Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Photograph Jets Up Close in Death Valley

High Speed Selfie
Water vapor condenses on the wing of an F-15C from the 144th Fighter Wing of the +Air National Guard in Fresno
I've encountered jets in this canyon in Death Valley by coincidence a few times over the years, so I mentioned them on page 130 of my "Photographing California" guidebook, but I've only recently sat around and waited for them to arrive. The first time I showed up at 4:30 pm and waited for a couple of hours, and was skunked. I later talked to someone who had arrived at 3:30 pm, and saw three passes in 45 minutes before leaving at 4:15 pm.
The second time I waited from dawn, nothing happened until a single plane went through at 9:50 am. Nothing happened for another hour, then a pair of F-15C jets from the California +Air National Guard went through it in each direction, twice! They seemed to spot the camera on the first run, then on the next three runs the lead plane pulled up sharply right at my location partway down the canyon, to be pulling a lot of Gs and turning up out of the canyon sharply directly next to me. The pilot appears to be looking at the camera each time, and I can't think of many reasons to end a run up the canyon early, in both directions, so it sure seemed like he was setting up selfies. When he was pulling the most Gs, water vapor trails formed as trailing lines in the wingtip vortices, and more vapor formed on top of the wings. Having heard that photographers fly over from Europe to spend a week sitting all day waiting for the jets, and they report 7 to 9 per day, I had my 9 and figured that I had done well. For some reason, Mondays were considered to be less promising, so I might not see any more planes that day. I picked up my tripods and started moving towards the car, and more planes came! It was like that until I had to leave by noon. I'd throw the tripod over my shoulder and another jet would come. A couple of guys from the adjacent campsite in the Stovepipe Wells campground the night before showed up and saw a jet go through. A few random people watched one go by from time to time. A busload of children on a field trip showed up, their wait was no more than 10 minutes, then a jet went by and they left. It seemed as if perhaps they came from a town nearby and had been able to coordinate with the pilot, perhaps a parent of one of the children. Having been skunked on a prior visit then rewarded with a flurry of activity after a few hours of boredom, I can't make generalizations yet about your odds of catching jets flying up canyons in Death Valley, but apparently if you are persistent enough, they may eventually come. That's when you'll find success, when preparation meets opportunity.

F-18 Showing Off
Water vapor condenses at the wingtips and over the wings of an F-18 in a high-G turn

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

Shell Creek Road Wildflowers, Paso Robles

Shell Creek Road is a rural road running north – south between CA – 58 and CA – 46, passing pastures and rolling hills that can feature wildflowers in late March through April. There are also agricultural fields which can have symmetric lines for photographs, as well as a large vineyard with both old and young vines. The old vines are probably the ones which yield the excellent the Shell Creek Vineyard reserve petite sirah produced by David Bruce Winery in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

Shell Creek Road can be a convenient detour to take when approaching Carrizo Plain National Monument from the north, or departing Carrizo Plain in the direction of Paso Robles. The wildflowers are more concentrated towards the southern 6 miles or so.


From Paso Robles at US-101, take CA-46 east 15.6 miles and turn right onto CA-41 West Centre street.  Go 2.8 miles and turn right onto Toby Way.  After 0.3 miles on Toby Way turn right onto San Juan Road.  After 4.5 miles turn right onto Shell Creek Road.  You’ll be on Shell Creek Road 10.7 miles, ending at CA-58.

To continue to Carrizo Plain National Monument, travel east on CA-58 24.2 miles, turn right on Soda Lake Road and travel 13.7 miles.

There's a creek at the north end of the road which can flow over the road after a heavy rain, and this can close the road. When I last visited, there was a car in the creek, just downstream of where it had washed off of the road. Don't underestimate how deep the water is, or how little force it might take to push your vehicle off the road!

For more information on the area, I cover Shell Creek Road on page 177 of my "Photographing California Vol. 2 South" landscape photography guidebook.

