Tag: “California”

Neighborhood Exploration

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Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park, California

I often hear people say something like, “I only take the time to explore my own neighborhood when I have company.”

Fortunately we have good friends who like to hike and take advantage of the beauty where we live. Travel is expensive so it just makes sense to sometimes explore your own area. Most places have interesting sites that visitors enjoy seeing. If you make an adventure out of it, with a group, looking around your own neighborhood can be very rewarding.

Not far from our home we have several state parks and a national park. People come from all over the world to see the coast redwoods (Sequoia sempervirens). Our actual yard is filled with redwoods and they tower over our house. So, in general we don’t drive to the parks to see them.

But we have begun hiking the coastal and park trails with friends. We treat it like an adventure we were having in another country. We pack a lunch and make a day of it. It is certainly not an original idea, but we are asking ourselves why we haven’t done it more in the past.

There is certainly a reason why these parks were established. The redwoods in our yard, even though bigger than most trees, are second or third growth. In other words, they have grown back after one or two timber harvests. They are probably 50-80 years old and 80-100 feet (15-25 meters) tall.

The big trees in the parks near here are more than 325 feet (~100 meters) tall and simply massive. They grow in areas that have never been harvested, giving rise to the term “old growth”.

On our hikes we have met visitors who are standing and marveling at the trees. They are flabbergasted! To be honest I had forgotten what it felt like to see these giants for the first time. It was good to be reminded of that excitement.

These ancient trees are nice to have in the neighborhood!!

Make Juice While the Sun Shines

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Napa Valley Summer

Do you think of farmers as artists or poets?

It is hard to romanticize the hard work, the global market forces, the brute destruction of weather events, and many of the challenges and uncertainties of farming. And we know that a few “farmers” are primarily in business to “farm” subsidies and programs. Still, the lives of the few among us who feed and clothe the rest are not understood by most. We rely on their labors and their willingness to accept the risks.


But are there also some lyrical aspects to farming? What if their product is described as ‘bottled poetry’? What portion of their endeavor is artistic?

Farmland dedicated to growing wine grapes is expanding, at least in some wealthy countries. When a society can afford this luxury, people savor it as an important creation. Farmers and their workers exhibit artistry in their pruning and training of the vines,  in their choice of cover crops, and in other aspects of vineyard management. And each winemaker has creative control over the final product.

Wine is common in many cultures. In the U.S.A., California has a reputation for premium wine production. And in particular Napa Valley is known worldwide, although it is also surrounded by valleys and hillsides with great soils, good weather, and talented farmers and vitners.

Napa Valley is a beautiful place. In the spring it is filled with bright yellow mustard blossoms. And in the early summer the vines take over and blanket the valley floor and the hills with lush green foliage. Under those big leaves, hidden at first, juice is being stored in the fruit. In the heat of summer the fruit and juice mature and develop character.

The wineries provide a pleasant place for tourism and picnicking. Perhaps their poetry is not quite as dear as the price on the bottle. But there is no denying the artistic beauty of the valley or the artistic quality of their creative outputs.

This photograph was taken in the northern end of Napa Valley on a warm afternoon in early summer. I was born two or three miles from this location and grew up in the town of Napa. These forested hillsides were the first scenes that I saw as an infant. The valley has changed dramatically. In my youth there were extensive prune orchards. Farming income and lifestyle were much humbler. Those former orchards are now vineyards. I think it would be harder to describe the artistic aspects of picking up plums off of the ground and piling them in wooden field boxes to be taken to the drier.

On a hot afternoon these vines are hard at work making juice. The air is filled with the scent of nearby conifers and the sounds of forest birds. It is summer in the quiet northern end of Napa Valley.


Avenue Reaches 40!

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Avenue of the Giants Marathon Course, California

With each passing stride you descend deeper into a world that is effort and motion. Simple, relaxed function. A slowly-building euphoria. You are alone. Your mind is drifting.

Relax. Conserve effort. Shorten your stride over a low hill. Cut the corners. Watch out for potholes on Bull Creek Road. What was the time for that mile? A little fast. Was that mile marked in the right place?

It is the first Sunday in May. Race day at the Avenue of the Giants Marathon.

Old injuries begin to ache and then fade as the miles pass. How do the aches occur in their chronological injury sequence? Weird. The sun is warming. Drink at the aid stations. Love those volunteers.

Breath deep, extend your stomach, maybe that side ache will go away. After the turnaround it is downhill, slightly. Watch the pace. Did those rolling hills get bigger?

There’s the bridge and the half way point. Somebody yells something. You make the turn and head out on the second half on the Avenue of the Giants. You still feel good, but it is still a decision to face heading out for another 13.1 chunk of miles. Do you feel good enough? Drink at the aid stations. Try to maintain pace. Why does this flat terrain feel more difficult? Oh yeah, the previous downhill part. That overpass takes too much effort.

Miles 15, 16, 17 pass although they seem tedious. The pace is slipping a little. Fatigue is creeping in and settling on you like carrying a sandbag. There’s the park headquarters. The turnaround must be close. People are streaming by in the other direction. You see friends. How much time between us?

Where’s that turnaround? Around this next bend, no, damn. Wait, there it is. Finally heading home. What have you got left? The fabled 20 mile mark passes. HALF WAY! The last six miles are as tough as the first 20.

It must be OK to walk while you drink at the Burlington aid station. Where did that euphoria go? Some people really maintain that feeling the whole way? I thought I trained hard. Was that a cramp? Relax.

What was the time for that mile? Too slow. Was that mile marked in the right place? Wait, I helped mark them. I guess it is my fault. But marking the course is a fun way to spend an early spring day with the Timeks.

