Fort Ross, California

On the wild, rugged coast of Northern California sits an unexpected historic site, a fort and trading outpost founded by Russian settlers in the early 1800’s. At a time when the colonial and enterprising interests of the Spanish, British and American nations were converging on the region, and Mexico also laid claim to Alta California, the Russian-American Company sought to establish settlements in a part of the region populated only by the Kashaya Pomo Tribe, from whom the Russians negotiated the purchase of the land for Fort Ross.

 

I grew up in nearby Petaluma, California and have fond memories of visiting the Fort Ross State Historic Park as a child. The most active years of the fort ended in the mid 1800’s, but I always found the buildings, walls, and grounds to feel as if the history of the region was not quite so distant.

 

While driving North along Highway 1, it was a spontaneous decision to visit the park on a late summer afternoon. The path from the visitor’s center winds through a pine forest, down along a creek and past a grove of eucalyptus, then across a clearing to the entrance of the fort.

 

It was a quiet day on this visit, and I spent some time exploring the buildings and various vantage points throughout the settlement.  Hawks circled over the forested hills while the ocean crashed below the nearby cliffs. When the Russians landed in the area, they found a landscape rich with resources and agricultural opportunity. The Russian-American Company found lucrative fur-trading too, but their activities along with those of the Spanish, American and British fur traders decimated the sea otter population that has only recently been able to recover, with the aid of extensive conservation work.

 

My favorite structure at Fort Ross is the lovely little Russian Orthodox Chapel. It is not entirely true to the original chapel design, as the structure was once modified for use as a stable, knocked down by the 1906 earthquake, and after being reassembled,  destroyed by an accidental fire in 1970. Still it is a striking space, full of texture and interesting architectural design.

 

Interestingly, the current upkeep and operation of Fort Ross State Historic Park is funded by a Russian entrepreneurial company, and in 2012 an unofficial delegation of the Kashaya traveled to Russia. Restoration work and research of the site continues, and this will continue to be a wonderful place to visit, highly recommended as an educational picnic spot on the Sonoma coast of California.

As I left Fort Ross on this visit, I glanced at the ground below the West-facing wall, and spotted the feather of a Red Tail hawk in the red and gold fallen leaves of a giant eucalyptus tree. Despite the history of active settlement and now steady-stream of visitors, Fort Ross is still an outpost in the wilderness, and if one pauses to take it all in, it seems almost possible that time here stands still.

 

To see the full set of my Fort Ross, California photographs visit apkphotography.com – many of these images are available as Open Edition Prints and for editorial licensing.

Pigeon Point Lighthouse, California

Blustery, stormy skies and tempestuous crashing ocean waves are the perfect backdrop for a lighthouse and all of the history it represents. I’d driven past Pigeon Point Light Station State Historic Park dozens of times, passing by while driving the scenic and dramatic Highway 1 along the central coast of California. After years of admiring this picturesque spot from a distance, I decided on a rainy afternoon to pay a visit.

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Raindrops on the camera lens frame a stormy ocean horizon, Pigeon Point, California

The lighthouse was built in 1871 and is now a designated California Historical Landmark. The land on which it is built, and thusly the lighthouse station are named after a shipwrecked vessel, the Carrier Pigeon. The fresnel lantern is no longer in use, and is instead displayed in the visitor’s center, housed in the fog signal building.

The lighthouse itself is now closed to visitors due to structural concerns, and while attempts to fund restoration are underway, it could be decades before the view from the tower can again be enjoyed by the public.

The lighthouse keeper’s housing now serves as a youth hostel, offering a unique waypoint for travellers along the California coast. As with many such natural promontories in this part if the world, whale-watching and general wildlife viewing can be particularly accessible. In the spring, I have seen the surrounding shoreline covered in swaying meadows of yellow wildflowers, and in the winter passing storms paint the sky and ocean surface with moody colors and constantly shifting textures.

On any roadtrip along this stretch of coast, a stop at the Pigeon Point Light Station State Park is highly recommended. It is free, informative, and beautiful. On Saturday, November 18th 2017, a celebration of the 145th anniversary of the light station is being held, offering tours, music and various activities. For more information about the state park visit the California Parks & Recreation website and to see more of my photos from the lighthouse grounds, visit the archive at APK Photography.

Road-trippin’

Big Sur bound, originally uploaded by A.p.K.

Having long believed that the journey is the destination, I am as much a fan of the act of traveling, as I am a fan of actually arriving in a new place.

Last weekend was a marathon roadtrip though, through a landscape altogether strange to me – Southern California – and I returned home with a mountain of images depicting an arid, hazy landscape dotted with bold and incongruous human developments. I am mesmerized by landscape photography in general, and many photographers have done an incredible job of cataloging the environments and horizons that shape our lives. In my own work, I am gradually exploring those familiar themes of human endeavour vs. an ever-changing geography. The landscapes of the American west, and California in particular, are close to my heart and I hope to further explore our relationship with the magnificent and daunting terrain here at the edge of a continent.

This weekend, I will be back on the road, this time to spend barely 36 hours in the high-mountain deserts of Southern California. Traveling from the soft hills and cool climate of the coast, across the vast Central Valley blanketed by orchards and agriculture, and then up to 4000 feet where the plants are all spiny and the rocks jagged, my camera will likely spend the entire trip in my lap, ready for any tantalizing cast of light across the passing landscape.

I have some very specific shots I’d like to attempt once I reach my destination, but even if they are complete failures, I’ll have immensely enjoyed the journey…

My collection of Roadtrip Photography can be found here, prints and licensing available.