Donner Summit, the Sierras, Mother Nature and History

Donner Lake is less than 100 miles from Sacramento. I have now travelled up to Donner Lake four times this year: twice in winter, twice in summer.

The Sierra Nevada Mountains has played an historic obstacle in settling California. One famous example is the tragic story of the Donner Party. Following bad advice about a short cut, and an early October snow  in 1846,  strand an unprepared group of pioneers. This tragedy ends with cannibalism for survival. Only half of the original emigrants made it to California. The top of the rock base represents the amount of snowfall that the Donner Party encountered. The pass through the Sierras was renamed for the Donner Party.


Donner Memorial State Park


Plaque lists members of the Donner Party that perished and those that survived. Plaque attached to the north face of the fireplace from the Murphy cabin.

Visiting during the snowy winter and imagining the area without the modern highway system the area looks daunting.



Snow covered cabin provides an idea of how much snow can fall in the Sierras.


Beautiful view, but slippery road.


Winter driving can be treacherous. The snow shed used to cover the railroad track are visible from the road.


The Sierra Nevada Mountains created the most challenge to connected the continent.


I see a profile of a person’s face.

The hardest part of connecting the transcontinental railroad lay in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. This is the first time I visited the  Summit Tunnel, Tunnel #6. Walking through the tunnels built by the Central Pacific Railroad to connect east with west, it is hard to believe that the Chinese laborers hand drilled through 1,659 feet the Sierras in 15 months between 1866- 1867. It was dangerous work placing first black powder, and running out in time. The debris then had to be removed. Later nitroglycerin was used: more unstable, but more powerful. Many workers did not survive. The hard work of tunneling through granite, the blasting, and the risk of avalanches in the deep snow, and freezing temperatures  contributed to much loss of life. Work was finally completed in August 1867.


Light at the end of the tunnel.

Walking into the tunnel I felt drops of water hitting my head. Dressed with a jacket, armed with a flashlight, prepared with my tripod I start walking.  Pretty flat terrain, so a flashlight is just a security measure.


Textures and colors grab my attention.


Love the textures


Shapes and shadows 

Compare this image with the next one processed with HDR. Do you have a preference?


Many families hike through the Summit Tunnels in the Spring.


This is a good location to utilize HDR (high dynamic range) technique. I already had my tripod, and the lighting ranged from dark to light. After shooting 5 images with different f-stops I brought my images into Photomatrix Pro 5. This takes the best from each image and merges them together for this affect.


With a tripod this is a good place to use HDR

I always look for puddles and reflections.



Captured a puddle reflections in the snow shed.


Another reflection from a different angle.

The tracks not covered by the mountains had snow sheds built to keep the deep snow off the tracks.This was sometime successful, other times mother nature wins.



I like the light coming from the snow shed door.


Snow sheds erected to keep snow off the tracks. These tunnels are often not accessible in the winter.

In the spring and summer  the area attracts families, hikers, and photographers. This is a good place to visit to get out of the Sacramento heat.




View of Donner Lake from the Tunnel Door during the summer.

Graffiti has found a home.  Some are artistic, some just making a statement that they were there.




One abstract photo of the snow shed ceiling.


Donner Lake in the summer. 


Plenty of summer water activities on Donner Lake 


A last look at Donner Lake in the summer months.

This area is amazing, and I will be back to take in more of the beauty, and history of this area that is only an hour and a half from my home.








Jackson California Outing

Another Tuesday outing with my friends Anne and Greg. First stop is revisiting Michigan Bar Road.  The cool winter fog presents such a change in atmosphere in the images. The summer sun that beat down on me gave my photos shadows and highlights. Now winter fog and mist saturate colors. I grab a couple of shots of the curving road lined with barbed wire fence.

Michigan Bar Road Curves

Michigan Bar Road Curves


Dried wild flowers hug the barbed wire

Cattle grazes in the pasture.

