Upcoming Presentation in the Coachella Valley

Written by Alpenglow Images on April 20th, 2017

Next Tuesday, April 25, I’ll be the guest speaker at the Coachella Valley Desert Camera Club’s (CVDCC) monthly meeting. The topic of my talk will be two-fold; I’ll be talking about a sense of place in landscape photography, and the importance of connection to place now, perhaps more than ever. I’ll also talk about the impacts that we have as landscape photographers, and leave an open-ended question regarding what we can do to reduce our collective footprints.

It should be a fun night; I’ll be showing several new images as well as a few old favorites. I also look forward to a lively discussion of these topics. If you’re in the area (or if you already plan on attending the meeting) I’ll look forward to seeing you there!

When: April 25, 2017, 6pm

Where: Portola Community Center, 45480 Portola Ave, Palm Desert, CA 92260

whimsical sandstone formations of little finland in gold butte national monument

 

Anatomy of a desert storm

Written by Alpenglow Images on April 10th, 2017

“Let me say this before rain becomes a utility that they can plan and distribute for money. By “they” I mean the people who cannot understand that rain is a festival, who do not appreciate its gratuity, who think that what has no price has no value, that what cannot be sold is not real, so that the only way to make something actual is to place it on the market. The time will come when they will sell you even your rain. At the moment it is still free, and I am in it. I celebrate its gratuity and its meaninglessness.” – Thomas Merton, from Raids on the Unspeakable


Here in the desert southwest, we’re coming off an amazing winter of rain. The color green seems a color more appropriately likened to Ireland than the Mojave Desert, but the grass popping up between very happy creosote and salt bush doesn’t tell any lies: it was a good winter. The big, soaking storms are long gone as we transition into summer, but some spring squalls are still hanging on. Desert rain storms are really quite remarkable; they are swift, powerful, and incredibly rewarding.

You’re sitting on the rock in the late afternoon, enjoying the warmth of the sun, perhaps enjoying a beer after a long day of hiking. Dark clouds hang on the horizon, but they look like they are quite far away. As the wind starts picking up, you realize that your beer bottle might get blown over if you don’t take cover, and that perhaps those clouds weren’t as far as you thought.

photograph of mountain ranges and rain in nevada

Fortunately, you save your beer from a near complete loss, and as you do, you look towards the storm and realize there’s an incredible light show taking place behind it. Backlit virga hangs like tattered curtains and you stand there admiring the desert mountain ranges–which appear in various shades of blue–receding behind the squall. The wind begins to sandblast you and you start to feel the first drops of water hitting your face.

Soon, rain begins to fall in earnest, but this lasts approximately 10% of the entire length of the storm; the whole thing is really just a big tease. The clouds pass overhead, and you look towards the horizon from whence the storm came; any trace of the storm that just blew through has been hidden.  Then, you turn around, and discover what the storm has left you as it moves away into the distance.

photograph of a rainbow at sunset in the gold butte national monument

The sun is setting now, shining on the storm clouds which are no longer backlit. The trailing wisps of the storm catch the light, turning bright orange and pink, while the storm itself maintains its deep, menacing blue. You look above your head to see a rainbow arching overhead, completing this amazing sunset.

The entire thing lasts about 20 minutes and the landscape takes 25 degree temperature drop from start to end. Several times over the course of the storm you’ve nearly forgotten to take photos, but you make images, which you’re grateful for. But mostly you just stand in awe, thankful for what you’ve just experienced, and where you’re standing. This is meaningless joy, and it’s wonderful.

photograph of sunset after a rain storm in gold butte national monument

 

Towards deep ethics

Written by Alpenglow Images on April 3rd, 2017

Recently, the proliferative and educational photographers Darwin Wiggett and Samantha Chrysanthou unveiled their newest project, the League of Landscape Photographers. The intent was to be a voice of reason in a landscape photography culture that has become focused on “getting the shot,” or winning likes or shares on social media. I rather like the idea of bringing attention back to thoughtful photography and photographic projects; a huge amount of intentional but less “wow-worthy” photography seems get buried (and sadly, unseen) in the static of social media. I agree with Samantha and Darwin, who believe the first step away from this mentality begins with a tangible and published code of ethics.

