Sunday, August 9, 2009

Hunted Bodega Bay & Jenner, Sonoma County, California

Russian River Meets the Pacific Ocean

02 JUN 09 - 03 JUN 09 (Posted 9 AUG 09)

Lisa and I had intended our destination, for the next couple of days, to be Bodega Bay, California (the city featured in Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds, a favorite of Lisa's) but we instead journeyed a bit more north to an even quieter and romantically remote town of Jenner, California and the Jenner Inn, Bed & Breakfast.

Make no mistake about it, this is California's wine country. When I mentioned Napa Valley to the inn keeper, I was quickly rebuked about how Sonoma country is regarded, by those in the know, as being the definitive California region for producing the most highly acclaimed wines.

At the Jenner Inn, our Avalon room overlooked the Russian River which flows directly into the Pacific Ocean. The is also Great White territory so the resident seals were sure to stay protected by communing on the interior-side of the beach.

Just Chillin'

Jenner is not a place to visit if you need access to a cell phone, because along this nortern coastline, cell coverage was non-existent. Given the hour and the fact the we were pretty remote, we quickly made arrangements to eat at the River's End for a fine-dining experience. Lisa had the Halibut and I enjoyed a rare cut of North American Elk.

At this time of year, temperatures still drop considerably in the evening, so we were sure to turn on the fireplace for a cozy evening.

The following morning we arose before sun rise to get some photographs of the seal activity where the Russian river merges with the Pacific Ocean.

A Seal's Salute

Having finished our Breakfast Lisa and I decided to travel further north towards Salt Point along the spectacular (if not treacherous) coastal roadway for our day's activity.

View of Coast Highway 1

By the time we had returned, everything in the small town was closed so we proceeded south to Bodega Bay and The Tides Wharf restaurant (which incidentally was made famous by The Birds).

Sunset at Jenner, California

The following morning we said our farewells to Jenner and began making our way south east towards the highlight of our trip, Yosemite National Park. Along the way we stopped at the old schoolhouse which was also featured in The Birds.

The Birds at the Tides Wharf Restaurant, Bodega Bay, California.
Nikon D3, 200mm/F2 VR

Once we got back to civilization, we were able to use my iPhone to make overnight arrangements at another bed & breakfast (Big Creek Meadow Ranch) just off of route 120 west of Yosemite.

During our trip to Sonoma County, we hadn't the need for our Beltronics GX-65 as we did not encounter a single redlight camera or speed trap. And, what a nice break it was.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Hunted: San Francisco, California with a Beltronics GX-65

30 MAY - 01 JUN 09 (Posted 14 JUN 09)

We made our way towards San Francisco Saturday for the weekend as Lisa wanted to visit Alcatraz. Although my wife and I prefer staying at small country bed-and-breakfasts, I decided to go urban for the weekend, selecting a suite at the San Francisco Hyatt Regency.

Although the hotel is relatively older, it still has many ultra-modern design elements to its structure and the lobby area is certainly breathtaking to behold.

We traveled the highways of I-580, I-680, and I-80 west running into a couple of CHP K-band radar encounters which the Beltronics GX65 alerted us to with ample time. However, we did come across one cruiser that was setting up hidden/obscured on the side of the I-680 that may have been a tough challenge, I suspect, had we approached him about a minute later.

We arrived into San Francisco by way of the Bay Bridge and Interstate 80. Fortunately, our Beltronics GX-65 alerted us to the use of red light camera enforced intersections.

This was a very good thing, as we were not familiar with the particular red-light camera systems that were being utilized in town and would have had a difficult time spotting them as a result.

We did eventually see one photo-enforcement sign indicating that the fines being accessed were a minimum of $271 per violation!

As we drove around the city in the evening, we came across a particular Cobra radar detector owner who was clueless on how to properly use it. I have seen improperly mounted Cobras before, but I think this one takes the cake for being the most egregiously mounted. I wonder how many of the 15-bands will actually end-up being detected in ample time with this mount?

