Orange Juice, ETC

The blog of Elias & Theresa Carlson

Category: Photography

Yosemite

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Last September my parents invited me to join them on their road trip from Priest River to Long Beach with a pit stop in Yosemite. We took the scenic route through the windy roads of Oregon, driving for hours, encountering only a handful of travelers on the long expanses of highway from small town to small town. It was everything a road trip should be. We ate roadside BBQ, picnicked on a log off the side of the road, arrived at hotels after dark and watched tv while snacking on Red Vines as we fell asleep, three to a room.

I had never been to Yosemite before. What an incredible place! From the moment we drove into the park we were surrounded by massive sheets of stone reaching upwards and outwards, sprinkled with patches of green. We entered at Tioga Pass and followed the road through the park to Yosemite Valley, where we spent most of our time before exiting at the South end of the park. We only spent a day and a half in the park but it was enough time to hit many of the iconic views, do a couple of short hikes, and watch a few the climbers make their way up El Capitan. I am excited to go back sometime with Elias and spend more time hiking, exploring, and camping in the park.

Make some time to visit this beautiful place, you will be blown away.

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Joshua Tree, California: A Most Excellent Getaway Spot

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We found it odd. The way the chipmunk staggered woozily from the brush like the town drunk in a bad Western. Perhaps he’d nibbled his way into some camper’s stash of peyote. Maybe he was just a little dehydrated. But then we noticed the leg. It dragged lifeless behind him as he crossed the pathway and collapsed, tiny rib cage heaving, at the base of a small boulder.

I looked at Joseph, “Oh man, that’s sad. I wonder what happened to him. I hope some jerk camper didn’t slingshot him for fun.”

We took a few steps closer.

“I think maybe that’s a bite mark,” Joseph said, observing a small gash in the chipmunk’s left hindquarter. We watched as a crimson stain seeped through brown fur.

As the light in the little eyes grew dimmer, the ragged gasps for breath shallower, we looked at each other and knew:

“It has to be a rattlesnake.”

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Everyone needs a Most Excellent Getaway Spot Preferably Not More Than Three Hours Away (MEGS-PNMTTHA). Henceforth referred to as MEGS for the sake of brevity.

For most of my life my MEGS of choice was “The Place” – a rustic cabin on the Eastern side of Washington’s North Cascades, nestled amongst the pines just off a dusty gravel road within earshot of Lost River. It’s the kind of place where you wake to songbirds and pine squirrels to find bucks with velvet antlers off the back porch. For years this patch of forest and river bank has been my escape. A place of rest and restoration, and a vital point of connection to the natural world. Everyone needs a Most Excellent Getaway Spot.

Now, an ideal MEGS carefully blends several attributes into one location. The first of these is accessibility. Your place should be no more than four hours distance by car from your current residence. This is far enough to remove you from the distractions of normal life and makes it the perfect choice for long weekends, or mid-Friday getaways. Second, it must provide access to an outstanding natural area. It doesn’t have to be Yosemite, but it must bring you joy. It can be a lake, a river, an ocean, or a desert. The most important thing is that it be a little wilder, a little freer, and that it inspire you to be the same. It must also be peaceful. You should find yourself slowing down, unwinding, and breathing more deeply in the comfort of your MEGS. And finally, it should accommodate a group of 2-5 comfortably. The reason for this is simple: adventures are often best when shared.

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My first experience with Joshua Tree was at the age of 13 on a month-long road trip from Seattle to San Antonio and back. My parents piled enough camping gear, granola bars, and fruit snacks to supply a family of seven into our big black GMC van and we hit the road. It was the kind of youth-defining All-American road trip that sticks with you for the rest of your life, and while I have several vivid memories from it – shitting furiously, puking, shitting furiously again, then dry-heaving repeatedly over a decrepit toilet somewhere near the edge of the Grand Canyon being a particular gem – one of my favorites occurred in Joshua Tree.

Like most red-blooded American boys I was (am) obsessed with all things scaly. The capture and close examination of any fish, lizard, or snake representing the zenith of my youthful aspirations (an obsession I’m proud to say I’ve not entirely outgrown). I had in my possession at the time a copy of Peterson Field Guides: Western Reptiles and Amphibians which I pored over with the a religious fervor as the family van rumbled its way South. With each passing state – Idaho, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico – I noted the various reptiles that might be found and formulated grandiose plans for their capture.

Of all the reptiles in my book, none captured my imagination like the rattlesnake. Beautiful, deadly, bordering on mythical, there are few creatures an adventurous boy would rather encounter (from a safe distance at least).

