Sep 072012

During a brief excursion up to Oregon, we stayed in a charming small town named Ashland, full of culture, restaurants, shopping and outdoors activities.  Ashland is the home of several points of interest, most notably the year-round Oregon Shakespeare Festival.  The Oregon Shakespeare Festival, founded in 1935, is the nation’s oldest and largest professional non-profit companies with very high production values and strong artistic values.  During its eight-and-a-half-month season, they put on eleven plays annually with an attendance of approximately 400,000.

Ashland also has a university, springs, wineries, restaurants and interesting parks.  Most notably, Lithia park, where much of the Shakepere festival is held, also hods somthing for everyone.

In addition to the over 80 restaurants, Ashland hosts a variety of culinary events throughout the year including the Oregon Chocolate Festival, Taste of Ashland and the Food & Wine Classic.  During our visit, we experienced some yummy cupcakes from Larry’s Cake Shop.  With over 50 flavors to choose from, we wish we had more time here to sample.

In addition to the food, wine and cultural activities, Ashland is also the gateway to many of southern Oregon’s outdoor activities.  Surrounded by mountains and lakes, there’s a lot out there to be experienced.

Ashland also hosts various outdoor attractions, such as equestrian trail rides through the countryside’s evergreen forests, elevated lakes, and photogenic mountains. Croquet on the Lithia Springs lawn spurs gentle competition during mornings and evenings Thursday–Monday, with lessons and touch-up sessions available. Whitewater rafting (through September 4), golf, and excursions along the Applegate River Valley soothe visitors with the crisp air and untouched beauty of Oregon’s rolling landscapes.

Lithia Fountain, found in Ashland Plaza downtown, gets its water from the Pompadour Chief Spring, four miles east of downtown.  This fountain is built with locally quarried Ashland Granite.

For more information:

Ashland Chamber of Commerce –
Larry’s Cake Shop –
Oregon Shakespeare Festival –

Jul 312011

During an excursion up to Oregon in early July, we stopped by Crater Lake National Park.  Though it was July and we had driven up through Redding, where it was over 104 degrees, a good portion of Crater Lake’s rim drive and trails were under 4+ feet of snow.  Luckily, the road from the Annie Spring Entrance and the West Rim Drive through the North Entrance Road were open.  Since the trails were under snow and we didn’t have our snow shoes, there was no hiking.  Boat tours wo wizard island don’t start until July 21, conditions permitting.

Crater Lake is one of the deepest lakes (1,943 feet) in the United States fed only by snow and rain (no rivers or streams).  It rests inside a caldera formed approximately 7,700 years ago when a 12,000 foot volcano (Mt. Mazama) collapsed.  Later eruptions formed Wizard Island, a cinder cone.  Crater Lake National Park was established in 1902.

For more photos, check out my gallery:

For more information:
Crater Lake National Park site –

 Posted by at 10:55 pm
Jul 232011


Yosemite National Park, located about 190 miles from San Francisco, is almost doable on a LONG day trip, so long as you don’t want to see everything.  Prodded by the fact that the past winter’s snow pack and longer than average spring rains persisted, news of abundant water flow through the park promised a decent show at the park’s water features.  In past years when there was a lack of rain or snow, one could visit Yosemite Falls and only see a trickle of water at the namesake falls.

Despite the downturn in the economy, occupancy and visitior rates at Yosemite remain high, attesting to the popularity of the park.  Currently, there’s some road construction going on near the intersection of Big Oak Flat Road and El Portal Road which can cause delays.  Water flow is high and should continue so into August due to the continuing melting of the snow pack.  With such water flow, visitors should excercise caution around the water.  Unfortunately, as noted in the news of the day we visited, deaths and injuries can occur if you’re not careful.


At the higher elevations, widflowers can still be found, especuially roadside and in the meadows.

If you’re interested in photography, you should definitely stop by the Ansel Adams Galley in Yosemite Village.


Map of Yosemite
CCS Yosemite Photo Gallery
Horsetail Falls

 Posted by at 2:49 pm
Jul 152011


Surprisingly, even in July, roads are closed due to snow.  We attempted to head up to Lava Beds National Monument in Northeastern California last week.  Driving in from the south, one would have to pass by Medicine Lake.  Unknown to us, the roads by medicine lake were closed due to snow, hence making the trip to Lava Beds National Monument a non-event.  Fortunately, not all was lost.  On Medicine Lake road, the paved part, we managed to run into an pseudo ice caved off the side of the road.  It was nice to cool off in this cave!

