Intense Pygmy

There are close to a million euphemisms comparing size to everything else. In all these, the common theme is that the size of something, often someone, has nothing to do with their attitude, capability, or whatever comparison is at hand. Although, I think every single one has to draw inspiration from the Pygmy Owl.

Pygmy Owls are diminutive, just a few inches tall, and weigh just a few ounces. But they don’t know that. And even if you could tell them, they would not believe you.

An intense pygmy owl stares into distance.

Case in point: this superb Pygmy Owl hosted by Wildlife Rescue of New Mexico. Sure, he’s on the small side. But one day, they put him next to a Great Horned Owl–a bird of prey many, many, many times larger. Most birds would cower in fear. Most birds would do the sensible thing and leave immediately. And, most birds would figure, and rightly so, that their number is up. But not this fellow. The owl sized up a Great Horned Owl when he was next to it. He measured it. He studied it. And then. And then he decided to have a Great Horned Owl snack. Well, not really, but it seemed like he was about to!

Pygmy Owls are afraid of nothing, will take on prey far larger than them, and they are one of the fiercest predators. They have proved right the euphemisms on size many times over.

More to the story

There’s more to this story, however! When I made this photograph, this fellow was a rescue and spent his days as an ambassador owl. Somehow or other, he met his match in the wild, and somebody damaged one of his eyes. Sadly, without perfect eyesight, it is not possible to hunt successfully.

Wildlife Rescue of New Mexico stepped in and gave him a forever home. As part of their outreach program, he helped people learn about what Wildlife Rescue does and how they help. And help people realize that size is no measure of capability.

A pygmy owl stares into the camera. It's left eye is severely damaged and is completely glazed over

You can find another very intense owl, too!

Butterfly Pose

Butterfly Pose: A yellow Two-Tailed Tiger Swallowtail butterfly rests on a tree blossom. Its wings are spread wide showing all the fine detail. The rear ends of the wings have a heavy black border and the rear of the body has vibrant blue markings.

Daylight broke quickly as the sun vaulted above the horizon, and another spring day in Albuquerque, New Mexico began. The still and crisp air filled with the sweet, cheerful singing of the birds as they greeted the morning. Indeed, the day was shaping up to be spectacular in every way. And it would end that way, too, as I created Butterfly Pose.

I stood outside, embracing the morning, when, out of the corner of my eye, I thought I saw something go by. I remained motionless, trying to discover what almost caught my attention. 

It didn’t take long before my patience paid off. A Two-Tailed Tiger Swallowtail butterfly fluttered to a stop in a nearby tree. The striking, bright-yellow butterfly was working its way from branch to branch of the tree, and every time it stopped, it created the perfect butterfly pose.

Slowly, quietly and stealthily as I could, I approached the tree. I didn’t head directly to it, of course, but in an oblique way. I paused every few steps, attempting to blend into the background. The butterfly paid me no attention, and continued its hunt for nectar.

I drifted ever closer and worked out the composition that I would like. I saw it in my mind’s eye, and just needed to butterfly to cooperate. Hopefully, it would.

Finally, after an eternity of small steps, I drew close enough to create the photograph I was imagining. The butterfly was working its way around the tree; I positioned myself ahead and stood completely still, barely drawing a breath.

The butterfly flittered to another branch, rested momentarily, and continued around the tree. It never noticed me creating Butterfly Pose. And that’s the way it should be.

 Spring in New Mexico is a magical time, full of bright warm days, birds singing joyful songs, and colorful yellow butterflies everywhere.

A Fall Day in Albuquerque

For a completely different kind of day in Albuquerque, Sandia Sunset showcases the Sandia Mountains at sunset.

Rippled Dune

A white sand dune with a gently sloping top. The sky is a deep blue with white clouds above it. The dune's surface has ripples in it forming a geometric pattern. The vertical ripples go from the bottom of the photograph to the top and cover the entire surface.