During our brief stay in the city, we visited Coit Tower and Fisherman's Wharf. We found a local pizza shop by Fisherman's Wharf that reminded us of a good thin-crust New York-styled pizza.

San Francisco is not a particularly car friendly city. Parking alone at the Hyatt Regency ran us nearly $70 a night including taxes and parking meters only provided 6 minutes per quarter!

During our stay at the Hyatt Regency, Saturday evening, the hotel played host to Kristi Yamaguchi's "Dancing the Night Away." As we entered the hotel for the evening, we bumped into Gilles Marini and some other dancers on the escalator up to the main lobby.

I don't particularly follow pop-culture, but Lisa is a fan of Dances with the Stars and immediately recognized the gentleman. Given that I had a $13k Nikon DSLR and lens around my neck
, I wasn't interested as being pegged as a paparazzo, so we extended the courtesy of privacy by paying little attention to the entourage of dancers, something that they acknowledged as we separated once we reached the main lobby floor.

Although I tend to prefer outdoor and wildlife parks, the visit to Alcratraz on Sunday was a pretty interesting experience and we managed to get some nice pictures without the appearance of the crowds that were there, although it took a tremendous amount of patience to do so.

Having quickly got our fill of city-life we departed on Monday morning, northbound towards the town of Bodega Bay (where Hitchcocks's the Birds was filmed, one of Lisa's old-time favorites) and the wine-country of Sonoma county, by way of the coast.

Our Garmin Nuvi 360 predicted a little over an hour by way of highway 101. By taking the coastal roads, our journey to Bodega Bay took more on the order of six hours.

But the spectacular views of the Pacific coast were more than worth than time spent slowly navigating the treacherous coastal roadway.

Marin Headlands Coastline

Sausalito was a very nice upscale town worth driving through on our way north to a redwood forest.

Along the way we stopped by Muir woods to appreciate and photograph the giant redwoods that flourish there...

The Path Less Traveled

Speed Trap Hunter

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Hunted: Northern California: San Jose to Carmel to Modesto to Oakdale with a Beltronics GX65

25 MAY - 29 MAY 09 (Posted 09 JUN 09)

Nearly a year after our visit to the great state of Wyoming, Lisa and I this time traveled to the great state of California for a combination business trip, holiday, and photo-shooting session.

During our Wyoming speed trap hunting trip, we utilized two top-tier radar detectors within each of their respective company product lines, the Escort Passport 9500i and the Whistler XTR-695.

This time out, we called the high-tech Beltronics GX65 into service as I knew we would not only encounter CHP police radar, but also the ever increasing proliferation of red-light camera photo enforcement systems, something to which all other conventional radar detectors are not capable of alerting.

Only like its sister the Escort Passport 9500ix, the Beltronics GX65 is a windshield-mount radar detector that internally incorporates an advanced GPS-system based upon the highly regarded (Cheetah) Trinity Database, designed to alert to the presence of these money making automated photo enforcement systems.

Generally, my preference is to fly Southwest Airlines (which is my favorite U.S. carrier), but as I had an unused balance of airfare credit with American, we booked with them. Unfortunately our flying experience wasn't as favorable as we would have hoped. Perhaps I have been spoiled by flying Southwest. I personally didn't care for being charged an additional $30 each way for simply checking two bags, one for each of us. Nor did I care for the extreme loudness emanating from the S80's engines, towards the back of the plane. For our next trip to Tennessee, we will be sticking with Southwest, as I feel they provide a far more enjoyable and positive customer experience while at the same time resisting the nickle-and-diming of charging additional fees.

Since AA provided no nonstop flights to our destination, we opted to fly into San Jose (instead of San Francisco or Oakland) by way of DFW (Dallas) as opposed to by way of ORD (O'Hare).

