Sunday, March 27, 2016

Season of Renewal

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It's always good to be able to push away the obstruction, come out of the cave and embrace a new day. Especially if you can do it with someone you love in a place you love.

Among other projects of renewal this season, I finally broke down and bought a new computer. Because Adobe no longer supports CS2, my upgraded version of CS5 Photoshop became useless, so I subscribed to the CC version and have already fallen in love with the content-aware fill tool. So much better than the clone tool for cleaning up dust spots.

The new machine is also so fast that I no longer have time to brush my teeth or do laundry while HDR operations run, and focus stacks run so fast I can't quite believe it. 

I've also moved my entire image library to a single 5TB external hard drive (my old drives will be used for back-ups). I haven't been able to fit all my images in one place in years, and it's great. I re-imported everything into the CC version of Lightroom and now have a well-structured and complete catalog.

We saw a couple of wild turkeys and several deer today. Seems like it's been a while since I saw any deer out enjoying the hillsides. I guess a few years of drought have been hard on just about all the wildlife, so it's good to see things being back to the "old" normal (while still feeling anxious about the "new" normal). 

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Saturday, March 19, 2016

Winter's End

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I hesitated to get up this morning and didn't arrive at the gate until after 7 a.m., so I'm not sure if this was as good as the sunrise color got, or if I missed the peak. The combination of clouds and fog gave the sun just a little window to shine through.

There were several other photographers already there when I arrived. It used to be rare to see anyone else first thing in the morning, but that has been changing over the last year.

I checked out the calla lilies again, having noticed from a distance last week that there were many more blooms on the patch, but it's already gone well past its prime. When I saw that the lilies were a mess I hurried back to hang out with the lupines. What a brilliant morning.

I spent a lot of time just taking things in without taking any pictures. I was surrounded by bird activity, from chickadees to flickers to acorn and pileated woodpeckers, wild turkeys, band-tailed pigeons. And so much green.

It's really a great time to get up there. I think if you rarely go for a hike on Mt. Tam, this is the time to do it, especially along the Coast Trail. There's also still plenty of water in the creeks, so you could pick up a waterfall if you chose the right route.

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Saturday, March 12, 2016

March Rain Falls

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I waited for the rain to let up at home in San Francisco, checked the weather radar, then drove up to Mt. Tam to see the water flowing. Get it while I can.

It started raining again once I was on the mountain. I parked above Laurel Dell and faced the car into the wind so I could enjoy being in the middle of the storm while remaining warm and dry. It wasn't long before the rain let up and I took my chances. There was no possibility of using an umbrella up on Bolinas Ridge, but the wind wasn't too bad once I got down to the creek.

It didn't actually rain while I was down there, but I needed the umbrella to protect my camera under the dripping forest.

It's always a treat to see the falls really going off. I saw two more banana slugs eating lichen, but I didn't try to photograph them this time. They don't extend their eye-stalks all the way out because the branchy lichen recoils and jitters after they try to rasp some into their mouth.

Kind of cluttered, but I wanted to show the falls through a "normal" 50mm lens.

The rushing water was so loud that I kept being surprised to turn around and find someone standing a few feet away from me. Quite a few people hiked down to check out the falls.

Back up topside I couldn't resist walking among the rolling green hillsides. I might have to shoot this vantage point again some clear day at sunset while the grass remains green.

Looking out over the vista point at McKennan Gulch I could see more rain heading inbound, and I just got back to my car in time to stay dry. I love the green of March on Mt. Tam, before the grass gets tall and the thistles come out. Maybe we'll have a good bloom of sky lupine on the hills this year.

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Thursday, March 10, 2016

Petals & Glyphs

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It's been two or three years since I drove so many miles in so little time, but it was worth a little seasonal insanity to finally see this iconic petroglyph site, complete with the snowy peaks of the Eastern Sierra in the distance. 

I drove out of San Francisco at 3:30 in the morning and was in Death Valley in time for lunch.

It was a pleasant 75 degrees, so I found a likely spot to pull over and mosey around. There was quite a bit of Mojave desert star and desert fivespot to be found, but all the fivespot blossoms had resident mites (Balaustium sp.) (Bug Guide link).

Some blossoms had hordes of them, and they were often speedily scuttling around. Were they chasing each other or just feeling a bit of a nectar rush?

The desert star and fivespot were just tiny plants that you had to walk around to notice, but a lot of people were drawn to Death Valley this year because of a large bloom of desert gold. With so many showy yellow flowers all over the place, it was nice to find this purple phacelia (Phacelia crenulata).

The desert gold was nice too. The "super bloom" was farther south and is probably over by now. I started to drive down there, but the pickings were getting very slim even south of Badwater. Right now it's best between Artists Pallette and the Beatty Cutoff. I'd heard that it was quite crowded but I was surprised just how crowded it was, even on a Tuesday.

Unfortunately I no longer have the Jeep Cherokee, and my Mazda 3 was not going to get me very far off the beaten tracks. I parked on the shoulder north of Daylight Pass and walked east to escape the rush for a while.

One of the more memorable and enjoyable things I did was to spend a half-hour or so just lying on my back in a sandy wash. Ah, peace at last -- and no bugs!

I'd planned to stay overnight in Death Valley, but I was quickly worn out by the unexpected crowds. The sun went down as I drove west across the Panamint Valley.

I spent the night at a motel in Bishop and got an early start the next morning to look for my petroglyph site. Bishop has the most stunning view in the morning. As I was getting coffee in the motel office I mentioned to the lady behind the desk that I often look at the Bishop web cam from my desk in San Francisco, and it was great to be seeing it in person.