Deep within White Sands National Park, far away from the crowds, the dune field stretches before me until it reaches infinity. The unending dunes of bright white gypsum, undisturbed by humans, offer mute testimony to the forces of wind and time. One rippled dune, however, amongst all the others caught my attention and bears closer inspection.

This one lone dune arches toward the sky, endeavoring to touch the clouds above. The dune comes close, but never quite achieves its goal. Its face is contoured and rippled, each ripple interlocking with its neighbor, yet never touching, forming an intricate pattern. The unrelenting wind creates a shifting design and rearranges the ripples constantly. Not so quickly that you could see the change, of course, but the design ebbs and flows on the dune over time.

The dunes are constantly moving, grain by grain, alive with a sense of purpose and motion. The lines reflect the movement, albeit in a way that is easily seen.

The white of the gypsum crystals makes a stunning contrast with the sky’s deep blue. The serene scene is a mesmerizing moment of nature. Rippled Dune is one example of many, but a sensational one to share.

In the end, I resisted the compulsion to walk up the dune, leaving it pristine so others might enjoy the same view.

Sandia Mountains

I know how Captain Ahab felt while searching for his white whale. The passion, the drive, the commitment that transcends all else to achieve, at all costs, a singular aim. Unlike Ahab, however, reaching my goal didn’t cost me a leg or anything else; instead, it was quite the opposite. I was not chasing an elusive whale. I was stalking the Sandia Mountains, which were right there in front of me every day, taunting me. Defying me to create a fantastic photograph of them.

Let’s back up a moment to add context. And we’ll see how this scene went from this so-so photograph to something extraordinary.

This modest scene would soon turn into an incredible one.

Here in Albuquerque, New Mexico, there is a picturesque mountain chain to the immediate east of the city—the Sandia Mountains. These mountains, reaching 10,678 feet tall, might not be the tallest, but they dominate the skyline all the same. We all, every day, look up at the mountains and enjoy the view.

The Sandias have a nifty trick up their sleeve, too. If the conditions are just right at sunset, they will light up and glow a beautiful red color—watermelon red. Some days it will be intense, others subtle, but this variation gives the mountains their character. And “Sandia” means “Watermelon,” so the glow truly is the mountain’s namesake.

Naturally, this is a prime topic for any local photographer, myself included. How could it not be?

And therein lies the rub. The mountains are there every day, impossible to miss. It is easy to photograph them. Simply point your camera to the east, and there you go. Wait until sunset, wait until the glow appears, and you can’t go wrong. But there is far more to it than that, of course. Far, far more.

I wanted a different photograph of the Sandias and far from an ordinary snapshot. I wanted it to be unique and genuinely capture the essence and glory of the mountains. Those moments and those days don’t come along very often. And they are impossible to predict. So many conditions have to come together, and, for me, at least, the window of opportunity is relatively narrow for the photograph I pictured in my mind.

I knew I wanted dramatic clouds. Many days at sunset, whatever clouds are around the mountain will dissipate with the setting sun. The scene starts out beautiful, but as the sun slides toward the horizon, the clouds drift away, and what was magical becomes ordinary in the blink of an eye. I also wanted to showcase the fall colors. Why? I don’t know. It is just how I wanted it to look. I don’t want much, do I?

So, most days, I would look at the mountains, the sky, and the forecast and try to decide if the day would work out for me. I often gathered all my equipment and headed to one of my favorite viewpoints. Every day I would stand there and watch the mountains as the daylight began to fade. I was set up, ready to make the perfect photograph. And inevitably, the day would end with an average scene. It is here that I began to compare myself to Captain Ahab. He couldn’t catch his whale. I could not make my perfect photograph.

The next day I would start the process over again. And this went on for a very long time. I would have driven myself crazy if I wasn’t already there.

