Apparently, our week of winter is over in the desert. Several days ago, it rained overnight, and as I was taking the dog for its morning walk, I passed by a neighbor’s rain-patterned hood. They must have recently waxed their car, because mine never looks like this after it rains. I was fascinated by the patterns and textures, so I returned with my camera.
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.
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.
Back in springtime, we had some days that were absolutely beautiful for hiking. No, not the sunny ones. The ones with clouds and rain threatening, even if hardly producing. Those were also great days for photographs, especially in b&w.
About a month ago, when things were still cool, I returned to a hike I had done three weeks prior. In a spot close to where I encountered a dragonfly on that previous visit, I saw this hummingbird. He had little tolerance for me being close, so this was through a decent telephoto lens. The tree he was favoring was swaying in the breeze, so he was moving in and out of the shadows while he perched on this branch. I just kept clicking until I was sure I had some variations I liked.
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.
Around this time last year, I managed to get away to the White Mountains of eastern Arizona. I was in the vicinity of the Blue River, and trying to locate a section I had visited about 20 years before. Nothing looked familiar, so I just went exploring to see what else was out there. A small side canyon had some intriguing shapes and kept me hiking and photographing until the sun moved higher in the sky and shade was no longer an option. Here is one photo from that morning.
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.
To all the mothers out there, Happy Mother’s Day!
This year will probably be different for most of you, but hopefully all the sons and daughters will be able to show mom some extra appreciation today.
A number of years ago, my significant other was in a routine of visiting antique shops. While I went through hoping to God that none of that stuff was coming home with us, something actually caught my eye one particular trip. There was a small stack of predominantly black & white photographs. Subjects were mostly people, some in uniform. Almost all had older buildings and many included vintage cars. Most had borders, including a few with the textured edges. Some had hand written notes on the back, some had dates stamped on the front. Three had the Kodak Lab stamp on the back, with dates going back to 1945. Every single one of them was older than me. Although these were taken by everyday people, they all seemed to capture a moment in time. Perhaps because it cost money to click the shutter back then, people put more thought into what they were shooting. I think the stack was $10, so I had no hesitation in buying them.
Just one more thing guys, in case you’re taking mom on a hike. Don’t take her on a steep trail with steps cut into the rock, and handrails on the sides, and tell her it will be like walking through the mall. Give her a chance to dress appropriately.
When I was about thirty years old, I thought I was in pretty good shape, as most thirty year-olds would. Then, one day, I got a dose of reality. I had an assignment to photograph a hiking trail further north. The trail started at an elevation around a mile high and finished close to 6000 feet. It was about as smooth and evenly graded trail that you could ask for. I had a backpack full of camera gear and a tripod, but nothing I wasn’t used to carrying. It didn’t matter, because this mountain had kicked my ass.
The following week, I was determined to get in better shape. There were two nearby mountains in the city that had trails to the top and were fairly close-by. I started with the easier of the two, and the first few times felt like an effort, but then got easier. Soon, I was reaching the summit and didn’t feel I needed to rest. I saw that some others were repeating the hike, so I started doing the same. One day, I did it three times, and got comments from almost everybody I had lapped. To me, this environment wasn’t real hiking, but it didn’t matter – I was building my endurance. Afterwards, I concentrated my efforts to the other mountain, which turned out to be far more demanding. This one even involved some upper body work, especially on the detour routes. It took many times before I could make the summit without stopping. After a few months, my endurance was vastly improved, and I started doing this hike twice. A few months later, I started throwing on a backpack filled with forty pounds of weights. People looked at me and asked, “Are you getting ready for a Grand Canyon hike?”
“No, just preparing for life.”
Somewhere along the way in those years, I also started doing something I hated in high school. Jogging. Much like my hiking routine, this started quite pathetically. The block I lived on was exactly one mile around according to my odometer. It felt like five. Eventually, I made it around the block without stopping. Then twice, then thrice. I ran in some 5k’s and a couple 10k’s. The running built up different muscles and endurance than the hiking. I never once set foot in a gym, but I was as close to being a professional athlete as anyone might get.
About a year later, I was asked to photograph a story on mountain biking in the mountains of eastern Arizona. There were two men who joined me there. One was a professional mountain bike racer. The other was his best friend, riding partner, and writer for the story. I had gone to a local bike shop and rented what was probably a $300 bike, they both had titanium framed bikes costing about ten times that much.
The elevation was about 9000′ above sea level. One morning we headed out for the trails, and for whatever reason, I was the lead bike. The trail started up a moderate hill, and after several minutes, I heard them talking, but all I heard was my name and the word fast. I really thought I was holding them back, so I stood up on the pedals, and proceeded a little faster. There was a loud collective moaning behind me. I stopped and turned around and repeated what I heard and thought. “No” they replied, “We were trying to figure out how someone who has never mountain biked, and riding a pos bike, could be making us work this hard to stay even!”
Shortly after that trip, I purchased a mountain a mountain bike, which I have not really used like it was intended. I like uphill rides, but would ride the brakes most of the way downhill. Even before YouTube existed with its plethora of bike ride fails, I knew this law of physics:
Speed + Gravity = Pain
I once had a dog that could run at forty mph. I knew taking him on a ‘walk’ was not what he needed, so a lot of my bike riding experience was taking him through the neighborhood. Fortunately, we had some open spaces and dirt paths, so the bike was perfect for this situation.
Fast forward a few decades to my situation a couple months ago. As I started physical therapy, they put me on a stationary bike. I couldn’t operate it as it was, so they had me pedaling from a chair at the back of the bike. It wasn’t until about week four that I was on the proper seat. Another couple weeks and I was back on the real thing. Yes, I still own that same bike.
About the photograph.
I now live in a neighborhood that is mostly flat. No dirt roads. No dog. Although most would prefer a street bike to a mountain bike, I look at it differently. The tread of my bike offers more resistance, providing a better workout. I deliberately lower the air pressure for even more resistance. I have discovered during this quarantine, that empty parking garages make great hills for a workout. On one early morning ride, I took a different route and came across this garage of a building that was closed. There were a couple cars in the bottom level, so I had a feeling I might attract some attention. Up near the top level, the sun was streaming in and created long shadows. I took this with my iPhone because I had a feeling I wouldn’t have the opportunity again. Sure enough, as I reached the bottom, security was there asking me to kindly leave. That’s ok, I know of several other garages where I can still ride. With stay-at-home restrictions probably coming to an end soon, my bike rides will likely become a little less adventurous.
Cooler weather has made its way to the desert, and soon it will be time to start climbing around these sandstone hills again. This unique perspective of Red Rock Canyon is a panorama stitched from four frames. I was always pleased with the way it came together, but just recently tried converting it to b&w, and I think I like this outcome better.