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New Portfolio Images

Monday, February 6th, 2012

Things have been a little quiet here on the blog this year.  I guess, perhaps, I’ve been suffering from a bit of writer’s block, but I have been enjoying sharing a daily image on Facebook.  I’ll be writing more here on the blog soon.

At the end of 2011, I spent a couple of really enjoyable days at sand dunes in Death Valley National Park, including the Eureka Dunes.  So far this year, I’ve spent a couple of days in southern Nevada at Valley of Fire State Park, as well as the surrounding Lake Mead National Recreation Area, and have been on a few rainy-day hikes at one of my favorite places in southern California.

I’ve uploaded new portfolio images to several of my galleries here on the site; all of these images have resonated with me, for various reasons, and I hope you check them out!  A few (that haven’t already been featured here on the blog) are below.

I hope your 2012 is off to a great start!

Gnarled oaks at the Santa Rosa Plateau Ecological Reserve

A Foggy Day, January 2012


Sunrise at Elephant Rock, Valley of Fire State Park, Nevada

The Elephant & The Moon, January 2012


Late Afternoon in Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah

Persistence, November 2011

Season’s Greetings!

Saturday, December 24th, 2011

The end of another year is upon us, and I stand in awe of how quickly time flies.  Hopefully your holiday season is filled with happiness and satisfaction when you look back on 2011.  Our house is filled with family right now, and a 3-year-old who is very excited about having Grandma and Grandpa here for a visit, so I’ll probably be pretty quiet on the blog until after the new year.  Looking back, though, I am very grateful for this blog, because of all the repeated visitors who have become good friends, and the new visitors, who I hope will become friends in 2012.

Some posts on this blog generated some great discussion in 2011:

To end 2011 on a very happy note, I received word the other day that one of my images (below) was accepted to Yosemite Renaissance 27, a juried exhibit that will be on display in Yosemite Valley from February 24-May 6.  Mine was one of 48 pieces selected for the exhibit out of almost 700 entries–I’m very proud and happy to have my work displayed in this exhibit.

Reflection of a mountain peak in the John Muir Wilderness, California

High Sierra Reflection, September 2010

I sincerely hope you have a great holiday season, and a wonderful start to 2012!  I am looking forward to seeing where the new year takes us…


Intimate Zion

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

I remember my first visit to Zion National Park as a teenager, on spring break, with my parents.  It was one of the only trips we took as a family that was a vacation for vacation’s sake.  All other car trips to that point had been to visit family in Wyoming or Nebraska.  I have to admit it felt odd to be on a vacation with my parents!  But, the massive sandstone cliffs and buttresses left me nothing less than floored, making me quickly forget about the awkwardness of “being seen” with my parents.

Since then, I’ve returned to Zion several times; I’ve hiked the entire length of the Narrows, the classic Virgin River hike, and I’ve been through many of the technical slot canyons in the park.  I feel privileged to have seen parts of the park that <1% of its visitors get to experience.  Most recently, I’ve returned to Zion with my own family, sharing its serenity and sanctuary with them.

Like all heavily photographed areas, Zion has its own repertoire of icons: the Towers of the Virgin, the Narrows, Court of the Patriarchs, the Subway.  Moving past these locations, though, I have consistently found it very difficult to make a compelling image in the midst of the breathtaking beauty.  I should qualify that statement: I find it difficult to make an image that makes me stop and say, “Wow, that’s awesome!”

On our most recent trip to the park, I focused on the intimate details.  Autumn is in its final throes in Zion Canyon right now, with most of the cottonwoods and maples half-naked, ready for their hibernation.  Three weeks ago, this place was crawling with photographers, I’m sure, now these trees have been all but forgotten about.  Still, I find a certain beauty in these vestiges of fall.