The League offers a template code of ethics here. It includes much of the stuff that you would expect landscape photographers to already be doing. Indeed, this is a comprehensive and thoughtful list. Since reading it, I’ve been thinking about something more, something I can only think to call “deep ethics.” While I’m sure anyone reading this blog, regardless of their political leanings, can say a lot about the current political climate in the United States, one thing we probably can’t argue about is that we are all paying attention, and everything we do right now matters. It turns out this dovetails well with what I consider to be my deep ethics.

photo of rocks and bushes as the sun sets in joshua tree national park

 


“A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise.” – Aldo Leopold

The health of the land is the standard by which we measure our work.

The popularity of photography as a hobby is at an all-time high. Combine this with the huge popularity of our national parks in general (see the most recent statistics on the top 10 most visited parks) and politically-fueled interest in our public lands; these all equate to increased impact on the land, with tangible effects.

We are responsible for the impacts on the landscape that result from our photography.  In as much as we are bound to by realism in photography, we have the obligation to ask how things will be, how we want them to be, and how they should be. When we are unwilling to compromise the health of the land as our standard, advocacy will follow in our art. My unwillingness to compromise and my commitment to advocacy is the first point in my code of ethics.

Actions make advocacy tangible.

The idea of “commitment to advocacy” is a nice notion, but how can it be made tangible? Photographers might answer by saying that they hope their work inspires others to protect a particular wild or open space. Indeed, that would be wonderful (of course, publicizing locations carries its own caveats, which I discuss briefly later). What else? Print sales would be nice, especially if they can directly benefit a grassroots activist activity or environmental group somehow. Photographers could also consider donating image usage or prints to particularly worthy groups, many of whom are working on thin budgets as it is.

Finally, one that has me particularly intrigued is that photographers and backpackers don’t really “pay to play” in the same way that other outdoorsmen like hunters or anglers do; we aren’t taxed in the same way that hunters are for their ammunition, and we don’t purchase hunting or fishing licenses. This revenue is used to make habitat better for wildlife. We certainly reap the harvest from these habitat improvements, just as we enjoy well-maintained trails, and clean campsites, but what are we putting back into the coffers to make sure these things happen?

Until something more formal is put into place, the thought I have is to practice a self-imposed excise tax on goods that I buy for use in the outdoors. If I were to buy a new lens, or backpack, or headlamp, I would “tax” the purchase price, thus donating a predetermined amount at the end of the year to a group working on the ground to make the landscape better, and consequently making my experience better. If I’m not in the position to give financially, I would volunteer my time. Regardless of what we do as photographers, “advocacy” absolutely must be a tangible thing; this is my second point in my code of ethics.

photo of sunset in box springs mountains park, riverside county california

 


“What counts finally in a work are not novel and interesting things, though these can be important, but the absolutely authentic. I think that there is a spirit of place, a presence asking to be expressed; and sometimes when we are lucky…and quiet in a way few of us want to be anymore, a voice enters our own…” – John Haines


Only by opposing the cultivation of disorder will we see a coherent body of work.

From a philosophical point of view, photography’s popularity is troublesome because–as the article above points out–we photograph everything but really don’t take the time to look at anything. Continuing on from the passage above from his book of critical essays Living Off the Country, John Haines writes, “I have come to feel that there is here in North America a hidden place obscured by what we have built upon it, and that whenever we penetrate the surface of the life around us that place and its spirit can be found.”

Perhaps now, more than ever, we need to know place. The third point in my code of ethics is to avoid passing photography fads and locations. Not only will I have become more connected with place by focusing on and producing a personal photography portfolio, it will reduce impact on places that are heavily photographed, thus improving the health of the land.

photo of wildflowers and joshua trees at sunrise in gold butte national monument nevada

 


“There is no better high than discovery.” – E.O.Wilson


Ensure the experience remains sacred.

