There’s a local spot I like to go when I just want to get outdoors for a little fresh air and exercise. It’s a moderately steep hill with no real trail and pretty much nothing but sandstone and some small plants. Most of the rocks are typical sandstone, with minimal definition. Then there’s this little pocket along the route. Everything has a kind of animal print design where stripes tried to develop, but some disruptive force came along during the process. I had to bring a camera along on one of my hikes to capture this anomaly.
The monsoon season has been a good one this year, but for the most part, appears to be over. Sunny and hot dominates the upcoming forecast once again. We had almost a month straight with cloud cover, many small rains, and some downpours. Sadly, from a photographer’s standpoint, most of the big rains happened at night. There are a couple spots with normally dry waterfalls that have safe access no matter what the weather, and I’ve been wanting to capture those in full force. Two weeks ago, we had a daytime thunderstorm in the right part of town, and I headed out to see some waterfalls. As I got closer, I realized the rain had missed the area I hoped to see, so I kept driving. When I came upon this canyon, I could see a waterfall going. I knew I wouldn’t be able to get closer before the flow ceased, so I had a moderate telephoto lens along for that reason. Errant raindrops were still coming down as well as thunder rumbling from somewhere overhead, without seeing any lightning. Despite that, I could see blue skies about to take over. I took a photo from this same spot five minutes earlier that shows all the waterfalls because of the soft light. When I saw the sunlight coming through, I knew this was going to be a b&w. All those cliffs were still very wet, and in this shot you can still see one waterfall clearly. If you’re seeing this on a larger screen, you might see a couple of the other ones.
When the Covid lockdown came along in spring of 2020, I had no idea my life was going to see some changes. I was actually looking forward to some time off and opportunities to go hiking once the authorities realized fresh air was helpful in battling Covid. My leg was not completely healed from an injury months before, and I felt I could use the time for more therapy.
The one thing I was certain of in spring of 2020 was that I was going to be changing residences. By spending a lot more time at home, I was constantly being reminded of all the things that bothered me about that place, especially with all my annoying neighbors being home all the time too. Only two obstacles stood in my way. Every job I had lined up had cancelled, so I had no proof of income. Secondly, nobody would let me go in to see the places in person – only virtual visits were allowed.
With that in mind, I packed up almost everything I owned and put it in storage. I spent a fair amount of time eliminating things I no longer used by either selling, trashing, or finding a new home for those items. I thought (like many) that the pandemic would blow over in a few months, so I would just go hang out with family for a while. My mom had been asking me to visit for some time, so I spent the majority of my time off there. I had visions of traveling more, but with the west on fire much of the summer of 2020, I kept my driving to a minimum.
A few months off became many months off. Somewhere along the way I got a weird flu-like sickness I thought was Covid, but when I took a test, it said negative. When the vaccines came out in 2021, the second shot gave me the same weird symptoms I had months before, so I’m convinced I had it. My mother, now 88, had become less active and less independent. It was good timing that I was still available to help her out. Shortly into 2021, she had a hospital visit. This was a planned trip with several follow-up visits, but then there were more trips to the hospital. The last two trips were through the paramedics. During this time there were plenty of tests, but no answers. Shortly after my last post here, there was finally a test that had the answer. Unfortunately, by that time, it was too late for any options for recovery. She passed within the month.
It then became my responsibility, along with my next closest brother, to handle her post-life details. My brother still had his same job in a different state, so his time to help was on a more limited basis. I was the one handling maintenance of her house and small possessions she had acquired through the years. After several months of cleaning house (literally and figuratively) it was time to get the house sold and back to my life. People were calling about upcoming work and I needed to find a place to live again.
When Covid first shut everything down, I thought there were going to be a lot of people hurting financially with higher numbers of housing foreclosures and lower rents when the dust settled. In fact, the opposite was true. Housing costs had jumped up and availability was scarce. Then I got a reality check when they started to ask about what I had been doing during the last year-and-a-half. Nobody was willing to sign a lease with me without recent paychecks. I even offered to pay the entire year up front, with no takers. My only option was to move into a weekly rental apartment, and the only place to find those are sketchy neighborhoods. Not only was I not unpacking my storage locker, I was now adding more possessions (like my computer and camera) into it.
