Travels and Stories

The Painted Hills

Wildflowers in the Temblor Range, with desert candles, blazing stars, tansy phacelia, and hillside daisies, Carrizo Plain NM, CA, USA

Wildflowers in the Temblor Range, with desert candles, blazing stars, tansy phacelia, and hillside daisies, Carrizo Plain National Monument. I used a wide-angle lens (20mm) to be able to look down into the stand of flowers in the foreground and show more of the orange color (the blazing stars), while also including part of the colorful hillside in the background. 1/6 second at f/16, 800 ISO.

Many years ago – perhaps around 2005 – I saw a striking photograph of flowers in the Temblor Range, bordering the Carrizo Plain. I wanted to go there, and in April of 2006 I did, finding a route up the steep ridges of these mountains to a colorful hillside. The flowers weren’t as abundant that year as they were in the photo I saw, but it was still beautiful, and I was able to make a couple of images I liked.

In 2010, after seeing reports of a great flower bloom in the Carrizo Plain, I returned to the area and hiked up into the Temblors again. It was spectacular – the most amazing flower display I had ever seen. I could only spend one afternoon and one morning there, but it was a wonderful 24 hours. The hills were enveloped in thick fog on my one morning there, and spots of sunlight breaking through the fog created some beautiful light. I could see, however, that the flowers wouldn’t last long, and I wasn’t able to go back that spring, but ever since then I’ve wanted to return.


The Floweriest Piece of the World

Endless flowers, Carrizo Plain NM, CA, USA

Endless flowers, Carrizo Plain National Monument. This was a very contrasty scene, so I bracketed five frames, each two stops apart, and blended them with Lightroom’s HDR Merge. Normally I would try to capture a photograph like this when just the edge of the sun first peeked over the horizon, in order to avoid lens flare. I did that here, but then kept shooting, knowing that the sun needed to get above the horizon to light the foreground flowers. In this image, made about two minutes after the sun first appeared, the sun was high enough to create some beautiful backlight on the flowers, but luckily there was still no flare. 22mm, f/16, 100 ISO

“The valley of the San Joaquin is the floweriest piece of world I ever walked, one vast level, even flower-bed, a sheet of flowers, a smooth sea ruffled a little by the tree fringing of the river and here and there of smaller cross streams from the mountains.” — John Muir

“The Great Central Plain of California, during the months of March, April, and May, was one smooth, continuous bed of honey-bloom, so marvelously rich that, in walking from one end of it to the other, a distance of more than 400 miles, your foot would press about a hundred flowers at every step.” — John Muir

The once-vast flower beds of California’s Central Valley that Muir described were paved over and plowed under a long time ago. Yet there is a small corner of California that, in a good year, still resembles Muir’s descriptions: the Carrizo Plain.


Zodiacal Light

Zodiacal light over Manly Beacon and a dust storm, Death Valley NP, CA, USA

Zodiacal light over Manly Beacon and a dust storm, Death Valley NP, CA, USA

On the last night of our Death Valley workshop we went down into Golden Canyon, preparing to capture a star-trail sequence above Manly Beacon. As the skies grew darker we noticed a low cloud in the main valley, behind the Beacon. It looked like fog or mist, but that didn’t make sense, since there hadn’t been any recent rain, and, well, we were in Death Valley, the driest place in North America. So we figured it had to be a dust storm.

It was gusty in Golden Canyon, but not windy enough to create a dust storm. Clearly, however, it was windier in the main valley. And the dust cloud seemed to be moving our way. We debated whether to leave or stick it out. It didn’t seem likely that the dust cloud would reach us, so we decided to wait a bit longer, and then a bit longer again.


The Mist Trail at Night

Vernal Fall and Liberty Cap at night with a lunar rainbow, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Vernal Fall and Liberty Cap at night with a lunar rainbow, Yosemite. 20 seconds at f/4, ISO 6400

Claudia and I made a nighttime trip up the Mist Trail recently. The ostensible purpose of this hike was to look for lunar rainbows, and we did find some, as you can see from the photos. But that was just a bonus. The real reward was being up there on a beautiful, moonlit night, with the roar of the falling water filling our ears, and having this normally-crowded trail completely to ourselves. It was so much fun.

The moon will be full on Thursday night, and with the good water flow this spring I expect that many photographers will be making their way to Yosemite to photograph lunar rainbows on Yosemite Falls. Don Olson has posted lunar rainbow predictions for Lower Yosemite Fall, but the spray will be soaking the bridge below the lower fall, making it hard to keep lenses dry during long exposures. Unfortunately Don hasn’t posted any predictions yet for Upper Yosemite Fall, and my trigonometry skills aren’t good enough to make those predictions myself. I think lunar rainbows will be visible on the upper fall from Cook’s Meadow at some point on Thursday evening, and the following couple of nights, but I can’t be positive!


Wildflower Hunting

Poppies, lupines, and oak, Figueroa Mountain, Los Padres NF, CA, USA

Poppies, lupines, and oak, Figueroa Mountain

Claudia and I took a few days this past week to look for wildflowers. It doesn’t seem like a great year for flowers, at least compared to some past years, but we did find some nice patches.

Our first stop was Carrizo Plain National Monument. We had heard some promising reports from this area, and we found extensive patches of yellow hillside daisies along the south and east sides of Soda Lake. We also heard that there are large swaths of purple phacelia in the southern part of the monument, but we didn’t make it down that far. However the Temblor Range, on the eastern edge of the Monument, seemed very dry. There were patches of daisies in the Temblors, but none of the multi-colored hillsides you’ll see in the best years. If you’ve never been to the Carrizo Plain in the spring it’s definitely worth going, as you’ll find some large swaths of beautiful flowers on the valley floor, and a bit of searching will reveal mixes of different species that work well for more intimate scenes. But if you’ve been to the Carrizo in a great year you’ll probably be a little disappointed with the display this spring.


A Different Point of View

Half Dome and North Dome at sunrise from the Four-Mile Trail, Yosemite NP, CA, USA

Half Dome and North Dome at sunrise from the Four-Mile Trail, 8:07 a.m. Tuesday morning

A small storm rolled through Monday night. The showers tapered off during the wee hours Tuesday morning, and I rose early, hoping to once again photograph a clearing storm in Yosemite Valley.

The moon was nearly full, and I actually got to the valley early enough to capture some images of the clearing storm by the light of the setting moon. Then some clouds moved in. I looked at the radar images on my phone, and saw a band of showers approaching. It looked like the showers would reach me around sunrise, and pass through pretty quickly. Hmm. I might have just enough time to hike up the Four-Mile Trail to a spot with a view of Half Dome that I’d been wanting to try.

It would be a gamble. Staying near the roads on the valley floor would give me more flexibility; I could wait to see what happened with the weather, and within five or ten minutes be at one of my favorite, familiar locations. But on this morning I wanted to try something different, so I decided to take a chance and go for it.