Sunday, April 03, 2016

Wines to Taste at Hospice du Rhone April 14 - 16, Part 1

Wineries producing Rhone varietal wines in the United States
When exploring wines produced with various different grapes, it can take years of experimentation to sample enough wines with dinners to get a good feel for which wineries produce the style that you like, and what foods they go with best. Fortunately there's an efficient, cost-effective way to find new favorite wines: wine tastings. I like to visit temperate regions and visit wineries while I travel, but there are many tastings in California where producers from all over the state, or all over the world, will come to you. The Hospice du Rhone (HdR) wine tasting event coming up this month in Paso Robles features top wineries from the United States, France and Australia.

Many wine lovers are familiar with syrah, one of over 20 wine varietals traditionally grown in the Rhone region of France. Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Viognier and the other Rhone varietals have done well in the New World as well, particularly in California, Washington and Australia. In Australia they call syrah "shiraz", after a region in the Persian Empire that produced notable wines at the time, although those were apparently white wines, and not syrah. But I digress.

The first year that I attended the  HdR was 2001. Earlier that year I had toured the Australian island of Tasmania enjoying their pinot noir, then I flew to the shiraz-laden Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale wine regions near Adelaide. The Australians were enjoying the release of wines from their fantastic 1998 vintage, which was in a string of strong vintages. I was enjoying them too. Upon my return, I checked two cases of wine as luggage and packed more in my carry-on baggage, for a total of 39 bottles in all! Ah the days before airline restrictions on liquids. Then a couple of months after returning from Australia, I attended the Rhone Rangers tasting event in California, offering American-produced Rhone varietals, and I enjoyed many fine Rhone lineage wines there.

So I started 2001 with a great survey of Australian and American Rhone style wines, and Hospice du Rhone would be a great opportunity to add French wines to the mix, and try them all in one place. Let's start with the American wines and wineries that I particularly enjoyed at the Rhone Rangers event. Although wines change from year to year, the best grapes are consistently grown in the best sites, and wineries and winemakers that have tuned their winemaking practices for those sites will consistently produce great wines year after year. So finding your favorite vineyards, winemakers and producers is a great first step. So among this year's 239 wineries pouring at HdR, many of these producers will again be pouring great wines:

1998 Lewis Cellars Napa Valley Syrah 03/31/01 - Ripe nose, syrupy dark fruit, intense with ample tannins, a touch musty, long dusty finish with more dark fruit. 92
1999 Cedarville El Dorado County Estate Syrah $24.00 03/31/01 - Deceptively supple, fills the mouth with ripe soft berries and some vanilla. 91
1999 McCrea Cellars Yakima Valley Syrah 03/31/01 - Ripe and musty with minty plum and black fruit, intense acid and tannins, ripe on the finish. 91
1999 Truchard Vineyards Napa Valley Carneros Syrah 03/31/01 - Musty, concentrated, a little syrupy, intense on the finish. 91
1999 T-Vine Cellars Contra Costa County Syrah 03/31/01 - Ripe and very sweet,syrupy (American oak?), concentrated. A "no dump" wine. 91
1998 Joseph Phelps Vineyards Vin du Mistral Syrah 03/31/01 - Dry, deceptively well balanced, with a congue-tingling finish. Closed, masking ample intensity. Should be better in a few years. 91
1998 Justin MacGillivran Syrah 03/31/01 - (Barrel sample) Ripe, minty, fleshy, dark fruit, which carries into the finish. A "no dump" wine. 91
1998 McCrea Cellars Yakima Valley Cuvee Orleans Syrah 03/31/01 - Nice nose, plus ripe dark fruit, peppery, toasty, with ample tannins. 91
1997 Jade Mountain Napa Valley Paras Vineyard Syrah 03/31/01 - Supple with vanilla oak and coffee flavors. 91
1997 Swanson Vineyards Napa Valley Syrah 03/31/01 - Dry with dark fruit, oak, spices, herbs, nice acid balance. 91
1996 QupE' Wine Cellars Santa Barbara County Hillside Select Syrah 03/31/01 - Supple with vanilla oak, skins, dark fruit, nice persistence. 91
1999 Beckman Vineyards Santa Barbara County Syrah 03/31/01 - Tannic, dusty, peppery. 90
1999 Cedarville El Dorado County Estate Grenache $20.00 03/31/01 - Medium to full body, plush texture, sweet black fruit, balanced with an acid-supported finish. 90
1999 Cedarville El Dorado County Zinfandel $22.00 03/31/01 - Fruity, slightly syrupy, vanilla. 90
1999 Lava Cap Syrah 03/31/01 - (Barrel sample) Syrupy berry, spices… blueberry pie. 90
1998 McCrea Cellars Yakima Valley Ciel du Cheval Syrah 03/31/01 - Supple, vanilla oak, toasty on the finish. 90
1997 Clos Mimi Paso Robles Shell Creek Vineyard Syrah 03/31/01 - Minty, fruity, with spices and vanilla oak on the finish. 90
1997 Seven Peaks Paso Robles Shiraz 03/31/01 - Ample body, dark fruit (blackberry), mint, plum, shuts down on the finish. 90
1995 Swanson Vineyards Napa Valley Syrah 03/31/01 - Dry, medium bodied, peppery with red and black fruits, some leather, nice intensity and acid. 90

