Sunday, April 2, 2017

In The Valley of Fire!

Forty thousand acres of bright red Aztec sandstone nestled in colorful limestone, Valley of Fire State Park contains ancient, petrified trees and petroglyphs dating back more than 2,000 years. Against a steel blue sky, a stone reef appears and a box canyon cuts across its length, ending in a deep alcove. Smaller fishers run in unexpected directions, and narrow valleys hang high towards the crest. When you hike it in summer you are lightning bait. But it is the far edge of winter, no longer bone cold, but not yet springs’ exhalation of green. I climb it with my gear on my back, breathing hard, heart pounding, up the slope. The surface of the slick rock is neither icy nor warm, just touchable.

The diversity of landscapes create the perfect conditions for a wealth of biodiversity, including species such as lizards and snakes, coyote, bobcat, kit fox, skunk, jackrabbit, and big horn sheep.

Valley of Fire is also a birder’s paradise and the gorge’s steep walls are perfect for nesting golden eagles, red-tailed hawks and falcons. In the summer, yellow-breasted chats, bullock’s orioles and blue grosbeaks pass along the rim of the canyon, while during autumn, masses of geese and even storks pass through on their way south for the winter.

If you go;  just 50 miles north of Vegas, Valley of Fire is easy to reach and easy to tour. Stop at the ranger station and pay the small fee and pick up a map. The thing about this park is you can see so much from your car but to truly experience this special slice of heaven select a trail off the map. You won't be sorry!

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Sunday, February 19, 2017

Death Valley, The Valley of Life!

It’s the silence that I love most. Sometimes, on a still morning or evening, it can be so quiet that all you can hear is your breath. Parting way from the insanity of every day life. Escaping from the rat race, social media, emails, and texts. Just disengaging from it all and watching nature unfold before my eyes without even a hint of noise, that’s what keeps me coming back and we drove across the flats, leaving a plume of dust in our wake.

Death Valley is not so much a desert as a surreal mountain region with a desert at its heart. Vistas rearrange themselves kaleidoscopically as pastel-colored geologic formations move in and out of view. The striking colors splashed onto the rock at Artist’s Palette (picture below) were made by hot, mineral rich waters bubbling up from below. The magna heated water met lava ash and lake sediments, changing the chemistry and the appearance of the rocks.  The greens and blues are chlorites; pinks and purples are magnesium oxide and the reds and oranges are iron oxides.

I'm at Zabriskie Point an hour before sunrise and took my first shot during the civil dawn. The first images showed real promise. Exposures were long, as much as 3 minutes. Because it was so early, the light from the sky was an incredibly rich, predawn blue with flashes of a glowing yellow-orange. The dawn was coming, and the light was getting brighter every moment.  By the time I took this picture the exposure was down to one minute. 

Some technical notes from the field; Nikon D810 on a Gitzo carbon fiber tripod with an Arca Swiss ball head and a Really Right Stuff-L-plate so that I could center the Zeiss 25mm Distagon lens over the nodal point.  This image was to be a multi-frame panorama.

If you were able to follow all the preceding details, then you already know what I am talking about. If not, it hardly matters. What does matter though is rather than trying further to explain what is best seen, I suggest relishing the magnificence of Death Valley yourself and if you get a chance, go hike in the pre dawn light to Zabriskie Point!

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Saturday, January 21, 2017

Bighorn sheep!

She said "Jimmy pull over" with such urgency in her voice that under normal conditions I would think she was having a coronary. But this was not normal; we were in the Valley of Fire. I quickly pulled over to the side of the road and she pointed to the mountain top.  I saw a beautiful Bighorn and quickly grabbed my camera, thankful that the 70-210 was already attached, and no sooner started shooting when something spooked it and it bolted out of view, but I was glad that I had captured what I got.  I'm processing this image a week later when I realized this cloud that looks for all the world to me like a cat.  I have been concentrating so strongly on the mountain goat that I never really saw that before.  Just another day in the Valley of Fire!

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Saturday, November 12, 2016

A Meeting of Earth, Sky and Remembered Names

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial

There are 58,256 names etched in white against a polished black granite wall. Visitors often linger at a particular spot, or take rubbings of one of the names on the wall. More than 400,000 items have been left, from medals and dog tags to teddy bears and handwritten notes. But as you approach The Wall the mood of the place is almost palpably sacred. Mourners cry. Visitors move slowly and speak in hushed tones. To stand here and see all those names is so humbling in it's realization of the amount of lives that were lost. So many names of so many Americans whose memory is immortalized in that marble wall.

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