A Favorite View Disappears

The other day my wife, Jean, and I took a ride up Mount Vision Road to look for the view I had recorded over 20 years ago in my photograph, Point Reyes Sunset. But I’m getting ahead of myself….

I’ve been smitten with grand overviews since I was a little boy. I’m sure I got this fascination from my dad, who took our family to various overlooks to share the views that impressed him. Near our home in Connecticut, we observed the splendors visible from East Rock, a mile-long trap-rock ridge overlooking New Haven and the waters of Long Island Sound. Then, on a family trip to his brother’s place in El Paso, our whole family marveled at the magnificent view Dad showed us from the top of Scenic Drive. We were easily 10 times higher than the East Rock viewing spot.

Years later, when I first came to Point Reyes, I began exploring, searching for the most splendid views near my new home. When I discovered the main overlook of Drakes Estero and the Point on Mount Vision Road, I was bowled over. It quickly became one of my favorite vistas. I was amazed to see in one sweeping view, the magnificent land mass from the Limantour Estero to the south, across the rugged headlands of Point Reyes to Abbotts Lagoon in the north. The Park Service had cleared a little parking area and erected a sign to make it easy to find. I would bring my out-of-town guests there to share the beauty of Point Reyes from this expansive overview.

In the late 1980s I began photographing the view there. I drove to this outlook scores of times with my camera, seeking the best light to express the majesty there. I discovered that late afternoons were best. And so it was on a winter afternoon in January 1991, that everything came together. A storm front was moving out of the area, leaving broken skies and cloud remnants to the west. I walked to my favorite location and set my camera on the tripod. The sun was hidden behind a long ropy cloud. I felt hopeful that I would get my photograph as the sun dropped lower and emerged into the clear sky near the horizon. But before it did, I was surprised to witness god rays bursting in all directions from behind the cloud! I made several exposures and after developing the film, I found one negative that captured the moment perfectly. I titled that photograph, simply, Point Reyes Sunset, which has become a favorite among collectors of my work.

Point Reyes Sunset

Point Reyes Sunset – January, 1991 – Please Click for enlarged view

Now, some 20 years later, I wanted to show Jean where I had set the camera when I made Point Reyes Sunset. As we drove to the top, I also wondered if things had changed much since the Inverness Ridge Fire of 1995. We drove the switch-backed road up to the parking location. The park service sign was gone. Coyote bush had spread more than man tall everywhere. New-growth pines and a thicket of brush blocked the full panorama. I eventually found where I had stood to make this photograph. I felt grateful that I had recorded Point Reyes Sunset before the fire. Only fragments of my original view remain.

Here’s what it looks like now:

Looking north from Point Reyes Sunset location

South view from same position Point Reyes Sunset was exposed.

Looking south from Point Reyes Sunset location

6 comments on “A Favorite View Disappears

  1. Marty – I look forward to your blog. Your ability to capture the feeling of a photo experience in words is a real talent. Each photo has it’s own story beyond the camera settings.

    We live in Tamalpais Valley which is forested with Monterey Pines, Eucalyptus and a few young Redwoods. Having lived here for nearly 30 years we have seen lots of changes though it was hard to imagine that this valley at the time my house was built around 1919 was actually barren headlands of grasses and scrub Juniper and Manzanita. I have seen photographs of the area with uninterrupted vistas. Interesting that many of the pines and eucalyptus trees are being removed on the Federal lands as non-native.

    Thanks for sharing your memories and keep up with the story telling. You have new talent.

    All the best to you and Jean,

    Terry.

    • Terry – Thank you for reading my little story and commenting. I realized some time ago that the most interesting photos almost always have a story behind them that can help deepen the experience of viewing those photos lately. If the light is incredible or other circumstances create a compelling visual experience which is then captured in an image, I think the experience gets embedded deeply in our memories. If the photographer is willing to recall it and recount it for the viewer we all get to share pieces of that singular experience.

  2. Marty, I enjoyed your essay. The degree of change in the landscape in just 20 plus years strikes me as remarkable. Something I would not have anticipated. It reminds me of the fisherman’s adage that you “can not step into the same stream twice.” In 1991, you ” stepped into the stream” at just the right moment.

    • Hadley, Thank you. When I started photographing Point Reyes nearly 30 years ago I wondered if I was documenting scenes that were ephemeral. Having been here during the great New Year’s flood of 1982 and the Loma Prieta earthquake, I sensed that earth changes were always a possibility here and it was a good thing to record the beauty for all of our memories.

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