Cows Grazing

Cows Grazing

Fall colors, a recent memory, are not visible. The color palette are grays, browns, and greens. Definitely have a feeling of winter approaching. Later in the week there is talk of a storm. I have heard this before. The drought here is real, and somedays I long for time to hibernate, and catch up on all kinds of projects. Then, I’m out shooting, and I am glad for the dry weather. Guess I should appreciate what I have since I have no control over weather anyway.

Farm animals got to listen to my “Julia Childs” voice as I call to them. I can tell they respond to my voice. The cows come closer, the horse looks my way. I am patient, and enjoy the time I spend trying to get a good image.

Cow Listening to "Julia Child" Voice

Cow Listening to “Julia Child” Voice

Slim Pickings for Cow

Slim Pickings for Cow

Do you like my earings?

Do you like my earings?

What's on the other side?

What’s on the other side?

Follow the leader.

Follow the leader.

Perfect rural setting

Perfect rural setting

That's what I think about that!

That’s what I think about that!

Love the markings on this horse.

Love the markings on this horse.

Next I concentrate on my landscape photography. I am using my tripod, and bracketing my shots. I capture 5 frames with different shutter speeds so that I can merge them using HDR  Photomatrix Pro 5 software.

Stopped at Michigan Bar Road farm

Stopped at Michigan Bar Road farm


Rural Landscape

Our lunch destination is Fat Freddy’s in Jackson California. The menu is simple. Carlos has been serving hot dogs here for the past 19 years. He started with a hot dog cart, and opened up “Fat Freddy’s” nineteen years ago in Jackson. Over a Kraut Hot Dog and delicious Cappuccino Milk Shake Carlos told the story as to how the place was named. His original thought was to name it “Wanda’s Wonder Buns.” This name was strenuously rejected by his wife Wanda. After some thought Carlos gave in and Wanda came up with the name “Fat Freddy’s”.  Seating is counter style and the tiny “hole in the wall” space is eclectically decorated.

Worth a trip to Jackson

Worth a trip to Jackson

Carlos, the owner of Fat Freddy's in Jackson Ca.

Carlos, the owner of Fat Freddy’s in Jackson Ca. Always ready for conversation.

Cappuccino Milk Shake @ Fat Freddy's

Cappuccino Milk Shake @ Fat Freddy’s. So thick and yummy!

Walked off lunch by strolling around town. Many retail establishments are   dressed up for the holidays, but on a Tuesday some places are closed. Lots of pedestrians window shopping.

Main Street in Jackson Ca

Main Street in Jackson Ca

Retail signage

Retail signage

Retail Signage

Retail Signage


St. Patrick Church in Jackson Ca.

Historic Plaque

Historic plaque tells an interesting story.

The Chamber of Commerce suggested that we stop at the National Hotel. The staff welcomed three photographers, complete with tripods. It felt like I had been transported back to a lavish Victorian era hotel around the  1860’s. The ambiance of lighting makes taking photographs challenging. I definately needed to use my tripod. For some of the images I bracketed 5 frames and then imported the files in Photomatrix Pro 5 from Lightroom. I hope I did the National Hotel lobby justice. If you are in the area this is a place to visit. I didn’t get to see the rooms, but I am tempted to make a reservation.

National Hotel

National Hotel

Majestic hotel lobby of the National Hotel

Majestic hotel lobby of the National Hotel

National Hotel Lobby in Jackson

National Hotel Lobby in Jackson

National Hotel ready for the holidays!

National Hotel ready for the holidays!

Ceiling Tiles

Ceiling Tiles

Christmas Ornament

Christmas Ornament Reflection


National Hotel lobby features this book. Any ghosts haunting this old hotel?

National Hotel

National Hotel Santa

This hotel retained many antiques which creates an interesting atmosphere. I have never seen this before.

Antique Cigarette Machine. Only 25 cents

Antique Cigarette Machine. Only 25 cents


Glass Work on door in National Hotel

Thanks for the hospitality in such a gracious hotel.

Before heading back to Sacramento we made one more stop along the way.

Leaving Amador County

Leaving Amador County

Defeat and Victory!

Tree fight it out.


Heading back to Sacramento. Fog is rolling in.

Heading back to Sacramento. Fog is rolling in.