One day, though, I thought all the conditions would line up. The fall colors were at their peak in one spot in Rio Rancho. The golden colors were exactly the shade I was looking for; although some leaves had fallen, most remained. The day was also cloudy, and clouds in the sky were essential to my vision. But, working against me, it was a very windy day, and the clouds were becoming thicker throughout the day. This would prevent any sunset colors from appearing.

I visited my chosen spot in mid-afternoon to give it a good look—that’s the photograph at the beginning of this story. I wanted to be 100% certain of my viewpoint should the end of the day work out, so, like so many days before, I did my initial scouting earlier in the day.

So, I headed home and waited.

As the afternoon wore on, though, conditions worsened for me. The clouds continued to become thick and heavy. The wind picked up. The perfect conditions would not come together, and I would be disappointed again. Still, the eternal optimism in me won out. I once again packed up my gear and headed out. I made it to the location quickly enough, but as I suspected, it would be a bust. The mountains were now mostly in shadow—they would not light up tonight. The earlier breeze was now outright windy. The clouds were heavy. At least I would enjoy the mountains, all the same.

Sunset arrived. I stood there silent, grateful for the fact I was there but forlorn at seeing another opportunity slide by me.

Indeed, the most magical thing happened.

Right after sunset, the sun somehow found a way to slip through the heavy clouds. The right side of the Sandia Mountains began to glow their beautiful watermelon color. Huh. Didn’t that beat it all? The sunset was going to tease me; in any event, it was far too windy to create meaningful photographs.

Against all odds, the glow began to creep more to the left. Now, half the mountains looked really lovely. And the clouds started to light up, too. Still, the sun was now well below the horizon, and the scene would collapse at any moment.

Except it didn’t. It continued to get better.

In the blink of an eye, the mountains glowed with a vibrancy I didn’t see very often. The watermelon red was reflected in the Rio Grande River in front of me. And the clouds offered their own version of reds, providing a perfect counterpoint.

And miracles of all miracles, the wind dipped to a strong breeze. I had, quite literally, seconds to pull off catching my whale, er, make my photograph.

And I did.

Sandia Sunset

Sandia Sunset

The result is Sandia Sunset. Against all odds, I finally made the photograph I had pictured for so many years. I caught my whale. I achieved a photograph that, to me, captures the glory of the Sandia Mountains.

You can purchase Sandia Sunset here, and always enjoy the view!

The Playa

The Playa

Death Valley National Park covers a vast area and, despite the word “valley” in the name, a wide range of topologies. It has mountains, hills, plains, valleys, and even sand dunes within its borders. There is one area that particularly stands out, the Playa, commonly known as The Racetrack, notably because of its ultra-flat surface and sailing rocks. The Playa is a lakebed, almost always dry, but now and then rains turn it back into a shallow lake, at least for a few hours. The lakebed isn’t the most notable thing, however, as we shall soon see.

Before we can explore the Racetrack, we first need to get there. On the surface, this is as simple as driving out the 26 miles on a rocky road. The road is flat, has minimal elevation gain, and doesn’t require any problematic navigation, save going straight at a well-marked intersection. Simple, right? Appearances are deceiving as they say.

The road looks easy enough at first blush. But its rocks are not round, nor are they easily driven over. Although relatively small, the stones are exceptionally sharp and quite fond of puncturing tires. You think to yourself: “how bad can it be?” The answer is, “beyond your imagination.” The experience is an exercise in careful, precise driving, choosing what looks to be the least worrisome section to traverse, and hoping you miss the worst of it. Hint: you won’t. In addition to worrying about routine punctures, you also have to worry about tearing your sidewalls out should you venture too close to the edges.

If the rocks don’t do in your tires, the constant vibration of 26 miles of washboards and bone-jarring bumps will shake something important loose or cause an engine component to fail. As for your suspension, it is unlikely to be the same after this experience. Far too many people have decided the laws of physics do not apply to them, and far too many people have learned the hard way that retrieving your vehicle is not quick, inexpensive, or uncomplicated. It is quite the opposite.

