Frontierland might be becoming my favorite area of Disneyland at Christmas. It’s difficult to pick one because so much of the park makes a magical transformation, but this transformation takes a rather rugged setting and makes it arguably the most cozy. Cozy is synonymous with Christmas for me. It’s the most wonderful and warm time of the year when people open themselves up to ideas like peace, joy and hope. Somehow, I’m able to see all those things wrapped up in an evergreen wreath hanging in the wilderness.
Harvest time at Big Thunder Ranch presents a great opportunity to enjoy vintage Halloween decor and ephemera. It amazes me how things change stylistically over time. The variance from 60 years ago to today is really just the tip of the iceberg for the boundlessness of creativity. I wonder how today’s designs will stack up in 50 or 60 years from now.
Speaking of design, I am loving my new job at UC San Diego. My official title is “Publications Coordinator” but since no one really seems to know what that is, I just go by “Graphic Designer/Photographer”, since that’s what my duties primarily consist of. The best thing about work so far is the quality of people. They are brilliant, talented, welcoming and very much a team. I like being a part of a team. Especially when that team celebrates pie—true story.
The second best part of my new job is that I’m getting to do what I love and be paid well for it. I’m beyond grateful for that. The third best part—and we’ll leave it there for tonight, as this one is borderline gloating from excitement—is that I work on the top floor of a beautiful glass building across the street from the ocean. Every time I step out of my office I am greeted by that endless blue horizon and cool salty air. It breathes life into me.
Now that we’re pretty well settled in, things should get back to normal(ish) around here. We have a lot of cool things we want to work on and share. Thanks for all of your patience and thoughts while Michaela and I made this big transition.
Summer heat is still holding on but the arrival of autumn is imminent. The light is changing. Leaves are beginning to fall. It always seems to be a time of transition that extends beyond the weather. I welcome it with open arms.
Fall on the frontier is such a charming setting at Disneyland. It harkens to harvests and simpler times. As I moseyed around the Frontierland shops last fall, I found myself enamored with these fallen leaves. Their color. Their arrangement. Everything about them.
Naturally, I had a heyday taking photos of them. Standing wouldn’t do. It wasn’t the right perspective so I experimented with squatting and kneeling until finally I found myself nearly prostrate. A couple on a nearby bench seemed to find it quite entertaining and I didn’t mind. I rather enjoy making people smile. As I was on the ground, passersby would make their way around without disturbing the leaves. It was a very light crowd day, so there weren’t many to begin with. That is, until a small group of people came trampling through like wildebeests on a stampede mere inches in front of me.
I was in frustrated disbelief.
It was only a moment before I burst into laughter, joined by the couple on the bench. What else can you do in that situation? The leaves were broken and rearranged into a sloppy mess. The lesson for today — Don’t be a stampeding wildebeest. Take your time and enjoy the little things. Like autumn leaves and photographers doing all manner of strange things to capture them.
Seeing the Mark Twain round the final bend of the Rivers of America as it returns to the Frontierland dock is one of my favorite sights in Disneyland. It’s such a charming, immersive perspective. It always makes me want to hop aboard for a ride.
This photo is one that I processed for our HDR Tutorial. It’s a single RAW file processed as a HDR as opposed to a bracket of 3 images. Sometimes, you only have one shot to go with but I think it turned out pretty nice.
The first night we all shot together at Disneyland was in April 2010. We spent most of the night combing over Rancho del Zócalo, taking it all in. It was a photographic treat to be sure but even without the camera, the restaurant has a truly romantic atmosphere. As rustic or simple as it might seem, every line, surface and curve leads you to discover something new in its complex choreography, making it a real treat to escape to.
We typically visit first thing in the morning or late in the evening. That’s when the light is at its softest and most intimate, which really draws out the details in a unique way. The evening I took this picture was one of the rather few weekday evenings I’ve been to Disneyland. The crowd was light, at least in Frontierland. There was no Fantasmic! showing and Big Thunder Mountain Railroad was still being refurbished. I had this corridor pretty much entirely to myself.
