The Road to De Luz

I woke up this morning to a friend pounding on my front door. Why? Because it was such a beautiful day and the clouds were so gorgeous she didn’t want me to miss any of it.

As she said, “You have to go out and shoot!” She was right!

Blue Sky in De Luz

The awesome sky!


And a cool mud puddle! It’s rained the last two days, so a little mud is to be expected.


Backlit Weeds in De Luz

Awesome, awesome light!


Oak Trees in Deluz

The road to De Luz takes you through some of the prettiest oak groves. When I think of Fallbrook, this is what I picture! And there are other trees as well. It’s just the most beautiful road to drive!

Trees in Deluz

Fallbrook Stream and Pico Promenade

Pico Promenade

My new studio sits on the edge of Fallbrook Stream which runs through town. I always seem to end up near water! Growing up our house in Elevado Heights in Vista was on a stream, and we built forts and would play all day down there. It ran year-round, since our neighbors were so fond of watering their lawns and groves, and that water had to go somewhere. My grandmother still lives on a stream up in Idyllwild. My brother lives on Constant Creek here in Fallbrook. My last two homes were right on streams. It’s definitely a recurring theme in my family!

A decade ago the town decided to create a mini park and walking path along the edge of Fallbrook Stream, and the Pico Promenade runs the three blocks from Major Market to my studio on Elder. It’s like a secret haven in the middle of town, and most people drive right by without ever walking it – but if you take the time to stop and get out of your car, it’s a beautiful spot!

Egret in Fallbrook

I wrote yesterday about people coming to my blog expecting to find photos of wildlife, and what do you know, today I saw some! This Egret is just a baby. There’s a huge Egret that spends time every year near my brother’s house, and this one was maybe a third the size of that bird – but he was so incredibly white and just beautiful. And not a bit scared of me. I watched him use one foot to stir up the mud in the stream, and then swoop in with his beak to grab and eat whatever it was he was finding. And he ate a lot of whatever it was – so it must have been good! I was surprised the first time I saw an Egret in Fallbrook – I had no idea they would come so far inland. But I’ve heard since then that they nest in tall trees and feed in shallow water, so Fallbrook is actually a pretty perfect place for an Egret. I think they’re most beautiful in flight, since they’re so long and elegant.

Pico Promenade

Pico Promenade

The light was really pretty this afternoon – it made everything glow.

Pico Promenade

This must be a magical puddle! It was glistening and glowing, and it reminded me of a fairy tale…

Pico Promenade

The old Fruit Packing Plant used to be right on the stream, and this window is part of the new wall surrounding the property. If the entire renovation turns out as pretty as the wall has, the building could be stunningly beautiful.


Bogenvia blooms along the pathway…

Pico Promenade

This last image expresses how I felt today – bright blue skies, and beautiful colors. Everything is right with the world on a day like today!

Fallbrook Today

I drove past a Persimmon orchard today, and was struck by how beautiful the trees look right now – completely laden with fruit.

Fallbrook Persimmon Orchard

My Mom makes the best Persimmon bread, and growing up we always knew at least one friend who had a tree and would have tons of fruit to give away between Thanksgiving and Christmas. But I’d never seen a whole orchard of trees before this week – and it’s a beautiful thing to see!


Just a short distance from this beautiful orchard there’s massive fire damage. But not everything was scorched. This pale purple flower is actually a weed that grows on the side of the road – the official name is Datura, but it’s more commonly known as Angel’s Trumpet. When the bloom opens, they remind me of a Georgia O’Keefe painting. But even a bud like this one is beautiful.

Burned Truck

On Reche Road there used to be an old restaurant or road house or country store or house – I’m not sure what exactly – if it’s been open in the last twenty years, I don’t remember it. And the oak trees and vegetation around it were always so thick, all you could see was the old sign – the building was completely hidden. But whatever it was, the fire a month ago claimed it – all that’s left is the gate, the foundation, a chimney, and two vehicles in the yard. And you can see it all from the road as you drive by.

San Diego County Wildfires 2007

The yellow sign reads, “San Diego County Wildfires 2007, Clean-up Program, Hazardous Materials Assessment and Removal COMPLETE.” I’m assuming the charred paint cans marked with green paint, were placed here by the pros doing the assessment and removal…

Aftermath of the Rice Fire, Fallbrook, California.

Not everything burned. This newspaper box attached to a mailbox melted.

Rice Fire, Fallbrook, California.

Aftermath of the Rice Fire, Fallbrook, California.

Once thriving ivy…

Hazardous material has been removed

Another yellow sign signifying the hazardous material has been removed.

Burned Car

There are a lot of classic and vintage cars in Fallbrook – it’s one of the things were famous for – avocados, classic cars, our hometown Christmas Parade, and oak trees! I wonder if this car was a project car, or if it was beautifully restored, or if it was something in between?

Aftermath of the Rice Fire, Fallbrook, California.

I was amazed to see so much plant life still standing, when the homes are completely gone. This plant may be dying, but it is still standing.

Aftermath of the Rice Fire, Fallbrook, California.