Word got out to friends of friends that I was living in the hood, and about a month later I had an offer to move in with some people I knew vaguely. They were both smokers, but the place seemed large enough to be able to have my own space without the smell dominating. After a week or two, I noticed that boxes, backpacks, clothes, etc were all beginning to pick up the cigarette odor even though I was keeping my windows open and blocking off vents. Although the place was quiet and the roommates are great guys, I had proof of income at this point and resumed my housing search. I soon became aware of how competitive the market was and I was getting frustrated in my search and feeling like I had to be like a Black Friday shopper at Walmart if I wanted to get a new home.
Finally around the holidays I was able to move into a place of my own. Christmas actually felt like Christmas as I was opening up boxes I had packed up a year-and-a-half before and wondering what was inside. It has taken a while to go through my stuff, but that is behind me now. My patience paid off as I found a house that is comfortable, quiet and odor-free. While many people say that 2020 was a horrible year, I’m looking at 2021 as the year I don’t want to see again. Photography has been on hold for most of the time since last posting here. Last week I went out for the first time in a long time for a hike with photography in mind. A couple days ago I was able to get out for another hike, even though this was with my small on-the-go camera. Here are some shots from the last two trips, a year since my last post.
A couple weeks ago, I was driving through the desert of western Arizona. The clouds were quickly changing and various degrees of light and shade were trading places upon the landscape. I wish I could have set up a tripod for time-lapse video, but by the time I walked to this spot, all the good stuff was gone in about a minute.
I always liked this photo in color, and never really thought of it in black and white until I was playing around with some files last week. Some effects can be achieved in Photoshop, and sometimes you just have to wait for the right moment to press the shutter. I’m sure I’ve talked about it before. I call it Mother Nature’s dodge and burn. A storm was clearing over the Superstition Mountains just as it was getting late in the day. Shafts of light were sliding around here and there, then a large opening in the clouds allowed for the Saguaro cactus forest to be illuminated while the cliffs above were waiting their turn.
I like exploring nature to find the features that haven’t been posted on social media over and over again. If I sent this one out with a location tag, I’m afraid it might join that not so elite group. As with an image I posted a couple months ago, this one is loaded with color, but I’m more inclined to this rendition.
Finding running water around here is getting tougher, but there are some places that always come through. A normal water level here would be covering most of those rocks, and the algae has dried to leave a crusty white cap. I’m learning to make the best of cloudless skies, as that appears to be the trend this winter.
The Comet Neowise has been making its way through the nighttime skies recently, and last week I made several short trips away from city lights to view this rare sight. On my first night out, I didn’t know what to expect, so I only packed a couple fast lenses. I achieved some nice results, and went out the next night trying to get this shot with a very long and very slow lens. That was a disaster, and just reaffirmed that it’s not a nighttime lens. I went back the following night to the same spot with a much faster medium telephoto lens. I made the switch to a mirrorless camera not very long ago, and this was my first attempt at nighttime photography since. I didn’t find it easy to frame the image using the mirrorless, so I ended up taking handheld shots with my old camera and 50mm f/1.2 lens as a spotting device to find the part of the ridge I wanted as a foreground. Then I set the tripod in place for the telephoto shots.
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!
I’ve been crazy busy lately, so I’m trying to get caught up here. In the final installment of the Daily Post Photo Challenge, they put up the topic of All-Time Favorites. While I have posted some favorites before, these are mostly new to my blog. I purchased my first real camera over 40 years ago, and moved into large format 5 years after that. I have some favorites from way back then, and some that have made the ranks within the last year. Choosing definitive favorites throughout the collection would be impossible, so here are a few from the top of my lists in various categories.
Living in the desert, flowers are a limited subject for me. The top photo comes from the North Rainbow Trail along the Arizona-Utah border. We had just dropped into a canyon whose entire bottom was layers of sandstone, when I spotted several Indian Paintbrush in bloom. Who needs soil anyway?
One of the difficulties in photographing poppies is that they open up when the sun is stronger, then close by the end of the day. Secondly, they appear in surroundings that are often not very photogenic. Then, if those two come together, there’s the third variable of decent light. I think I hit the trifecta when I photographed these poppies in the late afternoon, below a saguaro cactus studded hillside in the desert east of Phoenix, Arizona. Just as I was setting up, a thin wave of clouds moved in as though someone were pulling a fine lace curtain over the desert.
Although I’m partial to the desert, my travels have not been limited to the warmer regions. Anyone who has been to the Rocky Mountains in summer knows that you can almost set your watch by the afternoon thunderstorms. On this mostly clear day, somewhere south of Telluride, I captured this favorite mountain scene as the sun was getting low.
