Tag: “Desert”

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!!

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.

Deserted Oregon Desert Dessert

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Dawn on the Deschutes River, Oregon, USA

Dawn on the Deschutes River, Oregon, USA

Oregon is world famous for its stunning Pacific coastline. Lush, dripping forests thrive in the high rainfall. The surf pounds on dramatic rocky cliffs and beautiful beach towns huddle against the wind.

Fewer people outside the western USA  know the dramatic beauty of the volcanic Cascade Range that separates the coastal forests and inland valleys from the extensive arid eastern part of the state. As Pacific storms lift eastward over the massive Cascade peaks most of the moisture is condensed and dropped. This creates a classic arid ‘rain shadow’ inland of the mountains. Even fewer people know the deserts on the east side of the Cascade Range.

In reality the area is certainly not deserted. Central Oregon is a very popular recreation and retirement area. Although the current economy has slowed growth. But further to the east away from the mountains it is easy to find quiet and deserted deserts.

The Deschutes River passes through the area surrounding Bend, Oregon. It drains the melting snow on the east side of the Cascades and is the main river in Central Oregon. Downstream there are challenging rapids. In Bend the river is more tame.

This photograph was taken in Bend. I walked down to the river before dawn. Actually there was more stumbling and scrambling than walking. The brush and rocks along the bank were difficult to get through or over in the dim light.

I found this little niche next to the river and set up my tripod. I was experimenting with lenses, exposures, and shutter times as the light increased. During the several hours that I was there I took hundreds of photos. It was a beautiful clear Oregon morning. This blue sky dawn would be rare on the foggy coast, but here they are the norm.

Oddly enough this was the first photograph I took. Even with all the experimenting and the changing light this is the one I like the best. The other hundreds of photos were not a waste of time because I learned and enjoyed a beautiful morning on the river. But it still surprises me that the first photo after setting up turned out.

A long exposure is a common way to show the effect of moving water. This was a 4 second exposure at f/22. The small aperture also provided a long depth of field and kept the basaltic rock next to me in focus as well as the forest in the distance. But I also tried fast shutter speeds to freeze water splashing up from rapids. And some of those were interesting, especially after dawn when shafts of sunlight shone through the forest to spotlight little violent stretches of rapids.

It was a great morning on the banks of the Deschutes. This forest and narrow band of water don’t look like a desert, but they were deserted at dawn. And it was a visual treat, like dessert.

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.

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.

Maybe It’s the Light

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Bright Evening, Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA

Bright Evening, Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA

Each of these two photos is interesting in its own way, to me. I was trying to educate myself on composition and lighting. And I have a lot to learn.  As with all art what interests one person may be inconsequential to another.

There are the technical aspects of apeture, shutter speed, ISO, focus etc. Then there is the personal composition-why that vantage point; what is shown in the photograph; what is not shown; what is suggested; what was he thinking; was it just intriguing at the moment without a coherent intention; was it just a reaction to a setting?

I don’t know if I had a coherent intention but I was interested in these exposed granitoid boulders, the sand that crumbled off and accumulated below them, the scruffy collection of grasses and forbs, the sky, the horizon of rock, the lighting, the big isolated oblong boulder leaning heavily on the solid clean exposed rock, the tilted boulders behind on the left, and the three little bumps on the top of the rock on the right. Taken together the group of features caught my attention.

I went there twice. I set up the tripod in the same spot two evenings in a row. They’re not exactly the same composition, but they are close.

Cloudy Dusk, Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA

Cloudy Dusk, Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA

This is Joshua Tree National Park in the Mojave Desert in southern California, USA. It was August and the evening light was intense just before sunset. After sunset the light faded slowly and the dusk lasted a long time. There aren’t many visitors in the park in August even though these were weekend afternoons.

The sky in the upper photo is clear and the sun was low. The  light and shadows are strong. The rock seems solid and permanent. It is a harsh scene. Each feature is strong and separate. Photo: 1/60 s at f/22.

The sky is clouded in the lower photo and the shadow behind the leaning boulder is faint. The main light source is still from the left, as this view is to the north. This photo was taken the day before, but an hour later, than the other photo. The lower photo is softer in general, but also the features blend together. The grass and forbs don’t seem so different from the rock. The sky is more interesting. The photo is more contemplative. Photo: 1/8 s at f/14.

The two photos are dramatically different, but nearly identical. If either of them are interesting to you please let me know which one, and if you want to, let me know why. Do you have any comments about the differences?

There are more Joshua Tree National Park and Mojave Desert photos in the Photo Gallery at my website: www.earthmapphoto.com

You Call That Work?

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Mojave National Preserve, Kelso, California, USA

Mojave National Preserve, Kelso, California, USA

OK, photography won’t solve climate change or reduce our dependence on petroleum. It won’t provide new jobs or feed hungry families. This one job doesn’t do that much to feed my family either.