Fremont cottonwoods in autumn foliage, Zion National Park, Utah

Autumn's final vestiges, November 2011

Big leaf maple, Zion National Park, Utah

Hanging on, November 2011

Early morning is my favorite time to be in Zion Canyon; deer are peacefully grazing, turkey are out, and the chill is still in the air because the sun hasn’t penetrated the depths of the canyon yet.  There’s often a breeze blowing, almost as if the canyon is starting fresh every day.  As the cliffs begin to greet the sun, the light reflects on to the river, giving it a wonderful tonality.

Virgin River cascade

Cascade, November 2011

I welcomed Zion into my heart and mind years ago.  The fight I have with the place is that I haven’t–until recently–let it drive my creativity.  I’ve been trying to force the park to reveal itself to me in ways it isn’t ready to do.  Letting go of the notions I held on to let me see in a different way, making images I never expected to make, but am happy with.   I will continue making my yearly pilgrimages to the park; I look forward to seeing how the canyon reveals itself to me next time…and I’m grateful my son is years away from that stage of not wanting to be seen with me.  🙂

Desert Sentinels

Friday, November 11th, 2011

In the deserts and canyons of the southwest, water can be tough to come by; as a result, charismatic megafauna that rely on that water are often elusive and secretive.  The desert bighorn sheep (Ovis canadensis nelsoni) is a widespread, but uncommon resident of the southwest.

They truly are sentinels of the desert; on any given afternoon in Joshua Tree National Park,  you might see one surveying the landscape from atop a granite boulder.  In southwest Utah, they return to the canyons from the high country when the temperature starts to fall.  In the desert communities around Palm Springs, they illustrate the interaction between man and nature very well; bighorns have taken to eating ornamental cactus and other plants, so large fences have been erected to keep them out (which is ironic, because some people would pay to see a sheep!).

Desert Bighorn Sheep (Ovis canadensis nelsoni) in Joshua Tree
Desert Sentinel
Desert Bighorn Sheep (Ovis canadensis nelsoni), Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

The interaction between humans and bighorns isn’t a recent thing, though.  In fact, humans have been interacting with them since the southwest was first settled, probably thousands of years ago.  If you take any interest in rock art at all, you’ll quickly find that bighorns were a ubiquitous subject of prehistoric artists.  Indeed, I wonder if the Ancestral Puebloan and Fremont peoples who lived with these animals found them just as captivating as we do today.

Fremont River petroglyphs, capitol reef national park, utah
Badly weather damaged petroglyphs depicting desert bighorn sheep
Wolfe Ranch Petroglyphs, Arches National Park, Utah

In some ways, the desert bighorn sheep embodies the spirit of the west: it is largely solitary, is resilient, and has shown a great ability to adapt to the desert environment.  Its a true steward of the ecosystems it thrives in.  The Desert Bighorn Council is a great resource to learn more about the biology and conservation of desert bighorn sheep (they list links to many local organizations as well).

Photo(s) of the Month–November

Friday, November 4th, 2011

I think this is the first time since beginning this blog I’ve broken from my Photo of the Month tradition.  Its not really for lack of wanting.  The truth is, I have had trouble deciding on just one image.

Instead I’ve decided to share a few new images that I’ve been working on, all with a common theme:  long exposure.   In the right situation, a long exposure provides extra time for either the camera to move, or elements within the frame to move (like clouds or water), adding unique drama to a scene.

First, I recently purchased an 8-stop neutral density filter.   I’ve wanted one for quite a while, after seeing some great long exposure work from other photographers.  Mac Danzig has a great tutorial/informational blog post on them here.  I waited for a stormy morning with dramatic skies to try it out at a local beach, with some great rock formations.  The rock in the second image reminds me of a molar from a Pleistocene-epoch carnivore…

Stormy morning at Little Corona Beach, Newport Beach, California

Stormy morning, November 2011

A clearing storm at Little Corona Beach, Newport Beach, California

The sea's jaws, November 2011

In addition to letting the scene move, interesting effects can also be achieved by moving the camera while the shutter is open.  Zoom blurs have become more popular over the last few years, but I added another element.  In addition to zooming the lens during the exposure, I also rotated the camera.  The subject I chose to try this out on is California buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum foliolosum); I have always loved the fall color palette of this plant, but haven’t been able to make an image of I like.  Finally, with this technique–although it won’t appeal to everyone–I feel like I’ve gotten the colors to blend in a way that’s appealing to me.