Miles 21, 22, 23 take too long. Cramps are setting in. The long Weott hill in the sun. Where did my friends go that were so close at the turnaround?

Mile 25 on a long gradual incline seems to move further away every year. That blankety-blank overpass. Finally mile 26 in the shade. The bridge. The bridge too far. But there it is. A few kind spectators yell encouragement and lie about how you are running. It still helps. It is better than hearing what they really think. There’s Charlie Lawrence directing the runners into the chute. Trademark straw hat.

Those wonderful golden voices of the Wendys announcing the finishers. The mat. Done. Now what do I do to keep from cramping? Lime juice bars. Jim Ely is no longer there. We miss you Jim.

I wish I could see George Crandell and his trademark fist pump. Another victory against limitations imposed by others. George is no longer there. He ran every Avenue of the Giants Marathon held during his lifetime.

I finished only 10 marathons, none of them good. But, the memories of the training and the races are treasures. Running friends make the endeavor rich. It beats sitting on the couch watching someone else exercise  (earning millions of dollars to perform) on TV!

This posting is an assemblage of marathon impressions at Avenue of the Giants. Some of the names will only be meaningful to local runners.

The 40th Avenue of the Giants Marathon, Half Marathon, and 10K races will be held May 1, 2011 in Humboldt County, California. The races are held by the Six Rivers Running Club. You can find me at the T-Shirt table and store.

A souvenir map for these races is available at the Maps link above.

A Cascadian Connection

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Mount Shasta, California, USA - 4322 m (14,179 ft)

Did you toss and turn again last night wondering,  Where does all that tectonic plate material go?

If you have an earth science background you know about the connection between the Cascadia Subduction Zone and the Cascade Mountains.

Many more people have been hearing about the Cascadia Subduction Zone. The dramatic earthquake in Japan has reminded people in the western USA about our own earthquake risks.

The risk for the biggest earthquakes lies along the coast from far northern California up into southern British Columbia, Canada. Here tectonic plates (Gorda, Juan de Fuca, Explorer) under the Pacific Ocean are pushing eastward under the North American Plate.

(The famous San Andreas Fault that threatens San Francisco and Los Angeles is south of this region. It occurs along a different plate margin and moves in a different direction.)

As the Earth’s crustal material is pushed deep under the North American continent along the Cascadia Subduction Zone it eventually nears the Earth’s molten core. Over geologic time scales this crustal material is heated and becomes molten. It eventually escapes upward through the arc of volcanoes known as the Cascade Mountain Range.

The Cascade Mountains are inland but roughly parallel to the coastline where the Cascadia Subduction occurs. This north-south line of volcanoes roughly traces the leading edge of the subducting tectonic plates. The length of this zone is about 1,100 km (~685 miles). The Cascade’s include mountains such as Mt. Ranier, Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Hood and many others.

The southern edge of the Gorda Plate (the southern-most subducting plate) is roughly parallel with the southern edge of the Cascade Mountains, which is south of Mount Lassen in the state of California.

South of the Cascade Mountains another mountain range begins. The Sierra Nevada Mountains extend from there to the south through California and form the eastern edge of the fertile Central Valley. If you are familiar with California geography the separation between the Cascade Mountains and the Sierra Nevada Mountains is roughly along a west-to-east line from the town of Chico to Susanville.

The Cascadian Connection then is that the crustal material once under the Pacific Ocean, which pushed under North America long ago, now forms mountains such as Mount Shasta in this photograph. The scale of this system is enormous, both in time and space.

In this larger region the risk of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions is real. It is important to be prepared. Nobody can predict their occurrence precisely, at this time. The most prudent approach is to be prepared TODAY. Emergency supplies and shelter should be part of everyone’s routine.

If you have a refrigerator you should have an emergency supply kit.

How much energy do you think it took to push enough crustal material under North America to explosively build Mount Shasta, and all the other Cascade Volcanoes?

The answer is:  Enough energy to periodically and abruptly release violent earthquakes throughout the region. Are you ready?

Distant Shores

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North Coast of California, USA

Turns out that we do share the air and the water with Japan. We also share humanity. And their problems are our problems. The earthquake, tsunami, and power plant devastation are heart-breaking.

We knew that our atmosphere and the oceans circulated and that we were connected in that way. But we on the west coast of the USA have been reminded of this connectivity. We knew it, but we didn’t think about it very often. The Pacific Basin is so big ….

If you live downwind of Chernobyl you were reminded previously. You lived through the uncertainty and lack of information. To a greater or lesser degree we are all downwind and downstream when these events occur.

We don’t know yet how the struggles at the power plants will turn out. Radiation has been released. It may get much worse or it may be partially contained. But the long-term outlook for people near those facilities is horrible. How far away is safe – across an ocean, in another hemisphere?

It would be easy to panic. There are false and malicious reports circulating on the Internet. Fake radiation maps and other catastrophic reports should be checked out at urban legend fact check sites. Sick minds can be creative too.

There are some things that we do know and actions we can take. In far northern California and continuing up into British Columbia the Gorda,  Juand de Fuca, and Explorer Tectonic Plates are pushing to the east and subducting under the North American Tectonic plate. Earthquakes resulting from infrequent abrupt movements of these plates can cause huge and widespread damage. At a minimum, every household should check the recommendations of the Red Cross and have emergency supplies and shelter. Are you prepared for natural disasters where you live?

It is hard to talk about travel photographs and cultures today. Across that ocean there is so much suffering and loss. Each time we hear of a natural disaster we are shaken. We think of the people in New Zealand, Australia, Haiti and each place where disaster strikes. And each time the natural disaster is compounded by man-made disasters that are also instigated.