Photographers face a tough challenge. If we are truly advocates for the land, then we must inspire our viewers to want to protect it. However, at the same time, by inspiring them, visitation increases, ultimately creating greater impact. Reconciling these two things is no small task, and much attention has been given elsewhere as to the ethics of whether to reveal photography locations. Some photographers are unwilling to share anything about any of their “secret” locations. Others are more forthcoming, and yet others have developed apps that allow for “crowd sharing” of locations. It runs the gamut.

Personally, I lie somewhere between the former two points on the spectrum. I believe that it shouldn’t really matter where a photograph was taken–it’s all beautiful, and we should be stewards for it all. However, at the same time, I also believe that sometimes a general location is appropriate to include with commentary of a particular photograph. That said, I also believe that we need to find our own reasons to love anything (landscape or not), and that sentiment just doesn’t work if the reasons to love a place are dictated to us. So, the fourth point in my code of ethics is to share relevant information as appropriate, but I refuse to spoil anyone’s joy of discovery.

It’s worth mentioning archaeological sites here. There are some, which have common colloquial names and are visited regularly by hundreds of people. Their locations are practically common knowledge, and I will refer to them by their colloquial names from time to time. Others however, I will protect the location of, and will not give details for, except privately to trusted friends.

photo of native american rock art in southern nevada

This is the beginning of my code of ethics. I’ll surely be adding things, but in the meantime what would you add? Many thanks to Samantha and Darwin for this thoughtful exercise.

 

Acts of submission

Written by Alpenglow Images on February 18th, 2017

“‘The land was ours before we were the land’s,’ says Robert Frost’s poem. Only in the act of submission is the sense of place realized and a sustainable relationship between people and earth established.” – Wallace Stegner

Stegner was probably one of the West’s most influential writers; he seemed to be deeply in tune with the mettle it took for early pioneers to build a life in the West, and the challenges today’s inhabitants face, both from an environmental and geopolitical viewpoint. He’s one of my favorite writers, and his commentary is sorely missed.

He would have been 108 years old today.

photo of a bristlecone pine and currant mountain at sunrise

 

Welcome Bears Ears National Monument!

Written by Alpenglow Images on February 5th, 2017

President Obama used the Antiquities Act to designate Bears Ears National Monument on December 28, 2016. The greater Bears Ears region and national monument includes Cedar Mesa, Comb Ridge, Valley of the Gods, Elk Ridge, Beef Basin, Indian Creek and Lockhart Basin, among others.

map of bears ears national monument

Credit: Stephanie Smith, Grand Canyon Trust

In large part, the designation of this monument was due to the arduous work of Utah Diné Bikéyah, a collective of five Native American tribes, who all hold parts of the new monument sacred. Bears Ears is the first truly Native American national monument, and these tribes’ collective heritage will now be protected for generations to come.

photograph of intact native american ruin in bears ears national monument

On a personal note, having grown up in the Four Corners region of the southwestern United States, many of my early backpacking trips were on Cedar Mesa and Grand Gulch. I can still remember discovering just a few of the hundreds of Ancestral Puebloan ruins and rock art in this area; these are some of my favorite memories of time spent in the outdoors. Today, whenever I visit my parents, who still live in northwestern New Mexico, the Bears Ears buttes are a landmark that I see to tell me I’m home. I’m very grateful to Utah Diné Bikéyah and others whose hard work made this monument possible. I’ve blogged many times on Bears Ears and Cedar Mesa (see posts here, here, and here, for instance).

photograph of clouds and rocks in valley of the gods utah

To celebrate the designation of Bears Ears, I’ve put together a collection of my images from the monument in one place. Hopefully I’ll be able to visit soon and add more.

Although I’ve published this gallery on social media, I have been a little bit slow in getting it to my blog. Since the monument was designated, it’s come under heavy fire (see links here and here for details). This criticism as a “land grab,” has come primarily from Utah Republican lawmakers who are also key leaders in the land transfer movement (see my blog post here for details). So, ironically, although Bears Ears has protection, it now needs your support more than ever. Please consider a donation directly to Utah Diné Bikéyah or the Grand Canyon Trust to help them combat efforts to reverse the monument designation, and contact your lawmakers to voice your opposition to it.