My Background in Wine

 But what qualifications did I have for attempting such a feat? I started enjoying Ridge Vineyards wine since the early 1980s: my mountain biking route took me past their tasting room. A friend of mine worked there. Ultimately they would be named one of the top 5 wineries in the world, so I was spoiled by quality from the start. As I worked in Silicon Valley's high tech industry for a couple of decades, I had access to great wines and my budget enabled me to collect them. I started taking tasting notes in 1994. Given that my day job was selling servers to Netscape, Yahoo! and other startups, I set up a Web site and posted my notes there. That got me into the big wine tastings, often early as a wine trade journalist, before the crush of public made it a little more difficult to access the more popular tables and wines. Even just trying a wine each night with dinner would tune my palate with over 3500 wines in 10 years. But my friends and I got together for a "boys night out" every Wednesday night, and we quickly settled on blind tastings as the agenda, with the host selecting the theme each week. Add in a few trade tastings each year, and you start to develop an experienced palate, along with a pretty sizable database. Eventually I decided to be a wine broker for a few years, representing small wineries to wine shops and restaurants.

My taste in wine may not be identical to yours (the whole subject of reviews, ratings and rankings has been covered ad nauseum for decades elsewhere). But you can try wines and a producer or two that I've liked, and if we like similar styles, my experience may come in handy for you.

I both take notes on the flavors and characteristics of a wine, as well as assign a score on a 100-point scale, like the ones American consumers have become familiar with from Wine Spectator Magazine and Robert Parker's newsletter, Wine Advocate. There's a love-hate relationship with such systems in the industry as a score over 90 points can help sell a wine, and higher on the scale may mean bigger, bolder and more in-your-face, but that's not what you want with every meal. There are many excellent balanced wines that score in the high 80 to 90 point range that might pair better with food. I think that many or most wine consumers have become educated enough to make educated choices, so there's no particular need to shy away from putting a stake in the ground regarding where on such a scale a wine might fall.

Fortunately the Hospice du Rhone event provides one of those opportunities for you find what you like, and cut months or years off your search time, while you save many hundreds of dollars on the cost.

Maybe I'll see you there!

California Spring Wildflower Sites, April: Antelope Valley

The Mojave Desert in April
Goldfields and California poppies mix with Joshua trees in Antelope Valley near Lancaster
One of my favorite photography road trips ever was a tour of California wildflower sites in the spring, including Antelope Valley and the California State Poppy Reserve, Carrizo Plain National Monument, Figueroa Mountain Recreation Area in the +Los Padres National Forest, and the area covered by the annual Ridgecrest Wildflower Festival in the Eastern Sierra. I posted on my blog at the time some of my favorite photos from the Antelope Valley, but I have a little more time now to take a second pass and show you more of what I saw.