We know that the tectonic plate under this ocean is pressing toward us. But we don’t know what else is coming our way. Today is another day to appreciate what we have and to treasure the people who are important to us.

Oh, and it’s also a good day to work on that emergency supply kit!!

Or you could put it off until this weekend or next month. Nothing is really going to happen here ….

Wandering and Wondering

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Wandering in the Mojave Desert, California, USA

I was wondering who wandered through this blog and associated website last week. From a partial scan of the statistics I see that the web hosts of the visitors were in Sweden, Russia, Germany, Israel, Canada, The Netherlands, Greece, Belgium, Samoa, Denmark, Hungary, Italy, India, The Slovak Republic, South Africa, and places across the U.S.

I welcome you and I am honored. I hope that your time here is interesting.

Some of those countries may not have terrain like the Mojave Desert shown in the photo above.  So I hope you enjoy looking at some different terrain.

This posting is brief and describes this blog and my plans for the future.

This blog is more than a year old at this point. You can see in the “Navigate by Tags” panel on the left that you can visually escape to many places by wandering through the past postings. Just click on one of the tags to see all of the postings that were assigned that tag. Or you can use the Blog search box in the upper left of this page. Enter a term like Copacabana, for example, to see a list of the postings about that beautiful beach and Rio de Janeiro.

There are 125 stories now in this blog. I enjoy telling these brief stories and I hope that they stir your imagination.

What’s next? Here is a quick look ahead for my plans for this blog and the website:

We are preparing for our next photography trip, which will be a walking tour from village-to-village near Cahors, France. We will walk along the Lot River for several days and then go cross-country over to the Aveyron River. That should provide opportunities for photographs of rural village life and the countryside between villages.  At the end of that tour I will continue on to Budapest to photograph for about a week in that area. So the photographic emphasis will be on rural lifestyle and architecture in south central France and Hungary.

And I am working with Corey McKrill, the web designer at Jupiterwise Design, who will refurbish my main website. This redesign will occur during the next several weeks. I am looking forward to improving the web design and experience.

I will also photograph locally before we travel to France and Hungary. This means walking in our community forest and getting street images downtown and at events.

Later in the summer and fall I will attend several art fairs. These will be a good chance to meet people and talk about the photographs and they will augment my online gallery at   http://davidhowell.imagekind.com

Sorry for the personal information today. But periodically I try to explain the goals and plans for this endeavor. I will get back to story telling soon. If you need a story to get away from your daily routine, just scroll down or click on one of the tags on the right and pick a posting. Enjoy!!

Where’s Your Santa?

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Jacoby's Storehouse, Arcata, California, USA

Holiday traditions vary widely around the world. Midwinter holidays bring brightness, warmth, and celebrations to make up for the long nights and stormy weather. Through the long sweep of history many religions have established celebrations based on their beliefs. It is a season of significance and renewal.

Of course, ‘midwinter’ holidays is a term that applies to one hemisphere at a time. December celebrations in the northern hemisphere are dramatically different than the December ‘midsummer’ celebrations in the southern hemisphere. Since this blog is read by people in many countries with many traditions I will acknowledge that this posting is about only a narrow slice of holiday traditions.

I look forward to Christmas season. It is a time of togetherness for our family. A peaceful, warm, bright interlude. We have a chance to slow down and step aside from our daily tasks and stresses. We can put our roles away and just do things together. I hope that your traditions bring you that kind of fulfillment and happiness.

The Christmas tree in this photo is in the main lobby of Jacoby’s Storehouse in Arcata, California, USA. It is a building filled with shops and great restaurants. They  find a tree that reaches the ceiling and then decorate it extravagantly. Lights and ornaments cover the entire interior of this historic building. For many years it has been a central location for celebration within our community.

This building is in the heart of redwood country in northern California. It played a pivotal role in the excitement and frenzy of the gold rush in the middle of the 19th century. It is a four story brick building and was built as a fire-resistant safe place to store supplies for the miners and loggers. The supplies were brought on ships from San Francisco, almost 300 miles to the south. It was a dangerous and wild trip.

When the ships came into Humboldt Bay they navigated through deep channels to the north end of the bay where Arcata is. A pier had been constructed 2 miles out into the bay to the end of the shipping channel. The first railroad in California operated between Jacoby’s Storehouse and the end of that pier. The supplies were transferred from the  ships onto the railroad cars and then transported to the Storehouse. Pack mule trains were organized in the town’s central plaza in front of the Storehouse. The loaded mules made the demanding trip inland over the coastal mountain ridges to the gold bearing river bars that were teaming with wealth seekers.

The Arcata Plaza is now a meeting place for the community, no mules allowed. Festivals and farmer’s markets are held there now. Jacoby’s Storehouse still plays an important role in Arcata. It is a gathering place for relaxation and dining where families, neighbors, and friends meet.

The plaza is also important for young people in Arcata. They gather there for celebration and reunions. People who grew up in Arcata and have moved away usually spend some time there whenever they visit. Many memories.

So to all those Arcatans who live elsewhere now, but still feel some emotion when somebody says, “Go Tigers” this photo is for you. Where’s YOUR Santa?

Safe travels and I hope that you can be with people that you love for the holidays!

Still Life or Landscape?

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Outdoor Still Life

Landscape photographs can take on the feeling of a still life when the view is narrowed to a few isolated elements. The label probably doesn’t matter but the approach is similar.

In a typical still life painting or photograph you have control over the lighting, the objects, and the composition. The image is about the inanimate items that you place within the scene.