On the return trip to Seattle, my parents took us West through New Mexico, Arizona, and California. Our stop in Joshua Tree was brief. More of a drive-through on our way to bigger better things (Disneyland! Yosemite!) than a proper visit. But I’ll never forget the rattlesnake.

It was my brother Joseph who spotted it first, coiled and sleek, in a deep cleft between two large boulders. We marveled wide-eyed from our perch atop the rocks, hearts thrilling with our proximity to coiled death. The snake was unconcerned, brow furrowed in a perpetual scowl, tongue gently flicking the desert air.

Our encounter lasted no more than 5 minutes. But the memory lingers still. For 21 years whenever someone mentions Joshua Tree, the image of that little rattlesnake pops into my head, as clear as the blue sky.

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Which brings us back to the demise of our drunken chipmunk.

“If it’s a rattlesnake, that means he was JUST bitten. Which means it must be nearby.”

Joseph and I glanced at each other and immediately began searching the surrounding rocks and desert shrubs for signs of the cold-blooded assassin. To no avail. After ten minutes we were ready to admit defeat, turning to head back to the main pathway, when I saw it.

It was a small Southwestern Speckled Rattlesnake. No more than 2 or 3 feet in length. It emerged from the brush and probed its way methodically up and over a small boulder, delicately tasting the air for the scent of its fallen prey. As we watched in awe, I was struck by the sophistication of the snake’s design; perfectly equipped for its deadly task.

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For more Rattlesnake info visit the California Department of Fish and Wildlife

Joseph and I quickly realized that it was going to take the snake at least another 15 minutes to sniff its way to the chipmunk, which had fallen alongside the main footpath. In the name of safety – both the snake’s and future hiker’s – we decided to intervene. Joseph scooped up the lifeless rodent with a pair of sticks and gently plopped it down a few feet from the snake which quickly located it and began the gruesome yet fascinating process of consuming it.

For the next twenty minutes I was 11 again. We watched with rapt attention as the rattlesnake sniffed the length of the chipmunk, located the head, unhinged its jaw and slowly, inch by inch, swallowed it whole. I’m not sure I’ve ever witnessed anything weirder, or more fascinating in nature.

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This remarkable encounter solidified what had become increasingly clear to me over three brilliant days in the high desert: I may have temporarily lost my Northwest MEGS, but until fate or good fortune finds me back amongst the pines Joshua Tree will make for a fine substitute.

If you live within driving distance, or if you’re road-tripping through Southern California, a night or two under the innumerable Joshua Tree stars will be well worth your time. Just make sure you come prepared.

A few quick tips on that note:

  1. Bring lots of water. This is the desert, there is no running water in the campgrounds. I’d recommend 1 gallon per person per day. That will probably be more than you need, but that’s OK.
  2. Bring portable shade. Joshua Tree is incredible during the first few hours of the day, and the last few. But during the high heat of midday it can be witheringly hot. We pack a large tarp which we string up wherever we can. Or you can look for shady slot canyons where you can get in a bit of bouldering in the cool shadows provided by the rocks.
  3. Bring lightweight breathable desert attire during the day, and a few warmer layers for the night. You’ll want as few clothes on as possible between 11-3 and you’ll probably want long pants and a warm jacket once the sun goes down.
  4. Bring appropriate footwear. Cacti, sharp rocks, and rattlesnakes abound in JT. This is not flip-flip country. Good sturdy tennis shoes or an appropriate outdoor shoe of some kind are a must.
  5. Bring firewood. There’s nothing better than roasting marshmallows or drinking beers by the fire beneath the starry night sky.
  6. Bring a camera. Desert sunsets are unforgettable. The harsh flat colors of the daytime retreat with the sun and a world awash in pastels – oranges, minty greens, purples, and blues – emerges from the dust.

Whatever city, state, or country you find yourself in, I encourage you to discover your own MEGS. Find yourself a little patch of forest, a favorite stream, or perhaps an entire mountain range, and make it yours. To quote the poet of The Sierra, John Muir,

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn.

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These Are The Days

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The problem with digital photos is that often people never get around to having them printed. Even though Elias and I primarily shoot film, we send it to the lab to be developed and receive digital photos in return. A few years ago I made a book of our photos using Blurb for Elias birthday gift. The book turned out beautifully and it was so much fun to see our pictures in print. We decided then that we would make a book every year so that some day we would have photo albums to look through as we do with our parents.

