Knowing a place

Four decades ago, sitting in the public library in Endicott, New York, flipping pages in an Ansel Adams book of images from Yosemite, I remember wondering how a man could spend so much time in one place. Photographing one place. The concept of returning to a place over and over, during different seasons, of setting up a camera and waiting for the light to be just right, of maybe not even taking the photograph at all, packing up your gear and coming back again another day...these were all concepts I just could not get my head around. Not as a teenager. And only now am I beginning to understand "knowing a place."

Lake Tahoe had been on my bucket list of places to visit and photograph for as long as I can remember. When I lived in Arizona, I had a subscription to Sunset magazine. Every once in a while, they'd do a spread on Tahoe and I'd be fascinated with the images of the blue alpine lake with snow covered mountains in the background. After relocating to Northern California in 2010, Tahoe was closer, but I kept putting it off for another day. It wasn't until the HR director at work called to remind me of the alarming amount of unused personal holiday hours (I work too much) that were stacking up, that made me decide that I should take a long weekend and do something. Tahoe! I went online and found a hotel, packed an overnight bag, grabbed my Leica and headed up into the Sierras.

Climbing up I-80, I was excited about seeing a place for the first time and in making some satisfying photographs. I have been in somewhat of a creative slump recently and was convinced that this little trip would snap me out of that. A new place. Fresh air. Take lots of photos. As the road tumbled out of the trees and my car wound around the first curve that revealed the lake, I got that same feeling that one gets when a roller coaster hurtles you about a loop-de-loop. I felt it in my gut then head to toe. Lake Tahoe simply took my breath away!

For the next 24 hours, I was so splendidly amazed by the scenery that all I could to was just soak it in. Be part of it. Let it wash over me. And all I could take were...snapshots. Yes, snapshots. The kind of photos you take while vacationing with the family in WallyWorld. Here is my first one at the lake, taken from the beach, in front of my hotel.

It was too windy for lake activities that day. No kayak rentals. So I snapped the stacked up kayaks.

No one using the SeaDoos either...

As you might imagine, Lake Tahoe is a busy place on the weekends. The road around the lake was packed with cars, bikers and gawkers. There was some sort of marathon going on too, requiring me to watch carefully for runners on the road as I navigated my way from Incline Village to South Lake Tahoe. Cars, bikers, runners, a twisty two lane road all competing with amazing vistas. Visual overload! I stopped where I could, pulled over and took more snapshots.

Around the other side of the lake, Emerald Bay was supposed to be amazing. This section of the road requires 100% attention to the wheel--no shoulders and drop offs that could send you over a cliff. Most every available overlook was packed with parked cars. The few places I found to pull off the road didn't provide good places to see the bay or take a proper photograph. More snapshots, but they still reveal the majesty of the place.

I knew Squaw Valley ski area was not far away and on my way home, so I decided to stop there. Squaw Valley was the site of the 1960 Winter Olympics. A resort has grown up around the original Olympic Village.

There's a gondola that takes you from the Valley floor up to the top. It costs $44. That's a lot, but from where I was standing, it looked pretty awesome up there. It was and I am glad I spent the $44. I spent a few hours at the top, breathing the thin air at 8500 feet and clicking off some of my better shots of the weekend.

The entire Lake Tahoe area was simply gorgeous and my images really don't do the area justice. It was just too grand for me to take in all at once. The amount of visual data was overwhelming. I kept spinning around and shooting because I just wanted to photograph...everything.

Upon returning home, popping the memory card into the reader and scrolling through my images, I was disappointed in myself. I was hoping to make some great photograph in the Sierras and all I had were a bunch of vacation snapshots. Then I thought about Adams in Yosemite and I started to get it.  To make great photographs of a place like Tahoe or Yosemite or Yellowstone, you have to take your time and get to know a place. Go back. Again and again. Lake Tahoe was that amazing. Next time, I'll grab an extra day or two.