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.
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.
Just because the sun has gone down for the night doesn’t mean it’s time to put away the camera. For some of us, it’s the opposite. This is when the best photos can happen, starting with the blue hour (above). Once the blue hour has passed, you might be lucky enough to catch some stars.
While some don’t venture into the great outdoors after dark, city streets can always provide subjects for your camera. Perhaps you will even encounter some ghosts.
It wouldn’t be much fun watching fireworks in daylight, whether manmade or natural.
If you ever have a chance to witness lava flows up close, you will want to do this after sunset. It’s quite difficult to see the lava underneath the surface, and you might be on top of it before you realize where it’s at.
Life in the desert moves at a slow pace. Without much water, growth is slow, and subsequently, so is death. This dying cholla cactus appears to have marked its own grave, but will eventually succumb to the elements and gravity. The younger, healthier ones (right portion of frame) are bright yellow or green and are easy to notice and avoid. During their life, they eventually drop several sections. In the course of time those begin to camouflage themselves, browning to match the stones beneath, and still just as painful. Walking through a dense cholla forest is like navigating a minefield. If you manage to get too close to one, you will swear you have been bitten by something.
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.
I’ve had plenty of time in airplanes recently, and this is the view of the desert just east of here in the Arizona desert. I have crossed this location several times, but never with this beautiful early morning light.
This is my contribution to Leanne Cole’s Monochrome Madness this week. Next week there will be a theme of Up In The Air. My photo next week will not be another aerial view….this is just a teaser. To see what other photographers have contributed, or instructions on how to join in, visit Leanne’s website.
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.
Nice to have some time to post again. It’s my own fault – I told everyone that I wasn’t going to be available in July, so I’ve pretty much done 3 months work in the last 6 weeks. I haven’t been hiking or touched my camera for non-assignment work in 2 months. Thank God it’s July!
Summer usually doesn’t take its time getting to the desert. This was one of the most comfortable springs on record, but late June doesn’t hold its punches. Record and near record highs occurred for several consecutive days. During this time I happened to be listening to local news when they were talking about people coming to visit here and specifically, Death Valley, to experience the intense heat.
To those of you thinking of visiting for that reason – don’t! There’s a much simpler solution. Instead, turn your oven on to about 200 degrees. (Disclaimer: I don’t know who might be reading this, and don’t want to be contacting my attorney, so electric ovens only, not gas). Next, kneel in front of the oven with your face towards it, ensuring that your head recoils in reaction to the blast of heat. This is what all of us desert dwellers feel every time we step out of our air-conditioned cars and homes in late afternoon this time of year.
If that’s not enough discouragement, don’t visit here for the sake of the earth and our children. Jets fly on less fuel when they’re not carrying as much weight, and the car you’re not renting won’t be putting emissions into the air. Furthermore, you can take some of the money you’ll be saving and donate it to an environmental program that will prevent temperatures from reaching 125 degrees in the future.
For those of you wishing to visit for sane reasons, come on down! The heat wave is gone for now, and it’s almost pleasant again (in the mornings). It will be 103 to 108 every day for the foreseeable future, but most of those days won’t be hot (that’s according to the National Weather Service, see below).