Bosque del Apache

Written by Alpenglow Images on January 28th, 2016

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

– Mary Oliver (1994)


Geese, with their cacophonous honking, have filled my dreams lately.

Earlier this month, I visited the Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge with my dad.  In winter, thousands of Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese converge on this area of south-central New Mexico to feed and prepare for their migration back north to nest; he and I have both always wanted to visit.

I admire several very talented wildlife photographers, and I can’t even pretend to make images of birds on par with theirs.  However, I’ve always loved birds of all sizes, and as a friend recently pointed out, I’m one of “those” birdwatchers.  As Terry Tempest Williams writes, “The birds still remember what we have forgotten, that the world is meant to be celebrated.”   How can one not be comforted by the dark green and snow white plumage of ducks, or admire their fidelity to place, migrating in a choreographed annual cycle that spans continents and is embedded in their genes?

bosque del apache snow geese fly in

Sandhill Cranes, Bosque del Apache

Even at the refuge, the daily cycle of the birds quickly becomes apparent even to the casual observer–en masse movements to and from the nighttime safety of water to daytime fields for what seems like a very conversation-filled meal.  Arriving with the focal length of a landscape photographer, I wanted to photograph the feeling of the place, rather than individual birds, to capture the visceral excitement of an evening fly-in or fly-out.

Top all of this off with a green chile cheeseburger at the Owl Bar, and it wasn’t a bad trip at all.

snow geese on an evening fly out, bosque del apache

Snow geese, Bosque del Apache

Sandhill Cranes flying at sunset

 

Chaos Theory

Written by Alpenglow Images on January 16th, 2016

In walking around southern California, I notice many people are starting to doubt the legitimacy of the rain this record El Niño was said to bring us.  Fair enough…we’ve had only one honest storm so far, but meteorologists say it is really just starting to come into its own. Despite not rearing its head too badly yet here, much of the Sierra Nevada is already at 100%+ of snowpack, and wildflowers are starting pop up in the desert.  More on that in a minute though.

At the end of fall, right before Christmas, I made a quick trip to the Grand Canyon.  While there, I got to experience a fairly stormy day on the south rim, complete with howling winds, whiteout conditions and closed roads.  A couple of images from that trip easily made my Favorites of 2015.  Then, Jackson Frishman and I headed to Death Valley National Park, and the weather was equally spunky.  There was no snow in the valley, but there was plenty of rain, great clouds, and even a few surprises thrown in along the way.

Visiting the Grand Canyon and Death Valley so closely together in time is sort of a surreal experience.  As if I had lost it, I quickly regained my appreciation for deep geological time.  Nearly 75 million years ago during the Laramide Orogeny, the Colorado Plateau was pushed upward nearly two miles and the Colorado River (which flowed from the newly formed Rocky Mountains) started to cut into the rock, forming the Grand Canyon.  Today, the river has cut about as deeply as it can go–to the basement Vishnu Schists–giving us a look back in time about 1.7 billion years.

Death Valley’s geologic story is a bit more complex (and violent), but as the Vishnu basement rocks in the Grand Canyon were being formed, Death Valley was already in a state of unrest, with rocks in certain areas being twisted and folded.  One area of particularly complex folding has been dubbed the “Amargosa Chaos” and is found in the southern end of the Black Mountains.  Fold, fold, fold…then separate.  That’s how the Basin and Range Province creates its mountain ranges–plates are pulled apart until they tilt upward creating massive mountain ranges with deep valleys between them.  In this part of North America, as John McPhee writes, the continent is literally being pulled apart.

You also start to understand a scale of spatial immensity in these two places.  While the Grand Canyon is typically thought of as the “deep” canyon at around 6,000 feet, it’s got nothing on Death Valley, which is over two miles deep (at its deepest).  If you’re not interested geology (I know…how can you not be?), it might be just as easy to stand in awe of both of these places, allowing yourself to feel small, both as a part of the landscape, and as barely-a-blip in geological time.

It’s worth noting briefly that while spring on the Grand Canyon’s rim is a few months off, it’s already happening in (especially) the southern end of Death Valley.  Jackson and I saw fields of Desert Gold (Geraea canescens) that created a wonderful lace-work pattern among the volcanic rocks in the southern Black Mountains.  All of the other usual suspects were starting to bloom as well, but are several weeks off from peak.  Hopefully some dreary, drizzly conditions continue in Death Valley, and it’s got the possibility of becoming a very good year for wildflowers.  Jackson has several photos and more commentary on his blog as well.

