Category Archives: Photos

How I Did It—Works for me

How I Did It

I pretty much try to abide by the rule of thirds when I take pictures. I think it creates more aesthetically pleasing photographs.

The rule of thirds might be the most well-known rule of photographic composition since it is one of the first things one learns in photography class.

Of course, rules are meant to be broken, but if you’re going to break a rule, make sure you know it very well so that breaking it is even more effective.

The basic principle behind the rule of thirds is to imagine breaking an image down into thirds (both horizontally and vertically) so that you have 9 parts:

Rule of thirds

The exact center rarely is a good place to put your focal point unless your intent is to show symmetry. Too high, too low, too far left, or too far right is kind of like dissonance in music; it just doesn’t feel right/sound right/look right. The grid, then, identifies four areas of the image—where the lines intersect—where you should consider placing points of interest in your picture.

Along with the four intersections, the rule of thirds also gives you four lines along which to place elements in your picture.

Rule of thirds lines

The theory behind the rule of thirds is that placing points of interest at the intersections or along the lines provides a more balanced picture with which the viewer can interact more naturally. Apparently, research shows that when looking at a picture, your eyes go naturally to one of the intersections much more naturally than to the center of the image.

I don’t know if the rule of thirds comes naturally to me or whether fifty years of photography has simply made it a habit. Maybe I’ll intentionally break the rule to see what happens.

If your picture looks or feels awkward, don’t hesitate to take it into a digital photo editing program like Photoshop and crop it to give it a better feel or look.

Following is a panorama of the Music Building at San Diego State University that illustrates the rule of thirds. This panorama was created by taking 8 separate pictures into Photoshop and then using the Photomerge function to stitch them together. Afterwards I cropped the panorama to get this:

Music Building at San Diego State University

My landscape-oriented pictures often use the top, middle, and bottom thirds, as I have done that picture. I really like this picture, first and foremost because it’s the Music Building and connects with my 60 years of music (violin, piano, and voice). Additionally, though, I really like the dominant but different colors in the thirds—blue in the upper third, white in the middle, and green in the lower. Notice, however, that the transitions are not too sharp or abrupt. The white clouds in the blue sky lead one’s eyes to the white building. The green trees against the white building then lead one’s eyes to the green grass in the lower third. In every sense, this picture works for me.

Thanks for stopping by! See you next time!

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Out & About—I guess they are planning for a population boom

Out & About

The first time I went to the Mojave Desert was during the Summer of 1973 when I went with two friends (Jaime and Larry) on a tour of the United States west of the Mississippi River. Since we lived in South Texas, a desert in its own right, the Mojave didn’t really interest me, at least not near as much as San Francisco, Oakland (home of the Raiders and A’s), Los Angeles, and San Diego. The only reason we were going there was to visit Death Valley, which has the lowest point in the lower states and the highest recorded temperature of 134°F (July 10, 1913).

Now that I am a couple of years older, I have a greater appreciation for the deserts, finding them quite interesting. For some reason, though, they still are quite hot, so i don’t visit them often.

In early February, I was in the western reaches of the Mojave Desert tracking trains that have to get through the desert to points east. Here are a few pictures of what I found in the Mojave Desert:

California Aqueduct & Lake PalmdaleCalifornia Aqueduct & Lake Palmdale

Seems kind of odd to build an open-air aqueduct in one of the hottest places on Earth.

The desert seemed to be one huge dumping ground. Trash was everywhere, and I’m not talking about litter. I’m talking about huge items abandoned as trash. The beauty of the Mojave Desert was ruined in so many places.

Sofa bed dumped in the desert

Trash in the Mojave Desert

Trash in Mojave Desert

Winfield’s Custom Shop had the most interesting advertising sign.

Winfield's Custom Shop

When Winfield says “custom,” I think he means it. Check out this custom police car:

Custom police car

Wind farms were everywhere. Many people find them ugly but I find them strangely fascinating and beautiful.

Mojave Desert wind farm

Notice the snow-capped mountains in the picture above. This is the high desert, and although it gets extraordinarily hot and has little precipitation, the mountain peaks are high enough that they can get snow on them in the winter.

I saw Edwards Air Force Base where the Space Shuttle would land when bad weather prevented a Florida landing at Cape Canaveral. More snow-capped mountains in the distance.