I have experimented with still life photographs in a small enclosure with controlled lighting. It is time-consuming and interesting to see the effects of altering the light intensity and direction. My preference is a black background, very low lighting, and underexposure so that the objects appear to be floating in the dark. Sometimes I use a flashing red bicycle light during a long exposure to introduce another color on the surface of the items or to reflect off of the background cloth. But it is always about the objects placed in the enclosure. Not the setting or the surroundings. There is no context.

Landscape photographs can be approached in a similar way. It helps to find distinctive objects that fill the view.

You only have control of the view of the objects, as with all landscape photographs. You can not rearrange the objects. When you find a few interesting natural objects you exclude the rest of the landscape. It is a close-up of those objects, like a still life. Nothing complicated.

The creative part is the composition of that close-up and the lighting. The lighting you wait for. It is what you think about and plan for. You watch it develop and change. It is the entertainment as you try different compositions. It continuously alters the scene in front of you.

Your composition might have worked with the light five minutes ago, but now, you move to show the effect of the light that enhances surface texture or shadows. The color of the light changes also as the sun angle lowers. The light is manipulated by the Earth’s rotation, not by where you move your studio lights. But it is still all about the objects, not the setting. There is no context.

This scene could be in Africa, the middle east, Australia, South America, or the western United States. It is apparently an arid place. But the location is not important. This image will always be about the objects floating against a background. The background sky could easily be a cloth drape behind a carefully arranged miniature diorama.

I am not trying to show you the Mojave Desert. This photograph is about shapes, composition, colors, and lighting.

Forest of Community

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Community Forest, Arcata, California, U.S.A.

Within the Community Forest of Arcata, California there is a small park. It is a park where trees have been cleared rather than planted.


The Arcata Community Forest is dominated by coast redwood (Sequoia sempervirens(Lamb. ex D. Don) Endl.).  Some of the redwoods are quite large and in some areas the canopy is closed. Very little light gets down to the forest floor which is generally covered with ferns.


So if you want a place for children to play and for people to have picnics or just relax for a while, it is best to select a small area for clearing and for planting grass. This is different than many municipal parks where trees are planted and carefully nurtured.


The land that makes up this forest has been used for many things by many people. It furnished game and fish for the Wiyot people until the 1850’s. Most of the area was logged in the 1880’s. It was then used for grazing and other things until the city purchased the land over several decades.


It became the first municipally-owned  forest in California in 1955 and served primarily as the city water supply watershed until 1963. Since that time it has been managed for wildlife habitat, sustainable timber harvesting, education, but primarily as a recreation area. Small very low impact timber harvests help pay for the maintenance of the forest land and the trails.




Trail Yield Sign

There are more than 10 miles (16 km) of named trails in the 793 acre (321 hectare) forest. These trails are used for running, walking, horse riding, and mountain biking. The area is hilly and provides challenging terrain, but the trails are treasured by the community. The Community Forest is adjacent to several neighborhoods and to Humboldt State University, so it is convenient for many residents to access the trails. They are a great place for a tough workout, a leisurely stroll, or for quiet contemplation. These forestlands and the trails are important defining characteristics of the City of Arcata.


The City of Arcata owns another forest of over 1,440 acres (583 hectares) called the Jacoby Creek Forest. But the Arcata Community Forest is the one that residents know the best.






See you in the forest!

Some information came from: http://www.cityofarcata.org/departments/environmental-services/city-forests

California Beaches: What’s Your Image?

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Agate Beach, Humboldt County, California, USA

Agate Beach, Humboldt County, California, USA

When you think of California beaches what images do you see?

Crowds, bikinis, surfers, smog, traffic jams, heat, noise, fun, in-line skaters, muscle builders, palm trees, sand, or what?

The far northern California beaches have the surfers, the fun, the sand, but the rest? Not so much.

On beaches like Agate Beach shown in this photograph you can spend hours walking, beach-combing, looking for rocks, enjoying the scenery, or just sitting listening to the waves wash across the coarse sand, without dealing with crowds.

This isn’t a beach where you can drive up and walk onto the sand. You have to work to get there down a trail and stairs.

In the summer the coastal areas of northern California are often foggy and cloudy, at least in the morning. So sunny times are to be celebrated. Several days may pass between sightings of the sun.

These beaches don’t have some of the ‘attractions’ of southern California beaches, or the vendors of Mexican beaches, or the seemingly endless volleyball and soccer matches of Copacabana, or the charms of the Côte d’Azur of France, or the ancient wind-swept stone villages of Brittany, or even the shells  and high-rises of Florida.

But when northern Californians have time they can enjoy dramatic and quiet beaches and find that there are very few other people out on the beach. Like other rural coastal areas it is hard to make a living in these small towns. And like tough Breton farmers, fishermen, and shop-keepers they find a way. They find a way to enjoy these beaches when they can. They don’t miss the ‘amenities’.

Desert Primordial

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Rock Formation, Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA

Rock Formation, Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA

Strange rock formation suggestive … of art or science? Where does all this sand come from?

Millions of acres of sand, farther than the eye can see. To the horizon and beyond. Moved by water and wind.

Then moved again or buried by later deposits. Time passes.

Vegetation struggling to find water and nutrients, growing roots further into the slowly weathering soils. Chemical weathering of the mineral grains is slow in these dry conditions. It’s just a pile of quartz, feldspar, mica, hornblende, and other minerals. Very few nutrients in suspension for the roots to capture.

The exposed rock disintegrates. The granitoid rocks decompose into their original individual mineral grains. Chemical weathering is aided by physical weathering-wetting and drying, freezing and thawing, warming and cooling-driving expansion and contraction forcing the rock apart. Rock beneath the surface continues to weather slowly increasing the depth of the sandy material.