 Posted by at 1:11 am
Jun 242010


Jarvis Winery and Vineyards are located above Napa in between Mt George and Milliken Canyon allowing for cooler growing temperatuers due to altitude and maritime breezes.   Founded by William and Leticia Jarvis, the winery itself, 45,000 square feet, is located underground in a cave that was excavated in the Vacas Mountains, about 4 miles east of downton Napa. The overall estate is 1320 acres with 37 acres allocated for vineyards.  The Jarvis’ have owned the winery for over 20 years.  All winery operations and administration are located in these parabolic shaped caves designed by William with the help of consultant Gregg Korbin and the UC Berkeley computers.  A stream runs through the middle of the cave and is fed by a waterfall.  Tours of the vineyards and cave is by appointment only.


The two tours available are the Vintage Tasting Tour and the Platinum Tasting Tour.  More information can be found on their website.

We choose to take the Vintage Tasting Tour primarily due to the last minute decision to take the tour.  The tour included a walk through the caves to see the facilities and a tasting of six of their wines accompanied by cheese and crackers.  This visit, we tasted;

  • 2007 Finch Hollow Chardonnay
  • 2005 Cabernet Franc
  • 2004 Lake William – Blend of Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot
  • 2006 Merlot – my favorite of the group – tastes more like a pinot noir
  • 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve

Some of the highlights of the tour included;

–  the bottling room with a custom designed bottling machine by William Jarvis.  Notably, the wax seal a top some of Jarvis’ premium wines is done by hand.

–  underground stream and waterfall

–  storage/fermentation tanks

–  event room  

For more information, you can visit their website at:  More photos can be found at:  C Chin Studios Gallery.

 Posted by at 10:56 pm
Jun 162010

Opening to much fanfare and publicity, Kenzo Tsujimoto, Chairman and CEO of Japan’s Capcom Group (better known in the gaming circles for hit titles such as Street Fighter, MotoGP and Resident Evil), opened his winery on May 1st of this year after purchasing the property in the early nineties from the Murray family.  Kenzo is a wine connoisseur who travels the world and has a large wine collection at his home in Japan (10,000 bottles).  He loves wine so much that he decided to put $100 million into developing Kenzo Estate.  The property, 4,000 acres a top Mt. George, was previously an equestrian center.  Back in 1984, Mt George was the training site for the US Polo Team.  Of the 4,000 acres owned by Kenzo, only 100 will be planted for the winery.  As of now, this winery has the distinction of being the only winery in Napa with a tasting menu created by Sir Thomas Keller.

The location, about 1,000 feet above the valley floor, gives Kenzo an extended growing season due to the cooler air.  Kenzo does everything in a simple, first class way.  The food is done in collaboration with Sir Thomas Keller (of French Laundry, Per Se, Bouchon and Ad Hoc fame), wine is done in collaboration with Heidi Barrett (of Screaming Eagle, Grace Family Vineyards, Dalla Valle and La Sirena fame), and vineyard design/management by famed perfectionist David Abreu.

Being relatively new, the vineyard has only has only had two releases.  The current release, 2006, has four varietals;

Asatsuya (morning dew) Sauvignon Blanc – bordeux style white wine – $60, $35 for 375ml
Rindo (referring to Gentians) Red Table Wine – Signature wine – blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot – $75
Murasaki (Purple) Proprietary Red Blend – blend of Sabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot – $150 – My fav of the group
Ai (Indigo) Cabernet Sauvignon – 100% Carbernet Sauvignon – $150
*** note – purple is the traditional color of Japanese royalty

Visits to the winery are by appointment only.  During your visit, you may sign up for one of three tours, differentiated only by amount of wine and food.  In short, the three tours are as follow;

Tour 1 – $30 – Four one ounce pours of Kenzo Estate Wines served with a plate of crackers
Tour 2 – $50 – Four two ounce pours of Kenzo Estate Wines served with charcuterie
Tour 3 – $60 – Tour two served with a full lunch brought in daily from Sir Thomas Keller’s Bouchon restaurant in Yountville.  Lunch generally consists of a choice of one of four sandwiches (French Madrange ham and gruyere, beef brisket, tuna Nicose, ) with fixins.  Other food choices are available for order a la carte, including deserts from Bouchon Bakery.

The grapes are picked by hand and the vineyard is sub-divided into multiple lots so they can be picked at different times.  About 6,000 cases are produced annually.  The wines themselves are not available for retail sale anywhere except at the winery, where quantities are limited.  The wine is served at select restaurants throughout Japan (where the majority of the wine production currently goes)  and at the Thoms Keller Group restaurants in the US.  There supply model is a direct producer to vendor model due to the limited production.  The goal is for the wine to eventually be served at about 200 restaurants throughout the US.