A winter evening at the south rim of the Grand Canyon

Death Valley mountains and wildflowers

Stormy winter morning on the south rim of the Grand Canyon

Salt Creek Hills, Death Valley

 

2015 year in review

Written by Alpenglow Images on December 24th, 2015

It’s that time of year again when you start to see ‘best of’ lists popping up all over the internet.  I can’t lie–I enjoy them just as much as the next person.  It’s always fun to look back on the year, to think about where you’ve been, where you’re going, and to think about what lies ahead in the coming year.  In choosing my most memorable images of the year, it became all about reflection.

Photographically, the most notable thing about 2015 was travel to new and exciting places.  Iceland, Canada, and Basin & Range country in Nevada were some of the new places I got to see in 2015, and I also “rediscovered” some of the mountain ranges here in southern California, seeing them with new eyes.  Solo exploration allowed time for quiet contemplation, and of course the best adventures often are shared with people close to you–these are the ones I’ll never forget.  In the span of week in August, I was in central Nevada soaking in hot springs and watching wild horses at 11,000′, then hiking through the pouring rain in Alberta.  It was a very special year indeed.

Below are some of my favorite and most memorable images from this past year.  As always, I want to thank Jim Goldstein for putting together a very comprehensive index of best-of lists from photographers around the world.  Make sure to check it out on his blog; the list should be available in early 2016.

You can also see some of my favorite images from years past as well: 20142013 | 2012 | 2011

Stormy mountain scene near Vik

Icelandic mountain scene – January

Seljalandsfoss Waterfall

Seljalandsfoss, Iceland – January

joshua-tree-pinto-basin-sunset1

Pinto Basin, Joshua Tree National Park, California – February

san juan river from goosenecks state park, utah

San Juan River, Utah – July

south twin river toiyabe mountains

Toiyabe Mountains, Nevada – August

playa in monitor valley nevada

Edge of the Playa, Nevada – August

avalanche creek, glacier national park

Glacier National Park, Montana – August

Saskatchewan River Banff National Park

Banff National Park, Canada – August

stormy sunset inyo mountains california

Inyo Mountains, California – November

san gabriel mountains moonset near wrightwood

San Gabriel Mountains, California – November

desert view sunrise, grand canyon national park

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona – December

lipan point sunrise, grand canyon national park, arizona

Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona – December

 

Making Peace

Written by Alpenglow Images on December 7th, 2015

I normally try to not let politics mingle with my photography, mostly because I’m not that political of a person. However, last week’s shootings in California hit a little too close to home, and today I’m feeling the weight of it all.

Today, I’m thinking about this image, which I made back in 2010 in the cemetery at Manzanar National Historic Site. If you’ve spent any time in the eastern Sierra, you’ve surely driven by, maybe even stopped. Manzanar was one of the internment camps that the U.S. government established after the bombing of Pearl Harbor to house Japanese-American citizens. These internment camps were the result of the mass hysteria of not knowing who the enemy might be as the U.S. entered World War II.

Upon reflection, our view of Japanese-Americans was painted with the broad brushstrokes of fear–an entire ethnic group was characterized based on the actions of a government across the Pacific.

It’s been a rough month, with the Paris bombings, various attacks elsewhere, capped off by the largest mass shooting seen in the U.S. in two years. Of course no reasonable person wants to see these things happen, but at the same time, we struggle for someone to “blame”–perhaps knowing we can pin the blame on someone, or something, helps ease the sting a little bit, helps us make sense of it.

In making peace with these senseless deaths, history seems to be repeating itself, and many people are once again painting an entire religion with broad brushstrokes, based on the actions of a few. The growing hysteria and now-cyclical rhetoric is no doubt fueled by ongoing debates between presidential candidates, social media, and the conflation of this discussion with that of gun control.

I’ve only stopped at Manzanar once–it’s all I could handle. While the visitor center presents the role of internment camps in our history as best it can, there’s a certain melancholy that seems to have transcended the buildings and gardens, which are now gone. There’s the memory of good people being ripped from their homes and sent to places they didn’t want to go, simply because of their ethnicity. This was a low point in our country’s history; although it can’t be undone, it should be cause for serious self-reflection. The violence we face today is not a Muslim problem, a Christian problem, or an atheist problem. It’s a problem of angry people doing awful things. Stopping those awful things from happening is the topic of another blog post, which I’m not qualified to write.  However, if we are to move forward as a country and search out solutions, we can’t do it divided, scared of one another, labeling one another–it simply won’t work.