So in that sense the rock formations are suggestive of science and formative processes. They suggest the birth of the desert. But they are also interesting and suggestive in an artistic sense.

Both male and female forms are present. Together, resting comfortably in the sand that they created.

Some people are a little uncomfortable with this image when they first look at it. But it is more complicated than it first appears to be. And people tend to be drawn to it as if to make sure what they are seeing. Then they see more.

Maybe there are only a few people who see the desert soil formation aspect of this image. When I talk to people about my photographs it is always interesting what they see and what portion of the image they key in on.

I have a photograph of an old chateau in France with a small shady courtyard in the foreground. On that morning when I took that photo I did not know there was someone else taking photographs there also. That person appears in my photo in the shade by a tree and is very difficult to see. But when I was displaying that photograph another photographer walked up and looked at the photo and said that that person by the tree was what they saw first and what they thought was the most interesting part of the photograph.

We recently visited the exhibit of impressionist painters at the de Young Museum in San Francisco. You enter with a group at an assigned time and are gently pushed through by your group. Three times I went back before being pushed out the exit, against the flow, to look at several paintings. On that day Renoir’s painting ‘The Swing’ held my attention. It is a famous painting of a woman on a swing in a long white dress with a line of blue bows down the front. She is in dappled shade and is surrounded by several people. Apparently it was an act of painting heresy at the time because it was impressionistic. The more I looked, the more I saw, and the more I imagined about the setting. (The exhibit ‘Birth of Impressionism: Masterpieces of the Musée d’Orsay’ continues through September 6, 2010. Another exhibit featuring Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cézanne, and others begins September 25.)

Probably all art is more complicated than it appears to be at first glance. I have learned that it is very rewarding when someone takes the time to look carefully at one of my photographs or even think about all of the aspects of the image.

When people look at this photograph, only a few will imagine what it was like to be there, how quiet it was, how hot it was,  what scent of desert shrubs was carried in the warm evening air, how soft the sand was to walk on, or how the scattered sand sounded as it ground beneath your shoes when you walked on the rock. This small enclosed rocky basin was a short ways from a scenic stop inside Joshua Tree National Park in the Mojave Desert of southern California, USA. But it was a separate world.

There are more Mojave Desert photos in my California gallery. Please follow the Photography link above.

Watch for Rocks

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Granitoid Rock Formation, Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA

Granitoid Rock Formation, Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA

“Plan to equip yourself with good brouges as the land is craggy.”

Terrain like this Mojave Desert photo is what came to mind when I read this advice. But this shoe guidance was included in the reservation confirmation information from a ‘riad’ in Fez, Morocco. (A riad is a traditional Moroccan guest house.) The streets in the old town section of Fez must be rough. But they certainly aren’t as rough as this jumble of boulders in Joshua Tree National Park.

I am making arrangements for my next photo excursion. This fall we will tour Andelucìa in southern Spain. Then I will continue on to Morocco and finish the trip in The Dolomites of northern Italy. There are a lot of details to figure out and planning to do because I am selecting the photographic subjects in general as I choose the locations. It is fun and interesting to organize the trips. I try to read as much as time allows. I research online and with guidebooks, non-fiction, fiction, movies, and friends.

I am reading The Alhambra by Washington Irving. His account of traveling to Granada, Spain and living within The Alhambra was a prime inspiration for (American author) Edith Wharton’s father to take his family there, which formed a life-long love of travel for young Edith. She was a tremendous travel writer herself and is the author whose work I am currently working my way through. The Irving book is background for understanding Wharton. But I will return to Irving later.

I look forward to learning about the intersection of cultures in Cordoba, Granada, Fez, Casablanca etc. Then the Dolomites will provide a dramatic difference with stunning alpine scenery. And I will have to go over the summit and look around in Austria as long as I am so close.

I spent this last weekend in Bend, Oregon at the Bend Summerfest. There were thousands of people out in the central Oregon sunshine enjoying the art and music festival. I had a booth and got to talk with many people about my photographs. The Bend Summerfest jury awarded me the Best of Show award which was quite a shock. It was great to visit the Cascades, especially with such perfect summer weather. The sky was such a vivid blue and contrasted strongly with the expanses of forest covering the volcanic landscapes. I guess it is striking to me in comparison to the gray skies we have here on summer mornings. I am looking forward to visiting that area again next month for the 1st Annual Sunriver Art Festival.

Fading Heat

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Evening Vista, Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA

Evening Vista, Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA

The beaches of Los Angeles are bathed in yellowing light as the evening sun shines through the haze euphemistically known there as the  ‘marine layer’.  Traffic is crawling as the freeways are filled with frustrated commuters. Angry horn blasts, sirens, and road construction equipment add background chaos. Air conditioners are overloading the electric grid. It is a typical August day in southern California.

There is an oasis of quiet  nearby. About 150  miles (240 km) to the east out in the Mojave Desert is Joshua Tree National Park. The drive for them takes between 2.5 and 4.5 hours, depending on traffic. I can only imagine the annoyance of the traffic snarl that causes that 4.5 hour drive.

Joshua Tree National Park is not only a refuge from crowds, but also a place of weird rock formations, tenacious vegetation, resourceful adapted wildlife, and impressively long vistas. And quiet. The namesake Joshua Tree (Yucca brevifolia Engelm.) is a freak.

The exposed granitoid rocks crumble in the dry heat. Joints in the rock predetermine the shapes that emerge. And within these blocks the rock decomposes to individual mineral sand grains.

If you find an elevated vantage point you can watch the shadows creep across miles of desert into the distance. The evening light changes color there also. It must be augmented by some of the escaped ‘marine layer’.

