Northern Desert Photography

Living on the Edge of the Sagebrush Ocean

Posts from the ‘Uncategorized’ category

Black Rock Desert and Relearning the Lesson

At the Landscape workshop I attended there was of course a lot of technical talk of composition, light, exposure and post processing tricks and tips. The single most important take away for me was not any of that, but rather the importance of seizing opportunities. I know that seems simple and basic common sense but I needed to hear it. The photographer who taught the class talked of spending weeks in exotic far flung locations to get that one shot that was worth keeping. As he talked about the work and time that went into each beautiful photo he showed us I felt the enlightenment creeping in. Looking at beautiful landscape photography I would always think why can’t I take photos like that? Why do my photos turn out dull and ordinary? Now I knew.

Being honest with myself was the first step. Not getting out of bed to get there for the best light; done that a million times. Not staying late enough for the best light because I did not want to drive or walk out of a place in the dark, done that too many times to count. Hearing the rain in the middle of the night means I should get up and get ready to go at 3:00 AM or seeing the weather report predicting a storm should signal that I need to prepare to be out in it or soon after. That is when the light and clouds will help produce a great photograph. It is too tempting to snuggle into the covers or sit with a hot cup of tea and look out at the weather and think I will go later. Later is too late. You have to go when it isn’t pleasant to go to be where you need to be for those great shots.

Simple right? All of you great landscape photographers already knew this. I guess I knew it but now I will live by it. Yesterday was a perfect example. We got a rainstorm in the night and I thought no, it will be too overcast. Sun came up and the clouds broke beautifully for what would have been great light and drama if I had got myself out in it. Didn’t. I did take advantage of the afternoon evening to take these pictures of the Black Rock Desert with pretty good light and cloud drama but I had to motivate myself to get out there. Obviously it is a lesson I will have to keep learning.

P.S. My luck with wild horses held and got to see two very colorful wild paint horses in the desert.

Utah, Landscapes and Me

Yes it has been a long time since I have posted anything. I have been taking photographs but posting them on Facebook because it was easier and the immediate gratification without the discipline of writing a post is seductive isn’t it?

I took a long anticipated trip to and across southern Utah in October and attended a Landscape workshop in Moab. I have always wanted to pursue the art of Landscape photography but it is a daunting endeavor. Wildlife photography for me was more accessible both from a skill and opportunity standpoint. I learned at the workshop what I guess I always knew to be true; Landscape photography is not easy! Far from discouraged I actually left with a new sense of purpose. I will always be interested in shooting wildlife but I want to push myself to try to create landscape images I can be proud of too. So often I am in beautiful places looking for wildlife at sunrise and sunset that shooting landscapes in addition wildlife seems a natural right? We will see how this goes.

I visited Cathedral Valley on the way to Moab. It is a remote area in north Capital Reef National park. A stunning place I would like to visit again and of course shoot some Landscapes. These photos are of two of the most well known monoliths in the Valley, The Temple of the Sun and The Temple of the Moon.

Tree Skeletons

On Tuesday, my husband, our dog Maddie and I made a trip out to the edge of the Smoke Creek Desert. There was an old ranch, the Bonham ranch, abandoned for at least 75 years that I wanted to photograph. I have taken photos of it before but wanted to again as I believe I had learned a few things since the last time.
We got up early to be there at dawn. I thought I remembered where it was. It was still fairly dark when I saw some trees ahead showing where the ranch should be. Trees are a rare thing out here and usually there is something of interest if a place sports a few. At least there might be water.
We slowed down and didn’t see any buildings so we got into one of those discussions as we continued on rattling down the dirt road. “I think that was it.” But there weren’t any buildings?” “Did you see any buildings?” “No but that had to be it.” “It couldn’t have been. There was a ranch house and several outbuildings the last time we were here.” “It has been awhile maybe they burned down.” Ok, turn around let’s give it a look over.”
We were disappointed to say the least to see that all that was left of the ranch were charred ashes and a few trees. It looked like it had been burned down deliberately and everything hauled away. Not sure why that was done after so many years but gone is gone. I had to be satisfied with this photo of the tree at dawn.
We headed back the way we came hoping to see some antelope or desert bighorns. We stopped at Pyramid lake and walked through a lovely stand of Fremont Cottonwoods where I think I salvaged the trip with these black and white shots of dead trees.

I love My Camo!