Although San Jose's airport has grown over the years, I still find it a nice airport to fly to-and-from. We chose to rent our vehicle with Thrifty as the rate was nearly $800 less for a similar vehicle from Hertz for the same two-week period.

As the afternoon temperature hovered around the 90 degree mark, we opted for a convertible (Chrysler Sebring) and after securing our vehicle, we quickly changed into short-pants and short-sleeve clothing and dropped the top before proceeding towards a brief day visit to Carmel and Monterey

Having mounted our Beltronics GX65 and accompanying Garmin Nuvi 360, we began our journey south. California's weather is interesting to say the least. In just over thirty minutes of traveling south on Highway 101, did the weather abruptly change from being sunny and hot, to overcast/foggy and cold. I suspect the temperature drop was on the order of 30 or more degrees! So much for the convertible. Since the trunk was packed to the brim with our stuff, I opted to raise our windows and turn on the heater instead of going through the trouble or repacking to allow us to raise the top again.

As we approached Carmel, we encountered a heavy amount of holiday traffic returning in the northbound lanes of highway 101, which was something that we didn't want to get stuck in on our return, so we opted instead to abort our trip to Carmel and drive to our ultimate evening destination of Modesto by way of coastal highway 1. And what a nice choice that was.

As we made our way back north, we experienced the beauty of California's coastline and appreciated the fact the state has avoided over-development of their coastline.

Unlike Florida, which is replete with condos and hotels, California has preserved much of its coast for farming. Along our route we encountered some very cool surfers using a parachute-type device to harness wind to propel them towards and away from the beach.

During our trip towards Modesto, we encountered several 34.7 Ghz Ka traffic radar compliments of the California Highway Patrol. In each instance, our Beltronics Pro GX-65 provided ample warning to the impending threats and we ultimately arrived to the town Ripon without incident. We appreciated the renewable (wind) energy efforts seen soon after we crossed the San Mateo Bridge eastbound towards Modesto.

During my four-days of business, I asked a colleague of mine where Lisa and I could do some country-dancing. Knowing my cowboy way, he recommended that we visit the town of Oakdale in Stanislaus county and Mike B's (no relation to Whistler's Mike B.) place locally referred to as the "H-Bar-B." Lisa and I fell in love with the town of Oakdale and the farming/ranching community that lives in the area. During our first visit the cowboy bar, the H-B Saloon, we met-up with the owner Mike "Bachi" and his old-time friend Mr. Fitzpatrick, a real cowboy and rancher now residing in Carson City, Nevada, who stopped into town to visit his mother.

Lisa, Bob, and a real Cowboy at the H-B Saloon.

Both men are retired rodeo professionals. We also met some local PRCA talent. Lisa and I also learned the Oakdale has the title of being the Real Cowboy Capital of the World, having recently beaten a challenge by Stephenville, Texas to the title.

Beyond Rodeo, this region is also known for a particular cut of beef, called the Tri-Tip (bottom sirloin roast), served at the House of Beef. Fortunately, Lisa and I aren't vegetarians!

Knowing that I like a good beer, an Oakdale resident insisted we visit Shively's Bar & Grill, built as a quonset hut, featuring a wall-tap of nearly 40 brews!

After concluding our business at Modesto, we decided to next visit San Francisco for a couple of days as Lisa wanted to visit Alcratraz island...

Bob, Speed Trap Hunter

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Speed Trap Hunting: Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming

29 JUN - 01 JUL 08 (Posted 23 MAY 09)

Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, Artist Point, Yellowstone Falls

Instead of traveling through the crowded town of Jackson Hole and on up to one of the south entrances to Yellowstone National Park, we decided to take a more scenic route to our destination, by way of eastern Idaho on north route 20 towards Montana and to the west entrance of YSNP.

While the trip certainly took longer, it was a far far more enjoyable a ride.