I'm considering taking that route again this year, so reviewing past trips and refreshing my memory on what to stop in on and check can be productive. I've also looked up the wildflower report at the California State Poppy Reserve, which posted this update on Saturday, April 2:

"The season appears to have ended early, as last month's rains came too late to sustain the bloom that had barely started. The fields are mostly grasses now; only a handful of poppies are blooming alongside the trails. The beavertail cactus in front of the visitor center is blooming, which usually happens after the season has ended- a sign that an early summer is on the way."

An early start to summer should not be entirely unexpected, given the record El Nino heat in the Pacific Ocean driving our weather pattern in recent months. It's a shame though that it didn't bring enough rain at the right time to deliver a bumper crop of wildflowers in the Antelope Valley. The Antelope Valley is large though, and there may be dispersed pockets where enough rain fell, perhaps with a northern exposure to minimize drying during the gap in winter storms in February. Much of the area is in the Mojave Desert ecosystem, where Joshua trees serve as gerat subjects, with or without wildflowers.

In any case, many other areas of Southern California desert are blooming with normal to above normal intensity, so if I decide to take the trip, the conditions in the Antelope Valley won't make or break the outcome.

So while I have my photos handy, here are a few more photos from the Antelope Valley area on that prior trip, and I'll sprinkle a few across my various social media accounts as well.

The Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve often starts its wildflower reports in mid-March to keep visitors updated on the conditions as they peak at some point through April. The area celebrates the annual bloom at the California Poppy Festival.  This year the 25th California Poppy Festival will be held April 16-17, 2016.

For more information, I cover the Antelope Valley California State Poppy Reserve, and other sites to visit on an April California wildflower tour, on page 184 of my new 320-page guidebook, "Photographing California Vol. 2 - South (shown to the right).

Road to Nowhere

Friday, April 01, 2016

California Wildflowers in April: Figueroa Mountain Road

Sunset from Figueroa Mountain Road
Are you looking for a place to find wildflowers along California's Central Coast? Figueroa Mountain can be a great place to see wildflowers when the timing is right. Helen Tarbet of the Los Padres National Forest sent out her first wildflower update of 2016 to email subscribers on March 18. She reports that "California poppies are blooming throughout the mountain" and "Other wildflowers to look for as you continue your uphill climb include, buttercups, goldfields, coreopsis, shooting stars, ceanothus, California poppies, Mexican elderberry, blue dicks, fillaree, royal lupine, lomatium, fiddlenecks, beautiful pink prickly phlox on the serpentine rock formation on the right and lovely orange wall flowers just beyond that. Also, you will see strikingly beautiful Catalina mariposa lilies in the open grassy fields and wild canyon peas in some shaded areas. At Vista Point (large gravel turnout about 11.4 miles from the bottom), exquisite chocolate lilies are in bloom..."

The variety along this road can be stunning. I hope to get back down there next week, but in the meantime, here's my description of Figueroa Mountain Road Recreation Area on page 218 of my Photographing California - South guidebook, illustrated with a few extra photos:

Figueroa Mountain Recreation Area, Los Padres National Forest 

Home to an annual wildflower bloom each spring, Figueroa Mountain provides a variety of species at various elevations, diversifying your opportunities and extending the wildflower season. The U.S. Forest Service often provides updates on the timing and progress of the wildflowers as they emerge in the February through April time frame, so if you have the opportunity, check their Web site for current conditions.

Photo advice: A selection of lenses will help you capture a variety of perspectives on the flowers. California poppies are one of the most common species of wildflower here, and they don’t open until they have warmed up in the sun, so it’s not necessary to rush up here for sunrise.

Getting there: From US-101 take CA-154 East, San Marcos Pass Road, 3.0 miles, turn left on Figueroa Mountain Road.