Teakettle Junction

In any event, I made it to The Playa in a few hours. There isn’t a lot to see, and even less to photograph along the way, except for Teakettle Junction, which is the only possible turn on the entire route. Just behind the sign, you can see what passes for the road. Legend has it that teakettles were left at this location by early settlers to indicate water is nearby. Although this may indeed be true, I suspect it is more of a myth than actual fact. Today, some consider it good luck to leave a teakettle, sometimes inscribed with a message, at the junction. The Park Service occassionally clears most of them out, and the collection slowly begins again. Water or not, myth or reality, it is a welcome waypoint on the way.

And truly, despite the hazards, the journey itself is a pleasant, albeit slow, excursion through the desert.

Near the end of the track, you can catch a glimpse of the entire Playa sprawling in the distance. It looks small, but it is almost a mile wide and nearly three miles long. Distance and size are not always easy to gauge in the desert.

Distant Playa

Finally, we get to the Playa itself, and it certainly is worth the effort. This ancient lakebed is flat as a pancake across its entire surface. I don’t mean that it has ripples in it, or small swells not worth mentioning. I mean, it is perfectly flat everywhere from edge to edge. It is featureless, too, except for its sailing stones.

Sailing Stones

The sailing stones are the main attraction. Scattered across the lakebed are numerous rocks, some of which are quite large, and behind them their trails as they moved across the lakebed. Some tracks are small, others long, some straight and some curved. Until recently, it had been a mystery how they moved. The Playa, with its sailing rocks and their trails, in the middle of the Death Valley, make an interesting juxtaposition.

Because the lakebed was bone-dry, I spent hours wandering about it, examining every rock and every trail I came across. I bent down and looked from their point of view to see where they might be going. Peering around them, I wondered if they would move, but they remained stubbornly in place for me. I looked at small rocks, and I looked at the largest ones. I examined every rock I could find.

The spectacle of the sailing stones is not one soon forgotten. Alas, it was eventually time to leave, but I’ll certainly be back soon!

Oh! You wanted to know how they move? Several things have to happen all the same time: the lakebed has to fill up, just enough to cover the bottom, but not too much, plus ice has to form just right at night, the next day has to be sunny, and finally, there have to be light winds. If everything lines up correctly, the ice is capable of moving the rocks, little by little. Over the years, they sometimes leave trails in the mud.

Explore more of Death Valley

Want to explore more of Death Valley? You can visit Zabriskie Point and places beyond!

Death Valley

There are places on this planet which are hot. And, there are places with scorching heat. There are even places that are below sea level. And then there is Death Valley National Park, which is all of these places and more. Along with this harsh environment, however, there are also wonders to be found.

David explores Death Valley National Park in California

California’s Death Valley National Park is isolated and remote, far from anywhere. Perhaps because of its remoteness, the valley has a certain timelessness to it, and it is easy to forget the modern world while you are there. The valley exists today as it always has, and always will. The landscape is arid and barren, for life is an effort here in one of the harshest environments anywhere. And indeed, its early history is one of struggle and perseverance as the early settlers and 49ers found out as they crossed through here in the mid-1800s.

Vegetation is sparse, at best, leaving a landscape comprised solely of sand and rocks. Winds howl through the valley, further drying it out, and the searing summer heat parches the unwary. The desolation is endless, even as you climb out of the valley and into the surrounding mountains. Although there are some low bushes and shrubs in the hills, and even trees at the higher elevations, you are still in a desert environment. Water remains precious and not easily found, and the summer heat is formidable.

Death Valley possesses the lowest spot in North America, Badwater Basin, at 282 feet below sea level. Being in Badwater Basin doesn’t feel any different than being at sea level, except in the summer when the temperature routinely tops 120 degrees and has a record temperature of 134 degrees. That’s hot! It is the kind of heat that hits you like a blast oven and can easily overwhelm you before you even realize what is happening. The experience of being here, in the lowest place on the continent, is a powerful and moving one.

