Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Lilly at the Beach

My granddaughter joined her cousin Zoe for an overnighter at Crystal Cove State Park, CA, a few weeks ago. The b&w shot below is one of my favorite recent photos of Lilly.

Photo credit E. Parra

Photo credit E. Parra

Photo credit E. Parra
Night night!!

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Walking Around Suburbia

I went out for a walk yesterday in the Orange County suburb where I live. For the most part, I like where I live. Nice neighbors, great weather, clean, convenient. But kind of boring. All the houses were built by the same builder at the same time. They all have a similar look and feel, same or similar floor plans, similar yards. Not a lot of individual personality or creativity. Just about the opposite of what we see when we spend time in the desert. I guess that's the downside of housing tracts, but I digress...
Google Earth view of a local neighborhood suburb
Taking pics was about the last thing on my mind as I started my walk, but then I noticed how beautiful the skies were. By the time I finished my walk, I must have taken about 25 photos on my iPhone. Kind of a fun change from my usual desert photography! I used Topaz Simplify to edit some of these shots.


These contrails remind me of power lines!

Neighborhood park.

There is a good view from this spot, hence the viewing scope (or UFO finder?)

Suburban homes end here. Cross the bridge and you are in a shopping center.

Couldn't resist including this shot, converted to b&w. The clouds seem to go on forever!

Everyone's gardens seem to be in bloom right now!!
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Thursday, April 13, 2017

High Desert Skies

The view west, at sunset, from 29 Palms towards the village of Joshua Tree and Yucca Valley in the high desert of Southern California. Funny, I thought the sunset on this particular night was going to be dull, and then as if just to prove me wrong, the sky suddenly added color and the clouds became more dramatic. I find it hard to predict what the desert sky will do!!

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Thursday, April 6, 2017

"Surprise" Tank

So, I left you hanging last week by mentioning "Surprise Tank" but making you wait until this week to see photos. Inexcusable!! First, a little background. Elliot over at is where I first heard about Surprise Tank. As a matter of fact, I think Elliot came up with the Surprise Tank name. Unlike a lot of other tanks in JTNP (Barker Dam, Twin Tanks, White Tank, etc.), Elliot was unable to find any information on this particular tank and even a couple of the park rangers he spoke with were unfamiliar with it. He had to call it something, right? Only time will tell if the "Surprise Tank" name sticks.

After our recent CA rains of a month ago, I had been anxious to see what Surprise Tank looked like. If you read last week's post, you will recall this was my second hike to the area. During my first hike, I didn't make it to Surprise Tank. But had I made it, there likely would have been a lot of water behind the dam. As it turns out, when I finally got there about a week ago, it wasn't much more than a mud puddle. But I'm getting ahead of myself...

I think most people get to this area by parking where the CA Riding Trail intersects Geology Tour Road, and hike S/SW, which eventually takes you to the front of Surprise Tank. I chose to continue further south on Geology Tour Road before parking, and then head directly west to the rocks. This requires off-trail hiking and a bit of rock scrambling and you eventually end up behind Surprise Tank. It's a fun hike and you pass through some very photogenic rock formations!
"Window Rock" #1
"Window Rock" #2
"Weird Rock" (as you can tell, I'm running low on creative rock names!)

No shortage or rock formations in this area!!

Just before reaching Surprise Tank, I found this water hole. I wonder if it's natural, or perhaps some animal dug it as a convenient source of water? Either way, lots of critter footprints all around it, and I even noticed some bighorn sheep droppings in the area.

Surprise Tank!! Bigger than a mud puddle, but not by much! Still, a beautiful area and fun to see a little water in the desert.

A nice side view of the dam. It actually goes straight for some distance, then makes a sharp turn around some rocks. 

The height of the dam is low, perhaps a maximum of 6-8' measured from the back. Below is what it looks like after a good rain or two.
Photo credit Elliot Koeppel at
Pretty cool, don't you think? I'm sure I'll be coming back to this location, perhaps next year after the rains.

I'll leave you with a Joshua Tree picture. I never get tired of these guys... all are unique, no two are the same! I tried to grunge it up a bit to give it that "old west" look!
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Thursday, March 30, 2017

Looking for Pottery Sherds

So I was out hiking with my wife and granddaughter a few weeks ago looking for something called "Surprise Tank" in Joshua Tree National Park. We never quite made it to the Tank (an area where water pools after rains, often used by Native Americans, and later dammed up by the early ranchers in the area), although I did get a glimpse of it from a distance. However, while exploring the area, I ran across some old pottery sherds during my hike. They were terra-cotta in color, thin-walled, and it looked like a pot had been dropped and shattered into pieces. Who knows if that's what actually happened, but that's how it appeared. I'm still kicking myself today because I was in a hurry and didn't mark the location on my GPS app. I mentioned it to my friend Pat, who was very interested, and I promised to go look for it next time I was in the area.