Part of a gate…

Aftermath of the Rice Fire, Fallbrook, California.

There were crews everywhere hauling out debris. About a week ago, my Mom spent a whole day digging through the ashes in this same neighborhood, with a relief group trying to find anything the home owners might want. I was really proud of her. It’s one thing to give money, but to give eight hours of your time to dig through ashes and debris? That’s just really special…

Evolution of the Old Packing Plant

There’s an old fruit packing plant in Fallbrook that I’ve been shooting for years. It was a great big beautiful eyesore. The one area in Fallbrook that could be called truly unattractive, but there was great beauty there too. I was fascinated by it, and shot it often. Some of my favorite shots are below – including a CD cover for a local band.

Fallbrook Fruit Packing Plant in 1996 // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Shot in 1996 – notice the pool of standing water.

Old Fruit Packing Plant // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

Taken at twilight in 1996.

CD Cover for "Raizin' the Rent" by Ces Jacuzzi.
CD cover for Ces Jacuzzi, 1998

Ces Jacuzzi, "Raizin' the Rent"
CD insert for Ces Jacuzzi, 1998

Old Fruit Packing Plant at Night // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

In April of this year I did some night shooting around Fallbrook, and got to the packing house around midnight – the exposure was several seconds.

Old Fruit Packing House in 2007 // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

The property sold recently and the new owner is doing a total renovation. Every time I drive by I get excited by the changes I see. Hopefully soon it will be filled with restaurants and shops – and lots of people! Construction is moving fast at this point, so I went by today to shoot, knowing it might be my last chance to shoot the building in the midst of evolution.

Old Fruit Packing House // Photo: Cheryl Spelts

I’ll miss my favorite eyesore, but I’m excited to see the change!

Temecula, California

I was going through some old images today and found this one and thought I’d share it here. It’s from 2004, in Temecula, California, and was shot on film. Gotta love those clouds!

After the Fire Photo Essay

The day after we were let back into town I wanted to go out and shoot. I’m not the kind of photographer who gets excited over chasing a fire, or documenting the danger – I’m the first one out of town when it gets dangerous! But I am interested in other parts of the whole experience – and I felt a need to go out and make sense of it, with my camera.

The following series is what I got that day. The best of these images are in this week’s edition of the Village News, and one of them was on the front page of the for most of the week after the fire.

Fallbrook Fire
Modern fire engines were parked next to the Firehouse Broiler’s vintage fire truck, as the restaurant hosted the firemen.

Fallbrook Fire
Firemen at the Firehouse Broiler.

Fallbrook Fire
The Taylor family lost their home near Live Oak Park, but they called their meal with friends at the Firehouse Broiler a celebration. They were grateful to be alive and healthy and together.

Fallbrook Fire
The menu board at the Firehouse Broiler read “Thank you to all the Firefighters and Law Enforcement.”

Fallbrook Fire
Ron Johnson from Fallbrook Union High School helps to unload the 300 cots provided by the Red Cross, at the evacuation center at the school.

Fallbrook Fire
Cleaning up at El Parque Restaurant in Live Oak Park. The owners hope to reopen on Saturday.

Fallbrook Fire
The line for Disaster Clean-up Kits and Comfort Kits provided by the Red Cross at the Community Center on Heald.<

Fallbrook Fire
The Red Cross provided hot meals to those in need.

Fallbrook Fire
A hot meal, water, and desert.

Fallbrook Fire

Fallbrook Fire
At the Community Center, “Stromsoe Insurance Agency wants to help you begin the recovery process.” There were four insurance companies with representatives available to talk to home owners.

Fallbrook Fire
Phillis Mischke and Barbara Sacic, who both live in the Valley Oaks Mobile Home Park check to see if their homes are on the list of destroyed homes. Neither one’s home was listed, but Barbara’s home made another list a few days ago, so she was hoping the fact it wasn’t listed now was a good sign.

Fallbrook Fire
“House Doctor, Home Repairs at Disaster Prices”

Fallbrook Fire
Tom Baba of Fallbrook shows Lance Kramer of Laguna Beach that his home is not on the list of destroyed homes.

Fallbrook Fire
Tom Baba is happy to see that there is no red dot marking his property, which means his home in the middle of the burn area is most likely still standing.

Fallbrook Fire
“All American Red Cross Disaster Assistance is Free”

Fallbrook Fire
Red Cross Volunteers distributing Disaster Clean-up Kits at the Community Center.

Fallbrook Fire
The Red Cross handed out bottled water and flavored water to residents at the Community Center.

Fallbrook Fire
Red Cross volunteers outside the Fallbrook Union High School evacuation center.

An interesting note… I’d forgotten when I went out to shoot last Friday, that I’d had a similar reaction after the fire in 2004. That time I got to go back in the morning, and so as soon as I’d cleaned out my freezer and refrigerator – the power was out for a week due to the fire – so yuck! But after I’d cleaned up that mess, and unpacked my car, I felt compelled to go out and shoot. The landscape was blackened and there was devastation everywhere. I shot 3 rolls of film and I found beauty in the damage. I created beautiful shots of charred branches and burned fences. I spent a lot of time crying that day, but ultimately it made me feel better to create beauty from the ruins.

