Friday, February 28, 2014

February Favorites

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I feel at home in this landscape. I'm intimate with it, and getting my camera to see it is second nature. It's the world I'm passionate about. It's where my art unfolds, and the opportunities are endless.
--Paul Nicklen, from Masters of Nature Photography

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Mossy Madrone

Shed Antler

Red Hat Mycena

Trail Runners

Slime Mold Phases

Enchanted Landscape

East Peak Sundog

Edge of Bon Tempe Lake

Dewy Spring Beauty

Alpine Lake

Cataract Falls

Turkeys in a Row

Druid Rocks

Milk Maids


Hail on Panoramic Highway

Coyote Contemplates Lunch

Snowboarding on Mt. Tam

Coyote Tracks

Black Chanterelles, White Snow

Fly on Dogtail Grass

Roadside Trillium

Shooting Stars

Cataract Creek

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Sunday, February 23, 2014

Game of Thrones

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I hadn't planned to get up so early, but since I'd actually woken up around two in the morning I decided to finally roll out of bed around 4:30. Plenty of time for a leisurely breakfast and a drive up along the western flank of Mt. Tam to photograph sea stacks along the coast.

I'd noticed this stretch of rocky coast during a couple of recent drives south from Stinson Beach. The light wasn't very good either time, being around mid-day, so I made a mental note to return for a sunrise foray. 

I would have wished for a more interesting sky, but at least the scene was clear of fog. (A day later -- today, Sunday -- the fog is back.) The two peaks in the distance are Mount Davidson and San Bruno Mountain.

Although I'd noticed the stretch of coast during drives south, I figured I could easily find it driving north as well. And I might have, if it hadn't been dark! By the time I reached Steep Ravine I knew I'd overshot my mark. Turning around to head south, I still had a little trouble finding the spot. 

There are actually two good locations. The shot at the top was taken from the southernmost point with a 300mm lens. The next shot (and the fishing boat) was taken from the next point north, using a 105mm.

After the sunrise I headed up the hill, reaching Pantoll gate at about five past seven, just after opening time. Although the gate was open, the poppies remained closed, awaiting the warmth of the sun.

I stopped at a pull-out to take in the gorgeous view and was drawn down onto the steep hillside by fresh California poppies. By the time I headed back down the mountain at the end of my trip (around 11:30 a.m.), the poppies had all opened up to a bright, sunny day.

Also growing on the steep hillside were some wild cucumber plants.

You can see the prickly cuke getting started here. Its elongate shape makes me lean towards M. oregonensis rather than the usual M. fabaceus that produces the spiky globes.

This was part of the view from the pull-out, a line of dense fog on the horizon. The morning light was so beautiful on the mountain that I wanted to remain in the moment forever. Pure bliss. But I had other things to do . . . which reminds me of a funny passage in Joseph Campbell's Hero With A Thousand Faces

"The dreadful mutilations are then seen as shadows, only, of an immanent, imperishable eternity; time yields to glory; and the world sings with the prodigious, angelic, but perhaps finally monotonous, siren music of the spheres."

I parked at Rock Spring and walked out along the Simmons Trail where I spotted a few shooting stars in a shaded spot at the edge of the woods.

Out in the sunshine I found California lilac in bloom. I believe this particular plant, with its spiky leaves, is called musk brush, Ceanothus jepsonii.

I'd mosied out into the chaparral where the Ceanothus and serpentine play while looking for a new location for the trail camera (which has been sitting uselessly at home the past couple of weeks). I found a bare rock near a trail junction that had a couple of huge bobcat scats on it. I'd love to have aimed the camera at that junction, but I wasn't sure I could conceal it from passing hikers.

I was in an area off the main trails, so I would guess that a week could go by when no one would use the trail, but in the end I decided not to risk it. I don't lock my trail camera, in part because the lock itself would detract from its camouflage, but also in part because I like the challenge of placing the camera in a way that it remains unseen by hikers.

By the time I was out here among the manzanita and Sargent cypress, the game was no longer to find a camera-trapping spot, but to find . . . the throne!

I first found the throne back in the days when I wandered off-trail at every opportunity. Mt. Tam is so criss-crossed with trails, some maintained, others made by hikers taking shortcuts, and others made and used mostly by animals. Whenever I encountered one of these side trails I would go exploring to see where it went.

