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Teton Trivia

By Jack Booth

As a reporter, I always had to fight my natural inclination to be most interested in what was least important. After all, a journalist’s job is to start with “the big news,” and proceed from there to the smaller stuff. It didn’t matter whether the speaker’s tie was really goofy; the key thing was what he was saying. So I had to train myself to pay attention, and that wasn’t easy.

I am no longer a reporter, but after returning from Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming, I’ve realized that I still tend to look through the wrong end of the telescope. I can’t help it. The following is what has caught my attention about the Tetons, for better or worse.

I’ll begin my account of the land of peace and serenity by discussing violence. Yeah, I’m sure you feel that reporters always harp on the negative. And we do. I admit I had to go quite a ways back to satisfy this craving, but here’s the dirty deal.

First on the list is a grisly tale about four men on a sandbar. Three wound up dead. It all happened near a particularly beautiful spot in the park called the Snake River Overlook, where Ansel Adams took one of his most famous photographs, showing the majetic Tetons with the Snake River in the foreground. It’s really inspiring, but just up the road from there is another spot of great interest to me, known as Deadman’s Bar, a large, timber-covered gravel sandbar in the river where it turns west. Back in May of 1886, four prospectors began panning the gravel, hoping for a repeat of the big gold strike on Alder Gulch near Virginia City and Nevada City in western Montana. They didn’t have any luck, in more ways than one. On a warm July day, a fisherman found the bodies of three of the men, partly covered with rocks near the sand bar. About three weeks later a posse cornered the fourth man, John Tonnar, but he beat the rap in district court in Evanston, Wyoming, claiming he had acted in self-defense. Sure, one man had been shot twice in the back of the head, and the other two died of blows to the head from an axe, but there were no eyewitnesses, so Tonnar got off. For years afterward, Jackson Hole valley residents were bitter about the inability of the justice system to get the job done. Sound familiar?

Next, on every guide book’s list of things to see, is the Cunningham Cabin, or what’s left of it, meaning almost nothing. It’s supposed to make you appreciate the brutal existence led by early settlers lured by the Homestead Act of 1962, when 160 acres could be had virtually for free if you had the gumption to hang in there for five years in a place where the growing season was short, the ground was mostly infertile, and winters were short on sunshine and long on days where the temperatures dipped below zero. Now, the interesting thing about this place, at least to me, is another instance of where justice wasn’t so just. Homesteader Pierce Cunningham, as rugged an individualist as there was, was introduced in the fall of 1892 to two wranglers from Montana, George Spencer and Mike Burnette, who wanted to buy hay for their herd of horses. Pierce ended up letting them spend the winter in a cabin he owned on Spread Creek on the northern tip of his property. During the winter, rumors spread that the wranglers were actually rustlers, since their brands were similar to those of a Montana cattle rancher known to area residents. Pierce snowshoed over to the cabin, and although not convinced that the men were thieves, asked them to leave. Soon afterward, two men claiming to be United States Marshalls snowshoed into the valley from Idaho, organized a posse,  and surrounded the cabin, where the ensuing gun battle left both Spencer and Burnett dead from shotgun and rifle fire. Pierce, who had not joined the posse, later told friends he believed the two men were murdered for their horses. Frontier justice? I think not.

I could go on and on about violence and vigilantism in the old West, but I’m feeling the need for self-restraint today, so let’s move on to animal curiosities.

The first thing you notice in the town of Jackson is the odd arches at the four corners of the town square. They’re made up of thouands of sun-bleached elk antlers, and the average tourist is literally aghast at the  thought of how many poor elk were slaughtered to accomplish that feat. Turns out, though, that elk shed their antlers every year, and then grow new ones in time for the jousting season during the fall rut. Boy Scouts were paid to round up the required 1,948 antlers in 2007 when the town decided to replace the original old, brittle antlers. The place to gather discarded antlers was the National Elk Refuge just north of town, a traditionial wintering spot for herds of elk, whose summer spots in the mountains are covered with 15 feet of snow during winter. The elk are fed alfalfa pellets to keep them going during the cold months.

Elk, by the way, are not critters you want to mess with, but moose are worse. Often standing 7-feet tall at the shoulders, they can top 1,000 pounds, and, like many animals in the park, their placid manner can abruptly change if they’re spooked. If they give you the eye, you better be shy. Same for buffalo, which, despite weighing upwards of 2,000 pounds, can leap 4-foot-high fences with ease and rip out your lungs, Jim. So stand back, say 100 yards or so. Now, I freely admit I did not follow that advice myself. I’m just saying it to cover my behind. Remember, if you end up gored by the side of the road, I did warn you.

