Thursday, December 31, 2009

Three Rivers Petroglyph Site

This morning we (my friend Roger and I) left Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge and headed to our next destination: White Sands National Monument. Our plan was to ring in the new year camping under the full moon at White Sands but along the way were a couple areas of interest, most notably the Three Rivers Petroglyph Site. The petroglyph site is about halfway between Carrizozo and Alamogordo on the way to White Sands. Since I am Native American and my friend Roger and I are both interested in anything to do with Native American history, we wanted to stop and visit the site.

(Click on each image to view a larger version with more detail)

The petroglyphs are carved into an outcropping of boulders that lies on the Tularosa basin, with a terrific view of the broad valley and the Sierra Blanca mountains to the East, the San Andres mountains to the West. The petroglyphs are thought to be the product of the Jornada Mogollon people between about 1000 and 1400 A.D. It is also a very petroglyph-dense site, with (according to BLM materials), over 21,000 to be found in the area. Roger and I walked around the area and took pictures of several of the more prominent petroglyphs, then it was time to continue on to White Sands.

(Click on each image to view a larger version with more detail)

Bosque del Apache

From the "Friends of the Bosque" website (

"The Bosque del Apache National Wildlife Refuge in New Mexico is an important wintering home for Sandhill Cranes and hosts as many as 14,000 cranes during the winter months. The Bosque is located along the Rio Grande River south of Albuquerque and provides critical habitat for cranes and other migratory birds such as over 32,000 Snow Geese, dozens of Bald Eagles, Avocets and many other birds. The beautiful refuge is also home to small herds of Mule Deer and families of Coyotes. Seeing the sunset "fly-in" and the sunrise "fly-out" is an experience you will never forget!"

Above: "Blue morning at Bosque" - An overcast, snowy, predawn morning makes for a dramatic image of these Sandhill Cranes.

After leaving Yosemite the next stop on my trip was to be Bosque del Apache in New Mexico. The plan was to meet back up with my friend Roger ( in Socorro then head to the refuge the next morning. For those of you that have been following along with my blog, Roger and I started off my trip together with a visit to the Badlands and Black Hills of South Dakota. After that portion of the trip Roger had to head back home, but I continued on my journey and here we are meeting back up again near the end of my trip! Roger was visiting his family in California for Christmas, so he stopped in New Mexico to meet up with me on his way back home.

I arrived in Socorro with enough time to head to the refuge for sunset (Roger wouldn't be arriving for several more hours). Not long after arriving at the refuge I was a little disappointed at the lack of birds. I had visited Bosque back in 2004 during this same week, and remembered seeing LOTS of cranes, and LOTS of snow geese. This time, there were only a few. Oh well, I figured... maybe it was just an "off" night, and more would be around tomorrow.

Above: "Red-Winged Rush" - While driving the roads of the refuge, we spotted this large group of Red-Winged Blackbirds that was flying around one of the fields... they would fly around a bit, then land for a moment, then fly around again. I've never seen so many Red-Winged Blackbirds at one time before. Luckily I had my camera and telephoto lens ready to capture this rush of birds!

The next morning we rose bright and early so we could take advantage of the nice breakfast that was offered at our motel. If you're ever looking for a place to stay in Socorro, I highly recommend the EconoLodge... VERY reasonable rate, the room was spacious and very comfortable, the staff was friendly and they had one of the best breakfasts of any motel I've ever stayed in. Coffee, juice, bagels, waffles, cereal, fresh fruit.... it was a great way to start the day!

Above: "Coyotes on the prowl" - A pair of coyotes working their way along the edge of one of the fields. There was a group of snow geese out in the middle of this field, several hundred yards away from these coyotes. The coyotes had their eyes on the birds... not sure if they got any or not, as they ducked into the brush and I never saw them again.

Above: "Safe Zone" - A group of Canada Geese along with a few Sandhill Cranes rests in a field. The fields provide food and a modicum of protection from coyotes, their main predator at the refuge. The birds are usually clustered in the middle of these fields, so they can see the coyotes coming in time to take off and avoid being caught by one.

