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.
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.
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!
My last shot from my hike in the fog last week. As I was taking this, my camera was being covered with tiny droplets of water. This is not a telephoto shot – these trees were right in front of me. On a sunny day you would be seeing hundreds of trees from this spot. Glad to be near the end of the trail, I didn’t think it could get any darker or thicker than this. On the drive down, it did manage to get even worse before finally breaking through at lower elevations.
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.
“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.
For a nature photographer, trees and their leaves have to be a top subject matter. The photo above was from the forest floor near Hilo, Hawaii. Also from the big island, about 50 miles away was this strange looking one. A pregnant tree? Hmmm.
In the same forest was this one which I call “reaching out”.
I think the trees most associated with Hawaii would have to be palm trees.
Much closer to home, on the slopes of Mount Charleston are my favorite trees to photograph – the bristlecone pines.
I have fond memories of running through the yard kicking up fallen leaves while growing up. That might be a little tough to do with all these boulders, but the forest floor in Oak Creek Canyon, Arizona is beautiful in autumn.
There’s nothing I’d want to take a picture of in my neighborhood, but I can see this mountain clearly from my windows. For this week’s Daily Post Challenge of Local, I present to you a place I know by heart.
I was out here last week on a trail I have taken several times before. Back to the bristlecone pines, the ancient forest. As another dry year passes, and more people venture into the area, I am thankful there have been no major fires here. It seems there are no “helpful” fires any more – the kind that sustain a forest – just large devastating ones. In a normal winter, there will be snow lingering on this trail into May. I am hoping for a normal or above normal winter, but that doesn’t seem very likely….again. In the meantime, I try to get out to my local hangouts whenever I can.