Tuesday, April 28, 2009

A Pastoral Scene in the Land of Contrasts

When most people think of Utah, they picture the canyons, hoodoos and many colorful red rock formations typical of the southern half of the state, but at the higher elevations north of Zion and east of Cedar City, the environment is much different. Two roads descend slowly from Cedar Breaks at over 10,000ft. through wide, open meadows like this one, evergreen forest and huge aspen groves growing right up out of black stone lava flows. In fall, the colors and atmosphere are truly gorgeous, but you can still drive around all day, pull over and stop anywhere you want and rarely run into other people, certainly never enough that it feels crowded. (You might however hit a traffic jam of sheep moving to lower ground for the winter as I did here the next day!) Every september I start watching foliage reports on the web and try to time a trip to catch the peak colors. I always get some fantastic images from this area and I love the seclusion and the beauty of it, not to mention all the other fantastic and varied landscapes within a couple hours drive. Kind of makes you want to leave the city and never look back.
I shot this late in the afternoon; the next day it was snowing hard at this elevation and I had to stay down lower and try to work in the rain.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Nature's Own Sculpture-SkyWatch Friday No. 41

This is one of those rare (for me, at least) examples of an image where I actually had a concept in mind well before trying to execute it.
I've been driving past this unique rock several times a month for years; it's right beside the road we have to travel between San Diego and our place in the mountains about a hundred miles to the northeast. I've always known that I was going to stop one day and do something with this, but it was just a matter of being there at the right time and having my gear with me also.  It lies in a high-desert transitional zone, so the sky here is usually clear blue unless there is some kind of storm in the area, but for once the weather gods were kind enough to leave these perfect high, thin cirrus clouds in just the perfect location to serve as a backdrop.. all around to the left, right and behind me was nothing but clear blue!  
As far as I know, this is basically natural, except for where some genius decided to paint a ring around the eye and possibly someone has chipped away a few strategic spots to emphasize the obvious, but that doesn't bother me too much. I wouldn't be surprised if there is some legend to this rock among the locals-I believe it lies on a bit of Native American reservation land-but if there is, I do not know it. I made 5 or 6 different compositions and don't know yet which will ultimately be my favorite, but for now this one will do.
Since the sky is an equal subject here, I am participating in SkyWatch Friday this week. Visit their page to see many other weekly entries... it's a hugely popular site.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Rainbow Falls

It has turned suddenly very hot here in Southern California, so I thought I should dig up an image that feels cool and refreshing. Apologies to any of you still getting snowed on.
These falls are located inside an area known as the Devil's Postpile National Monument, just west of Mammoth Lakes & Mammoth Mountain ski area in the eastern sierras. There's only one dead-end road in and out this place and it usually doesn't open until mid-June, the road being impassable due to deep snow. 
"Rainbow Falls" gets it's name from the fact that at the right time of day when the sun is high, you can see a perfect rainbow in the mist created by the falls. We didn't have enough time to hang around and find out... this was actually shot early in the morning, while still mostly in shadow. I managed to avoid it pretty well, but there is considerable mist all around and the force of the water creates it's own wind, which of course sends lots of droplets towards the lens of your camera and ruins your shot; also if the light catches it wrong you get an ugly glare. It took me an hour of climbing around on these rocks and using my hat to shield the camera to get something useable.
You have to hike in about a mile from the parking at the very end of the road through a recently burned out section of forest (see the above shot, courtesy of my wife), arriving along the upper right edge of the gorge seen here, then climb down a short but steep section to reach the bottom. Maybe it's a little hard to judge the scale of the fall, but it's 100 ft. tall and the water really roars through with a lot of energy until later in the summer when it quiets down a bit.