Next, I need to discuss what’s in a name, at least from the standpoint of what plays well in guide books a hundred years or so later. If you have tender sensibilities, just skip this part. I’ve already noted that I get fixated on the small stuff. It may be a form of autism, I don’t know. But I noticed in my reading that Kit Carson, one of the big names to me in my childhood, got mentioned all of once in one book, which is just not right. Jim Bridger got a few more mentions, but he was a notorious, self-promoting blowhard, to the point where his initial accounts of the wonders of Yellowstone were dismissed back East until someone with better credentials went out there and came back with the same glowing reports. Likewise, fur trapper and explorer John Colter, widely believed to be the first man of European descent to enter the Jackson Hole valley, in 1807, also got just a few mentions. And native Americans barely showed up on the pages, unless you consider the hapless Gros Ventre tribe, whose name was pinned on them by French fur trappers who thought it was funny, since Gros Ventre (pronounced Grow Vaunt), means big belly. And, of course, every book zooms in on the origin of the name Grand Tetons. The fur trappers, bad boys that they were, named the central three peaks “les Trois Tetons,” or “the Three Breasts.” So, who gets the prize for most mentions in the books, by a far margin? None other than Beaver Dick Leigh. Sure, he had his share of tragedy, what with his Shoshone Indian wife and six kids dying of smallpox. But the nickname is the ticket. He gets mentioned in every possible connection – three times in one paragraph alone. And only his nickname is used; he’s never just called Dick Leigh. Kit Carson probably is rolling in his grave.

So there you have it. There are entire books on the park, full of all the proper stuff. I just wanted to share what I think is most important, meaning everything you didn’t need to know. Pretty satisfying, eh?

© Copyright by Jack Booth.  All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, reproduced in digital or print media without express permission. For photos on my other site, see

Also, visit my Flickr site:


Confessions of a Touron

                                Photo by Jack Booth

By Jack Booth

I heard about  an interesting creature this summer on my vacation in Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park. It’s the “touron,” a cross between a  tourist and a moron,  apparently very common in national parks. The other interesting thing I discovered is that the term applies quite aptly to me, despite any illusions I may have had to the contrary.

This realization began to take hold on the first day of Jeff Clow’s excellent  Dirt Cheap Photo Tour, when we were photographing the Moulton barns, which sit in front of the Tetons amid a sea of sagebrush. You may remember sagebrush from the old Westerns. It flies around in dust storms in the form of tumbleweeds, is light green and grows so densely that you can barely see the ground three feet in front of you. I was out there firing away, and I put my camera bag down to move further to the side for a better angle. I kept moving until I was satisfied, then turned around to fetch my bag. As I looked at the huge field of green, it occurred to me for the first time that my camera bag’s color was, you guessed it, sage green. What followed was a frantic search in which I popped in and out of bushes like a gopher. The only thing that saved the day was that I had left the bag in a wide path – the only wide path, as it turned out. Once I found the path, I followed it to the bag. All was well, at least for the moment.

Later in the day, we were cruising Moose-Wilson Road on the lookout for a moose, when Jeff got a cell phone call from one of his “sources.” A moose was up ahead. We sped on over there, and sure enough, munching in the bushes was a huge specimen, standing six feet tall at the shoulders, and we went ga ga. It was as though no one could bear the shame of arriving back home without a spectacular wildlife shot. After all, some people spend two or three trips unsuccessfully hunting for this elusive hulk. Despite the peril of getting too close to such a dangerous animal, we pressed forward like a bunch of school kids, chattering and tripping over branches and tripods. I forgot everything I knew about exposure and shutter speed, and just fired away. Then, just as the moose broke into the clear to cross a stream, my viewfinder went black. What the heck! I took off the lens and out popped the mirror, which struck some stones with a sickening clatter. I was appalled. It was the first day of my photo tour and my camera had gone kaput.

My wife Tanya and I headed to the local camera store on the afternoon break and learned that another tourist had come in with the same problem the month before. He got the mirror back on with Super Glue. I did the same and was jubilant, although after a few shots I realized that I did not have the mirror far enough back in its tray, with the result that it was blocking part of my shots. Then I really started to panic. I had just glued the thing, presumedly for good. Off came the lens again, and fortunately the glue had not gotten a firm set. I was able to pry the mirror loose and reglue it in the correct position. The next day it fell out again, and I turned to the photographer’s friend once more. This time it took. Took so well, in fact, that upon my return home I was informed that, had I merely brought in the loose mirror, they would have fixed it for free. Instead, I needed an entirely new mirror assembly, to the tune of $460. I argued and argued, pointing out that Canon had known since 2009 about the “mirror disengagement” issue, and had said nary a word during the three years that I brought the camera in for routine cleaning. After talking to four people, we settled on half off. So the Super Glue ended up costing me $230. I may just have to accept that. I don’t want to spend all my time blaming my troubles on outsiders, although that seems to work pretty well for most of the world’s leaders.

I got through the rest of the Tetons without any additional major incidents. Sure, I broke my cable release by sitting on it, had the camera topple over when I didn’t fully tighten the tripod leg, slipped in the mud and almost went into the river with the camera, and lost my favorite green fleece pullover before discovering that I had dropped it in the motel lobby two days before. All minor things. No big deal.