The contrast of bright illumination and deep shadows adds interest and definition to the terrain. The very warm wind moving through the vegetation makes the only sounds. It is a place to watch, listen, and think.

There are more Mojave Desert photos in my California gallery. Please follow the Photography link above.

Kinetic Madness II

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Official Kinetic Officials, Arcata, California, USA

Official Kinetic Officials, Arcata, California, USA


A human-pedaled giant silver lobster, a fire truck with a fire-belching hookah, a taco truck with a band, and dozens of outlandish, welded monstrosities, all of which had to navigate 42 miles of roadway, sand dunes, water crossings, and fiendish rules in front of inglorious officials and thousands of spectators.




Just another festival on the Arcata Plaza.




Even though there were some cranky people who resented the farmer’s market being relocated, most people were dazzled by the absurd performances of otherwise normal citizens.


The Kinetic Grand Championship is complete for another year!

The upper photo shows officials officially checking off the official checklist for vehicle safety and many kinetically important rules. Bribes were flowing.

Kinetic Sculptures Engulfed By Fans

Kinetic Sculptures Engulfed By Fans




The middle photo shows the throngs of spectators trying to see all of the sculptures up-close. Several of the sculptures are visible above the crowds. They are bigger than life!







The bottom photo shows the race underway as they took several laps around the Arcata Plaza before exiting the safety of town in search of ultimate glory or profound shame. Those may sound like opposite results but they were all in the eye of the beholder. In other words, if they weren’t caught cheating they may have achieved glory but they would be ashamed if their fellow competitors thought they had completed the race without some creative route navigation, propulsion augmentation, or equipment enhancements along the way.


The Kinetic Grand Championship 2010

The Kinetic Grand Championship 2010











It is just the way that spring is supposed to be celebrated!!

Kinetic Madness

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Octomom Sculpture

Three days of human-powered, all terrain, endurance silliness.

There are a few so-called Kinetic Sculpture Races around the world. But the original one was held in Humboldt County, California, USA in 1969. It is now called The Kinetic Grand Championship.

It is a three day 42 mile (67 km) race on roads, beaches, sand dunes (Deadman’s Drop), bay and river crossings, and slippery slopes. The contraptions are human-powered, usually by peddaling. Elaborate and highly suspect propulsion systems involve chains and gears welded into a nightmare of breakdown potential. Some entries deserve to be called sculptures because of their exotic artistic structure and elegant engineering. Others are really humorous because nobody in their right mind would expect the thing to work.

And there you have the essence of the silliness. There is honor in being absurd and eccentric. The impractical imagination and naive energy required to enter some of these contraptions is truly exquisite.

If you just had to pedal down the road that would be easy. But the skinny tires for efficient road cycling are horrible on the beach and the dunes. And the sturdy structure required to withstand Deadman’s Drop (a ridiculous plunge down the back side of a tall dune into very soft sand) can add enough weight to sink your dreams into Humboldt Bay when you go in the water. So you also need to be able to deploy significant floatation. And everything has to be on-board and carried with you for the entire race, including toothbrushes and teddy bear.

The race starts with the noon whistle on the Plaza in downtown Arcata. The contraptions line up on one side of the road and the pilots and crew are on the other and with the whistle the Le Mans start is underway. After several laps around the plaza to the delight of thousands of cheering fans they head out via farm roads toward the beach and three days of voluntary pain and shame. And some few will gain wonderful glory.



Officials Officiating




With a silly race there has to be silly awards and silly rules. There are. According to the official website: “…when Hobart Brown started the Kinetic Sculpture Race 40 years ago, he lost the race he created! Now one of the most coveted awards is the “Mediocre Award.”



Other awards include “The Golden Dinosaur,” which is the first sculpture to break down after the start line, “The Golden Flipper,” for the best flip of a sculpture in sand and water, and “Poor Pitiful Me.” Racers can also “Ace” the race, which means they race the entire course for 42 miles without pushing or ”getting caught” cheating. Each award is handmade by a local artist!”

The race starts tomorrow and is now held on the weekend of the US holiday of Memorial Day. My wife and I met at the Kinetic Sculpture Race in 1980. We have seen the start of most of the races since that time.

As you can imagine it is a photogenic event. I will be there using my ladder again for a vantage point over the crowds.


When In Rome….

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Simulated 3-D Perspective View of Arcata, California, USA

Simulated 3-D Perspective View of Arcata, California, USA

Today some of the nicest and smartest people on the planet are gathered in Rome for the 4th Global Workshop on Digital Soil Mapping.

I was able to attend the first three global workshops and I wish I could be in Rome today. I miss my friends and the challenging and stimulating discussions.

What the heck is digital soil mapping, you say?

First Point: Soils are important since they produce almost everything we eat, support our roads and buildings, and play pivotal roles in ecosystem processes such as water and nutrient cycling. And much more.

Second Point: When we have maps of where different soils occur and information about those soils we can manage resources and make investment decisions more wisely.

Third Point: Computer (digital) maps that show soil variations continuously across landforms are more useful for modern analysis.

Digital soil mapping is a field of study that uses field data and analyzes maps of geology, climate, topography, vegetation, and other things that control soil development, to model soils in a computer. Advanced statistics are used to build relationships between the field information and the input maps.

The goal is to produce useful information about soils in an efficient, objective, and reproducible manner.

When I studied soil science in college I didn’t think that I would someday be involved with satellite images and statistical models. But that is what I have been working on for the last sixteen years.

And I didn’t know that I would have the privilege of meeting scientists from many countries who are dedicated to helping people know about soils so they can feed themselves and understand resource interactions.

I also didn’t expect these very highly educated people to be some of the nicest people I would meet in my career. OK, there are some eccentrics also, but life and science would be dull without the strong characters.

