John Muir Trail – One Month Out

Many of my 39° North Photography followers already know about the Big Hike I have planned for this summer, but if you didn’t know and/or you’d like to hear the backstory and then some, read on.

(Click on the graphic above to see a more detailed view).

Starting on August 2, my older brother Chuck, sister-in-law Jill, and I will be embarking on an epic hike on the John Muir Trail in the Sierra Nevada of California. The realization of this dream hike is 40 years in the making. When my brother and I were still in high school (way back in the day), our family took a summer vacation to Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park. As a family, we had backpacked two small segments of the John Muir Trail, and during that summer vacation, Chuck and I discussed a desire to hike the entirety of the 211-mile trail the following year during the summer of 1977.

For one reason or another, that hike never happened.

Fast forward many, many years. In March of 2015, I sent my brother the following email:

Hi Chuck,

I am feeling the need to do something EPIC while I still can, so I am seriously considering hiking the John Muir Trail. Would you (and/or Jill) have any interest in this?

I don’t really have a plan yet. It wouldn’t be soon… probably 2017 or later.

Whaddaya think?

Your sister,


Chuck didn’t respond for a bit, so I thought maybe he wasn’t interested, didn’t have time, or whatever. Twenty-eight days later, I nudged him and he finally wrote back, “Both of us would like to go.” And that was that.

We’ve spent the past 2+ years off and on talking about it, dreaming about it, watching countless YouTube videos about it, planning the route, buying/making gear, planning menus, dehydrating food, arranging flights and hotels and rides, etc. It’s been a fun lead-up, and now the beginning of the actual hike is exactly one month from TODAY!

The official John Muir Trail is a 211-mile wilderness trek that starts at Happy Isles in Yosemite National Park and ends at the top of Mount Whitney, the highest peak in the contiguous United States. A permit is require to hike the trail, and starting in Yosemite involves a great deal of luck in landing a very-hard-to-secure permit. I read somewhere that there is a 3% chance of securing a permit for hiking the JMT out of Yosemite. I applied, but was not successful.

One alternative to starting the JMT in Yosemite and hiking southbound (or SOBO) is to start on the other end and hike the trail northbound (NOBO). Some people start at Whitney Portal, hike to the top of 14,505-foot Mount Whitney, and go north from there. However, it can also be difficult to secure that permit, plus it involves a grueling 11-mile hike with a 6,100-foot elevation gain just to get to the beginning of the JMT . That did not sound at all appealing to me.

The next option is to start at Horseshoe Meadows and approach the area from south of Mount Whitney. Permits for this option were going fast when I checked into it, so on February 5, 2017, I reserved a permit for a party of 3 to hike the John Muir Trail northbound (NOBO) from the Cottonwood Pass Trailhead to Happy Isles in Yosemite. This starting point will add about 30 miles to our hike for a total of approximately 241 miles.

As August 2 rapidly approaches, we are in throes of fine-tuning our gear lists, acquiring last minute items, finishing our food preparations, preparing resupply buckets, making final ride arrangements, and doing as many shakedown hikes as possible. Our plan is to fly to Reno, NV on July 30, Chuck and Jill from Tucson and me from Denver. We’ll meet up at the Reno airport, pick up a terribly overpriced one-way rental car, make a quick stop at the Reno REI to buy fuel for our stoves, and then drive down to Mammoth Lakes, CA, where we will relinquish the rental car. We’ll spend a couple of days/nights in the Mammoth Lakes area to help us acclimate to higher elevations, then we’ll take a Eastern Sierra Transit Authority shuttle south to Lone Pine. We’ve contracted with a local man known as “Lone Pine Kurt” to drive us the 23 or so miles from Lone Pine to the campground adjacent to the Cottonwood Pass Trailhead, where we’ll spend our final night before hitting the trail.

Our total time on the trail will be 23 days and we’ll plan on finishing up at Happy Isles in Yosemite Valley sometime in the late morning of August 24. There will be very little cell phone coverage along the way, but I’m working on a way for our friends and loved ones to keep track of our progress. I’ll keep you posted.

(Source: Backpacker Magazine, Dec 8, 2014)

Cool Stuff I Found This Week – 6.10.16

Check out all of the super cool stuff I found this week!!


The Passing of Time, Caught in a Single Photo

This is a very fascinating TED talk by photographer Stephen Wilkes.


How Your iPhone Photos Make You Happier

This Time Magazine article basically suggests that people should stop mocking me for taking photos of my food. 🙂

Click on the title above to read the article.


Spirit of Africa by Richard Bernabe

Take advantage of this FREE e-book download!!

Click –>


Martin’s Boat by Pete McBride

This excellent film celebrates the legacy of Grand Canyon boatman and conservationist, Martin Litton.

