June Lake Wedding

Victory Lodge Wedding | June Lake, CA | Julie + Taylor

Julie had me from the get-go.  She was actually the first wedding I booked for the 2016 season and one of the ones I was most looking forward to all year.  Her inquiry email said things like, “come party with us in June Lake” and that they were hoping to find a photographer that would be willing to photograph a group hike instead of an engagement session.  They booked a beautiful lodge at June Lake and had an intimate affair with 50 of their closest friends and family in attendance, most of whom stayed on site or at the adjacent condos, over 4th of July weekend.  They served tacos at dinner (be still my taco loving heart) and margaritas and hired my best buddy and personal DJ, Dave Berkman, to spin the dancing tunes.  They invited Dave and I to wine, dine and hike with them all weekend and we had absolutely the best time swapping stories and having drinks late until the evening with this adventurous crew.  I can’t wait until my paths cross again with Julie and Taylor, and I’m sure they will.  This couple is full of just the kind of spirit I like to surround myself with.

Venue: Victory Lodge | Florist: Red Lily Design | Bakery: Mountain Cakery | Caterer: Convict Lake Catering | DJ: Ascent DJ Productions | Bride’s Attire: Grace Loves Lace | Groom’s Attire: Men’s Warehouse

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Big Eyed Fish

Big Eyed Fish | Hard Rock Casino | Vinyl

My friend Chris is in an exhausting number of bands.  He might be the musical equivalent of me.  Every time I turn around, he’s posting a show he’s playing somewhere in the Northern CA area.  In addition to often playing solo, he’s also in my favorite Northern CA band Dad’s LPs, who will be playing Tahoe twice this summer.  Dad’s LPs are a super fun energetic rock/pop outfit and you can catch them Saturday, June 20th in the Heavenly Village at 5:00 PM or at Live at Lakeview on Thursday, July 30th.

In addition to Dad’s LPs, Chris is also the frontman for Big Eyed Fish, a Northern CA Dave Matthews Tribute Band.  Chris and his DMB troupe were recently in Tahoe to play at the new music venue Vinyl, inside our recently opened Hard Rock Resort and Casino.  As a side note, Vinyl features live music almost every night of the week and it’s often free!  To say that Chris is a Dave Matthews fan would be an understatement.  DMB is his self-professed most favorite band in the world and I’m actually a huge Dave fan myself, so when he asked me to come down to the show and snap some photos for their marketing efforts, I was thrilled to accommodate the request.  It was a joy to be able to capture him playing the (extremely difficult) songs of his music idol.

In addition to Dad’s LPs and Big Eyed Fish, Chris also plays with The Diva Kings.   You can catch the Diva Kings next at Redwood Winery in Plymouth, CA on August 8th.

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Wedding Prayer

Markleeville Wedding Photographer | Indian Creek Reservoir | Amanda + Jason

This one time I had to show up for a wedding at 6:30 AM.

Yes, you read that correctly: 6:30 AM.

Amanda wanted a sunrise wedding at one of her most favorite places in the world: Indian Creek Reservoir in Markleeville, CA.   Her friends and family camped at the campground, rose in the wee hours of the morning to prep vats of scrambled eggs and bacon for breakfast burritos, and decorated the reception area in the dark.  As I drove into the campground, it was pitch black.  It was SO dark at the campground as I drove in, I was briefly worried that there wouldn’t be any light out at the beginning of the ceremony.

It didn’t take me long to find Amanda.  I just stopped and asked some people walking through the campground what trailer she was in.  I (correctly) assumed that everyone on site was there for the two of them.

Amanda was adorably nervous.  It was warm in the trailer and she stepped outside in her flannel PJs with her hair all done up and a big smile on her face to take a shot of whiskey and collect herself.  She grinned, grabbed her friends hands, and prayed with them.  That image is one of my favorites from this year.

The ceremony was officiated by Jason’s father: it was funny, quirky and touching.

Both Jason and Amanda are hunters, fishers, and general outdoorsmen and the details of their wedding contained hints of their passions, from the camouflage belt on Amanda’s dress to the boys’ boutonnières.

It was the greatest wedding light ever and I’m fairly certain I exclaimed, “this is awesome!” about 20 times, thanking Amanda profusely for having a sunrise wedding.

Congratulations to Amanda and Jason.

And one last time, THANK YOU for having a sunrise wedding and for choosing me to be your Markleeville wedding photographer.  It was awesome!

Bizz Johnson Half Marathon

When my friend Bri separated her AC joint mountain biking this summer she decided to focus on the only sport she could do, which was running, and on a whim, registered for the Bizz Johnson Trail Marathon in Susanville, CA.