Edwards Air Force Base

My little hometown of Kingsville TX had numbered streets all the way up to 17th Street, paved with concrete and asphalt, and houses lining both sides of the street. Out in the Mojave Desert, it’s a little different.

233rd Street East

233rd Street East

You might be inclined to think, “Well, obviously it’s a new street.” Doesn’t matter. Every street from 1st Street East to 233rd Street East looked exactly like that. I guess they are planning for a population boom. I don’t think it’s coming. I did not bother trying to find 233rd Street West.

Thanks for stopping by! See you next time!

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Trains—San Diego Trolley extension work interrupts Amtrak & Coaster

Railroads & Trains logo

Yesterday was my day to go to the historic Santa Fe Depot in downtown San Diego and see what was going on. Well, nothing. Literally, nothing. There is no Amtrak or Coaster train action between the Santa Fe Depot and Oceanside, a distance of about 39 miles.

Track-a-train was showing all Amtrak Pacific Surfliners arriving and leaving from the Oceanside Transit Center. I set out to find out why, and it didn’t take me long to find that the line currently is shut down, at least through March 14, to re-align tracks and do some at-grade work for the extension of the San Diego Trolley from Old Town to University City.

Finally.

However, the extension is being built with a lot of Federal Transit Administration funds.

Uh-oh.

California voted for Clinton. Twitler knows that, and Twitler is a very vengeful person. I will keep an eye on these federal transit funds because I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that Twitler will do something to exact his revenge on California by withholding federal funds.

I got quite a few interesting pictures showing the work going on. I thought it was interesting that the Mid-Coast Transit Constructors simply pulled the southbound Amtrak tracks about ten feet to the west. Presuming, then, that the Trolley is going to go down the middle of the Amtrak tracks. Now that I know about this, I can go out weekly and document process. Just south of where I was the tracks will be aerial due to a river (known as a creek in other states) and the tracks through University City and the University of California-San Diego will be aerial tracks.

Picture 1 – Abrupt break in the southbound tracks.Break in the Amtrak tracks for re-alignment

Picture 2 – Amtrak’s not going to like the excessive bends in this curveExcessive bends in re-aligned Amtrak tracks

Picture 3 – Mounds of rock showing where the track used to be.Mounds of rock indicate where the tracks used to be

Picture 4 – Southbound track re-alignment not yet complete.Re-aligned track work not completed

Thanks for stopping by! See you next time!

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Picture of the Moment—Silent Saturday

Picture of the Moment

Occasionally I take a picture for which no words from me are necessary, such as this one. Even then, though, I would want to know when and where the picture was taken. If you do, too, it was taken on February 17, 2017, in Santa Monica CA at the Third Street Promenade.

Stop Twitler

Thanks for stopping by! See you next time!

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Friday Flower Fiesta (3-10-17)—Spring is springing and the bees are going crazy

Friday Flower Fiesta

Spring usually begins around January 1 here in San Diego. It got delayed a couple of months this year due to the extraordinarily wet winter we have had.

My back balcony got 12″ of rain just in February; San Diego gets around 10.3″ each year, so it’s been pretty wet.

All the rain means the spring flower season, while late, should be spectacular, from ice plant along the coast and freeways to the Cherry Blossom Festival at the Japanese Friendship Garden in Balboa Park to the desert wildflowers 100 miles inland in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

I have not been to Anza-Borrego Desert State Park to see the wildflower bloom but all indications are that this year is turning out to be a “Super Bloom.” I’ll have to take off a day and go out there, even if I have to go all by my lonesome self.

Meanwhile, what’s going on locally:

Ice PlantIce plant path picture by Russel Ray Photos

Orange, yellow, and purple ice plant

Ice plant

Cherry Blossoms at Japanese Friendship Garden in Balboa ParkCherry tree at Japanese Friendship Garden in Balboa Park

Cherry blossoms

Garland chrysanthemum known locally as “crown daisy.”
This stuff will make you sneeze like you’ve never sneezed before.
Yellow wildflowers in San Diego

Yellow wildflowers in San Diego

Speaking of yellow, Oxalis is covering the hillsides
and the bees are going crazyFriday Flower Fiesta #9

Thanks for stopping by! See you next time!

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Out & About—The San Diego & Arizona Railway

Out & About The World

On January 1, 2017, I decided to write a book that combined my love of writing, history, trains, and photography. With a tentative title of “On Time: A Timeline of Railroads in San Diego County,” I’m finding that it keeps me busy and I don’t seem to get bored.

