5 incredible stargazing spots in California’s Eastern Sierra

stargazing locations

Night photography locations in California’s Eastern Sierra

Thanks to the San Jose Mercury News for using several of my photos to illustrate their article on viewing the night sky in the Eastern Sierra!

Here’s another location covered in the story.

For the rest, read the article at the San Jose Mercury News:

5 incredible stargazing spots in California’s Eastern Sierra
http://www.mercurynews.com/2017/08/03/5-incredible-stargazing-spots/
by Jackie Burrell

#astrophotography #astronomy #nightphotography #easternsierra

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Eastern Sierra Photography Workshop in June: What’s in Store?

Eastern Sierra landscape photography workshops

Eastern Sierra wildflowers, late May

“The Traveler sees what he sees. The Tourist sees what he has come to see.” G.K. Chesterton

North Peak Sunset AlpenglowUpdate 1, May 31: Tioga Pass opened in Mid-May, so we can include Yosemite”s Tioga Pass area in our workshops starting this Thursday.  I’ve already been up there three times in the past couple of weeks to assess and monitor conditions.

Update 2, May 31: One of my customers has asked to extend the workshop with a few days in Yosemite Valley, so we’re adding June 6, 7, and 8 next week to the schedule!

The first week of June is amazing for the Eastern Sierra for so many reasons. Some snow remains on the Sierra Nevada (and possibly the White Mountains) to catch alpenglow, and there can be a fresh snowfall around the end of May to refresh that surface. Several species of wildflowers are starting to bloom, profusely in some areas.

This year the new moon and Milky Way shooting timing coincides with this week, and we have the possibility of a late spring storm from the northwest for interesting sunrises and sunsets, or warmer monsoon moisture from the Baja coast that could bring dramatic afternoon clouds, showers and rainbows, or evening thunderstorms.

I used to be nervous about the thunderstorms interfering with night photography, but I’ve learned through experience in Bodie and the surrounding area that convection-driven storms tend to break up or blow east by the time the sky is fully dark around 10/10:20, so they’re really just bonuses for sunset and twilight shooting, even when rain showers interfere locally for an hour or so (and even then they often give way to rainbows).

We’ll start with a sunrise on Thursday, pursue wildflowers and weather during the day, have an early dinner, and head back out for sunset at Mono Lake.
Entering the Earth's Shadow

We’ll pick from a number of spots for Milky Way shooting, and arrive by the time it’s fully dark at 10:07, when the galactic center of the Milky Way has already risen 6 degrees, perfect for placing it in our compositions.

Mono Lake Milky Way Panorama

Friday we’ll catch sunrise at Mono Lake before the weekend crowds arrive, shoot different wildflowers, maybe explore some interesting geology or head up to Tioga Pass if its open for snowier views. Another sunset spot, More night photography, and turn in not too late since most of us are continuing on to Bodie the following night, and Bodie interiors the following morning.

Storm Over Mono LakeWorkshops take me out of the field as I work on permits, itineraries, write descriptions, set up payment / registration buttons, and I perform a some kind of marketing to get them seen, if only a mention or two on social media. I’m not going for volume, and I personally lead all of my workshops, so they are designed to place you in a stunning place, in a peak season, as the exact best time.

Eastern Sierra Mules EarsI have to be efficient and pack as much opportunity as I can into my time in the field. Every day has the sun rising and setting. Some weeks have wildflowers. Fall colors may be peaking in a given location for only a few days to a week. The Milky Way is available during a few weeks of the year, a moon rise at sunset or moon set at sunrise about a dozen times each. So I am careful to hold my workshops in a prime season, and I then select the most likely peak days and times, including astronomical considerations.

Along Yosemite's Tioga Pass Road

Tioga Pass Road sunset reflection, May 2016

Plans are all well and good; I frequently plan something as simple as a sunset moon rise composition weeks in advance.  But landscape photography is about light, so if you’re on a workshop, you want a leader have enough depth in detailed regional knowledge to be ready to ditch all plans and react to the weather and light if there’s more potential 20 or 30 miles from where you are.  So leave the tourists behind who are stuck to their fixed agenda, and rather than a traveler who reacts to the weather and looks for a place to shoot it, you can travel with a local who knows the opportunities in every direction, and anticipates the conditions before you pick the next destination and hop in the car to arrive there just in time.