 

Treasured Lands, and our national parks

Written by Alpenglow Images on January 12th, 2017

“Laws change; people die; the land remains.” – Abraham Lincoln

As a nation, we have made the decision to set aside large areas of land that remain largely free of development for the sake of saving them.  This land comes in the form of national monuments, wilderness areas, national wildlife refuges, and of course our national parks, which have been called America’s best idea.  In 2016, the National Park Service, which manages our national parks, celebrated its 100th anniversary.  Indeed, each year, families, hikers, backpackers, photographers, and other tourists flock to our 59 national parks to see all that America has to offer, and it was truly a landmark year, worthy of grand celebration.

One of the most noteworthy things to appear in 2016 was QT (Tuan) Luong’s book, Treasured Lands: A Photographic Odyssey through America’s National Parks. Containing more than 500 photographs, 450 pages, and weighing in at 7 lbs, Treasured Lands is Tuan’s labor of love. Tuan is the only photographer to have made large-format images in every single national park, and the images in this book represent 20 years and hundreds of visits to all of them.

I first met Tuan on Photo.net discussion forums when I was just beginning taking photos, nearly 15 years ago. He weighed in on topics that varied from computers, to cameras, to photography locations. Then, as now, he has shown himself to be a master of the craft, the true consummate professional.  So, when I read about the upcoming publication of his book, I knew it would be wonderful, and it is.

My first national park experience was at the Grand Canyon, backpacking with my Boy Scout troop. I was in junior high school, and we visited during spring break; it was snowing hard on the South Rim when we arrived. As many first-time backpackers and novice campers are, I was woefully underprepared and remember putting plastic grocery sacks over my socks in an attempt to keep them dry, among other things. Hiking into the canyon the next day felt incredibly treacherous on the ice that had formed overnight (in hindsight, it probably was), but cold and wet, I hiked on. However, I also remember the feeling of the sun at the river the next day; it warmed me and rejuvenated my soggy spirits. When we finished the trip, I couldn’t wait to get back to it…to backpacking, to the Grand Canyon, to as many national parks as I could visit. I was sold.

Since that Grand Canyon trip, I’ve backpacked the Grand Canyon several more times, and have spent countless hours in many of our other national parks. Yet, while the Park Service’s 100th anniversary is a landmark occasion worthy of celebration, it’s left me feeling a bit conflicted. Just before Christmas, I waited in line for nearly an hour to get into Joshua Tree National Park; in 15 years of visiting, I haven’t waited in line a single time. Zion National Park is considering a lottery system to determine who gets to visit the overcrowded canyon on any given day. Arches National Park has lines of cars reaching almost back into Moab from its entrance station several miles north of town.

Visitation to our parks is at a record high. Americans are visiting their parks. I can’t help but think that it leaves the Park Service in a bit of a conundrum on their 100th anniversary. They are tasked with preserving our national treasures, but at the same time ensuring access for the public, and those two tasks often don’t overlap. Park and Interior Department officials must be asking themselves, “at what point have we loved our parks to death, and how do we avoid it?” As a photographer who works in the national parks, how am I contributing to this? How are places–like Zion or Joshua Tree–that have traditionally been places of refuge for me going to change with this surge in visitation?  None of these things is easy to reconcile, but Tuan’s book gives me hope, and a fresh perspective.

One piece of advice I would give to aspiring photographers is to look at as much photography as possible. Critique it, make lists of things you like and don’t like. Take notes on composition, lighting. This is the reason I became involved in the forums on which I met Tuan in the first place, but it’s sound advice, I think.  However, this practice of critique can often be taken so far that photographers fail to let great photographs inspire them; Tuan’s images are indeed technically sound, but for someone who has had a quarter century love affair with our national parks, they serve the greater purpose of inspiration. Looking through Treasured Lands, I felt a deep happiness inside of me. These treasured lands will indeed remain for a long time, to be celebrated by generations to come.  Thank you, Tuan, for that reminder.

cover photograph of treasured lands book by qt long

Tuan has been a friend for a long time, but I have no financial interest in the success of Treasured Lands. It is simply a lovely book that you will enjoy for hours.