The experience – upon entering through the gates, you drive about a mile past a lake and through another gate following the signs for 3200.  It turns out that the estate is still actually home to several others including the previous estate owners.  Arriving at the tasting room and production facilities, one notices the attention to details and the simplicity of the design.  The building are of architect Backen’s California barn style with modern earth tones.  For example, from the wine production (fermenting rooms) area to the cave area is a straight line, so transportation from one to the other does not unsettle the wine.  The aged olive trees (@150 yrs old), recently imported, are strategically placed as are the other landscaping details (plants).

At the beginning of the tour, each guest is given their first taste of the wine, the Asatsuyu Sauvignon Blanc.  As you pass the newly planted “grove” of imported aged olive trees, one starts to notice the simplicity of the overall design as well as the attention given to the smallest details.

Being such a young winery, Kenzo is still finding its way.  This year, they started experimenting with concrete vats for fermentation.  Other grapes are fermented in stainless steel tanks.  In a straight line from the “production” area are two entrances to the caves.  The caves (20,000 square feet), currently sparsely populate due to the age of the winery, may eventually hold events such as dinners and private events.  After the caves, we headed back to the tasting room area where outside, there were tables setup with the flights of red wines for our tasting (and food depending on tour signed up for).  Overall, it was a pretty relaxing and laid back experience.

The winery is located at 3200 Monticello Road in Napa, CA (about five miles from the Silverado Trail).  Visits are by appointment only.  For more information, go to their website, or for the japanese version.  More photos of our visit can be found at our Kenzo Estate Winery gallery.

 Posted by at 2:19 am
May 242010

 ALMS Paddock Entrance

On May 22, Saturday, I spent an unseasonably chilly and windy day at Laguna Seca watching (and of course photographing) the ALMS 2010 race.  Monterey is the third stop in the American Le Mans series.  The race is a six-hour, 11-turn, 2.238-mile circuit.  Some bill this race as a warm-up for the 24 hours of Le Mans in France in June.  Today’s race will air next weekend, May 29, on CBS.  Live streaming and more information on the series can be found at the series’ official website,

Patron Highcroft racing took the overall podium in the LMP class with the HPD ARX-01c of David Brabham, Simon Pagenaud and Marino Franchitti.

This year’s race was highlighted by several accidents, 10 full course periods, and a finish where first and second in the GT class was 3/10 of a second apart.  In the highly contested GT class, four ferraris, BMWs, two Porsches and two Corvettes all ran within 10 seconds of each other for most of the race.  Environmental friendliness seemed to be a re-current theme.  The “race within a race” Michelin Green X challenge in all classes had teams competing for the prestige of the award.  The running of the two Rahall Letterman team cars on E85 Ethanol and other teams running on E10 Ethanol added to the green theme.

Of note this year, Rahal Letterman Racing enters the GT class with two BMW M3s running on E85 Cellulosic Ethanol fuel along side other cars such as the #3 Corvette ZR-1 from Corvette Racing.  E85 Cellulosic Ethanol fuel is made from non-food products such as corn stalks, wood chips and switchgrass, presenting a more green alternative fuel.  The fuel has its advantages such as lower emissions but also has drawbacks such as lower power output.  No. 90 M3 GT of Joey Hand and Dirk Muller finish second after a re-build from an accident earlier in the day.  No. 92 M3 GT of Bill Auberlan and Tommy Milner finished eigth.  Oreca’s FLM09 debuts in the 2010 series.  Corvette’s, headed for the 24 Hours of Le Mans in a few weeks finish third and sixth in the GT class.  The JaguarRSR XKR GT completed its first endurance run here. 

In the meantime, I’ll be posting some shots from the event, with on-track shots and paddock shots, during the course of the week.  Check out my gallery for this event at

For more information, other resources;
American LeMans Series Official Site –
Le Mans Official SIte –
Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca Official Site –
Racetrack Map –
Paddock Racing News –

 Posted by at 12:28 am
May 082010



Location:  Mt Diablo -Michell Canyon, Clayton, CA
Directions:  From 680 North, exit Ygnacio Valley Road, head east for 7.5 miles until you get to Clayton Road, turn right.  Go 1.0 miles, turn right onto Mitchell Canyon Road, go to end.  $6 car fee for day use.
Date of visit:  May 5, 2010 – Cinco de Mayo.

Mitchell Canyon, located on Mount Diablo’s North Side, is located in the town of Clayton.  Known for it rock formations and wildflowers, there are wildflower viewing opportunites for all abilities.  We had a chance to visit and hike this area during the past week.  The wildflowers are still out in force, though some are starting to die off.  Different specicies can be found at different altitudes. 