But yet, beauty is everywhere. Even in this harsh environment, there are soaring landscapes and amazing scenes. From sweeping panoramas to intimate moments, Death Valley is a photographer’s wonderland. Looking up at the surrounding mountains while you are in the valley is spectacular. The mountains meet the valley floor in a sharp line, making a dramatic transition. Although there aren’t any sheer cliffs, the mountainsides are steep and unforgiving, and most of all, imposing. Looking down at the valley from up above is equally inspiring, and we’ll see that view in detail at Zabriskie Point in just a bit.

But first, let’s stop at Artist’s Palette. This area is renowned for its uniquely colored slopes. The jagged hillside is composed of unusual and unexpected colors and jumbled together. Turquoises and purples, oranges, greens, and blues are everywhere, and it does indeed look like a colossal pallet. Metals have oxidized the soil, creating a very different landscape. Instead of the mounds being a jumble of color as you might expect, each has a unique color, creating the pallet effect when seen from afar.

Death Valley: Artist's Pallet

It was very wild to make my way through the purple sand to the top of a low hill to make this photograph. Every step I took, I kept looking down, wondering if I would see brown beneath my feet. I never did. On the other side of the purple hill was a green one, which I also dutifully scaled. All around me, colors assailed my senses, and Artist’s Palette has left a long-lasting impression on me. I’ve never seen this to this degree anywhere else.

Badwater Basin is another highlight of Death Valley. Here, there is, amazingly, water. It just isn’t drinkable water. Instead, it is salty and bitter and undrinkable even to the most desperate. What makes this area unique, however, is the massive salt flat, miles upon miles across, completely unbroken almost as far as the eye can see. I made this photograph after walking a mile out on the salt flat. Even at that, it felt as if the far side was no closer than when I started, and the distances began to fool my eye. The more I walked, the farther away the mountains became, and my sense of scale was completely off-kilter the entire time I was out there.

Death Valley: Badwater Basin

Finally, let’s visit Zabriskie Point, where I spent quite a bit of time and many sunrises. Zabriskie Point is easy to get to, but far harder to leave. You want to linger here for just a moment longer to witness how the display will change. Then, as you get ready to depart, you can’t help but wait a bit more to see what happens next. The timelessness of Death Valley is strong here, and knowing how many people before you have beheld the scene before you is a powerful reminder. Some of the most iconic Death Valley photographs and posters feature this very view.

Zabriskie Point is an overlook into the valley below, which is incredible in and of itself. What makes it truly spectacular, however, are the tortured rocks surrounding you. There isn’t a straight line anywhere, and erosion has created a rock fairyland. The colors, while not as colorful as Artist’s Pallet, are outstanding, especially in the warm glows of the early morning and late afternoon.

Each morning here tells a different story, and each morning presents its unique imagery. This photograph, Zabriskie Point, is my favorite from all the ones I made. Some mornings were full of reds, but this morning the clouds briefly lit up with an ethereal orange glow. Coupled with the oranges and deep yellows of the rocks below, and contrasted by darker ridges and the distant mountains lighting up, I think Zabriskie Point is a classic Southwestern desert photograph. I can feel the drama of the sunrise, yet the tranquility of the desert offsets that. There is tension, and there is a counterpoint of calmness in Zabriskie Point.

Death Valley: Zabriskie Point

You can read more about Zabriskie Point here.

Death Valley is also home to The Playa and its magical sailing stones.

Alaskan Eagles

One of my goals for Alaska was to find and photograph bald eagles. I didn’t think this would be too much of a problem since Alaskan eagles are common. Or, rather, I hoped they were easy to find. In the end, finding them wasn’t difficult, but photographing them, and photographing them well, was a different story entirely.

If I had to characterize the most common place to spot a bald eagle, it would be at the top of a tree. My neck still isn’t quite right because I spent all my time walking while looking up. I tripped over a good number of things along the way, but that didn’t dissuade me. I continued scanning the tops of trees. To be sure, I saw a lot of eagles, too. But just because they were in a faraway treetop didn’t mean it would make a good, or delightful, or even reasonable photograph. I needed a different approach.

