Most photos that run in the paper are of people or have people in them. It’s moslty because the stories are about people or how events affect or will affect them or the readers. Sometimes they’re the main subjects; other times they’re just an accent to the picture.

A few days ago I had an assignment to shoot heavy water flows being released into the Calaveras River from New Hogan Dam near Valley Springs and to photographically follow the river back to Stockton.

On the way to New Hogan Dam, I stopped at the Bellota weir, a small dam in the Calaveras near Escalon-Bellota Road east of Linden. The area is surrounded by a tall chain-link fence, so access is limited. Just as I thought there was no one around so I got a few shots from the road and continued on to Valley Springs.

I have been to New Hogan before and knew that there was a nature trail near the base of the dam where the water is released through the spill gates. Called the “Trail of the Skulls” (Calaveras is the Spanish word for skull) it meanders through oak woodlands and along the river for about a mile or so. But circumnavigating the twists and turns, it’s only about 1/2 mile to the dam as the crow flies. I had hoped that there might be someone along the river either watching the water rush past of perhaps just fishing along the banks. But as I pulled into the parking lot at the trail head, there wasn’t a single car there.

I trudged toward the dam, bypassing most of the trail. As one gets closer to the base of the dam, it gets to be a bit more of a trek. The hillside becomes more steep and where portions of the riverbank have been washed out one has to make detours upward. At the end you have to climb up the hill again only to carefully make your way back down to a retaining wall that separates the river and the shore. Along the whole hike not a single soul could be seen. I got shots from various angles of the water surging out huge pipes at the bottom of the dam, but without a human element it was difficult to gauge the scale of it all.

Finished with my shots, I started back the way I came. About a quarter of the way back I heard voices. I looked ahead and there was a family at the water’s edge watching water gush from the dam. Sue and Ron Massaglia and their son, Chris, of Valley Springs came out to see the releases. We talked for a bit and I got a photo of them watching the water. I made my way back to the car and drove back to Stockton, happy with my luck.

Through experience I knew that the Calaveras River bike trail dips below the bridges that cross the river and that during high flows the path can be covered by the rising water. It was raining by the time I pulled into a small parking lot near the base of the Pacific Avenue bridge and hiked over the levee to the bike trail. Again I thought the likelihood of getting a person in the picture was slim because of the weather and possible flooding of the path. As I got to the top of the levee, I saw that, indeed, the path was covered by the rushing water. Out of the corner of my eye from the left I saw a cyclist. He wasn’t going to use the path but was riding over the bridge.

I wasn’t quite in the right spot for the photo shot. So while walking down the muddy slippery hillside of the levee I simlutaneously pulled my camera out the bag, reset my exposure (it was much cloudier than my last stop) and quickly focused on the scene and shot off several frames. It lasted only a few seconds but I had my shot of a person in the picture.

No amount of hoping and praying will make something happen that isn’t destined to, but when luck happens and fortune is with you, you’ve got to be at the ready to take advantage of it.

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