This is a narrow mountain road and your drive on it may take you 15 miles or more and increase in elevation 3000 feet. It is not recommended for large vehicles or trailers.

Time required: You’ll probably need 2 - 3 hours or more to navigate the road and have some time for photography.

Nearby location: Also in the spring, the oak-laden hills and pastures in the first mile or two of Figueroa Mountain Road may offer wildflowers such as wild mustard.
Lower Figueroa Mountain Road
After enjoying the wildflowers, consider exploring the town of Los Olivos and the wineries of the Santa Ynez Valley.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Revelstoke: Heli-ski Capital of the World?

Revelstoke National Park, British Columbia, in September
When I passed through the picturesque town of Revelstoke, British Columbia in September, I know that it was a quaint little ski town, with world famous helicopter skiing opportunities in the surrounding mountain ranges. I had grown up seeing the Monshees and Selkirks highlighted in the ski movies by Warren Miller (now +Warren Miller Entertainment), so it was great to be seeing the place in person, a bit of a pilgrimage for a powder skier. I was pleased to find that the town hadn't been overrun with condominiums and other development, like so many other North American ski towns. It's a real town, with actual inhabitants. What a concept!

Upon arrival in town, it was nearly sunset, so I found a pond for reflections. There wasn't much beyond the sky and reflection for a subject however, so I moved to a view where I could see one of the surrounding peaks with the last light of the sun on it.

The hotel I was staying in had a lot of skiing images on the wall, so I walked around admiring them. As it turned out, it was the base for CMH, Canadian Mountain Holidays, one of the well known heli-skiing operations in town. I've skied all of my life, and I had avalanche training along with the 12-week Outdoor Emergency Care course given by the +American Red Cross when I was on the National Ski Patrol at +Squaw Valley Resort for a few years.  With ski season on the way, I was tempted to fill out a job application! Somehow I resisted the temptation. Maybe next year....

What I didn't know at the time was that my brother would be skiing in Revelstoke this winter. With the American dollar strong, he and his friends looked into dates and prices, and decided to go with +Selkirk Tangiers Heli Skiing.  I couldn't join them this time, but at least I know what I missed, via his +GoPro video from the trip:

I have to admit that I'm more than a little jealous... it's definitely a "bucket list" trip that I'd like to take sometime!

 The next day there was a dusting of snow on the surrounding mountains, but the storm was already breaking up, so it was a perfect day to head into adjacent Revelstoke National Park to enjoy the views. I was planning on heading in the general direction of Lake Louise and Banff, so I couldn't go on any long hikes.

 As it turned out, the scenery was spectacular as I headed east, and the weather kept the conditions interesting for photography, so it was a great day to be on the road. I passed a few national parks that I didn't have time to explore; I'll definitely have to allocate more time to enjoy the area on my next pass through.

#roadtrip #travel +Tourism British Columbia +Visit Canada

Weather Timelapse: Lenticular Clouds in the Eastern Sierra

A few nights ago I watched lenticular clouds form over the Three Sisters in the Sweetwater Range, across Topaz Lake on the California/Nevada border in the Eastern Sierra. It looked like a little sunset light might get through, so I took a few photographs, and set up my camera to capture a time-lapse sequence of several hundred more, so I could convert them into a video.

As the direct sunlight left the scene and the light faded towards the blue light of twilight, is looked like the cloud cover was too thick, and sunset simply wasn't going to happen.

Then a hint of orange started to appear, and brighten, at the bottom of the stack of clouds.

I reframed the image to capture detail of the evolving light over the Three Sisters.

The sunset light was brief, but intense, and the roughly 1000 photos that I took to capture the moment payed off!

I processed a few hundred of the images into a time-lapse video so you could see the whole event.  Here's the best edit I've produced so far, posted to my +Instagram account:

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Death Valley "Super Bloom" 2016: Best Wildflower Sites

Lower Warm Spring Canyon Road from miles 1 to 3 had declined slightly... to this! Still better than a "normal" year.