 

2016 year in review

Written by Alpenglow Images on December 26th, 2016

As I write this, Christmas is only a couple of days away, rain is falling outside, and I’m putting together my favorite photos of the year feeling a bit of disbelief that another trip around the sun has already passed. In many ways, the past twelve months have represented contrast, a dichotomy. The world lost several great and inspiring artists this year, but I feel lucky to have discovered new artists who are a source of inspiration. Another contrast is the current state of division that the United States is ending the year in, but personally I feel more complete–less divided–that I’ve felt in quite some time.

Photographically, 2016 was one of contrasts as well. My travels between the desert and the coast really underscored this; two dramatically different landscapes, have–in their own way–become home to me. I finally put together a small (but growing) portfolio of ocean images this year, and of course expanded my portfolios of the deserts and mountains. Of course, in addition to new friends, I was able to enjoy these places with old friends. My girlfriend and I enjoyed several camping trips along the California coast, and I got to introduce her to some of my favorite desert landscapes. A couple of great backcountry trips with Jackson Frishman helped to strengthen my affinity for Great Basin landscapes.

To that end, contrast has certainly been a theme this year as I chose my favorite images for this annual year-end retrospective. I also have been thinking a lot about the role of landscape photography as art.  In 2016, it became more apparent to me the threats that face public lands (see my blog posts here and here), and producing art that changes the way people see the world seems more important now than ever. My friend Mark Hespenheide’s artist statement continues to resonate with me in this regard:

“Mediocre landscape photography can only reinforce the ideas about nature that we already hold. Good landscape photography can introduce us to new ways of seeing the world. Truly great landscape photography can change the way we perceive our place in the world and the way we interact with the world.”

May we all produce a truly great body of work in 2017.

bosque del apache snow geese fly in

Snow geese at dawn, Bosque del Apache NWR, January

 

montaña de oro beach

Montaña de Oro, California, June

 

Sunset in western Nevada

Sunset in western Nevada, January

 

navajo national monument sunrise

Sunrise in northern Arizona, August

 

Wildflowers in Death Valley, January

 

jalama beach sunset

Pacific Ocean sunset, June

 

Escalante River Sunset

Sunset over southern Utah, March

 

Clouds and fog in the San Gabriel Mountains at sunset

San Gabriel Mountains, November

 

winter storm and dark clouds over the salt playa in columbus valley nevada

Winter storm in western Nevada, January

 

white pine mountains sunset

Sunset in eastern Nevada’s White Pine Mountains, August

 

black and white image of the funeral mountains in death valley national park

Storm in Death Valley, January

Past images of the year:

2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013 | 2014 | 2015

 

Photography and Public Lands, a continuation

Written by Alpenglow Images on December 13th, 2016

In my last blog post, I expressed a somewhat emotional response to the current threats facing our Western public lands. In this post, I’d like to provide a bit of context to some of the current threats, as well as the land transfer movement in general. It’s an especially complicated web of interactions and is really difficult to sum up in one blog post, so consider this an introduction. I believe that an understanding of these issues are something any Westerner should be aware of, as well as anyone working in the West (which includes landscape photographers, who have a vested interest in the preservation of wild space).

A look at our nation’s history

To understand what’s happening now in the West, we have to go back to 1862, and the passage of the first of the Homestead Acts. The Homestead Acts awarded 40-acre parcels of public land at little or no cost to homesteaders who were willing to improve it for agriculture for a period of 5 years.  Because most of the public land lied in the West, this basically amounted to the opening of the frontier, especially in the wake of the Civil War, when later Homestead Acts were passed.

As anyone who has spent any time in the West can attest, it’s a hardscrabble place with little rainfall, and it’s difficult to make a living here. So, it’s no surprise that many lands were left unclaimed because of the barriers the landscape presented. Combine this with the entry of two large Western states–Arizona and New Mexico–into the union in 1913, and the federal government was left with a huge amount of public land to manage. Although the soil may not have been conducive to farming, and (lack of) rainfall may not have made grazing easy, minerals and timber were abundant, so the government ultimately created the US Forest Service (1905) and Bureau of Land Management (BLM; 1946) to manage much of these resources, and to ease the burden on the Department of Interior, which oversees the National Park Service.