Fast forward to last Sunday. During a return hike to the area, I thoroughly crisscrossed the hiking route from my previous trip but was unable to find the pottery sherds (dang!!!!). However, all is not lost. It's a beautiful area with blue-blue skies and I took a lot of photos (a few of which I'm sharing below). I also made it to Surprise Tank (topic for next week's post). So without further ado...

The Joshua Tree above seems to be telling me which direction to go!
Once you reach the rocks, there are a lot of "desert nolina", most of which were flowering. To my eye, the nolina can be easily confused with the mojave yucca, but yuccas have leaves that are much more rigid and pointy and do more damage if you step into one!
 Question mark nolina! Native Americans roasted and ate the flowering stalks, and the leaves were commonly used to weave baskets.

Alien life form?? The flower on this nolina appears to be just ready for blast off!

Climbing up on the rocks, I had a nice view of this little valley on the opposite side that's pretty much surrounded by rocks. I think that's Ryan Mountain in the background. I spotted that little depression in the top of the rock (center-left) and wondered if it might be a mortar. But no, an impractical location that is too difficult to get to. Must just be a natural depression in the rock that weathered that way over the millennia.

California juniper. The light blue berries are very distinct and contrast nicely with the green plant.

I discovered this little cave-like area between two huge rocks. It felt a little like a miniature slot canyon, and it looked like years and years of water erosion had created it. It was just big enough to climb through!

I only spotted this little guy because he moved. A great example of cryptic coloration, I think he's a Blainville's Horned Lizard. I've never seen one like him before, and I think they are rare in Joshua Tree.

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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

California Dreamin'

When I took my granddaughter to the tidepools a couple months ago, I took some photos at the top of the hill above Little Corona beach just as the sun was setting behind Catalina Island. It made me wonder... what would it be like to live in one of these beachfront homes? To be able to watch the sun set behind Catalina Island and drop into the Pacific Ocean every night? Wow, imagine the contributions I could make to Skywatch Friday! I wonder who lives in these incredible, and incredibly expensive, homes, what do they do, what's their story?? Do they even like photography?? Well, it's amazing (and downright scary) what you can find on the internet these days. A quick look on this little 3-bedroom house on the right in the photo below last sold on 6/12/2015 for a cool $18,783,500. But with the price of real estate in Orange County going up quickly, the current "Zestimate" value is $20,864,000. The owners should be pleased. The value of their home has increased over two million dollars in less than two years! Dang, if I don't act fast, it's going to be out of my price range!!

OK, sorry for my sarcasm. Or maybe not. And to be honest, I did downplay the home just a bit. True, it's just 3 bedrooms, but it's 7 bathrooms and 7,117 square feet. That's a big house. Not sure that I would have any use for 7 bathrooms, however. That's a lot of toilets to scrub. But I guess if I could afford a $20 million home, I probably wouldn't be the one doing the scrubbing.
Another shot of the view from my "dream house"!
This is the rocky beach directly below the $20 million house. I wonder if there is some secret passage to get down to the beach? Maybe even an elevator??

There was a photographer and model taking advantage of the natural beauty of the area. Yet something else I could watch from the deck of my $20 million home! Like I said, California dreamin!!

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Thursday, March 16, 2017

Serendipitous Moon Shots!

I had no plans to take moon photos. That is, until my 4 year old granddaughter said "look at the moon, Grandpa!". Sure enough, a big full moon, yellow in color, was just cresting the horizon. Beautiful! Some wispy clouds added to the beauty. I grabbed my camera, put on the telephoto lens, and took a couple handheld shots (my tripod was out in the car and I was in too much of a hurry to go get it). When the moon is on the horizon, it's not nearly as bright as when it's higher in the sky, and handheld shots generally look pretty bad. Here, I'll show you what I mean:
Not a great shot, but interesting how a moon on the horizon appears yellow and "squashed"!

About 20 minutes later I walked outside the house to see what the moon was doing and I could hardly believe it. There was a jet flying directly in front of the moon and leaving a contrail that looked like it was slicing the moon in half!! I could actually see the jet plane silhouetted against the upper edge of the moon, but it was moving fast, and gone by the time I captured this photo. Dang!! Oh well, a fun shot anyway.
"Bayer Aspirin Moon"
A moment later, the contrail was already starting to disappear.
  The next morning, my wife came in the house after walking the dog and said "you should really go out and take a pic of that moonset!". Wow, serendipity again!! She was right, the moon was just getting ready to set behind the hills. A few minutes later and I would have totally missed the shot!

I think it's cool how the moon appears to be rolling down the bumpy boulders! Look out below!!

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