Sunset Rain Clouds Over Mono LakeEarly June in the Eastern Sierra offers an annual convergence of so many factors which could make photography conditions stunning.  Photography is more fun shared, so I can’t wait, and all the better that I get to share all of this bounty with old and new friends!

Spring is Coming to the High Sierra!

Most of the participants are returning customers, but we have room for one or two more if anyone’s interested!

Bodie's Standard Mill

Milky Way Arch Over Standard Mill

Connect with me in all of the usual places for photographers: Flickr, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Google+YouTube, 500px, Tumblr, or my Web site.

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More Photos from Death Valley in April

Natural Bridge

You may have noticed that I’m obsessed with death. Death Valley National Park, that is! I grew up in New England, just about as far from the desert as you can get in America, so in my current quest to explore the largest national park in the Lower 48 States, I must be making up for lost time.

Windy Day on Mesquite Flat DunesFortunately, currently living in the nearby Eastern Sierra region, I’m only 3-4 hours from a couple of park entrances, so I can indulge in my desert yearnings frequently. I usually visit once or twice in the Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day time period, then again in February and March as the wildflowers start to bloom. But as spring continues and Death Valley starts to really warm up, I like looking for storms and bouts of cooler weather, in case I can slip one or two more visits in before it gets too hot.

In April 2016 I could see a storm front approaching in the weather forecast. Daytime high temperatures would drop into the 80s.  I’m currently working on a detailed photographer’s travel guide to the park to be offered in the +SNAPP Guides app, so I threw my camera and camping gear into the car, and headed to the park with a list of the sites I wanted to explore or revisit next.

I hiked to a natural bridge, and enjoyed great views with sunlight streaming through clouds. I explored stone-walled buildings at an old mining town site, and found wildflowers thriving at higher elevations than on past visits this year.

I met a Subaru coming out the wrong way from Titus Canyon, apparently deciding that “high clearance” meant higher then they had. The worst part of the road is about halfway through the 24-mile loop, so drivers that wait that long have a lot of wrong-way driving to do. Sometimes they’re in a hurry to get out, so they come flying around blind turns!

On the edge of a canyon, two jets saw me with my camera, so they took two passes each direction up the canyon, turning and shooting up sharply right in front of me, so I was able to get some great shots. They were very fast, very close, and very loud!

In Salt Creek, the water was slightly higher than normal, so the pupfish were exploring down to the parking lot, feeding in the flooded margins before low water forced them back into their normal cramped habitat space. Normally they’re a little skittish, but their quest for food prevailed, so when I held my iPhone out over the water, one came over and posed for a portrait.

On one evening, I caught a sandstorm over Mesquite Flat Dunes, back-lit with golden sunlight by the setting sun.

On the way home, sunset light was lighting up rain showers at Mono Lake. It was an eventful and productive trip. I can’t wait to return!  In the meantime, I’ve uploaded the latest batch of photos to the Death Valley 2016 photo album on my +Death Valley Workshops page on Google+.

If you might like to join me in Death Valley sometime, my spring 2016 workshops are done for the season, but I can add a session in mid-December if there’s sufficient interest: Death Valley Photography Workshops.

Jellyfish Cloud
Sunset rain showers over Mono Lake

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Photograph Jets Close in Death Valley

High Speed Selfie
Water vapor condenses on the wing of an F-15C from the 144th Fighter Wing of the +Air National Guard in Fresno

I’ve encountered jets in this canyon in Death Valley by coincidence a few times over the years, so I mentioned them on page 130 of my “Photographing California – South” guidebook. But I’ve only recently sat around and waited for them to arrive. The first time, I showed up at 4:30 pm and waited for a couple of hours, and was skunked. I later talked to someone who had arrived at 3:30 pm, and saw three passes in 45 minutes before leaving at 4:15 pm.

The second time I waited from dawn, nothing happened until a single plane went through at 9:50 am. Nothing happened for another hour, then a pair of F-15C jets from the California +Air National Guard went through it in each direction, twice! They seemed to spot the camera on the first run, then on the next three runs the lead plane pulled up sharply right at my location partway down the canyon, to be pulling a lot of Gs and turning up out of the canyon sharply directly next to me. The pilot appears to be looking at the camera each time, and I can’t think of many reasons to end a run up the canyon early, in both directions, so it sure seemed like he was setting up selfies.

