Last summer I was out at my playground, Red Rock Canyon, waiting for a sunset. I started out taking what I thought was going to be a three or four frame stitched shot. As I moved the camera upwards, the clouds still looked great, and the next thing I knew, I was leaning backwards with the camera pointed straight up. I checked the other horizon and thought I might as well keep going. Photoshop will not stitch together a shot of completely blue sky or even one with thin wisps. I wasn’t sure if this setting was going to come together, but it did with no problems.
I’ve flown enough out of McCarran Airport to know the flight patterns towards every corner of the US, and earlier this month on my flight to Houston, we definitely started off course. I figured the pilot would make an adjustment, but we seemed to stay further south than all the previous flights to the southeast. I was enjoying the slight change of scenery, and one of the first things to get my attention was patterns of the Mojave Desert (above). As we approached Flagstaff, I knew we were still on a southern course because the San Francisco Peaks were visible out the left side windows. They had just received a late spring coating of snow. The Arizona Snowbowl looked as though they could still have been skiing, but I’m sure it was past season. The next feature to come into view was Meteor Crater. It’s really hard to grasp the scale of the crater from the air, but perhaps the tiny roads will help. There wasn’t much to see after that, until descending into Houston. The brownness of west Texas gave way to the patchwork of agricultural land and the greenery and waterways of the much more humid environment we were about to touch down upon. Then something very red appeared on the horizon. Amidst all that green, it was hard to miss. After zooming in on the computer screen, I can see that it is a manufacturing facility for heavy equipment. And then, finally, welcome to Houston. In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “On the Way.”
This is one of my favorite spots on this planet to be standing.
Or sitting, or observing, or inhaling large volumes of fresh air, or taking photographs.
Sunday morning I started out wearing a light jacket, feeling the freshness of random raindrops, and side-stepping muddy parts of the trail – three things I never thought I would be mentioning about a hike in southern Nevada in the end of May. It poured in my neighborhood on Friday for about 10-15 minutes, but that doesn’t mean it rained a couple miles away. Not around here, anyway. My rain jacket was still in my car from a couple weeks ago, so I threw it in my pack. There were just a few drops when I started out, but it looked as though that could change at any time.
The hike to this point is only a couple miles, mostly flat with a milder grade at the end. From here it descends slightly to Oak Canyon, where trail finding skills become important. I just wanted to make it to my spot, and hopefully catch the sunrise. The clouds, thick enough to hold water, saw to it that the sunrise colors didn’t materialize. In fact, the sun only popped out for about 5 minutes the entire time out here.
My spot is on a ridge that runs up towards Mount Wilson. There are great views of most of the Red Rock cliffs, so no matter what time of year, there’s usually something to photograph – at least in the mornings. This spot is rare because trees which usually need the coolness of the canyons to survive, thrive here. The sounds of the birds reverberate throughout this little pocket, and the only reason you can vaguely hear cars go by is because the 2000 foot cliffs echo their sound.
My early start meant I had the place to myself. About a half-hour later, two climbers headed off trail to scale some precipice of Mount Wilson. My next visitor was a hummingbird. It came flying around the trees, coming to an abrupt halt as it startled both of us, I think. It hovered away momentarily, then flew back to check me out again. My camera was a couple feet away, but before I could grab it, my guest was gone. I had been shooting time-lapse video, which didn’t require anything of me other than sitting and enjoying the morning.
The early morning cloud cover made an attempt to go away, and at one point I thought it was going to clear completely, without me capturing any shots. That never happened, and as the clouds reformed, I was getting my favorite kind of light. I call it window light, where only small openings in the clouds allow the sunlight out, and usually filtered light at that. I like to think of it as Mother Nature’s dodge and burn. I fired off a few shots, and would then have a lull before the next slivers of light would slide by. During one of these lulls I heard a noise in the trees below me. My next visitors, three deer, had been unaware of my presence until that point. They froze for a couple seconds, then took off at a somewhat hurried rate. This time my camera was ready and I managed a few shots before they disappeared over the ridge. I took a few more shots with my window light, then felt I had captured everything I was going to see for the morning and packed up.
