As we approach springtime, it’s becoming clear that we really haven’t had a winter here in the southwest. One big storm came through, but in a week’s time, that was already in the rearview mirror. There have been some years where spring has produced several good storms, and salvaged what was otherwise a dismal water season. I’m hoping this is one of those years, because we really need the water.
Yes, we’re starting to feel like Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day. Mother Nature has succeeded in issuing a stay at home order more potent than any Governor’s. The only time to be comfortable outdoors is first thing in the morning, but the smoke throughout the west has reached unhealthful conditions in many places, defeating the purpose of going out.
In case you missed this week’s news, record setting heat in Death Valley reached 130 degrees, a mark not seen there in over 100 years, or over one pandemic ago. The photo below is from the National Park Service Instagram page. Think of it like a bank thermometer, but the official reading is the third highest ever recorded on Earth. Phoenix has had a record number of 110+ days, as well as a record number of 115+ days. It could snow there this week, and it would still be the hottest summer on record. Las Vegas tried to end rainless streak of 89 days, but could only squeeze out a trace of rain. The people who study these things say we have been in a long term drought which historically last 30 years, and we are about 25 years into it. I hope in 5 years from now Californians are back to complaining about all the rain. It beats the hell out of all these fires.
Perhaps the most important news of the week comes from Greenland. Scientists now say that the ice cap there has reached the point of no return. People weren’t paying attention to Al Gore twenty years ago, so perhaps news like this will get people listening to scientists now. If you want to see how we’ve destroyed the polar ice cap, you can click on the link below.
Polar Ice Caps Melting
With all this time to catch up on things, I finally went through my collection of 35mm slides and disposed of most of them. While the favorites have been scanned and/or printed many years ago, most were in slide boxes and pages. These were mainly duplicates and outtakes from assignments, being held onto just in case. There was a time when referrals would come up from someone who knew I had covered certain events or places, but those days of out-of-the-blue stock sales are long gone. There were a few hidden gems amongst the thousands which hadn’t seen the light of day for decades. Below are two of those from Yosemite and Bryce Canyon.
About a half year ago, I suffered a severe leg injury which kept me from being outdoors with my camera. A couple weeks of being mostly bedridden and using crutches to get around eventually gave way to being able to do some work and the start of physical therapy. My physical therapist was hesitant about me hiking at first, so my first couple trails were relatively flat. No backpack filled with tripods or cameras either, just a phone. Earlier this year, I finally made a hike with all the gear on a trail that had more difficulty involved. I could feel the difference of the terrain versus just being in therapy. I can’t imagine how long I would have been out if I wasn’t taking care of myself before this accident, and now that we’re all being asked to stay home, I realize I need to keep moving more than ever.
While many National Parks and other recreational areas have closed, there are some which remain open. These may not be the desired locations which attract social media throngs, but those who’ve seen my work know I don’t really go there anyway. The first location (above) was after some areas had shut down, making this a more crowded parking lot than usual. Despite that, I had very few people on the trail I was on, and getting here requires a scramble, so I enjoyed the place to myself.
That area has since become off limits, as has the next spot, on a hike taken in March. While this area starts on a popular trail, it soon takes off to an old trail, which quickly fades and becomes a scrambling route. Again, social distancing didn’t apply here because there were no other groups.
One of the remaining open trails has plenty of open space to absorb a higher number of hikers keeping distance between them. Leaving the trail and boulder hopping the creek also provides more privacy and the best views.
Higher up, this canyon becomes more rugged and takes on different characteristics. While most would have a different opinion on what constitutes a waterfall, I’m going to state that this is southern Nevada’s largest waterfall. It had been raining earlier, but only a light amount, and had been snowing above. This probably won’t be noticeable at this size, but there are small streams of water coming down on almost all the canyon walls in this scene. While the wall to the left is the most obvious, the water can be seen in many spots when standing here (and on my computer screen in full size). Waterfall or not, I like how this one came out.