New San Diego Central Library on February 2, 2013Right now it’s just a lot of reading and research. I started in the San Diego Central Library (left) because I found that they have microfilm of the new San Diego newspapers—Herald, Union, Tribune, Union-Tribune—all the way back to 1851, which was 18 years before the completion of the Union Pacific/Central Pacific transcontinental railroad at Promontory, Utah.

Those 18 years in the San Diego newspapers indicate that San Diego was hoping to be what San Francisco became. It never happened because, basically, no one could agree on a good route through the Santa Rosa Mountains and the Colorado Desert from Yuma AZ to San Diego.

Not that people weren’t trying. San Diego & Arizona RailwayEven after the transcontinental railroad was completed in 1869, people kept trying to build a southern competitor. It looked like it might happen when John D. Spreckels, the owner of the San Diego Union, said that he would build it. And he did. The San Diego & Arizona Railway (SD&A). Also known as “The Impossible Railroad.”

The SD&A’s history is so convoluted (which is why I’m writing this book) that the only thing I can determine for sure at this point is that the SD&A was chartered on December 14, 1906; groundbreaking ceremonies were held on September 7, 1907; and construction was completed on November 15, 1919. Final construction cost was $18 million, three times the original estimate of $6 million.

There are 129 miles. The 11-mile segment through Carrizo Gorge included 17 tunnels stretching 13,385 feet, and 2½ miles of bridges and trestles.

The SD&A was never profitable, mainly because tunnels kept collapsing and trestles were washed away from winter rains. Although there is, to this day, hope for re-opening the line, there are two main problems: First, the cost to repair the damaged tunnels and trestles is estimated at $5.5 million. Second, there are 44 miles of track in Mexico. Yep. Mexico. A hundred years ago there was no border wall and people easily moved back and forth between the two countries.

In today’s world with Twitler as the United States president, I think there is no way anyone anywhere is going to approve a train leaving San Diego, entering Mexico at Tijuana and re-entering the United States at Tecate, 44 miles away. Nope. Ain’t gonna happen. That’s based on my early youth when I was hopping trains between Brigham City and Ogden UT, and Kingsville and Bishop TX.

So, while we’re waiting for Twitler to be impeached, we have to content ourselves with tourist rides on a 5-mile section of the old line courtesy of the Pacific Southwest Railway Museum.

Early in January 2017, I took a driving tour of the SD&A tracks all the way out to Plaster City, a distance of about 90 miles. A month later, a friend who owns a helicopter service took me on a 3-hour flight out to the Santa Rosa Mountains to check out the SD&A railroad from the air. Following are some pictures from both my adventures.

This first picture is near Jacumba Hot Springs and shows the SD&A tracks going under a bridge built in 1932 for old U.S. Highway 80.

SD&A tracks under Old Highway 80

The border wall with Mexico is about one hundred feet away, with a maintenance gate:

Border wall with gate

I walked over to the gate and had about a million Border Patrol and Homeland Security agents descend on me. After talking with me for a few minutes and looking at pictures on my camera, one officer said into his walkie talkie: “Stand down. Local tourist.” Another officer informed me that with a new car with “paper plates” (temporary plates), I’d probably be stopped several times. I was. Six times in 90 miles.

Note that San Diego County already has built its border wall with Mexico, and we had no help from anyone else, not even Mexico. Thus, we’re not going to help other counties build their walls.

This next picture is of a switch engine marked as Carrizo Gorge Railway 1465:

Carrizo Gorge Railway operated the SD&A tracks between Tecate and Plaster City from 1997 to 2012. This locomotive is tied up in court between Carrizo Gorge Railway and the engine’s owners, the East County Dirt Works. It sits at the old depot in downtown Jacumba where a lot of other rolling stock also sits, deteriorating in the hot desert sun.

Tierra Madre Railway

My goal on my driving tour was to make it to Plaster City CA, which is nothing but a gypsum plant for USG. However, USG operates that last remaining commercial narrow gauge railroad in the United States. Standard gauge tracks like you see every day are 4’8½” between the rails. Narrow gauge tracks can be anything narrower than that; the USG narrow gauge tracks are a mere 3′, making the rolling stock somewhat small compared to the big boys. As we flew over Plaster City in the helicopter, I got a picture of USG 112, a narrow gauge locomotive:

USG 112 at Plaster City CA

And the narrow gauge tracks leading from the gypsum quarry to Plaster City in the upper right:

Plaster City narrow gauge tracks

The flight over the Carrizo Gorge where all the tunnels and trestles are was pretty cool. The main sight in Carrizo Gorge is the Goat Canyon Trestle:

At about 180′ high and 630′ long, the Goat Canyon Trestle is the largest wooden trestle in the world. The trestle was built in 1932 when the tunnel, directly in the center behind the trestle, collapsed. At the left is an abandoned hopper car.