An abstract image of California Buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum foliolosum)

Hallucination I, October 2011


An abstract image of California Buckwheat (Eriogonum fasciculatum foliolosum)

Hallucination II, October 2011

Looking out my window, I think autumn may have finally come to southern California!  I hope you have a great November; in the U.S. its a time we give thanks for many things–what are you thankful for this month?


Overland Flight

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

As we board the homeward bound flight, the sun is setting over the Rocky Mountains, reminding me of my early childhood years living in Denver.  The sunset becomes more intense as the plane is pushed onto the runway, and takes off, leaving Denver International Airport behind.  The beauty of flying westward into the sunset is that it lasts longer–the earth’s shadow and Belt of Venus seem to be eternal, keeping me company as I daydream looking out the window over my sleeping son’s head.

Below us, lights from the small towns of the West are starting to come on.  I wonder what’s happening in those towns on this Friday night; people are relaxing at the bar after a long week of work, teenagers are cruising Main Street looking for something to do.  Despite that, its the empty spots, the growing blackness, that capture my imagination.  I’ve been a passenger on this route enough times to know what’s below me: the foothills of the western slope of the Rockies, the Green and Colorado Rivers, the white rim of Canyonlands, the Grand Canyon, the Mojave Desert.

Its quite possible there’s not a whole lot of unexplored areas left in the West, but part of me wants to hang on to the notion that there is still some “out there” left out there.  David Roberts recently had a thought-provoking op-ed piece in the New York Times arguing that with 21st Century technology, there’s not a whole lot of wilderness left.  That hopeful naïveté I cling to wants to disagree with him–that possibly there is still an unexplored canyon, or at least a hill which offers a great view of this everlasting sunset–that has yet to be enjoyed.

Aldo Leopold wrote,

To those devoid of imagination a blank place on the map is a useless waste; to others, the most valuable part.”

Tonight, sitting on this jet with a bird’s eye view of the West, I have to wonder where my imagination would wander if there were no blank spots on the map.   As a photographer, I have been thinking a lot lately about documenting these wild lands–what is my responsibility as an artist, my obligation to protect these lands?  If those peaks and mesas are leveled, if lights begin to dot the landscape, these places will change forever.

Where does your imagination wander?  None of us would argue over the value of those blank spots on the map, but what do you think–is there a fine line between artist and activist, or are they one and the same?

Sunset and moonrise at Thousand Island Lake, Ansel Adams Wilderness, California

End of the Day, July 2010

Till Death

Friday, July 22nd, 2011

Not to sound too sociopathic, but death has always interested me.  Perhaps its the remnants of a childhood curiosity, but when I’m out and I see a dead animal I always stop to look at it, and if I have my camera handy, I often will photograph it as well (see here and here).  I guess, on some level, I feel there’s a very distinguished beauty in death, the ability to rest in peace, returning to the earth, and photographing it is my way of honoring the cycle we all will participate in.

Last week, a Cooper’s Hawk (Accipiter cooperii) turned up in my yard; it had been completely consumed by another predator (another hawk, I assume), leaving only the legs, wings, and tail feathers.  Before picking up the carcass, I made sure to make a few images of it.

Cooper's Hawk (Accipiter cooperii) talons

Talons, July 2011

Wing of a cooper's hawk (Accipiter cooperii)

Flight pattern, July 2011

The Grand

Tuesday, June 7th, 2011

I remember my first trip to the Grand Canyon in 1992–it was not only my first backpacking trip ever, but also my first memorable trip to a national park.  We went over spring break, in late March, and it was snowing hard at the South Rim when we arrived.  I remember being cold and wet the night before our hike began, being completely terrified on the icy (and steep) South Kaibab trail the following morning, and sweating as we walked into Phantom Ranch later that afternoon.  The rest of the trip was rainy, often very cold, and wet.

