Shooting Stars

Stars Above Light Painted Pines

I learned last night that night photography is definitely not as simple as day photography. My goal has been to learn how to take pictures of stars and star trails. It was my first attempt at shooting stars with my new Nikon D3400 and Tamron 16-300 mm lens. I purposely chose a night that would have a new moon (less light) and studied the weather forecast to make sure clouds would not be a problem. My grandpa has taken some beautiful star trail shots so we went out into the forest and he guided me along. Before dark, I set up my lens to the proper focus using auto focus while taking a picture then used some gaffers tape on the lens to hold it in that position. I then changed the lens setting to manual focus and waited until it was dark outside. After finding a level and sturdy area to set up my tripod, using my red-light head lamp, I set my camera and lens to the following settings:

  • Camera on Manual Mode
  • ISO setting of 6400
  • Aperture Setting of 4
  • Shutter Speed of 20 seconds
  • White Balance to Incandescent (bluer shots) or Cloudy or Daylight (yellower shots)
  • Vibration Reduction on lens to OFF
  • Lens set from Auto Focus to Manual Focus
  • Exposure Compensation at 0.0
  • Wireless Shutter Remote

I experimented taking different shots by changing the ISO to 3200 and the White Balance from incandescent to cloudy. My photos turned out fairly good for my first time but maybe because we went out too soon after sunset the light pollution seemed to not help with capturing the numerous stars that can not be seen with the human eye. With anything in life, if you want to be good at something it requires practice and patience. My next trip with require both as I want to move on to capturing star trails soon.

Escape to Colorado – Part 1

Escape to Colorado
Escape to Colorado

I took a quick outdoor escape to the great state of Colorado for the first time this last weekend. We boarded an early morning flight from Los Angeles to Denver and picked up our rental car to start the journey to Colorado Springs for the day. Being tired from the exhausting logistics of an early flight, we stopped at Crowfoot Valley Coffee in Castle Rock for a much-needed caffeine fix. I had a vanilla chai latte with soy milk and a chocolate chip muffin at this cute little coffee-house. Nice place and successfully recharged us for the busy day ahead. 

Fountain Creek
Fountain Creek
Hike to Rainbow Falls
Rainbow Falls
Rainbow Falls

We made it to Colorado Springs in good time and started our first hike at Garden of the Gods Park. This registered National Natural Landmark has a fantastic Visitor and Nature Center with exhibits and history of the area. Admittance to the park is free and the large main parking lot makes stopping at the Visitor Center convenient. There is limited parking along the road throughout the park to pull off and take a view of the towering sandstone rock formations set against the snow-topped Pikes Peak and bright blue skies. There are fifteen miles of trails within the park area. Due to time constraints, we took a few of the shorter trails where we could see the red rock formations surrounded by the brilliant blue sky peppered with fluffy white clouds. Nature had made photography easy for me by creating the postcard perfect weather.

Our next stop was Rainbow Falls located on Fountain Creek in the West end of Manitou Springs. There is a cement walkway along the river, which was brimming with fast-moving water. After walking along the path for a short time, we came to the waterfall located under a bridge. The area is call Rainbow Falls due to the massive amounts of colorful graffiti on the rocks and trees. It was a little shocking at first because I hate to see anything defaced but the area is known for this “nature art” and that is what draws crowds making it definitely different from what you normally see at a waterfall.

With the day passing quickly, we headed to North Cheyenne Canon Park to hike to Helen Hunt Falls. We took the short walk to the top of the falls and also viewed it from the base. Helen Hunt falls is a fairly small waterfall compared to other waterfalls I have seen but glad we went to take in the beautiful views and the nice drive up in the park with many places to stop and explore along the way.

As it was starting to get dark we drove towards our hotel in Estes Park, very exhausted from our day that had started at 4:00 am. We stopped at Sweet Basilico Café and I had veggie lasagna that was vary good. After that I fell into bed and slept  like a bear because of the long day of fresh air, beautiful sights, and successful great first day in Colorado.








