Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.Albert Einstein
Our outing yesterday took us to Kasha-Katuwe Ten Rocks National Monument some 35 miles south of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Part of our motivation to come to Santa Fe was the opportunities to hike. With a high fire danger though the National Forests were closed so we decided to head to the Tent Rocks for a short hike.
After a short hike through the desert Junipers we entered a slot canyon which provided a cool respite from the hot sun. We meandered through the slot canyon and then climbed up to a view point on the rim, hiking through fantastic towers and spires. These spires were formed by erosion of the volcanic ash left behind by local volcanoes millions of years ago.
Our hike covered 3.7 miles and we were happy to be done with our hike before noon, since the temperature was approaching 90 F when we returned to the car.
On February 26, 2018, we’ll be leaving on a jet plane bound for Tanzania, with a two-day stopover in Amsterdam. In Tanzania, we’ll be going on a 10-day photo safari with Africa Dream Safaris. While most of our local adventures have much to do about what we find along the way, this trip is all about the destination. Rather than risk missing an opportunity to see big animals, we’re hiring an experienced guide. No doubt there will be plenty to see as we bounce around the Serengeti in a Land Rover. We’re hoping to share some of our experiences while on safari, but it remains to be seen where and when we’ll have internet communications. Stay tuned…
On January 12, 2001, Bill Clinton signed a presidential proclamation establishing the Carrizo Plain as a National Monument. It was about 1987 or so when I made my first visit to this area. The Nature Conservancy sent me here with a mission to capture photos for fundraising to help purchase some of the property. Since then it has become a National Monument, and I’d like to think my efforts helped to protect the area. Since my first visit, the Carrizo Plain has become one of my favorite places. It’s noted for spectacular displays of wildflowers in the spring. Spring of 2017 was considered a “superbloom.” Sometimes called California’s Serengeti the Plain represents the largest single native grassland remaining in California. It is listed on the National Register of Historic Places for some very significant native American rock art. In 2012 it was designated a National Historic Landmark due to its archaeological value. You can view additional photos here. You can also read a previous blog entry from our spring visit here.
Following up from my previous post, after our Christmas morning breakfast of quiche, we broke camp and went about to explore some of the arches in the Alabama Hills. The Alabama Hills are a collection of rocks and hills at the foot of the Sierra Nevada Mountains just west of the town of Lone Pine just off of US Route 395. The rocks here have eroded in such a way as to form some fantastic shapes and arches which lend themselves to some amazing photo opportunities with the background of the Sierra. This was a popular spot for filming movies in the 1940s and 50s and there is a Museum of Western Film History located in Lone Pine.
Our explorations took us on a short dog-friendly hike that went past several arches including the Mobius Arch, perhaps the most notable arch. This is an ideal location for early morning photography, with the morning light catching the Sierra. By afternoon when the sun crosses the crest of the Sierra the mountains are back lit making photography more of a challenge. If you wish to visit the arches you can find an on-line map here. There are apparently hundreds of arches scattered throughout the area, but a handful are easy to access. A Google search also found a guidebook to 72 of the arches. You can also view more of the photos I captured here.
On Saturday, November 18, we launched our boats near Valley Ford for a paddle on Estero Americano. The Estero is a creek that meanders through the the low rolling coastal hills of Sonoma County ending at the Pacific Ocean. The property along the estero is all private farms and ranches, and with no public access, so there are very few people. The estero is also a popular place for bird watching also. There were 13 of us on the paddle. A paddle organized through BASK (Bay Area Sea Kayakers). We launched our boats at the bridge near Valley Ford and paddled five and a half miles to the ocean where we landed and had lunch. Joining us on the beach were four fellow BASK members that paddled on the coast side, from Dillon Beach and landing in the surf on the beach. There is a sandbar across the mouth of the estero so that the water from the estero does not actually drain into the ocean, although when conditions are right the estero will breach the sandbar and connecting the estero to the ocean. In addition to the photos above, you can find additional photos here and you can view a track log that show a map or our paddle here.
I’m not sure what inspired me to take this photo. Usually I prefer creating beautiful images for clients, or I look to celebrate the beauty of the natural world. But here was this scene that was demanding to be photographed. I had to stop and ask myself why I should photograph this. Is my fascination with an un-told story that demands to be captured? A public park used as the scene for car maintenance? Who was it? Was it one person or several? It was clearly somebody with a different value system than my own; a different ethic when it comes to how we view the natural world. I saw this scene as a challenge to create a visually compelling statement about the elements in the composition. And then I wonder if it’s the influence of photographers such as Walker Evans and his fascination with the mundane details of life that influences me? Is there something universally interesting here, or is it just my warped mind? And I took a bit of care in composing the image. I excluded a couple of used hypodermic syringes which would have told a whole different story or perhaps that’s part of the story also.