After breakfast we hit the road for the refuge, which is about a 25 minute drive from Socorro. It started snowing not long after we got on the freeway. Hmmmm.... probably not going to be much of a sunrise, we thought. We were right about that... no sunrise, it was too cloudy. The snow kept coming down, and at times quite heavily. It ended up being a wonderful morning, with the fresh snow providing a perspective on the refuge that not many people are able to enjoy. Being that this is a desert, they don't get much rain or snow. It was a rare treat. Throughout the morning we saw many small groups of birds but as the day progressed we would see more and more. We spent several days at the refuge, and by the time we left we were quite happy with the birds we had seen.

Above and below: These cranes were out for a morning walk on one of the frozen ponds. After watching them for about a half hour, they began to take off one by one from the ice.

Bosque del Apache was my first exposure to Sandhill Cranes and Snow Geese. Before my visit in late 2004, I had never seen either of these birds. Since then, I have been to Nebraska several times to witness the massive gathering that occurs there every spring. Sandhill Cranes are amazing birds, and I don't think I will ever tire of seeing them. Sandhill Cranes have one of the longest fossil histories of any existing bird. The oldest Sandhill Crane fossil is about 2.5 million years old, over one and a half times older than the earliest remains of most living species of birds!

If you'd like to see some more images of Sandhill Cranes, please visit my blog entries from Nebraska in March of 2009:

and from March of 2008:

Above and below: Experimenting with some slower shutter speeds, trying to "blur" the wings of snow geese as they flew into the refuge at sunset.

Above: Two cranes out for an evening walk.

Above: "Flight Training" - This trio of snow geese flew over us several times as they looped around the farm deck field. Most of the time it seemed as though the two geese behind were chasing the one in the front. I joked with my friend Roger that the one in front was probably the "flight instructor", and was teaching the two behind him how to follow and stay in formation :-)

Above: A typical "blast-off" of Snow Geese at the refuge. When the geese fly out from the refuge, they usually do so in one large group. When an entire field full of these birds decides to take flight all at the same time, it is quite a sight to see. Its also really something to hear the birds when they all take flight. The whole experience is unforgettable. To see a short video of one of the morning "blast-off" events, click this link to my main website:

Below: Sunset over one of the irrigation canals at the refuge (the two lights are the headlights of a vehicle approaching on one of the refuge roads). The staff at the refuge use these canals to divert water from the Rio Grande into the fields at the refuge, creating prime habitat for the birds. If you're into wildlife, you should put a visit to Bosque del Apache at the top of your list!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Yosemite National Park

After spending Christmas in San Francisco I drove on to Yosemite National Park, which is a few hours away from San Francisco. I arrived in Yosemite in the late afternoon on Christmas Day, with enough time to scout a location to shoot for sunset. Even on Christmas Day there were quite a few visitors in the park. Luckily I was able to find a location that I had all to myself when it came time to start making images. There was snow when I arrived at the park and it looked like it had fallen a couple of days earlier. It was a fairly mild evening with temperatures hovering in the mid-30's, which made for some beautiful fog that hovered just off the ground throughout the floor of the valley. The fog also meant that the trees and shrubs were all covered in frost.

After the sun had set I drove around for a little while looking for locations to do some star shooting once it was dark enough. I found a couple more fantastic spots and as soon as the stars became visible, I was shooting again. I had a wonderful time shooting the stars in Yosemite Valley, and I have a feeling that is something that not many people have done. I have seen many images of Yosemite, but only one or two night-time images. There was a little bit of moonlight which provided some nice illumination on the rocky cliffs. The moonlight wasn't bright enough to wash out the stars, though. And boy, let me tell you.... rarely have I seen a sky so full of stars! It was an incredible night, one I will not soon forget!

I returned to Yosemite again the following day, but the conditions for photography were less than favorable. It was a chilly, damp day with gray skies. I ended up driving around some more on the park roads to some areas that I hadn't seen the day before, but I really didn't take any pictures. I also visited the Ansel Adams Gallery, which is located near the park's visitor center. The gallery is definitely worth a visit. They have some really amazing framed prints of some of Ansel's most famous images, as well as images by other photographers that are well worth a look. Do yourself a favor and check it out if you ever find yourself in Yosemite!