Off to Yellowstone we went, where it could have been bad news. We stopped to shoot a buffalo at a pulloff, and another one snuck up behind me. I hastened behind an RV, praying that the beast couldn’t smell his brothers on my breath, since I had been eating bison burgers every day for lunch. Fortunately both animals ambled away, and we hightailed it out of there.

The next morning we arrived early at the Old Faithful Inn for breakfast, and lo and behold a buffalo sauntered across the lawn toward the general store. I was a veteran by now, and I held back, shooting from a distance. I didn’t like the results, though, and I found myself creeping steadily closer. I did get a great shot of some fool leaning out from the steps to grab a close shot. What an idiot! Then – and I don’t know how to explain this – I went up the same steps, got within a few feet of the door, and took a tight shot of the leviathon staring me straight in the eye. I was so happy. As soon as we got home, I posted the shot of the other guy, shown above, with the caption “How to shoot a buffalo.” Within minutes, Jeff Clow posted a comment about all the people who have been gored after getting too close to the 2,000-pound behemoths. I hurriedly changed the title of the shot to “How (not) to shoot a buffalo.” Then another tour leader, Jerry Patterson, posted a note on my closeup shot of the buaffo’s head, warning that if a buffalo fixes you with a stare, it could either be that he is intent on continuing with his munching, or else he is about to give you a good crunching. I don’t know, it just seems like I’m a flatlander from Philadelphia who loses his head when he gets up into the higher altitudes.

Wow, this newfound honesty has exhausted me. I feel like I just stood up at some kind of substance abuse meeting and said, “Hi, I’m Jack and I’m a … Touron.” It is liberating, though, to finally admit I have a problem. I think there’s hope now that I can kick the habit. In fact I know I can. I just need to take it one tourist day at a time.

© Copyright by Jack Booth.  All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, reproduced in digital or print media without express permission. For photos on my other site, see

Also, visit my Flickr site:


The Super Farm

By Jason Harry

When my cousin arrived at my house to pick me up for last week’s super-moon photo shoot, I had no idea where we were going to go. We stopped at the Conrad Weiser Homestead but quickly realized there were too many obstructions such as trees and buildings. I suggested he drive us to my backup stage. That location had wide-open farm fields with a clear view of the horizon.

As we pulled out of the Homestead’s driveway, my cousin said that he should have peed before we left. His statement was like the chain reaction created when you watch someone vomit. Now I had to pee too. We were two kids in a car, wishing we had a mom that warned us to do so before we left.

We drove another five minutes, scoping out some delicious fields with a clear view. Suddenly, Derek slammed on the brakes and said, “What is that?” I looked where he was looking and saw the most amazing ball of a sun hanging a few inches from the ground in the distance. I went running from the car with my camera in hand and started snapping pictures. Derek did the same. I’ll add my picture of that scene later.

Anyhow, we chose a field with ample nearby parking. Derek pointed to a tree line and suggested I used it to empty my bladder. I told him I was too scared, what if someone saw me? He sighed and said, “Fine, I’ll go.” After he made a successful journey of it, I went and did the same thing, the whole time hoping our ambitions to catch a super moon did not turn out to be a trip to the jail for public urination. If anyone saw us, I hoped they just shook their heads and thought, “Boys will be boys.”

After we were back feeling comfortable, we grabbed our gear and made our way to the top of a cornfield. Another man with a camera strolled up after we arrived. His name was Larry Kitchen. It’s hard to forget a name like that. We chatted with him while we all tried to figure out where the huge moon was supposed to be. I learned that Larry was not only from my town, he literally lived right across the street from me. It’s strange, but neat, how we can make new friends in the oddest of places.

The evening was hazy, with clouds here and there. Apparently, they conspired to hide the moon from its slow dance through the sky because this is what it looked like when we finally could see it. I bet it would have been awesome had it been perfectly clear. There is always a next time. We found a good place, and we made a friend along the way. The evening was a successful journey after all.

© Jason Harry. All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, reproduced in digital or print media without express permission.

See more of Jason’s excellent work at his Flickr site at:


How to shoot sunsets

Don’t miss the video that follows

By Jack Booth

If there’s been one glaring weakness in my photography in the last few years, it’s the lack of evening shots. To be sure, my work has progressed in the dozen years I’ve been shooting, but there’s a serious shortage of sunsets. Back in 2005, I did manage some night work in Edinburgh, Scotland, but that was largely because there were anarchists running amok throughout the evening, making an early bedtime all but impossible. Since then,  in Canada and California – nothing. Zilch. I’ve felt a little guilty now and then, although I always reminded myself that on vacation I am so wound up that I arise early, sometimes at 3 a.m.,which means that sunsets are a long way off. For years that was my rationalization -The Big Excuse.