And one day it went to a throne. It's in such a funny spot and is surrounded by such a web of trails, both human and critter, that it can be a game just to find it.

The royal view.

I'd won the game of thrones but still needed to find a place to put the trail camera. I wanted to put it on the edge of a meadow area, so I kept my eyes peeled as I walked back to Rock Spring. The camera's out there now, hopefully recording passing bobcats and other charismatic critters.

One charismatic critter I stopped to photograph on the way back was this sedge. The fuzzy white stalk is the female flower. The male flower hasn't opened up yet. I believe this is Carex nudata, or torrent sedge. It grows in a very wet place adjacent to the Cataract Trail that usually has such a little trickle of water running through it, and is so festooned with sedge, stinging nettle and giant chain fern, that you can't actually see any water.

But when it's stormy, as it was just a couple of weeks ago, the little trickle becomes a torrent.

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Thursday, February 20, 2014

Snow Day

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Snow on Mt. Tamalpais, three years ago today.

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Saturday, February 15, 2014

Walking Cataract Creek

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It was so cloudy when I looked out the window this morning that I couldn't even see the full moon. I didn't expect there to be much, if any, color for sunrise, but I decided to get out of bed anyway and try to reach Cataract Falls nice and early.


What little color there was quickly faded, and right about sunrise a fog bank started to blow in from the coast. It obscured all but the upper edge of the mountain, leaving a beautiful outline. Sunrise was 6:59 this morning, meaning it's no longer possible to drive up to East Peak for sunrise photography since the Pantoll gate doesn't open until 7 a.m.

Alpine Lake was a lot fuller than the last time I saw it (Jan. 20). It's still not quite full, but at least the mudflats are gone. If I were to stand today in the same spot I stood on Jan. 20, I'd be very much underwater. 

My plan for the morning was to hike from Alpine Lake to Cataract Falls. The water district road and trail crews must have had a busy week. A bay laurel had fallen onto the first bridge you cross going up Cataract Trail, but the tree had already been cut up and the demolished bridge railings already replaced. There was sign of other tree falls and mudslides along Fairfax-Bolinas Road, but it was completely cleaned up this morning.

I really wanted to concentrate on photographing the waterfalls, but I couldn't resist this little mycena. It looked perfect until I put on my glasses and saw that a chunk was missing, so I snapped a photo and continued on my way. Had it really been perfect, I'd have spent more time. I told myself I'd allow digressions from the quest for waterfalls on the return trip, knowing I'd probably be too worn out to care by then.

The trailside view of one of the first major waterfalls is partly obliterated by an encroaching bay laurel tree.

Just a little higher up the canyon I arrived at probably the most picturesque and often-photographed set of waterfalls.

I stitched a few vertical images to make one large horizontal image that I had to downsize to bring it to 24x36 inches.

For those of you who are familiar with this little waterfall at the junction of Cataract Trail and the Helen Markt Trail, can you tell what's missing?

Compare it with this view from four years ago.

Last week's flood finally dislodged the log that an earlier flood stuck in the middle of the waterfalls many years ago.

There's always stuff being hurled down the canyon. I never liked the log in that previous waterfall, but I kind of like this one. It makes a nice line in an otherwise difficult waterfall to photograph. It's difficult because you can't really shoot it straight on, and it has a tendency to look askew when photographed from the side.

This is Cataract Falls. Hard to believe, but just last week it looked like this. The split rock that you see in last week's image near the center right of the deluge is almost dead-center in this image. Last week, almost everything but that rock and the trees was completely submerged.

I actually did make a couple of stops for "ancillary" waterfalls on my way back down.

This is hardly an ancillary waterfall, but I didn't appreciate this sweet little grotto until I got off the trail and checked it out more closely.

Right behind me was a gorgeous patch of lush northside forest.

I'd seen the scarlet cup fungus on my way up and managed to find it again on the way back down. I'd had the canyon to myself for most of the morning, but by now I was sharing the place with quite a few runners, hikers, dogs, and people milling around holding cardboard coffee cups close to their lips. I can't really do nature photography when there's any kind of hustle and bustle around me, so my camera stayed in the bag from the cup fungus on down.

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