Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Next Day

We spent the afternoon hiking in the Jumbo rock area, looking for angles and images to take. We ended up with the classic iconic image of the balanced circular rock. As we were setting up and waiting for the light two young marines began scrambling up the rock faces. It was obvious they were intent on getting to the top but to our surprise they left off. Later a rather macho looking guy lead his girlfriend up the same area... she was wearing tight jeans and he was in Chucks... not exactly climbing clothing... They managed to make it to the top with him lecturing her the entire way on the proper handholds to look for and so forth. I was convinced we were going to see a very bad accident. The young marines appeared and chatted with us a bit. Apparently they had decided that while they could infact make it up to the top without trouble, it's a different story coming down. They were shocked that the couple had made it up and were also thinking there might be an accident waiting in the wings. After a few slips and wobbly half-hearted attempts to make it down the way they had come the couple went in search of another route. We saw them later making their way to the parking lot... they seemed to be none the worse for wear and still friends so I can only assume they managed to find an easier path down. I was most impressed by the young marines decision NOT to climb... I always think of young guys as being adrenaline junkies and willing to take any risk out there - I assumed based on their age that these two were the type to leap first and regret the decision later... they proved me very wrong and I couldn't be happier about that.

The skies were clear and so we set up to play with star trails that evening. I've never had the opportunity to try, it seems every time I think of it or have a good foreground subject, the weather is against me. As it was I had to give up early when I couldn't feel my feet. Another cold night in the sleeping bag but at least it didn't snow!

Joshua Tree

We've finally made it to Albuquerque, New Mexico for the North American Nature Photography Summit... or as my husband likes to say 'NAMBLA'... to which I always shout back 'NANPA'!!

But first Iain and I spent a few COLD days on the ground in Joshua Tree. I have been to Joshua Tree only once and only for one night as I was passing through to other locals. I've been eager to return to the park since. I have to admit, while I enjoyed the park, I wasn't at all thrilled by the ranger staff. The ranger at the gate was disinterested, wanted to see the park pass and wave me on as quickly as possible. I asked what his favorite camp site was and he paused and thought, I pressed further and asked which was the quietest... the one word answer... Belle. Ok... so we entered the park and started to check out all of the different camping sites. As I was driving down the main road I caught movement out of the corner of my eye... an absolutely beautiful coyote was standing on a rock in the most icon of desert southwest scenes. I slowed and pointed her out to Iain and no sooner had I done so but a ranger swooped in, obsuring the view and demanded to know why I had stopped on the road. I pointed past him, obviously excited and babbled about the beautiful coyote that I had spotted and he stated "Well, you can't stop here." Rather than argue and face expulsion from the park I grumbled and moved along. Aren't parks meant to be enjoyed? What ever happened to slow leisurely driving through a beautiful area? Granted the traffic Jams created in Yosemite and Yellowstone by visitors gauking at the wildlife can get teadious but not allowing people to even pull over to the side of the road to admire nature in a National Park??? I guess this behavior isn't tolorated in Joshua Tree.

We did end up in Belle, camp site #3 which was tucked behind a rock outcrop, shielding us from the worse of the cold wind which was blowing through. By the time we got the car unpacked, the tents pitched and camp set up we had just an hour before sunset. We raced (within the speed limit of course) to the Cholla Cactus garden. We ended up with about 10 minutes of light before the sun disappeared behind the mountain, throwing the valley into darkness. The wind picked up and it was bitterly cold so we decided to make it an early night.

The next morning the storm clouds had rolled in and we were regreting not trying for star trails when we had a clear sky. We headed out to Keys View and in woolen hats, layers of thermals and down jackets we were able to face the wind and work on capturing the spectaular view of Coachella through the Indio Hills. One tourist asked Iain why he was crouching beside the path taking pictures when he had a perfectly good view from the lookout point. Iain pragmatically said "Why don't you come down here and see for yourself". Surprisingly the guy did and he was so pleased with the view of the trees in the foreground that he agreed it was a better angle. Funny that people so often follow the herd and rarely explore beyond what someone else tells them they SHOULD be enjoying.

With the overcast skies we ended up in Hidden Valley working the Yucca spines and cactus that fill the box canyon. Before I knew it I had been working the same plant for 45 minutes! The clouds got darker and darker until they finally opened up and let loose with the snow. As I snuggled in for the night, watching the snow and sleet coat the top of my tent I've never been so appreciative of thermals and flannel lined sleeping bags!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Moving on

We spent this morning at Zabriski Point again finding different angles and enjoying the sunrise. Ran into Photographer, Donald Hall, a lovely gentleman whom I had briefly met at the Art Wolfe International Conservation Photography Awards. He was kind enough to have worn a bright red jacket on his trek up the hills. I worked him into several panoramic shots of the point in a "Where's Waldo" kind of way. I can't wait to get home to stitch these panos together! We chatted for a bit and he gave me several ideas for my next trip to Death Valley. THANK YOU, Don!

