in Exodus 20, “Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.” I’m not sure how many Amish actually apply that commandment to picture taking – however, I think the reason has more to do with vanity and humility. I think they feel that a picture of a person is a way of glorifying the outward man, not strengthening the inner man, which would lead them away from their goal of true humility. Being a photographer, I obviously don’t share their beliefs about picture taking, but I certainly respect them. I have taken a few pictures with Amish people in them, but usually from a distance where they are not very recognizable.
Amish Farmer by Lou Ford)
Amish Farmer (Click photo for info)

Off the topic of photography a little... I always knew a little about the Amish with their buggies and lack of electricity, but in the short time we’ve lived here I've learned a few additional things I didn’t know before:

  • They have church services every other Sunday, with services held in homes or farms.

  • When two young people want to get married, they usually “publish” their engagement in October. All weddings are usually held on Tuesdays or Thursdays in November or December.

  • Some Amish groups practice “Rumspringa”, meaning “running around”, where boys and girls in their late teens are allowed to experience the ways of the world before they decide to leave or stay in the Amish church. Despite the spotlight of the media on the few who get into rebellious behavior, the vast majority (80 – 90%) of Amish youth decide to stay.

  • Under no circumstances would an Amish farm be connected into the power grid – it’s too much of a direct link to the outside world. However, they can use off-line sources of power like batteries and gas generators for things like refrigeration, welding farm equipment, and certain businesses, like carpentry. They also are allowed to have phones, but not in the main house – only in outbuildings, where it won’t interfere with family life.
Baling the Hay by Lou Ford
Baling the Hay (Click photo for info)

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NEXT POST: Another Step Back in Time