I have tons of customers who have run this event and while they have always lauded the course and the support, I have heard many a horror story about how it was snowing, or raining, or snowing and raining on race day and how miserable it can be. Honestly, most years that I’ve lived in Tahoe it has snowed every year on that weekend.

Because Bri and I had tickets to go see Florence and the Machine in the Bay Area with some friends of mine, I decided that I would register for the half and tag along so that we could drive straight from the Bay to Susanville for the event.

So, we drove all over Northern CA and ran marathons. No big deal.

We spent Friday night with my friends Chris and Erin, who danced to Florence with us, cooked us bacon and waffles the next morning, and showed off their gorgeous new daughter.

Mmmm waffles!

Look at those happy beautiful eyes!

On Saturday we drove up to Susanville and camped at the gorgeous and completely empty Eagle Lake Campground and Recreation Area. Literally empty. There were probably 60 campsites there and only three of them in use, including ours!

Things that you should do before running a marathon: 1) go to concerts, 2) drink wine, 3) drive 7 hours, 4) spend some of that time shopping at IKEA. We are so pro.

Eagle Lake Campground and Recreation Area

The Bizz Johnson Marathon and Half Marathon take place on Susanville’s Bizz Johnson Trail, a 25.4 mile Rails to Trails Project that follows the old Fernley and Lassen Branch Line of the Southern Pacific railroad. The trail starts at the old Susanville Rail Depot and follows the Susan River Canyon.

Booker explores the beginning of the Bizz Johnson Trail.

Briana was taken 26.2 miles away where she was hoping to get a BQ time on the mostly downhill course, but came in just slightly past her goal time. Regardless, it was her first marathon and she did awesome!!

Bri comes across the finish line looking strong!

The half marathon course was an out and back on the trail, which included one of my favorite race moments ever: running through a super dark, quiet and 800 foot long railroad tunnel! It was so cool!

Physically, I had a pretty terrible race, but while I didn’t feel super awesome, at least the scenery was gorgeous and the event was well run, which is more than I can say for the last horrible race I had, which took place in the god-awful town of Wichita Falls, TX. So far I am 0 for 2 on races this year!

Anyways, I had gone in to see my PT/Chiropractor with a slight injury the week before and he cleared me to run, thinking I had some minor soft tissue damage. This was apparently a bigger problem than we both thought because now I haven’t been able to run again since the half which leaves me feeling a bit anxious about the upcoming half and full marathons I’m registered for. I know I can always just go out slow and wing it, but I’d rather not come away from this year’s marathon with a stress fracture. I still have no idea what’s wrong with my leg, but in short, it feels like a lead rod is jamming up my tibia into my knee when I run.

So, I ran a half marathon. Oh, I got third in my age group. Bri ran a marathon, she got 2nd in her age group. We saw Florence and the Machine. We shopped at Ikea. We picked up my new table from West Elm. We had fun. Overall, a successful, but busy and driving filled time.

Downieville

Last weekend, on the spur of the moment, I decided to take my Labor Day holiday and Buddy and I went to Downieville for my second time this season and his first time EVER with a big group of friends. We camped, rode, laughed and drank for three days and it was absolute heaven. We rode a new trail there: the Mills Peak Trail. It is hands down my new favorite Downieville Trail! 9 miles of ripping awesome pumpy flowy downhill singletrack – what’s not to love? You can see all the photos from the weekend here, but these are a few of my faves.

The Brewery Road Home

The next morning, R wanted to go explore the beach some more so I decided to hit Hwy 1 on my road bike. I rode south for about 35 minutes before turning back north to return to the campsite. What little bit I did ride was absolutely phenomenal and after taking this trip, I would very much so like to return to both areas for some more riding. In particular, I’m adding to my list the Tour of the Unknown Coast, which winds it’s way through Ferndale and the Avenue of the Giants. On the way back I cruised through the main street of Mendocino, which was picturesquely adorable. So cute that it makes you want to quit your job, buy a pastel colored beach house and open a bed and breakfast.

On our drive home we took the road through Boonville, which is a small town in Anderson Valley, home of many vineyards and the Anderson Valley Brewing Company, maker of some of my favorite beers including the Boont Amber Ale. We took a brewery tour, in addition to getting the chance to sample a number of their craft beers that I’d never seen before. I was a particularly big fan of the Brother David’s Double and their Bourbon Stout, which they don’t bottle.