Okay, now that that’s off my chest, the year is wrapping up and I’m thinking about my “best of” blog post. I’ve had a varied, but productive year, and look forward to sharing some of those images soon.  Thanks for reading.

Manzanar cemetary, with Mt. Williamson

 

Happy Thanksgiving

Written by Alpenglow Images on November 26th, 2015

Happy Thanksgiving!  It’s hard to believe that a year has passed already since my last Thanksgiving post.  It’s true what they say about time flying by, and that’s been something on my mind a lot lately.  This year, I’m grateful for time spent with family and friends over the last year, today, and in the year ahead.

This morning, I started the day in the San Gabriel Mountains of southern California.  Predawn temperatures were in the teens.   Rime ice covered the trees, and as icicles started falling off pine needles, they shattered the morning’s silence with the tinkling sound of fine china hitting the ground.  Not a bad way to start Thanksgiving morning.  This afternoon will be spent with a pot of posole, then off to the desert tomorrow to spend Black Friday outdoors.

Wishing you and yours a happy Thanksgiving!

San Gabriel Mountains, fog

 

El Paisaje Perfecto

Written by Alpenglow Images on October 9th, 2015

I was really happy a couple of weeks ago to be contacted by Pablo Sánchez, who runs the website, El Paisaje Perfecto, a spanish language website about photography and conservation.  Pablo invited me to be featured in an article on black and white landscape photography, and the article was published today on his website.

Black and white images don’t make up the bulk of my work, but they are an important part.  In my interview with El Paisaje, I said that for many photographers, black and white is an afterthought in the digital darkroom, as if color didn’t work the first time.  However, I prefer to start out by visualizing an image in black and white in the field, and bring that through the entire post-processing workflow.  A well-processed black and white image can be very evocative, which is what draws me to black and white.

The ability to conceptualize a scene in the field then bring it to life in monochrome is a great way to exercise one’s vision.  So too is the identification and isolation of the important components of the composition.  I made this image in August on a cloudy day along the North Saskatchewan River in Alberta, Canada.  As you enter the dramatic Icefields Parkway that connects Banff and Jasper National Parks, scenes like this are the low point of the scenery, but the forest and moving water drew me in.  After playing with several exposures to get the riffles in the river “right,” I knew I had something that probably wouldn’t hold up to snuff in color, but in black and white, the feeling of the impenetrable forest was certainly conveyed.

Saskatchewan River Banff National Park

I hope you enjoy the article.  For more great black and white landscape photographers, see the work of Bruce Percy, Michael Gordon, and Bruce Barnbaum.

 

Adventures in the Sagebrush State

Written by Alpenglow Images on September 8th, 2015

In early August, Jackson Frishman and I were able to get out for a short backpack in the Toquima Mountains of central Nevada.  Although I’ve been interested in the lonely and desolate central Nevada mountain ranges for several years, I hadn’t really been able to explore them until our trip; Jackson was nice enough to give me a great tour.

The entire Basin and Range Province–which occupies most of the American West–is characterized by steep mountain ranges alternating with arid valleys.  In central Nevada, where the Toquimas are located, this pattern is especially pronounced.  These ranges were formed not by crustal plates pushing together, but rather by their separation.  Big blocks of crust acted like icebergs as the West was pulled apart, and one end tipped up, creating a mountain range, while the other tipped down, contributing to a basin.  Despite the common mechanism by which these mountain ranges were created, they are diverse in terms of their ecology.  The White Mountains of eastern California are at the western edge of the Basin and Range and are quite dry, with sparse vegetation (save for their eastern slope), but the other high ranges in Nevada (the Toiyabes, Toquimas, Snakes, etc), are surprisingly lush with beautiful aspen groves and verdant streams and rivers.

white mountains from fish lake valley

Jackson and I planned to climb Mount Jefferson, which is the tallest peak in central Nevada.  Driving across western Nevada to the trailhead, we watched thunderheads build all afternoon.  As we packed our bags, rain drops started to fall, and by the time we hit the trail, we were in a full-on downpour.  We continued onward in the rain through a mix of sagebrush and aspen–two species I’m not used to seeing together.  After about 2,000 feet and three hours of climbing, the rain got the better of our spirits (and our body temperatures) so we set up the tent to climb into the warmth of our down sleeping bags.  Once the rain stopped, we hiked a little further up the trail and saw that it had been snowing not far above us on Mount Jefferson.