Then a Flickr friend, Jerry Patterson, inadvertently shamed me by revealing the game plan for his fall Canada trip. Not only will he camp out, which is something I won’t do, but he’ll catch every sunrise and sunset, with only three or four hours set aside for sleep. Yikes! He would be seeing my California shots from this summer’s vacation. He wouldn’t help but notice I had no evening shots. I fretted about this non-stop prior to my July trip to San Francisco. I really needed a plan, but what? All I could come up with was to book a centrally-located hotel in the hope of getting an afternoon nap.

That was the grand strategy, but it flopped on our very first day. There was so much to see that my wife Tanya and I walked all afternoon after arriving, getting thoroughly tired in the process.As weary as I was, I felt I just couldn’t blow off the evening. I had made a promise. So off we went after dinner, catching an unfamiliar trolley to Alamo Square, the great vantage point for photographing the famous Painted Ladies, a row of Victorian houses that look great at sunset with the city spread out behind them. And, wow, was it ever worth it. There were people there from all over the world, including many with cameras. It really was an experience, and I didn’t get to bed until about 11 p.m. Oh well. I figured I would just sleep in. Yeah, right. Four a.m. and wide awake. Popped out of bed and headed for the Golden Gate Bridge, thankfully fortified with a nice cup of coffee available in the hotel lobby. Had a great morning, with wonderful light. Then we walked all over China Town and Fisherman’s Wharf, finishing off with an early dinner, if you want to call it that, at 4.30 p.m. Back we went to the hotel, where I figured I would take a nap. Wrong! Tired but wired, as usual, and also seriously out of gas.

Then came the magic solution. Only a few doors up from the hotel was Lori’s Diner, a touristy but nice Fifties-style burger joint, complete with a lunch counter and a classic Chevy parked right in the middle of the dining booths. I wandered in, plopped at the counter, and had a revelation. Pie ala mode – the photographer’s friend. Oh, was it good. I suddenly felt like a new man, ready to keep to the promise I had made to myself. And please don’t misread my message. I’m a skinny guy, and definitely not a foodie. But a man’s gotta eat. It can’t just be about art. I’m sure Michelangelo had his Twinkies, or whatever was the equivalent back then. All that bunk about starving artists is just that. You can’t create on an empty stomach. And I don’t want to hear about how carbohydrates give you staying power. All they do is put you to sleep. I need a sugar rush, and off I go. By the time I realize I haven’t eaten properly, the magic light is gone anyway.

Now, back at home, I’m slowly going through all my shots, and it’s quite apparent that Lori’s saved me. I have loads of evening shots. Sunsets are my friend, and I owe it all to pie and ice cream.

(Click on the rectangle at the bottom right of the screen below to see this full screen)

© Copyright by Jack Booth.  All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, reproduced in digital or print media without express permission. For photos on my other site, see

Also, visit my Flickr site:


Morant’s Curve

Morants Curve Train by Paul Bruins

By Paul Bruins

This particular  subject  has been shot so many times that  it’s absolutely  impossible to find an original  composition. This is “Morant’s Curve,” made famous by Nicholas Morant, a “special photographer” for the Canadian Pacific  Railways who, over  his 50-year career, took many thousands of  photos from all over Canada, not  just of trains, but of anything else in Canadian Pacific’s corporate fields of endeavor. One of his favourite locations for taking photographs was the S-curve on the CPR main line just east of Lake Louise. He took so many photos at this site that it soon became known to railroaders on the CPR as “Morant’s Curve”.

Our small group arrived at this location shortly after lunch, hoping to get some decent photos of the train as it passed. There was only one guy at the viewpoint when we arrived, a dedicated “train-spotter” from the UK, who admitted that he’d been waiting for at least 45 minutes without seeing any trains passing by. I chatted to him for a few minutes while I was setting up my camera and tripod, but he’d had enough of waiting, and pretty soon he gave up and drove off.

The one thing that is inevitable when a group of photographers are gathered around their tripods and taking photos of something is that every single passing car will stop and look at what you are all shooting! Within ten minutes of our stopping here we had attracted a fairly decent crowd. Everyone had their cameras out, hoping that we knew something that they didn’t. The most popular question that I was asked that day was “do you know what time the next train will arrive?” LOL, we didn’t have a clue. We were trying to be as patient as possible, while sweating copiously in the hot midday sun (I can’t really speak for everyone else, but I was sweating like a pig)!

I was really in panorama mode that day. I’d only just figured out exactly how to assemble and calibrate my new (Panosaurus) panoramic head, and I was ready to finally put it to the test! But then it suddenly dawned on me – duh – how will I manage to take a panorama of a moving train? Unless I managed to capture the entire train in one single frame, I’d never catch it in the same position in successive frames, so my pano would be ruined! This called for a change of plan, so I waited for some nice light, snapped the seven images for this pano (without the train), and then packed away my pano-head again. So now I was focused on shooting this as a Vertorama. I waited for the train to enter the foreground for the first image, then captured the mountains and sky afterwards as the second image. After waiting for well over an hour, we finally heard the sound of an approaching train! We all jumped to attention, switched on our cameras, and waited for the perfect moment. I managed to get at least twenty shots of the train as it passed by. Then I quickly recomposed and shot the sky image too. Yeah, all that waiting paid off in the end. We finally got the shots that we were hoping to get!