Now I started to look at mid-level in the trees, and lo and behold, I found them. There weren’t as many, but the ones that I did see made for better photographs. I was on to something here. I just had to keep searching. 

Eventually, outside of Juneau, I found a perfect, secluded location. There was a small stream that fed a pond, which in turn emptied into the ocean. There was a solid treeline for the Alaskan eagles to perch in, and there were plenty of places for me to set up and wait. I did just that. I readily spotted several eagles, and now it was a matter of waiting for the right opportunity.

Intense Eagle

Here, I learned my second lesson about eagles. Once they are sitting, they are in no hurry at all to move. Once they settled in on a branch, they were likely to stay put for an hour or more. Oh, they would move around a bit, but as to the actual flying part, not so much. But that was OK. It gave me plenty of time to work on the perfect photograph, and eventually, I made Intense Eagle. The lighting was excellent, the sun was ideal, and the pose was flawless. I couldn’t have been happier!

Intense Eagle

Intense Eagle was not the only eagle photograph I made, of course. While I was out on the sailboat (Humpback Whales details that part of the adventure), I saw quite a few eagles, mostly in trees, and occasionally on the distant shore. But now and then, an exciting opportunity presented itself.

Icy Eagle

While sailing toward the LeConte Glacier I began to encounter small icebergs floating in the ocean. These icebergs completely enchanted me. Most were little, but there were larger ones as well. But amazingly, as I sailed by one of the medium-sized ones, I spied a bald eagle perched on it! I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, but in retrospect, it makes perfect sense. What a fabulous perch it was! If offered a commanding view of the nearby ocean, and it even moved, providing an ever-changing viewpoint. I sailed the boat around the iceberg, looking for the perfect angle. The eagle watched me but wasn’t alarmed, which allowed me to make Icy Eagle. Icy Eagle just makes me smile every time I look at it and reminds me that you find eagles almost anywhere.

Eagle Post

Not every eagle photograph came about because I waited for hours on end. A few came about by happenstance, as is the case with Eagle Perch. I had been outside of Petersberg for the better part of the day, chasing the Alaskan eagles along a beach. I was positive the beach would work out, but after a day I realized it wasn’t going to. There were several eagles, but they were all high in the trees, away from the beach, and far from me.

Despite my patience, they were onto me and didn’t allow me to make any good photographs. With a sigh, I packed up, started up the car, and headed back into town. As I drove, I wasn’t thinking about much, except perhaps what sounded yummy for dinner. I drove into the outskirts of town, now paying attention to where I was. Next, I motored past a quaint neighborhood. I drove past an eagle hanging out on a post. I then headed into the central part of town and wait a minute! It finally dawned on me what I had just driven past. 

I turned around as fast as I could and sped back up the road. And there, sitting on an old post in the water, was a bald eagle watching me. I couldn’t believe it! The eagle was as calm as could be, enjoying the last rays of the day’s sun. 

Quietly, and slowly, I exited the car and picked up my camera. I sauntered nonchalantly in the eagle’s general direction, being careful not to let it know I was interested in it. It ignored me. Good! I prepared my camera, and feigning complete and utter disinterest in the eagle raised my camera, composed the photograph, and before the eagle knew what I was doing, made Eagle Post. I don’t think the eagle ever quite realized what I was doing. And in the end, Eagle Post has become one of my favorite eagle photographs as well.

Eagle Post

Sometimes, you have to be in the right place at the right time. Being in Alaska is a marvelous start. It was such a joy to bring these Alaskan Eagles to you, just as it was awesome to create Humpback Whales and Fishing Bears for you. I’ll be back in Alaska soon!

