Travels and Stories

Eastside Flowers

Fields of arrowleaf balsamroot below Sierra peaks, Inyo NF, CA, USA

Fields of arrowleaf balsamroot below Sierra peaks, Inyo NF, California. It was a bit of a grunt to climb up this hill through the sagebrush, but I thought this higher vantage point would allow me to see a succession of layers from foreground to middle ground to background, which could add more depth to the image. The dappled light and clouds were perfect complements to the scene. This is a stitched panorama (three shots), made quickly to capture fleeting light. 50mm, 1/125 sec. at f/16, ISO 100.

Tioga Pass through Yosemite finally opened yesterday, July 22nd. That’s the latest opening date ever – by far. The previous record was July 8th, way back in 1933, before the road was even paved. In 1938, the year after it was paved, Tioga Road opened on July 5th. But since 1938 it’s always opened by the end of June, except for 1998, when it opened July 1st. Even in the prodigious snow year of 1983 it opened on June 30th.

An exceptional set of circumstances conspired to make this year’s opening so late. First, there was a lot of snow. There’s some debate about whether this was a record year for snowfall in the Sierra; it’s actually a hard thing to measure, as there are a lot of variables. But it was certainly one of the snowiest years on record.

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Wildflower Odysseys

Desert candles above a flower-filled arroyo, Central Coast ranges, California, USA

Desert candles above a flower-filled arroyo, Coast Ranges, California

The last couple of months have been a whirlwind. We did a night-photography workshop in Death Valley in mid-April, which was really fun, with some great conditions. In early May I spoke at the NANPA Summit in Tucson, then immediately after that Claudia and I flew up to Washington for the Out of Olympic photography conference. Both those events were also lots of fun. We got to meet many wonderful people, connect with old friends, and photograph the beautiful rainforests and beaches of the Olympic Peninsula.

But meanwhile, all the winter rains in California had spawned an exceptional spring wildflower bloom, which we definitely wanted to see. So from early March to late April, sandwiched around our Death Valley workshop, and juggled with other events and projects, Claudia and I traveled to Antelope Valley, Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, and various locations in California’s Central Coast ranges.

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Rock Candy

Pool in a slot canyon, Valley of Fire SP, NV, USA

Pool in a slot canyon, Valley of Fire SP, Nevada. Recent rains had filled this colorful little slot canyon with water.

After our wintry visit to Zion, Claudia and I opted to head for the warmer lands of Valley of Fire State Park in Nevada. Valley of Fire has sandstone and red rocks, but the rocks are different from anything I’ve seen in Utah. Some are rusty red, full of holes and small arches. Other areas have amazing, multi-colored layers of pastel hues – yellow, purple, orange, and pink.

I didn’t expect to create moody, dramatic images in a place like Valley of Fire. If an opportunity for something like that presented itself, then sure, I’d take advantage of it, but that wasn’t why I went there. It was more about exercising my eye for color and design in a rocky playground, which for me is tons of fun. And isn’t that why we do photography – because it’s fun? It doesn’t have to be super serious all the time.

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Zion in Winter

Cottonwood in snow, Zion NP, UT, USA

Cottonwood in snow, Zion NP, Utah

After escaping Mariposa’s snowmageddon, and spending a few days in Death Valley, Claudia and I decided to head for Zion. I’d never photographed Zion with snow, and snow was in the forecast. Well maybe. We drove there on a Monday, and it looked like some higher elevations could get a dusting of snow Monday night, followed by a more substantial storm, with colder temps, on Tuesday night. The question was whether it would be cold enough to snow on the floor of Zion Canyon. That seemed iffy, but odds were decent enough to make it worth trying.

We arrived just before sunset on Monday, with enough time to drive up into Zion Canyon before dark. While we’ve been to this park many times, it had been a long time since we’d visited the main Zion Canyon, because most of the year it’s only accessible by shuttle bus, which isn’t very conducive to photography. But during the winter (outside of holidays) you can drive in. And it was great to be back. It’s such a spectacular place.

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Escaping the Snow

Snowy mountain above salt flats, Death Valley NP, CA, USA

Snowy mountain above salt flats, Death Valley NP, California

I love winter, and I love snow. But when Claudia and I learned that our house might get two or more feet of snow during the last weekend of February we knew things might get difficult.

We’ve lived in our house in Mariposa since 2005, and several times have received eight inches of snow, and once even got ten inches. Our road and driveway don’t get plowed, and feature a couple of steep hills, but with high clearance and four-wheel-drive we can get in and out with eight or ten inches of snow. But not more than that. With two feet of snow we’d be stuck for awhile.

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Poconip Fog

Frosted cottonwood, Mono Lake, CA, USA

Frosted cottonwood, Mono Lake, California

In winter, Mono Lake sometimes gets socked in with fog. Locally it’s called “poconip” fog, though it’s more widely known in parts of the western U.S. as “pogonip” fog (an English corruption of a Paiute word).

The Mono Basin can get quite cold in winter. But Mono Lake never freezes, due to its high concentrations of salt. So on cold nights relatively warm, moist air rises off the surface of the lake, meets that colder surrounding air, cools, and the moisture (water vapor) condenses into microscopic water droplets, forming a low-level cloud – in other words, fog.

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