The desert seems so magical in springtime because in most years, there is an abundance of water flowing through the creek beds. The normal lack of rain through late spring and the inevitable rise in temperatures deliver a one-two punch that just makes it tough to want to get back out there. I couldn’t choose one photo from this hike in April, so this week I have two.
There have been a number of times in the last couple years – most notably during my recent injury recovery – where I didn’t pack a camera for a hike. Using only my iPhone for pictures, even with an app that allowed for manual control and RAW capture, ultimately left me disappointed. A friend suggested I look into a newer phone, but after much research I realized that even the latest and greatest still have the same root of the problem. A tiny sensor.
When I have an image that I really like, I want to print it, and want to see it large. I had not looked at point-and-shoot cameras for many years, and thought I should check out that market. A larger sensor and a real lens was what I was interested in, and eventually found what I was looking for in a Panasonic Lumix LX10 with a Leica lens. I was looking to replace using a phone, but the results of this camera could almost make me stop using my real camera. Almost.
In comparison to an iPhone, there really is no comparing, so I’m looking at results next to a full frame DSLR. There is a slight amount of noise that I don’t get with full frame, but that can be easily fixed in processing. The lens is somewhat wide angle, but doesn’t have the coverage of the extreme wide angle lens I use most of the time. And the macro capabilities of this lens don’t get as close as my favorite macro lens. That’s about all I can think about on the cons of this camera, unless it’s possible to be too small or too light.
I have already posted some photos taken with this camera, including some of the nighttime shots on a recent post. Those, and all on this page are hand-held. It also takes some excellent quality 4k video. Now when I go on a hike where I wasn’t expecting to see something photo-worthy, I won’t be disappointed because I packed light. My friends have never been too vocal about it, but every time I’ve stopped and pulled out a tripod, they were probably thinking, “Go small or go home”
Yesterday I was out at Red Rock Canyon for the first time in a while…..with my car, that is. The scenic loop drive, closed to vehicles for over two months, has reopened. The new hours are from 8-4:30, also known as skin cancer time. Yesterday was the last time until October that anyone could be out during that time and not melt within an hour. At the entrance station, I asked the ranger why they even bothered opening the drive. I had arrived around 4 and he told me that if took a short hike, I probably wouldn’t get ticketed for after hours violation. Not feeling very comforted by those words, I stayed close to my car…..and waited. These photos were taken well after closing time, and I saw several other vehicles, but no ranger. It gave me an opportunity to play with camera settings I’ve never used before, but in the end, I used RAW images to get the results I wanted. I realized yesterday that we’ve been so spoiled by having bicycle access during the closure and for most of the day, making the drive kind of a letdown.
As with most people, I’ve had some time to catch up on a few things lately. I came across this photo in my files and thought it was perfect for a b&w conversion. This is a glimpse of some of the many pinnacles that decorate the summit of the Superstition Mountains near Phoenix, Arizona.
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.
I find that many photogenic boulder locations tend to be in lower deserts here in the southwest. Joshua Tree National Park comes to mind when I see what other photographers like to cover. The boulders there may receive more attention than the tree the park is named for. There are much better Joshua Trees to see than the ones there, so I completely get this one.
The subjects of my photo come from the cooler, higher elevations of Prescott National Forest in central Arizona. The tree at the back is what caught my attention here. It provides a nice contrast and an element of scale for these massive rocks. The clouds drifting into the frame completed the scene for me.
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!
No matter what the temperature, I will rarely head out to take photographs if there are cloudless skies. Sometimes clouds just add an element to the skies that reduce the sterility of the scene. They always reflect light, and usually soften the light to some degree. When the clouds are thick enough, they can provide a natural light painting to a landscape that cannot be duplicated in post-processing. In the photograph above, a little bit of direct sunlight was hitting the cliffs in the middle-ground, while some filtered light was reaching a little further back to highlight the ridgelines. Heavy clouds were lingering beyond, making for a dark mood in the back of the canyon. I also had a brief cloud darken the foreground, helping to bring the attention to the cliffs. I never would have pressed the shutter had this been a sunny day.
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.
Antelope Canyon is one of the most photographed spots in the southwestern US. As you wander through this tight canyon, you can’t help but eventually look towards the sky which is no longer visible. Light tries to find its way to the bottom, and as it does, highlights the textures of the smooth, twisted, sculpted walls.