So why spend days planning and hours shooting photographs? Is it really work if you enjoy it? What is the value? Are you contributing anything?

If you will excuse a somewhat personal and serious posting, I wanted to talk about these issues from my perspective. I used to work as a soil scientist. Now I am a photographer.

My previous goals included obtaining a graduate degree in a rigorous field science and applying that to providing useful and reliable information to people who manage natural resources. I spent over three decades conducting field work (hand excavation of soil pits to determine soil properties) and eventually developing and implementing new methods. Computer technology, remote sensing (satellite image analysis), statistical models, and geographic information systems were added to the field data to help create useful maps of soils.

Most people don’t really know what a soil scientist does. But a person has to be motivated to contribute something of value in order to deal with the hard physical labor in remote locations, the heat, the snakes, the wind, the cold, the rain, and the challenge of figuring out complex landscape patterns. I was motivated by the value of what we soil scientists produce. Since life on earth depends on what grows in, passes through, or decays in the soil, it is obvious that we need to know about the soils around us. We all benefit when somebody goes out there and figures them out and makes us a map.

I am still involved in soil science and remote sensing applications, but I have turned my attention to photography. In particular, I am interested in travel photography. My value system is based on hard work, integrity, responsibility, and doing my part. Old fashioned perhaps, but still important values. So after many years of professional service I still need to contribute. I don’t want to be satisfied with what I have done and now go on extended vacation. These are common motivations-nothing too noble.

So what am I trying to contribute and is it really work?

I am trying to contribute a vantage point to a different place and time. Somewhere vivid and interesting where you can see, feel, and maybe hear and smell new things. If I can put you there, yes, maybe you hear and smell with your imagination. These photographs can provide an escape to a place you have not experienced or a reminder of a place that you enjoyed in the past. I hope that you can savor what it is like to be there. The value of this is that whatever you deal with each day, the brief moments that you can escape to another place can be relaxing, rejuvenating, stimulating, or fun. Maybe this can help you get more out of your day or trigger ideas. Maybe they will just help you feel better for a few minutes.

Is it work? Well, I guess it doesn’t need to be work. But I approach it as a professional endeavor. I will tell you, for a person who has spent many years dealing with hard science and facts, it is interesting to try to create art. When I am traveling for photography I plan and spend each day with photographic themes and goals. I am willing, and sometimes forced, to ad lib. The days are long. I put a lot of thought and energy into pursuing the theme for each day. I learn a lot, especially from my mistakes. The photography and site challenges are combined with cultural and language challenges. My wife helps me a great deal. And we are planning excursions to Spain, Morocco, and other places in the near future.

So I am still motivated to contribute something of value. But now I am contributing creativity rather than facts. I hope that you enjoy this work. Thank you for your patience with this personal explanation, if you read this far! When I started this posting I didn’t know where it was going, but maybe I needed to get that off my chest.

The self portrait above was the result of a long, weekend afternoon in the Mojave Desert. I was trying for a very long depth of field so you could see the late afternoon shadows of the gravel and sand in the foreground (OK, I’m a soil scientist, sorry) and the shrubs, but still see 20 miles across the basin to the mountains beyond.

It was a hot, quiet afternoon. Can you hear the wind rustling in the brush? Can you smell the baking vegetation? Can you imagine the shadows moving across the scene as the clouds float by? Can you feel the setting sun on your back?  Photo:  1/40 s at f/22

You can visit my online galleries to view more of my portfolio. Click the Photography link above.

Groundhog Day Desert Heat

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Joshua Tree, Hot Day, Mojave National Preserve, California, USA

Joshua Tree, Hot Day, Mojave National Preserve, California, USA

Punxsutawney Phil says six more weeks of winter! Happy Groundhog Day, Campers! Rise and shine!!

Here is some dry heat as an antidote!  This photo screams hot and arid.

But first, what is Groundhog Day?

In the USA there is a tradition of publicizing whether a certain groundhog sees his shadow on February 2. If he does, then it is supposed to predict more winter. The small town of Gobbler’s Knob, Pennsylvania picked up on an ancient myth from the Roman holiday of Candlemas. When candles were blessed and handed out a tradition grew that if it was sunny then there would be more winter. The Romans took this tradition with them on their northern conquests and eventually German settlers brought these beliefs to Pennsylvania. In 1887 Gobbler’s Knob groundhog hunters formed a club and the local newspaper saw an opportunity for publicity and commerce and the American Groundhog Day celebration was founded (State of Pennsylvania website).

Now, why this photo and how can I make a segue from Groundhog Day?

Candlemas and Groundhog Day both seem like efforts to bring light and celebration to the darkenss and cold of winter. They are a proactive way to deal with gloom that some people feel in winter. (It doesn’t seem like knowing the prediction is for more winter would help those people, but that must be the goal.) It is a diversion and time for celebration.