However, when I returned home from Canada and started processing my photos, I noticed that the light in the panorama that I’d shot earlier looked very similar to the light that we had while the train was passing. I also noticed that the focal length of my panorama shots was exactly the same focal length that I’d used for my Vertorama images. That made me wonder whether it would be possible for me to cut the train out from the Vertorama image and paste it into the stitched panorama. As you can see, my plan worked a treat. Everything fitted together perfectly!

Nikon D300, Sigma 18-200mm at 36mm, aperture of f14, with a 1/200th second exposure.

© By Paul Bruins.  All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, reproduced in digital or print media without express permission.

Paul has many excellent images of the Banff area and other subjects at his Flickr site:


The Story of Fitzgerald Falls

Fitzgerald Falls by Jenn

By Jenn

The Story of Fitzgerald Falls

I think anyone who has spent much time in the forest would agree that some places have a distinct and unique atmosphere. There are forests that seem welcoming and clean and others that seem dangerous and mysterious. Some combination of elements in the sights, sounds and smells contribute to the personality and feel of the woods. We had been asking locals about a waterfall trail through the nearby forest for about a year. Each time our inquiries were met with a very vague reply like, “it’s between this town and the next one” or “Just park by the road and it’s not far, it’s not too far…” One day by chance while out photographing a lake, we met some fishermen who blessed us with clear and detailed directions, which we gratefully followed the next weekend. As it turns out the area by Fitzgerald Falls has a dark mood even on a sunny day. The branches grow thickly overhead and let only spotty sunlight through. Normally that might be a pretty sight, those dappled bits of sun, but as you hike the uneven path the effect can be glaring and dizzying. The forest floor is mostly covered in decayed leaves and brownish stones that seem somehow damp and dusty at the same time. There are small clearings where campers have pulled together rings of stones for seats around a campfire, but now empty and deserted they look like something out of the Blair Witch Project instead of a family picnic. Occasionally a wanderer outfitted in serious hiking apparel will appear silently through the haze with no greeting except a suspicious eye and disapproving look towards the intrusive outsiders not sporting the appropriate gear. Moisture from the small creek lends the air a musty, mossy fragrance inviting all kinds of itchy mosquitos and annoying flying insects. Large mushrooms along the trail grow in clusters of unhealthy color. Decayed and broken logs zigzag with the lines of shadowy tree trunks. I once heard a crackle in the forest that sounded like a deer, so we stopped to look around. Then we took a few more steps and I heard a louder crackle. I looked up the hill in the dim, dusky light thinking there was a squirrel in some tree branches, but then a thin dead tree nearby made a few very loud cracks and just slowly fell to the ground. I’ve often thought it would be amazing to actually witness the moment a dead tree finally falls. In reality it was sad and somewhat eerie. With no hint of breeze, it was as if it had been pushed over by an invisible giant. The heat and humidity have been oppressive here at each visit this summer, but the uneasy feeling doesn’t seem to transfer into the pictures. Since we found the place we keep returning to photograph the beautiful waterfall that lies down the trail. With a little graceful editing, the images can look bright and colorful or deep and magical. That’s not a bad result from a place that is so spooky you don’t know whether to look up for bears or ghosts when you hear a distant disturbance in the brush.

This photo of Fitzgerald Falls in Monroe, Orange Country, New York was taken on June 25, 2011 with a Canon EOS 7D and EF-S18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS lens with polarizer at F22 and ISO 100 for 1.3 seconds. The image was edited with Aperture for iMac.

©Jenn. Copyright by Jenn.  All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, reproduced in digital or print media without express permission.

You can visit my photo collection on flickr at:


The Castro – San Francisco

The Castro by Jack Booth

By Jack Booth

For nearly a year before our San Francisco vacation, my wife Tanya and I did our homework the easy way, watching movies and old television shows filmed in the Bay area. We started with Hitchcock’s Vertigo, with its great street scenes, then progressed to the entire series of Streets of San Francisco, which, despite being more than 35 years old, holds up very well, with great acting and camaraderie between Karl Malden and Michael Douglas. Then there was Dirty Harry, which was shot in the dark to the point where my wife joked that they must have only been able to afford evening film permits. And Murder She Wrote, whose fictional Maine town of Cabot Cove was actually Mendocino, about four hours north of San Francisco. We also saw The Maltese Falcon, famous for being filmed in San Francisco but actually shot almost entirely in studios in Burbank near L.A.