We left Zabriski and headed toward Badwater with the intent of shooting macros of the salt. Along the way we found another coorporative raven and spent about an hour parked on the side of the road on our bellies photographing him as he hopped from rock to rock. I'm sure people wondered what in the world we were doing laying in the dirt on the side of the road while they were rushing by to see the next big view. We finally made it to Badwater and worked the salt for a while. We had to be certain to be back at the hotel to get the remainder of our gear from our rooms before check out time.

After lunch we headed West out of the park and turned South on Trona-Wildrose Road. We stopped at the Ballarat Ghost Town. A small collection of mud houses in disrepair. The mood of a ghost town was completely absent from this place... there were RV's parked nearby, signs for the showers, a large gift shop... So we headed back onto the road after a quick look.

We reached the Trona Pinnacles around 3pm and the light was flat and ugly. I could see images everywhere I looked but nothing that would work without the light. We explored the area, waiting for the storm clouds to break just a little bit to give us a hint of light. From time to time we got a 30 second window, just quick enough to set up the tripod and snap one image before another cloud moved in. There was a film crew there, setting up to shoot something so we steered well clear. Only two oher vehicles showed up in the time we were there.

Finally, about 20 minutes before the sun would be hidden by the horizon the clouds broke and we were treated to light on the Pinnacles. The difference the light made was amazing. The entire landscape came to life and all of the potential images I had been frustrated in not capturing properly, came to life.

The Trona Pinnacles are a National Natural Landmark managed by the BLM. Comprised of over 500 Tufa spires (calcium carbonate), some as high as 140 feet, the Trona Pinnacles are a spectacular sight to see. The spires were formed between 10,000 and 100,000 years ago when Searles Lake formed a link in a chain of Pleistocene lakes that ranged between Mono Lake and Death Valley. The Pinnacles have been used as a filming location for episodes of Lost in Space and Star Trek and movies like "Planet of the Apes".

Tomorrow we reach Joshua Tree. We'll finally get out the camping gear and stay a few nights on the ground which I can't wait for! Unfortunately... or fotunately depending on your view point, there won't be internet acess from there so you will all have to wait to see what comes out of the next few days! Be safe everyone and get outside and enjoy nature!! =0))

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Weather Cursed or Charmed?

I seem to be a weather magnet... In Zion I started the hike to Angels Landing with several friends on a beautiful warm day boasting of a clear blue sky... by the time we reached the top black angry clouds had rolled in, lightning was striking and it looked like Armageddon!

This was not an isolated incident... tornadoes in upstate New York and Texas, a week of camping in the rain in Maine, the tail end of a hurricane on Midway Atoll... Weather seems to follow me.

So is this a curse or a blessing? For the photographer I tend to think blessing. Death Valley is a wonderful place to photograph but throw a couple of storm clouds up and WOW does it pop! Add pools of water in an area that hardly ever sees rain and you have something special. So while we didn't get to visit all of the iconic spots, we definitely came away with some some unique images.

The road crews are working tirelessly to get all of the roads back open and so by Tuesday morning we had an entirely new stretch of road to explore. We shot Zabriski Point at sunrise which turned out to also be moonset. We weren't in the prime position to take full advantage of the moonset but we managed to come up with some nice compositions which included the moon and the unique features of the landscape.

From there we started scouting our sunset location. We drove to Badwater and hiked out onto the salt flats looking for the wide, flat, white, salt rings for which the area is famous. No such luck - the rain has made the ground swell. Badwater looked more like the Devil's Golfcourse with thick high ridges of broken ground. So after a nice walk we headed out to scout other locations. A quick hike in Golden Canyon where we met a wonderfully cooporative raven and then we explored West Side Drive. At the lowest point in the road we found a wonderful mud area and decided this would be our sunset spot. Walking the gravel edge we had to be very careful not to sink into the deep mud... I had a few moments when my tripod slowly stopped being level... after checking the legs were infact locked I had to laugh at myself when I realized the offending leg had actually sunk into the mud. I'm looking forward to heading back to Death Valley to explore some of the side canyons off West Side Drive. We only saw one other vehicle down there, all the other cars stuck to the main highway. In other locations tourists poured off buses and milled around the parking areas.... lining up outside the bathrooms, venturing a few feet out into the desert before retreating to the safety of their metal shell. No thank you! Right now my shoes are covered with a thick mixture of salt and orange clay mud, my jeans are spattered with mud, the knees are thick with salt, I have cactus scratches on the backs of my hands and dirt under my nails. I couldn't be more happy.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Expecting the Unexpected

