Sunday, February 26, 2017

Carson Falls

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It was a beautiful morning for a hike up to Carson Falls. Fairfax-Bolinas Road is still closed at Azalea Hill, so I had to hike up the Pine Mountain Fire Road instead of using my preferred route through the woods up Liberty Gulch. The whole valley above the falls was still in shade and covered in frost when I arrived. The falls themselves weren't going off in any big way, and the light was quite uneven, so I didn't even pull my camera out.

From a high rocky perch I glassed the falls for foothill yellow-legged frogs and saw only one. I hope there were plenty more out of sight. 

As I continued down the trail to the lower falls I bonded a little bit with some of the trailside trees.

They seemed happy to have some human company too.

The view of the lower falls in 2008 was considerably less obstructed than it is now.

As you can see, the flow volume, while nice, isn't anything special despite all the rain.

There was lots of serpentine spring beauty in bloom.

This is the view looking back toward Azalea Hill and Mt. Tam from Pine Mountain Fire Road, with spring beauty blooming like crazy just off the trail.

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Sunday, February 19, 2017

Chain Fern

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I was looking for something else in my picture files when I noticed a fern I'd photographed last year that was growing on the tip of a small island in the middle of Cataract Creek. Because of its unique location I realized I had just recently photographed the same fern, a giant chain fern (Woodwardia fimbriata). Although I've been a little disappointed at the number and variety of fungi I've seen this year despite all the rain, it's good to see this fern growing back to its full stature. 

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Saturday, February 11, 2017

Change of Plans

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I guess it's safe to say that the days are over where I am the only one waiting at the Pantoll Gate for the 7 a.m. opening time. I arrived way too early this morning, but there were already a couple of cars ahead of me. Instead of getting in line I pulled into the Pantoll parking lot and took my coffee for a short stroll along the Matt Davis Trail. Opening time came and went, and a ranger finally came by and said there'd been a mud slide, so the park gate was closed for the duration.

We all drove a short way down toward Bootjack and parked along the side of the road. I headed up toward Rock Spring to do the hike I'd originally planned for the day. I'm not that familiar with the south side of the mountain, but I figured I couldn't go wrong simply by heading up. And up. And up!

No complaints though. It was a beautiful morning.

I couldn't resist taking a picture of the Rock Spring parking lot, still empty on a sunny Saturday morning. That doesn't happen very often.

I hiked out the Simmons Trail toward Barth's Retreat, then detoured onto unmapped trails to reverse a hike I did not too long ago. The throne rock is still there. I'd planned to have a relaxing sit on the throne to take in the view, but the seat was still in cold shade and looked downright uncomfortable, being made of rocks.

I was quite disappointed in the afungular nature of the woods. Today is collecting day for tomorrow's Fungus Fair out in Pt. Reyes, and I can only hope the woods up there are looking a lot more lively than Tam's.

It wasn't too hard to backtrack my last hike. I did veer off the wrong way at one point, but I soon corrected myself and in short order I was in recognizable territory. There was the little meadow in which I'd briefly been snowed on. There were the mossy rocks where I took a rest stop. The big tipi sculpture is still there.

I thought I had the whole mountain to myself until I saw, way off in the distance, a couple of bicyclists riding along Bolinas Ridge. They must have been loving the day with no cars to worry about.

As I began my descent toward Cataract Creek I was surprised to hear human voices. Sure enough, there was some kind of huge hiking group heading toward Laurel Dell. I saw a few more people on the trail as I circled back toward Rock Spring and figured the rangers must have finally opened the gate. 

Nope! The parking lot was still empty, but there were a few hikers here and there, and I ran into some trail runners who'd just cruised up the Old Mine Trail. Besides great lungs and strong thighs, I figure they must have knees of steel, as I was feeling some wear and tear even while descending at a walk.

With another sunny day forecast for tomorrow, I'm thinking another southside hike might be in order. Maybe loop out around West Point Inn or something. Get it while it lasts.

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Thursday, February 9, 2017

Treasured Lands

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My copy of Treasured Lands, the magnum opus (more than 20 years in the making) of photographer Q.T. Luong, finally arrived, weighing in at an impressive 7.2 pounds and standing about 10 inches tall by 12.5 inches wide. Its 455 pages dwarfs my 175-page Circumannuation of Mt. Tam. This is one big book!

When I first heard about it I wasn't sure I wanted yet another photography book on the national parks. A couple of things convinced me to take the plunge (unlike Blurb books, this is very reasonably priced, and the reproduction quality is much better). First of all, Treasured Lands covers all 59 U.S. national parks. Second, I love that a lot of QT Luong's work is shot in large format (5x7, if I infer correctly). I am a sucker for large format photography even when it's displayed in the smaller print size of a book as opposed to a gallery wall.