Five miles below Glen Canyon Dam the Colorado River makes a 270 degree turn resulting in a spectacular view. When we were planning our trip, this is one destination we put on our list of potential stops. Little did we know how many people we would find there at dusk. We made this visit on May 5, parking in the dirt parking lot and walking the .7 mile walk to the lookout point. If you have any fear of heights this will give you a good case of vertigo. It’s a straight drop 1000 feet to the water with no railing and just the jumble of sandstone rocks on the rim. Once I had my camera set up I was afraid to move. Not because of the height, but because with wall-to-wall people, if I had given up my spot there would be little chance of finding another location. Arrive early and stake your claim. This was as much a social experience as a photographic experience. While I waited for the sun to set I chatted with the folks on the rim, finding out about their trips, and attempting to give them advice when they figured I must know what I was doing. There was also a wedding going on, a couple of unruly dogs, and drones flying overhead, although the drones came down when an irate visitor started yelling at the drone pilots to warn them that they were flying illegally.
There are probably two options for the best lighting on this scene; late morning when the sun is high in the sky and shining down into the canyon, or dusk. At dusk you have the challenge of shooting into the sun with the canyon in shadow. To compensate I captured multiple exposures and blended them using a tool for high dynamic range photography (HDR). This is a good technique when a subject such as this displays an extreme range of light values from highlights (the sun) to the dark shadows of the canyon.
The idea of hiking to the Wave has captivated me for years. This is a rock formation on the Utah-Arizona border and photos of the formation are awe inspiring. That said, the idea of making the hike has intimidated me. To begin with there is the heat and the risk of getting lost or perishing in the desert. Second is the difficulty in obtaining a permit. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) issues permits for 30 people a day, and those permits are hard to obtain. And third is the location; the trail head is 800 miles from home.
This year we managed to make our way to Kanab, Utah, on a road trip to explore Southern Utah. We decided we’d take a chance on obtaining a permit to hike the Wave by taking part in the “walk-in-lottery.” We set up camp just out of town so that we could make the 8:30 AM lottery. There were over 100 people applying for permits so the chances of getting a spot were slim. I was dumbfounded though when they called number “29.” That was my number, and low and behold we were on to do the hike on the next day, May 5.
The next morning, we broke camp early and headed to the Kanab Creek Bakery for breakfast arriving at about 6:45 AM. Great food and good coffee and then we were on our way to the trail head. From Kanab, it’s still a bit of a drive. We were on the trail at 9:45. I had prepared ahead of time by downloading the hike to my iPhone navigation app, GaiaGPS, and I had a copy of detailed hiking instructions I had found on the Internet. The BLM folks caution against using GPS or other tail finding methods. They provide an excellent guide that consists of photographs with instructions. The photos feature landmarks and you simply have to look for the landmark in the photo and hike from landmark to landmark. The hike took us two hours to cover the three miles, on par with what the BLM suggests. We carried plenty of water for the two of us and our dog Carson. As it turned out there were several pools of water on the hike, and Carson took advantage of the water to drink and cool off. I wouldn’t want to count on any water being available later in the season. We spent an hour at The Wave, taking photos and eating lunch in the shade of on of the canyon walls. The return hike took an additional two hours, with temperatures in the mid-eighties by mid-afternoon when we returned to the car.
I can imagine the hike might be difficult if the weather had been any warmer, and I’m glad we had relatively mild weather. We saw many wildflowers on the hike, cactus, yucca, paintbrush and a number of others. The desert was in full bloom.
On Saturday, April 22, Earth Day, we gathered as family in Santa Cruz to celebrate the life of my father, Philip W. Johnson who passed away on November 15, 2016. Scattering his ashes seemed to be the appropriate way to celebrate his life. We formed a circle, and with a brief prayer, we passed the canister of ashes around with each person saying a few words before scattering ashes. The canister made two rounds. The first round was a bit somber, with the second round there was a bit more levity. Dad wouldn’t want us morning his passing too long. His remains are now fertilizer for wildflowers in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Following the ceremony we returned to Shiphouse, the big house we had rented for the weekend, had a festive BBQ, and went for a walk on the beach.