Eden Landing Redux

September 26th, 2014 by Cris

Salt Pond E12 managed pond project

Old textures blend with new in the flats just south of Eden Landing (Salt Pond E12).

Go back 150 years or so and Eden Landing held a prominent place in the East Bay cultural landscape. Here topography and entrepreneurship combined to provide a boat landing on Mt. Eden Creek that served as one of the area’s central cargo hubs. By the end of the 19th century the railroad era had arrived and Eden Landing, like others, faded into obscurity. Later yet, Mt. Eden Creek itself disappeared as diking for salt ponds transformed the landscape. Up until a few years ago Eden Landing Road terminated in a barren plain of fallow salt ponds.

Eden Creek bridge

Mt. Eden Creek – newly restored in this 2008 view. Six years ago Salt Pond E12 (upper right) was a barren plain.

This has been a landscape in transition for over a century and happily the transformation continues as the area around Eden Landing has been designated the Eden Landing Ecological Reserve, part of the larger South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project. Within the last few years large swaths of disused salt ponds have been returned to tidal flow, other areas have been transformed into shallow ponds managed as wildlife habitat, and the creek itself has been restored to tidal flow. Eden Landing Road once again terminates at a navigable channel.

Salt Pond E12 managed pond project

Salt Pond E12, newly subdivided, as seen from across Mt. Eden Creek (view toward south).

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Alvarado Wastewater Treatment Plant

September 25th, 2014 by Cris

Alvarado Wastewater Treatment Plant

A vertical panorama of the plant.

As I begin a new season of photography in South San Francisco Bay I have a list of a couple dozen subjects to visit. Some of these are new requests and some are locations that I photographed in previous years. One interesting request was to photograph the Alvarado Wastewater Treatment Plant in Union City, California. The idea was to document an example of urban infrastructure lying adjacent to the South Bay salt ponds, a relationship made somewhat tense by the prospect of sea level rise and attendant issues of flood control.

Alvarado Wastewater Treatment Plant

A horizontal panorama showing the flats stretching to the Coyote Hills.

On a pleasant Sunday afternoon I was photographing near Salt Pond E7 when I noticed the light over near the water treatment plant was starting to look pretty good. This was late in the day and as a large bank of clouds descended from the north it was clear that the light would soon turn bland. Even with the prospect that the light would fade I pulled my kite down, packed up, and headed toward the plant fingers crossed. Arriving 10 minutes later I went through a speed drill to get the kite and then the camera aloft. I was able to get a few nice images of the plant just as the last few patches of sunlight headed south and my Galen Rowell moment passed. It was then time to pack up and go home.

Alvarado Wastewater Treatment Plant

… and there goes my pool of light.

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Salt Ponds E12 & E13 revised and revisited

September 11th, 2014 by Cris

The days grow shorter as summer draws to an end. This must come as something of a relief to the Snowy Plovers, Terns, Avocets, and other bayland birds as it marks the end of their long nesting season. It a relief to me as well because with the end of nesting season my Special Use Permit (nicely up to date) allows me to photograph more broadly in the South Bay wildlife refuge. In celebration, I had a coordination meeting this week with the managers of the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project followed by a photography session in the Eden Landing Ecological Reserve.

Construction at Salt Pond E13

Construction site for a new flow control structure between Mt. Eden Creek and Salt pond E13.

Eden Landing has seen rapid change during the last few years. Last year my photographs showed a large construction project to subdivide Salt Ponds E12 and E13 into an array of smaller managed ponds. These are to be kept at various levels of salinity, as though salt evaporation ponds, but with the goal of providing habitat rather than producing salt. The array of new ponds covers what was a bare plain five years ago in which one could see the faint traces of many 19th century salt ponds of a similar scale. I am interested in seeing how the landscape develops. Will the 19th century traces still be readable after the 21st century construction?

Salt Ponds E12 & E13 revised

Newly subdivided ponds with islands for roosting in the area that was once Salt ponds E12 and E13.

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Regarding kites

September 10th, 2014 by Cris

I often explain the role of kites in our KAP pursuits with a golf analogy. Here our kites are like golf clubs. The golfer gauges distances and obstacles then selects a club to fit the circumstance. We can do the same with kites. I suspect it is devilishly difficult to play a round of golf with one or two clubs and so it is with KAP as well. I routinely take eight or nine kites with me in the field ranging from my ever so delicate Peter Bults Maxi-Dopero with light carbon frame to the tough-as-an-alley-cat Paul’s Fishing Kite for the high Beaufort numbers (more here). This allows me to select just the right kite for the wind and my 1.6Kg dSLR payload.

I have both the Sutton 30 and a lightweight 8′ Rokakku in the quiver and do not think of them as particularly interchangeable. The Rokakku, part of a three pack of Rokkakus I’ve sewn, is framed with lightweight SkyShark P400 spars and used in very light winds (4 – 9 mph as measured on the ground). On one occasion using the 8′ Rok I found myself flying the Canon Rebel far out over Salt Pond A23 when there was not enough wind at ground level to spin the little propeller of my little Kestrel anemometer. The kite and camera were just barely hanging in the air but hang they did. There is no way the Sutton 30 would have flown in those conditions.

View across Salt Pond A23 to Mission Peak

Late in the day – looking toward Mission Peak over Salt Pond A23

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Show & Tell

August 12th, 2014 by Cris

I have a few presentations coming up on the Saltscapes work.

August 14 – I will present as part of the Armchair Travelers program at the Livermore Public Library Civic Center on Thurs., Aug. 14 from 1:30 to 2:30 p.m.

My work on display at Helix
My work on display at Helix.