This is my contribution to Leanne Cole’s Monochrome Madness this week. Being the first one of the month, there was a theme of From Under. To see what other photographers have contributed, or instructions to join in, please visit Leanne’s website.
My photo for this week’s Monochrome Madness comes from the closest forest to my home, on Mount Charleston. Australian photographer Leanne Cole hosts this event, and at the start of every month there is a theme week. In September, it was trees. I had several images for that category, and this was one that I didn’t include back then. My schedule became very hectic for a couple weeks, and I didn’t post my photo on my blog, even though you can see it on Leanne’s site.
Next week will be have the theme of in the open. If you’d like to participate, you can find instructions here.
I love this time of year when the air gets cooler and the leaves change color. Occasionally, cold fronts come through with a little moisture, and hopefully, not much wind. That was the case for this photo from the San Francisco Peaks, near Flagstaff, Arizona taken a couple years ago.
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 her website.
While in Texas recently, I had a chance to get away for a day to see if that state had anything to offer this nature photographer. I have been to the Guadalupe Mountains in the far western portion of the state, but much of what I’ve seen has been flat and unphotogenic. My previous most favorable impression of Texas has been the best night sky viewing I’ve seen anywhere.
I had heard about the hill country near Austin and San Antonio, so that’s where I was determined to explore. A cold front blew through the day before, with tornadic activity in the northern part of the state, but I was left with blue skies for the day. Although I prefer clouds and softer light for my photos, I wasn’t going to complain with temperatures that barely hit 70, and almost no humidity.
I tried to research places to check out, but really didn’t see any photos that made stop and say, “Wow, I have to visit there”! I was really disappointed that many of these places didn’t open until 8am. With a sunrise at 6:30, that meant I was going to miss the best light of the morning. My first stop was Guadalupe River State Park. It really wasn’t a planned stop, but the sign said 3 miles, so it seemed a waste not to visit. The river is wider than I expected in this mostly arid environment, with a beautiful green hue to the water. Mostly I was charmed with the older trees along the banks and their beautiful exposed root system. The tiniest of clouds passed briefly in front of the sun, showing me a glimpse of how this place would photograph under softer conditions. That was just a tease, and I did manage a couple photos before realizing it was time to move on.
My next stop was Cave Without A Name. This was a planned stop. There are other caves in the region, but the remoteness made me think I would have a little quieter visit. There were just 5 of us in our little tour, and the staff was very friendly. I expected the usual stalagmites and stalactites that are common to caves, but there were features called “bacon strips” that seemed pretty unusual, and my favorite “the alien”.
I spent more time there than I had anticipated, but given the fact that above ground was midday lighting conditions, that didn’t seem to matter. I was definitely glad with this choice for a visit. Upon my drive out I saw a sign for a local county park. Kreutzberg Canyon Natural Area is on the Guadalupe River, and seemed like a nice place for a picnic, but given the fact that I had stopped previously along this river, and the sun was now too high, I kept my visit brief. I was planning to stop next at Enchanted Rock, but the people at the cave told me it was a popular area and might be closed due to crowd size already. The fact that they didn’t stay open until sunset just reinforced my feeling that this would have to wait for another trip.
After a late lunch stop, I was headed off to my last scouted location, Pedernales Falls State Park. Although none of the photos I had seen had a wow factor, the staff at Cave Without A Name said I would enjoy this place. They were absolutely correct. As I was driving through hill country, I realized I was at the tail end of the spring flower season, but there were still a few left, including these within the park.
My biggest surprise was the overall size of the place and volume of water. These are not tremendous falls, but a series of cascades all distinct from each other.
As I said, the volume of water was not what I expected after the photos I had seen online, and this river has perhaps the best infinity pools I have ever seen. This is the moment I was really wishing for clouds.
There were still a few people around at this point, but not too many. I think this allowed the wildlife to feel at ease returning to the water. The park’s website lists heron and vultures as part of the permanent inhabitants. Even with the telephoto lens, the vultures I saw were too far away to really recognize, but this heron put itself in the most perfect spot to be photographed. The bird was aware of my presence, so I kept my distance until I had many shots that I liked. When I took a couple steps closer, I was able to capture its takeoff.
With that, I was just waiting for the sun to get to the horizon for the soft light I needed for my favorite part of the falls.