The Beach Bucket List: Victoria Beach

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Last week, when I was researching beaches for my photoshoot, I came across a this article listing the top beaches in Laguna Beach. I’d been to many of them but I couldn’t say I know much about them other than random visits back in the 90’s when I was a bikini-babe following Toby around.

I decided it should be my duty to get to know all the local beaches. I mean, I live here, right??! It’s a crime to live here and not be an expert. What if someone came to visit and I didn’t know which street to take to get to this or that beach? What if there was a perfect place to watch the sunset or some little known cave or secret passageway that I could show others as the tour guide to their adventure?! I love adventure. And there is no time like a pandemic to do some outdoor research fun. In fact, it’s pretty much the only thing we can do for fun.

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I wrote down all the beaches on our family wipe-board and informed the family that this was our new bucket list. One by one we’ll knock them off our list and become beach experts. That’s the plan! We’ll see how it goes.

The family was mildly interested.

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The first beach we decided to visit was Victoria Beach. I love this beach. I’ve been to it ages ago and waded in the little cement pool that sits at the base of a pirate tower. Bug even found some old pictures of me:

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Look at me being all Skinny Minnie back then. Can you believe I hated my body back then too? What a complete waste of time.

When we visited this last weekend, the concrete pool was still there but it wasn’t holding water. Maybe it still does when the tide is high. I’ll have to check back and see. When we were there the tide was out but sloshing in and around the many tide pools in the rock outcroppings.

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The water rushesd in and out between little rocky crags. Payam is a true risk taker and took a few leaps from rock to rock while the rest of us decided to avoid danger in favor of a longer but more safe route around these crags. Payam must have been a billy goat in a former life.

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I was so happy to read about the history of the tower that Victoria Beach is known for. I’ve wondered about it forever. It turns out it’s just a spiral staircase that some wealthy person built from their private property estate at the top of the cliff down to the water. It’s not an actual bootlegger passageway, pirate tower or private room for Rapunzel… It’s also locked because it can get filled with water when the tide is high and become dangerous. We rattled the lock and admired the old-timey decoration on the iron gate.  It’s pretty cool to explore around it though and imagine the fun they used to have hiding pirate booty for kids… I’m sure it’s shown up in many whimsical and majestic photoshoots.

What fascinated me the most about Victoria Beach this time was the rocky ledges and the cascading dripping waterfalls.

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It was like Niagara Falls in miniature. Or maybe some other famous waterfall that I don’t know the name of. Anyway, I spent a lot of time trying to photograph these drippy waterfalls.

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Photographing a bright sky and dark rocks with shadows is tricky. It’s like you have to choose to make the sky look great or the murky shadowy parts great and blow out the sky. You can never really get both at the same time. Though I tried. Later with photoshop I cranked up the shadows and down on the highlights to get most of these shots. Right out of my camera they were mostly silhouettes.

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My supreme goal in this beach research project is basically to hunt for the perfect golden hour/sunset shot. It’s kind of like bird-watching or shopping at thrift stores looking for that perfect leather jacket that Brad Pitt in Fight Club. I’m basically a hoarder/collector/hunter-gatherer but instead of hunting for stuff, I hunt for photos. This is a win in my book because I don’t have space for stuff! But photos on the other hand can be collected forever. In face I have so many that I share them here and forget about them! Anyway, I digress.

The thing about beaches at sunset is you never know what you are going to get. Some days seem like they will have the most glorious sunsets ever and the sun sets in an ordinary yellow-white boring sky with very little fanfare. While other days can be dreary and turn into the most amazing jaw-dropping displays of oranges, pinks and purples that seem so bright you can’t even believe they are real. You just have to wait and see what you get. I suppose some weather forecasters and photographers have figured out the geometry and necessary cloud placement for a good golden hour sunset but it’s beyond me. To me it’s just a fun gamble.

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While Payam and I settled in for a nice wait for the sun to do it’s thing as it lowered, the kids scrambled around on the rocks, played in the water and explored.

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Some of us thought that sixty degrees was plenty warm enough to wear a bathing suit.  Fashion before comfort, and all that. I can’t really bag on Bug and her swimwear too much though because after you got used to the chill of the water, it was actually quite warm and invigorating. My blood is thin though and I like to stay clothed.