During this visit, we had planned to take it easy and do the Mitchell Canyon Nature Trail.  However, due to the lack of details and signs, we were not able to find the trail.  Starting from the opposite side of the parking lot from the visitor center, we headed out on Bruce Lee Road in an attempt to find the Back Creek Trail.  We ended up doing a few circle and eventually decided to hike up the Back Creek/Mitchell Canyon loop for a total of about 8.1 miles and a 1600 foot elevation gain.

Heading up what turned out to be the Back Creek Trail, we found lots of varieties of wildflowers.  At the lower elevations, we found Rose Clovers, Pineapple Weed, California Poppies and Wild Mustard.  As we gained elevation, we proceeded to find an abundance of Ithuriel’s Spear, Winter Vetch, Scarlet Pimpernel, Royal Larkspur, Gray Mule’s Ear and Woolly Paintbrush and Indian Paintbrush.  Throughout most of the hike, wildflowers were all around affording many photo opportunities.  At the top of “Twin Peaks” on Deer Flat, one is afforded a panorama viewing opportunity to see Clayton, mountains and valleys.  Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to capture the fames Fairy Lantern which is the signature wildflower of Mount Diablo.  A gallery of my 2010 Wildflower photos can be found at:

It looks like the wildflower viewing should be good for another week or two, depending on the heat.  For more info on hikes and features, go to:

Stay tuned for more wildflower reports!

 Posted by at 7:58 pm
Apr 282010

When visiting places, many people struggle to capture shots that represent what they see and experience.  For vast landscape scenes, panoramic shots generally is one of the main answers.  In this area, technology has helped make the capturing of the photo easier but processing challenges arise.  Most of the challenges lie in the way that the camera works with the lense.  Perspective, distortion and blending are three key elements that must come together to produce a decent panoramic image.  The effort to merge several photos into one and make it look consistent and natural can be challenging.

Most of today’s photo processing programs do a pretty good job at automatically finding stitch points and stitching the photos together.  Hardware and software requirements vary and memory handling sometimes is a key factor in processing (more on that in another posting).  Correcting photos for barrel distortion, uniform color, contrast and tone, and finally adjusting for perspective is where this process gets challenging.  For example, the above shot, taken from Sutro Hill in San Francisco, at first glance looks okay.  However, what many pixel peepers will notice is that this photo is actually a stitched photo, comprising (in this case) of three separate photos.

In this example, three vertical shots were taken to be stitched together.  The goal was to capture the view from the top of Sutro Hill looking towards downtown.  I chose to shoot vertically to capture as much of the city (from the base of the hill) as I could with as few shots as possible (given my existing equipment).  The other option, as a photographer with a modest camera, was to shoot 9 separate horizontal images to get the desired level of city detail.  The stitching of the photos in many programs is handled automatically.  The method to correct for consistent tone and color, barrel distortion and other nuances distinguishes the better programs from the crowd.  Other features, such as the ability to create a Quicktime VR (think real estate 360 degree VR tours) or merging a non-sequenced series of photos either horizontally, vertically or matrixed are all available in various programs.  For example, using a friend computer in the field with The Panorama Factory, I used the same seven shots that produced the photo below and converted it into a Quicktime VR fairly easily (as seen by clicking below on “Sutro Hill Panorama”  – be patient.  Once loaded, click on photo and use mouse or arrow keys to pan left and right).  

Sutro Hill Panorama

So now comes the question of which software to use.  Most cameras today come with free photo processing software that has the capability to create panorama shots (such as the Canon software) and sometimes Quicktime VR.  Commercial and free programs/plug-ins such as The Panorama Factory, Panorama Tools, Adobe Photoshop/Lightroom, PTgui, Panavue, Arcsoft Panorama Maker and a plethora of others exist out there to choose from.  Choosing one or a few shall be the subject of upcoming reviews as I search for the “best” one to use…stay tuned!

 Posted by at 9:52 pm
Apr 262010

With this spring’s on and off rains here in Northern California, one would of expected an excellent wildflower season.  Most reports are saying its been a so-so season so far.  With Carol Leigh’s Wildflower Hotsheet being shut down by the author, getting information on where to find wildflowers can be dificult.  Even worse, if you live in the bay area and do not want to travel far, your choices are even more limited.

The good news is that unless you looking for  field or hillside full of wildflowers, it is possible to find some in your own backyard(almost).  For example, last weekend I was shooting from the top of Sutro Hill in San Francisco.  Driving up and down from the hill there were plenty of wildflowers to be found even though I wasn’t looking or expecting them.  Here’s two examples.  Other notable examples are generally found roadside off the major highways, especuially in the east and south bay areas.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll continue my search for local places to shoot wildflowers (any suggestions welcome).  As I visit these places, I’ll post some brief location reports and pictures.  Collectively, you’ll find the gallery at:  Stay tuned!

 Posted by at 9:30 pm