Let’s think about this for a moment. One of the things many Westerners identify with is a rugged individualism, the settling of the wild frontier. When the frontier opened during the nation’s reconstruction and the US government was basically giving parcels of land for free, Western culture laid down its roots. Within several decades, the US government, who was now in control of most public lands in the West (and still is, see the map below), needed a management plan. From the point of view of many homesteaders, this amounted to the government saying, “We gave you this land, and you settled it, but now we’re going to tell you how we want it managed.”

Map of public lands in the united states of america

Most of the nation’s public lands are in the West. Public Domain image downloaded from Wikipedia

As you can imagine, a homesteader who was suddenly being told how the land they had been mining, or grazing their cattle on might be a little bit upset. So, to some extent there’s always been some level of anti-government sentiment in the West, which has been compounded by people who move to the West for added seclusion and an increased sense of isolationism. Indeed, such high profile incidents as Ruby Ridge, and even the car bombing of a federal building in Oklahoma City in 1995 have either directly or indirectly been the result of rugged individualism clashing with government oversight.

Land transfer & the Sagebrush Rebellion

While private development is not usually allowed on public lands, grazing allotments can be leased, there are some mining claims, and of course recreation is allowed such as hiking, rock climbing, photography, and hunting and fishing, although specific rules vary somewhat depending on the management agency, etc. For instance, no hunting or fishing is allowed in national parks.

In 1932, the federal government did try to transfer land back to the states, but in post-Depression America, states were concerned about having the funds to manage the lands effectively, etc. As a result they stayed under federal control. Today, the federal government pays states for the land that cannot be developed, and as a result, taxed. These payments in lieu of taxes can be a significant revenue generator for certain counties that have a large proportion of public land.  Similarly, other sources of income like the ones resulting from the Taylor Grazing Act are important for certain counties (see reference below).

In 1976, in an effort to more explicitly regulate some of the above-mentioned activities on federal lands, Congress passed the Federal Land Policy and Management Act (FLPMA) that officially ended homesteading and formalized processes for regulating activities on federal lands, specifically those administered by the BLM. Within a year, the FLPMA had drawn enough ire from ranchers and miners that legislation was introduced into Congress that would transfer some land back to the states with the idea being that the land could be managed more directly for the sake of individual interests there.  This legislation–which was introduced twice but did not pass–was the birth of a movement known as the Sagebrush Rebellion.

Where are we now?

Since the late 1970s the Sagebrush Rebellion hasn’t really garnered much attention per se, although there have been some very high profile incidents that revolve around the federal government and disagreements with private citizens (The standoff at the Bundy Ranch in Nevada and the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon are two of the most well known). Despite the fact none of these incidents have resulted in major legislative changes, there is the argument that they really are counterproductive to their stated original intent (see here and here), driving wedges where they don’t really belong.

That ‘stated original intent’ is also a bit cloudy. When you dig into the web of what’s morphed from the Sagebrush Rebellion into the Land Transfer Movement, things get confusing fast. Ranchers aren’t the only concerned parties it seems, but militia members and “alt-right” conservatives also seem to have a vested interest in returning public land to the states or private parties. Similarly, members of Congress also have ties to groups like the American Lands Council (which has a misleading name but is the biggest proponent of the Land Transfer Movement).

Most recently, representative Rob Bishop from Utah introduced the Public Lands Initiative to Congress, which would have returned public lands in Utah to state control; fortunately it was not voted on before Congress ended their session in late 2016, effectively killing the bill.

Sunrise at Grandview Point, in the white mountains of eastern california

What’s the big deal, and what next?

With all of these failed attempts to return Western public lands to state control, why should you care? There are several reasons.  First, the vocal minority who are perpetrating the highest-profile standoffs with government officials are becoming increasingly violent. Threats to public lands employees are becoming more common. Second, while this legislation has failed in the past, it doesn’t mean it always will. Rob Bishop is the chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, and advocates development of Utah’s wild places. Sooner or later, he’ll catch the ear of influential people who can make things happen. This is underscored by the fact that it’s becoming clearer that the Land Transfer Movement is incredibly well funded.