The last time I went looking for these petroglyphs I walked up the wrong trail, so I didn't get my hopes up too much when I started up this other trail. Up at the top of the bluffs I picked up some recent sign of a hiker with his dog and followed the tracks to the base of a jumble of boulders. I climbed up toward the top of the jumble and was soon looking back down on a massive, flat boulder face covered with prehistoric rock art.

Once I climbed up to the "canvas" I took some time to just take in all the art before digging into my camera pack. I made a few images and thought about what I was seeing. Had there been a practical purpose to these marks painstakingly pecked into the rock? Did it have spiritual significance in the way the images related to the landscape? What was the cultural significance of this place? Was the art here serious or whimsical, or maybe a mix of both? The images are deceptively simple. However, there were a few places nearby where modern people had made marks on the rocks, and seeing their pathetic, juvenile works raised my esteem for the enigmatic work of these ancient artists.

I'd driven down through the San Joaquin Valley, crossing the southern Sierra at Walker Pass, and now I headed north on I-395, planning to re-cross the Sierra at Lake Tahoe. I made a couple of short side-trips up to McGee Canyon and Convict Lake. Although I had a pocket camera on me, I had to run back to the car to get my D800 when I saw these cool little ice floes. The wind had just come up and broken them loose, and in another 15 minutes that whole ice sheet in the distance had blown to shore.

The Mono Craters had a nice dusting of snow. In fact, many of the mountains in the farther distance east were covered with snow, and someday, not too many years from now, I hope to do a lot more exploring out there. 

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Sunday, March 6, 2016

Apres Storm

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If Saturday's storm wasn't wrecking anything for you -- and I hope it wasn't -- I know you had to have enjoyed it as much as I did. One thing I knew for sure was that the waterfalls would be going off on Sunday, so I got up early to drive out to the falls on Little Carson Creek.

We heard a single roll of thunder just before dawn Sunday, and that was followed by a brief downpour of rain and hail. I thought I might not get out of bed after all, but as the sun began to rise I could see breaks in the clouds. Then, still under the covers, I watched passing clouds slowly reveal the waning crescent moon, and I knew I'd have to get up and go. 

I parked and hiked up an unmarked but often-used trail. I mean it is unmarked on my maps, which I forgot to double-check before I left home. About half-way up the trail I remembered that the mapped trail, called the Old Sled Trail, was a little southwest of where I parked. No matter. I ran into a couple of women at the falls who had hiked up a third route -- Pine Mountain Road to Oat Hill Road -- from Azalea Hill. The ladies were looking for a loop hike, but they didn't have a map so I told them there is no loop. You could follow Little Carson Creek down toward Kent Lake reservoir, turn left (south) on the Alpine-Kent Pump Road, then left again on the Old Vee Road back up to Oat Hill Road, but try explaining that to someone without being able to show them on a map.

I used my binoculars to look for foothill yellow-legged frogs along the edges of the waterfalls and would not have seen this guy without them. From a distance he was too well camouflaged.

It began to rain just as I was leaving the frogs and falls behind. I enjoyed watching the rain glinting in the sun from the comfort of my portable cave (a large golf umbrella), and soon reached a serpentine outcrop near the top of the falls. 

Spring beauty wildflowers formed little pink pillows in the serpentine soil.

This view of East Peak from the Old Sled Trail was especially nice with the fragrant California lilac in full bloom. I ran into numerous hikers on my way down, and there were lots of cars parked at the bottom, and also at the bottom of the Old Sled Trail.

Looping back home by circumnavigating Mt. Tam, I stopped by the Lily Pond to see what was up. Along with the Indian warrior, there were a few early-blooming mission bells (Fritillaria affinis).

I was interested in this banana slug. I've seen them eating mushrooms and even heard one eating living plant leaves (in an otherwise very quiet redwood forest), but this was the first I'd seen one eating lichen.

Between Lily Pond and Alpine Dam, this fallen tree lay across the road. There was no way to know for sure if I would eventually be turned back by a rock slide or downed tree, but thankfully there was nothing more serious than this spot. Numerous cars were parked at the foot of Cataract Creek, but I didn't stop. My stomach was telling me it was lunchtime, so I drove up the mountain and along the length of Bolinas Ridge toward home. There was a little more rain up there, but when I got home I learned it hadn't rained a drop all day in San Francisco. However, we appear to be getting a few drops right now, as I wrap up this blog post at 5 p.m.

This was actually my first picture of the day. I'd brought along an old Lumix point-and-shoot for just such an event. I was lucky to find a spot to pull over with a relatively unobstructed view. Unfortunately, there had been no rainbow happening back when I was nicely centered between the sun and the mountain, but I was still happy to catch this rainbow with the mountain, if not centered under the bow, at least still in the frame.

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Wednesday, March 2, 2016


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I ended up going over much the same ground on this trip to Mt. Tam as I did the previous week. 

I started with the calla lilies because the sky was nicer this time around.

I checked up on the camera trap, and a chipmunk scampered away from the area as I approached. Such a fast-moving critter could be hard to catch when it takes 2.5 seconds for the video to start recording after movement is detected.

Once again, I was mainly drawn to the little stuff, like lichens in the moss.

I even found some pixie-cup lichens holding goblets of water.

Delicate white maids also grew in the moss.

Mushroom season isn't over till the fat porcini sings.

The hound's tongue inflorescence has unfurled since last week.

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