Exploring Arizona and Zion

Last week, I took six days to do a little photography scouting trip of some new locations and of some that I hadn’t been to in over 30 years. Here are some of the results of that recon trip.

One thing that was a bit of a photographer’s “nightmare” was the fact that I saw only one, puny, wispy little cloud the entire six days I was in the area. Just one. Blue skies are okay, but a little interest in the form of white, puffy clouds would have been nice.

[Note: You can click on the photos below to open a photo carousel. If you want to see the images at full size, scroll down and click on the “full size” link at the bottom right.]

Sedona, Arizona

I had never been to the Sedona / Oak Creek area which is known for its amazingly colored rock formations. The rock formations didn’t disappoint, but what did was their proximity to civilization. It made getting photos without buildings in them a bit more challenging.

I did make it to Oak Creek Canyon north of Sedona, which I really enjoyed, but I didn’t make it to the west fork of Oak Creek, which I believe is quite epic from what I’ve heard. Next trip.

Grand Canyon National Park

My last visit to the Grand Canyon was in November 1981 when I was in the Navy driving my car from Newport, Rhode Island to Oakland, California so it could be shipped to Honolulu, Hawaii.

It was a brisk 21° F / -6° C when I arrived at the park on Wednesday morning, with constant 20+ mph / 32 km/h winds blowing. By late afternoon, the temperature warmed to a balmy 28° F / -2° C and the winds had died down, thankfully. The winds and extraordinarily dry humidity meant that there was little dust or haze in the canyon, which was fantastic.

Horseshoe Bend / Page, Arizona

This was my first visit to Horseshoe Bend near Page, Arizona, and I could have timed it a little better. I should have set my alarm about an hour and a half earlier to get there before the rising sun turned the scene into an exposure nightmare. Even so, I’m pleased with the way this image turned out under the circumstances. (This is a single exposure; not an HDR image.) Definitely bring your wide angle lens. This was shot on my 16-35 mm at about 20 mm on a full-frame camera.

I opted to skip nearby Antelope Canyon on this trip and will save it for a re-do of the Horseshoe Bend photo under better conditions.

Early morning at Horseshoe Bend

Zion National Park, Utah

The last time that I was in Zion National Park was on another one of my Navy cross-country trips in the 1980s, and it was just a quick pass through the park (in the days when you could drive your car all the way into the valley).

I entered from the east side of the park this time, and most of the images below are from that side of the park.

Out Playing

All the years that I’ve been playing with my digital photography, the vast majority of my images were taken on my 24-105 mm lens, and I didn’t own a wider angle lens than that. Until just before my trip to Switzerland.

I finally broke down and purchased a 16-35 mm f/4 lens.

I thought it would come in handy for those narrow streets in centuries-old cities like Luzern, and it did. But I didn’t have enough time to play with it properly before the trip, so I went out tonight around San Diego to get a little practice using it.

I knew that the perspective would be affected, especially at the 16 mm focal length, and I’m learning to leave a little more space around the edges of the image to allow for perspective correction in post-processing.

On the whole, I’m quite impressed with my new toy. Uh, I mean tool.

IMG_6905
San Diego skyline from Waterfront Park
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Star of India at the San Diego Maritime Museum

Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve

Apparently, poppies hate wind. So do I.

Each spring, poppies and other wildflowers blanket the 1,800 acre / 728 hectare Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve near Lancaster, California. It’s something that I’ve wanted to see since moving to California. The poppies were right at their peak last week, so I drove up on Saturday, 20 April 2019 to check it out for myself.

When I arrived (and for a good part of my trip up), there was a constant 25-30 mph / 40-50 km/h wind blowing and, when that happens, the poppies’ petals roll up into themselves.  I can only imagine what the view would have been like on a calm day with the poppies fully opened. But, as you can see, it was still pretty impressive.

Some of the photos were actually taken outside of the poppy reserve itself.

Of course, the constant high winds made for steadying the camera and changing lenses on the dusty trails a real challenge.

