The IXL Ranch on the Sheldon

I had the opportunity to take a guided tour of the Sheldon Antelope Refuge in the extreme northwest corner of Nevada this last week. The Refuge is a half a million acres of pristine sagebrush steppe that is one of the most remote areas in the lower 48.  No light pollution here and not much else in the way modern conveniences. Livestock were removed and ranching ended on the Refuge in the mid 1990s.  All but 14 wild horses who escaped the round ups were removed last year. They will be rounding up these horses soon to allow the refuge to fully recover and return to native grasses and shrubs.

The refuge represents what is best about Nevada; big, windswept, empty places that are starkly beautiful and dangerous for the ill prepared. Visiting some of the abandoned ranches was a highlight for me. We had a lot of rain and roads into some of these areas were almost impassable. Not sure I would want to drive them in dry weather either. Good 4WD and tough tires are a must.

These photos are of the IXL ranch which is way off the beaten path. I am not sure when it was abandoned but the remoteness of the area and difficulty in getting to it has kept it in relatively good condition. It must have been a busy, lively place at one time. Now it sits silent, fading into the sage.

Highway 50, America’s Loneliest Road

I drove east today as the clouds looked like they might be interesting for landscape photos. East is highway 50, known as the loneliest road in America. It is remote and lightly traveled but it is always my route of choice if I am driving east. I have actually never crossed Nevada on I-80. I try to avoid the interstates if I can and travel on back roads. As I am usually on my way somewhere when driving this road and have never stopped to take photos. On my way back from Moab this fall I looked at the scenery with fresh eyes and saw a lot to like.

The light was tricky this afternoon but I took a few images I can share. Sand Mountain is the giant sand dune in one of the photos. It is a singing sand dune two miles long and six hundred feet high. From my vantage point I could see some ATV riders that looked like very small insects speeding up and down the dune. I was standing next to the ruins of one of the old Pony Express stations to take photos of the dunes. It was aptly named Sand Pass station and all that is left are these tumbled down rock walls.

Next on my list was to try to get some photos of Chalk Mountain. It is an interesting stark white peak sitting by itself just west of the Clan Alpine range. I finished up at sunset taking some photos of Fairview peak.

All of these sites are just a few miles from one another just off 50. I saw many more places I would like to photograph. I will be busy out there the next few months.

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.

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.

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? 😉

Carson Valley

This past weekend I attended a well known event in the Carson Valley called Eagles and Agriculture. Every year at this time they celebrate the return of Bald Eagles to the valley and have built a rather successful attraction for wildlife and bird enthusiasts to enjoy each February. At this time of year the cows are calving and the Eagles are attracted to dine on the placentas and some of the calves that inevitably die or are stillborn.

I have never attended anything like this before. It was well organized and I met great people, had good food and overall enjoyed myself. It was not however, a great opportunity to take wildlife photos. The drought we have been having has led to ranchers carrying less cattle on their land; less cattle, less calves, fewer eagles and raptors to see. Also arriving on tour buses with 40 other photographers and birders is not my usual mode of operation. Again, no complaints from me, it was what it was and I made the most of it by taking photos of some of the historical ranches we were allowed to visit and enjoyed meeting people who were interested in wildlife and photography. I probably won’t attend the event again or at least for a few years. I came away with some ideas of places to go on my own to take wildlife photos and an appreciation for the history and beauty of the Carson Valley.

165,000 Acres All to Myself – Stillwater Wildlife Refuge

I had an wonderful time today out at the Stillwater Wildlife Refuge about 70 miles east of Reno. I had only visited this area once years ago before I became interested in photography. I usually don’t think about the Stillwater as a good place to photograph as hunting is allowed 7 days a week during the waterfowl season and it is too hot in the summer. I just needed to get my timing right is all. Today I drove all over this huge refuge and did not see another soul the whole day!
There are several large ponds and lakes dotting the sagebrush plain. The water is the last remnants of ancient Lake Lahontan that covered most of northern Nevada 15,000 years ago. Tundra swans were present as well as ducks and geese. Many bodies of water were dried up, further evidence of our ongoing drought. We started off so promising this fall with good snowfall but January and February have been pretty dry. It is going to be another tough year for wildlife here this summer.
I was disappointed that I did not see any deer, antelope or coyotes but there were plenty of birds. I got the best photos I have ever been able to take of a Meadowlark. They are so skittish but this one stayed put for quite awhile as he sang his spring song. My earliest memory is hearing a Meadowlark like this one when I could not have been more than two out behind our house in the sagebrush. It always takes me back to hear one.
I saw lots of Tundra Swans and sparrows and some herons that were flew off before I could get any pictures. The birds were all very wary no doubt as a result of the recently closed hunting season. I was hoping to see snow geese but they all seemed to have moved on.
I will definitely make more trips out to Stillwater. It was an amazing experience to have it all to myself. I don’t know if I could possibly get that lucky again but I think with 165,000 acres if one or two other people showed up it would not be too crowded would it? 😉

Autumn Collection

I have not been posting much lately because I have been out taking photos every spare moment. Love this time of year. The foliage of course is lovely but so fleeting here. We had a few days of peak color and then a storm rolled in with 60 mile an hour winds and temperatures in the twenties at night. Any leaves left clinging to the branches are a dull brown.

This is the best time of year to take deer photos. They are far more active and you are more likely to see the bucks hanging around the does. I have had good luck the last couple of weeks and the rut has not yet started. I got photos of this small two point and a giant buck this morning. The biggest I have ever been this close to. I hope to get more photos of this big fellow in a week or so when he has other things on his mind. I started wearing full camouflage and using scent killing spray. It seems to be working as I am getting very close to the deer before they spot me. Then it takes them a while to figure out what I am.