While the desert does contain a few, there are better chances of finding waterfalls in the mountains. I think I always had a special place for this one because it was the first time I was able to get behind the falls without getting a wet lens. Oh, and the light is pretty good, too! From Rifle Falls, Colorado.
Another place having thunderstorms with clocklike predictability is southeastern Arizona. While spending a couple very wet afternoons on Mount Graham, I woke up very early the last morning to capture the sunrise coming up over a fog-filled Safford Valley. I have seen hundreds of sunrises and sunsets from beautiful locations, but this one still ranks high.
Seeing mountains from an aerial perspective can be breathtaking, but often too distant to see great detail. However, mountains and commercial airplanes in close proximity is a bad thing. Many routes out of Seattle pass close to Mount Rainier. I was fortunate on this almost cloud free winter Seattle day (yes that sounds like an oxymoron) to capture one of my favorites from an airplane.
While many tend to think of Arizona as hot and dry, there are a few riparian zone gems to be found. One of them, West Clear Creek, is a photographer’s paradise, as well as a great place to escape the heat. This is one of my favorites for reflections, and pretty high on the list for canyon photographs.
The reason it could not take top honors for canyon favorites is because of the next place. I have hundreds of Grand Canyon photos from various trips, and have seen many different faces that it puts on, but there’s nothing like being in the bottom and really appreciating its scale.
Water in the desert is special, but certainly not the norm. The counterpart to creeks and rivers would probably have to be sand dunes. This is truly impossible to pick a favorite, so here is one I have posted before. From Death Valley at sunrise, I have never seen arcing ridges like these at other dunes I have visited.
Despite all the time I’ve spent photographing nature, with many great days, I have one that I still refer to as best day ever. I left Las Vegas around 3 in the morning to head to Zion National Park. I arrived just in time to get a glimpse of sunrise hitting the freshly snow covered mountains. Once I started photographing, there was something to capture my attention around every corner. Despite great light in the middle of the day, I had to force myself to go down to Springdale for some lunch before returning to keep clicking all the way until the sun went down. I don’t think there were more than 20 people in the park all day long, and the rangers said they had never seen that much snow before. Somehow, with the lack of people, I came across one scene that was up about two miles along a trail that someone had walked in the middle of for no apparent reason. It was the most surreal image I had seen that day, and I was cringing because someone walked through it. This was slightly pre-Photoshop, and if I had any idea of the changes that were about to happen, I would have captured that image and waited for technology to catch up. I have no “outtakes” from that day. If I had a digital camera, I can only imagine the volume of images I would have taken. Perhaps it was the time-consumption of each setting with a large format camera that placed me in the right moment as I approached the next location at the perfect time. One of my early morning shots made a cover of a national magazine, but the truth is they’re all favorites, so here’s one the world hasn’t necessarily seen yet.
At the beginning of this month, we had our last winter storm. After it cleared out, I went to nearby Red Rock Canyon to catch the rainwater pools before they evaporated, and I posted the first of those shots already. After that first location, I hiked a little further to another great pool location. Although now starting to clear out completely, the remaining clouds were just right for the occasion.
As I took the drive out, the creek crossings had running water, and i knew i had to return the next day to see the waterfalls. I had aspirations to get to another location, but it’s been years since I’ve seen this one running. By the time I finished taking photos and videos, it was too late to make it to my originally intended destination. The water was no longer visible on the drive, and the volume flowing in the falls would probably be gone by the next day.
For this week’s Daily Post Challenge: Liquid
I am always intrigued by desert plants and how they grow and bloom. The agave (above) grows from a tightly packed center. As the leaves peel outward, they retain the lines of the leaves they grew adjacent to. The plants provides great lines and textures and photograph well from many angles, but I always liked this one showing the core.
Bolts of lightning always leave fascinating lines, whether a single strike, or a multitude. This was probably the most potent and tightly concentrated thunderstorm I ever photographed.
Another weather situation that can provide great lines to photograph are icicles.
I’m always looking for trees to photograph, mostly based on their lines and the shapes they create.
Sometimes, I don’t even have to look upward to see the photograph I want from a tree. Ponderosa pines are one of many types of trees with great bark patterns.
I find that landscape photographs are often best when there are lines that take you through the frame. The southwestern US has many locations with powerful lines.
The canyons near Escalante, Utah streaked with desert varnish, or the twisted sandstone of the Vermillion Cliffs are just two examples of that.