Happy birthday to the California Desert National Monuments

Written by Alpenglow Images on February 12th, 2018

All told, I have had little travel in my life which has yielded so much profit on the exertion as the old Mojave stage. I understand that the road is well furnished now with gas stations and hot dog stands, and the trip can be made in a few hours without incident. Which seems on the whole a pity.” – Mary Hunter Austin, Earth Horizon, 1932

Happiest of birthdays to California’s Desert National Monuments: Sand to Snow, Mojave Trails (which includes the Cadiz Dunes, the subject of my last blog post), and Castle Mountains. They were all designated two years ago today, on February 12, 2016. Together, their creation represents one of the largest acts in history towards the preservation of California’s deserts for future generations. May we celebrate many more birthdays for these diverse and unique monuments.

layers of sand dunes at sunset at the cadiz dunes complex within Mojave Trails National Monument

Sand dunes in Mojave Trails National Monument

photo of backlit cottonwood trees with golden light shining through in the Sand to Snow National Monument

Cottonwood trees at Big Morongo Preserve, part of Sand to Snow National Monument

 

Water, sand, and the edge of wilderness

Written by Alpenglow Images on January 26th, 2018

“He said, “Americans look upon water as an inexhaustible resource. It’s not, if you’re mining it.” – John McPhee, Assembling California


If you live in southern California and read the news, you’ve probably heard about the Cadiz Water Project. The basic premise behind the project is to pump groundwater out of the Cadiz Valley in the Mojave Desert and pump it into the Colorado River aqueduct, thus delivering it to the Los Angeles Basin. For thirsty Angelenos, this seems like a great solution, and to paraphrase the old adage, if the source of the water is out of sight, it’s also out of mind.

The Cadiz Valley is also home to the Cadiz Dunes Wilderness, which is primarily made up of the Cadiz Dunes complex and portions surrounding valley.  A large part of the Cadiz Valley–including the Wilderness–are part of the Mojave Trails National Monument, which was designated in 2016. Because of increased news coverage, two friends and I recently went to the Cadiz Valley to photograph the dunes and experience the place first-hand.

The Cadiz Valley is a typical Basin and Range valley. It is surrounded by the Sheephole Mountains to the west, the Ship Mountains to the north, and the Old Woman Mountains to the east. A lake, which has long since dried up, once occupied the entire valley; blowing sand has created the Cadiz Dunes complex. Because of the minerals the lake left behind, several salt mines have popped up in the southern end of the valley. A railroad right-of-way also runs through the valley, connecting historic Route 66 with Parker, Arizona. When we visited, we drove for over 60 miles on unpaved roads and didn’t see another vehicle. As Mark said, “in southern California, that’s a pretty good indicator that you’re way out there.” Indeed, I bet it’s highly unlikely that many desert travelers give the Cadiz Valley much thought.

The Ship Mountains as seen from the Cadiz Dunes after sunset. Alpenglow covers the landscape.

The Cadiz Water Project

An interesting thing about the valley, and the reason it’s front-and-center in Los Angeles’ water politics, is the large aquifer that lies beneath it. Cadiz Inc., which owns several thousand acres in the valley, has proposed to pump water from the aquifer, and through a 43-mile-long pipeline, move it to the Colorado River aqueduct so it can be transported to the Los Angeles Basin.  The Cadiz Valley Water Conservation, Recovery and Storage Project–or Cadiz Water Project–has met with poor investor interest, court battles, and seemingly endless hurdles.

Last fall, however, the project got a new head of steam. David Bernhardt, a former partner at the law firm representing Cadiz, was confirmed as the Deputy Secretary of the Department of the Interior (in unrelated news, the Department of Interior also rolled back legislation limiting the use of railroad right-of-ways so the pipeline could be built) and a bill in the California state senate that would have shut down Cadiz was voted down by senate Democrats. There are still legal battles taking place, but this plan has a real possibility of happening.

