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  • Writer's pictureMichaelHindman

When the Lights Go Down

Over the past couple of days (weeks by the time I actually finish this) I think all of us have had some time to self reflect a bit and look back at things we haven't gotten to, or have forgotten about. As we are all, well most of us, have been doing our part to try and minimize the damage, being stuck at home has some me finally writing some blog posts!

This time has given me an opportunity to revisit some old trips and images that I either, just never got a chance to edit, or simply didn't take the time to see what some images could have become. One trip last year really stood out to me for a bunch of reasons. One, it was the last trip Melissa and I took together before we got Rocky, and two, it pretty much rained the entire time we were there. However, we were able to get one perfect evening on the edge of the massive cinder cone, watching this place transform as the sun casted dusk's shadow over the landscape.

This landscape is simply incredible. It's a crazy mix of volcanic destruction, colorful ash dunes, dense forests and thriving lakes. I haven't explored the vastness of this park yet, but these dunes have been a bucket list item for me for some time. And last August we finally made some time to head up. We arrived later then we had hoped to our campsite and scrambled to set up camp before rushing out. The weather didn't seem like it was going to be much friendlier throughout the weekend, so tonight looked like the only option for good light, and as luck would have it, the only moment of good light our entire trip. We spent the next two days tucked away in the Basecamp playing games as the continuous rain kept us inside. The dunes are only about a mile and half from camp, but it isn't a walk in the park. The first mile plus is a breeze, then you hit the cinder cone. It's about .3-.4 of a mile hike to the top with a 1,600ft vertical gain. IN VOLCANIC SCREE. It's pretty much one step forward and two steps back as you slide backwards with each step you take. But by the time you reach the top you are rewarded with expansive views of the park. The dunes lie on the opposite side of the cone, tucked between it and bolder fields of volcanic debris.

With direct sunlight this place looks flat and forgettable. Pines lay scattered across the dunes, some clustered together, some all alone. But as the sun sets, as the shadows begin to be cast by the cinder cone, these dunes come alive. The metals in the sand begin to reveal its true self, highlighting the dunes' subtle undulations and streaks of colors.

Take your time exploring the patterns within the dunes, finding symmetry with the trees, but move quickly as this place is really light dependent. Different parts of the dunes are also better at slightly different times as the metals react to the amount of light. Be fair warned, atop the cone can get very windy too. Make sure you have a steady tripod and adjust your settings accordingly.

Moving past the softer dunes below the cone you can see the extent of volcanic destruction to the landscape adding to the uniqueness of the place. But, as if the lava was stopped by the trees, the forest eventually dominates the view. Mount Lassen stands tall to the West as mountain ridges poke through the forests in all directions. I had hoped to shoot another sunset from up here, but the weather had other plans for us.

These dunes create endless composition possibilities and endless amazement to me. I have no idea what all the "litter" is all over them. But in soft light, it almost glows. The pines come to life as well, almost like little light catchers within the scene, they seem to glow in the darkness of the dunes below them. Make sure to bring your long lens as most scenes here are at a distance. You aren't allowed on the dunes, and don't be that person that tries, so you'll need to find your comps from the backside trail on the cone.

If you find yourself here, and in all moments with photography, remember to take the time and take in the place in which you are at. Far too often I find myself having to relive moments of a trip through my photos because I didn't remove myself from the viewfinder. And the more places I visit, the more I need to remind myself to do that. I look forward to the next time we make it back to Lassen to explore what the park has to offer.

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