The next morning we were awake long before daylight, continuing up the trail towards Mount Jefferson.  Trail builders in Nevada don’t seem to believe in switchbacks, so while steep, the ascent didn’t take long.  Not long after sunrise, we found ourselves in a bowl around 11,000′ looking up at three bighorn sheep rams making their way across the peak above us.  Hiking further up onto the plateau that separates the different summits of Mount Jefferson, we spotted many more bighorn ewes and lambs.

In hopes of spotting more sheep, we walked across the plateau between the Mount Jefferson’s south and middle summits.  Ahead of me as we topped a small rise, Jackson stopped suddenly and said, “whoa.”  I immediately assumed sheep, but a small band of wild horses was just as surprised to see us as we were them.  After spending about an hour with them, we headed south again, towards the highest summit of Mount Jefferson.  Jackson has some great images of the horses here.

As we left the horses I happened to stumble across a small, nearly perfect arrowhead.  This portion of the Toquimas is part of the Alta Toquima Wilderness, which is named for the Alta Toquima archaeological site, which we weren’t far from.  At an elevation of about 11,500′ feet, this site is the first evidence we have that early Americans were settling relatively permanently at high altitude as early as 1 AD (this gives some interesting background on the site and its discovery).  Permanent high altitude settlements are rare in North America, as opposed to places like Peru, Tibet, and Ethiopia.  After photographing the arrowhead we left it and went on our way.

Arrowhead in the Alta Toquima Wilderness

Although we spotted more bighorns in the distance we were unsuccessful in getting a close look (one curious lamb did come fairly close to us for a good look).  After summiting, we hiked back to camp to pack up, then back to the trailhead.

bighorn sheep lamb

After leaving the Toquimas we explored the Monitor Valley which is located east of the range, and the Toiyabe Mountains just a little bit before heading back home.  Even though it was a quick visit to the, it was interesting to see how different they are from the Toquimas.

sunset in monitor valley nevada

south twin river toiyabe mountains

The Basin and Range isn’t an easy place to photograph, in fact I found it quite humbling.  Although I was surprised by the number of (unpaved) roads on our visit, the “best” viewpoints are not easy to get to. The abundance of roads isn’t necessarily matched by an abundance of trails, making access a bit tricky and perhaps left for a time when you’re feeling ambitious.  That said, the payoffs are pretty big.  Jackson and I had complete solitude during our visit to the Toquimas, we saw incredible wildlife, and got to briefly experience of a bit of culture.  That’s not bad for an overnight backpacking trip.

 

The Savages of the Colorado Plateau

Written by Alpenglow Images on July 16th, 2015

In early July, I made it home to the Four Corners region of the Southwest to visit my parents.  Although I haven’t lived there in close to two decades, I use the word home to describe it because that’s how it feels–no matter how long I’ve been gone, it always feels like I haven’t left.  Perhaps this isn’t a good thing, implying things about a lack of progress, etc., but I prefer to think that feeling is due to an intangible familiarity that is coded in our DNA.  Safe, familiar, known–space becomes place.

As I usually try to do on my visits home, I visited the Cedar Mesa area of southern Utah.  Driving across the unassuming highway that crosses the Grand Gulch Plateau, I was reminded of the many backpacking trips I took there when I was younger.  My friends and I climbed the ledges of the canyons, busted through the willows, and–yes–explored the numerous Ancestral Puebloan ruins in hands-on style.  While we were never destructive, we certainly never hesitated to climb inside, living in our own fantasies of what the lives of these people must have been like, completely oblivious to the historical context of the sites.


Last week, I took my seven-year-old son backpacking in our local mountains here in southern California.  After driving home from New Mexico, he wanted a “short car ride,” and I was happy to oblige.  The San Jacintos have really wonderful Sierra Nevada-esque piles of granite boulders, and after arriving at our campsite for the day, he was content to play in these makeshift forts, but of course from a seven year-old’s perspective, a fort can always be improved on.