Silly, and dangerously antiquated

Cadiz Inc. owns the rights to 50,000 acre-feet of water per year for the next 50 years; that’s 50,000 acre feet being pumped out of the ground each year and into the aqueduct. The aquifer is only replenishing itself at a rate of 32,000 acre feet per year. Cadiz also estimates the cost of their water between $775-$960/acre foot; the current price the Los Angeles Municipal Water District charges is $670/acre foot. Thus, water coming from this project would cost the consumer more.  Finally, the water Cadiz plans on pumping out of the aquifer contains the carcinogen hexavalent chromium. They argue that by diluting it in Colorado River water, levels of hexavalent chromium would be safe for human consumption. Finally, in seismically active southern California, any pipeline is going to require expensive maintenance.

Although the Colorado River aqueduct is an engineering achievement, it is admittedly antiquated and unsustainable. So is the Los Angeles aqueduct that brings water from the Owens Valley. For a truly sustainable solution to water woes, we need to be looking closer to the point of use: desalination plants, and water recycling make much more sense than piping water from hundreds of miles away.

photo of Cadiz Sand Dune complex at sunset; the rolling sand dunes have a slight purple color, and the southern horizon displays sunset colors

Thinking past the wilderness boundaries

A federally designated Wilderness is by definition a place of compromise. Its boundaries have been drawn as lines on a map based on public comments, input from all interested parties, and after a vote on its designation by people who will likely never see the place, or think about it again. Nevertheless, this is one of my favorite levels of protection for a place because it ensures that the land will remain as pristine as possible for generations to come. But tonight my mind is concerned with what lies beyond the edge of Wilderness boundaries. What of that landscape?

An edge, as defined by ecologists, is a place of transition between habitats: forest and meadow, for example. Deer and other herbivores can often be found along edges; they stay close to the cover of the forest, while enjoying the ability to graze in a meadow. For a hungry predator, this can be a place of incredible opportunity, but for distracted prey edges can be a great danger. Indeed, the future of the Cadiz Valley is not really all that different from a deer grazing at the edge of a meadow.

photo of expansive rolling sand dunes at sunset with the sheephole mountains in the distance

Standing on the Cadiz Dunes at sunset, looking east across a creosote sea towards the Old Woman Mountains, I was reminded why we visit these places. The road we drove in on was somewhere in front of me, but was rendered invisible due–if nothing else–to the vastness of the landscape. I found myself caught in one of those moments when the silence was deafening. In this big landscape, I was reminded of just how small I am, re-instilling my sense of humility. Looking out across the arbitrary lines protecting the Wilderness, my eyes try to imagine the dust from pipeline construction or the shimmer on the horizon from a body of evaporating water–the result of a pipeline spill. My ears try to hear the sound of pumps in the distance, sending groundwater on their long journey to Los Angeles.

The Cadiz Water Project would provide additional water to Los Angeles for 50 more years. Fifty more years to ruin a beautiful desert valley and search for another aquifer we can mine water from.

black and white photograph of roadrunner tracks going across a sand dune in the cadiz valley of southern California

 

2017 year in review

Written by Alpenglow Images on December 22nd, 2017

After 15 years of living in southern California, 2017 was one of the most dynamic in terms of weather that I can remember. January rolled in with one storm after another, dropping rain and snow on an almost continuous basis (the Sierra Nevada saw record-breaking snow depths). As I write this, we’re anxiously awaiting our first rain of the season. Our infamous Santa Ana winds have been blowing hard on a regular basis helping to fan the flames of the largest wild land fires in state history. What a difference a year can make!

To some extent, my favorite images of 2017 mirror the dynamic weather of this past year. I was able to revisit some favorite locations in new weather and discover new ones. Some highlights of the year included a phenomenal January day in Joshua Tree National Park (easily one of my most enjoyable of the entire year), a backpacking trip to the Sierra Nevada with Jackson Frishman and our sons, and discovering the Utah’s Tushar Mountains with Heather. In addition, I made some new friends which is always welcome! Those are just a few of the many great things that happened in 2017; there weren’t many lowlights.

As a photographer, I spent a lot of time this year asking myself what I want the world to hire me to do. If you’ve followed my blog this year, I’ve been a clear spokesman for public land, and as we move in to 2018, expect more advocacy for our special wild places. I try my hardest to not jam political views down my viewers’ throats; my goal is simply to share what is out there, because we can’t cherish what we don’t know exists.