But the big movie for us was Milk, the excellent film that netted an Oscar for Sean Penn for his portrayal of Harvey Milk, the first openly gay person to be elected to a major city office in America. The firm is a great period piece, perfectly capturing the tense, dangerous battle Milk fought to win the supervisor seat, only to be assassinated, along with the mayor, a year later by a former supervisor and ex-cop, Dan White, who said he just couldn’t abide by the way gays in San Francisco were parading down the streets naked. It didn’t bother him personally, he told the television cameras, but it just wasn’t right.

Now, when we saw the movie, we assumed that White was exaggerating about the nude part, or at least that it happened only during a Gay Pride parade. And the movie, along with some PBS specials about the big gay rights battles of the late 1960s in Manhattan and San Francisco, left us with almost a reverential attitude and determination to visit San Francisco’s Castro district, where the battle was won for the right to be who you are, a concept that seems commonplace today but was still heresy in the mid-1970s.

So, on our third day in San Francisco, in late July, despite being bone-tired from those steep San Francisco streets, we took the trolley to the Castro district, about 20 minutes or so from downtown. The moment we got off the trolley at the Castro terminus, we knew we were in another land. The atmosphere was distinctly bohemian and European, even at 11.30 in the morning on a weekday, and there was no question that this was a gay mecca. It was pleasant, but definitely different. We strolled along for two blocks, talking, and then looked up and did a double take. There, walking toward us, in broad daylight on a busy street, were two middle-aged guys wearing absolutely nothing. Correction: there was a backpack and piercings in a sensitive place, if your know what I mean.

Now, if you tried that stunt in Philadelphia, despite its vibrant gay community and relative tolerance, I can assure you that you would end up in the cooler, wearing jail-issued clothing, assuming you had not tucked any into your backpack. But, hey, this was San Francisco, and it was just two guys. We walked onward for half a block more. Another naked guy, older by far and definitely not fit to be without clothing. Then another. There happened to be a gay couple walking hand in hand in front of us, and I heard one guy say to his partner after passing the older guy, “Train Wreck.” So, it wasn’t just us. That guy, at least, should have been wearing something. The first two guys? Well, this was the Castro. You go there voluntarily, you got to be tolerant, you know?

Anyway, one block later we happened upon Harvey’s, a very nice bar and cafe that shrewdly caters both to gays and to rube tourists, such as myself. There were lots of great pictures on the walls of Harvey Milk, as well as scenes from the riots that followed his death, and it was interesting to see. After that, we hotfooted it up to Sonoma in the wine country, which is more what you might picture when you think of California: rich, trendy, wound a little too tight. Definitely not the Castro. That night we were discussing the day’s events with my wife’s cousin and his wife, and they just couldn’t get over the sans-clothing routine in daylight hours. We started joking that the Castro chamber of commerce paid them to do that. After all, the Castro once was a trailblazer, but that was long ago, and nearly every major city now has an area where gays can be comfortable and safe. So the Castro isn’t quite the magnet for gays from around the country that it used to be , and its population is aging. We did see mostly older guys there, at least during the day. So maybe the civic leaders thought they had to spice things up a bit to keep the tourists interested.

But, in truth, I think it goes back to the death of Harvey Milk, and to his killer, Dan White, who got off with a very lenient sentence for voluntary manslaughter, the lightest possible conviction, after having the gaul to claim a “Twinkie” defense, saying that a diet heavy on junk food had thrown his mental equilibrium out of whack. The riots after that ludicrous sentence were justifiably violent, and I think San Francisco’s leaders vowed never to risk such a confrontation again. As a result, the Castro pretty much is left along these days. It’s sort of like a little island all to itself, with different rules than apply elsewhere. To a broad extent, what goes on there is tolerated within a wide range, so long as it stays there. And that’s just fine with me. They earned the right, and who does it hurt? If you don’t like it, you don’t have to go there. But you should go. You’ll probably like the Castro. It certainly made our day.

Create your own video slideshow at

© Copyright by Jack Booth.  All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, reproduced in digital or print media without express permission.

For photos on my other site, see

Also, visit my Flickr site:


Chasing a Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge from Baker Beach by Jack Booth

By Jack Booth

“Chasing a Bridge” may seem like an illogical title for an essay on photographing the Golden Gate Bridge. It’s a fixed object; it doesn’t move. But what does move, and at a speed that astonishes an Easterner, is the fog around San Francisco Bay, which swirls and dips at a phenomenal rate, forcing the photographer to scramble constantly for vantage points offering a fuller full of this amazing structure. And spectacular it is. Even on a second visit to San Francisco, the bridge wowed me with its majestic shape and setting, along with a color that transcends the mundane title of “International Orange.”