Last week I repeated and expanded the complete south to north traverse of Death Valley National Park that I had scouted in February.  How were the wildflowers holding up?  What were the best locations?  The Park has been issuing detailed reports, so let's use the March 2 and February 24 reports as a baseline, and I'll illustrate current conditions with my photos.

Mile Marker 42, Badwater Road
March 2, 2016

The bloom is definitely moving north and higher in altitude. Although there are still expansive fields of Desert Gold (Geraea canescens) along the Badwater Road, as well as carpets of Sand Verbena (Abronia villosa) from Mile Marker 42 to the end of the road, many of the other flowers in this area are past their peak.

My pick of the week is Highway 190. Look for the cheerful Easter egg colors of bright yellow Golden Evening Primrose (Camissonia brevipes) and purple Notchleaf Phacelia (Phacelia crenulata) from Furnace Creek to the East Park Entrance. There are pink carpets of Purple Mat (Nama demissum) in some sections. (I think this flower was misnamed!) The ethereal, floating blossoms of Gravel Ghost (Atrichoseris platyphylla) are growing thicker in this area than I've ever seen them before. Northwest of the Visitor Center, you will find the expansive fields of Desert Gold that Death Valley is famous for. All along the road, get out and look closer for more variety.

Beatty Cutoff
A nice little loop drive is to go up the Beatty Cutoff Road and down Mud Canyon, then back to Furnace Creek along Highway 190. Mud Canyon is looking fantastic, but the flowers are growing so thick there that there is nowhere to pull over. Use the wide shoulders on the Beatty Cutoff and wander a wash to look for variety.

You will find Phacelia, Golden Evening Primrose, Mohavea (Mohavea breviflora), Acton Encelia (Encelia actoni), and Broad-Flowered Gilia (Gilia latiflora) on the Scotty's Castle Road. Although there are a few flowers on the approaches to Towne Pass and in the Panamint Valley, those areas are not yet worth a special trip. If you have a high clearance vehicle, do a little botanizing in the mid-elevations of the Greenwater Valley to increase your species count. There are not a lot of flowers blooming here yet, but there are a lot of different species, flowers you will not find in the lower elevations.

Hole in the Wall (4WD road)
Best backcountry dirt road drives this week would be the Hole in the Wall Road and Echo Canyon Road. Color and diversity in both these places is fantastic. Titus Canyon has some Paintbrush (Castilleja augustifolia) and Lupine (Lupinus sp.) in the mid-elevations, and flowers are blooming in the lower reaches of the canyon, but it will still be a few weeks before the bloom really gets going here.
For hikers, Fall Canyon and Monarch Canyon are good bets.
Happy flower hunting!

Furnace Creek Wash
February 24, 2016

The bloom is moving North! Check out the great color combo of Golden Evening Primrose (Camissonia brevipes) and Notchleaf Phacelia (Phacelia crenulata) decorating Furnace Creek Wash from the East Entrance to the Furnace Creek Inn. Keep your eyes open in that stretch for expanses of Purple Mat (Nama demissum) and the rounded humps of Turtleback (Psathyrotes ramosissima). Get out of your car and take a stroll in the wash, and you may be amazed at the diversity. I was able to identify over a dozen species in a ten minute walk!

Along Highway 190 north from the Visitor Center to the Scotty's Castle Road, fields of Desert Gold (Geraea canescens) are starting to fill in the blanks. One new hotspot is the Beatty Cut-Off Road. The diversity in some places is nothing short of amazing. Try walking a wash between Mile Markers 2 and 4 to taste a bit of that diversity.If you are traveling to Ubehebe Crater or the Racetrack, the Scotty's Castle Road is adorned with the same gold and purple color scheme as the Furnace Creek Wash. Although there is not enough yet to warrant a special trip, look for expanses of Mohavia (Mohavea breviflora) , blooming Acton Encelia (Encelia actoni), and Broad Flowered Gilia (Gilia latiflora) in this stretch. Phacelia and Golden Evening Primrose are also brightening up the approaches on both sides of Towne Pass.