Poppy Reserve

It was all over the news–California was in the midst of a Super Bloom. The newscaster hadn’t even finished the segment and I was already packed and headed down the highway toward the modern-day flower gold rush. To me, there wasn’t a better place to head toward than the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve . It has low, rolling hills, with each hill covered in beautiful orange poppies. The Super Bloom and I were about to become best of friends.

The drive, at least to me, wasn’t all that long, and it is an easy drive in any event. I had one thing, and only one thing on my mind: make a beeline for the poppy reserve and everything else could wait. If I didn’t have to stop for gas I would have made better time, but, well, that’s just the way it works. Before too long I rolled up at the Antelope Valley Poppy Reserve, and, as advertised, the hills indeed were full of orange poppies, resplendent in the morning sun.

What I wasn’t prepared for was the size of the reserve. Now, to be fair, I don’t know what I was expected, but I suppose it was something like endless hill after endless hill. Instead, although there were hills, and they were low and rolling, and they were full of poppies. there weren’t many of them. In fact, I could easily see from one end to the other. Luckily, what was in-between was gorgeous.

Poppy Hill
Hill after hill of poppies. More poppies than you can imagine.

Endless Hills

Before you could blink your eye I was in the middle of the poppies and was as happy as I could be. Once you are on the hills, now they seem to stretch on forever and ever, as far as the could see. This was especially true if you were in between hills, because in reality you couldn’t see far. But the illusion was complete. It was exactly as advertised.

Poppies mixing with other flowers

I explored the poppy reserve from end to end, enjoying every moment of it. I wandered up and down each hill, looking in every direction. And every direction was filled with more poppies. Interestingly, though, what caught my eye wasn’t the poppies, per se, but rather the blooms when they are grouped with other flowers. Each hill was nothing but poppies. But, toward the edges, other flowers began to creep in, providing a pleasant contrast of yellow, orange and purples. These groupings help tell the intimate story of the poppy fields.

The further away from the main fields you go, the more the other flowers mix in. From far away you can’t see blending, but up close you can, and when you focus on a small area, as this photograph does, the results are very pleasing indeed.

Another Perspective

Yellow Reserve
Yellow Reserve: Another view of the poppy fields

Along one edge is a large field of yellow flowers, with the main poppy hills behind it. This panorama tells another side of the story of another aspect of the poppy reserve and gives another contrast. Yellow Reserve is one of my favorite photographs from the poppy reserve, even though the poppies are not the main focus.

Oh, the People

This was once private land, but it was donated to the State of California for perpetual preservation. This is awesome, because it protects and preserves the poppies. It also has some side-effects for me, namely, people. The poppy reserve is only open during specific hours. And it is highly publicized. And it is in California, which as we all know, doesn’t have many people. Finally, it is near the ghost town of Los Angeles, which also doesn’t have many people. Oh wait… yeah, you see where I am going. Basically, everyone in Los Angeles, if not the entire state, is here when the poppy reserve opens. All of them crowd into the park at once. All of them wander the trails that wind among the hills. And each and every one of them are in my photographs.

I did not truly anticipate the sheer amount of people. Usually, I am out in the wilderness by myself. Civilization is a distant memory. Not this time. Being just a short drive away from Los Angeles, and heavily publicized on the news, draws a tremendous crowd. It is not impossible to work around the crowds, but it is far more challenging to do so.

Poppy Reserve
The Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve

This panorama shows the poppy reserve from end to end. If you step back across the room it looks pristine and perfect. When you peer closely, though, you’ll see all sorts of vehicles, and every hill is topped with a crowd. That’s OK, though, for it is best to enjoy the poppies with people in a protected place than unprotected. The latter ensures that the poppies won’t last because they will be trampled and picked. You can see this outside of the reserve–there, people do exactly what the reserve is there to prevent.

Looking Back

Despite the challenges of the crowds, I’ll be back here for the next Super Bloom. The Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve is an incredible place, and one of the best to see poppies. It is kept wild and beautiful for all the generations to come. Should you find yourself anywhere near it while the poppies are in bloom, you must make a stop here to enjoy them.