Anderson Valley Brewing Co

After returning from the brewery tour, there were three new boys seated at the end of the bar. R starts hounding me to talk to her about one of them, but I’m somewhat blindsided by the incredible hotness of the one on the end. He was VERY tall and manly with gorgeous long curly black hair. I briefly thought to myself, “I think that is the hottest man I’ve ever seen.” R is nudging me going, “I think that blond guy is the guy from that show with the cute girl, Rachel Bilson?” I have no idea what she’s talking about so I pull up IMDB on my phone, google Rachel Bilson, figure out she’s talking about the OC and hold up a photo of Ben McKenzie in front of her. We determine that his nose does look eerily similar. By this time, the hot boy and guys are starting to leave so I send R over to ask, because everyone loves R.

“Hi, I’m R,” she says to him, all chipper and cute like she is, “are you the guy from the OC?” He says he is and shakes her hand and introduces himself. “What are you guys doing?” she asks. He tells her they are going swimming. “That sounds like fun!” she exclaims. “Have a good time! Thanks!” It was all very R.

Turns out, that hot guy was SO hot I didn’t even realize it was Adrien Grenier.

They are in Boonville filming a movie. Anne has been there working and she’s spotted him also, totally not realizing at first either who she was looking at. Hysterical!

We left Anderson and headed straight for Lagunitas Brewery in Petaluma, CA. Now this is one brewery tour that I highly recommend: it’s a very unique tour chock full of hilarious and memorable stories, and, not to mention, free samples! It’s right up there with my other most favorite brewery tour ever: The Fat Tire tour.

Hanging in the 420 bar at Lagunitas Brewery.

Haven’t had any of Lagunitas’ Brew? If you’re a fan of bold beer, I recommend A Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ Ale and Kronik: the Censored Rich Copper Ale.

We woefully wished we could stay and drink beer all day in Lagunitas’ amazing outdoor patio and beer garden, but sadly, we had a four hour drive home. It was the end of our mini summer vacation. We had some killer days exploring the Northern CA coast! You can see all of the photos from the entire trip here.

If you want to repeat any of our trip, here are my recommendations:

STAY
Jedediah Smith State Park: Jedediah Smith Campground, reserve early!
Humboldt Redwoods State Park: Albee Creek Campground, reserve early!
Mendocino Area: Russian Gulch State Park and Campground

EAT
38 Great Camp Recipes, via Sunset Magazine
Samoa Cookhouse
North Coast Brewery

DRINK
North Coast Brewery
Anderson Valley Brewing Co
Lagunitas Brewing Co

Banana Slug in the Kitchen

Driving the Northern CA Coast

The Humboldt Redwoods State Park isn’t nearly as remote as Jedediah Smith. It’s easily accessed by Hwy 101, which runs smack down the middle of it and hundreds of cars a day take the scenic drive down the “Avenue of the Giants.”

I had forgotten to take melatonin that night and slept horribly. Regardless, I roused myself out of my bad mood and out of my sleepless bed at 6 am to ride my road bike and hunt for good picture opportunities in the quiet dawn. I didn’t end up with any stellar photos, but the hour long ride did manage to squelch my grumpiness.

Humboldt Redwoods State Park

To tell you the truth, we were all a little sick of big trees. We were ready to move on. Not wanting to pass up the opportunity of being there, we made quick laps through the Rockefellor Loop Trail and the Founder’s Grove, which were both flat, short and scenic laps of less than a mile with some really big gorgeous old growth trees. Some of the standouts of this forest, in particular, were the massive downed trees that have been sliced open so that you can walk through the cross sections.

R, exploring Founder’s Grove, Humboldt Redwoods State Park.

Some of the living trees here, because of the foot traffic, have walkways built around them, which I found an interesting solution to the issue of human interest.

Super creative name you guys! The “Giant Tree,” Humboldt Redwoods State Park

After our rapid hikes through the trees, we were anxious to head south to the coast. We had a mission for our afternoon and next day and it included: Mendocino coast, Boonville and lots of breweries!

We stopped briefly outside of Mendocino to wine taste at Pacific Star Winery. Pros about Pacific Star: gorgeous views and a lovely picnic area. Cons about Pacific Star: terrible wine, $5 tasting fee that isn’t waved with the purchase of a bottle. I highly recommend that you go picnic on Pacific Star Winery’s lawn with wine from a different vineyard.

Taking in the view at Pacific Star Winery.

After quickly setting up camp at the gorgeous and highly recommended Russian Gulch Campground (another one of the list of best campgrounds in CA), we headed back north into Fort Bragg for some early dinner and beer tasting at North Coast Brewing Co. Their food was some of the best I’ve had in a brewery. Garlic waffle fries? Yes, please.

Beer Sampler at North Coast Brewery

That night we played on the beach in Russian Gulch, drank wine, had an extremely long game of corn hole, and all ate far too many s’mores. It was our last night before we returned home and we wanted to savoir the outdoors (not that we didn’t have an amazing day planned already for the route home).