Badwater Road Mile Marker 30, looking back at 25
The Badwater Road is still the go-to destination for those huge expanses of endless flowers. The Brown-Eyed Evening Primroses (Camissonia claviformis) are starting to bolt due to hot temperatures and lack of rain, but the Desert Gold is still going strong, and the Gravel Ghost Atrichoseis platyphylla), Pebble Pincushion (Chaenactis carphoclinia), and Broad-Leaved Gilia (Aliciella latifolia) are just getting started. If you want those lower elevation flowers, though, you may want to come soon. I am amazed at how quickly the Phacelia and Desert Five Spot ( Erimalche rotundifolia) are working their way up their stems.

Harry Wade Road has some really nice things going on near the Amargosa River Crossing. As usual, get out of your car and walk a wash to see more varieties. Echo Canyon and Hole in the Wall should have some nice flowers. Check out the rock walls and see if you can find Death Valley Monkeyflower (Mimulus rupicola).

Greenwater Valley is REALLY green. Some flowers are starting to bloom there –I saw Fremont Phacelia (Phacelia Fremontii), Desert Dandelion (Malicothrix californica glabrata), Desert Gold Poppy (Eschscholtzia glyptosperma), Checker Fiddleneck (Amsinckia tessellate) , Blazing Star (Mentzelia sp.) and Globemallow ((Sphaeralcea ambigua) –but they are VERY few and far between still. In 2 weeks, this road will really pop.

Dante's View Road uphill from Greenwater Valley... in November!
For hikers, canyons are best for diversity. Fall Canyon is looking great, or try Willow and Sidewinder Canyons, or just wander up a likely wash.

Happy Flower Hunting!


Overall the suggestions were great: accurate and with greater/longer relevance than most visitors may suspect.  By last week the intensity of the bloom had clearly declined down near Ashford Mill from my previous trip in February, but it was 1000X better than a normal year before, so if it had declined to "only" 900X as good, who cares? The opportunities were still tremendous, and well above average for Death Valley.

Alongside Badwater Road, nearly to Jubilee Pass
There's been a lot said about wind last Saturday night damaging the flowers, but again, I suspect that's relative to the mid-February conditions. We're just spoiled this year. I expect that there are plenty of wildflowers left compared to normal, and there will be plenty of exceptional pockets less affected by wind. Also, I bet that certain species such as sand verbena are designed to withstand wind (how the dunes they live in are formed). As I recall, the wind was coming from the south in the evening on Saturday, then from the north the next morning, so many canyons oriented east-west would be protected from that.

Spotted alongside CA-190 north of Furnace Creek
Anyone with a little experience with desert wildflowers and Death Valley should be able to successfully decode the puzzle and find the locations and species best under whatever conditions present themselves. Then again, with so many miles of wildflowers blooming, it's hard to go wrong, and you're bound to do well just driving through the areas highlighted on the Park's wildflower map. I found the scene to the right by the side of the road, simply driving from Furnace Creek to Beatty Junction.  So get out to Death Valley and find whatever compositions catch your eye and imagination!

For more photos, I've started a Death Valley 2016 album on my +Death Valley Workshops page, and a Death Valley iPhone 6S+ Photos album there as well.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Bodie Night Photography Workshops 2016

It's time to kick off another year of night photography workshops in Bodie!  My June 27 workshop in Bodie is full.  The remaining  Bodie workshop dates are filling fast :

Saturday June 4 – night photography workshop: Milky Way, star trails, light painting, 6 pm - 1 am
Sunday June 5 - morning / interior access

June 27 - *FULL*

Friday, July 29 - night photography workshop: Milky Way, star trails, light painting, 6 pm - 1 am
(the night before the Saturday, July 30 Ghost Stories night).

Sunday August 28 – night photography workshop: Milky Way, star trails, light painting, 6 pm - 1 am (the night after after the Saturday, August 27 Ghost Stories night).