As it turns out, every year is a little ambitious, but two years later we have another book of memories. We maxed out the page limit Blurb offers with a 240 page hardcover book made up entirely of film photos. Blurb is the only online bookmaking site I have used but I cannot say enough about the quality. For both of our books we chose the linen hardcover with a dust jacket. Though I would prefer the dust jacket to be matte vs. glossy, I am sold on the linen hardcover. We have chosen the standard paper quality and though higher quality might be nice, we have not felt the need to buy up.

A couple of people have expressed interest in purchasing the book so we decided to make it available for sale to those who are interested. Please know that the cost of the book is strictly Blurb’s price, we make no profit off the sale of the book.

Purchase here.

Please feel free to view the book in its entirety below (its best if you view it BIG!).

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Riding Comets Through Outer Space

Forgive us while we nerd out for a minute…

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A 4 image composite photo of Comet 67P taken by Rosetta’s NAVCAM.
Photo Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM

Ten years ago the European Space Agency (ESA) launched Rosetta, a spacecraft loaded with a small probe named Philae. Their purpose? To catch and land on Comet 67P, a mass of rock and ice the size of Mt. Fuji hurtling through space at over 84,000 MPH. On Wednesday, after a journey spanning a decade and covering a distance of over 3.5 Billion miles, they achieved their goal. Rosetta launched Philae, which successfully attached itself to the surface of the comet. And today I’m looking at pictures of Comet 67P on Flickr. What an incredible world we live in.

You may ask, “Who cares? Why does this even matter?”

And to that I just have to say, “YOU GUYS! HUMANS LANDED A SPACECRAFT ON A FREAKING COMET!!!”

Seriously though, I don’t have any big answers for you, but just stop for five minutes and think about the logistical marvel that humankind has just achieved. I can’t help but feel a sense of pride and awe at the achievement. And I will be looking forward to any new scientific discoveries that come as a result of this most impressive feat.

If you’d like some more specifics about the mission here’s an informative article from Vox that covers the big points: Why The Comet Landing Matters

Below are a few of my favorite photos from the mission, which are available on ESA’s Flickr. You can see the full set here.

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Rosetta mission selfie showing Comet 67P and one of Rosetta’s solar wings. Taken using Philae’s CIVA camera.
Photo Credit: ESA/Rosetta/Philae/CIVA

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A “Beauty Shot” of Comet 67P taken by Rosetta from a distance of 10km.
Photo Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM

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A “Beauty Shot” of Comet 67P taken by Rosetta from a distance of 10km.
Photo Credit: ESA/Rosetta/NAVCAM

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Infographic summarising the milestones of Rosetta’s journey through the Solar System.
Photo Credit: ESA

Seven Years to Celebrate

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This year we were lucky enough to find ourselves in Big Sur for our Anniversary weekend. We discussed several destinations within driving distance before taking a look at VRBO in the Big Sur area. With less than a month until our anniversary I am not sure how we found anything at all, let alone something so perfect. All we really wanted was a cabin in the woods (not so easy to come by in Southern California) and that is exactly what we got. We spent three days in a little cabin nestled in a redwood grove just up from Bixby Creek Bridge, whose only toilet/shower was on the back deck.

This stretch of Highway 1 holds a beauty that is hard to surpass. On one side of the road rocky cliffs drop to the ocean where humpback whales leap and play in the surf. On the other, hills dappled with reds, yellows, greens, and pinks reach to the sky as cows graze, oblivious to their charmed life. If you time your trip right, you may be passing through this stretch of paradise at sunrise or sunset, in which case you may not get very far as each pull out holds a view that will take your breath away.

We spent our days driving up and down the coast, hiking the cliffs, enjoying the cooler air during the day and a fire in our cabin at night. We saw seals, sea otters, deer, and so many whales. Seven years is something to celebrate and Big Sur is one of the better places to do so.

On our way home I finished a roll of film in my little Rollei. This one had some good stuff on it, I am sure. It had been down Highway 1, to Joshua Tree, and now back to Big Sur. I wasn’t sure exactly what would come out of it but I was excited. I rewound the film, and rewound the film, and rewound the film… It never stopped. Turns out it was never loaded. On to the next.

Without Further ado, please enjoy our (mostly Elias’) photos of Big Sur!

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Joshua Tree: A Quick Guide

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A few weeks ago we went for our first camping trip since moving to California. Coming from the Pacific Northwest it was a bit odd to go camping at the beginning of May and spend our afternoon seeking shelter in a carved out rock for a break from the hot desert sun. What a strange and beautiful place.

