Continuing with nature scenes

My latest batch of photos have been the big bold nature scenes which are easy to shoot with good results, but hard to shoot with really good results. For this site I was I’d had a drone since access was at the edge of a precipitous cliff.

This is from just north of Crescent City California at some pullout along the western coast and thus the Pacific Ocean.  While in both California and Oregon coastal access is legally available actually getting to an ocean view can be a challenge.

While the Big Sur portion of the California coast gets all the attention I actually prefer the less traveled northern coast. Once while working for a small startup that found itself temporarily out of money we were all required to take a two week vacation without pay. I responded to this by getting a shuttle ride to northern California with my touring bike loaded with camping gear.

It was in October so already my training miles had declined (less hours of daylight) so it was a little tough especially with my bike now bogged down with heavy gear. But I plodded on each day with frequent stops. With a bike it is much easier to stop along the ocean than a car where some kind of pullout is needed. So I saw many more scenes like this one (didn’t have a camera on that trip, so all my photos are later).

I discovered a couple of great things. First, at that time the state parks reserved a large campsite space just for cyclists since it was usually easy to cram in one more. This was handy since coastal state parks are usually jammed with no space. Second, unlike backpacking I was carrying food on my bike since almost all campgrounds are near a town; so I’d set up camp and on my bike now freed of all that weight fly into the town and buy some food and even more important some wine. Third, by piling all the cyclists into one spot created a great opportunity for meeting people, especially with sharing all that wine. And, fourth, artificial light was a magnet, just as it is for insects, so my lantern (I was the only one who had one) became the center of the social circle. It was a lot of fun and I immediately wished I could have had the time to do the entire Pacific Coast, border to border.

Driving along the coast has its advantages (more scenery, but less thorough immersion) but having a digital camera would impose some challenges in comparison to the time I made my bike trip.

BTW: For anyone considering a ride along the west coast you really need to start in the north and go south because the onshore winds, which sometimes can be quite strong, almost always are coming at one from the north, so riding north would put you in constant headwind. And, one other things – PUDs (Pointless Ups and Downs). Despite starting your ride at near sea level and ending at near sea level you’re going to have a ton of uphill riding. Most of the west coast is mountains right down to the ocean and the roads were built for cars so there are lots of uphill stretches. And, also I would discourage casual riders as there is a lot of traffic including logging trucks; cyclists are a sufficient critical mass the drivers are aware of them and decent (most of them) but I had some pretty close brush-bys with logging trucks that are not for the faint-hearted or inexperienced rides.

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Now a few pretty scenes

I take a lot of pictures: some are interesting closeups or specific subjects I like (roads, trails) and others are the glorified snapshots of nature scenes whose beauty speaks for itself and my photos merely capture what is there, not enhance it. So I’ll do a few of these now.

While this photo is not some majestic scene the contrasting tone and colors make it interesting. In fact, this photo doesn’t really completely capture what was just a glowing display of nature. This shot comes from the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, just a bit east of Sacramento. This was early spring with the fresh and lighter greens on new grass mixed with the darker greens of trees. The sun was shining brightly but at a low angle and so created the glow on the exposed areas.

This is not the “golden” color so typical of California (and will be the subject of some of my other posts). When I first moved to California I was exposed to this unusual effect. I’d lived in Texas, Montana and Nebraska, and then in college in Massachusetts for eight years. In those states one gets used to the more typical pattern, green in the summer, brown (and dead) in the winter.

I went out for my job interview in March. Just a few days before I’d almost going trapped in a snowstorm in Rochester New York on a different interview. I made it back to Boston but wasn’t sure I’d be able to get out to California. So I left cold and dreary Massachusetts for my first transcontinental plane flight. Arriving at the San Francisco airport, at the time having to walk outside to the rental cars, I was shocked, especially in my winter coat, at how warm it felt. It was nighttime so I saw very little driving to my overnight in Palo Alto.

The next morning, easily up early since I was still on East Coast time, I drove around a bit in Palo Alto. At that time (early 1970s) Palo Alto was far less developed than it is today and so I saw, for the first time, this brilliant spring (almost summer) grasses on the hills near the original HP headquarters on Page Mill Road. I was amazed to have left winter behind in Massachusetts and have this wonderful spring. I really hoped I’d get the job offer because I was sold on moving to Palo Alto before I even got to my interview.