I remember the first Earth Day in 1970. At our school, each of the students was given a small tree to plant. We planted ours in the front yard, and it remained a small tree for what seemed an eternity. Although I have not lived in that house for many years now, I can go on Google Earth for a peek and see how much it has grown. Although that is just one simple act, I cannot get a visual progress reminder how my daily efforts to be as green as possible are working.
When I planted that tree, I was still young, and didn’t realize that an environmental movement was needed. I do remember public service ads against littering, and that it wasn’t uncommon to see a bag or a can flying out of the window of the car in front while driving down the highway. I don’t think I began to comprehend the magnitude of mankind’s waste until the first time I heard the expression acid rain. As our numbers grow, it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain a healthy planet, especially with consumer products becoming cheaper, and in the minds of many, more disposable.
Somewhere near the top of our environmental problems list would have to be our use of plastics. Once they find their way to major rivers and oceans, they mostly end up in one of 5 garbage patches currently circulating our planet’s oceans. Fortunately, there is an effort underway called The Ocean Cleanup, whose goal is to eliminate these vast floating debris piles. You can go to their website to read more about it, or possibly donate to their cause. This is, of course, just a large band-aid to a large problem. The real solution is to curb our use of plastics and make sure they end up being recycled.
Here in the US, one of the more prominent issues in recent times was the reduction of the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. If ever there was a case to show that politicians work for special interests, and not the people, this would be it. In the public input phase of this reduction, 99% of the respondents favored keeping the monument as it was. In the redistricting map of the GSENM, they have created three separate national monuments. Inside the former GSENM lies the highest concentration of well-preserved fossils ever discovered. It also contains the richest and most accessible coal deposit in the state of Utah, which is no longer under protected status on the new map. Coal consumption is on the decline in this country, so any coal mined here would most likely be sold to China.
Several lawsuits were filed to block the reduction of the national monuments, and Utah politicians immediately introduced a bill to manage the new property and see to it no further changes could ever be made. Proposed management of the new national monuments would consist of a seven member panel, of which, a majority would be local county officials. One of the members would also be appointed by the President, so a real public voice would be lost there as well. These are still federal lands, not designated as Utah state parks. Yes, our public lands in the hands of local politicians. This is a precedence we cannot establish. You can blame Trump all you want, but this ordeal was promoted and encouraged by Utah politicians. We can all follow suit from the Outdoor Retailers Association, and some of its vendors, who have boycotted the state of Utah for its policies about the environment and how it should be overseen. Although unlikely, a boycott by all potential visitors would send a message to the cronies in Salt Lake City that people coming to see the special lands in the southern part of the state provide a viable and profitable tourism economy. Once this land is tarnished it will remain that way.
On a more positive note, a project I wrote about previously has been killed off. The Grand Canyon Escalade, was voted down by Navajo Nation Council late last year. Efforts by the tribe are underway to designate this area as a sacred site, and prevent any future blemishes on this special region from rearing their ugly heads again. Perhaps a long legacy of Native Americans being offered roses, only to discover that they were just getting the fertilizer, has provided Navajos and other tribes a better insight to what is truly best for them and their land. A special thank you goes out to the Navajo Nation Council and their wisdom for a long-term vision.
I’ve seen many beautiful sunrises and sunsets, with most of those happening in Arizona and New Mexico. Many times I have been in exquisite surroundings, only to have a faint hint of color, or to have the color burst through in a different part of the sky than I was hoping for. There have only been a couple occasions where the entire sky has lit up and I’ve been in an excellent spot to capture it. This was one of those moments from Chiricahua National Monument, Arizona.
There’s no better place to capture photographs of rain than a rain forest. I certainly would be hesitant to bring out my DSLR under these conditions, so this is where I have learned to appreciate my phone’s camera. I’m not sure how well it shows up, but there were plenty of large drops coming down when I took this shot near Hilo last summer.
Takeoffs and landings near thunderstorms can be on the turbulent side, but occasionally there’s a visual reward for being this close. I’m sure I was the only person hoping we would sit on the runway longer because I knew the delay would give this view. We were just a couple minutes off from seeing this one full circle.