We left Long Beach on Friday afternoon and got to Joshua Tree around 6pm, just in time to find a spot at Jumbo Rocks and set up camp as the sun slipped down behind the rocky horizon. Saturday morning brought the sun and we quickly discovered that our usual routine of a morning campfire and hot coffee was not going to work here. We drank our coffee at the table, avoiding the heat of the fire as we shed the sweatshirts we had layered on.

We headed out for a day of hiking and exploration. We climbed Ryan Mountain, walked the Hidden Canyon, and visited the Cholla Cactus Garden. Massive rock formations, cactuses, and dry dessert earth surrounded us as far as the eye could see as we soaked up the desert sun.

As the sun set on our second night, we jumped from rock to golden rock and shot ninety percent of our film in those beautiful dusk hours. A bit sunburnt and tired, we went to bed early as a breeze started to blow.

We got a couple of hours of sleep before we were woken up to a tent that was folding and bending in the wind. We drifted in and out of sleep as our tent rattled around us until finally the fly was torn out of the ground and folded over upon itself. After weighing our options, we jumped out of our sleeping bags, broke down camp as quickly as possible and started the two and a half hour drive home.

Even though it was cut short, we enjoyed our time in the high desert and look forward to our next visit.

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Jumbo Rocks Campground: We drove through a couple of campsites before we settled on Jumbo Rocks. Being the largest campground in Joshua tree, there were plenty of people sharing the grounds but we saw several open sites which was a bit surprising for a Friday evening. We did not get one of the cool sites right next to the rocks but we did get one that was set back of the road with no close neighbors which was a good trade.

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Skull Rock: This hike takes off right in the Jumbo Rocks campground. An easy hike, suitable for all levels. We started this hike just before sunset hoping to find a spot to sit and watch the sun go down. We ended up moving the whole time, stopping to take pictures every few feet. This time of day in Joshua tree cant be beat. Most of the photos in this post are from along the Skull Rock trail.

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Ryan Mountain: This three mile hike (round trip) leads you to the summit of Ryan Mountain where you can take in the 360 degree view from 5,458 feet. Brown, rocky desert as far as the eye can see is much more beautiful than it sounds. Described as moderately strenuous, the average hiker should not have trouble, just bring plenty of water!

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Hidden Valley: Hidden Valley is the first campsite you come to as you make your way through the West Entrance to the park. This one mile loop trail will be enjoyable for anyone. It is short, with little to zero elevation gain, but the sights are spectacular as you wind your way through a maze of giant boulders.

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Cholla Cactus Garden: This is a little pocket in the dessert that harbors a mass of Cholla Cactuses. The path weaves in and out of chollas, sort of like a path through a corn field. Be sure to stay on the path as these tend to “jump” and find their way right into your skin. We would love to go back and see this unusual place at sundown.

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Wildlife Sightings: Before we entered the park we stopped at the information center and grabbed a couple of pamphlets, one of which listed some of the local wildlife residents. As we perused the pamphlet we noted some of the wildlife we would like to see. By the end of the weekend we were able to check everything off or list except for the desert tortoise (who happens to be a “Threatened Species”, just a notch below “Endangered”). We were lucky enough to see the following creatures on our visit:

• Various lizards: Chuckwalla, Horned Lizard, Desert Spiny Lizard, and Western Whiptail
• Greater Roadrunner
• Black Tailed Jackrabbit
• Coyotes
• Rattlesnake (Possibly a Red Western Diamondback)

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Photo nerds: All photos shot using 6×7 medium format film, with the exception of Hidden Valley, and Rattelsnake photos (iPhone).

Impromptu Portrait Session

Sometimes inspiration strikes and you’ve just got to go for it. While taking an afternoon break from work I came across the incredible photography portfolio of Ramon Haindl and was intrigued by one of his portraits.

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I was struck by the simplicity of the lighting in this particular portrait which uses a sheer curtain as a backdrop, and a handheld LED panel for a fill light. The curtain acts as a giant softbox and provides beautiful wraparound rim light on the subject. It seemed like a fun style to emulate, since Theresa and I have a large sheer curtain hanging in the main window of our apartment. So we grabbed Theresa’s black sequin jacket and a LED camping headlamp and started playing around.

I couldn’t achieve the same fill effect with my tiny lamp, in part because the bright afternoon sun was simply to strong to overcome the minimal output of my headlamp, but it did serve to add a bit of sparkle to the jacket, and gently highlight a few strands of hair. After I’d satisfied my curiosity with the first setup we started to play around with the curtain. It’s amazing what a difference you can achieve with a few adjustments in position and exposure settings.