I did get the job and accepted it and then prepared to move. My last few weeks in Boston was a flurry of finishing my masters as well as winding down the job I had there. Then really early one morning the movers arrived. We quickly grabbed stuff for our month long camping/drive to California before the movers stuffed in boxes. A few hours later we piled in my old Datsun 510 and headed west.

Finally arriving in California, having now experienced Nevada for the first time, we stopped in Palo Alto, at a motel to find a place to live as quickly as possible so we could have another week’s vacation in California before starting my new job. BUT, WOW, where did all the green go? While Boston was now in its beautiful but short spring, the Bay Area was in full summer. The grass I’d seen on the interview was now all brown and dead (and ready for fires). What a shock.

Anyway February and March are magical in the Bay Area. You can see scenes like this photo everywhere (again, especially before so much of the hills surrounding San Francisco Bay were developed into urban and tech sprawl) but then in a few hours be in deep snow in the mountains. I thought, what a smart climate – snow is nice to visit when you want to but it was a royal pain in Boston where you couldn’t avoid it.

While having the Bay Area develop into the Silicon Valley it is today (a lot of that area was still fruit tree orchards when I arrived) was great for my career certainly a lot of the natural beauty has been lost. So some scenes like this are now just memories.

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An ancient spot

After decades of wanting to visit this National Park we finally made it. There are zillions of photos of this online but I think this photo gives a better context than the more typical closeup.

Yes, you see this is just a sandstone mesa with some pine trees, but you’ll see also that ancient village. When you visit you’ll find these structures have been restored and so not totally original but nonetheless they’re quite impressive.

My preconception of the cliff dwellings was upside-down. I’d assumed you approach them from below and climb up. But in fact the auto route and parking lots are on the top of the mesa and you descend to visit the cliff sites. The Park Service has created a bit of “fun” by having you climb some ladders or crawl through a tunnel so in addition to the awesome history there is a bit of entertainment.

To anyone reading this who hasn’t gone to Mesa Verde but wants to, note that you need tickets for the most popular tours. There is a park information site at the entrance where you buy your tickets for the tours.

When I first saw any of these ancient “cities” at Chaco Canyon I was naturally amazed, as most visitors are. But I wondered: a) did anyone actually live there, or, b) who got to live there as the “cities” are actually quite small compared to the population. Now at Mesa Verde it really does seem that these structures were mostly dwellings but at Chaco (the same ancestral people at an earlier site before migrating, for unknown reasons, to Mesa Verde) I thought “banks” and also “monuments”. That place looked like a mixture of New York City and Washington. The rooms were way too small to live in but a great size for storing valuables. And in fact, at both sites food was stored, often in hidden sites (not the obvious cliff dwellings) but clearly these people were afraid of something and wanted a defensible location.

But it was just for the 1%, probably the politicians and priests, as the “common” people were stuck living on the mesa itself and farming their squash and corn and beans and probably surrendering a bunch of that for the rich people who had the luxury condos. Now the rangers and anthropologists don’t necessarily provide that story but they don’t contradict it either.

But whatever it was we can visit (do Chaco too) and wonder at what their life was like, but also why this “civilization” mostly disappeared. The general belief is resource depletion, which is a lesson for us, of course one we won’t pay any attention to, since “sustainability” is such an obvious hoax (right, maybe for the 0.1%). So go visit places like this to learn from the past.

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Flowers again

I want to finish the third of this series of flower photos. I liked these guys a lot.

These flowers were near my campsite in the Bighorn Mountains, not far from a melting snowbank. While the ground looks dry it’s very wet just below the surface and this is some very early variety of wildflower. If you like wildflowers just after the snow melts is the ideal time. Yes, some wildflowers bloom later but most want to come up as soon as it’s warm enough while there are also lots of pollinators around and get their seeds back in the ground.

I have little skill in identifying plants or flowers but I can at least tell them apart and it constantly amazes me, how in a small patch of ground, how many varieties can be present. Nature certainly is diverse. I do like managed human gardens but nature is still the best with its totally haphazard planning yet amazing resilience.