After a few hours of playing, he asked for help moving a huge number of logs and deadfall into a particular area to create a wall.  My first reaction was that moving that wood would violate Leave No Trace principles, and I caught myself starting to redirect his attention towards something less impactful for future visitors.  But then I looked around: impact abounded around us.  Visitors from the weekend had left a 5-gallon bucket of water, there was trash in the next door.  One weekend’s crowds leave, another’s roll in.  I happily picked up my first log and put it where I was directed–this was going to be a wall that could stop Hannibal and his elephants.

After getting home, I read an article that perfectly echoed my sentiments from that evening in the San Jacintos.  Environmental education (for kids especially) has almost gone so far as to turn kids off from nature.  As the author of the article says, kids need to be untutored savages in nature for just a while in order to appreciate it, treasure it.  My afternoon of asking my son to appreciate being outside went completely unheard; after building the wall together, he asked if we could live in the mountains for the rest of the summer.  All it took was 20 minutes.


Back to Cedar Mesa, and my childhood years running rampant through its canyons.  Today we know the area was colonized at least twice by Ancestral Puebloans, and it is incredibly rich with archaeological sites.  Some of them are well known and can be reached easily (like the sites I visited as a kid), but others are more remote, their locations are more guarded to prevent looting and just to keep them from being “loved to death.”  Today, I feel incredibly connected to this place–probably more so than anywhere on earth–but if you had tried telling the twelve-year-old me the area’s history, I would have tuned out for sure.  Looking back, I feel like I needed to be an untutored savage on those backpacking trips to have the appreciation I do for the place today.

The timing of my recent trips and this article are serendipitous, and it does seem like certain things intersect in our lives at opportune times.  Understanding the nature of nature education is research that needs to be done; instilling a notion of the inherent value of the land in our children needs to be done now, and with urgency.  This is especially true on Cedar Mesa.

Given my years of running freely there, I admittedly have some internal conflict about it, but I can’t help but feel the area needs more protection.  Some pockets–like Natural Bridges National Monument–are protected, but the area at large is managed loosely by the Bureau of Land Management, and the oversight is minimal.  The “guarded” archaeological sites I mentioned are becoming less so by the day with GPS coordinates popping up here and there on the internet, putting them at risk for looting (which is shockingly rampant) or simply being “loved to death.”  Add these threats to the area’s cultural history to potential development, and we are forced to ask at what point we impose stricter rules via protection.  It’s never an easy issue on public lands.

storm cell over Monument Valley, seen from Cedar Mesa, Utah

This recent article from the High Country News summarizes the groups involved in Cedar Mesa’s protection and the compromises being made on that long journey.


“One final paragraph of advice: do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am – a reluctant enthusiast….a part-time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here. So get out there and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, the lovely, mysterious, and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much; I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those desk-bound men and women with their hearts in a safe deposit box, and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this; You will outlive the bastards.”  — Edward Abbey

An Untutored Savage


 

Long-distance relationships

Written by Alpenglow Images on June 4th, 2015

“Sense of place is the sixth sense, an internal compass and map made by memory and spatial perception together.” — Rebecca Solnit


Over the last several years, I’ve devoted much of this blog and my photographic efforts towards the Colorado Plateau.  More so than even the results I’ve shared here, I’ve devoted time and experience to the Plateau; no place I’ve visited has given me a more of a feeling of calm than that landscape of sinuous canyons, sandstone mesas, and petrified sand dunes.  That’s why I return year after year without fail; every time I go back I hear my bones say, “I’m home.”

I feel that the resulting images from my time spent on the Plateau are purpose-driven, grounded, intimate, and unique.  As an individual, no one else can see things quite like me, and I want my portfolio to reflect my own way of seeing.  Just like with any relationship, time has been invested to get to know the Plateau, as well as a few cactus pricks, scrapes, and bruises.

Because of my approach to photography, I’ve never been great at walking into a place for the first time and being comfortable making images.  I almost always experience some intangible awkwardness during the process.  How does place-based landscape photography translate to travel to distant locations, where a great distance has been traveled and the unlikelihood of ever returning again is small?  I recently found myself asking this question when my girlfriend and I ventured to Iceland for my first big trip away from the Southwest.  Tourism in Iceland has exploded in popularity over the decade or so, and I wanted to avoid making copies of everyone else’s images; I wanted to see the country with fresh eyes.


