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.
A few years back, I went to Colorado over Memorial Day Weekend. I awoke to fresh snowfall one morning near Wolf Creek Pass. I spent the entire morning wandering through the deep snow and taking lots of photos. I finished the day north of Durango with more of the same conditions, and it was a truly awesome day. I’m going to be thinking cool, wet thoughts to get me through the rest of this summer, as I’ve given up trying to go out in this heat.
On my last springtime hike into Red Rock Canyon, things had changed dramatically in just two to three weeks from the previous journey into the same canyon. The plants had taken over, making the trip more obstacle course-like than before, and water levels in the creek had dropped with even some pools completely gone. There was plenty of life around, including these butterflies feeling spring in the air. This shot was somewhat challenging, as I had to use my body and hat to shade sun hotspots that were dotting the frame otherwise, while autofocus was not seeing things as I did.
All this hot weather has me reminiscing about a couple months ago. This photo was from behind one of the waterfalls in Red Rock Canyon. It was late into springtime, and the flow was diminished from earlier in the year, but refreshing nonetheless.
Hard to believe this was just three weeks ago. Snow flurries were on the mountain, thunderstorms were rolling through town. Now the spring/summer temperature yo-yo has begun. Not for long, I’m sure, as summer is inevitable.
Red Rock Canyon has a bit of a deceiving name. Unlike Zion or Grand Canyon, there is not one distinct canyon running through the middle of the park. Instead, it is a long linear steep cliff with canyons that disect the cliff in several places. From the road, the geology gives the impression that these canyons would be much the same. Venture in, however, and all the differences become apparent. Some have water beyond the mouth of the canyon, but can be dry well into the canyon. Year round water in some, but dry creek bottoms are more common. Waterfalls can be found in most canyons, seasonally, but there are no real similarities between them. Brothers, not twins.
The trails into the canyons are similar – hike about a mile or so in open desert until you reach the mouth of the canyon, then follow the path of least resistance. The official trails don’t really go into the canyons, so following the wash bottoms is the route further in. Eventually, there is a bunch of rock hopping, tree branch ducking, and sliding between boulders. Just the kind of workout someone on the mend needs. Like me! Even with restrictions in place, getting out for exercise has been allowed here. The road to many of these canyons has been closed to vehicles, making it more work for people to access, thus keeping the crowds down. A demanding workout with fresh air, beautiful scenery, and almost no people has been a win-win-win scenario. For me, healthy legs means healthy heart and lungs, and less chance of getting sick.
All the images here are from my two recent hikes into neighboring canyons. On one, I had cloudy conditions most of the day, and the soft light was essential for getting the photos I did. On the other, clouds were predicted for most of the day, but soon vanished. Temperatures down in the desert were pushing triple digits, but a breeze was coming through and it was very comfortable here.
One of the things I’ve noticed through the years is the change in the water into springtime. After the snow has melted, and the creek flows decrease, algae forms in the pools, and as these pools dry up, green tinted rocks remain. I even found algae forming on a waterfall.
On the second hike, I started getting photos of something I don’t normally come across – tiny critters. I was sitting in the shade of a large tree cooling my feet in the water when I observed a brightly colored dragonfly. It had chosen a tiny exposed root as its perch, and after ten minutes, it was still there. It would fly away occasionally, but always return within three seconds. After clearing away some larger rocks so I could lay on my stomach somewhat comfortably, I inched closer with my favorite macro lens. By the time I finished, I was about 3 inches away and could now observe that the dragonfly was in the middle of lunch. Every time it jumped away and returned, it had some tiny insect in its mouth. He could have cared less about me. Shortly after leaving that area, I came across a lizard on a rock. I knew it wasn’t going to have the same tolerance for me as the dragonfly, but I managed a few close-ups without it moving a millimeter. It has also been frog hatching season, and I managed to capture this tiniest of frogs. I could have picked up any one of these rocks with one hand, but the pine needle in the back really gives it a frame of reference.
For now, the creeks still have water but the levels have been diminishing with each passing week. My favorite part of spring has to be the redbud trees in bloom. I wanted to capture them with partly cloudy skies, but the full sunshine actually worked well.
Stay healthy everyone!
September 23rd marks the first day of autumn this year, but that is normally an irrelevant day in this part of the US. This morning I had the air-conditioning turned off and the doors open for the first time in a while, so perhaps this season will be different. I read a few months ago that the El Nino currents were still in place, which would account for a lack of a summer monsoon season. Another wet winter and spring would certainly be welcome, especially if followed by another spectacular wildflower season.
