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Photo of the Month–February

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

January is already over, and the sun is starting to creep more and more northward in the sky every day.  Photographically, January was productive, and I’m excited to share some new images with you in the next couple of weeks.  February’s image of the month is an intimate landscape from a wildly popular location on the Utah-Arizona border.  During the first week of 2011, we traveled to Page, Arizona to visit the Paria River-Vermillion Cliffs Wilderness.  Never heard of it?  Perhaps not, but I’d be willing to bet you’ve seen images from it.  The area’s crown jewel is “The Wave,” which draws huge numbers of tourists every year.

We began our trip by hiking into The Wave, and it holds up to its expectations: its stunning.  The Wave and surrounding Coyote Buttes North has some of the most striking geological formations in North America.  It should come as no surprise, then, that The Wave is also heavily photographed.  Confined to a small area, I think it would be nearly impossible to come up with a novel composition from The Wave itself.  While there, I snapped a few images, and enjoyed the surrounding area.  It may sound like heresy to some people, but I enjoyed some of the alcoves around The Wave more.  In fact, judging by the paucity of footprints, I found some fantastic locations that seem to hardly get visited just a few hundred feet away!

After enjoying this lovely area, we visited some other canyons in the area, and that’s where I found this month’s image.  One of the things I’ll blog about soon is the diversity of sandstone in this area–amazing, whimsical formations and colors abound.   I really liked the way the sandstone “windows” here contrasted with the ice below.  I hope you enjoy it too.

Also, I wanted to mention that yesterday I had the honor of being featured by David Hyde over at the Landscape Photography Blogger.  Over there, David primarily showcases the work of his father, Philip Hyde, the pioneering color landscape photographer.  Head on over and check out the feature as well as some of David’s other blog posts.  I think you’ll quickly learn that if you don’t already read regularly, you’ll want to.

Sandstone and ice in Buckskin Gulch, Paria River-Vermillion Cliffs wilderness, Utah.

Ice underneath, January 2011

The Canyons of Utah, part 1

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

Let the canyons seep into your soul. Allow the quiet, the mystery, the chaos to work its way deep into your being, making you calmer, gentler, sweeter.

–Tom Jones, Imlay Canyon Gear

I’ve just returned from a week-long trip to the greater Zion area in southwestern Utah, exploring a number of canyons.  Two of the canyons within the park itself involved some technical expertise, some large rappels, and for my part, a few butterflies in my stomach.  I was, however, able to carry my SLR body and a lens in a Pelican case and take some photos of this area of Zion National Park that few visitors get to see.

The first canyon we descended was Mystery Canyon, which feeds into Zion’s main canyon.  The beginning of the hike is the descent into the canyon itself.  I use the term ‘hike’ loosely–this is basically a controlled fall, with the hiker braking himself on tree branches, roots, etc, while trying to not kill himself.  This descent has affectionately been named the “Death Gully.”

Mystery canyon in black and white, Zion National Park, Utah

Mystery Canyon, Zion National Park, June 2010

Once in the canyon, the walls closed down around us, leading us through several rappels, ranging from 30-120 feet in length.

The walls of Mystery Canyon, Zion National Park, Utah

Inside Mystery Canyon, June 2010

A hiker canyoneering in Mystery Canyon, Zion National Park, Utah

A canyoneer inside Mystery Canyon, Zion National Park, Utah

Mystery Canyon culminates with two large rappels; the first of which sends you into the icy waters of Mystery Springs, and the second one delivers you straight into the Narrows of the Virgin River, approximately 3/4 mile from the Temple of Sinawava.  Because of its close proximity to the trailhead, you usually have an audience for the final rappel–make sure you don’t do a face plant on the rock!

Because of the high flow through the Virgin River this year, the day we descended Mystery was also the first day the Narrows were open, meaning we were the first group through that canyon this year.  Because of that, we had a significant amount of deadfall to clear, making the going slow.  We left the canyon scratched, battered, and bleeding a little bit, but honestly, it is so exciting to see a beautiful canyon that fewer than 1% of the park’s visitors will ever see.

The next day, we descended Behunin Canyon, which can only be described as BIG.  I’ll share photos from that trip in the next blog post…

Off to Zion

Thursday, June 17th, 2010

Yesterday, I arrived in one of my favorite national parks: Zion.  Nothing screams summer to me quite like splashing through the pools and climbing on the sandstone in this wonderful national park.  I’m meeting some friends in hopes of descending a couple of technical slot canyons, and despite the ropes, harnesses and dry bags, I’m going to try to throw my SLR in as well.  I’m also hoping to take a day to hike up the Narrows of the Virgin River in hopes of getting some shots of the river, red rock walls, and green spring foliage.  However, that part of the plan may be cancelled…

Due to heavy snowfall in the high country all around the west this winter, all of our rivers and streams are flowing higher than normal; the Virgin River is no exception.  As of 6/9, the Virgin River in Zion is flowing at 190 cubic feet per second (cfs); the park service won’t even let people into the Narrows unless the flow is below 120 cfs.  However, the stream flow rate has been dropping steadily, and I’m confident I’ll be able to get into the Narrows.  Also, please don’t get me wrong; I’d much rather have to scrap a photo trip than have no water in the park.  The drought is far from over in the western US, but every little bit does help.