Mammoth Lakes, California

Convict Lake
Convict Lake

It’s amazing to take a trip somewhere in California during the month of June where you can bundle up in a jacket, gloves, and scarf and enjoy the cold weather with snow coming down around you. I found it in Mammoth Lakes this year. We took a short trip for some hiking, snowboarding, warming up in natural hot springs, and of course enjoying local food and drinks. Our first stop was Convict Lake. There is easy parking here next to the lake where you can take a gorgeous walk around the amazing bright blue water. Convict Lake is great for fishing and hiking and has camping facilities. Close by is Twin Lakes, another beautiful set of lakes surrounded by snow crested mountains with Twin Falls empting into them.  

Mammoth Mountain is one of California’s best places for skiing and snowboarding. We took in a full day of boarding even though it was snowing the entire time on the slopes with visibility of only about ten feet. When we had enough of the slopes we went to Wild Willy’s Hot Spring to warm up. It can get crowded here at times but we were lucky enough to not have many people when we went. This was a perfect way to get the frost out of our bodies while viewing the beautiful snow topped mountains that surrounded us.  Make sure to bring a towel with you because it gets cold once out and walking back to the parking area. After warming up we went back to our lodge and made our traditional pasta and garlic bread dinner we reserve for “snowy” trips.

The next day we visited Hot Creek Geological Site. It is located off Hot Creek Hatchery Road and US-395. To reach this geological wonder of nature, take the short trail from the parking area. The bright blue sulfur smelling water bubbling up from the creek bed reminded me of places I have visited in Iceland. It is a beautiful view but entering the water is prohibited due to the varying temperature changes resulting in sometimes extreme hot water.  We ended the day at Mammoth Brewing Company. I loved their root beer and then progressed to a flight tasting of their craft beers and then on to having ramen noodles at Sushi Rei, one of Mammoth Lakes best sushi bars. This was a perfect way to end a June escape with friends to snow in California!

Oceanside Harbor, California

Sunset Oceanside
Always Time For Yoga, Oceanside Sunset

After a long day at work one of my favorite things to do is stop at Oceanside Harbor and escape from the stressful commute in freeway traffic and refresh myself for the evening.  I usually take a walk or jog along the waterfront passing the many boats rocking gently in their slips and restaurants full of people enjoying an outdoor meal. Opposite the big “Oceanside” letters on the hillside towards the middle of the harbor area is a dock with a nice kayak and paddleboard launch that is open to the public. I take my paddleboard there on weekends as the floating platform makes it very easy to get on and off the board without jumping into the water. Parking is almost always available and very easy to find, unlike most Orange County Beachs. Right around this area is where groups of sea lions come to climb onto the dock and dry off in the sun. It is amazing to watch these huge animals easily propel themselves out of the water and onto the dock. I can spend hours watching them fight for position and snuggle with each other while snorting and barking loudly. As the sea lions finally get situated and ready for their naps, the sun starts going down while highlighting the beautiful view of the harbor in shades of orange and red. Unfortunately, now that the time has changed and it gets dark earlier, I will miss the sea lion ritual and wait anxiously for summer to return.

Annie’s Canyon Trail – Hiking to Escape

Annie's Canyon Trail
Looking Down Slot Canyon

Annie’s Canyon Trail is located within the San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy in San Diego’s coastal North County. It lies between the beach and Interstate 5 just north of the city of Solana Beach. The nonprofit land trust covers 1,000 acres of wetland and is home to numerous species of plants and animals. It is a great place for walking, running, and hiking on the seven miles of trails, walking dogs, and taking nature photography.

Annie’s Canyon Trail was named in honor of Annie, a conservancy supporter, who worked to help restore wild areas of the lagoon for nature and for people to enjoy. The trail is a quarter-mile loop that is moderate to strenuous. To enter San Elijo Lagoon we parked along Rios Avenue in Solano Beach. It is a beautiful walk through the winding paths of the lagoon full of natural trees and plants endemic to the area.  From the Rios Avenue trail we entered the trail to Annie’s Canyon. As I walked through the sandstone walls of this short but beautiful slot canyon, it reminded me of the those I have hiked through in Anza Borrego and Page, Arizona, just shorter in length.

If you plan to hike this trail, make sure to wear shoes with a good grip because the sand is loose and slippery while passing though the sometimes very narrow spaces. After the canyon hike we took a winding path to the overlook with a gorgeous view of the ocean and the lagoon. San Elijo Lagoon Conservancy is a beautiful place to escape from the chaos of the city and wrap yourself in peaceful nature.