Russian Gulch State Park

The Hunt for Iluvitar

Because Jedediah Smith was so popular, we were only able to make camping reservations for two weeknights there. We decided that we would break up our drives by meandering down the northern CA coast and stopping in the Humboldt Redwoods as well. On our way out of the area, we stopped at Enderts Beach because the sun was out and R was interested in looking at tide pools.

Enderts Beach, Crescent City, CA

While we hanging out at the scenic overlook, we struck up a conversation with a man who seemingly knew everything. EVERYTHING. He was telling us about the history of the city, about the birds, about the tides, about the forest.

Now, let me back up a few days: on our first full day in the park, we had gone on a nature walk with Ranger Dan, who tried to discourage us from going to see the Grove of the Titans, because “it’s not that interesting.” I had also asked him if he often had to rescue people who were lost in the forest looking for it. He had admitted that 99% of the people who come through the area have never even heard of the Grove, much less gone looking for it, but there was one guy, “The Professor,” who returned every few summers hunting the hidden trees that lived out of this car. He spent his year teaching at a college in Boston.

Flashback to today: we are talking with this man and he mentions hidden trees. We admit that we managed tp visit the Grove of the Titans. He lights up with delight and all the sudden I realize: this MUST be the professor. “Are you the professor? Are you living out of your car?”

We had not only managed to enter the Grove of the Titans, but we had somehow stumbled upon the Professor as well. What good fortune! In the end, we spent almost an hour chatting with him as he pulled out maps and lists and filled our brains with more information than we could later remember. Two amazing things came out of our discussion: 1) a fantastic place to stop for dinner (the Samoa Cookhouse) and 2) that we absolutely MUST stop in the Prairie Creek Redwoods Forest to see the hidden tree, Iluvitar.

Iluvitar is the world’s third largest redwood tree. It’s 20.5 feet in diameter and 320 feet tall. If you’re looking in the woods for Iluvitar and mucking around in the forest where you shouldn’t be, you are in the wrong place.

Taking snapshots of Iluvitar.

Thanks to the Professor, we had a bit of a road-map straight to the large tree, which, according to the Professor, has the most “sophisticated canopy” of any redwood.

Looking up at the bungled canopy of Iluvitar, Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.

Also thanks to the Professor, we made our dinner stop at the Samoa Cookhouse, where dinner is served family style and there is no choice in your dish. R was thrilled that it was Southern Fried Chicken Night!

Samoa Cookhouse Price Board.

The Samoa Cookhouse is the last surviving cookhouse in the west and is where the lumberman in Northern CA used to eat their three meals a day. You sit at long family tables covered in camp style checkered cloth. It was quite an experience!

Samoa Cookhouse, outside Eureka, CA.

Strangely enough there was some sort of classic car club meeting there that night and the parking lot was even more of a blast from the past!

Classic cars at a classic cookhouse: surreal.

After our long winding adventure down 101 hunting more hidden trees and gorging ourselves on classic American fare, we were exhausted. Thankfully, we had booked a campsite ahead of time at Albee Creek Campground, which is a little bit more off the beaten path. It was a wise choice we would find the next morning. The Humboldt Redwoods, though phenomenal and spectacular in their own right, don’t feel nearly as removed from the world as Jedediah Smith, mostly because hwy 101 runs smack through the middle of them, something we wouldn’t witness until dawn.

Stout Grove

The 2.2 mile long Hiouchi Trail leads into Stout Grove, which, in and of itself, is very unique in the world of redwood groves.

Stout Grove, Jedediah Smith State Park

Stout Grove is special for a number of reasons, but primarily because of it’s general flatness. Most redwood groves are notoriously difficult to traverse and explore: thick foilage and underbrush, combined with fallen trees, often create extremely uneven ground. They tell campfire stories in the park about Jedediah Smith and his fabled difficult crossing through the forest, when it took 10 days to traverse three miles. He wrote in his diaries, “The traveling very bad on account of brush and fallen timber.”

Stout Grove, Jedediah Smith State Park

Stout Grove, however, is located on a bend of the Smith River, the last wild river in CA, and also, on a flood plane. This means that every few decades, a large flood sweeps through and clears out the underbrush and downed trees. This keeps the land flat and prevents too much wild overgrowth in the grove.

Stout Grove, Jedediah Smith State Park

Redwoods are amazing for a number of reasons. First of all, they are incredibly resilient and extremely dense. They grow unbelievably tall. So tall that you cannot see the tops of the trees. The tallest known redwood at 379 feet is a hidden tree named Hyperion (more on him later!). Despite their heights, the roots only go ten to twelve feet under the ground! All of that massive weight helps keep them upright. That being said, these ancient trees do fall and when they do, they continue to help the forest.