To that end, I launched The Wilderness Project this fall. The goal is to showcase the federally-designated wilderness areas in Riverside County, California–my home. There are nineteen total, so this project will be ongoing, but I hope you’ll follow me on my journey by subscribing to email updates at the above link. I’ve already discovered some wonderful things about this county that I didn’t know existed before. I guess you can teach an old dog new tricks.

I hope you enjoy these ten images! I feel that they represent the year well. I’ve also included a couple of ‘honorable mentions’ or bonus images at the end. Be sure to see my past images of the year at the end of the post.

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

Winter sunset in the desert

 

photo of large monzogranite boulders in the Jumbo Rocks section of Joshua Tree National Park at sunset. The sky is a dark blue, with hints of a winter storm, and the boulders are glowing with a golden-orange color.

Stormy sunset in Joshua Tree

 

photo of native american rock art in southern nevada

Desert sentinels

 

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

Thankful for rain

 

photo of dogwood blossoms in Yosemite Valley California

Dogwoods

 

black and white photo of Ship Mountain in Mojave Trails National Monument at sunset

115°F at sunset

 

detail of a high altitude hillside in the tushar mountains of southern utah

Autumn in the high country

 

photo of a small waterfall and colorful aspen trees in front of two mountains peaks in utah's tushar mountains

The beginning of fall color

 

Photo of a lone tree on the prairie at sunset near Hawk Springs Wyoming

Lone tree in the prairie

 

photo of 'teddy bear' cholla cacti backlit by the morning sun, giving them translucent halos.

Ending the year back in the desert

Honorable mentions:

photo of the white mountains in California at sunset, with a cloud in the sky and the mountains pink from the setting sun.

In January, Heather and I got away for a weekend to enjoy snow and hot springs (more of the latter than the former). We were able to sit in a hot spring and enjoy this awesome sunset over the White Mountains.

 

Photo of an air tanker flying by a large plume of smoke from the Canyon Fire in Orange County California, September 2017

Sign of the times: an air tanker flies by a large plume of smoke after dropping its load of fire retardant. Orange County, California, September

 

Past images of the year:

2010 | 2011 | 2012 | 2013 | 2014 | 2015 | 2016

 

Utah monument myths

Written by Alpenglow Images on December 8th, 2017

As expected, earlier this week the president reduced the size of both Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, and Bears Ears National Monument in Utah. This was the largest scale back of national monuments in history. Many are questioning not only of the legality of the president’s proclamation but also transparency behind the monument review process. During the time it’s taking to answer these questions, everyone seems to have an opinion on this move. Unfortunately, I’m reading a lot of misinformation that has helped to form many of these opinions (from both “sides” such as they are).

It’s no secret which side of the barbed wire fence I’m on, however I thought it would be helpful to put opinions aside for a minute and address some major misconceptions surrounding these national monuments, and to put some of the current state of things in a historical context. Late last year I wrote a blog post on public lands in the West, so you may want to start there.


1. The monuments were nothing but land grabs in the first place.

I’m starting with this one, because it’s the claim I have the most difficulty wrapping my head around. Both the Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears National Monuments were public land before and after their monument designations. The designation changed from unappropriated public lands to national monument, and with that came a change in some (but not all) management policies but it is impossible for the federal government to have grabbed land from itself.

There is one caveat to this. State trust lands represent one section in each 32-section township. They are federal land that was granted to states upon their entry into the union, and are usually considered revenue-generating land for the state. The revenue from trust lands almost always benefits public education. When both monuments were designated, some trust lands were included in those designations.

To compensate for this loss of revenue in Utah when Grand Staircase-Escalante was designated in 1996, the federal government gave the state some of its land outside of the monument in exchange for the state trust lands inside of the monument. Because of the mineral-rich quality of the new land, those parcels are now estimated to be worth over $1 billion. In addition, the US government gave Utah $50 million. This land and cash swap received overwhelming bipartisan support. A similar swap was in the plan for Bears Ears.

2. It’s good that the president gave the land back to Utah

See #1 above. There was no land to give back to Utah, since it was federal land to start with. In fact, Article III of Utah’s constitution specifically says that the land slashed from these two national monuments is not Utah’s land until it’s sold to the state.