Having heard that photographers fly over from Europe to spend a week sitting all day waiting for the jets, and they report 7 to 9 per day, I had my 9 and figured that I had done well. For some reason, Mondays were considered to be less promising, so I might not see any more planes that day. I picked up my tripods and started moving towards the car, and more planes came! It was like that until I had to leave by noon. I’d throw the tripod over my shoulder and another jet would come.

A couple of guys from the adjacent campsite in the Stovepipe Wells campground the night before showed up and saw a jet go through. A few random people watched one go by from time to time. A busload of children on a field trip showed up, their wait was no more than 10 minutes, then a jet went by and they left. It sure seemed as if perhaps they came from a town nearby and had been able to coordinate with the pilot, perhaps a parent of one of the children?

Dropping Into the CanyonWhen these jets was turning the hardest, smoke-like trails formed behind the wingtips, and smoke-like misting formed on top of the wings as well. It turns out that this is water condensing, not uncommon when pulling the most Gs:

“Condensation of water vapor in wing tip vortices is most common on aircraft flying at high angles of attack, such as fighter aircraft in high g maneuvers, or airliners taking off and landing on humid days.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wingtip_vortices

Having been skunked on a prior visit then rewarded with a flurry of activity after a few hours of uneventful watching the second time, I can’t make generalizations yet about your odds of catching jets flying up canyons in Death Valley, but apparently if you are persistent enough, the jets may eventually come. That’s when you’ll find success, when preparation meets opportunity.

What Aircraft Use This Space?

The Panamint, Saline and Eureka Valleys in Death Valley National Park are part of the R-2508 Complex, jointly administered by the Edwards Air Force Base, China Lake Naval Air Weapons Station and Fort Irwin (Army). NASA Armstrong Flight Research Center (Named Dryden Flight Research Center until 2014) is located at Edwards AFB. The 144th Fighter Wing of the Air National Guard, based in Fresno, came through while I was waiting.  Apparently jets from Nellis Air Force Base in Nevada come over on exercises, and one of the jets that passed me had a UFO logo on its tail, so it might have been out of Groom Lake (Area 51) on Nellis. 

Although R-2508 stretches 140 miles north and south and 110 miles across, each dimension is only a few minutes across at 500 MPH.  So it’s not all that large from the perspective of the pilots using it, and sub-sections include bombing and artillery ranges, so pilots have to navigate around closed sections on any given day.  Nevertheless, it’s the largest overland Special Use Airspace (SUA) in the United States, so it’s a scarce and valuable resource for the armed services to have.

Why is the military using National Park airspace at all?  This has been a topic of discussion for some time, and in 1977 it was agreed that the jets would stay above 3000 feet over Sequoia, Kings Canyon National Parks and Death Valley, a national monument at the time. The areas the jets used for low level flying were mostly administered by the BLM, and were in use by the military before the Death Valley National Monument became a national park via the California Desert Protection Act on October 31, 1994. That was also when it was expanded from 2 million acres to 3.4 million acres, adding the valleys being used by military aircraft. 

Why Do Military Aircraft Fly Low?

An information sheet that I picked up at the Maturango Museum in Ridgecrest states: 

“Today,one way a military pilot can survive in combat is to fly as close as possible to the ground to avoid detection by enemy radar systems. This skill is developed by flying at very low elevations over a variety of terrain.”

“Not only do the pilots fly very low in combat, but also very fast.  This low and fast flying requires many hours of training time for pilots.  They must train in a gradual step-by-step process down to a minimum low level of flight to gain the confidence and experience needed and then regularly practice this skill to make second nature the necessary split-second decisions.”  

“In general, military flights can occur in the complex as low as 200 feet with several exceptions.”

A discussion of civilian use of the airspace appears here: Navigating “The Complex”.

F-18 Showing Off
Water vapor condenses at the wingtips and over the wings of an F-18 in a high-G turn

#Air National Guard

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Shell Creek Road Wildflowers

Shell Creek Road is a rural road running north – south
between CA – 58 and CA – 46, passing pastures and rolling hills that can feature wildflowers in late March through April. There are also agricultural fields which can have symmetric lines for photographs, as well as a large vineyard with both old and young vines. The old vines are probably the ones which yield the excellent the Shell Creek Vineyard reserve petite sirah produced by David Bruce Winery in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Shell Creek Road can be a convenient detour to take when approaching Carrizo Plain National Monument from the north, or departing Carrizo Plain in the direction of Paso Robles. The wildflowers are more concentrated towards the southern 6 miles or so.

