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2016 year in review

Monday, 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 our Public Lands

Friday, 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

A visit to Joshua Tree, part 1

Monday, July 12th, 2010

Last week, a friend and I headed out to Joshua Tree National Park in search of summer wildlife.  There’s no doubt the desert is not a fun place in July–we started the first of three hikes in 80+ degree temperatures and ended up hiking in 100+ degrees, but it was a productive trip.

We started the day near the Black Rock Campground in hopes of finding Scott’s Orioles to photograph.  We did see several orioles, but they buzzed by at top speed, with no interest in stopping for us to photograph them.  Instead, we did find several very accommodating Ash-throated Flycatchers, and I got some nice shots of these pleasant birds.  To see all of my Ash-throated Flycatcher images, click here.

ash-throated flycatcher, joshua tree national park, california

Ash-throated Flycatcher, July 2010

After spending a couple of hours hiking in this area, we headed over to the 49 Palms Oasis trail, which is a fantastic place to photograph Chuckwallas and Collared Lizards.  We weren’t successful in finding many Chuckwallas, but we did find a few flashy and cooperative Collared Lizards.  These are some of my favorites, and I was very happy to find some that were so willing to let us photograph them.  To see all of my Collared Lizard images, click here.

great basin collared lizard, joshua tree national park, california

Great Basin Collared Lizard, July 2010

Great Basin Collared Lizard, joshua tree national park, california

Great Basin Collared Lizard, July 2010

When its over 100 degrees Fahrenheit outside, its easy to see why these heat-loving lizards would seek refuge in the bushes rather than the rocks–its much cooler!  Even in the upper photo, you can see the lizard’s toes lifted off the rock–presumably they stay cooler this way.

After these two very hot hikes, we headed into the main part of the park to look for antelope ground squirrels and dragonflies.  No squirrels were to be found, but we did find a scavenger-like scrub jay, as well as several dragonflies, including a new one for me: red saddlebags.

scrub jay, joshua tree national park, california

Western Scrub Jay, July 2010

Red Saddlebags, July 2010

In addition to this, we found several desert bighorn sheep (future post), and a few other cool things.  Despite the heat, it was a great day in our local National Park!

Wave Abstract

Tuesday, July 6th, 2010

Lately, I’ve been using Nik Software’s plug-ins for Photoshop and have to admit that I’m loving them.  As a result, I’ve been revisiting some old images in an attempt to breathe some new life into them.  One image in particular that I’ve had in mind is this shot of the Pacific Ocean that I took in April on my visit to Anacapa Island in Channel Islands National Park.

waves in the pacific ocean, channel islands national park

Wave Abstract, April 2010

In this shot, I wanted to accentuate the detail in the waves, as well as the water texture in both the leading and tailing edges of the waves.  By processing the lower lefthand part of the image as monochrome using Nik Software’s Silver Efex Pro and leaving the upper righthand part of the image in color, I was able to accentuate the difference in these areas of the water.

Incidentally, in my last post on my Channel Islands trip, I talked about how intense the wind was.  For most of the night, we dealt with wind gusts of 50-65 miles per hour, with no vegetative cover.  Equipment takes a beating in that kind of wind, and today I received an image from my friend, whose tent we used that night on Anacapa.  These tent poles used to be straight.

bent tent poles from anacapa island winds

The Wrath of Anacapa