Switzerland 2019

I just returned from ten days touring Switzerland, spending time in Luzern, Interlaken, Bern, and Fiesch. Of course, so many parts of Switzerland are so stunningly beautiful that it just takes your breath away.

While I was there, it snowed in a good chunk of the country, leaving about a meter of fresh snow in some places at elevation. That made for some blindingly bright white winter scenes. Unfortunately, the cable cars that would take you to the mountain tops ran only well after sunrise and stopped running well before sunset, so I was stuck photographing in midday sun. I’ll still take it.

This was my first time flying with my DSLR and everything went well in terms of getting through the security screenings and being able to keep my camera with me. I didn’t have my tripod with me, but did use a table-top tripod for a couple of night images.

If you want to see additional pictures and read my travelogue about the trip, please check it out on my travel site, Travelin’ Dan.

Enjoy!

Anza-Borrego Desert in Bloom

After a rainy winter, the Anza-Borrego Desert is coming alive with blooming wildflowers in different areas of the park. There were maps of the flower “hot spots” available at the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park visitor center.

The 20-30 mph winds made any macro photography of the flowers impossible—they were just bouncing around way too much.

These photos were taken along San Diego County highway S2 near mile marker 31.0 east of Borrego Springs. There was very little activity along Henderson Canyon Road where I photographed the super bloom a few years ago.

 

Joshua Tree National Park

My cousins from Chicago flew into San Diego and they always wanted to see Joshua Tree National Park, so we made a quick run up there this Presidents Day weekend.

We were on a very compressed timeline, but we packed a lot into just under 24 hours, completing the Park Boulevard loop from the town of Joshua Tree to Twentynine Palms, heading down to Keys View, and then exiting the park to the south through the Cottonwood entrance station.

This was a good photo recon trip for me, and I’ll definitely go back to explore more. Enjoy!

 

The Eastern Sierra and Pacific Northwest

It’s October and that means it was road trip time (I’m in a rut—this is the third year in a row that I’ve taken a road trip the first week of October). If you really want the gory details of the entire trip, you can read about them here. Suffice it to say, it was an ambitious trip, starting in San Diego, working my way up the Eastern Sierra, and then all the way to Cape Flattery, the most northwestern point in Washington on the Pacific Ocean and Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Circumstances made this photographically challenging. On the shores of Lake Sabrina, I was buffeted by 20-30 mph winds. Complete overcast and low-lying clouds in Olympic National Park just brought a dullness to the landscape. Being able to access Rialto Beach and the Hole-in-the-Wall only during low tide in mid-afternoon had me shooting directly into the sunlight. And high winds and intermittent drizzle on Lassen Peak was the perfect end to the challenge. But I guess that landscape photography wouldn’t be as interesting without all of those challenges, right?

One thing I learned (or more specifically, re-learned) along the way is that it’s time to upgrade from my decades-old aluminum Bogen 3001 tripod (with three axis head) to a carbon fiber tripod with ball head and quick release plates. Any recommendations?

You can click on the images below to enlarge them.

Enjoy!

Eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains

Olympic Peninsula

Northern California

Sunset on the Sunrise Highway II

I drove back out to the Sunrise Highway yesterday afternoon in plenty of time for me to search for possible locations for more photos, and it didn’t look all that promising because of the summer haze hanging over the mountains and desert.

I stumbled across this view from a little pull-off beside the highway, and I thought, “What the heck. I’m here. Let’s take an shot or two and see what happens.” I wasn’t holding out much hope, so I was pleasantly surprised with how this turned out.

This is likely a much better winter location with the setting sun illuminating more of the face of the mountains in the middle of the photo and hopefully less haze. There may even be some snow on the distant mountains (I’m at about 5,000 feet / 1524 meters elevation here).

I’ve added a new page to this website where you can check out a map of the locations of where I’ve taken my photos: Locations. Check it out. I’ll add photo locations to the map going forward and I’ll slowly retroactively add the locations of some of the other photos as well. (We don’t have rainy days in San Diego for rainy day projects, so I guess I’ll just have to add them on laundry day.)