Since it was federal land before the monument designations, it remains what is called unappropriated public land. This simply means it has no title tied to it like National Monument, National Recreation Area, National Park, etc.

3. Without national monument status, the vast landscape of the Bears Ears region will be subjected to unchecked exploitation.

Utah Governor Gary Herbert addressed this with a misleading statement earlier this week in the Deseret News. What he didn’t mention is that state trust lands can (and have) been sold off in the recent past. In 2015, a section of state trust land on Comb Ridge was sold; that could be developed, but also restricts public access. One can only speculate whether this would happen again, but no one can say that it couldn’t. Finally, interjecting here with a bit of my opinion: When these lands are sold, they create a discontinuous cultural landscape, and are gone for good.

4. Ranchers have been kicked out of their historic range.

This is untrue. The original monument proclamation at Grand Staircase-Escalante in 1996 included specific language to keep grazing permits intact. See this document from the BLM regarding grazing.

5. National monuments aren’t good for the economy.

National monuments bring tourism to the area, and with that comes jobs. While some studies show an increase in per capita income, others show no change, but no studies show a decline.

6. Hunting and fishing isn’t allowed on national monuments, nor is anything else my family has done for generations.

There is concern that activities that people have enjoyed for decades will be forbidden or limited with national monument designations. To be sure, national parks do limit certain activities, such as collection of herbs or plant material, and very few parks allow hunting. However, monuments are different. Backcountry Hunters & Anglers has a really nice interactive webpage to illustrate exactly what is hunted in each of the national monuments that have been identified for “modification.” Further, Utah Diné Bikeyah outlines what else is allowed in Bears Ears National Monument on their website.

7. Archaeological sites have always been protected, so the monument designation is meaningless (i.e., it doesn’t add any additional protections).

In a recent statement, Secretary of the Interior Zinke said, “Whether these resources are found on land designated as a monument, national forest, BLM- managed public land, or other federal land, it is generally illegal to remove or disrupt these resources without a permit issued by the federal government.” True enough, but with the amount of looting that has been documented, there’s no way anyone sane could claim these places have had any meaningful protection pre-monument. See a Washington Post article here, and a Smithsonian Magazine article here that discuss the looting problem in more detail.


However, it’s important to have correct information as you build your opinions, so what would you add? Have you heard any misconceptions regarding these monuments, or the monument review that happened earlier this year? Let me know and I can add it in to this blog post.

close-up photo of whimsical sandstone patterns in grand staircase-escalate national monument, utah

 

Giving Tuesday

Written by Alpenglow Images on November 28th, 2017

If you’re reading from the United States, I hope you had a great Thanksgiving holiday, and that you managed to somehow survive the deluge of marketing that comes with it. Despite the commercialized insanity this time of year, I rather like the notion behind today–Giving Tuesday. Giving is truly more joyous than receiving, and that’s something we can all be reminded of from time to time.

As I’ve written about before, our public lands–and specifically our national monuments–are under threat. While the overwhelming majority of Americans rejected the idea that we shrink any of our national monuments, President Trump is traveling to Utah on Monday to announce that both the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase National Monuments will be reduced in size.

The president will be–in my opinion wrongly–pushing through the largest elimination of protection for land and wildlife in US history. While the Antiquities Act states that the protection of our antiquities should be confined to the smallest possible area of land, both of these monuments are contiguous wild and cultural landscapes that can’t be subdivided for the sake of development.

In the spirit of Giving Tuesday, I am writing to ask for your help. This action (and likely more in the future) by the president is likely to be met by opposition and legal action. While I can write about my own opinions, they don’t pay legal bills. As a community, we need to support those organizations who are fighting this flawed legislation on the ground. So, that’s what I’m asking you to do: donate to a group that advocates for our public lands.

What do you get in return? If you show me you donated, I’ll send you a free 8×12 print of your choice to thank you for being a supporter of our public lands.

Some Resources

Not sure who to donate to? There are a lot of groups out there; some work locally, and some–like the Sierra Club–work at a national level. I won’t tell you who to donate to, but personally I try to donate to groups who do the most with my dollar. Neutral websites like Charity Navigator tell you where your dollar goes within the organization.