Saturday October 1 – morning / interior access
Saturday October 1 – night photography workshop: Milky Way, star trails, light painting, 6 pm - 1 am

We have four nights and two interior access sessions with space remaining.  Two of our Bodie nights are timed to be the night before or after a Bodie "Ghost Stories" night, when the park lets anyone stay until 10 pm with regular park admission.  That doesn't give visitors much more than sunset and twilight in the long days of summer, but it's still after-hours access, a perfect practice session before our August 28 workshop or following our July 29 workshop.The sun and stars move south to north over the course of the summer, and the Milky Way rises earlier and moves southeast to southwest from month to month.  This changes the compositions available. I've shot in Bodie at night multiple times in each month in recent years, so I have a lot of experience and composition knowledge to draw from in order to help you move efficiently around the park from shot to shot.

A discussion of the characteristics of the various dates appears on the Bodie workshop page on my new blog:
Registration is there too: the workshops currently open for enrollment have the payment/registration linked to the price net to the description.

I'll place some examples below.  For a lot more, see nearly 400 of my Bodie photos in this album:

Bodie at Night

Starry Night over Bodie Church

Going Nowhere Fast

1927 Dodge Graham at Sunset

Hope you can join us!

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Almost Super Bloom in Death Valley

Reports are still coming in strong on the excellent wildflower bloom underway this month in Death Valley National Park. These photos are from my scouting trip through the park February 7-11.  
Desert Gold and Sand Verbena in Death Valley
Desert gold and sand verbena

As of February 9, some flowers were past prime, others were vigorous, others were just emerging.  Some rain fell a week later, which should extend the season for this year's already healthy crop.

Ashford Mill to Jubilee Pass
Looking from the Ashford Mill area toward Jubilee Pass
In spite of the hype in the media and on social media, the park is NOT calling it a "super bloom" yet, but in the recent YouTube video titled "Death Valley Exposed: Wildflowers - February 2016", park ranger Alan Van Valkenburg does imply that it has the potential, perhaps with additional rains: “If you get the chance to see a bloom in Death Valley, especially a super bloom, you should take the opportunity to see it because it could be a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

There was a less dense area of desert gold north of Furnace Creek, up to and through the Beatty Cutoff area. Most other areas were looking basically lifeless, even though they may have received a lot of rain. The timing of the rain may not have been early enough for the plants to be far along yet, and once they get going they do need additional rain to keep the growth going. Rain last week in mid-February might have helped extend the life of these areas, and the growth of others.

Overall the spring wildflowers in Death Valley are usually very sparse, and peak in March, so outside of the areas I just described, the season seemed normal: nothing much should be expected in early February. The initial bloom may or may not be followed by decent blooming elsewhere. We saw healthy growth in November in areas such as the narrow last portion of the Dantes Peak road, so we were expecting the adjacent Greenwater Valley to be going nuts when we returned in February. Instead, it looked even weaker than last year... not much going and much less promising than expected.

So in much of the park, as the initial strong bloom of desert gold fades, the situation may resemble a more normal year, where you can find wildflowers, but it requires some hunting and probably high clearance, if not 4WD.

Here are a few more photographs from my visit to supplement the ones I included in my recent trip report. I drove the park from Dumont Dunes all the way out the top at the town of Big Pine.

Desert gold extensive but thin looking north from the Salt Creek turnoff north of Furnace Creek

Not far from Ashford Mill, south of Badwater

The southern end of Harry Wade Road wasn't as productive as the north end and and the Ashford Mill area.  Many of the flowers were wilted from heat, and didn't look like they were going to last much longer, especially the brown-eyed primrose.

Fiats don't float!  Not in water, not in sand.
Unpaved roads in Death Valley are marked for high clearance or 4WD vehicles for a reason.

It's not all about the desert gold.  Look closely and you'll find dozens of species available.

Bear in mind, the park didn't just suddenly become only about wildflowers!

Miner's cabin