I was skimming through some photos and saw one of the moon I liked. It made me see what others I had shot over the years. I used to shoot the moon a lot when we lived in Chicago but haven’t done so much since. One shot is from California as the moon was setting over the hills while the sun was coming up. Others have involved cloudy nights that make for unusual shadows. I also decided to make a bit of an edit to one of the shots based on a picture I saw on someone’s shelf on a video I was watching. One for the Star Wars fans out there.
You can’t have Highland Games without having the pipes and drums. A large array of bands had turned up to compete. There was a small arena in which they would perform their routine while a group of judges would walk around and score them on whatever is considered important in these competitions. The pipes would play, the drums would drum, they would change formation and the drummers would wave their sticks around. It was all good fun.
Teams had traveled from all over the place. Some had come from Canada. While they were waiting their turn, they would find a space nearby and run through their performance. It was often more fun to walk amongst the groups while they were doing this and see what they were up to. It is slightly more amusing to look at people dressed up in highland clothing – clothes that are designed for use in the Scottish climate – while they are in the California sun. I imagine they were roasting.
A focus of the Highland Games in Pleasanton was the traditional sports thought of when you use the term Highland Games and the most famous of these is tossing the caber. The event took place on the finish straight of the horse racetrack. Everyone stood in the grandstand while the athletes did their best on the track. (This did mean that the barrier was in the way of most of the shots.)
The guys taking part were some big fellas. The goal is to flip the pole end over end. They get a run up going – no mean feat while balancing a large pole by one end – and then heave it in to the air. The pole is tapered and they hold the thinner end so the thicker end hits the ground and, if there is enough momentum, the thinner end will arc up and over. This is not easy to do and the guys were having a lot of trouble. I think we came in at the end of the competition so probably missed some of the earlier (and presumably easier) throws. The celebration when they made it was something in itself. I don’t think I would like to get on the wrong side of any of these guys.
Alameda County Fairgrounds in Pleasanton are home to more than just the Alameda County Fair. They also held the Highland Games. This was a mix of Celtic sports and other rural activities from the UK. Part of that included some sheep dog trials. A variety of owners and their dogs took turns in herding a group of sheep around a variety of obstacles and in to a pen – all done against the clock. I love watching sheepdogs at work. They are so controlled in the way they move and keep the sheep where they want them. We have seen them in action for real while in the UK and they really do know what they are doing.
In a more controlled environment such as a show like this, things are a little different. There are people all around them and you can’t help but wonder whether the sheep are beginning to learn the routine after a while. Then again, I have crossed paths with sheep on the hills and they really are the dopiest of creatures so expecting them to learn is probably a stretch. My favorite pose for the dogs is when they are crouched down on the ground waiting for the next sign to move. They look so intent.
The Altamont Commuter Express or ACE is a train that runs from Stockton to San Jose each day. It brings commuters from inland to the Bay Area and Silicon Valley stopping off en route to pick up and drop off passengers. It only runs on weekdays so I never normally see them operating although I have visited their team for work in the past. However, they do run special services when the 49ers are playing at home.
I decided to head out one Sunday when the train was due. I occasionally need shots of trains for work proposals and presentation usage so thought I should get some stock shots. There is a crossing south of Pleasanton that I went to. You get a good view of the train as it approaches. I set up with one camera and had a second with a wider lens closer to the crossing with a remote. Sadly, despite my testing, I had pulled the plug on the remote slightly out by mistake and it didn’t fire. However, I did get the main shots I was after.
We live to the east of some hills that border the San Francisco Bay area. On a number of occasions when I have been heading to the bay, I have seen the moon setting over the hills and thought that it would make a good shot. Of course, at those times I either don’t have the camera or I am not in a position to take a picture. I regularly use an app on my phone called The Photographer’s Ephemeris that gives information on sun and moon angles for any location. The shot I was after was to have the full moon setting behind the hills just after sunrise with the early light on the hill tops.
This happens once a month but having it occur when I am not constrained by work requirements is a different thing. It turned out, though, that the combination I was after was going to occur on the morning of Thanksgiving. Excellent. Of course, did I remember to set an alarm? Nope. I woke up and realized I had missed it. The following day the conditions were similar but an hour later. I decided to give it a go anyway. The result is not quite what I wanted but it is okay. However, the sun was way too high by the time the moon hit the tops of the hills. I will definitely try and do this again some time.
Aside from the bike jumping and the pig racing, the rest of the Alameda County Fair was fun to look around. One thing a fair like this has (other than a ton of things to eat) is livestock. We wandered through the halls to see the various animals that were competing (although they didn’t seem terribly aware that they were competing). There were plenty but here are a few of the cuter ones!
I have posted about the County Fair already. Another favorite of the fair is pig racing. This is exactly what it sounds like. A small course is set out with a starting gate in one corner and a series of little jumps around the horseshoe shaped track to a finish line. The piglets and lined up in the gate and released and they charge around the course leaping over the hurdles as they go.
This is a very popular event and I suspect Nancy was a little embarrassed by my enthusiasm for it. Getting a good view was tricky since a lot of people had got their kids to the front and it would have been unseemly to try barging my way passed the children. I took some shots over the top with a certain amount of guesswork and some people left before the last races so I could get a better view for those.
Alameda County Fair is a pretty substantial event and it is held in Pleasanton, a short hop from our home. It runs for a few weeks so we made the effort to get down there during one weekend. It was a hot day but a nice one. There were a number of cool things to see and I shall have some further posts coming up. However, the first post deals with the first thing we saw when coming in the gate. Three motocross riders were performing jumps to entertain the crowd and they were certainly being successful.
When I first took a look at the small area cordoned off for them and the size of the ramps, I figured that things might be quite toned down compared to something like the X-Games stuff you see on TV. I am sure it was a lot less aggressive but I was still very impressed with what they could do. They got phenomenal height from a short run and were able to carry out some quite dramatic moves while airborne.
Initially I sat in the bleachers to watch but, as soon as it became clear how good they were, I got down to ground level to move around and get a variety of shots. (It also happened that they were jumping again as we went to leave so I managed a few extras then. Forget good planning. Go with luck!)
Each guy would do a number of jumps individually. They would be off the bike and contorting themselves in all sorts of ways or back flipping the whole thing. One crowd favorite was the Captain Morgan pirate pose in midair which did look cool. The grand finale involved all three of them coming up the ramp in sequence and providing a stream of tricks together. That was quite something.
Bit by bit, I am seeing more of the local area in our new home. We have been to Pleasanton a few times and it has cropped up in the blog before too. We were recently there for a spot of lunch and decided to have a wander around before heading off to our next task. A sign showed the way to the Firehouse Art Center. As you might imagine, this is located in an old firehouse. The building has undergone significant restoration and modification it appears.
Time was not on our side to go in and have a look around but the lovely day made a quick external recce worthwhile. The building looks very nice and there is a great sculpture of an artist at work outside. It is surrounded by some nice grounds and it looks like a pleasant place to relax if you had a book handy on a nice day.
Heading back to the car, I couldn’t help myself but grab a quick shot of the gas station in town. This has such a nice throwback feel to it, it had to be done. All of these were just shot with the phone but they give a little bit more of a feel for the area.