If you want to donate to a local group that’s great! Pick your favorite place, and find a group who works there. Friends of Nevada Wilderness, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Grand Canyon Trust, and Backcountry Hunters & Anglers are a few of my favorites, although there are many (many) others.

I don’t care how much you donate, or who you donate to. All you have to do is show me you did, then pick your print. It’s that easy! This offer is good through President Trump’s Utah visit next Monday.

Thank you for helping to support our public lands!

Three photos of monuments in southern utah, which are all under attack by the Trump administration

 

Saying Goodbye

Written by Alpenglow Images on November 22nd, 2017

On Veteran’s Day, my grandfather passed away. He was 92 years old, a WWII veteran and served in two branches of the armed forces during his life (the Marines and Army Air Corps). However, his main career–for nearly 40 years–was as the art teacher in his small town in southeastern Wyoming. A talented watercolorist and sculptor, he drew his inspiration from the natural world around him: wildlife, old barns, and the landscapes of the plains of southern Wyoming.

watercolor painting of an abandoned barn on a hill with ominous grey skies behind it

As a kid, I spent a few weeks each summer visiting my grandparents. We fished almost daily and never missed a baseball game on TV. Indeed, some of my best childhood memories were made with my grandparents, and because he never lost his youthful playfulness, my grandpa was easily my best friend during those summers.

Also, because he was perpetually a kid at heart, he was often caught drawing cartoons of friends–and me–often at our worst. Teasing was something you adapted to quickly in our family because it was relentless.

cartoon of a crash test dummy in a bicycle accident

My Grandpa was incredibly good at poking fun at people with his art. He had a way of making painful things (like bicycle accidents) seem funny.

Of course things change, and I grew older. I attended college at the University of Wyoming and visited my grandparents a few times a semester. After moving to California to attend graduate school, however, my visits became more infrequent. Going back to visit them, the landscape I remembered as a child seemed different: smaller and more compact. Not as wild as I once thought. But the lakes we used to visit to fish still brought happy memories.

Photo of a lone tree on the prairie at sunset near Hawk Springs Wyoming

Last week I traveled back to Wyoming for my Grandpa’s memorial service. The next day, we spent some time visiting a few of the places that were important to me as a kid. Although the ability to draw seems to have found a genetic endpoint with my Grandpa, it was nice to make a few images with him on my mind.

There’s a certain comfort in knowing someone is there, even if you can’t always see them. Now that he’s gone, there’s definitely a hole that needs filling and he’ll be dearly missed.

photo of leafless cottonwood trees and tall grasses in fall colors along the platte river in western Nebraska

 

Holiday Print Sale

Written by Alpenglow Images on October 9th, 2017

It’s never too early to start planning for the holidays; Christmas is, after all, only 77 days away! This year I’m starting my holiday print sale early to ensure delivery of your gifts by Christmas. Now through December 24*, I’m offering 25% off prints and canvases.

Why buy art as a gift?

Simply put, art is a gift that can be enjoyed every day. Viewing art reduces stress and improves mental health. With the increase in popularity of our national parks and other public lands, people to whom you give art can enjoy their favorite landscapes even when they’re between vacations.

How it works

I believe art buying should be a personal experience. Once you’ve decided which print you’d like, send me an email to tell me which print you’d like to purchase. You can visit my purchasing page for a price list, keeping in mind that prices are reduced by 25% through December 24*.  We can discuss the size you’d like and any other considerations, for instance if you’d like a canvas or a metal print, etc.

After the print is finished, I’ll inspect it personally, sign it, and ship it to you.  Shipping costs are included in the price of the print.

What you get

All of my prints are made on archival quality paper, which comes in a variety of finishes such as luster, matte, gloss, or pearl. Color prints are made on a state-of-the-art inkjet printer, and black and white prints are actually digitally projected and exposed on photographic paper. Custom canvases are stretched over a wooden frame, giving them a three-dimensional feel that can add depth to any room.

holiday print sale

Black and White prints are created by projecting the image onto photographic paper. Cute kid not included.