As you know by now, I’ve spent a significant amount of time in the desert, and I still have a sense of fascination when the rain showers move through. There’s a unique scent that permeates the air, and a sense of freshness with the rain settling the dust. Summer storms frequently arrive just in time for sunset, providing memorable light shows.
While in Hawaii last summer, I made two nighttime crossings on the road near Mauna Kea. On the first one, the skies were clear and the moon had set for the night. The stars were incredible to witness, and I posted that shot about a week ago. On my second trip, I was driving through fog as I made the ascent. Somewhere near the summit, I pulled over. There was still a still a light haze present, but I could see stars, despite the fact that the moon was still visible. As I looked away from the moon, I saw this….I call it a moonbow.
Most visitors to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon see the forests of the Kaibab Plateau upon entering and exiting the park. The plateau drops off sharply on either side, and much of the land north of the Grand Canyon is vast, wide open desert. On one of my trips to the west side of the plateau, I set out across the desert, mostly following one wash. Above one side of the wash, I found this lonely boulder with an opening beneath it, and the late afternoon sun perfectly highlighting the grasses and other textures beneath it.
This is my contribution to Leanne Cole’s Monochrome Madness this week. To see what other photographers have contributed, or instructions to join in, please visit Leanne’s website.
As is probably obvious by now, I have a fascination with the desert. The plants, features, textures and moods always provide reasons to explore further. Although I have experienced serenity in the desert, I’m not sure I have images that convey that mood – especially to those who have never truly explored those same places.
I think there are many who would agree that oceans are a great place to find serenity, especially on a remote beach at sunrise. I find that sunrises, in general, tend to be more peaceful and calming than sunsets. Perhaps because they signal the start of a new day, often witnessed alone. Almost everyone I know thinks this is not a good time to be awake yet. That’s OK. More serenity for me to enjoy.
I can find calm settings just about anywhere in nature, but I think forested mountains would have to be second on my list, right after oceans. Having a lake or a small stream is certainly an added element of calming.
I spend a fair amount of time in airplanes. By allowing myself to get distracted looking out the windows, I find this can become very calming, especially when flying over seemingly infinite cloud cover.
Also making my list would have to be any moment when witnessing a rainbow. This one happened to be from an airplane. Ahhhhhhh!
- Feature photo: Early morning on a black sand beach in Hawaii
- 2nd: Same beach and morning as above
- 3rd: Sunrise from Rocky Mountain National Park, Colorado
- 4th: Small lake in the Wasatch Mountains, Utah
- 5th: Infinite rolling hills from the Black Hills, South Dakota
- 6th: Minimal cloud cover over the Gulf of Mexico
- 7th: Sea of clouds somewhere over Texas
- 8th: Rainbow upon approach to Sacramento, California
Some places are just off limits in summertime. The canyons feeding into the Colorado River from western Grand Canyon on down towards Parker, AZ are all in that category. This is White Rock Canyon, in Lake Mead National Recreation Area, just below Hoover Dam. Just like nearby canyons, the gravel in the bottom is your trail, the grade is very light, and the chances of wanting to take out your camera are very good.
You will find this photo along with the work of others on Leanne Cole’s site. There are also instructions on how to join in every week.
When I saw the title for this week’s photo challenge, I immediately thought of some of the canyons I’ve visited. The canyons of the southwestern US are great places to hike because there is often shade. Because of the shade, light reaching the bottom is often reflected off higher sunlit walls, resulting in a warm glow. In those canyons where water is present, the effect is magnified.
My photo comes from Zion National Park, Utah. As sunrise lit up the high cliffs on a morning with clear blue skies, the North Fork of the Virgin River glowed from the light being cast onto it.
My recent trip to Hawaii provided me with the perfect shot for this weeks Daily Post Challenge of Elemental. Earth, air, fire, and water are all there, but you can’t tell that the air is not exactly the best for you from this shot. I probably could have gotten a little closer if this hadn’t been the downwind side. I was fortunate to grab a couple shots before retreating to cooler non-toxic air. In full size images enlarged on my screen, I can see the distortion from the heat.
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