Be sure to watch the video in full screen mode.


Love Earth

This week, Outside Online featured filmmaker Matty Brown’s short video, Love Earth, which contains beautiful scenes from all over the world paired with the thought-provoking words of poet Clint Smith. (I particularly like this video because many of the scenes in the film were taken in my beloved Iceland).

Be sure to watch the video in full screen mode.

Click to view –>

Aiken Canyon Preserve

Earlier this week, I went for a hike at the Aiken Canyon Preserve, a 1,621-acre preserve managed by The Nature Conservancy. The preserve is open only on Saturdays, Sundays, and Mondays and I pretty much had the place to myself on this particular Monday. Unfortunately, the small visitor center is open only on the weekends.

The Aiken Canyon Perserve is located in the foothills ecosystem and is bounded by Fort Carson on the east, the BLM’s Beaver Creek Wilderness Study Area on the west, and private property on the north and south. The hiking trails include a 4-mile “balloon” loop with two optional out-and-back spurs, the Overlook Spur and the Canyon Spur, for a total of 6.5 miles.

The narrow but well-maintained trail winds through tallgrass prairie meadows, Gambel oak/mountain mahogany shrubland, pinyon/juniper woodlands, and scattered ponderosa pine stands. It occasionally follows and dips into dry creekbeds and passes by bright red outcrops and spires of the Fountain Formation conglomerate.

The Overlook Spur heads up a rocky and steep path to a promontory which affords the hiker a panoramic view of the surrounding area, including the plains to the east, the southern Front Range, the Wet Mountains, and a small peek at the snow-capped Sangre de Cristo range.

The Canyon Spur takes the hiker across a grassy meadow then enters a pine/fir forest and follows a dry creek drainage into a canyon in the montane ecosystem. The trail ends at the ruins of a historic homestead from the early 1900s. Old boards, metal roofing, the remains of a water system with broken clay pipes and even an old bedspring can be found in the area, but the most memorable thing for me about this site was the plethora of pale yellow irises that were obviously planted by the homesteader.

Spring wildlowers were abundant along the route during my hike, including:

Spiderwort (note the little resident spider)

Field Mouse-Ear




































Narrow-leaved Puccoon












Spanish Bayonet and American Vetch













Showy Townsendia

Pink Pussytoes
























Wild Rose















To view additional photos from my Aiken Canyon Preserve hike, click HERE.

Cool Stuff I Found This Week – 6.03.16

I found lots of cool stuff to share with you this week!


Iceland Photography Adventure

Click –>

This really makes me want to visit Iceland in the winter. Seeing the Northern Lights is very high on my bucket list. Plus… there’s a DRONE!! (Have I mentioned that I REALLY want a drone)?


Kgalagadi Transfrontier Park

Imagine waking up to this in the morning!!!


Good advice from photographer Scott Wyden:

Stop using photography techniques you’re told are the best & photograph what & how you feel in your gut & heart.

A post shared by Scott Wyden Kivowitz (@scottwyden) on


I have always been fascinated by kayaking and I find this kayaking video from crazy kayaker guy, Dave Fusilli to be quite amazing. 



I really love Guy Tal’s photography, plus he is a very good writer.

Click –>


This isn’t new but I just found it and I like it. Words of wisdom for new photographers from photographer Jenna Martin.

Dear New Photographer…


Cool Stuff I Found This Week – 5.27.16

I put my “Cool Stuff” posts on hold for a bit while I was on a rather long road trip, but I’m back!

(I know I mentioned that I would blog about my road trip, but I was too busy actually experiencing stuff to document the stuff, plus my internet connectivity was sketchy for much of the trip. I will definitely do some blog posts and share photos in the coming weeks about some of the amazing places we visited).


10 ways to improve iPhone photography with the stock camera app

This video specifically targets iPhone users, but the tips here apply to all types of smartphone photography.


Photographer Makes Louvre Pyramid ‘Disappear’ with Huge Photo Illusion

This is a very interesting photography-related project by street artist and photographer JR.


30 Most Adorable Baby Animals Found in the Wild

I’m a total sucker for baby animals.


23 Street Photography Tips For Your Next Photo Walk

Per Wikipedia, street photography is “photography conducted for art or enquiry that features unmediated chance encounters and random incidents within public places.” If street photography is of interest to you, here is a video containing some tips from the Cooperative of Photography (COOPH) and Switzerland-based street photographer Thomas Leuthard.


21 Places Every Photographer Should Visit Before They Die

This was published last year on the 500px site, but since I just saw it for the first time this week (I think), it still qualifies. I’ve been to only 4 of those 21 places, so I better get busy! How many have you been to?