Directions

From Paso Robles at US-101, take CA-46 east 15.6 miles and turn right onto CA-41 West Centre street.  Go 2.8 miles and turn right onto Toby Way.  After 0.3 miles on Toby Way turn right onto San Juan Road.  After 4.5 miles turn right onto Shell Creek Road.  You’ll be on Shell Creek Road 10.7 miles, ending at CA-58.

To continue to Carrizo Plain National Monument, travel east on CA-58 24.2 miles, turn right on Soda Lake Road and travel 13.7 miles.

There’s a creek at the north end of the road which can flow over the road after a heavy rain, and this can close the road. When I last visited, there was a car in the creek, just downstream of where it had washed off of the road. Don’t underestimate how deep the water is, or how little force it might take to push your vehicle off the road!

For more information on the area, I cover Shell Creek Road on page 177 of my “Photographing California Vol. 2 South” landscape photography guidebook.

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Wines to Taste at Hospice du Rhone, April 14 – 16

Rhone Ranger wines

Some of the wineries producing Rhone varietal wines in the United States

When exploring wines produced with various different grapes, it can take years of experimentation to sample enough wines with dinners to get a good feel for which wineries produce the style that you like, and what foods they go with best. Fortunately there’s an efficient, cost-effective way to find new favorite wines: wine tastings. I like to visit temperate regions and visit wineries while I travel, but there are many tastings in California where producers from all over the state, or all over the world, will come to you. The Hospice du Rhone (HdR) wine tasting event coming up this month in Paso Robles features top wineries from the United States, France and Australia.

Many wine lovers are familiar with syrah, one of over 20 wine varietals traditionally grown in the Rhone region of France. Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Viognier and the other Rhone varietals have done well in the New World as well, particularly in California, Washington and Australia. In Australia they call syrah “shiraz”, after a region in the Persian Empire that produced notable wines at the time, although those were apparently white wines, and not syrah. But I digress.

The first year that I attended the  HdR was 2001. Earlier that year I had toured the Australian island of Tasmania enjoying their pinot noir, then I flew to the shiraz-laden Barossa Valley and McLaren Vale wine regions near Adelaide. The Australians were enjoying the release of wines from their fantastic 1998 vintage, which was in a string of strong vintages. I was enjoying them too. Upon my return, I checked two cases of wine as luggage and packed more in my carry-on baggage, for a total of 39 bottles in all! Ah the days before airline restrictions on liquids. Then a couple of months after returning from Australia, I attended the Rhone Rangers tasting event in California, offering American-produced Rhone varietals, and I enjoyed many fine Rhone lineage wines there.

So I started 2001 with a great survey of Australian and American Rhone style wines, and Hospice du Rhone would be a great opportunity to add French wines to the mix, and try them all in one place. Let’s start with the American wines and wineries that I particularly enjoyed at the Rhone Rangers event. Although wines change from year to year, the best grapes are consistently grown in the best sites, and wineries and winemakers that have tuned their winemaking practices for those sites will consistently produce great wines year after year. So finding your favorite vineyards, winemakers and producers is a great first step. So among this year’s 239 wineries pouring at HdR, many of these producers will again be pouring great wines:

1998 Lewis Cellars Napa Valley Syrah 03/31/01 – Ripe nose, syrupy dark fruit, intense with ample tannins, a touch musty, long dusty finish with more dark fruit. 92

1999 Cedarville El Dorado County Estate Syrah $24.00 03/31/01 – Deceptively supple, fills the mouth with ripe soft berries and some vanilla. 91

1999 McCrea Cellars Yakima Valley Syrah 03/31/01 – Ripe and musty with minty plum and black fruit, intense acid and tannins, ripe on the finish. 91

1999 Truchard Vineyards Napa Valley Carneros Syrah 03/31/01 – Musty, concentrated, a little syrupy, intense on the finish. 91

1999 T-Vine Cellars Contra Costa County Syrah 03/31/01 – Ripe and very sweet,syrupy (American oak?), concentrated. A “no dump” wine. 91

1998 Joseph Phelps Vineyards Vin du Mistral Syrah 03/31/01 – Dry, deceptively well balanced, with a congue-tingling finish. Closed, masking ample intensity. Should be better in a few years. 91

1998 Justin MacGillivran Syrah 03/31/01 – (Barrel sample) Ripe, minty, fleshy, dark fruit, which carries into the finish. A “no dump” wine. 91

