Thursday, January 21, 2010

The Northern Elephant Seals of Piedras Blancas

I had visited my aunt and uncle in their home in Cambria a couple of times in the 1980s and I had never heard of the Elephant Seals. So I was quite surprised when my cousins mentioned the rookery just a short distance from San Simeon, and Hearst. Now I would have remembered Elephant Seals from a previous trip so I thought something funny was going on.

Well it all started in the fall of 1990, long after my last visit, when fewer than 2 dozen elephant seals showed up in the small cove just south of the Piedras Blancas lighthouse. The spring of 1991 saw about 400 elephant seals coming to molt. January 1992 saw the first pups being born which marked the beginning of an elephant seal population explosion. 1993 about 50 pups were born, 1995 600 pups were born, 1996 almost 1000 were born. Now the rookery is home to about 15,000 elephant seals.

Saying the rookery is home to about 15,000 is a bit misleading since the elephant seals spend the vast majority of their time in the open ocean, from eight to ten months of the year.

From what I understand I visited rather early in the birthing/molting/breeding season as the older males, adults and sub-adults were arriving. During this time there are lots of challenges for prime territory. There wasn't a time when I didn't see at least one but more like a couple pairs of seals challenging each other. It was a busy place.

Pregnant females also arrive and begin giving birth. Birthing peaks in mid-January with about two births an hour by the public viewing area right off Highway 1.

These seals are absolutely huge. At birth they weigh about 70 lbs and gain weight quickly to about 300 lbs by 4 weeks of age. Females grow to 9-12 feet and weigh between 900-1800 pounds. Males grow to 14-16 feet long and weigh in at 3000-5000 pounds, or more.

They look like blobs of blubber laying on the beach but when they want to move they can do so very quickly. One thing I found quite humorous was watching the groups of them lying together. When one seal would move on one side of the group the blubber would shake almost across the whole group so another seal 5 over would also move.

I would have loved to spend more time there and will definitely return.


Saturday, January 16, 2010

Hearst Castle

My cousin Joanne works at Hearst Castle, in San Simeon, California. She used to be a tour guide but is now a tour guide supervisor, responsible for making sure your tour of the castle is a memorable and enjoyable experience for you. Joanne is so into the history of the castle and is a walking book on the place.

Joanne took Leah, my cousin and her sister, on two private tours of the castle. The night I arrived we toured the inside which was all made up for Christmas. It was raining outside which created a really neat moody environment. The next day we went over to the castle a few hours before she started her shift and walked around the outside. It is the images I made outside that I've included here, didn't make any indoors.

I'm not going to try to give any info on the castle in this post. If you want more, and believe me there is a whole lot more, Google Hearst Castle and your bound to strike it rich.

The first image is the first sight Mr. Hearst's guests would see having just stepped out of their chauffeured vehicle.

One of the guest houses looking up from the terrace.

And the same guest house from the other direction. Not a bad view, eh. It is in this guest house that Hearst lived prior to his death.

Adam and Eve statue.

I was struck by some of the graphic elements I saw.

It's a beautiful place the Hearst Castle is. I couldn't imagine what it was like to spend time there and have the run of the place, except for the 3rd floor of the main house which was Hearst's private floor.

The view from the top of the hill is just stupendous as you can see. If you're ever along the central Calif coast it's worth a stop. (And say 'Hi' to my cousin Joanne (:-) )


Zion National Park

Next stop, rather pause, after Coral Pink State Park was Zion National Park. I had driven thru Zion the year before right at dusk. It was quite dramatic with very low light so I hadn't stopped to make any images. I had that memory in my mind when I drove thru this year. The sun was quite high in the sky, not the greatest time for photography, and very different from the previous year. As such I only made just a couple of images.

This first image is Checkerboard Mesa. I used a HDR technique where 6 exposures, in this case, we made 2/3 stops apart. By doing this you capture the full range of tones from hilites to dark shadows. A program called Photomatics is used to blend the images together and gives the photographer controls for making final adjustments. It's a technique I need to work alot more with to get it right.

I was most intrigued by the sky and clouds that day. It was really a beautiful day with the sun shining brightly and the temperatures quite mild. This tree just stood out so nicely with the sky in the background and the clouds really mimic the shape of the tree.

I was struck by the contrast of the green pine trees against the red rock of this area and made a few images along the road. In deep shadow the tones were contained and with a little digital darkroom adjustments it makes a pleasant image.