The key, though, is to see the bridge, not just the fog. On this trip I was fortunate to have obliging blue skies twice, and even when there was fog it provided a nice accent. Still, it was a struggle for a visitor to find the right viewpoints. The winding roads near the bridge are a maze, particularly in the dark. And although I thought I had things figured out in advance, my main reference point, Lincoln Road, turned out to be closed for road work. So my first morning began with a long, frustrating drive in a circle, culminating in an ill-advised jaunt down a narrow lane that abruptly turned into a one-lane dead end, bordered by concrete barriers on one side and a building on the other, leaving me with only inches to spare as I backed up 200 feet in an unfamiliar rental car in the dark. But I got the hang of the geography after that, and ended up where I needed to go without much hassle, other than a run-in with a park ranger, who sarcastically reamed me out for being near Fort Point at 6 a.m., when he said the opening time was 7 a.m. I saw no signs to that effect, and joggers were whizzing by me even as he delivered his lecture, but somehow he felt that runners were okay  but photographers were not. Oh well.

The rest of my time was spent in a fun game of trying to stay ahead of the fog. When you catch the right light in the morning, it is glorious. Even when there was fog before dawn, the bridge lights reflected off the mist, providing a nice alternate glow. Such was the case at Baker Beach, which was wild and beautiful in the pre-dawn, with a loud, crashing surf, bridge lights reflecting off the wet sand, and dogs chasing back and forth as their owners ambled along.

The scene was so pleasant that I decided to head out again that night, tired though I was, to catch the evening rays from the Marin Headlands on the north side of the bridge. I had driven up there for a quick look the year before, and I figured it would be easy. I  turned off the bridge road to start up the hill, only to find that, whoops, the road was closed for repaving. So I trudged up a very steep hill in a cold wind, and ventured out to the batteries, where artillery guns used to guard the bay. The bitter wind was about as strong as I have ever felt, and literally was pelting me with small stones that would have really been a problem if they had hit me in the eye. The comical part, though, was trying to use a graduated filter to tone down the sky. Despite my best efforts, the wind kept pushing the filter partly away from the lens, with the result that the images looked as though someone was peeling a label down from the top. I gave up on that and concentrated on not being blown off the cliff and into the bay. It was exhilarating in the golden light, and I decided to trek even further up the hill to snap the classic vertical shot with the city in the background. Only after a big hawk started circling me did I decide to head back down while there was still some light. All in all, it was an adventure. I definitely had to work for those shots, but sometimes they’re the ones that turn out the best.

Golden Gate Bridge by Jack Booth

Golden Gate Bridge by jack Booth

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The Summons

Alcatraz Island by Jack Booth

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By Jack Booth

Brooding and mysterious, Alcatraz exerts a powerful pull on the traveler. The first to catch the morning light on San Francisco Bay, it stands in the distance like a mythical Siren, summoning all who glance that way. You feel drawn, as though by a powerful tide, toward this strange mass of craggy rock. If the day warms and the sky turns blue, as it did for us in late July, you probably will find that you simply must go – you and thousands of others. Which explains how my wife Tanya and I ended up on the Alcatraz ferry, with all the other lemmings, feeling a little sheepish at wanting to see one of the most cliched tourist spots in America, yet determined to do it nonetheless. And boy were we glad we did.

If you’re sitting on the left side of the boat, trying to keep your floppy hat from flying off in the stiff breeze, you’ll tend to get fixated on the glorious Golden Gate Bridge up ahead, impressive even at such a great distance. Then the boat’s angle changes slightly, and The Rock looms into view, looking like a crazy castle fortress, decrepit, rusting, intriguing. It seems both large and small at the same time, and totally, utterly isolated. Out there with the whitecaps and strong current, it is easy to understand why the few who managed to escape over the years never made it to dry land.

Within minutes, you are standing on the dock, staring at a kind of perverse Disneyland. Not the Magic Kingdom, just the baddest place in the land, the humbler of Al Capone, the keeper of the Birdman of Alcatraz. Whether through budget constraints or sheer genius, the National Park Service has left it almost exactly as it was when the prison closed in 1963, with nary a coat of paint or dab of plaster to cover up the ravages of time from innumerable storms, winds and rains. The result is awesome and enveloping. You feel as though you have gone back in time, with no glitzy displays to keep you grounded in the present. When the park guard clangs the cell doors shut, you actually cringe. I’ve never been to a place that is so mesmerizing. And, of course, the photo opportunities are endless – the chipped, pastel paint on the bars, the battered toilets and sinks, the graphic lines from barred cells and windows, the exercise yard with a tantalizing hill of freedom clearly visible in the distance, yet impossibly far away. It is easy to believe the inmate tales of certain New Year’s Eves, when, with the right winds, sounds of laughter and merriment came drifting over the water from the far shore. We were lost for hours in there on our visit, locked up with our imaginations. We finally departed, but, like the inmates back then, we never fully left The Rock.