So it strikes me as interesting that I felt the same compulsion this time – to go out and shoot right away – but this time I was compelled to make happy, shiny, comforting images, and last time I shot the devastation. I think both approaches are valid, but definitely very very different.

A Day in Toronto With an iPhone

I spent a day in Toronto at the end of my trip with absolutely nothing planned – my favorite kind of day! I slept in, ordered room service, then hopped on a tour bus and let someone else drive me around the city, while I shot with my iPhone. I had fun playing with movement – the camera doesn’t have any settings to manipulate, but you can still get some fun stuff with moving subject matter.

If you look carefully at the images below, you’ll see when the bus went over a bump – because there’s a funky dip in the sidewalk. Or when other vehicles were moving fast, because the body of the vehicle gets stretched waaaaay out.

It was fun, and I saw a lot that day. I liked Toronto – it reminded me of New York City, and as the tour guide pointed out, that was partially because so much film production happens there, and the city often subs for NYC in the movies.

Toronto photos

Toronto images

Toronto with an iPhone

Toronto, Canada

Bus Tour of Toronto

Transportation in Toronto

Toronto church

People walking in Toronto

Levi Store in Toronto

Estudillo Mansion, San Jacinto, California

The Estudillo Mansion was built in 1885 by Fransisco Estudillo in San Jacinto, California. It’s still the most beautiful home in the town, over 120 years later!

We got a special tour from Dick Kroker, a friend of my grandparents from way way back. He and his wife Del have been involved with mansion for many years, so he was a great tour guide!

Estudillo Mansion Staircase

The staircase is beautiful, but it’s very steep and the railing is really low. The average person one-hundred-years ago was significantly smaller than we are today, but this railing is so low, it makes me wonder if the Estudillo family was even shorter than the norm?

Upstairs are several bedrooms, and if you look in the closets you can see traces of wallpaper from several different decades. This house was a home for many years.

Estudillo Mansion

The old plaster has cracked away in places, and you can see that even though the brickwork on the exterior is even and perfectly aligned, on the interior they used left-over bits and pieces, since they planned to cover it up with plaster anyway. The house was recently retrofitted to withstand earthquakes, but I believe this damage was caused by an earthquake in the past.

Estudillo Mansion

A bit of the past is visible through the flaking paint in the dining room. How far back this goes, I don’t know? Could it be original to the house – or was it added later?

Estudillo Mansion

The fireplace mantle is carved marble – and features two cameos, one on each side. It’s got a dorky little modern screen in front of it now, but I’m sure they’ll eventually remove it and get a more authentic solution in place.

Estudillo Mansion

This interior is of a window on the front of the house. You can see the bricks are more evenly aligned here, and you can see the curved brick-work above the window. On the exterior that curved brick-work is visible in the top photo.

Estudillo Mansion

Estudillo Mansion

Several years ago the wrap-around porch was accidentally destroyed by an overly zealous construction crew. The gingerbread was salvaged and is back in place today, but the columns and porch roof are unfortunately all new construction. Even when a building is well-loved by the community and on the National Register of Historic Places, it’s still at risk as long as there are people who don’t understand the historical significance.

Edited to add: I went back in 2010, and got some really beautiful shots of the exterior – definitely worth checking out!

Paris | 2003

In 2003 I spent a little over a week in Paris…

La Danse, 1868, by Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux, at the Palais Garnier, in Paris.

L’Idylle, 1869, by Eugène-Antoine Aizelin, at the Palais Garnier.

L’Etoile du Soir, 1870, by Louis-Félix Chabaud, one of 22 lamppost sculptures in front of Opéra Garnier.

The Palais Garnier was started in 1861 and completed in 1875, for the Paris Opera, but now is mostly used for ballet.

The grand staircase at the Palais Garnier.

Palais Garnier

Van Dyke over Cyanotype Print of the Musée de Cluny, in Paris, France.

Street in Paris

Street in Paris

Street in Paris

Vanessa in Death Valley

Posted on August 5, 2017

When I took Photography 101 at Palomar College, one of my co-workers at Main Street Cafe in Fallbrook mentioned that her teen daughter had done some modeling, and would be willing to pose for me. We got some lovely portraits that first semester in her back yard, but I wanted more…

So when I signed up for a one-credit class in my second semester that focussed on Death Valley, I wanted to do something different than just shoot sand dunes. I had this wild idea to bring a model. And of course I wanted it to be Vanessa!

She was maybe seventeen? And I was so inexperienced–she was my first portrait, my first model, and this trip to Death Valley was my first fashion session. I designed a gold lamé bikini, and a taffeta skirt with a net overlay, and I brought lengths of white gauzy fabric to drape on her. And she brought a huge suitcase with practically her entire wardrobe. We made plans to shoot with exotic makeup, and to go as high fashion as we could. While I can certainly see the faults in these images, for a novice photographer shooting slide film at dawn in the desert? And for a model who was still in high school? We certainly both had potential, and we had a lot of fun experimenting!