"Rainbow Falls" - Eastern Sierra

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Oldest Living Things

Imagine the world 500 years ago, 1,000 years ago, 2000 years ago.. How much of human history has passed in that amount of time? These trees, the ancient Bristlecone Pines, have lived here in the cold, dry White Mountains, east California's Sierras, for all of that and much more. Some were alive when the pyramids were built and were already mature trees when Jesus was born.
Growing between 10,000 & 11,000 ft. elevation on rocky dolomite (limestone) slopes that resemble the surface of the moon, these ancient patriarchs cling to life in this arid, hostile climate. Off to the west, the Sierra mountains squeeze most of the moisture from clouds coming in off of the Pacific and little rain is left to fall after they cross the valley and reach this range to the east, close to Nevada. Not much else can grow here, giving the Bristlecones, which have adapted to the climate and soil, the head start they need to survive.
Many of these trees are 2000-3000 yrs. old, calculated by both ring-counting and carbon dating - and the oldest tree, nicknamed "Methuselah", is determined to be 4,750 years old; it's exact location is kept secret, to ensure protection from vandals. The trees that live in the "better" locations grow fatter and taller and thus have shorter lives. The stunted ones living alone in the harshest conditions are well adapted and live the longest. Their wood is dense and impervious to disease, insects and rot and they only need a tiny amount of bark to live.. in fact letting parts of the tree die off is part of their survival strategy.
My wife and I spent an afternoon wandering among and photographing these beauties last year. Several trails wind through this grove (which is the "lower" one at 10K ft.) and for the whole afternoon while hiking, we didn't see another person.. just these ancient sentinels standing quietly as they have for centuries, facing the crest of the Sierras off to the west.
This is my first time to participate in Monochrome Monday... you can see an index of other participants by clicking on the link. You can also click on the smaller, first image to get a more detailed view.

"The Sentinels" - Eastern Sierra

Thursday, April 9, 2009

An Old Tree of Character

This ancient Monterey Cypress clings all by itself to the rocky cliffs above the crashing ocean waves below. Known as the "Old Veteran", it is probably the oldest cypress on Point Lobos, a small but very beautiful rocky peninsula that lies just south of Carmel and north of Big Sur on the central California coast. These guys can live a maximum of about 300 years, so this one must really be up there in age and considering the constant rough weather, it's truly a testament to survival that it can live here for so long.
Point Lobos one of those iconic locations for photographers... Edward Weston lived the last 20 years of his life just a few miles from here and produced many famous nature abstracts and landscape images in this location. His grandkids still live, work and teach photography in the area. You can find unique rocky beaches, birds, sea otters, sea lions and thick forests all along the many trails that wind around the peninsula and it's small enough to cover it all on foot. 
I'm sure many, many photographers have this same image in their collection, but it's the one you have to get if you shoot here.. then you can move on to some more original stuff! I have many from here and will come back to it from time to time.

"Old Veteran Cypress" - Point Lobos

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Spring in the Desert

In late winter/early spring, the normally hot and dry desert of east San Diego county, Anza-Borrego, comes to life with wildflowers and cactus blooms. We were a little late in getting out there this year and most of the vast fields of flowers were gone by, but it seemed still a little early for most of the cactus flowers. I prefer the cactus anyway... they are more unique and somehow more interesting to photograph than simple flowers because they come in such wild shapes & textures and each has it's own special bloom, most of them really beautiful. The ocotillos are tall and wispy, with small red flowers on the ends (the one seen here didn't have many yet) but have brutally sharp barbs hidden by the small green leaves. The other cactus below is a beaver tail (I think you can see where that name comes from) and they have these really bright pink flowers each spring.
There are some challenges to working in this environment; I have been stabbed several times by cactus for not paying attention while maneuvering to set up a shot and the light is usually extremely harsh during the day due to the dry climate and clear blue sky. Better to forget the big scenics during the mid day and concentrate on detail subjects. Even for that I try to bring along my trusty fold out reflector/shade to knock down the bright sun - I was able to use it to good advantage on this one. The colored lichens on the rock were kind of a color bonus. My main reason for being in this particular spot was to find a rock with some ancient native-american pictographs that I had read about.. I'll cover those separately in the near future.