1998 McCrea Cellars Yakima Valley Cuvee Orleans Syrah 03/31/01 – Nice nose, plus ripe dark fruit, peppery, toasty, with ample tannins. 91

1997 Jade Mountain Napa Valley Paras Vineyard Syrah 03/31/01 – Supple with vanilla oak and coffee flavors. 91

1997 Swanson Vineyards Napa Valley Syrah 03/31/01 – Dry with dark fruit, oak, spices, herbs, nice acid balance. 91

1996 QupE’ Wine Cellars Santa Barbara County Hillside Select Syrah 03/31/01 – Supple with vanilla oak, skins, dark fruit, nice persistence. 91

1999 Beckman Vineyards Santa Barbara County Syrah 03/31/01 – Tannic, dusty, peppery. 90

1999 Cedarville El Dorado County Estate Grenache $20.00 03/31/01 – Medium to full body, plush texture, sweet black fruit, balanced with an acid-supported finish. 90

1999 Cedarville El Dorado County Zinfandel $22.00 03/31/01 – Fruity, slightly syrupy, vanilla. 90

1999 Lava Cap Syrah 03/31/01 – (Barrel sample) Syrupy berry, spices… blueberry pie. 90

1998 McCrea Cellars Yakima Valley Ciel du Cheval Syrah 03/31/01 – Supple, vanilla oak, toasty on the finish. 90

1997 Clos Mimi Paso Robles Shell Creek Vineyard Syrah 03/31/01 – Minty, fruity, with spices and vanilla oak on the finish. 90

1997 Seven Peaks Paso Robles Shiraz 03/31/01 – Ample body, dark fruit (blackberry), mint, plum, shuts down on the finish. 90

1995 Swanson Vineyards Napa Valley Syrah 03/31/01 – Dry, medium bodied, peppery with red and black fruits, some leather, nice intensity and acid. 90

My Background in Wine

But what qualifications did I have for attempting such a feat? I started enjoying Ridge Vineyards wine since the early 1980s: my mountain biking route took me past their tasting room. A friend of mine worked there. Ultimately they would be named one of the top 5 wineries in the world, so I was spoiled by quality from the start. As I worked in Silicon Valley’s high tech industry for a couple of decades, I had access to great wines and my budget enabled me to collect them. I started taking tasting notes in 1994. Given that my day job was selling servers to Netscape, Yahoo! and other startups, I set up a Web site and posted my notes there. That got me into the big wine tastings, often early as a wine trade journalist, before the crush of public made it a little more difficult to access the more popular tables and wines. Even just trying a wine each night with dinner would tune my palate with over 3500 wines in 10 years. But my friends and I got together for a “boys night out” every Wednesday night, and we quickly settled on blind tastings as the agenda, with the host selecting the theme each week. Add in a few trade tastings each year, and you start to develop an experienced palate, along with a pretty sizable database. Eventually I decided to be a wine broker for a few years, representing small wineries to wine shops and restaurants.

My taste in wine may not be identical to yours (the whole subject of reviews, ratings and rankings has been covered ad nauseum for decades elsewhere). But you can try wines and a producer or two that I’ve liked, and if we like similar styles, my experience may come in handy for you.

I both take notes on the flavors and characteristics of a wine, as well as assign a score on a 100-point scale, like the ones American consumers have become familiar with from Wine Spectator Magazine and Robert Parker’s newsletter, Wine Advocate. There’s a love-hate relationship with such systems in the industry as a score over 90 points can help sell a wine, and higher on the scale may mean bigger, bolder and more in-your-face, but that’s not what you want with every meal. There are many excellent balanced wines that score in the high 80 to 90 point range that might pair better with food. I think that many or most wine consumers have become educated enough to make educated choices, so there’s no particular need to shy away from putting a stake in the ground regarding where on such a scale a wine might fall.

Fortunately the Hospice du Rhone event provides one of those opportunities for you find what you like, and cut months or years off your search time, while you save many hundreds of dollars on the cost.

Maybe I’ll see you there!

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California Wildflower Sites: Antelope Valley

The Mojave Desert in April

Goldfields and California poppies mix with Joshua trees in Antelope Valley

One of my favorite photography road trips ever was a tour of California wildflower sites in the spring, including Antelope Valley and the California State Poppy Reserve, Carrizo Plain National Monument, Figueroa Mountain Recreation Area in the +Los Padres National Forest, and the area covered by the annual Ridgecrest Wildflower Festival in the Eastern Sierra. I posted on my blog at the time some of my favorite photos from the Antelope Valley, but I have a little more time now to take a second pass and show you more of what I saw.

I’m considering taking that route again this year, so reviewing past trips and refreshing my memory on what to stop in on and check can be productive. I’ve also looked up the wildflower report at the California State Poppy Reserve, which posted this update on Saturday, April 2:

“The season appears to have ended early, as last month’s rains came too late to sustain the bloom that had barely started. The fields are mostly grasses now; only a handful of poppies are blooming alongside the trails. The beavertail cactus in front of the visitor center is blooming, which usually happens after the season has ended- a sign that an early summer is on the way.”

An early start to summer should not be entirely unexpected, given the record El Nino heat in the Pacific Ocean driving our weather pattern in recent months. It’s a shame though that it didn’t bring enough rain at the right time to deliver a bumper crop of wildflowers in the Antelope Valley. The Antelope Valley is large though, and there may be dispersed pockets where enough rain fell, perhaps with a northern exposure to minimize drying during the gap in winter storms in February. Much of the area is in the Mojave Desert ecosystem, where Joshua trees serve as gerat subjects, with or without wildflowers.

In any case, many other areas of Southern California desert are blooming with normal to above normal intensity, so if I decide to take the trip, the conditions in the Antelope Valley won’t make or break the outcome.

So while I have my photos handy, here are a few more photos from the Antelope Valley area on that prior trip, and I’ll sprinkle a few across my various social media accounts as well.

The Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve often starts its wildflower reports in mid-March to keep visitors updated on the conditions as they peak at some point through April. The area celebrates the annual bloom at the California Poppy Festival.  This year the 25th California Poppy Festival will be held April 16-17, 2016.

For more information, I cover the Antelope Valley California State Poppy Reserve and other sites to visit on an April California wildflower tour on page 184 of my new 320-page guidebook, Photographing California Vol. 2 – South (shown to the right).

Road to Nowhere

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Figueroa Mountain Wildflowers Are Blooming Now

Los Padres National Forest, Los Olivos

Along Figueroa Mountain Road (April 6, 2011)

If you missed the Death Valley “super bloom”, don’t worry, many other areas in the state bloom next. Along California’s Central Coast, Figueroa Mountain can be a great place to see wildflowers in April. Figueroa Mountain Recreation Area is located north of Santa Barbara, above the Santa Ynez Valley and the town of Los Olivos. Helen Tarbet of the Los Padres National Forest sent out her first Figueroa Mountain wildflower update of 2016 to email subscribers on March 22, which she has graciously given me permission to include below. If you want to receive her future updates, contact her at the email address at the end of her report. I’m including photos from my past visits to illustrate some of the wildflowers you might see.

Los Padres National Forest
Figueroa Mountain Wildflower Update – First Update of the 2016 Season
March 22, 2016

Greetings and happy spring! Welcome to the 2016 wildflower season! Unlike the past few drought stricken years, the wildflowers started blooming later, which is normal for them on a year where they have received sufficient rain. Once they started blooming, they are certainly going strong. Let’s start our update, shall we?

UntitledStarting at the first cattle guard, buttercups, milk maids, blue dicks, fiesta flowers, fiddlenecks, Johnny jump-ups and popcorn flowers are actively in bloom. Chinese houses and hummingbird sage are just now getting started. As one makes the turn along the second bend, on the left, a few small pink owl’s clovers can be seen among the tall grass. Along the rock formation on the right, look for blue dicks and about twenty yards further, still on the right, one will find some shooting stars, starting to go to seed, along with, Johnny jump-ups, fiddlenecks and lomatium. Another 25 yards down the road will bring you to a slope on the left where some miniature lupine, sky lupine and buttercups are beginning to bloom. As one continues under the tree canopy, one will find sky lupine, Johnny jump-ups, fillaree, buttercups, lomatium, popcorn flowers, fiesta flowers and blue dicks showing off their lovely hues of yellows and purples.

Grass MountainAs you continue up the hill, California poppies are blooming throughout the mountain. In fact, look to your left and see the stunning orange patch work on Grass Mountain. Grass Mountain has not put on such a show in quite a few years. Right before you get to the rusty gate, look on the ground to the right and find tiny cream cups in bloom, along with some fillaree.

Other wildflowers to look for as you continue your uphill climb include, buttercups, goldfields, coreopsis, shooting stars, ceanothus, California poppies, Mexican elderberry, blue dicks, fillaree, royal lupine, lomatium, fiddlenecks, beautiful pink prickly phlox on the serpentine rock formation on the right and lovely orange wall flowers just beyond that. Also, you will see strikingly beautiful Catalina mariposa lilies in the open grassy fields and wild canyon peas in some shaded areas.

Chocolate LilyAt Vista Point (large gravel turnout about 11.4 miles from the bottom), exquisite chocolate lilies are in bloom, be careful not to step on them, as they are not that tall this year and the grass tends to cover them. Also look for shooting stars, goldfields and fillaree. In the serpentine area across the road, you’ll see California poppies, buttercups, blue dicks, goldfields, coreopsis, popcorn flowers, lomatium, globe gillias and golden yarrow.

In the field to the right, before Tunnell Ranch Road, look for shooting stars, bush lupine, sky lupine, buttercups, lomatium, blue dicks, and lovely wallflowers.

More PoppiesAbout a quarter mile beyond, on the infamous poppy hillside, magnificent California poppies are showing off. It doesn’t look as though they are peaking yet, as there is still quite a bit of new growth and a multitude of buds that have yet to open. While the fabulous, deep orange is breathtaking, the entire hillside is not covered as in years past. It is still gorgeous and very worth visiting, be prepared to see a number of bare areas. The bush lupine, on the other hand, are absolutely incredible this year. Their sweet, lovely aroma fills the air as these beauties are found in great abundance throughout this entire area. Phacaelia is also in bloom here. Sky lupine are blooming as well, however, there are few in comparison to other years.

Lupine and PoppiesAs we continue on Figueroa Mountain Road, between Figueroa campground and the Davy Brown trailhead, look on the right and find California poppies, bush lupine, fiddlenecks, sky lupine, globe gillias, phacaelia, and popcorn. Beyond the Davy Brown trailhead, look for lovely displays of shooting stars, ceanothus, lomatium, fillaree, California poppies and buttercups. Just a little ways further, where you see a big dirt turnout on the left, look in the adjacent field and discover a multitude of beautiful chocolate lilies.

Just as you pass the gate going up to Ranger Peak, look to your right and see whimsical baby blue eyes peeking through the lush green grass. From Ranger Peak to Cachuma Saddle, bush poppies and bush lupine are splendidly abundant. Other flowers to look for within this stretch include, California poppies, phacaelia, red Indian paintbrush, sticky leaf monkey flowers, purple nightshade, ceanothus, fiddleneck, golden yarrow, clematis, globe gillias, wild canyon peas, wild cucumber and Mexican elderberry. Approximately halfway through this stretch, on the far right, notice a very impressive hillside carpeted in beautiful California poppies.

Woodpeckers in SpringSunset Valley is really starting to put on a show! Bush poppies and prickly phlox are certainly beginning to make their presence known throughout this area. Other beauties to look for include, the smaller yellow/orange variety of California poppies, popcorn flowers, Nuttles Larkspur, scarlet buglers, wild canyon peas, milk thistle, chia, Mexican elderberry, purple nightshade, morning glories, blue dicks, miners lettuce, golden yarrow, globe gillias, phacaelias, blue dicks Chinese houses, clematis, wild canyon peas and fillaree. If you look high on the hillsides, along Sunset Valley, heading towards, Davy Brown and Nira, look at the gorgeous patches of yellow, courtesy of the small yellow variety of California poppies.

Happy Canyon is also beautiful. As one turns onto Happy Canyon, look for yellow California poppies, purple nightshade, wild canyon peas, golden yarrow, clematis, wild cucumber, bush poppies, royal lupine, blue dicks, vetch, morning glories, bush lupine, fiesta flowers, prickly phlox, blue dicks, fiddleneck, bush poppies, coreopsis and charming Catalina mariposa lilies. Continuing down the hill, prickly phlox, lomatium, mustard, cactus flowers, morning glories, Mexican elderberry, Johnny jump-ups, popcorn flowers and fillaree can also be seen along with some royal lupine, bush lupine and bush poppies.

That’s all for this update. Look for our next wildflower update in two weeks. Until then, happy viewing! For more information, please contact Helen Tarbet by e-mail at htarbet@fs.fed.us.

