Exploring California 2017 Part 1: Lake Tahoe

I can't sit still. I thrive off of discomfort, movement, and a little chaos. I have a pretty laid back disposition and it allows me to invite adventure into my life with welcome arms at nearly every opportunity. The older I get, the more I understand that my need to be in a constant state of change stems from my nomadic upbringing. Honestly it can be hard to pin down whether my longing for travel is justified from some sense of personal enrichment or from a desire for novelty for novelty's sake. Luckily Im fortunate to live a life where that answer is inconsequential. I don't just like to travel, I need to travel. I need to have new experiences, see new sights, eat new foods, smell new smells. I need to exhaust myself, be frustrated, be tired, cold, and hot. I need to immerse myself in every beautiful and treacherous landscape and culture this world has to offer with abandon and full appreciation. Or else, what's the point of all this?

So naturally, a road trip through California was something that was always going to happen.  I've been enamored with the idea of the iconic drive down the PCH or a long time. I figured there are always going be a million reasons not to do it: bills, jobs, responsibilities. They never go away, so why neglect life? Im at a point in my life where i'm fully aware of my mortality and the ever increasing nature of my responsibilities. Instead of neglecting my desires or going the other way and completely blowing off my responsibilities, I find the happy median and follow through with every opportunity i'm afforded to go out and really experience the world. So after a couple of weeks of planing and saving, we stayed up late one night and booked our entire trip in one sitting. 

We were westward bound again.

I knew going into the trip that I wanted it to be a mix. I wanted to touch on a little of everything that California had to offer. I wanted the wilds of the North, the sunshine of the South, and all the beautiful coastlines in between. So we set a decent time frame (12 days) and an itinerary that gave us a little bit of everything:

 Itinerary:  Lake Tahoe  Yosemite National Park  San Francisco  PCH: Monterey, Pismo Beach   WestLake Villiage  Santa Monica / Venice  L.A.

Itinerary:

Lake Tahoe

Yosemite National Park

San Francisco

PCH: Monterey, Pismo Beach 

WestLake Villiage

Santa Monica / Venice

L.A.

Even though the original motivation of the trip was to enjoy the ride down the PCH, that portion of the trip had to be completely reimagined. Record breaking snowfall from last winter caused devastating landslides that closed PCH right at Big Sur, about 25 mi. south of Carmel. Its was disappointing, but things don't always go to plan. This is especially true with road tripping. So we decided to design a route that would give us as much of the PCH as possible and with the time we made up on faster highways, we were able to incorporate a little extra time into the other locations. 

Even without the trek down the coast,It was a lot. But, like always, I always wish we could've done more. In any case, we made the best of it.

First stop, Tahoe.

Lake Tahoe

 Stunning 

Stunning 

I have to admit, that Tahoe wasn't my first choice. My first impulse was to start the trip in the Pacific NW, Washington or Oregon. I wanted to make a straight shot down the northern most point of the west coast, all the way to the Baja. After realizing that that would tack about 10 extra days onto the trip to do it right, I was convinced otherwise. After being shown some amazing pictures of the picturesque lake and surrounding are and learning that my incredibly cool Brother-in-law had his own cabin in the area that we could stay in, Tahoe quickly became a no brainer. Even then, I sort of expected it to be a one note experience. A place I drove through to snap a couple of pictures and say I had visited. It wasn't until I got there that my eyes were opened to just how incredible this place really is. 

We landed around 9:00AM local time (not an easy flight from D.C.) because we wanted to get the most out of our time there. As soon as we landed the first thing I noticed was the amazing quality of the air. I spend about 15 hours a week commuting on a stuffy D.C.metro. I walk miles every week in the inner city and breathing in toxic fumes and b.o. is just the way of life. Four year of that will make you acutely aware of the difference clean air makes to your well being and mental health. 

It was about a 3 hour ride to our destination and I knew that given our limited time in the area, we had to make the most of each minute. the intention was to find the first spot to park and just relax but we ended up driving around for hours taking it all in. It was one stunning vista of vibrant blues, whites, and greens after another. After a while the urge to pull out my camera and fill up a couple of memory cards got the best of me. We had to pull over and explore. Tired or not, I couldn't let this opportunity pass me up. We stopped at a pull off where I was treated my first time experiencing the unique dreamscape like beauty of a glacier lake. 

 

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You have to visit to understand just how beautiful it really is. 

If you pay attention to my site you'll see my wife modeling for many of my photos. She's a social star guru in her own right and taking yoga portraits in picturesque locations has been a great hobby of ours for a few years now. Needless to say we didn't waste the opportunity to get some epic shots in throughout this trip. Of all the locations that we shot in, I feel like Tahoe is the one i'll be revisiting for years to come. 

 These vistas we just unreal. 

These vistas we just unreal. 