I guarantee canvases and prints for life from fading, provided they are displayed properly (for example, out of direct sunlight). I also include a free 5×7″ mini-card with all prints; mini-cards provide information about the image, and are included at no charge.

Greeting cards – perfect for any occasion!

I also have greeting cards available for purchase. There are 6 photographs printed as 5 x 7″ prints on sturdy card stock. A set of 6 is available $15 + $3 shipping within the US, $10 international. Quantities are limited, so contact me soon for the best selection!

Alpenglow Images greeting cards

Six greeting card photographs are available.

*Because I personally inspect every print, orders placed too close to Christmas will likely not be delivered by December 25.  Please be sure to take advantage of this holiday print sale by ordering as early as possible, and thank you for considering my photography!

 

Closing of the Mountain Light Gallery

Written by Alpenglow Images on October 1st, 2017

Last week, the Mountain Light Gallery in California’s eastern Sierra announced it is closing its doors. Showcasing the work of photographers Galen and Barbara Rowell, the Mountain Light had been a standard stop for many photographers, hikers, and tourists stopping through Bishop since they first opened their doors in 1983. To say I was taken aback by this announcement is an understatement. Gary Crabbe, a past employee of Galen’s, shared his views on the closing of Mountain Light in his blog. I can’t begin to replicate Gary’s sentiments, but I wanted to share a bit of my history with Mountain Light.

photo of a barren mountain landscape with late day sunlight with receding mountain ridges behind it

Galen Rowell was a San Francisco Bay Area photographer and climber whose images of the mountains are simply iconic. From his home range, the Sierra Nevada, to mountaineering expeditions in South America and Tibet, Galen’s work set the bar for adventure and backcountry landscape photography. In the days when I cared about such things, his were the images I compared mine against.

On August 11, 2002, on their way home from an expedition through northern Tibet, Galen and Barbara were flying into the Bishop airport when the plane they were in crashed, killing both of them. The same day as Galen and Barbara’s passing is the day I moved from California from Wyoming. I remember hearing the news that day on the radio as I unloaded boxes into my apartment. Not long after that I made my first trip to Bishop (I did graduate work at the White Mountain Research Station whose offices are in Bishop). The gallery was one of the first places we stopped. Galen’s images were always inspirational and moving, a grand welcome to the Golden State.

Perhaps most importantly, Galen’s was the first photography I became familiar with that had a “voice,” and I’ve often used his work as an example when trying to describe this somewhat abstract concept. Galen’s presence in his images was evident the moment you step foot in the gallery. His sense of adventure, eye for the subtleties of light, love of life, and even his devotion to his wife are all palpable when you walk through its doors. I have never gone to the eastern Sierra without stopping in at Mountain Light Gallery and I have never walked out of there without feeling a little choked up. Like the Rowells, their gallery will be truly missed.

photo of yellow grasses on a high altitude plateau with peaks in the distance and white cumulus clouds in the blue sky above

The images in this blog post are throwbacks to my graduate school days (probably both are from 2003 or 2004). They are scanned Fuji Sensia slides from the Barcroft Plateau in the White Mountains not far from Bishop.

 

Return to Middle Earth

Written by Alpenglow Images on September 26th, 2017

I want to see mountains again, Gandalf, mountains, and then find somewhere where I can rest. In peace and quiet, without a lot of relatives prying around, and a string of confounded visitors hanging on the bell. I might find somewhere where I can finish my book. I have thought of a nice ending for it: and he lived happily ever after to the end of his days.” – J.R.R. Tolkien


Autumn is, without a doubt, my favorite season. The light is longer, even warm days have a different tone, birds make their escape to warmer climates, and to paraphrase Gretel Ehrlich, the beautiful changing leaves are the verbs that conjugate the seasons. Autumn is almost certainly the time of the year I am the happiest.

