View Full Version : How not to plan a photo trip

07-24-2011, 11:50 AM
Just a trip report.

So I took Friday off work, and after dropping my son off at school I headed east for the day to Tumco, a ghost town in the extreme southeastern corner of California (it's about 25 miles out of Yuma). This would be fairly unremarkable if it weren't late July with a predicted high for Yuma of 109 F (43 C).

I've spent a lot of time at Tumco and know the site pretty well. There's a parking area, from which you can hike in about 1/4-1/2 mile across open alluvial fan to a set of rusty old cyanide vats, which provide some shade and shelter from the wind. It turns out that a 1/4-1/2 mile walk, when you're carrying a TLR, a full 9x12 plate camera kit, a goofy old 120 box camera, a DSLR and some lenses, a pile of film in a cooler, and well over a gallon of water, *and* it's 109 F out with no shelter, is, um, kind of long. I ended up just making a base camp behind the cyanide vats and spending the day there---I'd take a camera, walk around for two or three minutes within a few tens of meters of the spot taking pictures, then retreat to my little patch of shade and drink water for half an hour before moving again.

Shooting the plate camera was really rough, because I had to carry that much more equipment to the spot, then stick my head under a heavy black cloth and stand there in the sun trying to focus before my brain actually melted! In the end I only shot three of the six holders I'd taken; the Rolleiflex did most of the work for reasons of convenience.

I'd originally meant to stay till sunset and get the light, but I just didn't have the tenacity; about 3:30 PM I decided I'd had it and dredged myself back over that sunblasted stretch of alluvium to the car. Took the long way home, through the southern edge of the Chocolate Mountains and the northern Algodones Dunes, burning a few more rolls on the way. By the time I stopped for dinner in Brawley it was down to 102 F and that felt pretty mild.

The attached images are just quick-and-dirty negative scans, from the one roll I've had time to develop and scan. It's Rollei Ortho 25, shot at EI 50 and developed in Diafine, so these are very high-contrast negs (the scanner tends to tame that a bit). The roll from the box camera is hanging in the shower now and also looks pretty promising.

Don't plan your trips like this, by the way. I'm an ol' desert rat and have developed pretty good skills for being stupid and prudent at the same time, but really, people die out there. (One of the nice things about Tumco is that it has cellular coverage, albeit dodgy.) I need to do this again in better weather for the job.


07-24-2011, 12:22 PM
# 3 shows a nice shady tree. They were cool shots. I would have checked into a motel and come out in the very early morning to get a few more shots. You did well, your other shots should be interesting. I notice that the DSLR didn't get much use.

07-24-2011, 12:34 PM
Yeah, I mainly had the DSLR in case I started running into critters and wanted to use the macro lens. No such luck---everything other than me had too much sense to be out!

Those trees look shady enough, but if you look closely you'll see the little sign that says PEDESTRIANS PROHIBITED. I would have had to run across the eastbound lanes of the 8 to get to them!


07-24-2011, 12:35 PM
One thing to remember when hiking out with heavy equipment is that you have to hike back. A few years ago we were in Yellowstone Natl. Park and I went to Uncle Tom's Trail that takes you down along side Yellowstone Falls. When you get to the trail head there is a large sign warning you that if you have heart, back or other problems turn back. Although I am far from being a youngster I am in very good physical condition and figured I could always turn back. The trail becomes a series of stairs and it was quite easy going down with my 30 pounds of equipment in a backpack as well as my tripod over my shoulder. I was surprised there was no other people on the trail and happy that my wife decided to remain in the car and read. After reaching the bottom I found it was not the greatest vantage point for photographing. You know the rest of the story -- you have to climb back up. It was a huffing and puffing event being not far from a vertical climb. I did make it and was pleased that my cardiovascular system took it well. There is something to the observation that when no one else is on the trail, think twice.


07-24-2011, 12:53 PM
Glad you made it home safe! The photos look great!

Steve Smith
07-24-2011, 02:18 PM
You might not be English but this still applies:



07-24-2011, 05:58 PM
Here's a second round, from a goofy little 6x9 box camera: the Conway "Popular Model". (Someone, I think on Flickr, suggested that this was "as opposed to their Unpopular Model, which didn't sell so well".) Fixed exposure, fixed focus, convenient built-in green filter engaged for all these shots, and I'm pretty sure it has a meniscus lens (with vignetting to match). I really like these older lobotomized cameras---they're a nice reminder that all our fiddling around with minute exposure details and complicated knobs is really a lot of elaboration on a basically very simple process.

This was also Rollei Ortho 25; my best estimate is that it was being shot at about box speed. I couldn't find a time for HC-110, so I extrapolated from the few dev times available for this film and went for 6:00, with no agitation after 4:00 in hopes of keeping the highlights from running away. Again, the negatives are very high-contrast, but I expected that. If you look closely, you'll see some very striking patterns of Newton's rings introduced in the scanning step.


07-24-2011, 06:43 PM
Very nice work!

What is this? Cyanide vats? If so why were these here at one point?


07-24-2011, 07:00 PM
Yes, those are the vats; they're from the cyanide process for extracting gold from ore. The mine hasn't been active since 1941, so I'm not terribly worried about any residues.

The footings of the big stamp mill---at one point it was the biggest mill in California---are a few hundred meters further east, and there are some very broken-down building remnants and miscellaneous timbers, a gigantic open pit, and a lot of random shafts and diggings. There used to be a rusty old washing machine, but I haven't seen it in years and it may have been carried off. The place is easy to find---it's signed on Ogilby Road a few miles north of Interstate 8---and well worth a visit.


03-13-2013, 10:51 PM
And the original post said it was only 109 F. Imagine if it had been hot!

03-13-2013, 11:58 PM
And the original post said it was only 109 F. Imagine if it had been hot!


The Lower Sonoran is hard to believe in its climatic extremes, and yeah, it really is dangerous and shouldn't be taken lightly. Having enough water will get you through most things safely, but it's hard to appreciate just how much "enough" means on a day like that.

As it happens, I was just going through scans from this trip when you guys zombified this thread. What the heck---here are a couple more quick-and-dirty neg scans (from the Rolleiflex, on Efke 25 at 50, developed in HC-110). Obviously they're unspotted---in the case of the dunescape, I kind of like the effect.


03-14-2013, 10:13 AM
I wandered around Dry Falls (central Washington) with my 8x10 in some fairly hot weather...over 105F, but don't know exactly how much over. Started early in the morning and did the only uphill part early in the day.

When the weather is that hot, one does not have to worry too much about the rattlesnakes -- or other people. But I finished up by 1 or 2 pm as not to over-due it. I headed into town for lunch in a cool (temperature-wise) cafe, did some exploration by car up towards Grand Coulee Dam, and returned near sunset.

The first image is of some branches of a dead tree with the falls behind (dry, of course). The second was up on Umatilla Rock, the highest point, elevation-wise, of my day.

Branches, Dry Falls, WA
scanned 4x10 carbon print

Umatilla Rock, Dry Falls, WA
scanned 8x10 silver gelatin contact print, I think -- may have been a negative scan