Last year I watched the Outdoor channel a lot getting ideas from hunters about how to get close to animals especially deer. I watched a lot of archery deer hunting shows with my finger on the remote and clicked away as the hunter released their arrow. I can’t watch the kill shot. I am not anti-hunting as long as hunting is done legally and responsibly I don’t have a beef
So I made several trips to the Sportsman Warehouse and got some good desert Camo, pants, jacket, face mask, hat, the works. After studying the archery hunters I learned about scent killing techniques as well. Back to Sportsman’s for special soap, detergent, even mouth wash to neutralize human scent. This stuff is amazing! I have had deer walk right by me without knowing I was there. I can’t always get a picture but have had many heart pounding moments. Sometimes they catch a whiff or sense something is not right and bound off but when everything works right it is pretty exciting.
I took this photo of a nice sized Mule deer buck the day after my coyote trapper encounter. I got out to the river around dawn and sat with my back to some sagebrush along a heavily used deer trail. Within 15 minutes of sitting down I saw this buck coming my way. He never saw me. He looks like he sees me in the photo but that alert, ears up look is from him hearing the camera clicks. He kept coming and walked within 20 feet of me. Actually he got too close for my lens.
I am sure I look ridiculous when I am in my camouflage but I almost feel like I have the power of invisibility. I sat in a bush at another location and had a flock of shy, tiny birds land all around me very close to me as they did not realize I was there.
I am learning the value of sitting very still in a zen like state, patiently waiting for what will come rather than hurrying around trying to find what is out there. Please, just don’t send me a mountain lion. 😉

No photos, just words.

I don’t have any photos to post with my words today. Actually, I usually have words to post with my photos as this blog for me has always been meant to be about the photography. I enjoy reading other people’s stories, poems and inspirational writing but I have never felt like I wanted to write long posts or had much to say. Today I don’t have any photos but something to say.

I spend a lot of time visiting a beautiful natural area along the river east of town that the Nature Conservancy has spent millions of dollars restoring over the last 12 years. They have created a paradise for birds and animals. They restored the natural curves and bends to the river, planted thousands of trees, put in a bike path and generously opened this all to the public. There is almost 10 miles of river access that had been ruined by misguided attempts by the Corps of Engineers to control flooding and is now a stunning oasis for animals and humans. I joined the Conservancy after they opened it and I took my first walk through it marveling at my good fortune to live close to this beautiful place and the good work that had been done.

To say I love this place is an understatement. I spend countless hours there walking, thinking, not thinking, watching animals and birds, taking photographs and sitting quietly enjoying the solitude. I worried that when it opened that it would be flooded with people because I could not imagine that everyone would not want to be out there all the time. To my surprise I hardly ever see anyone else. It is a bit of a drive, there are only two access points and you have to hike in. I guess that is enough to dissuade most from visiting.

There are other visitors and I can read the signs of their activity. Footprints, bike tracks and in the fall the tell tale signs of those who think the rules do not apply to them. I find them where the ducks rest on the ponds that were created for them, and in the brush where the quail scurry to take shelter from walkers and bikers, the colorful spent shotgun shell casings litter the ground. I get angry when I see this disregard for the rules of this place. This is a no hunting preserve. This is a place where animals, birds and people can interact with each other without fear or could if it were not for the rule breakers.

I have asked myself what I would do if I encountered hunters on the property. I am often there in the early morning hours in the quiet before dawn and I am there alone. I told myself countless times that to confront anyone would be a mistake and that it would be dangerous. My husband told me the same thing when I expressed my disappointment and frustration with people who would hunt there against the posted rules. So I thought I had a plan, had prepared myself for the inevitable moment that I would run across someone hunting there. I would try to avoid them, take down a license plate number when leaving, report them to the game warden or the caretaker of the preserve but under no circumstances would I confront them.

I have not been out there in a few weeks as I have been waiting for the Mule deer rut to start to get good photos of bucks. I donned my camo, got out there before it was light and started walking through an area that ordinarily is full of deer at dawn. I did not see anything. The area seemed strangely quiet and empty. I circled back around through some sagebrush which in the past I have caught deer bedded down in. A coyote was peeking at me through the sage and I got excited about trying to take photos of it. It ran back and forth frantically and I could hear a chain clinking. My heart sank. Of course it was in a trap. I got a little closer and sure enough it was held there by a leg hold trap. It tried desperately to break free and I was sickened and felt helpless. There was no way I could free it. It sat down and barked at me in fear. As I was deciding that I needed to go I saw a man approaching over the hill.

At this point in the story all of my common sense left me. I shouted out at the man, “Hey are you running a trap line here?” He said, Yes he was.” I said you have a coyote in your trap.” He said good I will be right there.” I stopped in front of him and proceeded to tell him that he was breaking the law and that he could not run a trap line here. This was Nature Conservancy Land. He had all kinds of reasons that he said he could do exactly what he wanted to do here or anywhere else. I asked him for his name which he refused to give. All this time I can hear the coyote distressed behind us. I know that this man is going to either dispatch him with a gun or stomp him to death. He tells me to wait right here while he takes care of it. I blurted out I would not wait and that I would be reporting him and took off walking as fast as I could back to my car thinking what a fool I was to get into a confrontation with someone who most likely was armed.