The illustration above is a simulated 3-D perspective view of the area around Arcata, California, USA and Humboldt Bay at low tide. The purpose of this image is to illustrate that resource information viewed as maps gives insights into our world that we can not get any other way. In this case it is a just a view of color aerial photography on a surface. But a digital soil map could also be placed on this surface to help people understand the location of soils in their area.

This post is a toast to the scientists meeting in Rome at the 4th Global Workshop on Digital Soil Mapping! I wish I could be there to clink glasses with you this evening. Bonne chance!

Third Rock for the Sand

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Decomposing Rock, Sand, and Landscape Evolution, Joshua Tree National Park, California

Decomposing Rock, Sand, and Landscape Evolution, Joshua Tree National Park, California

The Earth is often referred to as ‘the third rock from the Sun’.

WARNING: This post contains graphic images and explicit geologic explanations!

When the molten core of the Earth invades fractures in the overlying rock it forms seams or large bodies (batholiths) of new rock as it hardens. Because the cooling and hardening occur below the surface (rather than by violent ejection via a volcanic eruption)  the molten rock cools slowly and large crystals form. A variety of crystalline igneous rocks are formed. What type of rock depends on the composition of the molten material and the cooling rate.

These granitoid rocks weather into individual coarse crystal grains which we call sand.

In arid climates like the Mojave Desert in southern California these sands provide a difficult challenge for plants. The coarse grains don’t provide many nutrients.  The sand doesn’t hold very much water. It evaporates or drains quickly. There isn’t very much water to begin with.

Slowly as the sand continues to weather, nutrients and smaller particles are produced. The material retains more water and small plants can survive. Over time these nutrients and water support larger plants.

These three rocks in Joshua Tree National Park tell the rudimentary stories of landscape evolution and plant succession in an arid climate on granitoid rock formations.

The crumbled sand on the left shows small water channels. The sand has been carried by the water and deposited in a small alluvial fan deposit. Plants are starting to occupy deeper pockets of sand in the shade under the rocks. It is a micro model of the vast alluvial fan landforms that occur at the base of the mountains and ridges throughout the arid west of the U.S.

The three crumbling granitoid rocks are interesting shapes resting on an exposed larger bolder. The low-angle evening light highlights the granular makeup of the rock. That is what drew me to this spot initially. But as I looked at the photo I realized that it told a bigger story.

I got feedback on this photo during an art exhibit critique. The reviewer thought that I should have cropped off the left side of the photo up to the edge of the rock.

That might make sense for art composition or to have an abstract photo of three generic shapes. But I feel very strongly that photographs need context. I am not drawn to abstract snippets of scenes. Some people are and they succeed with photographs of splotches on pavement or smashed cans on the ground etc.

If I had cropped this photo the three rounded shapes could have been pottery or any other material, but just shapes. Most of the story of the formation of arid landforms and plant succession would have been lost. I call the photo ‘Making Sand’ and I had hoped that the name would call attention to the context of the three shapes. But maybe it was an obtuse name that nobody thought about.

It is another example of what harsh conditions plants can survive in. And by surviving there and contributing their organic matter remains they make it easier for the next plants. It is not abstract art but the meaning is probably still not apparent to most people. I try to combine artistic composition with context with a little intrigue to tell a story. I think that knowing where the story takes place enhances the image rather than detracts from the composition. It is a balancing act.

Until a person has an art reputation it is hard to get people to stop and look and think about what you are doing. These are just rocks on the ground, big deal.

There are more photos of the Mojave Desert in the Photo Gallery at my website: www.earthmapphoto.com

What Lies Ahead?

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Self Portrait, Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA

Self Portrait, Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA

The desert is a harsh setting. Only the adapted and fortunate survive. Lessons have to be learned quickly. Decisions carry serious consequences.

National parks and monuments in the desert are good places for contemplation. The landscapes are enormous and the mind can wander farther than the views. You are not distracted by artificial urgencies. The commercial world is not represented.

The desert allows a person to sort through the experiences of the past and evaluate the lessons that should have been learned. It is also a perfect setting for clearly thinking ahead and planning the future, if you can plan the future. You can at least decide on a path. Sometimes you will have to adapt to changing conditions, but the lessons previously learned can help you be prepared to deal with unexpected challenges, with integrity. Your values help you focus on the things of lasting importance so you can keep moving forward.

Of course none of us knows what lies ahead. Each of us plays our small but pivotal role within our family and community. If we are fortunate we are also supported by family and friends.

The reason for this philosophical post is that for the first time since I retired in January 2010 I can look ahead and plan my path with more freedom. Over the past several months I have been working under a contract to edit and prepare training material for a satellite image processing course. This was an activity that I was working on when I retired. Fortunately, it was one of my favorite parts of my work and I got to work with good friends.

Last week we held the training course in Texas. The participants were great to work with and it was fun. It is reassuring to interact with dedicated people who will lead innovation in the work that you spent your career on. I will probably help teach the course again next winter, but it definitely feels like I have completed that work. I may  continue to support that satellite remote sensing  and digital soil mapping work periodically.

But this is the start of a new path. I was fortunate to have had a challenging career filled with what I thought was useful work. Now the photography and maps will be the main focus.

I start this path with a new photo exhibit in a local wine tasting room in the beautiful seaside town of Trinidad, California. The opening reception was yesterday at Moonstone Crossing Tasting Room. My wife and I both have art on exhibit there and it was fun to spend the afternoon with our friends talking about our endeavors.