I started my way down the trail and it wasn’t long before I took what I thought was a parting glance. I’m not done here I thought as I now had a lower perspective which was looking better and better. I walked slightly up a different ridge and found a great location which had a perfect sized boulder to stand on. I thought my dawdling cost me the shot I was hoping for. I waited for at least ten minutes before the next window slid by, and, as it turned out, was even better. Perfect, actually. Now I’m done!
I glanced down for a good spot to step off my boulder, and as I did, I noticed two insects. They weren’t moving and were up against each other, butt to butt. I didn’t think this was going to last more than a couple seconds, so instead of changing to a faster lens and moving in closer, I aimed my camera downward and started to focus. I thought it might be a cute shot for a saying like “we don’t see eye-to-eye” or “I’m not speaking to you!” I was about to press the shutter when a third bug came into my frame. My initial reaction was you’re ruining my shot, dammit! It quickly approached one of the other bugs and started to attack it. That’s when I realized what had been taking place. The first two had been in the process of copulating. I could now see a small tube (penis?) between them as the one bug was busy fending off its attacker. The one being attacked was now moving around, forcing its partner to maneuver to maintain contact (or keep from breaking?). The skirmish lasted about a minute.
Then a bizarre thought came to me. “I think I just witnessed the insect world’s version of The Jerry Springer Show!” For those who’ve never seen the show, the usual theme is confronting lovers who are cheating. At some point the ex-girlfriend starts swearing and beating on the new girlfriend (or boyfriend).
The rest of the hike went without incident, but I was still pondering the drama of the insect world. A desert willow tree that I had passed in darkness was in bloom. There was now sufficient light to take photos and finish out the day.
*** click on any photo to enlarge ***
If you travel at all, you will eventually come across something broken and abandoned. It’s in our nature, being so much easier to just leave something behind once it has outlived its usefulness.
Here in the US, cars seem to be a popular item to dispose of once they are broken. I have encountered numerous cars and trucks left for nature to swallow up. It’s sad when someone determines that the cost to tow and repair a vehicle outweighs the value of said vehicle.
Some things would require far more effort and cost to remove once they become broken. This mining operation, above, would be a perfect example of that. I’m sure it was perfectly functional when the people decided to move on, probably because they had exhausted the material they were mining. Nature eventually reclaims everything, and is slowly working her magic on this remnant of civilization.
canyon walls broken from rockslide In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Broken.”
In response to Cee’s Fun Foto Challenge
Early one morning, while driving near Flagstaff, Arizona, I came across this pair of horses grazing in a meadow. I’m sure they weren’t wild, but I like the feel of the shot. Below is something also fitting the category. I’ve always called this one “The Twins” because I’ve found it unusual to see similar rock art side-by-side. This panel of pictographs is in the Grand Canyon.
I’ve hiked many miles, and early on I discovered I preferred canyon hikes over those on a mountaintop or ridgeline. It’s not just about having shade or water, but more of the adventure of coming around a corner and being amazed with something unexpected. And while canyon exploring tops my list, some canyons are more memorable. Those are the ones where the skies disappear and I might have to take off the pack and step sideways for a moment or two. At that point, it’s hard not to feel enveloped in the land. Sometimes it’s challenging to find an angle to photograph these spots, because there’s no moving around for a better angle, and looking up just yields a washed out image. Whether it’s a slot canyon or just another thin slit in the earth’s crust, sunlight rarely penetrates to the bottom. If it does, the contrast is too much, so the best light is often reflected sunlight.
Here are some of my favorite places to become enveloped:
Top: small side canyon in Zion National Park, Utah
Second: Antelope Canyon, near Page, Arizona
Third: Cathedral Gorge State Park, Nevada
Fourth: unnamed canyon in Navajo Indian Reservation, Arizona
In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Enveloped.”
The desert is full of pointy things, so a good flashlight is essential when exploring at night. Some desert plants bloom at night, such as this fruit chain cholla cactus, which is also called the jumping cholla. While they don’t actually jump, they broken pods on the ground just need the slightest touch to attach themselves to you. These broken chameleonlike pods, now dead and dehydrated, blend in effortlessly to the rocky ground. Loose cactus pods don’t usually venture too far from the living plant, so avoiding them isn’t too challenging. Rattlesnakes and scorpions like to come out at night, too. Did I mention you want a good flashlight…..better yet, two?
First off, I would like to wish all the mothers out there a Happy Mother’s Day.
The photograph above was taken when I took my mother along with her mother on a several day excursion around northern Arizona and southern Utah. My mom has joined me a couple times since, but it was the only time for my grandmother. I kept the trip very ‘touristy’, and we all had an enjoyable time. Thank you, mom – for everything you’ve done for me and wanting to see my world.
Now, about the title. This photo was taken in July, 1983 when the waters of Lake Powell were at historically high levels. Winter snows had been abundant, and the temperatures stayed cool well into spring. Then, over a period of about a week, summer decided to move in. Although the authorities knew how much snowpack was in the upper Colorado River Basin, they hadn’t anticipated it melting this quickly. As they released water from the spillways of Glen Canyon Dam, they were losing ground to the inflow at the upper end of Lake Powell.
The spillways had never been worked extensively until 1983. They were run before for testing purposes, but never at full capacity. After a couple days, people noticed that the dam was vibrating. Engineers below the dam had observed chunks of concrete with rebar being ejected with water from the spillways. Water flows had to be cut back so as to not damage the spillways any further, and plywood sheets were attached to the top of the dam to potentially hold back the rising waters of Lake Powell. The Bureau of Reclamation contends that the dam was never in danger during this period. I’m not an expert, but I’m pretty sure a 710 foot high dam holding back trillions of gallons of water, which was now vibrating, was headed for disaster had they maintained the flows. After the floodwaters receded, repairs were performed on the spillways which ended up going full throttle again the following year.
Needless to say, there is still a Lake Powell. If the Sierra Club had their way, we wouldn’t. The organization fought the initial construction of the dam, and has even made recent campaigns for its removal. It was around 2000-2001 when I remember seeing billboards around Phoenix where the Sierra Club was asking to ‘restore’ Glen Canyon. This falls under the category of ‘be careful what you wish for’. In 2005, several years of drought had brought the lake levels down 150 feet. Parts of the canyon that hadn’t been seen in over 30 years were now accessible. Forecasts are still predicting long-term drought, and this is something we may see again. For now, if you want to see what it was like pre-Glen Canyon Dam, check out the book “The Place No One Knew” with the photographs of Eliot Porter.
A little closer to present day we have the photograph below, taken in 1996. I had no intentions of duplicating the above photo. In hindsight, I wish I had taken one from near the same spot. If I had turned the camera the other way, you wouldn’t see much water. A small trickle and some pools in the creek bottom, and that was it. This time I hiked in, on what is one of my favorite hikes in the southwest. That’s Rainbow Bridge spanning the horizon.
It was difficult to choose just one shot for this week’s challenge, but I’m going with a very unique display of nature’s power. Grand Falls on the Little Colorado River doesn’t flow year round, or very often, for that matter. It’s most predictable in spring when the snow is melting. You might look at this photo and think it looks like a place that doesn’t receive much snow – and you are right. The Little Colorado River starts high up in the White Mountains of eastern Arizona, and by the time it gets to Grand Falls has dropped around 5000 feet in elevation. The last stretch goes through the Painted Desert, where any chance of the water remaining clear has perished.
At 185 feet, they are taller than Niagara Falls. If you look close at the pool at the base of the lower falls, and along the bank in the lower left portion, you will see logs. That’s quite a journey from the White Mountains, the only place those could have originated. There’s not a tree for miles from here. Not a real one, anyway. Occasionally the falls will become active when a significant thunderstorm happens upstream. It can be mostly sunny here and you would never know it was coming. If it rains very close to the falls, you might be stuck on the road for a while. The best way to know if the water is running is to cross the bridge on Highway 89 near Cameron, Arizona.
In response to The Daily Post’s weekly photo challenge: “Forces of Nature.”