I was lucky he didn’t follow me. I drove home with two overwhelming emotions; rage and relief. I immediately called the Conservancy office when I got home and reported this incident. They were grateful that I had taken the trouble to report it and assured me that they would deal with him. The man I spoke to was informative and helpful. He gave me the number of the steward who lives on the property to report any further such incidents to. I have that number in my phone now and should I see any hunters or trappers I will stick to the plan and just call that number.

It was very foolish of me to confront someone like that. I won’t do it again, I swear. I have promised my husband that I won’t though he understood why I got so passionate about it. Next time I will act like it is not something I am concerned about, take some photos of the offender or offenders and make that call.

Tufa Rock Formations

The most famous Tufa Rock is found around Mono Lake in California. It is a popular destination for photographers. I have not made my way down there yet though I may soon as this type of landscape photography is of interest to me. We have the same type of Tufa rock formations in and around Pyramid Lake. When we have cloudy days, and I have time I try to get out there to photograph the rocks. Last week the clouds and my schedule aligned so I was able to get a few shots that I liked.

Taylor Creek Bears

Every October a little bit of Alaska can be found at Taylor Creek. Taylor creek is a small creek on the south end of Lake Tahoe. It only runs a few miles between Fallen Leaf Lake and Tahoe but this time of year you can find a lot of action there.

Back in the 1940’s the non native Kokanee Salmon were introduced to Lake Tahoe and they thrived. Each autumn thousands of the bright red fish make their way up Taylor Creek to spawn and die. The native black bears, always a resourceful animal, have made eating the fish an important part of their preparation for their long winter sleep.
The bears are concentrating on fattening up and pay little attention to the people that gather to watch them. I made my first trip up there today and was lucky to have the opportunity to photograph this big mama bear and her cub.

I am aware of bear safety. These photos were taken with a telephoto lens from a safe distance. It was amazing to watch the bears fishing, foraging and going about their day as if they had the forest to themselves.

I think I will go back up next week. I heard that as the fish start to die in large numbers even more bears are apt to show up.

Feeling Abandoned?

I know it has been a long time since my last post. I had a lot going on with family visiting and traveling to visit family. In addition to that, we suffered for weeks here with the smoke from the Yosemite fires. For a month it was impossible and considered very unhealthy to go outside. The ugly smoke hung on our side of the Sierra’s like a dirty blanket for a month. I escaped for a week to visit my sister in Alaska and hoped to get photos up there but it rained everyday I was there. I hope this does not sound too whiney. 🙂 Anyway, I traveled back to Ash Creek this week and the animals were not cooperating. The deer and antelope were playing but way too far away for good photographs. I took landscape shots of the old barns and an abandoned homestead I saw on the drive up. I caught a glimpse of this house through the trees and hiked quite a ways from the road to photograph it. I think these places are a little spooky. While walking around the house a breeze kicked up and a door creaked on it’s hinges loudly in the house and banged against something inside. I would have liked to look around inside but frankly I got the willies. There was a small band of wild horses hanging in the meadow close to the house. I found their presence calming. They would not have been there if a monster was in the house right? 😉

Ash Creek Wildlife Area

I have not posted in so long. It was not for lack of trying. I have been hiking with my camera a lot and walking in all my favorite haunts. I took lots of photos and ended up throwing lots of photos out. I needed a change. I decided to drive to Northern California and visit the Ash Creek Wildlife area hoping to see Pronghorn. I had never been there but had high hopes.
What a wonderful place Ash Creek turned out to be! There were deer everywhere. I think they are Columbia Blacktail. I did find Pronghorn and managed to get some photos of them. I was amazed to surprise a family of River Otters who actually were quite curious about me and followed me as I walked down the road beside the canal. They did not seem to be alarmed at my presence and they sounded like they were scolding me as I walked along. When I got home and started editing the photos I saw that the male otter is missing an eye. This is only the second time I have ever seen River Otters and it was quite a treat to be able to observe them for so long.
In addition to the wildlife, the Refuge has several large old barns dotting the landscape. I am looking forward to returning to try to take some better landscape photos of those this fall. The trip was well worth the drive.

Wetlands

I have been trying to get more walking in and there are a lot of good paths through protected Wetlands around here. Of course in the desert, any area with water attracts concentrations of wildlife so the photo opportunities abound.

The birdsong is almost deafening this time of year in the mornings as mating and defending territories is in full swing right now. I was able to finally get some good photos of a Marsh Wren which is what I think this little brown bird singing so loudly is. They are tiny birds that flit through the reeds never allowing me to get a photo until today. This little bird was intent on singing and stayed still in plain site long enough to be photographed.

I was also able to observe this common tern fishing over one of the ponds and see him catch a fish.

%d bloggers like this: