Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Mono Lake Morning

After a too-short night of rest back at the motel in Lee Vining, we rose early to head back out to Mono Lake for sunrise.  As much as we wanted some more sleep, we also knew that we only had one chance for a sunrise at this location so we seized the opportunity.  And boy are we glad we didn't miss the opportunity because we sure had a beautiful morning!  The clouds were spectacular and the stillness of the air was unbelievable.  The tufa formations were fascinating.  Definitely a very strange and surreal landscape!

From the Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve web page: 

"Mono Lake is a majestic body of water covering about 65 square miles.  It is an ancient lake at over 1 million years old and one of the oldest lakes in North America.  It has no outlet.  Throughout the lake's existence, salts and minerals have washed into the lake from Easter Sierra streams.  Fresh water evaporating from the lake each year has left the salts and minerals behind so that the lake is now about 2 1/2 times as salty as the ocean and very alkaline.  The Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve was established to protect the spectacular "tufa towers", calcium-carbonate spires and knobs formed by interaction of fresh water springs and alkaline lake water."


The night sky over tufa formations at Mono Lake, California.  I absolutely LOVED the night skies on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California.  I can only imagine how incredible the views of the night sky are from the TOP of the mountain range!  One day I will see it from there, as Jessica and I plan to eventually hike some of the John Muir Trail. For now, this view from Mono Lake will suffice just fine :-)  This photo was made after a long day of driving and photography that started in Death Valley.  

We arrived at Mono Lake just before 10 PM and made our way down to the shoreline.  As we walked down the trail to the lake we could start to see the tufa formations silhouetted against the sky.  When we arrived at the first formations we switched off our headlamps and gazed up at the stars, which were so bright and vivid it seemed as though we could reach out and pluck them from the sky.  I photographed the tufa and stars for about an hour then we headed to our motel for some much needed rest.  Witnessing the awesome night sky at Mono Lake was the perfect way to end an unforgettable day in California!

Monday, March 30, 2015

Cute Molly

As we drove away from the Alabama Hills we followed Movie Flat Road north, which eventually became Moffat Ranch Road.  Just moments after the road transitioned names, we rounded a corner and saw a beautiful meadow with lots of trees that were really starting to green up.  And, the meadow was filled with mules and horses!  Jessica got really excited and of course we had to stop as the animals were very close to the road.  Jessica used to work with both mules and horses so she wanted to get out and talk to them :-)  We had a lot of fun watching and photographing these adorable animals. I really liked the spring green background.  They sure were in a photogenic area!  I even managed to capture one of the mules sniffing the air, which made for a comical photo!

Mobius Arch and the Eastern Sierras

After leaving Death Valley we headed north.  Our next layover was to be Mono Lake in Lee Vining, California.  Along the way we had a couple of ideas for places to check out.  We ended up going with the Alabama Hills just outside the town of Lone Pine.  The Alabama Hills are famous for western movies being filmed there.  In fact, according to literature at the nearby forest service visitor center, over 200 movies have been filmed in the area.  It was a fascinating area with many interesting rock formations.  The background was  magnificent, a stunning view of the Eastern Sierra mountains including Mount Whitney, the tallest peak in the lower 48 with an elevation of 14,505 feet.  We spent a couple of hours in the Alabama Hills which included a hike to the famous Mobius Arch, seen in this photo.  The sky wasn't the best during our visit here, but we still really enjoyed all the beautiful scenery.  

NOTE: Mount Whitney is NOT visible in this photo, it is behind the right arm of the arch.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Mosaic Canyon

Our last stop in Death Valley National Park was Mosaic Canyon.  It was mid-morning but the temp was already approaching 90 degrees so we were anxious to get into the shade of the canyon.  Sure enough, not long after we began the hike we were in the shade and it sure felt good!  We had heard that Mosaic Canyon was the closest thing that Death Valley has to a slot canyon and we love slot canyons so we had to see it!  It definitely was narrow, at least along the first section.  And we could easily see how the canyon got its name.  The canyon walls were a fascinating collection of stones that were definitely reminiscent of a mosaic pattern.  As we hiked further into the canyon we could see some really interesting clouds forming in the beautiful blue sky above.  The clouds made for some interesting photographs showing both the canyon walls and the sky.  The hike into the canyon was all uphill and even though we were in the shade we were starting to feel the heat.  It was a welcome relief to return to the car and the comfort of the air conditioning!

Zabriskie's morning palette

I'd like to share one more image from Zabriskie Point in Death Valley.  Our friend that gave us advice on where to go in the park said that Zabriskie was his favorite location and we can definitely see why!  It is, arguably, the most photogenic area of the park.  It's probably safe to say that it is the most photographed area in the park as well.  There certainly were plenty of other photographers there sharing the scene with us!  I made this photograph a while after the initial burst of morning color lit up the clouds.  The sun had illuminated the clouds with vibrant pinks and reds, then went behind a layer of clouds which really softened the light.  That's when I made this photo.  The clouds still had color in them, but it was more subdued.  I really like the softer quality of the light in this photo.  It's one of my favorite photographs from our morning at Zabriskie Point. 

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Warrior Tree

I thought I knew what a good dark sky was, but I had no idea just how good it could be until I went to Death Valley.  We stayed out at the Mesquite Flat Dunes past sunset to watch the sky turn dark and fill with stars.  We had no idea just how many stars we would see!  We have some pretty dark skies in northeast Minnesota, but Death Valley's night sky blows ours away.  The stars were so bright we could actually see enough to walk around without the aid of a headlamp.  We found this cool mesquite tree right near the trailhead for the dunes.  It was the perfect foreground for photographing some stars.  We spent at least an hour at the base of this tree photographing it and enjoying the beautiful sky above.  I sure wish we would have had more than one night to spend in Death Valley.  I can't wait to go back and photograph more of the night sky in this amazing park!

Friday, March 27, 2015

Sunrise at Zabriskie Point

Probably the biggest surprise of our trip was being able to photograph Zabriskie Point at sunrise.  We had figured that we would have to save this location for a future trip. We had it on good authority that the park service had completely closed the area while they made repairs to the walkway.  Indeed, Zabriskie Point had been completely closed down.  However, they had finished the work well ahead of schedule and the point had re-opened more than a month earlier than they had planned!  This changed our itinerary immediately and we planned on doing sunrise the next day at the the point.  We sure are glad it was open because we had an AMAZING sunrise!  The view shown in this photo is actually looking sort of west-southwest, the opposite direction from which the sun was rising.  It was one of those mornings, though, where the clouds all throughout the sky glowed with this rich color from the rising sun.  And we sure had some beautiful clouds that morning!

Death Valley Dawn

I have often heard that desert sunrises and sunsets can be some of the best in the world.  Coming from the shoreline of Lake Superior, I find Superior sunrises and sunsets hard to beat.  That being said, there were a few times on our trip that gave Superior a run for its money.  Such as this beautiful sunrise from Death Valley National Park.  The stillness of the desert air was unbelievable and the silence was deafening.  It was a well-appreciated morning in the desert that I will never forget!

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Evening at the dunes - Death Valley

After photographing the Mesquite Flat Dunes from the side of the highway a few miles away, we continued on to the dunes themselves to explore and photograph them at sunset.  When we arrived at the dunes the wind was blowing quite strongly and was whipping sand everywhere.  We were wearing shorts and the blowing sand stung as it hit our legs.  Still, it was a very beautiful evening and we really enjoyed our time at the dunes.  Another inconvenience is that there were people everywhere, making it hard to find a composition without any people in the background.  As such, there are some people in the distance in this photo, but they do help lend a sense of scale to the scene.  

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Mesquite Flat Dunes - Death Valley

One of the locations in Death Valley that I was hoping to see and photograph was the Mesquite Flat Dunes.  I had seen enough photos of the dunes that I knew it was an area I wanted to see for myself.  We decided to try sunset at the dunes which probably wasn't the best idea because it was pretty windy and there were a ton of people there.  Sunrise was out, however, as we were planning on Zabriskie Point for that.  

As we were driving towards the dunes from the Furnace Creek Campground, there were beautiful yellow flowers all along both sides of the highway.  The spring bloom was just beginning.  Soon the dunes became visible down in the valley even though we were still several miles away.  Our first glimpse of the dunes was like something from a dream.  The wind and early evening light made the dunes look irresistible. We simply had to pull over so I could make this image.  This was taken from the side of the highway 3 or 4 miles away from the dunes using my Tamron 150-600 lens zoomed all the way out to 600mm.  

Monday, March 23, 2015

Horned Lizard - Death Valley

Jessica spotted this cute little horned lizard as we were walking down the trail to Dante's View in Death Valley National Park.  She really has an eye for spotting things.  I don't think I would have noticed this little guy if it weren't for her.  In fact, I think I might have even walked right by it once before she noticed it.  He sure was a cute little guy! We watched him for a few minutes and I made several images of him with my Tamron 150-600 lens.  This image was probably my favorite because you can see his whole body as he peers over the top of the rock.  It sure was a fun thing to see at our very first stop in Death Valley!

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Dante's View - Death Valley

For the past week we've been in California, visiting some new places and enjoying some warm weather!  Actually, warm is a bit of an understatement as it was HOT in Death Valley.  I know, it's Death Valley... it's supposed to be hot!  But, it was a bit warmer than usual for mid-March.  We read that the average temperature this time of year is in the mid 80's, but during our stay the temperature actually hit 100 degrees.  Just a week before we left on this trip we still had temperatures that were below zero in northern Minnesota.  It was quite a shock to go from below zero to 100 degrees!  Everybody says "Well, it's a dry heat."  Yeah, that's true, but it is still 100 degrees.  Anyway, we did enjoy the heat and the sun, even though it made falling asleep in our tent a little difficult.  

Our first impression of Death Valley was one of jaw-dropping beauty.  Before we actually got down to the valley floor we took a side trip to Dante's View, which provided an AMAZING view of the valley floor and the mountains on both sides.  We took a little hike down to a view point, which is where I made this photo.  The temperature here wasn't too bad, it was in the mid 70's.  Hard to believe there is almost a 30 degree difference between where we were standing to make this photo and the valley floor below!  

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Superior Hiking Trail - West End of Lake Walk

It's time to start thinking about hiking!  The warm weather trend we've had lately along with the rapid disappearance of much of our snow cover has me itching to do some hiking.  In some areas, you can already hike unimpeded by snow.  One such area is the lake walk section of the Superior Hiking Trail just north of Grand Marais.  I made this photo recently on a short hike along this beautiful section of trail.  I thought the Superior Hiking Trail sign with the shimmering blue of Lake Superior itself behind the sign made for a compelling image.  Definitely makes me want to get out and do more hiking!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Pigeon River Gorge

The past couple of days I've noticed a lot of otter tracks in the snow in the Pigeon River gorge just below High Falls.  So, this morning I took a walk into the gorge to see if maybe the otters were out.  Unfortunately I never saw them.  It was fun seeing their tracks though and the gorge is always beautiful.  While I was there I made this HDR (high dynamic range) image looking upstream in the gorge.  High Falls is just around the corner to the right as you're looking upstream.  I don't normally like to do HDR images as I don't care for the look of them, but this scene called for it so I decided to experiment with one. 

Friday, March 13, 2015


Since the ice and snow along the Lake Superior shoreline is turning to mush and therefore not quite as photogenic as it used to be, I've been looking for other things to photograph.  I came across this scene the other day and thought it was quirky and fun, definitely worthy of a picture.  I drive by this stack of logs every day on my way to and from work and one day I decided to pull in and take a closer look.  Sometimes the cut ends of the logs have really cool patterns in them so I was looking to make more of a close-up, abstract image.  What I found, however, was more of a wide-angle composition.  I noticed that every now and then down the line of logs there were names spray painted on them.  I'm assuming these are marking sections of logs for different truck drivers to load and haul away.  I thought it made for an interesting spring image to share for today.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

The Last Ice

Well, I think this is it. The last of the floating ice in Grand Portage Bay for this year.  We have had a major meltdown over the last few days and this ice that I photographed on Tuesday morning is pretty much gone now.  I was intrigued by the look of the ice in the foreground that was just under the surface of the water.  I loved all the lines in the ice and the translucence of it.  You can also see how shallow the water is in this part of the bay.  If you look at the left side of the photo, you can see the sand ripples on the lake bottom.  There is only about one foot of water depth here.  So, some of these larger chunks of ice were actually sitting on the bottom of the lake. 

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Opening Soon!

It's hard to believe that just a week or so ago our temperatures were still dipping below zero.  Yesterday, the sky was very much looking like spring and the air very much felt like spring.  Our high for the day topped 50 degrees and it looks like similar weather for today.  Such conditions mean that our snow and ice will not last much longer.  The view seen in this photo of the Pigeon River in Grand Portage State Park will not look like this for much longer.  Soon the ice and snow will be gone and the river will be running freely again!  

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Early Spring Sunrise over Hat Point

This morning's sunrise was a beauty.  The ice on the bay where we live has been breaking up over the past few days and last night I noticed how beautiful it was on the way home from work.  I thought it might make for a nice sunrise if conditions remained calm overnight.  Thankfully, the wind stayed away and this morning was just as beautiful as I had imagined.  There were some nice clouds over Hat Point that lit up with color as the sun rose behind the point.  Those colors also reflected in the open water in between the sheets of ice.  It was a glorious morning!  

The beauty that surrounded me helped take my mind off the fact that one of my tripod legs had broken off just moments before making this photo.  I was pushing the legs down into the snow like I always do when I heard a "snap".  Next thing I knew, I was holding two separate pieces of tripod in my hand :-(  Maybe that's nature's way of telling me it's time to upgrade my tripod.  It was a very good model that served me well for a number of years, but I've always wanted one a little taller, a little more stable and capable of going lower to the ground as well. So, guess what I'm doing now!  

Monday, March 9, 2015

Whale Tail Ice

Well, I think there is a very good chance that we're going to lose most if not all of our shoreline ice in the coming week.  We went out last night looking to photograph the ice at sunset and after just a couple of days in the low to mid 30's, the ice looks… well… kinda gross.  It has lost all of its beautiful clarity.  Most of it is now partially melted and it just doesn't have the beauty that it had a week ago.  It's bound to happen, I was just hoping it might hang on for another week or so.  But, the forecast for the next week is calling for temperatures to reach up into the mid 40's so the ice will soon be gone.  Then, we'll be on to different things to focus on for photography.  For now, here is one of the more interesting pieces of ice that I found to photograph a few days ago. This chunk of ice was sticking up out of the water, attached to a large flat plate of ice floating just beneath the surface.  It was fascinating to watch as it bobbed around in the waves.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

All That Remains

Here is an abstract image of one of the most abstract pieces of ice that I've ever come across on the Lake Superior shoreline.  I was totally fascinated by this iceberg, one of the last remaining pieces on a shoreline that just a week previous had ice everywhere.  Wind and waves had taken care of all that ice, breaking it up and pushing it out across the lake.  By morning this last iceberg will have succumbed to the same fate, either drifting out into the lake or simply returning back to a liquid state as the waves continue to wash over it.  

The Last Iceberg

The last remaining iceberg on a shoreline that had ice as far as the eye could see just a week previously.  I was hoping for a little more sky interest on this evening but the sky was almost completely devoid of clouds.  In the end that didn't matter as I found one of the most uniquely shaped icebergs that I've ever seen so I made that the prominent feature of this photo.  It was fun photographing the waves washing over this chunk of ice.  Every photo that I made looked completely different from the last with the ever-changing patterns of the waves.  

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Cascade Eagle

It feels like an eagle kind of day :-)  Here are a few photos that I made of a bald eagle that had been feeding on a road-kill deer on Highway 61 as it goes through Cascade River State Park just south of Grand Marais.  There were actually two eagles in the area; this one was more tolerant and stayed perched on a dead birch top for quite a while.  The other one was too far away to get any good photos.  After about 20 minutes of watching this one perched on the dead tree, it took flight and went further down the highway. 

I was thrilled to be able to come away with these images!  It's not easy photographing eagles on road-kill deer, as the ravens usually get them to scatter before you can get close enough for any kind of decent photo.  This one paid the ravens no mind when they flew off as I approached very slowly in my vehicle on the opposite side of the highway.  I didn't notice it at the time but when I got home and looked at the images I noticed that this eagle had a band around each leg.  You can see the bands if you look closely at the first photo.  The weather forecast looks really good for the weekend, so I hope you get a chance to get out and do some exploring, perhaps you'll see an eagle or two for yourself :-) 

Friday, March 6, 2015

Beautiful Blue - Lake Superior Ice Field

A mid-morning shot of a large field of jumbled ice on Lake Superior between Grand Marais and Grand Portage, MN.  This may well be the last good area of ice piles for this winter.  The winds that we've had the past week have taken care of most of the ice along the north shore.  The highs forecast for next week are supposed to be in the mid 40's, so we may not get much more ice production.  I'm always sad to see the ice go, as it is one of my most favorite subjects to photograph.  I do love spring, though, and the promise of summer that warmer days are sure to bring.  Variety is the spice of life and we certainly have our fair share of that living here in northern Minnesota!  

I just loved this large blue slab of ice in the foreground of the photo, even though it looks unnatural due to the lack of snow on it.  If you look closely you can see some footprints in the snow on the far side of the blue slab.  It looks like someone walked around it and brushed all the snow off so they could see the full glory of the blue color.  I guess I should be thankful for their meddling with the scene, as I certainly found this piece of ice worth photographing.  If it had still been covered in snow I might have walked right past it!

Jigsaw Ice

There have been so many fascinating and intriguing ice formations to photograph this year.  I guess I better get a move on with sharing my remaining ice photos, as once the warmer weather arrives next week (the highs are supposed to reach 40 degrees by Tuesday) I'm sure people aren't going to want to see them anymore!  One location that has been a gold mine of photographic opportunity is the lake walk section of the Superior Hiking Trail just north of Grand Marais.  I have been back here several times since first discovering the huge ice piles there.  While the ridges of ice piled perhaps as much as 20 feet high are the main attraction, there are many other wonders to be found there as well.  Such as this flat area of "Jigsaw Ice", so named because it reminded me of the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.  This photo was made as I was standing on the ice just  10 feet from shore.  While this ice did look plenty thick to safely walk on, there was open water just 100 feet to the left of this area and I could hear the ice creaking and groaning as the water shifted around underneath.  I didn't dare go farther than just a few feet from shore, but a few feet was all I needed to get the composition I wanted. 

Thursday, March 5, 2015

A New Day at Hollow Rock

Here is a photo from yesterday morning's sunrise at Hollow Rock in Grand Portage, MN.  I haven't been to Hollow Rock for a sunrise in quite some time.  My plan yesterday was to get up early and drive closer to Grand Marais to photograph the sunrise over some ice piles.  The snooze button on my alarm put an end to that plan :-)  I hit the snooze button and thus when I woke up I didn't have time to drive to my pre-planned location.  Instead, I stopped by Hollow Rock which is much closer to home and boy, am I glad I did!  A week ago there was solid ice out as far as you could see.  Lots of windy days in the past week have sure taken care of that.  Now there is open water as far as you can see.  Luckily, these floating cakes of ice were being held against the shore by the rock and made for a very nice foreground.  I am actually thankful that I overslept a bit because if I hadn't, I wouldn't have made this photograph.  And, there are other photos I got later in the day that I probably wouldn't have made either because the conditions would have been completely different due to my timing.  As my mom has always likes to say: "Everything happens for a reason!"

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Moonrise Magic

I just got in from another full day spent outside in search of photos. I started with sunrise at Hollow Rock in Grand Portage and ended with the rising moon just north of Grand Marais.  It was another amazing day of photography!  The sunrise over Hollow Rock was beautiful, I saw lots of cool ice formations throughout the day and the sunset was gorgeous.  I even had the pleasure of watching some eagles and ravens for about an hour as they fed on a dead deer on the side of the highway.  The moonrise image you see here was the perfect end to a perfect day!  

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Spring is coming!

After a full day of pretty steady snowfall and gusty winds with overnight lows tonight dipping down below zero, I thought it might be nice to share a photo of warmer days that will (hopefully) soon be here.  I was looking through some old photos this morning and came across this one which I rather like.  It is the view from my driveway, looking out over Grand Portage Bay on Lake Superior.  It was taken at sunset on a beautiful spring day.  I loved the clouds and colors in the sky.  It also made me think of spring which is why I decided to share it today.  I figure there are others out there who might like a little spring teaser as well :-)

Drift Patterns

Today is a blustery, snowy day so in honor of such days here is a photo that is a result of a similar day about a week ago.  Last week we had very high winds that blew snow around every which way causing some amazing drifts to form pretty much everywhere.  The drifts shown in this photo were found along the lake walk section of the Superior Hiking Trail just north of Grand Marais, MN. Most of the length of shoreline along the lake walk had cool patterns like this.  With so much to choose from, it was kind of hard to pick out just one area to photograph!

Monday, March 2, 2015

3 A.M. Surprise

Last night was pretty sweet for northern lights!  It was the 3rd night in a row that promised some aurora activity, but the first night that we had good enough sky conditions to actually see the lights.  I headed out around midnight and met up with a friend to do some shooting.  At first the lights were there, but they were really faint.  After a while we noticed an increase in activity and we started to get some nice results in our images.  It wasn't until just before 3:00 AM, however, that the lights really picked up.  It was around 2:00 when my friend went home; we figured the activity was pretty much done at that point as we hadn't seen much happen in the previous 45 minutes.  I decided to stay a little while longer and I sure am glad that I did!  These were far from the strongest lights that I've seen, but they were very good.  And they most likely would have looked better if we hadn't had the light of a half-moon to contend with.  Even with the moonlight, the lights shone through and filled the sky with their beauty.  It sure was an awesome night! 

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Ice Tree

I still have a few images to share from the ice I photographed at Tettegouche State Park a couple of weeks ago.  There were so many interesting ice formations, it was hard to decide which ones to photograph!  To make this photo, I was laying on the ground on my back and using my wide angle 17mm lens to frame this shot of an ice-covered tree.  I love the wide angle view and how it makes certain subjects look extra dramatic, especially when using super-low angles such as this. 

The View - My Morning Commute

I really have to be one of the luckiest people in the state of Minnesota.  I get to drive by this view twice every day, once on my way to work and once on my way home from work.  Often times I sail right by and enjoy the view as I pass through on the highway.  Other times I just have to stop and make a photo of the view.  Yesterday was one of those days when I just had to stop.  The clouds were fascinating as they were rolling in off the lake.  Just minutes after I made this photo that cloud bank reached land and proceeded to dump some snow on us.  It was a nice lake effect squall that lasted for a couple of hours.  The rest of the day following the squall was nice and sunny!