The images are mainly landscapes, frequently photographed in really gorgeous light. You can tell a lot of planning went into the making of these images, and Luong readily shares his hard-won information. Indeed, the book is meant to be a guide as well as a collection of images. Luong shares personal notes about each image, along with trail information and seasonal tips. I'm the kind of photographer who likes to explore places on his own rather than being guided to someone else's special place, but I admit I would be tempted to check out some of these spots. I also liked that he shows some of these parks in more than one season.

Not all of the images in the book were shot with a large format camera, but that doesn't hurt the overall book. In fact, my favorite landscape image was shot from a floating canoe, hand-held, using a 35mm camera (Cedar Creek in Congaree National Park, p. 338). There aren't many wildlife images in the book, but my favorite is a pair of baby owls in a Zion slot canyon (p. 146) that was also shot in 35mm. My only nitpick in this outstanding book is that Luong does not indicate which images were shot in large format. He must have had his reasons for leaving that out since this is a photography book targeted in large part for other photographers.

Treasured Lands is a unique and worthwhile addition to anyone's photography collection. I thumbed my way through the whole thing the first day I got it, then went back several times over about a week to go through it more slowly, the better to savor each impressive image.

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Sunday, February 5, 2017

In The Green

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We drove up for a quick nature fix this morning. Pam wanted to do some watercolor painting down by Laurel Dell, but we first wanted to have a look at Cataract Falls. The water is finally flowing more like it ought to in winter. While Pam looked for a good spot to settle down and paint, I poked around the general area to see what I might find. It was nice to just be out in nature and immersed in the green.

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Saturday, February 4, 2017

Northside Closure

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Fairfax-Bolinas Road is still closed at Azalea Hill, where I made the image above on a similarly wet February day back in 2010. Carson Falls is another good destination from Azalea Hill.

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Thursday, February 2, 2017

Art of Conservation

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I shot this picture in July 1994 during a backpacking trip in the Carson-Iceberg Wilderness. My friend is holding a book called "Deep Ecology" while sitting on the edge of a fire ring in a horse-packer's camp that is overflowing with discarded metal grills and other detritus. We found some of the grills in the fire pit, but many of them had been tossed into the surrounding bushes. It amazed us that people who use horses to pack all their stuff into the wilderness can't be bothered to pack it back out. Shameful behavior from entitled, spoiled people.

I wouldn't load heavy camera gear in my backpack to hike into wilderness areas and photograph the ugliness left by hunters, horse-packers, cattle-ranchers and cows, and until I encountered the idea of "eco-porn" I never did. Eco-porn is basically a derisive term used for nature photography that people like to look at. It's the images that sustain the illusion that all is well "out there" somewhere beyond the teeming hives of civilization. But of course it's not just pristine nature out there. All the natural resources required to sustain civilization are extracted from out there. All the crap we throw away gets tossed out there. 

One day we're going to use it all up, which is why we're so interested in mining other planets, moons, asteroids. We know we're going to use up this beautiful Earth. Whether we can protect enough wild places from our insatiable needs and desires until we come to our senses remains to be seen, but it's worth maintaining the effort even when it seems to be going against the odds.

Sometimes a little bit of the wild shows its resilience even in the city I live in, but I'm glad I still have access to wilder lands without having to travel too far. If I bring my camera along on those weekend excursions, I will not attempt to document the man-made crap I find (or dog-made, left in bags along the trails). I will not ignore it, but I won't let it ruin the one day a week that I have to commune with nature and share my vision of the wild through the art of photography. My work is self-expression through an art form, and maybe some people would call it eco porn since it isn't directed toward a conservation goal. But I hope I'm not contributing to a false sense of security. All of the protected natural lands in which I do photography were fought for. The lands are enjoyed by everyone, but they were won by conservationists. 

In any event, the idea of "eco porn" was a wake-up call for nature photographers. The International League of Conservation Photographers (iLCP) was formed just a short while ago, in 2005. I'm glad there are so many professional nature photographers now working, like other well-known photographers before them, for conservation goals, producing compelling images of what we still have left "out there." Even so, let's all contribute what we can to the art of conservation.

(P.S. Thanks go to Ed Hamrick at Vuescan for helping me get my old scanner fired up! I bought a license back in 2002, and Ed still had the receipt info I should have kept myself. The scanner drivers are built right into the software, and it now runs 64-bit. Sweet!)

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