Despite all of that, I had a great time.  A funny thing happens after outdoor experiences like this one: we seem to forget all of the “bad” parts of a trip, remembering the good things.   Do the bad experiences really go away?  Not completely:  We learn from them.  As a novice backpacker, I learned several things about hiking in poor weather; I learned them the hard way, but I survived.

The thing that stuck in my memory more than anything else from that first trip to the Grand Canyon was the magnificence of the place.  The sheer drops, layers of sandstone, and of course the power of the Moenkopi-colored mud flowing in the Colorado River.  I’ve returned to the Grand Canyon more than almost any other national park.  During my first trip it was simply breathtaking; since then it has become breathgiving.

Vishnu's Temple at dawn, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona

Vishnu's Sun Salutation, May 2011

Since 1992, I’ve backpacked the Grand Canyon once more, and have camped on the rim multiple times.  Each time I say to myself, “Why don’t I visit more often?”  Yes, its packed with people, especially on the holiday weekends when I find time to visit, but there’s a magnificent peacefulness that surrounds it.    There are small pockets, places, you can go and hide, and despite the hordes, its almost as if you have this huge amphitheater to yourself.

Just like so many other geologic wonders on the Colorado Plateau, there really is nothing like the Grand Canyon on earth.  Although I’ve enjoyed it for 19 years, I just now have images of it.  Click the image or here to see the rest.


Photo of the Month–June

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

In a previous blog post about the San Bernardino Mountains, a local range here in southern California, the comment section filled up with people who believe in finding the beauty in your own backyard, so to speak.  For this month’s image, I chose another from this range, because it represents the happiness of finding something quite unexpected and very photogenic, right in your own backyard.

A few weeks ago, we were driving to the mountains to attend a party my wife’s boss was throwing.  Due to a couple of wrong turns on the way up there, I noticed more and more Pacific Dogwoods (Cornus nuttallii) that were in full bloom.  I’m well aware of the huge flux of photographers into Yosemite Valley and Sequoia National Park for the spring Dogwood bloom, but I had no idea they bloomed so close to my home.

The next morning, a friend and I headed back to the mountains to spend some time with these lovely flowers.

Pacific Dogwoods near Crestline California, in the San Bernardino Mountains

In Bloom, May 2011

Also, I wanted to mention that I’ve put up a gallery of some of my images from the San Bernardino Mountains (click the image, or here).  It really is a pleasing mountain range that continues to surprise me.


Wednesday, May 25th, 2011

After the grim nature of my last post, I thought I’d share some of the positive wildlife encounters that can be had in the desert.  Last summer, a friend and I discovered huge number of common poorwills (Phalaenoptilus nuttallii) that roost on the roads in Joshua Tree National Park after dark.  As a kid I remember nighthawks–another member of the Nightjar family–that would swoop through the evening sky, scooping up insects with their oversized mouths.  So, the discovery of these poorwills was welcome and nostalgic.


A Common Poorwill (Phalaenoptilus nuttallii) in Joshua Tree National Park, California

Common Poorwill I, May 2011

I assume the poorwills–which are ground-dwelling birds–roost on the roads for a clear view of the sky, and the insects they are hunting.  They fly upwards, grab their prey, and return to the ground fairly quickly.  They can also be quite tame, when approached by a car.  By getting out slowly and crawling on my belly with a short telephoto lens, I was able to get within about 7 feet of this poorwill before it flew away, letting me get a couple of intimate portraits.

One thing that’s evident here is the amazing camouflage these animals have–they blend in very well to their surroundings, making such an open roost probably quite safe.  In addition to that, you can see the large eyes (great night vision) and “feelers” around the mouth, to help locate prey in the very immediate vicinity.

With summer approaching, keep an eye out for these charming birds on the roads!


A Common Poorwill (Phalaenoptilus nuttallii) in Joshua Tree National Park, California

Common Poorwill II, May 2011