Travels and Stories

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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Looking Back to Yellowstone

Stormy sunset, Yellowstone NP, WY, USA

Stormy sunset, Yellowstone NP, Wyoming. 26mm, 1/125 sec. at f/11, ISO 320.

It’s been a busy year. Looking back through my images I see lots of work that I haven’t had a chance to post yet, including some favorites from our September trip to Yellowstone.

Yellowstone doesn’t have many iconic views, or the kind of dramatic mountain vistas that photographers are often attracted to. But there are endless photographic opportunities – if you look. And I think it can sometimes be easier to find scenes and images that express your own vision in a place like Yellowstone, where there’s lots to photograph, but nothing is laid out for you. You have to explore and find your own path, which tends to naturally lead you in different directions than others might take.

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The Southern Alps

Sunrise at a glacial lake, New Zealand

Sunrise at a glacial lake, New Zealand. It was a treat to photograph this glacial lake, complete with icebergs – something I don’t get to do in California! And with fresh snow to boot.

New Zealand’s South Island is remarkably diverse. It’s an area about the size of Colorado, yet contains temperate rain forests, dry grasslands, enormous natural lakes, and lots of beautiful coastline, including its renowned fiords.

And to top if off (literally), there’s also a range of high, snowy mountains – the Southern Alps. These mountains aren’t terribly high compared to some other ranges. The tallest peak, Aoraki / Mt. Cook, is “only” 12,218 feet (3,724 meters) above sea level. Compare that to Mt. Whitney, in my home mountains, the Sierra Nevada, at 14,505 feet (4,421 meters) – the tallest peak in the contiguous United States (the “lower 48”).

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Southern Light

Aoraki/Mt. Cook at sunrise, New Zealand

Aoraki/Mt. Cook at sunrise, New Zealand. This is the highest mountain in New Zealand. It’s covered in snow and ice year-round, but an antarctic cold front gave even the lower mountains a fresh coat of snow. I took this photo a good 40 minutes before sunrise as the predawn glow turned the mountains and clouds a vivid shade of pink.

I’m in the deep south. So far south that I’m down under – on New Zealand’s South Island.

Things can be disorienting here. I’m sure everything seems perfectly normal to New Zealanders, or to anyone who lives in the Southern Hemisphere, but to Northern Hemisphere residents like me everything is a bit upside down.

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Yellowstone Aurora

Aurora borealis reflected in a thermal pool, Yellowstone NP, WY, USA

Aurora borealis reflected in a thermal pool, Yellowstone NP, Wyoming. 20mm, 10 seconds at f/1.8, ISO 6400. I would typically use a little longer shutter speed for night photos like this, but the aurora was moving and changing quite quickly, so a longer exposure would have caused the pillars to blur and smear together.

Claudia and I are back in Yellowstone. We had such a great time here last year we had to return.

And we’re glad we did. We’ve experienced many memorable moments so far, but the clear highlight was seeing and photographing the aurora borealis (aka Northern Lights) early Sunday morning.

We surely wouldn’t have done this if it weren’t for our friends David Kingham and Jennifer Renwick. Jennifer and David are both wonderful photographers, and know Yellowstone inside out. Before Claudia and I arrived in Yellowstone they saw and photographed an aurora one night. It wasn’t the most intense aurora, but it was something.

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