Stormy mountain scene near Vik

Planning an appropriate itinerary is key.  While it’s tempting to want to see everything, that is not conducive to thoughtful landscape photography.  We picked out three or four places that we considered ‘must-see’ locations and planned around them.  Anything more would have been difficult or impossible given the amount of time we had.

In concert with the logistics, I had to ask myself, “why is this a must-see location for me?”  Presumably the idea of it spoke to me in some way, so I proceeded to learn more about these places.  Iceland, like many European countries, has a rich history, so spending time to learn the stories of the places I wanted to visit helped me to tell the stories with my images.  Knowing the story behind many of the Icelandic sagas helped me to understand the culture and people, and reading about the geology of this ever-changing island also helped give me a sense of place.  As always, I had a map out as I did this, allowing me to connect the landscape with the stories.

Seljalandsfoss Waterfall

Being able to go back to Iceland would probably be of great benefit to me photographically.  However, the work I did before leaving home made me feel as though I had a connection to the place before ever setting foot there, which–in my opinion–made the photography that much more productive, enjoyable, and meaningful.  People and places make up the topography of our lives; the result is not much different than a landscape, with valleys and peaks, sunrises and sunsets.  My internal compass will always calibrate toward the Colorado Plateau and Southwestern United States, but I came home from my first international trip understanding that it is possible to connect with a place even if I may never visit again.

See all of my Iceland images here.

Reynisdrangar sea stacks

Jökulsárlón Lagoon

 

Chasing Set

Written by Alpenglow Images on March 7th, 2015

“You will then…quickly discover the music and poetry of these magnificent rock piles…each and all are the orderly beauty-making love-beats of Nature’s heart.”  — John Muir


Every so often a place will catch my eye and after just a little research, “Hmmm that place looks interesting!” turns into a bit of an obsession. This is probably why I’ve always liked maps so much: I can imagine what a place is like, and after I’ve been there, I can mentally put individual rocks and trees on the contour lines.  This obsession isn’t driven so much by photography, but by how remote and unvisited it is.  There’s something calming about unplugging and getting far, far away.

I’ve had my eye on the Coxcomb Mountains, a small but surprisingly imposing mountain range near the California-Arizona border, for a little over a year.  After they caught my eye, I started reading the few trip reports I could find, trying to correlate them with topographic maps.  In late January a friend and I made a long day hike into the range, and it was exactly what I’d hoped for: no trails, no sound, and no easy access point.  I returned a couple of weekends ago for an overnight backpack.

Coxcomb Mountains Sunset

The mountain ranges in the Southwest deserts are basically very big piles of boulders–the Coxcombs rise over 3,000′ from the bajada.  Their canyons are choked with rocks and boulders that have come down from the high peaks during floods and winter freeze-thaw cycles.  There’s a special kind of chaos here in the desert, and after being in places like this, it’s no wonder that in Egyptian mythology Set is the god of both the desert and chaos.  Making a coherent photograph out of the disorder would require me to climb to one of the high points in the Coxcombs to confront Set on his terms.

Sunset on Dyadic Point, Coxcomb Mountains

There’s no available water to speak of in the Coxcombs, so I spent only one night, hauling in about six liters of my own water.  After a four-mile hike across the bajada, I started working my way up a canyon, towards Tensor Point, one of the three high points in the Coxcombs that make up “Aqua Peak.”  The panoramic view from the top is impressive, and one can see the San Bernardino Mountains nearly 100 miles to the west, as well as ranges that stretch into Arizona.  Additionally, the views of the Pinto Basin, in Joshua Tree National Park, are outstanding.

After sunset, I spent a couple of hours with a somewhat pesky deer mouse, and finally fell asleep.  I woke up the next morning with no deer mouse but with a thick blanket of clouds.  After breakfast, I packed my gear up and arrived at the car just about the time rain started to fall on the desert in earnest.

I’ve never had much luck making any sense of the desert’s jumbled boulder piles in a photograph.  While they’re beautiful to look at, they’ve never translated well to photographic compositions for me.  Being on top of Tensor Point allowed me to step back from that chaos and compose images that seemed to make it all fall into place.  After a nine mile cross country hike through boulder piles and thick cat’s claw, I realized that maybe to make sense of the chaos, you must fully immerse yourself in it.