Although I should have been working on my Wilderness Project, I opted to start the season by escaping to the high country. In hopes of getting a much-needed taste of Autumn, last week I visited the Tushar Mountains, a small mountain range in central Utah. I arrived right as a fall storm was moving out of the area. In the days before my visit, it had deposited a skiff of fresh snow in the higher parts of the range. Elk were bugling in the thickets, and aspens had begun to turn. Autumn was definitely in the air!

detail of a high altitude hillside in the tushar mountains of southern utah

We first visited this lovely mountain range in July. Always struck by the way a landscape can affect–or speak to–a person, I knew instantly the Tushars had claimed another victim in me. These mountains are unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Broad high altitude ridge lines, stout peaks, steep canyons, and verdant hanging valleys (“pockets”) remind me of something from Tolkien’s Middle Earth. The way the light played on the ridges and snowfields extending from the summit of Delano Peak (12,169′)–the highest point in the Tushars–was simply magical. Yup, I knew I had to go back.

The Tushars are a volcanic mountain range that sit on the ecological cusp of the Great Basin and Colorado Plateau. They are geologically interesting; two separate volcanic events have shaped them, erosion has worn them down, and glaciers have carved their canyons. The Toquima Mountains in Nevada and the San Juan Mountains in Colorado are also good examples of  volcanic ranges. The Tushars’ white peaks–formed by ash flow–stand in stark contrast to the darker volcanic rock of the lower canyons.

photo of a small waterfall and colorful aspen trees in front of two mountains peaks in utah's tushar mountains

photo of a volcanic rock outcropping at sunrise in beaver canyon, utah

Although they are beautiful and unique, images don’t present themselves easily. Because of their nature, you don’t find majestic skylines like you would in the Tetons. To the casual traveler viewing the Tushar Mountains for the first time, they look nondescript…not especially noteworthy. As they say though, most things worth getting to know require a bit of time. The US Forest Service, which manages the public lands in the Tushars (part of the Fishlake National Forest), has a trail system in the Tushars, and off-trail travel is easy. Thus, it’s easy to “choose your own adventure.”


In addition to what was mostly solo hiking, I enjoyed talking with a couple of mountain goat hunters, locals whose families had been in the Tushars for generations. I was also fortunate to connect with a local landscape photographer, Brady Nay, who spent a day hiking with me and showing me some of the places he grew up with. It is always nice to meet other photographers whose images are driven by a sense of connection to a particular landscape. Brady’s certainly are, and it was a really fun day to explore some of the canyons in the Tushars with him. Whether it’s hunting or photography, public lands really do bind us all together.

a two-tiered waterfall with pale rock and bright green moss in the tushar mountains of southern utah

photo of a hunter leading his horse off of a snow-covered slope in the tussah mountains of southern utah

Wherever autumn finds you, I hope you find someplace you can rest, in peace and quiet, to enjoy the season’s best!

 

The Wilderness Project

Written by Alpenglow Images on September 15th, 2017

panoramic image with text and colorful mountains at sunset

The Wilderness Project is my current photographic project, launched earlier this month. Over the next several months, I will document the nineteen federally-designated wilderness areas in my backyard, Riverside County, California.

black and white photo of a slot canyon in the mecca hills wilderness of southern california

Mecca Hills Wilderness

Over the last year or so, I think we’ve become acutely aware of our public lands and what they have to offer. Our national monuments, especially, have garnered much attention, but there is still so much out there to see. The public lands-advocacy group Backcountry Hunters and Anglers has declared September Public Lands Month, and I thought it was apropos to launch this project in September. What’s more, many of the wildernesses in Riverside County were created with passage of the California Desert Protection Act, which turns 25 in 2019.

Finally, perhaps most importantly, I wanted to launch this project to know my own surroundings better. As Kenneth Brower (son of famed conservationist David Brower) writes, “There is a language for terrain, just as there is a language for art.” Understanding that language is crucial for the landscape photographer who wants to create personal, introspective images.

Some of the wilderness areas in Riverside County are ones you’ve been to. In fact, the most popular one–the Joshua Tree Wilderness–is one you have likely visited. The San Jacinto Wilderness is another popular hiking destination. However, there are others that you likely haven’t heard of. I recommend starting here as you orient yourself to my project, and consider subscribing to The Wilderness Project by email to get new blog posts as I visit the far-flung reaches of Riverside County.

Thanks for coming along on this journey! Hopefully it will inspire you to get into your own backyard to discover some of its hidden gems.