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas at the Golden Gate

Well, I wasn't sure where I would be for Christmas... as luck would have it, I found myself in San Francisco on Christmas Eve. I spent the evening at Golden Gate National Recreation Area, overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge. I love the Golden Gate Bridge, and it was one of the things I was wanting to photograph again on this trip. Much to my surprise, when I arrived at the area overlooking the bridge I could see a few stars in the sky! I was certain that the city lights would be too bright to be able to see any stars, but thankfully I was wrong. I managed to make an image of the bridge with the constellation Orion visible in the sky above. It was the perfect Christmas gift.

Even though I was "alone" on Christmas, I felt like you were all with me. I received many emails from my friends, followers and supporters wishing me a Merry Christmas. Thanks to you all who took the time to send me a message. Your wishes were much appreciated and made me feel like I was home. I hope you all had a very Merry Christmas as well!

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Redwood National and State Parks

Redwoods are cool. They make you realize that Mother Nature is AWESOME! It is humbling, to say the least, to stand in the shadow of a giant Redwood tree and realize that it has been living for more than 1,000 years. In fact, Redwoods can live to be as much as 2,200 years old and grow to be almost 400 feet tall and 26 feet in diameter. The bark of a Redwood tree can grow to be 12" thick. Yet for all their size and grandeur, Redwoods originate from one of the smallest cones to be found in the world. The cones produced by a Redwood tree are typically only about one inch long.

I spent the last two days exploring different areas of Redwood National and State Parks. This area is in northern California, between San Francisco and the Oregon border. This was my second time visiting the Redwoods and I enjoyed this visit as much as the first. The Redwood forests are, in a way, like the Grand Canyon. Their immense size is a wonder to behold, yet the feeling of that immensity is very difficult to portray in a photograph. More than anything, it is simply a wonder to take a walk beneath the canopy of a Redwood forest.

Above: I saw this plaque on a bench in Jedediah Smith Redwoods State Park. It's a quote from Shakespeare which reads: "One Touch of Nature Makes The Whole World Kin". I thought it was a sentiment worth sharing, and I did my part by giving one of my giant Redwood relatives a hug :-)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Happy Holidays from Shore Acres!

Today I had planned on being in California, but last night I had heard about this incredible Christmas light display at Shore Acres State Park. I wanted to visit Shore Acres anyway, since I knew that it could be an incredible place for viewing waves breaking against the cliffs. But that alone wasn't enough to make me want to put off going to California for one more day. However, once I heard about the Christmas light display, I knew I had to check it out.

I arrived at the park in the early afternoon so I could watch the waves for a while. I've heard stories of days where you get drenched from the spray coming off the waves, and while there were some pretty impressive waves, they weren't big enough to send spray over the top of the cliff where the viewing area was located. Nonetheless, it was awesome to witness the power of the ocean in such a beautiful place.

After the sun went down, people started showing up for the light display. According to the "Friends of Shore Acres" website, the light display is made possible by support from local businesses and the hard work of more than 1,500 volunteers. The holiday display uses "about" 275,000 lights, the majority of which are L.E.D. lights. The display draws around 40,000 to 50,000 visitors each year.

I shot a few video clips of the light displays, too. If you'd like to view them, click on this link which will bring you to the video gallery on my main photography website:

Monday, December 21, 2009

Beautiful Bandon

Bandon, Oregon is sort of one of those "storybook" coastal towns that you picture in your imagination when you daydream of the coast. It has a very quaint "old town" area with shops that are loaded with character and individuality. Its a great place to just go for a stroll and window shop.

For most people, though, the beaches are the main attraction. Bandon easily has some of the best beaches along the entire Oregon coast. Soaring sea stacks, swirling foam, soft sand and huge piles of driftwood all conspire to make a walk along the beach an unforgettable experience.

I shot two sunsets along the beaches at Bandon and on the first evening I got pretty wet. Right after the sun went down some rain squalls quickly moved in (see image above) and got me good and wet before I was able to make it back to the car. Even though I was wearing my rain jacket, I didn't have any rain pants so my pants got soaked.

The second evening was free from rain, and I was treated to some wonderful light as the sun retreated over the horizon.