The cooler air also means we’ve made it through the worst of forest fire season. Our forests have been spared from significant sized fires. Surprisingly, of all places, the worst one this season was in southern Arizona. The Woodbury Fire lasted for about a month and consumed over 120,000 acres. Rugged terrain, inaccessibility, and summer heat were the contributing factors keeping that one from being extinguished quickly.
My closest mountain retreat, pictured above, did not have to deal with closures or fires this summer. Every autumn, I keep feeling like we just made it through another round of Russian Roulette. So many dry years, and just enough careless people visiting the forests push the odds in favor of the fires. Let’s hope for a few more El Nino winters.
As summer drags into its last month (in theory), we here in the desert are looking forward to a change. Normally the seasonal monsoon rains have their rhythm going by now, and lowered the fire danger and temperatures (ever so minimally). Even if the rains are few and far between, the clouds offer some relief as well as photogenic backdrops. On the occasions we have had clouds and rain, the storms started early, and were finished early.
This time of year, it’s nice to get away to the mountains for some relief. A lot of other people have the same idea, so when I go, I usually find some rough, isolated road to get further from the crowds. Because the fire danger throughout the west remains high, and most fires are human caused, I no longer feel comfortable doing this. I never make campfires wherever I go for environmental reasons, and I don’t understand why anyone would need a fire when it doesn’t get below 50 degrees. I think this was a tradition started by people in old western movies that needs to go away.
For now, my photo trips have been limited in number and almost exclusively on paved roads. These photos are from late spring in the desert of western Arizona. The yuccas are the last thing to flower in the desert, with the blooms taking place over an extended period, depending on the right conditions for each plant. As I approached the plants below, there was a definite buzz in the air. The bottom photo is a crop of the one above it, so you should be able to see the bees more clearly. Ive photographed these plants in spring before, and never remember encountering a single bee. About 100 feet away was a similar plant with fresher blooms, but no bees. I guess this is what happy hour looks like if you’re a bee!
A wetter than usual winter has been a welcome sight for the southwestern US. Although many flocked to California to trample the flowers there, the bouquet has been continuing through the higher elevations. Red Rock Canyon has seen some small plants flowering, but I was amazed at all the redbud trees in bloom, and consider that the main attraction around here.
I know it’s been a while since I’ve posted, but I’ve had a backlog of projects that needed to be taken care of, and additional time sitting at a computer has been counterproductive to that. I’ll have a little more time for this now.
Recently, I had a chance to get out to our closest high elevation hiking spot. A friend had wanted to get away from the heat, and as with most people I know, didn’t want to to a hike on ‘photographer’s hours’. With that in mind, I wasn’t going to bring a camera, just my phone. Then I remembered the last time I did that, and we encountered butterflies and tiny flowers, so I packed my older smaller sensor camera and macro lens. That’s my idea of keeping it light.
The trail started around 8000 feet, and some of the trees down there had something I had never noticed before. Coming off the leaves was a thread-like material, covered with fine hairs. Most of these had a pigtail kind of curve to them, and their lighter color glowed in the backlight. My first shot of the day is actually one of my favorites.
Even though these trees were present further up, the threads were not as abundant on those trees. I think I need to spend more time in this forest to notice the details of seasonal changes.
The photo at the top of this post was taken near the top of the trail. With my smaller sensor camera I don’t have an extreme wide angle lens, so this was a composite of 10 frames. We had started out with clear skies, but these timely clouds came passing through, looking more like fall than summer.
We arrived at the end point of one trail, then continued partway on another. I was wanting to see if the springs were still there after so many dry years. Just before the springs we found ourselves in the midst of the forest affected by the Carpenter 1 fire which happened in 2013. Although signs of recovery were evident, these trees will not be coming back, and the eerie feeling remains.
If there’s a positive side to not being in great shape anymore, it’s that the hike took long enough so that we finished with late afternoon light. Often this is the time of day i would start a hike with photos in mind. The young aspens were a stark contrast to the trees consumed by fire higher up.
The cliffs in the lower part of the trail were beginning to get the glow of reflected light. The trees here are generally tall, but I couldn’t help but notice there was a giant amongst them.
In addition to better quality of light, late afternoon usually brings out the wildlife. This young deer showed up trailside in the last half mile, but really wanted nothing to do with me. There was a significant barrier of shrubs between us, and the one moment I had a clear view, it moved out quickly, so I only got a parting shot.