Technical Info

This photo is actually seven photos stitched together into a panorama. (Putting it together just about killed my 7+ year-old computer! The finished raw file is 241 MB!) You can pixel peep at the full resolution image here.

Lens: 70-200 mm, f/2.8 L IS II USM
Focal Length: 105 mm
Shutter: 1/125
Aperture: f/16
ISO: 100

Sunset on the Sunrise Highway

It’s been a challenging week on a whole host of different fronts, and I needed a dose of inner peace (brought to you by Mother Nature).

On my way home from work, I could tell that the high clouds in the sky might make for a decent sunset tonight, so I loaded up the camera and headed east to Lake Cuyamaca. It’s only an hour from San Diego, but I knew that I was going to be pressed for time to get there in time for sunset. I barely made it.

I really didn’t have time to look for the best compositions, so I just set up my tripod off to the side of the Sunrise Highway on its way to the summit of Mount Laguna. It was just what the doctor ordered.

In addition to a pretty spectacular sunset, I was surrounded by songbirds—whose distinct tweets were unfamiliar to me—putting on an evening symphony, accompanied by chirping crickets in the background. It was soothing.

Not long after I took my last photo and was standing in the field simply enjoying the concert in the fading light, a pack of coyotes chimed in with their yaps and howls. They weren’t all that far away and I decided I didn’t want to end this glorious evening getting chased by a pack of coyotes, so I put away the gear and drove to Mount Laguna.

On the way up to the summit, a rather large coyote popped onto the highway not more than 75 feet from my car, scaring me once again. On the way down from the summit, there was a man standing beside his pickup truck on the shoulder, waving me down. I stopped to see what was up. He had just hit a deer (which was nowhere to be seen), and his bumper was smashed against his tire making his truck undriveable. There wasn’t much I could do for him and he thanked me for stopping.

Mother Nature can be soothing and unnerving, all in one night.

Enjoy the sunset over Sunrise Highway!

 

Recon Trip to Big Bear Lake

First lesson learned: Don’t go to a major tourist destination on a holiday weekend if you expect to experience much of anything other than crowds and lack of parking.

Up until yesterday, my only experience with the San Bernardino Mountains was either driving over the Cajon Pass on Interstate 15, or viewing them from a distance driving along Interstate 10. Lake Arrowhead and Big Bear Lake sit high in the mountains, and it was time I explored one of them.

I left San Diego mid-morning yesterday headed to Big Bear Lake to check it out on a reconnaissance trip for future exploration and photography. The drive up went well, and California Highway 330 (CA 330) out of Highland was quite scenic.

The small town of Big Bear Lake was jam-packed with other holiday weekend travelers, and there was some sort of event or festival going on in the middle of town that made finding a parking place in this lifetime next to impossible. I slogged through the traffic and did a counterclockwise loop around Big Bear Lake.

I have to admit that I was disappointed in the lake. The water level was down (it’s a reservoir) much to the chagrin of waterfront property owners and, the water itself, was murky and not all that photogenic. (Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by Lake Tahoe.) Still, there were plenty of people enjoying the lake on their personal watercraft, which made it even less photogenic to me. I didn’t take even a single photo of the lake.

I did, however, stop at the Big Bear Discovery Center, a visitor center run by the Southern California Mountains Foundation, and hiked one of its nearby trails. (Second lesson learned: Slow down when hiking at nearly 7,000 feet / 2,133 meter elevation after leaving your sea-level home 3.5 hours earlier.)

For the return trip, I drove California Highway 38 (CA 38) out of Big Bear, over the 8,443 foot / 2,573 meter foot Onyx Summit on my way back to Redlands. This was a little easier to drive and I think has more potential for future photography.

Would I go back? Yes, but probably on a mid-week trip during the off season, and certainly not on a holiday weekend again.

Here are a few snapshots from the day.