It’s pretty neat to see all the trestles from the air, indicating just how desolate and isolated this area is, and how difficult it is to maintain the tracks.

All along the route are abandoned railroad cars. In some cases it’s obvious why they are abandoned:

The Pacific Southwest Railroad Museum in Campo CA uses the old Campo Depot as its headquarters and has a lot of rolling stock that it is restoring. They offer rides on historic trains over about 5 miles of track, although the rains we have had this winter have, again, washed out some tracks, so those train rides are on hold. Here’s Pacific Southwest Railroad Museum from the air:

Pacific Southwest Railway Museum

Map of the San Diego & Arizona Railroad:

Map of the San Diego & Arizona Railroad

Thanks for stopping by! See you next time!

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Out & About—Stand down. Local tourist

Out & About San Diego

Early in January I went on an exploratory driving tour of East San Diego County, specifically looking for remnants of old, abandoned sections of Old Highway 80 which was built from the 1910s to the 1960s. During the years after World War II, U.S. Highway 80 from San Diego to Yuma AZ was reported to be the most used transcontinental highway. U.S. 80 was removed from the Californnia highway numbering system in 1964 after Interstate 8 had become the major thoroughfare from San Diego to Yuma. By 1991, U.S. 80 had been removed from the highway numbering in Arizona, New Mexico, and the western part of Texas all the way to Dallas. In 2006, what was left of U.S. Highway 80 in San Diego and Imperial counties was designated by the State of California as Historic U.S. Route 80.

My journey:

Driving tour of East San Diego County via Old Highway 80

In the original highway system a two-digit number ending in a zero meant that the road was a cross-country road. Indeed, U.S. Highway 80 had its western terminus as far west as Point Loma in San Diego and its eastern terminus in Tybee Island, Georgia.

The road for automobiles from San Diego to Yuma, Arizona, was the Old Plank Road built from February to April 1915. There still is a section of the road in existence, near Yuma, and it is my intent to get over there soon to see it. Here’s a picture of it from Wikipedia:

Old Plank Road remnants near Yuma, Arizona

The 1915 road was replaced in 1916 by a more sophisticated prefabricated plank road. It was a struggle to maintain it, though, and by 1926 work was underway to construct a concrete/asphalt roadway. Many sections of the concrete/asphalt roadway still are in existence, some still being driven on and others being quite difficult to find or get to.

If we start west and drive east, the first section we come to was built in 1917. The earliest concrete highway is easy to determine because it has no center divider, which you’ll see in upcoming pictures, and appears to be at most about 1½ lanes wide. Here is a section visible on what is now the Viejas Indian Reservation in Alpine:

1917 abandoned section of U.S. Highway 80 on Viejas Indian Reservation in California

There is a cool bridge, the Los Terrinitos Road Bridge, also built in 1917, just a couple of miles from the reservation:

Los Terrinitos bridge built in 1917

I, being the indomitable Russel Ray, had to park and crawl under the bridge. Under-bridges often are more interesting than over-bridges.

Underneath the Los Terrinitos bridge built in 1917

Underneath the Los Terrinitos bridge built in 1917

Once you drive over the bridge, you’re on Old Highway 80 built in 1931. You can see the center divider indicating that it’s the widened version constructed beginning in 1926.

Wildwood Glen

This section of Highway 80 now is called Wildwood Glen Lane. The Wildflower Resort was located here on the old highway. The main house from the resort is still used as a residence. The road goes for about a mile and ends at a gated turnaround. However, you can park your car and walk around the gate and explore another three miles or so of the old highway, overgrown with high desert sage and chaparral.

Gate on Old Highway 80. Park and walk from here.

The panorama below is beyond the gate; I had a lot of fun walking a couple of miles before turning around to stay on schedule.

Old Highway 80 panorama

Each section of highway that was completed each day was date-stamped at both ends. I was able to determine that they poured concrete at the rate of about a quarter mile each day.