It’s been a busy summer, and when work has slowed down, I’ve been catching up on lots of backlogged projects. We’ve had some of the worst looking skies I can ever remember here in southern Nevada, and we haven’t had any fires to speak of. We’ve had dust blowing in from storms in Arizona, but mostly the smoke from California’s fires. Most of the big fires throughout the west in the last few years have been human caused. I’d like to believe that Nevadans are smarter and more respectful of the environment, but the law of averages tells me that stupid people show up everywhere. I think because we are not a glamorous outdoor destination like our surrounding states, we luck out by getting less people overall. That’s OK…..more for us to enjoy!
Last autumn I was in Seattle, and had the chance to walk around downtown under mostly dry skies. I found these trees to be dynamic with their color, but it wasn’t until recently that I had time to convert these to b&w. In the original, the two trees are completely different in color, but by changing the individual color values in the conversion, they appear similar, making it a stronger image.
This is my contribution to Leanne Cole’s Monochrome Madness, having the theme of Seasons this week. To see what other photographers have contributed, or instructions to join in, please visit Leanne’s website.
“Get along little doggie!”
Or in this case, coyote. At least that’s my best guess after an online search. My first impression was bobcat tracks, but those turned out to be much different in shape. This photo alone might be enough for a story, but yesterday turned out to be too good of a day to stop there.
The initial weather forecast called for the storm to be out of here before noon on Sunday. I set my alarm, but then rechecked the forecast one more time. The official weather station on Mount Charleston was at 37 degrees, and the satellite image gave me the impression the event was moving out quicker. With that in mind, I changed the alarm to an earlier time, thinking the sunrise might be spectacular. Upon shutting the alarm off and falling back to sleep, I awoke closer to my original plan, and decided there might still be some something worthwhile to photograph. This just meant I would be joining all the weekend warriors.
As we headed up the mountain, we began to drive through a low cloud cover. Even the tailgaters eased off as visibility became very limited. Just before approaching the ski area, we emerged with a clear view. I pulled off to the side of the road, as the freshly coated Mummy Mountain had great light hitting it. In the time it took for me to cross the road and open up my tripod, the light was gone. The fog we had driven through was racing up the mountainside. Little did I know at the time that this was the last bit of blue sky I would see for the day. That’s Mummy Mountain’s outline in the upper left corner.
Although I was a little disappointed, this was the view everyone else was getting, and I came out to hike a trail I’ve been on several times before – one that would take me up into the snow and the bristlecone pines. When I reached the parking area, there was a vehicle with three young men already returning. I was still reasonably early, and it wasn’t long before their tracks were no longer visible, and my feet were laying down the only marks in the snow. This desert dweller hasn’t been in the altitude much lately, and my stops were numerous. Taking photos was a good excuse to lengthen my stops, because I know I can’t take a steady picture without a tripod when I’m breathing that hard. Especially detail shots with a telephoto lens.
The fog was varying in its density, and with each thinning stage, I thought that was going to be it. The trail started around 8300 feet, and I knew I was up over 9000 feet. The temps were too warm for the snow, and I could see clumps falling off branches all around me. That’s when I came across the tracks. Fortunately my lingering photographer’s pace was allowing other hikers to catch up to me on the trail, many with big dogs, and I knew my chances of becoming breakfast were diminishing. In this area were many trees with intriguing shapes, standing eerily in the fog. I took numerous shots in this area, then continued. In a short time I arrived at the largest bristlecone pine on the trail, perhaps the largest I have ever seen. Around this time the sun became visible, although the fog was still there. I don’t think I have ever seen this tree under more perfect conditions.
I continued along to an area I have stopped before. The fog gave this group a different light than any previous visit.
I tried continuing further, but this part of the trail, now around 9500 feet, had a little deeper snowfall. And a steeper pitch with a slight sideways pitch. That was becoming too much work without spikes under my shoes, so I headed back. This turned out to be excellent timing, as the fog was making a comeback. The trail was getting slippery and/or muddy in spots, I was starting to feel the fatigue of mountain air. I could barely see the forest in the canyon right in front of me.
I made one final stop, and as I did the fog was now leaving many microdrops on my camera, though not my lens. Those made for some excellent b&w images which I will post soon. It was close to 2:00 when I finished, and the conditions were not what I was anticipating, but certainly made for an awesome day.
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