Lands transferred to state or private control do stand a higher chance of oil and gas or large scale mining development, among other things. This would make it more difficult to pass legislation fighting global warming, and thus would set heartbreaking precedents, and do irreversible damage to our Western landscapes. A common response I’ve seen to these threats on social media is, “It’ll never happen!” Maybe not, but the stakes are simply too high to sit back and assume it won’t happen.

There is hope, though. Although a vocal minority is favor of the transfer of Western public lands, the majority of Westerners are not. This was well illustrated just last month in Nevada’s general election as well as in the Montana governor’s race. As Westerners we all need to be educated, and see through the politics, and look for common ground together. Very few of us would disagree that there is room on public lands for everyone–grazing interests, hunters, photographers, backpackers, etc. None of us want these magnificent landscapes spoiled.

As photographers what can we do?  I have several ideas. First, you can donate your images to worthy nonprofit groups (e.g., the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance or Grand Canyon Trust). If that is financially prohibitive, consider donating a portion of your proceeds to these causes, or to the support of quality journalism. Second, tap into your local community. Learn what the land use issues are, and how your images can support groups advocating for your position. Similarly, take advantage of public comment periods on these issues (and use your images to support your comments).  Third, build bridges outside of your box. Hunters and anglers are equally as vested in the land as you are–how can your images help advocate for issues important to them?

This is just a start–feel free to offer more ideas in the comments.

sunrise on currant mountain, near ely nevada

References

Read the Homestead Act of 1862 here.

An in-depth history of in-lieu programs for western federal lands can be found here.

Read the Federal Land Policy and Management Act here.

 

Photography and our Public Lands

Written by Alpenglow Images on November 18th, 2016

Over the last several weeks, we have been reminded of very real threats–or at least dangerous precedents set–to the Western landscape, and to American public lands in general. First, all defendants in the 41-day standoff at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon were found not guilty of charges of federal conspiracy and gun charges. Less than two weeks later, the United States presidential election resulted in a Republican-controlled presidency and congress, leaving federal public lands at greater risk for fossil fuel development, or even return to state control.

For anyone concerned with the preservation of wilderness, our cultural landscape, or simply the health of future generations, neither of these occurrences should set well.  Together, they’ve been keeping me up at night. Reconciling all of this news is no small task.

black and white image of the funeral mountains in death valley national park

“I want people to remember how photography works, the medium that depends on perfect darkness within the camera to capture the image, for an image of boundless light would be purely black, an exposure in perfect darkness would show just the white of unexposed paper. The visible world depends on both.” -Rebecca Solnit | Hugging the Shadows

Finding purple in a sea of blue and red

Last week, shortly after the election, I had a conversation on social media regarding the proposed Bears Ears National Monument (which I have written about before). Although I have some hesitation about the Bears Ears region being designated a National Monument, it really is the perfect candidate for protection under the Antiquities Act, although a longtime friend disagreed. While we had opposite opinions, our underlying concern for the region is the same: both of us would like to see it remain as pristine as possible. While our sedimentary layers may be different, we are standing on the same bedrock.

Looking at election maps from last week, there appears to be a deep divide in ideology between rural and urban areas, however I’d like to think we’re more purple than red vs. blue, and that the bedrock most of us are standing on is the same. Indeed, if you look at the role public lands played in western elections this season, it is clear we value our public lands.

Looking forward, I have questions.  Is it possible to search for common ground, while at the same time not compromising core values? Can we find a common currency for the value we attribute to public lands? Perhaps, more importantly, what can photographers do now?

winter storm and dark clouds over the salt playa in columbus valley nevada

Working locally, reconnecting to place

There are a few resources out there for having the conversations that are sure to happen more frequently in coming months (this is a great one). One thing they all seem to mention is to talk about feelings, rather than facts, at least to start with. As a scientist, I think, “but the facts are all that matter!” but as an artist, I get it. Art, including landscape photography, has the power to change the way people look at their world. There’s been some debate about whether artists can or should be activists or whether art should exist independently, but my gut is telling me now is the time for us all to be activists. Share your work with as many people as possible. Create content, be heard.