So, this morning we headed up to the Mobius Arch in the Alabama Hills. I had to check to be certain today was indeed Monday. There were not one... but THREE photographers there before we arrived. The only consolation was that Mt Whitney remained hidden behind a snow storm. The sky turned a beautiful shade of pink that I have only seen in the Sierra range and I had nowhere to point the camera... I had a specific shot in mind and the fact that I couldn't achieve the image just left me paralyzed. I soon recovered and managed to obtain some nice images but not when I had pre-visualized. I think the lesson for the remainder of this trip it to expect the unexpected and to throw away any preconceived image I might have in my mind.

Onward to Death Valley we traveled... Ok... so maybe I'm naive but I really thought Death Valley in winter was a grand idea. I envisioned a wonderful three days camping at the Racetrack, sunsets at Badwater, maybe a session at the Mesquite Dunes... I did not expect so much rain that all of the roads in the park would be closed!! I mean... we can't even get to Badwater!! Aparently they have a very small road crew and there has been a VERY large amount of rain these past few days. Hoping for better luck tomorrow... until then, sleep is calling me. :0))

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Tahoe to Lone Pine

I woke well before dawn, made coffee and dressed in warm layers. After calling Iain's room to be certain he was awake and would be ready to go I rechecked my directions to the Bonsai Tree Rock. Well... I didn't check them well enough. We made it to Sand Harbor and were pretty certain we were NEAR the proper location but we could not for the life of us find the darn rock. The park was closed and wouldn't open until 8AM according to the sign... BUT, someone left the exit gate open so we snuck in and parked. After walking the entire trail and not finding the rock I settled for a few compositions of the jumbled rocks and drift wood near the sandy beach.

From there we drove through Carson City, Nevada and back into California with the Sierra Mountains keeping pace to our right. It snowed lightly thoughout the day and my plan was to spend the afternoon photographing in Lee Vining along the end of Mono Lake. I love the Tufa formations and leap at any opportunity to explore the area that I can get... however... there is another area near Lee Vining that I love and have been dieing to explore with a little bit of snow...

Bodie Ghost Town: A town built on gold. In 1859, William Bodey discovered gold and shortly after established a mine. In a short period of time the town grew from 20 miners to over 10,000 people. It was a lair of villany and ill-repute with over 65 saloons and various opium dens and brothells. A young girl who moved from San Francisco with her family is quoted as saying "Goodbye God, I'm going to Bodie." While much of the town was destroyed by various fires, a large portion remains under the careful eye of the California State Park system. It is in a state of "arrested decay". I've visited in the summer but have always wanted to explore when the ground was covered in snow... when there would be no foot prints or worn trails to be seen. The road closed sign was up but we were able to drive past with ease. I was very nervous when we hit the dirt road. The day was warm and I knew the snow was melting... the last thing I wanted was to get the car stuck... towing companies refuse to come out to the area. Luck was on our side... the ranger had recently driven the road out and we had a nice hard pack track to follow. In no time at all I found myself in front of my favorite old car... presteen snow surrounding it. Heaven!

Before I knew it three hours had past. I had lost Iain somewhere between the old church and the pool hall. I finally located him again (No, not frozen in a snow bank) he was snapping away at the items left in the general store. I gave him a 20 minute wheels up time and headed to the car. Along the way I found even more treasures. 40 minutes later I made it back to the car, shortly after that Iain arrived and we headed on to Mono Lake.

The clouds had moved in and it was snowing pretty well with no real hope of a desent sunset and so we pushed past Mono Lake. As luck would have it, we drove beyond the storm and found a lovely mountain range about 30 miles North of Bishop. As we watched the Alpine glow creep across the mountain I realized that the moon was rising immediately behind the mountains! We couldn't have planned it better if we tried!

And now - off to sleep! Tomorrow we try for a nice sunrise over Mount Whitney. Who knows what unexpected things we'll run into instead!

Hitting the Road

After installing the Thule Carrier no less than three times... too far to the back, crooked, backwards you name it... My friend Iain and I piled the camping gear in for our desert portion of the trip and hit the highway. Our first intended stop was along the coast north of San Francisco in search of a Harbor Seal rookery of which I recently learned.