Downed Redwood: Stout Grove, Jedediah Smith State Park

Redwoods contain a very special trait: the ability to create carbon copy clones of their DNA to reproduce. They do this with something called burl.

Checking out burl.

Burl, in plain English, contains the DNA code to reproduce an exact replica of the mother tree. When a redwood is damaged in some way, it creates burl and out of the burl grow new redwood trees. When a redwood tree falls to the ground, not only will it help feed the surrounding forest with essential nutrients, but new trees will grow out of it’s burl. When this happens, the tree is referred to as a nurse log.

Nurse Log.

One of the biggest reasons folks travel to visit Stout Grove is to see the Stout Tree, which at one point was thought to be one of the largest redwoods but has now been dwarfed by others. It has 21,000 cubic feet of trunk volume!

Stout Tree, Jedediah Smith State Park.

Today, the Stout Tree has fallen far down on the list of largest redwoods. It just happens to be one of the only ones that isn’t “hidden.”

See, there is a difference between a normal Redwood and something now called a “Titan.” They may not be the tallest trees, but they are the biggest. Botanists make a distinction between the tallest trees and the overall size of trees. While some of the tallest trees are over 350 feet tall, the most massive trees are sometimes shorter but contain four to five times more MASS than the tallest redwoods. Many of the most massive (and a few of the tallest) Redwoods are “hidden” trees and have undisclosed locations.

In 1998 a botanist named Steve Sillett decided to go hunting for Titans in Jedediah Smith State Park. The search was long and difficult, not unlike Jedediah Smith’s traverse through the very same forest. You can read about the melodrama on the internet, which makes the entire trip sound like it was a near death experience. The short of it is that Sillett found a number of massive Titans in a grove which he then named the “Grove of the Titans.”

This is how melodramatic the story is: they call the day Sillett found the tress “The Day of Discovery.” YAWN.

Today, the grove is unmapped and untold of, mostly, from what I can tell by reading on the internet, because Sillett is a pretentious jerk who likes to keep things to himself. “They” say that the exact location of the grove is known only to a handful of biologists, who climb the trees and study the ecology of the grove. “They say” that the Grove of Titans exists at the bottom of a hidden, notch-like valley deep in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. So, while the Stout Tree is the “official” largest tree in the park, there are many many more much more massive trees in the Grove of the Titans. When you google it, there are youtube videos from a nerdy science kid who finds the trees and posts them online and blog posts from people who spent days bushwhacking through forests looking for this “secret” grove of trees that not only is no one supposed to go to, but they also aren’t supposed to know about. You read stories about how people search for years to find these special trees and how fraught with peril their searches are.

Well, what’s the first thing I want to do when you tell me I can’t go see something awesome? Yeah, that’s right, I want to go see it. And I sure as hell aren’t going to be dumb and go bushwhack through forest to do it.

So, as soon as I read about the Grove of the Titans online, I determined that I was going to go there. As soon as I told my friends about the Grove of the Titans we came up with a plan of attack: we were going to go to the Grove of the Titans. Simple.

But first, it was time for dinner and that night’s campfire talk, led by Ranger Nate.

Dinner. Ha! Just kidding. That’s a banana slug.

Camp dinner, for realz.

Our Intro to the Redwoods: Hiouchi Trail

Morning in the Redwoods

After my morning photo session, I returned to camp to wake my lazy still-sleeping friends up. We went on a gorgeous 3 mile run and then feasted on super amazing smoked salmon and egg breakfast tacos. Our plan for the day was to hike the 2.2 mile Hiouchi Trail into Stout Grove. I really enjoy how the description on that website refers to the trail as a hike through “mostly through uninteresting mixed-species forest at the edge of the old growth redwoods.” I would have to disagree.

Exhibit A: you get to walk through trees.

Exhibit B: you get to stare at the canopy through the trunks of trees.

The hike actually took us quite sometime because we kept stopping to stare gape at various things, like bugs and big trees, which at this point, were a very new novelty to us.

Hiking the Hiouchi Trail, Jedediah Smith State Park

Gaping at Massive Trees, Hiouchi Trail, Jedediah Smith State park

We were marveling at all the things that we were still yet uniformed on regarding the redwoods, like how trees grow out of the sides of trees.

See that downed tree there? There are trees growing out of the tree.

We would come to find out much later in the day, thanks to Ranger Dan, all about how these magnificent trees have managed to last so long and why they do the crazy things they do.