I’ve lamented before that as a people we are woefully detached from place, so perhaps it is the job of artists to bring us back to that. Share your work locally. Every local in every town has stories to share about their “backyard”–tap into those stories and work to reconnect people with what may have been lost.

If anything, recent news is a reminder that our public lands–and the places we love to photograph–are in danger of becoming not-so-public, and should be a good reminder to us all to educate ourselves on local politics, and think of ways to use our photography to shift the tide towards a secure future.

Sunset in western Nevada

 

Bay of the Smoke

Written by Alpenglow Images on November 8th, 2016

In 1542, two Spanish ships led by Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo explored the southern California coastline.  When they arrived in either Santa Monica or San Pedro Bay (it’s unclear which one), they encountered poor air quality likely due to either smoke rising overhead from nearby Tongva villages, or from a Santa Ana Wind-fueled wildfire. They named the bay they arrived in Baya de los Fumos or Bay of the Smoke, for the lack of air quality.

Shaped by the Landscape

Nearly 500 years later, the greater Los Angeles basin is still known for its poor visibility and a nearly constant haze. Fires perhaps aren’t as prevalent as they once were, and the villages have long since been bulldozed and replaced with a megapolis of concrete, home to millions of people. Myself included.

Southern California’s topography is a major contributor to our poor air quality. Cool air being pulled onshore from the Pacific Ocean, warm air being pulled out to sea from the deserts flanking the region, and a basin closed in by tall mountain ranges all make for a fairly strong inversion that will often trap clouds, haze, and (unfortunately) pollution at low elevations in the basin. The haze Cabrillo and his men described is still a dominant part of life as many as 260 days a year.

Clouds and fog in the San Gabriel Mountains of southern California at sunset


“During my California visit, I enjoyed the company of fine friends whose grace and lack of complaint in their surroundings made me feel awkward and cynical and even envious…At meals they spoke intelligently of early Burgundian oenological monographs. I explained drip irrigation. Sea air and the presence of many, many succulent green leaves beautifully hydrated their skin. I looked like a desert lizard. I age my organic arugula with my fingers, dopey and slow like one of those Jurassic leaf-eaters with the pin head and the body the size of a truck stop.” – Ellen Meloy, The Anthropology of Turquoise


Getting Above it All

Even after 14 years of living here, southern California has always felt a bit odd, if intriguing, perhaps in a way that Ellen Meloy describes above. I’m not entirely sure it’s Los Angeles’ fault so much as my own reticence to loosen my grip on my roots in the intermountain West. Fortunately, the nearby mountains make it relatively easy to put some altitude underneath yourself to get a breath of fresh air. In my last blog post, I mentioned the San Jacinto Mountains, which lie at the far eastern end of the basin.

Perhaps much more dominant on the Los Angeles skyline are the San Gabriels, one of the transverse ranges, running along the northern edge of the basin. Over the years, one of my favorite views of southern California has been to venture into the San Gabriels to look back down on the valley below.

View down the San Gabriel River Canyon from Blue Ridge in the San Jacinto Mountains of southern California

Despite the haze, Cabrillo described southern California as lush and green, with abundant wildlife. Much of that has been wiped clean by the growing metropolis (although there are efforts to bring it back), but it’s still possible to get acquainted the southern California that was by returning to the mountains. Last week, we made a quick trip up to the San Gabriels after work. The clouds blanketing the coastal plain were hitting the mountains and fragmenting, making for a great atmospheric light show. That, combined with waning fall colors on much of the vegetation at 8,000′ elevation, made it a great day out.

As the sun set and the horizon shifted from shades of orange to red to blue, the wind stopped and there was complete and total silence. For a brief moment, hearing the dirt crunch underneath my feet and the cold air bite my nose, I forgot that the megapolis was just a little further below still. For the foreseeable future, I’ll continue to try to find my place with the masses of the greater Los Angeles basin, but it’s comforting to know that within an hour, I can be high above it all, seeing–perhaps–what Cabrillo saw in 1542.

San Gabriel Mountains of southern California at Sunset,