Cool Stuff I Found This Week – 4.8.16

I have only 3 cool things to share this week, as I have been very busy with final preparations for a lengthy road trip that kicks off today. Watch this blog for road trip updates and please subscribe if you don’t want to miss a post!

Now…. on to the cool stuff.


360° Tour:  The “Devil’s Pool” at Victoria Falls

With apologies to anyone reading this who doesn’t have access to Facebook, below is a link to an absolutely amazing 360° interactive video of Victoria Falls posted by National Geographic on their Facebook page earlier this week. Try clicking and dragging to get the full effect of this really cool 360° video technology.

CLICK –> 360° Tour: The “Devil’s Pool” at Victoria Falls

Straddling the border between Zambia and Zimbabwe, this legendary waterfall is among the biggest and most awe-inspiring on the planet. Take a 360° ride over the jaw-dropping cliffs at Victoria Falls.

Posted by National Geographic on Sunday, April 3, 2016


What’s New With Instagram

If you do Instagram, you’ll want to know about some changes that are afoot.



5 Secrets Every Photographer Should Learn

(I guess they’re not secrets anymore, eh)?


Cool Stuff I Found This Week – 4.1.2016

Happy April Fools’ Day and welcome to this week’s installment of Cool Stuff I Found This Week.


Tips for Doing Photography on a Budget

Photography can be an expensive endeavor. Here are a few excellent ideas to help you save some money on your photography passion.



The Top 20 Wildlife Photos on 500px So Far This Year



How Those Incredible Drone Videos Are Made

I really, really, REALLY want a drone. Just sayin’.



What Can Drones Teach Us About Waterfalls?

Have I mentioned that I really, really, REALLY want a drone



5 Stages of a Social Media Photographer

I think I’m guilty of pretty much all of this.



Portrait of Greenland

I’ve flown over Greenland on the way to somewhere else a few times and it totally fascinates me. Maybe one day I’ll actually GO there. This is a short video by a couple who made their Greenland dream come true.

Portrait of Greenland from Of Two Lands on Vimeo.

Cool Stuff I Found This Week – 3.25.2016

Today I’m going to try out a new and at least semi-regular feature on my blog called Cool Stuff I Found This Week. I will make every effort to provide photography-related cool stuff; however, do expect some other random cool stuff such as cool cat or chicken stuff to sneak in from time to time.


Timelapse photographer Nao Tharp unexpectedly captures an exploding meteoroid on film.


Baby chicken snuggles with cat.

Cat and chicken in ONE video!! Don’t say I didn’t warn you.


Horsetail Falls Firefall

I posted this one on my Facebook page earlier this week, but here it is again in case you didn’t see it. Incredible!

Horsetail Falls Firefall 2016 from Shawn Reeder on Vimeo.

For further info on Yosemite’s Horsetail Falls phenomenon, click HERE.


7 Underrated Pieces of Advice for Photography Beginners

There are some really great pointers here, and not just for beginners!

Click –>


Ansel Adams: Photography With Intention


Smithsonian 2015 Photo Contest Winners

Click –>


Countdown to Spring 2016 – Vernal Equinox

Happy first day of spring!! Today might not actually be the first day of spring where you live, but, according to the Old Farmer’s Almanac, spring officially begins here in Colorado tonight at 10:30pm (MDT). Did you know that this is the earliest spring since 1896??!!

The final flower in our Countdown to Spring 2016 series is the Wild Iris (Iris missouriensis), aka Rocky Mountain iris or western blue flag. The gorgeous bluish-purple (and occasionally white) blooms of the Wild Iris can generally be found in large colonies in the meadows of Colorado’s foothills to montane zones.

Grass Creek

North Fork Trail – Big Thompson River

North Fork Trail – Big Thompson River

The roasted seeds of the Wild Iris are supposed to be an adequate substitute for coffee, but in general, this plant should not be ingested due to its toxicity. Historically, the Wild Iris has been used quite extensively in folk medicine, primarily to treat skin problems. The ground up roots of this plant have been used to make arrow poison.

Roxborough State Park

Grass Creek

That’s it for the Countdown to Spring 2016 series. I hope you’ve enjoyed it!

Countdown to Spring 2016 – T Minus 1

The Yellow Salsify (Tragopogon dubius), aka western goat’s-beard and wild oysterplant, is a pretty and quite common flower that can easily be mistaken for a jumbo dandelion. It is an introduced species in the U.S. and has spread to nearly all of the lower 48 states.

The roots of this plant are edible, although this is NOT the same salsify species whose roots are starting to show up regularly in farmer’s markets and health food store produce sections in the U.S.

Salsify, with its abundance of pollen, is a favorite among bees.

When finished flowering, the Yellow Salsify forms a seed head similar to that of the dandelion, but is much larger.