As it turned out our first stop was the graveyard in Sebastapol. We had an amazing graveyard in the town where I grew up. It was full of old stones that my mother and I would make rubbings from, there were tons of old trees to sit beneath and one side had a great hill for sledding in the winter so far from eerie, graveyards have always been a place where I went to relax and enjoy the quiet. I kept this in mind as I slowly wandered through the tombs, admiring the trinkets people had left for their loved ones. Green plastic snakes, ornate crosses, Christmas Tree decorations, bracelets, teddy bears and more. One grave in particular caught my eye - a marble woman sitting in thought. The morning dew clung to her eye lids and ran down her cheeks. She looked so serene, quiet and peaceful that I had to take time to study the angles until I found a shot that I feel captured her beauty.

We piled back into the car and headed toward the coast again, intent on capturing the cute faces of the harbor seals. Instead, we found a raging sea that was boiling and bubbling over the rocks and crashing onto the beaches below the cliffs. So of course we had to stop and attempt to capture the moment.
When we finally arrived at the rookery we discovered that all access was closed off... not as we had feared because of the seals but rather because the surf was too rough and unpredicable. The rangers feared people would be swept from the beach by sleeper waves and out to sea, never to be heard from again. I think they were more afraid that people would try to surf and the coast guard didn't want to have to fish people out. So no Harbor Seals for us. :0(( Better luck next time.

So on to Tahoe we drove arriving after nightfall. We settled into our rooms and I promptly passed out for the night. A pretty good start to the trip even though it wasn't what we expected.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Two Day Sea Otter Workshop

I spent a lovely two days exploring Elkhorn Slough and playing with sea otters. The weather couldn't have been more different day to day. Tuesday was bright and sunny while Wednesday was overcast and far cooler. Captain Yohn Gideon (Elkhorn Slough Safari) , an achomplished photographer himself, was able to maneuver the pontoon boat into just the right position for all of the workshop participants to obtain wonderful images of the otters and some of the numerous shorebirds.

Since we were doing back to back morning shoots I decided to stay in Moss Landing over night. What I thought was going to be a mere convienience turned out to be an ultimate luxury! Four people on the tour booked rooms at the Captain's Inn Bed and Breakfast. Every little detail was perfect! Melanie was the perfect hostess... cookies waiting for us in the room, a wonderful warm breakfast to start us off and warm coffee and tea at night. Located in an historic building, the Captain's Inn is a nautical paradise. Each room is based on a theme and decorated with boat parts and memorabilia including a wheel house and glass floats to make even the most avid collectors envious! I have to admit, the bed was so comfortable I was tempted to stay in it and sleep the day away! If you head down to Moss Landing, do yourself a favor and spend at least a night if not more in the Captain's Inn.

The Coup d'etat was obtained by both Michael Kern and Enrique Aguirre. Otters are extremely curious creatures. I've seen them steal canvases off of boats, blankets and balls from beach goers and even a dive float. However, this one took the cake. A Sony Video Camera... AND she was holding it the right way as if she were filming us! Check it out on Enrique's blog. I'm just bummed I was in the back of the boat and missed the shot. Too much fun!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Point Reyes Serenity

In my attempts to show off my neighborhood and the local areas I love so much I am rediscovering favorite places and am finding them to be wonderfully soothing and yet exhilarating places to photograph.

The old 'Point Reyes' boat that is grounded behind the hardware store in Inverness has always been a favorite stop of mine. The morning I took Iain out there though it was high tide! I'd never stopped there when the water reached the boat and I was delighted to see the boat reflected in the calm waters.

A few days later Enrique joined us for a sunrise run to Drakes Beach. Iain and Enrique went up the cliff to capture the glow on the far cliff faces but I was intrigued by the flat rocks I saw on the beach. It didn't take me long to find some pretty drift wood and set up a shot that I found peaceful and compelling.

Monday, February 2, 2009

My Backyard

It seems that I never have time to explore my 'backyard' - I'm always heading to some destination far away or if I AM home, I am buried in paperwork or paying bills. That's why I'm always thrilled when someone comes to town to visit. Even better when that someone is another photographer.

My friend Iain is in from Australia and so the past week I've received a proverbial kick in the butt to get out and photograph. We've been up to Point Reyes and down to Piedra Blancas... I've explored new locations to photograph the Golden Gate Bridge and I've discovered a fabulous area to photograph the migrating water fowl.

Tomorrow we pick up another photographer who is coming in from Canada, Isabelle, and we head down to Moss Landing for another session with the Sea Otters on Elkhorn Slough. In the afternoons we hope to get back down to shoot more elephant seals. I got some nice stuff with our crazy morning drive but I'm hoping for more now that I have an idea of what to expect of the shooting conditions.

One of the things I really like about hanging about with other photographers is being in the exact same spot and comparing images later. It never ceases to amaze me how two, three, even 5 people standing withing 20 feet of each other will obtain very different images. You can check out some of Iain's shots from the trip so far on his blog.