Directions

Here’s my description of Figueroa Mountain Road Recreation Area on page 218 of my “Photographing California – South” guidebook, illustrated with a few extra photos:

Figueroa Mountain Recreation Area, Los Padres National Forest

Home to an annual wildflower bloom each spring, Figueroa Mountain provides a variety of species at various elevations, diversifying your opportunities and extending the wildflower season. The U.S. Forest Service often provides updates on the timing and progress of the wildflowers as they emerge in the February through April time frame, so if you have the opportunity, check their Web site for current conditions.

Photo advice: A selection of lenses will help you capture a variety of perspectives on the flowers. California poppies are one of the most common species of wildflower here, and they don’t open until they have warmed
up in the sun, so it’s not necessary to rush up here for sunrise.

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Getting there: From US-101 take CA-154 East, San Marcos Pass
Road, 3.0 miles, turn left on Figueroa Mountain Road.

This is a narrow mountain road and your drive on it may take you 15 miles or more and increase in elevation 3000 feet. It is not recommended for large vehicles or trailers.

Time required: You’ll probably need 2 – 3 hours or more to
navigate the road and have some time for photography.
Nearby location: Also in the spring, the oak-laden hills and pastures in the first mile or two of Figueroa Mountain Road may offer wildflowers such as wild mustard.
Santa Ynez Valley, California Central Coast

Lower Figueroa Mountain Road, Los Olivos

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Death Valley Wildflower Workshop This Week

Ashford Mill to Jubilee Pass
With modest enrollment, the participants have elected to make this a camping-based trip, so we can stay closer to where we want to shoot, and pursue night shots as well.  We’ll also have the flexibility to follow the latest wildflower reports, the unfolding weather, and the discoveries we make along the way.  

Desert Gold February 2016This is probably the best wildflower season in the last decade, with the added bonus of water on Badwater salt flats (as of a couple of days ago) for sunrise reflections.  I just passed through the park 2 weeks ago and I’ve been following updated wildflower reports, so I have a good idea from those and from past years where to go.

When we get tired of wildflowers and Badwater reflections, if that’s possible, they want me to show them a slot canyon and sand dunes that most park visitors don’t visit or see.  We’ll pursue a little night photography as well, and I have some good ideas on what we might want to do for that.
Temporary Inland Sea

This Spring in Death Valley album shows approximately what we might cover this week, with the most relevant being the first 50-60, up to the red fire truck and red Fiat: https://plus.google.com/photos/107459220492917008623/albums/5831194499079947137

Dune Lines

Although we’ll be camping, we’ll often be only 30 to 60 minuted from Furnace Creek or Shoshone to access a meal or shower.  We’ll have camp stoves for some meals and I’ll bring wood, steaks, etc. and cook over a fire Tuesday or Wednesday night.

It’s going to be a fun week!
http://www.jeffsullivanphotography.com/blog/death-valley-photography-workshop-2013/

Revisting an Old Friend

Desert Gold and Sand Verbena

Milky Way over Devil's Cornfield

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Top 10 Travel Photos: 2014

Milky Way rising behind the Standard Mill in Bodie, California

Continuing the retrospective look at my last decade of travel and landscape photography, 2006 – 2015, here are some of my favorites from 2014.

Sierra Crest Sunset Layers
The Minarets and Sierra Nevada at sunset
Snowy Day at Mono Lake
Mono Lake tufa rock formations selectively lit by the sun
Bodie Sunset Re-edit with HDR
Sunset in Bodie State Historic Park, California
SUCCESS!
NASA’s Orion EFT-1 launch at Kennedy Space Center, Florida
Sunrise Yesterday Morning
There’s no place like home.  A rock sheep enclosure at sunrise, Topaz Lake (on the California/Nevada border).
Revisting an Old Friend
One of the Death Valley slot canyons disclosed in my “Photographing California – South” guidebook
Partially Eclipsed Moon Setting, October 8, 2014
Moon setting over the Sierra Nevada, while emerging from the earth’s shadow during a lunar eclipse!
Wild Mustangs
Wild mustangs in the Eastern Sierra

Bristlecone Pine
Playing with depth of field in the Ancient Bristlecone Pine Forest (iPhone 5S)

This was a selection of a few of my favorites from an album of over 45 photos from 2013, so there are many more that you might prefer over these. To see more of them, click on the link or album photo below.

More of my favorite photos from 2014:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/jeffreysullivan/albums/72157650285822751

2014 Favorites
#landscapephotography #travelphotography #photography #top10

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