Eventually the reality of 7 hours of travel and a few hours of hiking caught up to us and we began crashing, hard. Luckily my brother in law's cabin was pretty much the epitome of a relaxing mountain living experience (out of respect for his privacy I won't post any pictures, but trust me when I say its an amazing space).

I think its safe to say we packed a respectable Tahoe experience (save for skiing) into about 48 total hours of total visit time.

Since we were still completely on East Coast time, we woke up at about 5:00AM and decided to get an early start on the day. We stopped into a great local diner for breakfast, mapped out the remainder of our day and our trip down to Yosemite, and sought out to go explore as much of the lake as we could. 

It took us all of 5 minutes after finishing what may have been a loaf of french toast (no lie) to come across a great little slice of the lake. Of course that meant an impromptu photoshoot. Luckily for us we had beat the vacation crowd by a couple of days so we had many of the locations in Tahoe largely to ourselves. I took the opportunity to use a few new toys that I brought along for the trip. Notably, my first portable strobe. The effect of a cloudless sun illuminating the mountains and saturating the glacial water, mixed with a powerful off camera flash produced pictures so vivid that they look like they were shot against a green screen.

I imagine if I were to visit there with a few more months of practicing my lighting technique and some advanced shot planning, I would've been able to create some truly stunning images. As it is, I still really love the pictures we were able to capture. They were some of my favorite of the entire trip.

 When this is your backdrop, its damn near impossible to take a bad picture...

When this is your backdrop, its damn near impossible to take a bad picture...

Even with a full nights rest, I knew we had to pace ourselves. As amazing as it all was, we still had a lot to do and see and only so much energy to expel. With social media and our mutual passions of yoga and photography taking up so much of our bandwidth, we have the bad habit of turning our vacations into de facto work retreats. I really didn't want that to happen this time. I wanted to have the vacation feel like a vacation. So we ended our little shoot and hit the road to find a few more locations along the river to explore. 

We had been situated in the northern most part of the lake and our next location was Yosemite, which was to our South-East. We decided to set off in that direction without any particular time of arrival in mind. We stopped in a few state parks, bought the obligatory Lake Tahoe mug as a souvenir, and immediately began making plans about our return in the not so distant future.

 Pros of good glass: Amazing clarity and resolution. Cons: Not so great flare and/or sunstars. Want it all, can't have everything.

Pros of good glass: Amazing clarity and resolution. Cons: Not so great flare and/or sunstars. Want it all, can't have everything.

 These type of shots always look so cool when I see it on IG. Oh well. P.S. this exact pine cone is in my living room right now. 

These type of shots always look so cool when I see it on IG. Oh well. P.S. this exact pine cone is in my living room right now. 

We eventually (and regrettably) made our way away from the lake and into some valleys to the South-East. We came across one particular stretch of highway that ran alongside some snow capped mountains. Luckily there was a pull off with a bolder that was easy enough to climb comfortably.It was too beautiful to resist so I lugged my gear up and got some STUNNING vistas of the valley below.

 Like most pictures, it doesn't do the landscape justice at all. This view was like something out of a dream. 

Like most pictures, it doesn't do the landscape justice at all. This view was like something out of a dream. 

Of course, one or two yoga snaps were in order. I figure, we may never be here again and life is fleeting at best. To not take advantage would be doing an injustice to the occasion. 

 In this moment I listened closely to the wind. Off in the distance I heard my mother whisper gently "boy if you don't get your ass down from that rock." No but really, it was a long way down. The risk is part of the fun, right? 

In this moment I listened closely to the wind. Off in the distance I heard my mother whisper gently "boy if you don't get your ass down from that rock." No but really, it was a long way down. The risk is part of the fun, right? 

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We stayed and sat for a while. It was one of those moments where the best thing you can do is be present and thankful. After a while we decided to get back on the road and make the long trek to our next location. It was a long, winding, often times unnerving drive that had us traversing along mountain roads with nothing to break your fall from about 7,000 feet up. On our last big road trip I was tested on mountain roads for the first time traveling into Sedona, AZ and along the badlands of Death Valley. I thought I had seen it all. I was wrong. Very, very wrong. Keep in mind that we took an unconventional route due to road closures, but the drive from Tahoe to Yosemite was the first time I ever got motion sickness WHILE DRIVING. Its almost like the architects purposefully made the road as taxing as possible. The only upside is that theres no possibility of being lulled into highway hypnosis.

But I digress. It was an awesome time and like I mentioned earlier, the trials of traveling are part of the experience and often make to good parts that much better. The best part about it was, we were just getting started...

Stay tuned for the next installment where i'll be covering all the incredible adventures and pictures in what may be my favorite National Park to date:

 Trust me, it's epic.

Trust me, it's epic.

Spencer Bentley