Unable to take the scenic drive the previous year, well I could have taken it I just wouldn't have seen anything since it was dark, it was on my agenda this day. It was a nice drive but nothing really captured my fancy except for the trees high on the ridge with the sky and clouds behind it. So another tree, sky and cloud image, sometimes things run in cycles.

I left Zion pleased that I had driven thru. It's another jewel in the jewel box of the Southwest.


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park

On my nighttime drive from Bryce Canyon to Page, Arizona I passed a sign to Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park. It was an intriguing name but it was dark and I needed to get to my destination. After a couple of days at Page, visiting Antelope Canyon and Horseshoe Bend, it was time to move on. I had a day of travel scheduled for the following day and wanted to spend a little time in Zion when I passed thru there. My original plan was to shoot sunrise at Horseshoe Bend but the previous sunrise was uninspiring and the clear skies meant a repeat. I pulled out my photography guide and almost immediately saw Coral Pink Sand Dunes State Park. It was a good hour to hour in a half drive from Page but the sun rises late during the winter so I had plenty of time. Besides, I would be able to knock off a chunk of miles early giving me a little more time in Zion, so that became my plan.

As I approached the park in the dim light of pre-dawn, it became clear there was alot more snow on the ground that where I'd come from. I got rather disappointed that the dunes would be covered with snow as well. So disappointed in fact that when I pulled into the parking lot I decided to have some breakfast before taking a look.

Well one rule of being a photographer is food can always wait. When I finally did check I found the dunes 90% clear of snow and a beautiful sunrise before my eyes. Hurridly, I grabbed my equipment and went out into the dunes but I missed the best light, darn. If only I checked before breakfast, if only.

Oh well all was not lost. The early morning clouds were giving way to the first rays of sun shining across the landscape. I was quite intrigued by the patterns the hanging bushes were making in the sand. A light breeze was blowing and these natural artsts were going about their work. The petterns were constantly evolving and changing. I made a number of images with the same composition and when reviewing them in my computer noticed how patterns changed from one frame to the next. Pretty neat.

The other thing I realized after returning to the car was the two seperate areas of the park. While out on the dunes I noticed remnants of tire tracks all over the place. Turns out there are two sections of the park, an OHV section and a conservation section. I had stopped in the OHV section. Had I known this I would certainly have gone over to the conservation section where vehicle tracks would not have been a problem. Next time.

It was well worth the stop and is likely to be a future stop on future travels.


Saturday, January 9, 2010

Horseshoe Bend

Last year on my drive out to California one of my planned stops was at Horseshoe Bend. I had seen many images made at Horseshoe Bend and it was not far from my previous stop, Canyon de Chelley. (Here's my Blog of Canyon De Chelley from last year). During the drive from Chinle, Arizona to Page, Arizona I passed by Antelope Canyon which triggered my interest in visiting it this year.

Horseshoe Bend is just a few short miles North of Page on U.S. 89. A 3/4 mile hike will put you on the rim 1,000 feet above the Colorado River. If you have a fear of heights you'll probably not want to venture to close to the edge. It's a lllooonnnggg way down. The first image was made with my 17-40mm lens at 17mm with my full frame Canon 5D Mark II. Even with this wide angle lens I can't get it all in the frame, that's how big it is.

Boaters will periodically navigate the river here from Lee's Ferry up toward Glen Canyon Dam. Since December is not boating weather I didn't figure I'd see any and I was right. I did drive to Lee's ferry and saw a group of rafters putting in to go down stream. Seemed a bit to cold to be rafting but these were adventurous souls.

The sandstone around the rim is quite layered and looks rather thin and fragile in places. Before getting close to the edge I would walk around the rim a bit and get a good look of where I was going to be standing before actually walking out to the end. This last image shows my tripod in one of my shooting locations.


Arts in Harmony 2010

Each year Elk River Area Arts Alliance host the Arts in Harmony art show. This show is the largest national juried art show in Minnesota and last year gave away $10,000 in prize money. This year 259 artists submitted 722 works of which 204 were selected for the show. For the 5th year in a row I've been honored by having my photography in the show.

'Hollow Rock Morning' is this years participant in the show. It was made at Hollow Rock Resort by Grand Portage, Minnesota on March 21, 2009. This was my first time photographing the North Shore of Minnesota in winter. The worst of winter had passed and the open water of Lake Superior was slowly overtaking the ice. An interesting pattern of snow had formed on the ice in front of Hollow Rock while Hollow Rock was still covered with ice. It all came together with the moody morning clouds.

If you're in the Twin Cities ares you're invited to the Artists Reception to be held on Sunday Feb. 14, 2010 at the Sherburne County Government Center in Elk River, Minnesota. This is really an excellent show featuring a cross section of artistic media including, photography, oil painting, watercolors, sculptures, pottery, drawings, etc. It would be nice to see you there.


Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Antelope Canyon

Close to the top of my intended places to photograph was Antelope Canyon. I was surprised when I drove by Antelope Canyon last year on my way to photograph Horseshoe Bend but had no time to stop. So this trip I made it a destination and as it turned out a multiday destination at that.

I must admit that I was quite intimidated at the prospect of photographing Antelope Canyon. I have seen many, many photographs of Antelope Canyon and felt the world didn't need any more photographs but I had to see it myself and make my own photographs.

I started the day by visiting Lower Antelope Canyon. The first image image is me at the entrance to Lower Antelope Canyon. Just a few steps behind me the canyon drops about 20 feet and thanks to a ladder it is easily navigated. Lower Antelope Canyon drops very deep into the earth. A series of metal ladders makes it easy to navigate the length of the canyon.

I was totally unfamiliar when it came to slot canyon photography and nervously entered Lower Antelope Canyon for the first time. I think my jaw hit the ground when I gazed upon this wonderous place. But the challenge still was how do I photograph such a place. I was in a hurry since I was scheduled to visit Upper Antelope Canyon in less than an hour so my first experience was hurried and rather stressful. But I forged ahead and began making images.

Before long it was time to head across the road to the vehicles waiting to drive a few miles up the wash to Upper Antelope Canyon. Here I had much more time to take in the canyon and with the help of a guide made some of the classical images. A number of those I've included here: the eagle, the bear and Abe Lincoln (see if you can find all 3). What I learned during this time gave me much more confidence to interpret both Antelope Canyons in my own way. Towards the end of my 2 hr tour, actually it lasted more like 2.5 hrs, my guide Jake and I were the only ones in the canyon. I experienced my form of 'quiet', something I seldom experience since I have very poor hearing. Jake leaned back and hummed under a rock. This filled the entire canyon with his sound. It was amazing. We spent some time talking quietly. I so much enjoy being able to come to very popular places like this and having a quiet experience most people are not able to experience.

After finishing the Upper Antelope Canyon tour I returned to Lower Antelope Canyon to finish my 4 hrs of time in the canyon. Only problem was it was about 2:15 and they closed at 3:00. So again I rushed thru Lower Antelope Canyon, it's pretty long. Later that evening I decided to spend another $26 and get my 4 hrs of solid experience in Lower Antelope Canyon.

The next morning Thule and I were at Horseshoe Bend watching a very ordinary sunrise before heading back for a second slot canyon experience. We got there at 10:30 giving me plenty of time to get the whole 4 hrs out of this visit. It was a totally different experience this time. Once in the canyon I put the tripod down and just looked. Slowly looking around forward, backward, up, down searching for a composition that grabbed me. Sometimes I made a few different compositions from the same general area and other times I picked up my tripod and moved on. Slowly I worked my way down the canyon. My intimidation from the previous day had been replaced with respectful confidence. I can't say the time flew by but it didn't take long for it to become 2:45, time to leave.

If I had it to do over again I would do Upper Antelope Canyon one day then Lower the next. I was truly mesmerized by these two slot canyons. It matters not if you are a photographer the experience of one or both of the Antelope Canyons should not be missed. I know that I will return during my next visit to the southwest.


Monday, January 4, 2010

Bryce Canyion National Park

I have a confession to make. Bryce Canyon has never been high on my list of places to visit. I'm sure I was here as a kid but I particularly remember when I was here in the 70's. It was a cold blustery day and while it is a cool place to look I never felt emotionally connected.

I was traveling from Escalante, UT to Page, AZ and Bryce was on the way. So I decided I was going to give Bryce another shot and spend the afternoon there then wait around until sunset. I figured my lack luster feeling about Bryce was because I had seen it only from the rim.

So going in I wanted to hike down and be amongst the hoodoos. This would give me a totally different prospective and hopefully I would have an emotional connection. So I stopped at the ranger station and spoke to a ranger about a hike. He suggested a trail at Sunset Point. Sounded good to me.

Then I asked about Thule to which he replied that Bryce is not dog friendly. Thule would have to stay in the car. Not only was Thule not welcome on trails he's not welcome at viewpoints. Well I didn't want to leave Thule for a long hike so opted to skip the hike.

So I left with about the same emotional connection as I came with, not much. I know there are people that connect to Bryce the way I do with Yosemite, I'm just not one of them. I will return one day and make that hike into the canyon. However, I have alot of other places to visit and return to before then.