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Freedom Beyond Reach by Jack Booth

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The Nature of a Place

Mendocino by Jack Booth

By Jack Booth

Sometimes when you travel, you can have such a fixed idea of how a place will be that it’s hard to shake it once you see the reality. Such was the case with Mendocino, about six hours north of San Francisco on California’s spectacular, rugged coast. Touted in guide books as “a mighty pretty corner of the continent,” all “buffed-up” and brimming with shops full of works by talented artists and weavers, this tiny village utterly failed at first glance to live up to its public relations image. Far from being buffed, it was rough and weather-beaten, with a distinct, blue-collar air, as well as shops, what few there were, that contained little more than could be found back home at the local mall. Almost as if to magnify this letdown, the town’s one-and-only public restroom was the worst I have ever seen, bar none, and that includes Philadelphia’s bars, which are not exactly among the world’s finest.

But my wife Tanya and I were there, and the coastline was pretty, so we resolved to make the best of it, although we weren’t quite sure how to do that. We took a quick look at the shops, remained unimpressed, and headed out of town, going a few miles north to the Point Cabrillo lighthouse, which I only expected to be worth a quick glance, given that the only photos I had seen on the Net were tight shots of what looked like a one-room schoolhouse with a big searchlight on top. But, Ooh-La-La, what a place. Spectacular beyond my wildest dreams, with stunning seaside cliffs, sparkling blue water, deep inlets and tall grasses waving in the stiff breeze. We were entranced. Things were looking up. Jug Handle State Nature Reserve, just a short distance further up, was another pleasant surprise, with a charming, isolated beach and more dramatic cliffs, so wind-whipped that it was tough to keep from being blown into the sea.

It turned out that there were wonderful sights at every turn around Mendocino, and great food with a view was available at the Little River Inn, not far from where we were staying. We still were a little surprised at the clientele at the bar/restaurant , which was dominated by locals who clearly worked in the trades, not in the arts. I say this because prices were very upscale at the inn, and even pretty steep in Mendocino itself, where a nice little collection of cottages that caught our eye turned out to have room rates starting at $385 a night. But the area, with its scenery, was growing on us.

For the next few nights, at a very pleasant group of hillside cabins called the Andiron, we watched movies made in Mendocino. The opening scene of East of Eden had James Dean sitting on an unusual, 2 1/2-foot high curb in front of what is now a book store. The curb still looks exactly the same, shabby as ever. And The Summer or 42, depicting a rustic, “Eastern” summer island, was full of scenes of empty-looking, bare-bones streets bordered by picket fences that had clearly never seen a drop of paint, at least not since James Dean was there. I think I even spotted the same loose fence slats flapping in the breeze that I had seen earlier in the day. Clearly, this was a beach town, nothing fancy and not much different than you would find at the New Jersey shore. You just had to kick back and relax, and forget about the art and music scene that was there in the 1970′s, which, after all, was a long time ago.

For me, though, the turning point in appreciating the town came on the first dawn morning, at roughly 5.45 a.m., when I pulled up in front of the only coffee house open in the wee hours. As I anxiously waited for the 6 a.m. opening, I started listening to the older guy shown in the photo above. He was ensconced in the front seat of his beat-up old mini-van, like some sort of soothsayer, regaling the two guys in the car next to him with stories about the 70′s. He looked rough, and had an even rougher voice. I hastened  inside for hot coffee to take the chill off the early morning, which was a good 50 degrees cooler than what I had left behind in sweltering Philadelphia.

I emerged about twenty minutes later, fortified by good coffee and a muffin, and much calmer to boot, only to catch the older guy saying, “Yeah, and I remember the acid too.” Then I started getting interested. I went over to this stranger, which definitely is not my usual behavior, said hello and asked if I could take his picture. He instantly agreed, and first said to wait a moment as he rummaged through the debris in his old van. Out came an artist’s sketchbook. Tucked inside were two photos taken by a photographer that the old guy said had been the photographer for the mayor of Boston. “He put the camera two inches from my nose, and made a Janus of the image,” he told me. Then I knew I had tapped into the 70′s that I had heard about but hadn’t found. I didn’t know the term, but was sure it had to do with art, and I instantly liked this guy. As it turns out, a Janus is loosely applied to any image showing a mirrored likeness, after the Roman god who was the guardian of portals and beginnings and endings, and is shown as having two faces, one in front, the other at the back of his head. The next morning the older guy cheerfully said hello when I pulled up in the dark, like we were old friends, and the following morning, our last in town, he was there with his radio on, which he cranked up to listen to “Mustang Sally,” shouting, “Let’s party.” The coffee house worker arrived slightly late and apologized for being held up by nighttime repaving of the coast road. “Hey, I’ve got an assignment for you,” the older guy said. “For the next two weeks your job is to party. Get up, pop a beer, brush your teeth with Jack Daniels and party.” Inside, the worker explained that he and his buddy outside shared the same astrological sign, and the older man was fond of telling him what his immediate future would hold.

As I left, the old guy was sketching in his artist’s book, still sitting at the same tilted angle that never seemed to vary. That’s the image I took with me from Mendocino. It was not what I was expecting. It was more than I was expecting. And I’ll be back.

©Jack Booth. Copyright by Jack Booth.  All Rights Reserved. May not be copied, reproduced in digital or print media without express permission.