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A Redwood Wedding: Gabe & Bri Cortez

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As you may recall, weddings aren’t typically my thing. If I’m gonna break a sweat shooting a camera I’d rather it be the result of elevation gain and not a button-up & tie. I’ve learned to love them, but they’re a lot of work. And as the photographer you kind of miss all the fun stuff because you’re so busy trying to get the next shot.

But under the right circumstances I’m game. This time around my brother Joseph sweet-talked me into helping him out after he committed to act as photographer for his pal Gabe Cortez. Having never shot a wedding before, Joseph quickly realized he was in over his head and called for backup (that’s me). It wasn’t a hard sell. Gabe and his then-fiancé Brianna had reserved a spot at Stones & Flowers, a little retreat nestled beneath towering Redwoods near Santa Cruz, California. They also wanted us to shoot the entire wedding on film! Since I much prefer shooting film to digital, the opportunity was too tempting to pass up. As an added bonus Joseph and I would be driving up the California coast with our friend Ryan Tuck – who you may remember from Rivers & Roads – and the three of us had already conspired to sneak in a little fly-fishing on the way back should time allow.

I’d met Gabe briefly earlier in the year when he manned the studio drums for Joseph’s in-progress EP. He’s a dapper guy, with an excellent beard, bright eyes, and a quick intelligent way about him. I get the impression he’s “the cool one” in whatever crowd he finds himself, but not in an aloof, douchey way. It’s the result of his confident, direct manner more than any conscious effort. Cliche as it may sound he’s one of those guys that just seems to effortlessly exude cool. Maybe it’s just the beard, I dunno.

Prior to the wedding I’d never met Bri, but it didn’t take her more than a couple seconds to win me over. She’s adorable, kind, and sweet in the most genuine sense. She’s clearly a match for Gabe in the cool department, in fact as a graphic designer in San Francisco she may well have the market cornered; I’m pretty sure that’s the definition of cool these days. However, what I appreciated most about Bri was her ability to focus completely on whoever she was with in a given moment. Several time throughout the weekend she would stop to chat with Joseph and I and each time I was struck at how personable and thoughtful she was. Even on her wedding day it never seemed to be about her.

Needless to say it was a delight to spend time with Gabe and Bri over the weekend, and a joy to shoot their wedding. The location was incredible, the people were beautiful, and it was a complete honor to witness the outpouring of love and support from the community of people who gathered to celebrate them.

Shooting the entire wedding on film proved to be a delightful challenge. I’ve always enjoyed how film forces you to slow down, and while it didn’t make covering the wedding any less hectic, it certainly made the results more rewarding. As for Joseph? Well, he did great, and came away with a new appreciation for all the works that goes into covering a wedding. He even had enough energy left to dance the night away.

I’m pleased to be able to share a few of my favorite photos with you here. Many thanks to Gabe and Bri for welcoming me so warmly on this special day.

NOTE: All Black & White photos + opening shot by Joseph Carlson.

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California So Far

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We have now lived in California for a little over three months. I think it is safe to say that we love it here!

So far: It has rained about four times – We have felt one earthquake – We have gone camping in Joshua tree (post coming up, when we get photos back from the lab!) – We have taken up skateboarding – We live in shorts and tank tops – We are tan, and its only May – We have a favorite taco stand, and we eat there at least once a week – We have friends that we can call up to hang out – We have seen five whales and numerous dolphins – We have developed a particular fondness for Bougainvillea and Jacaranda – The temperature has reached 100 degrees – We have gone to the beach most afternoons.

These photos are all the product of Elias’ various film cameras, no digital. He is so good at grabbing his camera whenever we go out, something I would often rather save for particularly epic adventures. I am so grateful that we have these snapshots of every-day life. I would recommend that you check out his personal tumblr where he shares big, beautiful photos on a regular basis. All photography is his own, minus one or two that I have taken of him.

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The Scenery’s Changing and it Warms My Soul

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After years of talk about taking a road trip down Highway 1 along the coast of California, it took relocating to finally make it happen. Maybe that’s the real reason we chose Southern California as our final destination…

We headed out on a Tuesday morning just as it started to snow on the outskirts of Seattle. I had created a playlist for our drive that I saved for this very morning. With a soundtrack of anticipation, excitement, and melancholy, we drove through the snow in Seattle and Portland, the rain in San Francisco, the fog in Big Sur, to the sunshine in Long Beach.

Here is a glimpse of the sights and sounds along the way. After reading this post, we recommend that you  hop in your car, turn on this playlist and find your way to Highway 1. You can thank us when you get here.

*All photos were taken by Elias and myself on a Mamiya 645 and Minolta Autocord, respectively.

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