My path ahead includes this blog, so I hope that you enjoy the brief travel escapes. Today I have been more philosophical, but I will generally focus on travel stories. We will also travel on dedicated photo excursions. The next subjects will be southern Spain, Morocco, and Italy. I will continue to work on my website and develop new and custom map products. I will also work on new local images for photo note cards.

And, of course, I will continue to treasure my wife, our two wonderful daughters, and our families. The lessons that I have learned have taught me that the consequence of that decision is a contented and meaningful life. They help me adapt and enjoy the path.

Pardon me for the personal nature of this post. The photo is in Joshua Tree National Park and is a self portrait.

Marsh View

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Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary, Arcata, California, USA

Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary, Arcata, California, USA

We have this great little university town, and a garbage dump, and wastewater, and marshland.

We are right on Humboldt Bay and the Pacific Flyway.

What can we do with these elements? And while we are at it, can we provide recreation and wildlife habitat?

So many things in life are about choices. More than 30 years ago the people of Arcata, California, USA chose well. They decided not to enlarge the garbage dump next to the bay. Instead they capped it. They aggressively supported recycling and waste reduction for decades before it became universally apparent that it was a good municipal policy for cost reduction and resource utilization. Then they re-established the former freshwater marshes and integrated the function of the marshes with the last stages of the wastewater treatment system. They created a wildlife sanctuary and recreational trails. Today the former dump and the current wastewater treatment facilities are frequently used recreational areas and host many bird watchers. They are actually treasured by the residents.  Here is how the City of Arcata website describes the marsh area:

“The marsh restoration was integrated with several other projects such as the salmon aquaculture project and the alternative waste water treatment project. The Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary was dedicated July 4, 1981.

The Arcata Marsh and Wildlife Sanctuary is home to the City of Arcata’s innovative wastewater treatment facility. The sanctuary is 307 acres, including freshwater marshes, salt marsh, tidal sloughs, grassy uplands, mudflats, brackish marsh, approximately five miles of walking and biking trails and an Interpretive Center. By integrating conventional wastewater treatment with the natural processes of constructed wetlands, Arcata has succeeded in turning wastewater into a resource.

Located at the north end of Humboldt Bay, the sanctuary is situated along the Pacific Flyway, a major migratory route for thousands of birds that breed in the far north and winter in California, Mexico and Central and South America. These wetlands provide homes and migratory resting places for over 270 species of birds. With seventy-three species here year-round along with numerous species of plants, mammals, insects and amphibians, there’s always something to see.” ( http://www.cityofarcata.org/departments/environmental-services/water-wastewater/wildlife-sanctuary )

I was given an assignment to provide photographs of the local area to the Arcata Chamber of Commerce for a Visitor and Relocation Guide booklet. I had many local photos already but there were important scenes missing. It was winter and we had had a long spell of rainy, cloudy, foggy weather. The deadline was approaching and the light was terrible for photography. Then one beautiful Sunday it cleared. I followed the highlights of the sun all day. I photographed what it shone on; aiming west in the morning, working the shady community redwood forest at mid-day, and aiming east toward town as the setting sun shone on Arcata.

This photo is from the marsh looking northeast toward downtown and Humboldt State University on the hill. Dark clouds moved in above the community forest and provided a nice background for the sun spotlighting Arcata. I stood at the top of a ladder for three hours as the clouds moved overhead. The light varied dramatically and the water surface changed with the winds. A large snowy egret had landed in the dry cattails on the little island in the foreground. I was hoping that he would fly low over the water and be reflected in the marsh pond. But I guess he was resting and the sun set before he moved again. Sometimes chance elements come together unexpectedly, but other times your plans for a composition don’t work out. It was a beautiful evening at the marsh so I had no real complaints. This is the cover photo on the Visitors Guide.

You can see other California photographs in the Photo Gallery at my website: www.earthmapphoto.com

Godwit Days Migration

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Bird Researcher, Coast Range, northern California, USA

Bird Researcher, Coast Range, northern California, USA

Each spring hundreds of people migrate to the northern coast of California. They come to see migrating and resident birds. They also gather for camaraderie, art, education, and fun.

The event is called Godwit Days, California’s North Coast Spring Bird Migration Festival.

The event is held in Arcata, California, USA.

Participants can spend up to a week going on field trips, with the main events happening over a weekend. These field trips provide easy walking tours of ancient redwood forests, grasslands, coastal marshes, rocky shores, and high elevation forests. Participants can also take kayak tours and other boat trips in coastal waterways and bays. There are over 100 field trips. There are also workshops, lectures, and opportunities to view huge birds of prey up close and visit an operational bird banding and research facility.

Whatever your impression of bird watchers is, the range of ages and interests of Godwit Days participants defies stereotyping. The things they seem to have in common is an enjoyment of the outdoors and learning about birds and the natural systems that they thrive in.

This is the second year that I have volunteered to take photographs of the event to provide promotional photos for Godwit Days. This year I was assigned a high elevation forest field trip, a field sketching workshop with local illustrator and artist Gary Bloomfield, and a shorebird field trip to local restored marshlands.

This photo is from the high elevation forest field trip. The tour travels about 40 miles inland to the Coast Range. By ‘high elevation’ they mean 1200-1800 meters (4000-6000 feet). Most of the other field tours are near sea level so it is a relative term. On this field trip participants heard or saw about 30 different bird species, even though the birds were still mostly at lower elevations or had not arrived yet from their winter homes to the south.

Each of my assignments was interesting and fun. The field guides were very informative and provided a fun atmosphere. And I got to see and learn about things in my own ‘backyard’ that I haven’t seen before.

This event is a good way to learn about the birds and habitats of the north coast of California and the clouds of spring migratory birds that travel through the area. You can learn more about it at: http://www.godwitdays.com/




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