So, here’s to the Virgin River.  Have a fantastic weekend!

Virgin River abstract image, Zion National Park, Utah

Virgin River, Zion National Park, January 2010

To see all of my images from Zion National Park, click here.

Mammoth Mountain

Monday, June 14th, 2010

Despite the fact its one of the more cliché and popular mountains in the Sierra, Mammoth Mountain is one of my favorites.  Why?  For starters, its a very tectonic hill.

Mammoth is a lava dome complex that is known primarily for the large ski area that bears the same name.  Mammoth Mountain was formed in a series of eruptions that ended 57,000 years ago. However, it still produces hazardous volcanic gases that kill trees and have caused ski patroller fatalities in 2006.

In addition to being very active geologically, Mammoth is also well known for its unusually high amount of snowfall–about 400″ annually.  In the summer, mountain bikers take over the mountain, with the Kamikaze downhill run being very popular.

Mammoth Mountain, Mono County, California

Mammoth Mountain at dawn, May 2010

To see all of my photographs from the Sierra Nevada, click here.

Photo of the Month-June

Tuesday, June 1st, 2010

June’s photo of the month comes from one of my favorite summer places–Mono Lake.  Located at the base of the eastern Sierra Nevada mountains, Mono Lake is one of the few remnants of Ice Age lakes in the West that is still a year-round lake. The lake has persisted for more than 730,000 years, but faces an uncertain future from both natural and man-made causes. The lake is very alkaline and since 1941, has become moreso, due to the diversion of freshwater springs into the Los Angeles aqueduct. By 1982, the lake’s level had dropped 45 feet, exposing something that makes Mono unique: curious brown structures called tufa towers. Tufa towers are deposits of calcium carbonate (due to calcium present in underwater freshwater springs, and carbonate in the lake water).

Over Memorial Day weekend, we visited the eastern Sierra on a family camping trip, and I was able to sneak out to make this image Sunday night.  I haven’t done many star field shots, but this one really captures the essence of the lake for me.  A few months ago, I blogged on just how popular the lake has become with photographers.  True to form, when I arrived to set up this shot on Sunday night, there were at least 40 photographers present at South Tufa, and I got some funny looks as I started setting up while everyone else was leaving.  Soon, I had the entire place to myself, and I could contemplate the cosmos while darkness overtook the landscape.

This is one of my favorite images from the night.

Mono Lake California under a starry night time sky

The Ghost Ship, Mono Lake, May 2010

Click here to see more of my Mono Lake photos.

Mariposa Lilies

Friday, May 28th, 2010

A friend of mine told me about a small patch of Mariposa lilies that are currently blooming in the local foothills.  Mariposa lilies are fairly widespread throughout western North America, and can be white, yellow, purple, bluish, or streaked.  Regardless of the species, they are magnificent little flowers.  In our “local” patch, there are two species blooming, Palmer’s Mariposa lily (Calochortus palmerii), and the desert Mariposa lily (C. kennedyi).  Over the last few days, we’ve visited this patch a couple of times, hoping to find non-windy conditions; despite the spring gusts in southern California’s high desert, I managed to get some decent shots.  Hope you enjoy them!

Palmer's Mariposa Lily

Palmer's Mariposa Lily (C. palmerii)

Desert Mariposa Lily

Desert Mariposa Lily (C. kennedyi)

To see all of my Mariposa lily images, visit my new Mariposa lily page here.

Vasquez Rocks

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

Last Friday, after stopping at the Antelope Valley to photograph poppies, I drove down the 14 freeway to Vasquez Rocks County Park near Santa Clarita.  I’ve always wanted to visit this park, but its always been slightly out of my way.  I’m glad I stopped.

Vasquez Rocks was set aside, in part, because of its unique geology; the rocks were uplifted as a result of activity in the Elkhorn Fault (an offshoot of the San Andreas fault), and with time the erosion of sand away from the sandstone left rocks that jut out of the ground at very picturesque angles.  The sandstone has a variety of mineral deposits, giving it unique colors.  In addition, I found a rich lichen diversity, and enjoyed taking detailed shots of it.

Triptych of lichen photographed at Vasquez Rocks County Park, California

Several examples of the lichen present at Vasquez Rocks

In addition, Vasquez Rocks’ proximity to Los Angeles has made it a popular filming location for several movies and TV shows, including Star Trek, Zorro, and MacGyver.  Because I visited in midday, I wanted to focus primarily on intimate compositions (like the lichen above) or contrasty black and white shots; fortunately the clouds were on my side in providing an interesting sky.