Approaching Idaho State Trooper Conducting Traffic Stop

We crossed into the Montana and stopped in the small town of West Yellowstone, Montana to have a small lunch and then we proceeded to the YSNP entrance.

We stopped along the way to photograph a nesting pair of bald eagles before continuing towards our first intended stop, Old Faithful Geyser, by way of south on Grand Loop road.

I was once at Yellowstone more than 35 years ago and the amount of increased development and tourism traffic around Old Faithful was significant.

Given the intense crowds and the fact that the Geyser wasn't scheduled to erupt for about another hour or so (we had just missed it), we decided to plan on returning very early in the morning to get some pictures before the crowds arrived.

As it turned out, we didn't make it back as Lisa and I got hooked on the wildlife of Lamar Valley which was a substantial distance away and was significantly less overrun with tourists (LV tends to attract more wildlife, photographers, nature lovers, and environmentalists).

One thing to note about YSNP, the low speed limits are strictly enforced and good reason, as a lot of wildlife unfortunately gets injured or killed by careless motorists.

Speed Trap Hunter Driving Below Posted Speed Limits, for Safety

Lisa and I swore that we wouldn't add to any unfortunate statistics so we respected the posted limits.

Up close and very personal with a shy coyote (notice reflection in eyes)

That was a good thing, too, as the park rangers run instant-on K-band moving radar and we witnessed plenty of traffic stops of motorists/tourists who paid little regard for the safety and well-being of the wildlife and the justifiably low speed limits.

YSNP Park Rangers Strictly Enforcing PSL with IO K-band

If you are ever fortunate to make the trip to YSNP, make sure you allot yourself sufficient time to visit the park.

It is quite large and traveling the entire park takes a considerable amount of time. Lisa and I stayed for three days and it wasn't enough. It wasn't even close to being enough.

Got a little too close for his comfort

Since Lisa and I prefer quiet, we opted to stay in an austere remote cabin located outside of the park by about two hours at Bozeman, Montana. A wildlife-photographer friend of mine suggested that location.

To get at the park in time for early morning wildlife photography in Lamar Valley we had to start our morning just before 0345.

Photogenic Prong Horn Approached my Sitting Position to Pose, Lamar Valley, YSNP

Fortunately Montana's speed limits are actually higher on the back roads than on the interstates, if you can imagine that.

We generally entered the park from the quiet North entrance by the town of Gardiner, Montana.

Lisa and I managed to get some of the most incredible wildlife photographs we have ever had. The Nikon D3 is, without a doubt, one picture taking machine and the Nikkor glass was simply spectacular. This equipment coupled with my fearlessness of wildlife afforded some shots worthy of a poster-size.

Speed Trap Hunter almost Became Hunted, himself

Momma Grizzly following her cub, Lamar Valley, YSNP

I hope you find these images as compelling as we did.

Prairie Dog up close and very personal (notice reflection in eye)

Most Elusive Creatures: The Wolves of Lamar Valley, Yellowstone National Park

Our next big trip will be to Yosemite National Park in California and while we don't expect to see as much sheer wildlife, we are anticipating some incredible scenery to be captured with the flagship Nikon D3X 24+MP DSLR and this time we'll be riding with a Beltronics GX65 to protect us.

STH gets Flagged by YSNP Park Rangers, but not for Speeding

We thank Whistler for providing us protection with their wonderful XTR-695.

YSNP Park Ranger at K-band Traffic Stop

In any event, like other wildlife photographers who routinely visit Lamar, Lisa and I are looking forward to the time that we can return once again to celebrate the life that thrives in this most unusual park. And I thank the several park rangers who tolerated my fearlessness of their wildlife.

All told, we managed to put on 4259 miles in the brief time we visited the states of Colorado, Wyoming, South Dakota, Idaho, and Montana and although we had a couple close calls, we managed so without receiving one speeding ticket thanks, in part, to the protection of both the Whistler XTR-695 and the Escort Passport 9500i.

Speed Trap Hunter