Olympic Trio

My journeys to the Pacific Northwest continue, and the next stop for was Olympic National Park in Washington State. It was a difficult task to select all my favorites, but this Olympic Trio certainly makes the cut and showcase the variety of photographs to be made here.

Olympic National Park has several completely different ecosystem, from soaring mountains, rugged coastline, and temperate rainforests. It is the rainforests that caught my attention, and being in a rainforest when it is raining is a surreal experience. Nothing can quite compare to the sight and sounds of the forest when it is raining, and although water is falling from the sky, by the time it reaches you through the trees, it is more of a mist than anything else. You quickly become soggy, and once you are over that, it becomes a gratifying experience.

The sounds of the rainforest, too, are something to experience. The constant drip-drop of rain is all around you, even when it is not raining, providing a constant background noise. Bird calls dance and echo through the forest, followed by, well, I have no idea. An animal, probably, but of what kind I cannot say. Still, it was fantastic to be in the rainforest, and I think you can tell that from the photographs.

Rainforest Elms is a section of the Hot Rainforest known for moss-covered elms. The trees rise as quickly as they can to catch what sunlight they can, as fast-growing moss enshrouds their lower branches. The results are, well, stunning, and otherworldly.


The rainforest is not all that Olympic National Park has going for it, either. Fog is a constant companion to the park, and is, literally, as thick a pea soup. Now and then a scene such as Olympic Fog emerges from the mists, and it is hard to remember to breathe, little alone make the photograph.

And let’s not forget the beaches. The park encompasses over 73 miles of coastline, providing endless opportunity. Of all the miles, however, Second Beach called to me. Reached only by a half mile or so hike through a forest, it is truly a hidden gem and is framed by sea stacks. With smooth sand, this small cove is truly a photographer’s paradise, and it was hard to leave it when the time came.

Enjoy this Olympic Trio, and we will chat about Olympic National Park again soon.

Oregon Jewels

Oregon may only be a single state, but it has almost every type of landscape you could imagine. From the rocky coastlines to wooded forests, to mountain tops and the Columbia River Gorge, and everywhere in between Oregon is chock full of photographic treasures. It makes it hard to choose just a few of my photographs, but in the spirit of adventure, here are a few Oregon jewels.

We’ll begin this quick journey with the coastline. With 363 miles of coastline, there are quite a few opportunities. However, I’ll choose Heceta Head Lighthouse which is more or less in the middle. Built in 1894 this lighthouse has guided countless mariners around the treacherous shoals as well as providing a critical navigation point. I made Heceta’s Dawn just before the sun rose into the sky; I adored the purple tones that colored the morning, punctuated by the lighthouse holding its own against the raging sea. For me, this distinguished seascape represents our struggle to tame the sea and reminds me of seafaring stories and adventures from days long gone.

We’ll venture away from the coastline but still hold to the theme of yesterday to visit Wildcat Covered Bridge. Oregon has more than a few covered bridges, ranging from simple affairs to very elaborate ones. This one, though, reminds me of the classic covered bridge. Indeed, it once was on the main route from inland to the sea, but as newer, straighter and faster highways became common, the previous main roads became near-forgotten byways. If you stand very still, you can still hear the gentle rumble of the old cars, and perhaps an occasional horse and buggy, clickity-clacking across its wooden planks and back into history.

Finally, let’s end at another old place, Multnomah Falls. Located not far from Portland, Multnomah Falls is the tallest waterfall in Portland, dropping in two beautiful steps. The Falls are nestled amongst the trees and are an incredible site by themselves. A beautifully constructed walking bridge, the Benson Footbridge, transforms the scene into a stunningly beautiful one. Thanks to the generosity of Simon Benson, who donated the surrounding area to Portland, the falls remain for all of us to enjoy.

Your Own Oregon Jewels

You can bring home Wildcat Crossing today and enjoy the peacefulness of another time in your own home.