August 22 – I am on the program of Structure & Formation, an evening event hosted by Helix by Exploratorium and Silicon Valley Nexus. Friday, August 22, 6pm-8pm

October 2 – I will be making two presentations to photography students at Berkeley High School.

February 7 – It is a ways off but early next year I am a guest author at the annual Berkeley Public Library Foundation Authors’ Dinner. Saturday evening February 7, 2015 at Berkeley’s beautiful landmark Central Library.

Progress at Salt Pond A21

July 22nd, 2014 by Cris

I have been photographing Salt Pond A21 since 2006. This was the year that Salt Pond A21 and its neighbor, Salt Pond A20, were returned to tidal flow. The two ponds flank the abandoned hamlet of Drawbridge and their construction in the middle of the last century must have hastened the decline of that community. In 2006 large gaps were cut in the ponds’ levee along Coyote Creek and once again the tides visit twice a day.

Salt Pond A21 in 2006

A photograph of Drawbridge from my first session there in 2006.

During the first couple of years following the breach, the pond’s bottom was a bare plain of gypsum, leftover deposits from the solar evaporation process used to concentrate brine. Before long the pond bottom softened with a thin deposit of sediment and here and there started to take on the mudflat colors associated with a thin biological film. Then the first vegetation arrived, colonizing the highest ground of the pond bottom – the raised ridges of former marsh channels and the lip of the perimeter borrow ditch.

Salt Pond A21 - July 2014

This view of Salt Pond A21 shows the same area of Salt Pond A21 but from the other side looking toward Drawbridge.

For several years I made two or three trips out to Salt Pond A21 to photograph a specific area of the pond as it experienced these changes. That series of photographs continued until December 2012 when the footbridge providing access to the A21 levee finally rotted out so much that a crossing became unwise.

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A visit to Drawbridge

July 22nd, 2014 by Cris

In July 2014 I made my way out to Drawbridge for the first photography session since December 2012. It was fun to be out there again. The vegetation in Salt Pond A21 has really expanded in recent months – the pond is starting to look like a marsh.

Drawbridge, California - July 2014

Drawbridge in a view taken near sunset


As for Drawbridge, it continues to return to the earth. Each year seems to bring a bit more graffiti adorning an ever-smaller stock of ruined buildings. This year seems unusual in that there is a new network of paths connecting the buildings, many of which have planks laid on their bottoms to help during the higher tides.

Drawbridge, California - July 2014

New paths are quite evident in this view.

I note in the photographs that the curve-topped end wall of the old Gordon Gun Club has fallen over. It stood for about 125 years as this building was the second structure built in Drawbridge.

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Saltscapes reviewed

May 29th, 2014 by Cris

Saltscapes cover

Saltscapes, my book on the South Bay salt pond landscape, is being reviewed here and there.

Lyra Kilston, writing for the Wired RAW Files, conducted a thorough interview before publishing Wired’s review.

“Benton has explored the South Bay with a deft eye and a historian’s ardent curiosity. His images may be as abstract as mid-century paintings, but they double as aerial archeology, revealing the borders of former evaporation pools, a defunct rail line, and the remains of cabins inhabited at the turn of the last century. The book presents a fascinating overview of the evolution of the local salt industry, including the origins of the conservation movement Save the Bay, and the encouraging collaboration between the Cargill salt plant and wetland restoration efforts.”

Kenneth Baker, writing for the San Francisco Chronicle, kindly associated my work with the fine precedents set by  Thomas Heinser, Robert Hartman and the late William Garnett.

“Benton’s technique is as specialized and challenging as it sounds. The indirectness of his process, and his eye for editing the images he captures, restore some sense of the creative difficulty dissipated by the digital revolution’s having put a camera in everyone’s pocket.”

Kathleen Gerard, writing for Shelf Awareness, selected Saltscapes as a non-fiction book of the year (a starred review).

“Benton’s striking photographs visually engage our spatial sensibilities and illustrate exciting, fresh perspectives of a largely unexplored American territory in restorative transformation.

Berkeleyside, my local news outlet, featured a nice spread on the work in the form of an illustrated interview with Tracey Taylor.

The kite aerial photography community weighed in via pleasant and energetic reviews of the book on Amazon. Thanks to all who submitted a review!

A tiny, tiny exhibit

April 24th, 2014 by Cris

A tiny, tiny exhibit

Back in January I led a KAP field excursion to the Alviso Weep for Megan Lee of the Children’s Discovery Museum in San Jose. Megan is a leader for the museum’s Discovery Youth Science Community Identity group. A few of my KAP images from the day earned a bit of wall space as part of the programs annual summation. Patti Workover kindly sent this image my way.

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Bush Past Prime revisited

April 17th, 2014 by Cris

A few years back I hiked out to Salt Pond E2C for a round of photographs. This is a small pond near Turk Island. I discovered on that initial visit that it had been recently connected to the tides via a set of culverts that connected to the Alameda Creek Flood Control Channel. The pond bottom offered interesting textures and I was particularly taken with the skeletal remains of a dead bush.

One photograph of the bush made it into my portfolio with the title “Bush Past Prime.” This was during the previous presidential administration and I avoided the title “Dead Bush” thinking it might get the NSA in a tither.

Bush Past Prime revisited

A couple of weeks ago I had the occasion to hike back out to Salt Pond E2C where I found and photographed the remains of that same dead bush. The pond bottom has changed texture (sediment!) and there are a few channels developing here and there to carry the tidal flow. The bush is still quite dead. The most startling observation is that it has been 100 months since the original photograph.

Tempus fugit.

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