Famous Rocks at Vasquez Rocks County Park, California


In addition to the great scenery, the upside of stopping here is that the rocks didn’t move in the wind!

Anacapa Island, Channel Islands National Park

Monday, April 12th, 2010

Last week, I had the opportunity to visit Channel Islands National Park, located off the southern California coast.  The park consists of five islands–Anacapa, Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara, San Miguel, and Santa Rosa–each one with a different ecology and endemic species.  For my first trip out there, I chose to visit Anacapa Island, as it is the most accessible from the mainland, and it has a very unique ecology from the other islands (its geologic origins are different from the other islands too).

Coreopsis blooms on Anacapa Island, Channel Islands National Park, California

Coreopsis blooms on Anacapa Island, April 2010

We almost didn’t arrive on the island, as landing is difficult on Anacapa, and the presence of a large swell almost prevented them from dropping us off.  Luckily, the ocean smoothed out by the time we arrived in the landing cove, so we were able to get off and walk up all 153 stairs to the island.  As I had hoped, the Coreopsis, or tree sunflower, blooms were going strong (the only place you find these flowers is on Anacapa Island and a small patch of land on the mainland).  However, joining us in our relative solitude were ~50,000 nesting Western Gulls.  Have you ever shared a small space with that many gulls?  If you haven’t, its…ummm…noisy.  🙂

Western Gulls and coreopsis

Western Gulls on Anacapa, April 2010

With only 1.5 miles of hiking trails, Anacapa is an easy island to scope out for potential photo compositions.  I spent the afternoon looking for intimate compositions on the island before the sun went down.  With gulls everywhere, it was only natural to include them in my shots.

About 1 hour before sunset, the wind started blowing.  While not bad at first, by the time we walked to Inspiration Point for sunset, it was a full-blown gale.  With wind gusts at nearly 50 miles per hour, how do you keep your tripod in place?  Make a friend anchor it, of course!

How to anchor a tripod in the wind

By the time the sun went down, and we arrived back at camp, the wind was blowing significantly harder: I’d guess it was sustained around 45-50 miles per hour, and gusts were nearly 65 mph (it bent and broke some of our tent poles).  We used guy lines to better secure our tents and went to bed.  It is difficult to sleep when your tent is continually hitting you in the face and chest.  After a few sleepless hours, I got up to a beautiful, windless sunrise over the Pacific.

morning on Anacapa Island, Channel Islands National Park, California

Anacapa morning, April 2010

The photo above shows the water house and the light house on Anacapa (along with a whole bunch of our “friends”).

After packing up and hauling our gear down to the dock, it was time to head home.  Despite the smell and constant sound of the nesting gulls, and the hurricane-force winds, it was a very rewarding visit to Anacapa Island, and I look forward to visiting the rest of the Channel Islands in the near future.

To see all my photos from Anacapa Island, click here.

Photo of the Month–April

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

A few posts ago, I threatened to share more of my agave images from my winter project.  Here it is half a month later and I haven’t had a chance to post more (I gotta shake this day job!), so I decided to share another agave, Agave attenuata, for my April photo of the month.

Black and white image of an agave

Agave attenuata, January 2010

This image was processed similarly to the ones I shared previously.  In this one, I like the way the edges of the leaves are almost highlighted from the backlit conditions; a small amount of fill flash with a diffuser filled in the shadows.

Hope you’re enjoying spring!

The Wild Animal Park, and an airshow

Monday, March 29th, 2010

For the last week, my parents have been in town visiting.  I was able to sneak away from work on Friday and take a three-day weekend, so we decided to go to the San Diego Zoo’s Wild Animal Park.  Driving down there, our two-year-old repeated “Amnal Pak” about 500 times, so we knew it was a good way to spend the day.  At the park, all of the usual suspects were out, and I got some interesting abstract shots of a few different animals.  My real hope, however would be that the Epiphyllums in the botanic garden would be be in bloom, but we were a little too early (save for one flower, below).  Such is life; their annual butterfly exhibit opened on Saturday, so it gives me an excuse to go back!

Desert bighorn sheep, Ovis canadensis nelsoni

Desert Bighorn Sheep, March 2010


The lone blooming Epiphyllum, March 2010

On Saturday, our local airport hosted an air show, and in the afternoon several F-18 Hornets flew over our house; I was able to catch one as it made a low pass.

FA-18 Hornet in flight

F-18 Hornet in flight

On the way to San Diego, I had a chance to look for more wildflowers, and as others have reported, it doesn’t look like much is happening this year.  There are a few small patches of poppies and other flowers here and there, but for the most part, things simply didn’t happen this year.  My wife and I went for a hike locally Sunday morning, and we noted that things are definitely past peak, even with the grass.

This week is my spring break, so I’m planning on getting caught up on my blog posts, as well as taking a couple of short trips–one to Joshua Tree National Park, and one to Channel Islands National Park–I’m excited to share some new images on here!