It’s such a good feeling to be able to take your time with a shot rather than having to spend time on it. The difference, of course, being the amount of pressure involved. When you get to take your time, you can sort of sit back and try different things because you know you’ll have another shot. That’s when the truly inspired ideas are able to reach your conciousness and you take pictures of things like doors simply because you find beauty there and you conjure up a story to tell. When you have to spend time on a shot, it means you’ve probably got one chance that you’re patiently waiting for. You’ve got to commit to one idea and you had better nail it when the opportunity presents itself.
Riding the Mark Twain for an evening excursion at Disneyland is one of the Park’s greatest treasures. There is little that’s more romantic than cruising through the Rivers of America on a riverboat at twilight. With the day cooling off, clouds of steam linger in tow like breadcrumbs marking a trail. The lights adorning the boat assume the lead role in illuminating the trip and a gentle glow bathes the surrounding landscapes. The limited amount you hear in that secluded corner of Disneyland consists of little outside the steady turn of water on the wheel, the pilot’s narration, a few blows of the whistle and the enjoyment of fellow passengers. It’s one of the few excursions you can have at the Park that feels like it takes its time. But even with that, it will almost certainly leave you wanting more.
The Country Bear Jamboree has been missing from Walt’s original Magic Kingdom for some time now but there are reminders here and there, like this sign for Big Thunder Ranch. I can still remember the first time I saw it as a child. I was mystified. That was a feeling that began from the moment you entered the queue. I wondered where we could be going, across a stream and deeper into the woods, with music twanging in the distance. It was a trail I was eager to follow. The show was great but, for me, the payoff came when they sang Ghost Riders in the Sky. This little cowpoke was hooked.
It wasn’t meant to be, I suppose. It lost popularity and, in time, was replaced with a different bear singing a different song (No hard feelings, Winnie. I like you and Tigger, too). But I miss it and I don’t know if I’ll ever understand why people fell out of love with Big Al and the gang. Audio-animatronics still blow me away every time (whether I’m in a moving vehicle or not) and it’s hard to imagine anything topping a band of bluegrass bears.
Sometimes, when walking by the Enchanted Tiki Room, with its short lines, I wonder if it will go the way of the Country Bears. I hope that it doesn’t but then, my tastes aren’t always the majority’s.
It is no secret that the Frontierland bridge on the West side of Big Thunder Mountain Railroad is one of our favorite places to shoot photos and to relax. It’s one of the places in Disneyland that immerses you, unable to see outside it to another land that might give cause for disbelief.
For me personally, part of the reason I am so fond of Big Thunder Mountain in general is that it taps into some of my favorite childhood memories. Not memories of Disneyland, however. Memories of Utah.
My grandpa lived in St. George for several years when I was in grade school and my family would visit when we could. The rich red soil stained my white tennis shoes beyond repair. The brilliant blue sky made me wonder if I’d ever really seen the sky before. It was there that I learned to ride a bike (after crashing into a cactus patch).
We always made sure to take in some of the incredible geologic wonders to be found nearby. Zion National Park wasn’t far and Bryce Canyon National Park wasn’t much farther than that. That state and those places were the beginning of a lifelong love affair with our National Parks and as John Muir might put it, anywhere that is wild.
Bryce Canyon, of course, with its amazing hoodoos is a primary inspiration for Big Thunder Mountain (National Geographic has a great article on it featuring Tony Baxter). The first time I saw a sweeping vista of the Bryce Amphitheater, I was floored. There really aren’t words to describe it. Big Thunder, while certainly not as grand, is much the same.
I’m eternally grateful for that time I spent with my parents and my grandpa. You don’t always realize how formative some experiences and the people you share them with can be until you reflect on them. A trip to Utah with Michaela might be in order.