Friday, October 14, 2016

Exploring Mountain Palm Springs Canyon in the Anza Borrego Desert

mountain palm springs canyon landscape photography
Palms, Ocotillo and Barrel Cacti are primarily seen in Mountain Palm Springs Canyon
In the heart of Anza Borrego Desert Reserve are the oases giving palm trees a life in the midst of harsh surroundings.  Mountain Palm Springs is one such oasis.  In my digital explorations using Google satellite images, it appeared that several small oases are interspersed throughout these canyons.  I came for sunrise and early morning photography (they face the east) and found small paths leading over the hills of one canyon into another adjacent canyon.  These hills are not very high so climbing to the top and then discovering another oasis in the desert was kind-of fun.  This is a delightful and easy place to explore.  (It made me feel like a Victorian-era explorer.)  I could have stayed a lot longer but had some other adventures planned this day.

There is a small BLM-style campground with plenty of room here.  You'll be totally alone with nature.  When I visited in early February, the temperatures were perfect for hiking.  Enjoy some photograph from this wonderful landscape.  
southwest america palm tree oasis
Boulder and Oasis
barrel cactus with palm trees
Cactus Trio
ocotillo cactus at mountian palm springs canyon
Wiry Ocotillo branches stretch up
towards the morning sky

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Fonts Point: Sunset over Anza Borrego Badlands

sunset view over anza borrego fonts point
Spectacular Sunset at Font's Point
Fonts Point at Anza Borrego Desert is the must visit location in this region.  The views stretch all the way into Mexico and the Borrego Badlands form hundreds if not thousands of canyons that are woven together in the most beautiful natural landscape.  It is easy to drive here on the dirt road.  Step out of your car and Boom! you are there.

The great thing about fonts point is that it is just not one location.  You can walk along the edge for miles in every direction.  I spent quite a bit of time walking in one direction and then I would come all the way back and go in the other direction because the views are amazing everywhere.

Remember to stay after the sun goes down because the light becomes a dark glow on the land.  This is one of the better sunset locations I have visited in my life!  It should not be missed.
Fonts point canyon
Looking down a Canyon
Fonts point Badlands
Twisted Ridges descend hundreds of feet
HDR sunset at fonts point
Great Sunset view from Fonts Point
Anza Borrego Dusk from Fonts Point
Dark Glow over the Anza Borrego Badlands

Monday, September 26, 2016

Ocotillo Plants at Fonts Point

ocotillo at anza borrego desert
Ocotillo in Fading Light
Ocotillo are my favorite plant and I found a few perched over Fonts Point when I made my sunset visit.  The star of this location is the badland formations extending out far into the distance.  I used the ocotillo plants as foreground subjects with the obvious background being the badlands.

Some shots are from sunset and others from dusk.  I even found a fallen plant nearly ready to drop into the canyon.  I shot its' photo very close to the canyon edge.

As things became darker, my shutter speed went from 1/60 second to 1/4 second.  To prevent even slower shutter speeds, I increased my ISO to 400 for the above shot and opened aperture to f/8.  I had to do this avoid blurred ocotillos as the wind made them sway back and forth.

My last is the same plant as my first shot, just about 60 minutes earlier.

ocotillo plant at dusk
Ocotillo silhouette in Anza Borrego
fonts point with ocotillo clinging to the edge
Clinging to the Edge at Fonts Point
dead ocotillo at fonts point
Fonts point with Dead Ocotillo
ocotillo at fonts point scenery
Fonts Point Badlands with Ocotillo

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Ocotillo Sunrise at Mountain Palm Spring Canyon

Ocotillo Sunrise
Ocotillo have become my favorite plant!  Who knew they could grow 15 feet tall, covered in red flowers and vibrant green buds?  These beauties cover the hills in the Sonoran desert, sometimes very thick.  The more photogenic ones stand alone which allow photographic isolation.  On this morning in the Anza Borrego desert, the morning clouds went pink and red with powerful effect.  I combined the silhouette of the Ocotillo with the amazing sky to catch the moment.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Trail Report: Goat Canyon Trestle

Cactus and goat Canyon trestle
Goat Canyon trestle panoramic picture
I will describe my trip to the Goat Canyon Trestle.  This is part of my trail report series.  I tried to provide enough information to help other adventurers.  First of all a little bit of background on this particular location.  Goat Canyon trestle was created in 1919 as part of the railroad going from El Centro to San Diego.  Goat Canyon is located within the Carrizo Gorge.  Goat Canyon happens to be the largest canyon.  There are several other smaller trestles along this railroad.  I first read about this on the Internet from someone who labeled it "the last adventure".  It sounded crazy.  It sounded very remote.  It sounded very fun.  I have had it in my mind for many years.  Finally on a trip to the Palm Springs area, I decided to make a visit and attempt to see the Goat Canyon Trestle.

There are 3 ways to visit this unique location:
1.  Hiking from Dos Cabezas over the desert mountains and wilderness directly to the trestle.
2.  Following the railroad tracks directly from the community of De Anza Springs Resort, which appeared to be about 6.5 miles one way
3.  Following the railroad track from Dos Cabezas, initially going north and then directly south to the trestle, approximately 5 miles one way.

After studying my options very closely I decided I would take the 3rd round.  This trailhead was closest to some other locations in the Anza Borrego Desert that I wanted to visit.  I had also read about some people riding bicycles along the route.  I decided to bring my bicycle and try that.  Railroad tracks are designed to not change elevation very much.  Hopefully that would translate into easy bike ride.  What might take me a few hours to hike 5 miles would take much less on a mountain bike.

I actually took pictures at sunrise in Mountain Palm Canyon which is about 30 to 60 minute drive from here.  Then I drove to Dos Cabezas.  This should only be attempted in a high clearance four-wheel drive vehicle.  There are some sections which are very rocky and difficult.  If you go this way, it is important not to cross the train tracks.  You can drive much farther on the east side of the train tracks.  You should go as far as you can on this road before parking your car in switching to a bicycle.  I cannot stress this enough.  Some of the worst part of the bike trail is in the beginning section.  Try to skip as much of this as you can by driving your car to the end of the road.
Dos Cabezas Water Tank and railroad track
A bicycle trail that is sometimes smooth, sometimes sandy and sometimes rocky runs beside the railroad tracks.  There are some sections where it's so bumpy that I got off my bike and walked it.  More of this is at the beginning of the trail.  The farther you go, typically the better the trail becomes.  Although it seems very level, you will work harder going to Goat Canyon trestle then you will on the return trip.  There is about a 300 foot vertical climb that is very gradual.  You will not notice it as much going to the trestle.  It will simply seem hard.  However on the return trip, I went so much faster and saved so much time.

The fun begins fairly quickly when you go through the 1st tunnel.  The first couple of tunnels are very beautiful, short, rocky and scenic.  I had to stop at the first and then the second to take pictures.  They're so lovely.  These are pictured here.  Some longer tunnels come later in the ride and are so dark that I did not take their photograph.  You can go through without a flashlight, I did, but they are very dark.  In the far distance he will be able to see the trestle.  The closer you get, it will go out of sight.  The last tunnel, right before the trestle, collapsed several years ago.  There is trail that goes around it.  I left my bike at the railroad tracks and walked around to the other side to visit the trestle.  This section of the trail was not conducive to mountain biking anyway.  I would've had to carry my bicycle over several obstacles.
Tunnel To goat Canyon trestle
The first scenic tunnel.  Short but sweet
Goat Canyon trestle railroad tunnel
On the south side of the first tunnel
 goat Canyon Trestle Railroad journey
This tunnel is about half way to the trestle.
This photograph is looking north away from the trestle
The trestle does not disappoint.  It is the largest wooden trestle in the world, 750 feet long, 200 feet high nestled in a beautiful but desolate canyon.  Cacti cover all the hills.  I got close to many of these as I tried to set up good photographs of this amazing structure.  While I was there, I did not see any one else.  It was extremely quiet and beautiful.  Please see my photographs to get a better idea of what I enjoyed.
Goat Canyon trestle and cactus
Goat Canyon trestle, a beautiful site
Goat Canyon trestle in the desert
Goat Canyon trestle as seen from the south
Railroad going over goat Canyon trestle
On top of goat Canyon trestle
The ride back was very fast.  I think it took only about 1/3 the time to return to my car.  That was nice because it was getting warmer.  Fast travel on mountain bike gives a nice windchill factor.  One note that I would advise, when writing over the trestles (small and large), my bicycle seemed to get pushed by the wind very easily.  There's nothing really dangerous about this but it does feel a little unnerving.

Just do it.
Goat Canyon trestle railroad journey
Typical cactus with a distant view of the railroad on the other
side of the canyon.  You are going there on the return trip.

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Buachaille Etive Mor (3 Views)

Sunrise at Buachaille Etive Mor in Scotland
Buachaille Etive Mor with Tall Grass
Buachaille Etive Mor is a spectacular landscape, an icon for the entire country of Scotland.  This particular mountain is so unique in its triangular shape as it stands over the Glencoe Valley.  There are few things that are more Scottish than this to a photographer.  The best views are from the South and East which means sunrise is the best time.  I woke up very early in order to visit the Black rock cottage first.  Then I had enough time to go into the fields around the mountain itself, getting a lot closer to it.  Beautiful tiny white flowers are visible in my second shot.  If you click on the shot and get a larger view, these are easier to see and I think they landed nice contrast to the massive mountain in the distance.

Empty fields around Buachaille Etive Mor
Buachaille Etive Mor Triangular Shape
Buachaille Etive Mor and Black Rock Cottage
Black Rock Cottage with Buachaille Etive Mor in background

Kilchurn Castle, Scotland (a visit)

scotland castle in the highlands
Kilchurn Castle Ruins
Kilchurn Castle is an impressive ruin in the Highlands of Scotland.  On the day of expeditions from Glencoe, I visited this Gothic site.  The building is free and easy.  A pleasant level pathway leads from the parking lot around a few trees, under a bridge and then across the field to the castle.  The castle itself is located on a lake.  Entry is not allowed and the castle was locked.  Nevertheless each face of the castle gave a different look or view to photograph and experience.  I was fortunate to visit on a beautiful day with lovely blue skies and gorgeous clouds.

Photographically speaking the most technical shot I attempted was the Windows shot with the shadow of the wall allowing only a few squares of light onto the grass.  This was shot almost directly into the sunlight.  I made sure the lens of the camera was not being hit by the sunlight directly but this is clearly a high contrast feature.  I used Lightroom HDR software and try to make this as realistic as it was to my natural eye.

ruined castle with empty windows
Windows of Kilchurn Castle

walls of kilchurn castle scotland
Kilchurn Castle western wall and surroundings

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

St. Giles Cathedral Ceiling

ceiling with columns, vaults and stained glass
St. Giles Kirk Ceiling
St. Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh Scotland is a national landmark.  It's also very photogenic.  And most important for a photographer, they allow photography with tripods for a small fee.  Having a tripod makes the difference in a dark cathedral.  It allows long exposures, letting the light pour onto the sensor.  Cathedrals do not really move so these long exposures work wonderfully here.

I took advantage of my 17 millimeters tilt shift lens and pointed it heavenward.  As I shifted from side to side, I was able to take in a huge amount of architectural information.  I tried very carefully to obtain a symmetric image.  I stitched these pictures Lightroom postprocessing.  With my lower ISO settings I was able to bring a lot of the detail out of the shadows including the rich color in the stonework.  Please enjoy.

Black Rock Cottage Sunrise

black rock cottage in glencoe scotland sunrise
Black Rock Cottage with Buachaille Etive Mor and Sweeping Clouds
I believe there is such a thing as luck and on my first sunrise in Scotland I received beginners luck.  It does take some effort to rise early in the summer at such a northern latitude.  My alarm clock went off at 3:30 AM.  Sunrise started developing around 4 AM.  On this day I did not regret losing any sleep because some wonderful clouds were filling the sky, sweeping from the south to the north.

I expected the sunlight would color these purple or orange.  They also seemed to fill in the space between the distant mountains.  The one on the left is the famous Buachaille Etive Mor.

This monolith plays a major role in this photograph.  The other players include the quaint Black Rock Cottage, the sky itself and an minor role is played by the foreground grasses.  Everything works together in this photograph to create a strong and beautiful image of Scotland.  The Highlands are majestic.  

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Glencoe Reflection

dawn cottage and mountain reflection in the water
Glencoe, Scotland at dawn
My first morning and my first shot in Scotland is posted here.  I woke up early, so early at about 3:30 am so that I could actually see the sun rise at about 4 AM.  June in Scotland's highlands means really long days and short nights.  Catching sunrise feels like severe sleep deprivation here!

Driving along the road through Glencoe Valley I searched for a good location.  This massive mountain and its' quaint cottage made me stop and shoot.  I wandered along the stream looking for the right height and location to capture this mountain reflection in the calm stream.  The cottage stands far enough away that it cannot be reflected.  

Everything felt cool and quiet.  That's what I think of when I see this photo.  

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Jumbo Rocks and Ansel Adams

Round suspended boulder
Marbles in Suspension
Ansel Adams is justifiably famous for his incredible black and white landscapes.  Yosemite, Sierra Mountains and Joshua Tree National Park are all associated with his masterful skills.  Two of his famous photos comes from the Jumbo Rocks campground at the heart of Joshua Tree.  Many photographers have seen what he saw and taken the same picture he took.  Spending a few extra moment to capture the scene as he did is what I did here.  I copied the master and enjoyed nature while doing so.

Ansel Adams boulder and tree picture
Tree and Standing Boulder

Friday, July 29, 2016

Jumbo Rocks Panorama: An Original Take at a Classic Location

Jumbo Rocks wide sunset panorama
Jumbo Rocks Panorama -- click on picture for larger view
I had to visit Jumbo Rocks in Joshua Tree.  I've seen so many pictures of these amazing and balanced rock conglomerations that my thoughts of JTNP immediately bring up the Ansel Adams photo of the balanced boulder.  So I went.

These rocks are right in the middle of the largest campground in the whole park.  People are coming and going.  Just finding a parking space was difficult.  From a distance, I could see that this formation stands taller than many of the surrounding hills and mounds.  One of those mounds served as my location for this panorama.  

From 400 feet away, I shot with my 300mm lens on a tripod and slowly moved across this rock formation.  Back home I stitched all these together to create a massive file.  It's a different look at this classic place, and one that I am happy with.  

Ryan Ranch in Joshua Tree National Park

Sunset falls on Ryan Ranch in Joshua Tree California
Ryan Ranch Ruins with Yucca at Dusk
On my visit to Joshua Tree National Park, I had two days:  two sunsets and two sunrises.  Being the best time of day to capture a quality photograph, I debated carefully over where I ought to be to get the best photo.  I try to put myself in a good place at the right time and hope for something special.  JTNP has plenty of locations.  My wish list included the cholla cactus garden, Ryan Ranch, the Lost Pencil, Hidden Valley, Key's View, Jumbo Rocks, White Tank to name a few.  This is the kind of decision that faces a photographer when visiting a major national park:  too many good things.  

I whittled the list down a bit by seeing what had been shot extensively.  Jumbo Rocks, Cholla cactus garden and Key's View are photographed so much that I felt a visit to those locations would be unlikely to yield an original photograph.  (I did visit most of these locations in the day, though.)  Ryan Ranch intrigued me because of its' smooth and colorful adobe walls.  It's also a ruin -- those hold special attraction too.  Using online tool, I could see it ought to catch the evening sunlight.  

There is a campground about a 3-5 minute walk away from the ruins.  On my day there were no clouds in the sky (sometimes I think I'm cursed this way).  I liked working my way around this structure and shooting into its' angles as the sun gradually set.  

The photo above is after sunset.  I'm attached a few more from earlier that evening.  
ryan ranch standing walls
Walls of Adobe at Ryan Ranch
Ryan Ranch walls and interior
Looking into the Ruins

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Aiguille de Joshua Tree: the Finger of Hercules

Finger of Hercules in Joshua Tree national park
Aiguille de Joshua Tree:  the Finger of Hercules
Aiguille means "a sharp pinnacle of rock in a mountain range".  I discovered a very unique fingerlike pinnacle exists in Joshua Tree National Park in several pictures and when I finally discovered its location, I wanted to visit.  It is very easy to find in the Hidden Valley section of the park.  Walking to it is level and it takes less than 30 minutes to reach the base.  I climbed up a few boulders to reach this vantage point and then took my best shot.  I wanted to include the surrounding valley of Joshua trees to give it a strong sense of location.

This formation is often photographed with a climber standing atop the pinnacle.  My fear of heights and lack of rock climbing skill made that option undesirable.  :(

Lost Pencil of Joshua Tree National Park

Lost Pencil photo taken at sunrise
Lost Pencil at Sunrise
Scouting locations in Joshua tree before arriving, I combed the Internet and found several different unhelpful sites.  It was not until I discovered the "Joshua Tree 3D" site that I found a place that actually told you where to find specific rock formations.  I decided to hike to one location mentioned on this site called the "lost pencil".  I hiked out before sunrise so that I could be there when the sun came up.  The wind had been blowing throughout the night and there were no clouds at all.  The harsh desert sky did not provide anything interesting to complement the rocks.  Therefore I tried to include a lot of different objects on the ground as I was making photographic composition choices.

Sometimes photographers only show their very best work.  This case, I feel that this is not my very best work but given the weather conditions, it is the best that could occur on this particular morning.  Oh, there is not a lot of information about this a big rock formations in Joshua Tree National Park and I thought I would share this and perhaps it will help someone else.  I enjoyed the hike.  This is a wonderful location to visit.