So this photo is my effort to offer an antidote for winter, for those who need it. If you love winter like me, then it is just a reminder of summer places.

Even though this photo looks desolate, there are many burrowing animals in deserts like these. But I don’t know if Punxsutawney Phil would survive here.

I had spent two weekend days trying to photograph the long vistas of the Mojave National Preserve near Kelso, California, USA. I didn’t end up with many photos that I liked, but I had a very interesting time. I am always impressed with the quiet. Occasionally there are breezes that rustle through the brush, but not many other sounds. There are very few passing cars and no other sounds of civilization. I did get caught in a strong thunder shower and had to take cover in the rental car. It passed after 10 minutes.

This photo was just an ad lib photo on my way back. All of my planned photos had really not worked. But, I saw this old Joshua Tree (Yucca brevifolia Engelm.) near the road. I was interested in the lighting and the sky. The rugged granitic mountains in the background add to the harshness of the scene. I worked around the tree until I could get its leaves highlighted against the clouds and sky, but still showing the mountains in the background. The clouds kept spreading and getting more interesting as I photographed. The tree itself looked like it had been battered by weather or fire and had grown back. The gravelly and sandy soil helps complete the picture of dryness.

This is a different world than winter in Gobbler’s Knob, far from the cold, contrived commercialism, noise, and spiced cider. Hot and dry and quiet. I hope that helped!  Photo: 1/160 s at f/20

Desert Dusk

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Long Quiet Dusk, Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA

Long Quiet Dusk, Joshua Tree National Park, California, USA

If you are tired of crowds, stress, and noise consider a trip to a desert near you!

In the late evening, in summer, after the sun has set, there is a long dusk. The sky is open. The vistas are immense. The sounds are limited to wind moving through hardy brush, dry grass, and, in this case, Joshua Trees (Yucca brevifolia Engelm.).  There are no lights, no cars, no buses, no television, and no sirens.

It is still very warm at dusk, although it cools off later. The quiet masks the activity that increases after the sun sets. Animals are adapted to the heat. Even though deserts are sometimes considered vast expanses of dry, lifeless sand, there is a great deal of biological activity in a desert like the one in this photo. The animals find shelter or stay in burrows in the soil during the day. It is a good idea to learn about the activities of the snakes and other animals before walking around. Larger perennial plants are widely spaced, but in areas that are less disturbed, there are many grasses and other plants between the brush. A good way to find this out is to hike wearing shorts and then look at all the seeds that your socks collect as you walk between the brush.

This photo was taken in Joshua Tree National Park in the Mojave Desert of southern California, USA. It was an August evening, so the park was somewhat deserted. The summer heat limits the crowds. Standing in a place like this, away from the park access roads, you can let yourself enjoy the warmth and listen to the desert breezes.   Photo:  1/8 s at f/6.3

You can visit my online galleries to view more of my portfolio. Click the Photography link above.

Bighorn Pose

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Bighorn posing on granitic boulder in Joshua Tree National Park.

Bighorn posing on granitic boulder in Joshua Tree National Park.

On a quiet evening in Joshua Tree National Park in southern California, USA,  I was intending to photograph the low-angle light on the granitic rock formations. I walked to a desolate ravine between massive jumbles of boulders. I had taken some wide angle photos of the immense landscape views and had just changed to a telephoto lens. I heard a noise and looked up from my camera to see this bighorn sheep about 100 feet away.

During the next few minutes he slowly moved over the boulders to the top of the ravine. Each time he came to a bolder he stopped on top and posed. He looked directly at me, then looked away, and looked at me again before moving on. He was used to this path and was not hurried. I, however, after being startled by him walking up, was nervous and frantically shooting. Because I had just changed the lens I didn’t take the time to change the camera settings which were set for wide angle shots of the distant horizon. Each time an unexpected action event like this occurs I learn a lot and I hope I will eventually be able to react calmly and think through the technical aspects of photographing the scene. There are many different things to consider when changing suddenly from a distant static landscape to close action. (I started learning about this on Mont Blanc in France when I was shooting a beautiful, sunlit glacier view and all of a sudden there was a bright blue mountaineering helicopter screaming along over jagged rocky ridges far below me. Practice. Practice. Practice.)

This bighorn was deliberate and I thought that maybe this was his regular evening route to water or shelter or something. So the next evening I took some water and a sandwich and got myself set up in a little pocket in the rocks and waited for him. I had thought about the camera settings and felt that I was ready to do a better job this time. But, he did not return. I got to eat my sandwich and watch the light change on the granite. Sometimes you get only one unexpected chance. Photo: 1/100 s at f/22  (2009)

You can visit my online galleries to view more of my portfolio. Click the Photography link above.




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