In Dec 2017 I decided to attempt to put together a documentary panel. At the time, this subject did not have it’s own separate genre but I decided to go ahead with my idea regardless. My best friend moved to California in the early 1980s and I have been visiting her most years since. My trips nearly always included visits to the old Spanish Missions and a drive down Pacific Coast Highway.
San Juan Capistrano Mission
My original plan was to document the effect of human beings, not just on the landscape but on the natural world. With that in mind I planned the visit in January when I knew I had a high chance of seeing two mammals that man had brought to the edge of extinction, but now flourishing in marine reserves. Other planned images were old buildings and the remains of old industry, in particular some old rusting Limekilns in a Redwood forest, now a National Park. The planning was a year in the making.
Old Fish Hopper from the Sardine industry
As it turned out January 2019 was a dreadful year for storms along the Californian coast. As we set off for our coastal trip the worst of the storms was heading our way. What should have been a four hour drive took us eleven and a half. Roads closed ahead of us and roads closed behind us. We detoured, drove across snowy mountain passes and through waterlogged roads that were closed the following day. Finally reaching the coast at Morro Bay. I had images planned from here but the stormy weather made it very difficult. I had hoped to see Sea Otters but hope faded as the rain lashed down. Finally in a break we headed out to a place that I knew was a good spotting point. On the way, I noticed a lone photographer at the old harbour and asked my husband to turn in to take a look. To our surprise the harbour was filled with a raft of Sea Otters, many of them mums with their pups. They had come to the harbour to shelter from the storm.
Sea Otters....... one with pup.
We watched the otters for two days and I finally got a few images of the buildings I had planned.
Morro Bay…….The eye sore of a coastal power station and the marina.
We carried on up the coast to Cambria and San Simeon where only local detours around fallen trees gave us difficulty.
At San Simeon I got my planned images of Elephant Seals and the monstrosity that is Hearst Castle.
The storm then threw us another curve ball as PCH was closed just north of San Simeon to just North of Gordo, as the storm had made passage too difficult and there had also been landslides. It seemed that my plan for the rusty Limekilns was going to fail as the National Park was off the closed portion. Another long detour took us further North to Pacific Grove. The following morning was stunningly beautiful and sunny.
Big Sur in the sunshine
We set off to reverse our journey to visit national parks where I had planned other images.
Old Whaler's Cabin now a museum.
However, the road to the Limekilns was still closed. Updates gave us hope that it might reopen before we got there. We only needed two miles of road to reopen. As we approached the closure point we could see that our hopes were in vain and we were about to turn the car around when one of the workmen waved at us to come forward. As we approached he was talking on his radio. He asked how far we were planning to go, then to our amazement and relief he waved us through. We’d made it. Or had we?
We turned into the park, paid our entrance fee, parked and gathered up our camera gear. We had been advised that the walk on the trail to the Limekilns would take about 30mins and we would have to cross the river several times but there were bridges and would also have to cross a small stream on stepping stones.
What we were not told was that no one had been out to check the trail since the storm. At first the trail was easy. The river was in full spate and quite a wonderful sight. However, as we got further into the forest we encountered the first Redwood that was lying directly across the trail. It didn’t prove too difficult to crawl underneath the fallen trunk. The second fallen Redwood was a little more problematic but one of us crawling and then passing over the equipment was time consuming and a little exhausting, but manageable. By now we had already been on the trail for over half an hour but had not reached our goal.
Our next hurdle was the stream, well now more like a river and the stepping stones just visible above the water line, we wobbled and balanced across praying that no equipment would end up in the wet.
A few minutes further on we rounded a corner and gasped. Two giant redwoods lay with their widest parts across the trail. There was no chance of crawling under them. The top of the first trunk was just below chest height. The ground on either side of the trail was mixed high undergrowth. We studied the obstacles for several minutes tried climbing over but to no avail. The only thing possible was to carefully tramp through the wet undergrowth to a place further down the trunk. Easier said than done as soon that too became too difficult. We looked in despair and made one last attempt to climb and scrabble over. Exhausted and somewhat scratched and dirty we finally made it with nothing broken. However, the next Redwood was bigger and just looked impossible. The huge tangle of roots lay up against a rock face but there was a tiny gap. My husband squeezed through the gap and returned to say there was a small but not impossible drop on the other side. He went first and I followed to hand the equipment down the quite vertical drop. The only way down, I was advised and the advice seem good, was a ‘bum slide’. Down I went. It was around now that it suddenly occurred to me that we had been so focused on our goal that we had entirely forgotten that the whole trip down the trail, which had now taken around an hour, would have to be reversed. I tried not to think about it as we trekked down the next bit of trail which brought us closer to that raging river. We rounded the next bend and I almost sat down and cried when I saw the trail off to my left went over a bridge that was only just visible, broken under two more fallen Redwoods. As I threw up my hands in despair, I heard my husband shout look right. I turned away from the bridge and looked where he was pointing; there up the hill were the rusting Limekilns, on our side of the river.
Two of the Limekilns
Now that there is a dedicated documentary genre I will be putting my panel together but the assessors will never know the lengths I went to to get some of my images.