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Bread is our most amazing invention

I’ve had this blog for seven years and have gone through a variety of topic focus. One was my period of learning how to bake bread. It was a lot of fun. I’d never done it before and I’d always wanted to. With a couple of books, a few simple tools and just a bit of effort it’s amazing what you can accomplish.

Unfortunately I got interested in bread baking about the same time I decided to lose weight. IMO, there is nothing wrong with bread as a food, BUT, it’s actually quite nutritious, in the sense of providing calories. It’s part of what we humans invented to stretch our food supplies. Take raw wheat, grind it up, cook it into some awful porridge and eat it, not many calories. But let some (originally unknown) buggies munch away on it (aka yeast) when we add water to it and a whole lot more calories appear. Plus if you do it just right a lot of good tastes.

So for a while I made a lot of bread posts, including some photos, like this one:

And so my bread posts, only about 2% of my posts, have attracted about 10% of my total hits. In comparison, for instance, my 31 consecutive days of posting photos received about half as much attention.

So lesson?

Bread RULES!

Enjoy it, one of the great inventions of our species and something at least 98% of us can consume without adverse effects (what else is that good). And it’s amazing, basic “lean” bread has just four ingredients + heat + some human processing.

What an amazing invention!

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Another flower

Flowers are good for nice photos but it’s rare I can really think of any stories to go with them so I guess you’ll just have to settle for the photo.

These are a bit more interesting since they’re in the middle of desert. I have no idea what these are but I do recall taking this shot in Big Bend National Park. Now most of the really big showy displays were opuntia (prickly pear cactus) but this clearly some kind of bush.

The interesting and unexpected thing about Big Bend was you could walk around wherever you wanted which provided lots of opportunity to spot flowers which were usually small and growing close to the ground. But every step you take you need to look down because almost every plant had thorns, some quite nasty.

Actually that has good side-benefit in that unlike following a trail and missing a lot, you wander somewhat aimlessly, trying to avoid the spikes and so happen upon all sorts of interesting plants. As you drive by in a car the desert can look really boring but wandering through slowly and paying attention it’s an amazingly diverse ecosystem.

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Flowers for a while

With my primary computer still dead I have limited access but I did manage to upload some photos I can now post. So for a couple of days I’ll do some flowers. I don’t do many flower pictures so I’m probably not that good at it but every now and then I see some I like. I know doing flowers right requires manual settings on the camera but these are all with automatic settings.

This one came out fairly good but isn’t a particularly great instance of this flower, which btw I have no idea what it is, but perhaps it’s Indian Paintbrush. Most of the time I go on camping trips it’s early spring (to avoid crowds + cooler) so often I get some great wildflower displays.

The best I ever saw was in Big Bend National Park. It was actually early spring and my trip there was accidental. I didn’t have a digital camera then and only had an analog camcorder, now dead after years of not using it, so I can’t even try to extract any of those. My preconception of the desert is that it’s dry and brown, but I was amazed at all the wildflowers. Often they were quite small and you have to look carefully to see them. The ranger I spoke to, who’d worked in Big Bend for decades, said it was an unusual year and the best display he’d ever seen.

But usually I go to mountains and see the typical flowers there (a few I can identify). Most are just some shade of blue/purple. I really find it interesting to see flowers right at the edge of melting snow, the plants are just barely up and yet they’re already flowering. Seasons are short in the mountains. When I first went to the Bighorns in early June the grass was very lush and green and flowers were sprinkled everywhere. My campground was deserted of people and so deer were peacefully grazing on the lush growth (I’m sorry I disturbed them).

In hindsight I wish I’d been more careful with my shots, especially using a tripod. Once when I was doing lots of film photography I got extension rings to do closeups. But the depth of field was really narrow and any breeze at all blurred the shots. I spent some time with another photographer with the right equipment. He had a sturdy tripod and a long lens (400mm+) and also extension rings for focus but he was shooting about 10′ away from the flowers. That setup gave him much better depth of field but also avoid the awkward postures I had to do being just inches from the flowers and then constantly fighting my own shadow. Having the right equipment doesn’t guarantee better shots but it can help a skilled photographer a lot.

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