Travels and Stories

Earth Textures

Sandstorm, Mesquite Flat Dunes, Death Valley NP, CA, USA

Sandstorm, Mesquite Flat Dunes, Death Valley NP, CA, USA

We tend to think of deserts as barren and desolate, but most deserts are actually full of vegetation. The plants may be widely spaced, but they’re abundant. Some desert areas, like Saguaro National Park, and Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument (both in Arizona), seem almost lush.

In Death Valley, however, there are miles and miles of bare, naked earth, without a scrap of vegetation. It’s austere, yet beautiful in its simplicity. The earth is laid out in plain sight, without any plants to obscure its colors, folds, and textures.

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Desert Gardens

Desert in bloom at sunset, Joshua Tree NP, CA, USA

Desert in bloom at sunset, Joshua Tree NP, California. I bracketed three exposures, two stops apart, and blended them with Lightroom’s HDR Merge. 33mm, f/16, ISO 100.



Last week Claudia and I visited family in Southern California, and, while we were in the neighborhood, detoured to some early-season wildflower spots: Walker Canyon, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, and Joshua Tree National Park.

In past years I’ve photographed beautiful wildflower displays in semi-desert areas like Antelope Valley and the Carrizo Plain, but never in true, low-desert habitats like Anza-Borrego and Joshua Tree. It was amazing to see these normally-dry places blooming. The hills in Anza-Borrego were so green that in the right light, if you squinted (and used your imagination), it looked a bit like Ireland. The birds were in a springtime mood as well; we walked up a wash one afternoon accompanied by a symphony of bird song.

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Eastern Sierra in Winter

Early-morning light on Lone Pine Peak and the Alabama Hills, CA, USA

Early-morning light on Lone Pine Peak and the Alabama Hills, CA, USA

Claudia and I drive over to the eastern Sierra frequently in summer and fall, when Tioga Pass is open. We love it over there. But in the winter and spring Tioga Pass is usually closed, turning a two-and-a-half hour drive into an eight-hour drive. Until recently I had never been to Mono Lake in winter except during a couple of exceptionally-dry years when the pass stayed open later than usual – which hardly seemed like winter.

Our trip to photograph the lunar eclipse gave us an opportunity to do something we had always wanted to do: visit the east side in real winter conditions. I photographed sunrise at the Alabama Hills on Sunday morning before the eclipse, and then again on Monday morning, after the eclipse, as a storm was clearing over the Sierra.

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A Lunar Experience

Lunar eclipse sequence, Trona Pinnacles, CA, USA, 1-20-19

Lunar eclipse sequence, Trona Pinnacles, CA, USA, January 20th, 2019

The weather forecasts prior to last Sunday’s lunar eclipse showed lots of clouds over the western U.S. Lots of clouds. On Thursday before the eclipse it looked like we might possibly find clear skies in southern Arizona, or around Death Valley, but the chances for either location looked slim.

By Saturday it appeared that southern Arizona would probably be covered in clouds at eclipse time. Yet computer models for the evening of the eclipse kept showing a small slot of clear sky extending from about Lancaster, California (in the desert north of Los Angeles) northeast through the Trona Pinnacles, Death Valley, and continuing into Nevada and Utah. I couldn’t think of anything in Nevada to use as a foreground, but Death Valley or the Trona Pinnacles could certainly work.

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Sunset at the Trona Pinnacles

Sunset, Trona Pinnacles, CA, USA

Sunset, Trona Pinnacles, CA, USA

Claudia and I just got back from a short road trip to the eastern Sierra and Trona Pinnacles. We ended up at Trona for the lunar eclipse on Sunday evening, as the forecasts indicated that would be one of the few places west of the Rockies with clear skies.

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A Brief Detour through the Canyon Country

Storm clouds at sunset, Capitol Reef NP, UT, USA

Storm clouds at sunset, Capitol Reef National Park, Utah

On our way back from Colorado last month, Claudia and I spent a couple of nights in southern Utah. We had dinner with one of Utah’s most talented and thoughtful photographers, Guy Tal, along with his wife Sarah. (If you’re not familiar with Guy’s photography and writing you should be!) And we enjoyed the change in scenery, going from the forested, snowy mountains of Colorado to the red-rock canyons.

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