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The sun came and went and golden hour was captured. It wasn’t anything crazy but it was still beautiful and hit all my golden hour necessities.

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We came, we saw, we took photos of the sunset.

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It was yellow and white with a few dramatic effects when the sun went behind some clouds and turned the frothy waves into golden pools.

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Until next time! I wonder what beach will be next.

Desert Girl at Heart

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I’ve lived in the desert most of my life but I have never actually visited Joshua Tree National Park before.  I’ve seen plenty of Joshua Trees in my travels along the side of the freeway but that’s not the same at all. And you know what’s even better than visiting the park? Actually staying overnight there.

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Technically we didn’t stay in the park but we were really really close. Payam and I were super lucky to be invited to stay in a really nice airbnb near Pioneertown. It was a dream come true for me. Right outside the doors of this modern little fortress to the sun were miles and miles of desert. Nothing but rocks and cacti and Joshua Trees as far as the eye could see. The magic of actually staying here is that I could follow the light. There was no rush to catch golden because I was there all day. I could watch the light move across the landscape and paint pictures along its way. The light is what really makes the desert beautiful.

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The desert is very inhospitable. It’s spiky-sharp, harsh and dry. Not anywhere you want to be in the summer when it’s 120 degrees and the sun beats down relentlessly…

In winter, however, the desert is BEAUTIFUL! It’s a sunny 60 degrees, almost chilly but the sun warms your back like a cozy blanket. Just like the ocean, the desert commands respect with its vastness. You really feel how small you are and how desperate you would be if you were stranded without food and water. It makes you pause.

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We were far from stranded. Even though our airbnb seemed quite remote there were other houses dotting the landscape all around us. They just blended in. I have to give desert-dwellers credit for choosing color palettes that match their environment.

The first morning we were there I woke up early and rushed outside to scout around. You can imagine my surprise when I scaled a small rocky hill behind our airbnb and found this little gathering of blue chairs, glowing in the morning twilight!

It was a bit disconcerting to stumble across remnants of others when you thought you were all alone.  I worried that I might be trespassing but then I though, Eh, they can’t be that mad at me. Obviously we must be kindred spirits with the choice of blue chairs and all… The desert seems to attract artsy sorts.  I could definitely live here. It’s just the flooding and the 120 degree heat I’m not so sure about.

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On the other hand, I did not feel like I was very welcome when I crouched under this cholla bush to take a picture and a large thorn pieced the soft sole of my Ugg boots like it was slicing through butter. My foot was fine but it reminded me that I was far off the path. That’s what you get for stealing photos! the bushes seemed to say, laughing at me. Get back on the trail, city slicker!

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I love this rust-colored sage flower. All the plants remind me of something out of a Dr. Seuss book. They are almost surreal in how different they are from the flora where I live. There weren’t any wildflowers out yet but I got the feeling they were just around the corner. I’d love to come back here in Spring, that is if everybody else isn’t planning to be there too. I hear it can be quite over-touristed.

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So we took advantage of it not being busy and Payam and I hiked all over. It was all so pretty.

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Inhospitable but pretty. Good thing I wore my army boots!

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No cozy wooded meadows here!

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We scrambled over rocks and took pictures of each other pretending to be King of the Mountain.

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Or in my case, a little field mouse hiding in the rocks.

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Rocks and more rocks… Have you seen those posters making fun of bad yelp reviews of National Parks? Nothing to see here but a bunch of rocks!

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But how magical are all these rocks?!!! If you look close enough you can see tiny people scrambling up the sides of them.

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They are so tiny they reminded me of the miniature photography of Tanaka Tatsuya . Check out the rope walker above.

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The morning light and the evening light was the prettiest. But the strong harsh shadows of mid-day also played at my imagination.

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In the middle of the day old dead tress threw black spidery shadows against soft sandstone. And then as the sun slowly set again, the light softened into dreamy atmospheric shades of sunset. We didn’t get any crazy magnificent colorful sunsets but that didn’t bother us at all.

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Soft subtle sunsets sooth the soul just as well when you have the luxury of not having to do anything but enjoy them.