Old Highway 80 date stamp

Date-stamped concrete, Old Highway 80

In the picture immediately above, the January 21, 1930 date stamp is wrong. Every other date stamp on this section of Highway 80 was 1931, including January 21, 1931, at the other end of this 1930-stamped section. Well, I guess they could have started this section on January 21, 1930, and finally completed it on January 21, 1931, but I’m thinking, uh, no.

In addition to finding beautiful scenery, I also discovered normally dry mountain streams that were running full of water.

Dead tree in the East San Diego County mountains

In the following picture, you can see Interstate 8 in the upper right. This was about two miles past the gate and where I turned around to go back to my car.

Old Highway 80 and Interstate 8

The next section that is visible is the Pine Creek bridge in Pine Valley, built in 1917. It still is in use as a private entrance to some horse stables.

Pine Creek Bridge, Pine Valley, California

Between Pine Valley and Jacumba Hot Springs are mostly abandoned building ruins. Quite interesting. There are so many abandoned ruins, especially in and around Jacumba Hot Springs, that I will cover them in a future blog post.

Although my tour book, dated 2013, said there were sections of Highway 80 visible or accessible, I was not able to find them in 2017. The next section I found was near Jacumba Hot Springs, a 1931 bridge built on top of a 1916 bridge.

1931 U.S. Highway 80 bridge near Jacumba Hot Springs, California

So, do you think I crawled under the bridge? Uh, der. That’s the only way you can see the remnants of the 1916 bridge!

1931 bridge built on top of a 1916 bridge

I also found another 1931 bridge near Jacumba Hot Springs. This one went over some abandoned railroad tracks of the San Diego & Arizona Railroad, so I stopped to walk the tracks.

Old Highway 80 bridge over abandoned tracks of the San Diego & Arizona Railroad

That spot where I stopped to take that picture is about one hundred feet from the border fence with Mexico, which has a maintenance gate in it.

Border fence with Mexico

I walked over to the gate in the picture, and that’s when every Border Patrol and Homeland Security agent within 100 miles descended on me like flies on dung. I was sure that I was going to be deported….

After explaining what I was doing, they let me go but warned me that being in a new car with “paper plates,” it was likely that I would be stopped several more times this close to the border. They were right. Six times total during my 101-mile trip. While being warned by one officer, another was talking into his walkie talkie: “Stand down. Local tourist.”

The two pictures immediately above were taken on the side of the road nearest to the border. On the other side, while standing on the bridge, were sections of the 1916 road, shown in the following four pictures and easily discernible because there’s no center divider:

Old Highway 80, 1917 version

Old Highway 80, 1917, Jacumba Hot Springs

Old Highway 80, 1917, Jacumba Hot Springs

Old Highway 80, 1917, Jacumba Hot Springs

Out at In-Ko-Pah where the Desert View Tower is (see my blog posts here), there are two long sections of Old Highway 80 right next to Interstate 8. The 1916 section, shown below, is abandoned.

Old Highway 80, 1916 section, In-Ko-Pah

To the right in the above picture is the 1932 section which is still in use. It terminates at the Desert View Tower. In the picture below, in the center of the bridge, you can see the date 1932.

Old Highway 80, 1932 section, In-Ko-Pah

Once you leave the Desert View Tower (if you’re that close to it, stop and take a tour), you’ll get on Interstate 8 and head down into the desert where there are long stretches of both 1916 and 1932 sections of Old Highway 80, as well as track and trestles from the abandoned San Diego & Arizona Railroad.

1932 meets 1916. Interstate 8 in upper quarter, especially upper right.
Old Highway 80, 1932 meets 1916 section, In-Ko-Pah

East of Ocotillo is a long stretch of a 1916 section of Highway 80. The 1932 version is at the left, which is what you drive on through here.

Old Highway 80, 1916 section, east of Ocotillo CA

Old Highway 80, 1916 section, east of Ocotillo CA

Here is a panorama showing the 1916 Highway 80 on the left and the 1932 Highway 80 on the right.

Old Highway 80, 1916 and 1932 sections, east of Ocotillo CA

The currently abandoned San Diego & Arizona Railroad tracks are to the left of the 1916 Highway 80. They look like this:

San Diego & Arizona Railroad tracks east of Ocotillo CA

Hope you enjoyed this driving tour of Old Highway 80 in East San Diego County. I’ll have more driving tours like this coming up in future posts. Stay tuned by following or subscribing.

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