Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Giant Moon & Other Phenomena!

I never quite finished my post about the Mystery Cabins hike that I posted a couple weeks ago. I got you out to the cabins and showed you around, but didn't bring you back! The hike back was productive from a photography point of view. The sun was setting and late afternoon/early evening is my favorite time for desert photography. 

Hiking around Joshua Tree, you sometimes feel like you've stepped back in time... perhaps to the Jurassic period when dinosaurs roamed the earth. Or even like you've left planet Earth altogether and are seeing the landscape on another planet! Sounds crazy, but you have to trust me on this one. With that in mind, I also had some fun in Photoshop editing these photos, adding giant moons and "other-worldly" edits. Hope you like them!


A stately old Joshua Tree. Not sure why this one is so much bigger than all his friends in the area, but he was calling to me to take his picture! He might be one of those 800 year old Joshua Trees they've documented in the Park!

Impossibly large moon... what planet am I on??



 You gotta love these old dusty desert roads! This one appeared not to have been walked on or driven on in quite some time. There were a lot of animal tracks, however.


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Thursday, August 24, 2017

Kidney Bean Eclipse

I debated posting these photos. I had no intention of trying to photograph Monday's eclipse, so was totally unprepared. I'm in S. CA, which is nowhere near the "zone of totality". Heck, I don't even own any of those funny looking eclipse glasses! But watching the news and live broadcasts from various "zone" locations, I really got caught up in all the excitement.

Going outside, I noticed the light looked "different". Not really darker, but somehow different. I couldn't resist grabbing my camera. I have a 10x neutral density filter that fits my wide angle lens. A 10x ND filter is just a really dark piece of glass and I figured it would protect my camera's sensor from burnout (I've since read the ND filters are NOT dark enough and not recommended for photographing the eclipse. Camera still seems to be working fine, so guess I dodged a bullet!!). Anyway, I put the focus setting on manual, focused to infinity, set the ISO on 100, and just held the camera in front of my face to avoid looking directly at the sun and started clicking.

These are heavily cropped. Kind of underwhelming shots, but it allowed me to see what was going on with the eclipse without looking directly at the sun.

May be one explanation for the different-looking light were the strange shadows. In certain areas, the shadows seemed to be shaped like little eclipses. The shot above shows these funny looking shadows on the cement on my backyard patio. Did anyone else notice eclipse shadows?

The thought struck me to see if the ND filter would fit my telephoto lens. I was almost positive it would not fit, which turned out to be the case. So I used some blue painter's tape to tape the ND filter to the front of my 100-400mm tele zoom lense. An act of desperation to be sure! Then I used the same approach (manual focus set to infinity, aim the camera towards the sun without looking in the viewfinder, and start clicking away!).
400mm, ISO 100, F5.6, 1/500 sec, 10:40 AM
The resulting photos were... strange. I ended up with a nice, sharp image of the solar eclipse. But for some reason, the thin, tapering edges of the eclipse are blurred, and I ended up with a photo that looks like a kidney bean! I have no idea why.

I'm really looking forward to Skywatch Friday posts this week. It will be fun to compare what people were able to capture! And very curious to see if anyone else ended up with kidney beans!!

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Thursday, August 17, 2017

Another Desert Adventure

Pull up a chair and get comfortable. Going to be a fairly long post. I'm calling this one "Mystery Cabins Hike". While perusing Google Maps, I noticed what looked like a couple old desert cabins in Joshua Tree National Park. There's a dirt road coming in from the north, but it's a long, dusty dirt road and you can't tell if it's even open to vehicle travel. Of more interest is the fact that the cabins are only located about 1.5 miles west of the main road near Cap Rock, so a relatively easy cross-country desert hike. As I looked closer on Google Maps, I could see a very faint "jeep" trail, that occasionally disappeared and then restarted. I knew it would be hard to follow on the ground, so I was careful to mark waypoints on my phone so as not to get turned around.
Google Maps satellite view of the "mystery cabins"
I knew ahead of time this hike was a long shot. It's very likely that these cabins are private property/privately owned and fenced off with No Trespassing signs posted. There are (surprisingly) a few areas in the park that are still privately owned by individuals or families that had property here long before the area was designated "national park" and refused to give it up. At any rate, it would only be 3 miles round trip to see these cabins and hopefully solve the mystery!

The first thing I noticed was a fair number of dead Joshua Trees. There must have been a fire that come through this area a number of years ago. This poor fellow seems to have collapsed about waist high!


Much more common to see the skeletal remains lying on the ground. In the dry, desert air, who knows how long it would take a Joshua Tree "skeleton" to decompose? I'm guessing a very long time. Which reminds me, I was reading that some of the largest Joshua trees in the Park are 800 - 900 years old! Pretty amazing.


This guy died but is still standing. Oh, and I was right. Very hard to follow the jeep trail that I spotted on Google Maps. I ended up just making my own path, checking my waypoints, and trying to avoid thorns and stickers (pretty much impossible).


Another "fallen soldier"... this one in black & white. He looked liked he was a big boy in his prime. May be at least a few hundred years old??

Ah ha, you see it?? After about a mile or so, this is the view you will see. Look closely and you can just make out a cabin in the middle of the photo at the base of the hill. Based on Google Maps, there should be a second cabin around here somewhere. So far, no fences or signs anywhere.

Hiking west, here is the first cabin you will come across. A bit of a disappointment. I was hoping to see an old homestead in something close to original condition. Instead I found a house that was being totally rebuilt from the ground up with cinderblock walls and a big front deck being added.


Here's the view looking directly at the front of cabin #1. That's going to be a nice deck with a killer view when it's done! I can only wonder what the original cabin looked like, who built it, when was it built, and what was it used for?

Above is just a small piece of the view from the front deck. Pretty nice, right? Nobody around for miles.

Here's mystery cabin #2. It's a couple hundred yards west of mystery cabin #1. Like cabin #1, it's in the process of being totally rebuilt, and much further along in the process. Hard to say what the original construction looked like, but it appears someone is putting stone over concrete block. When completed, it will look like an old stone cabin. The windows and doors are covered by heavy steel shutters big locks. Built like Fort Knox for some reason, and unfortunately, no place to peek inside to see what it looks like.

This side of the cabin is facing south (toward the hills). Look closely and you can kind of see how the stonework is being cemented to concrete block.

Closer view of front of mystery cabin #2


Lot's of old debris on the west side of mystery cabin #2. It appears the cabin has been "gutted", with no plans to reuse the original materials. Which is too bad. Makes me wonder about the history of these cabins, and wouldn't it be worth the extra effort to preserve them in their original condition?

Old desert outhouse locate behind cabin #2. Too bad they didn't cut out some windows so you could enjoy the view!

Not too far from the cabin and the outhouse is the shower. You can forget about modesty here, but no one around for miles, so it probably doesn't matter! I didn't see any signs of a well in the area, so not sure what the water source was (or is) for these cabins. Probably a well somewhere... I just missed it.

Hiking up the hill a little ways provides a nice view of the cabins and the beautiful little valley they sit in. It's one of the prettier areas in the Park.



A few days after completing this hike I reached out to David Denslow, Lead Park Ranger, JTNP. He's a good guy and always quick to respond to my emails. I asked him if he was familiar with the "mystery" cabins, if they are private property, and who is doing the work to rebuild the cabins? He responded that yes, definitely private property, and the Park Service is in the process of researching and writing the history of these structures as part of the "Homesteads & Inholdings Historic Resources" study being conducted by a PhD candidate at UC Riverside.

It's good to know that the history of the cabins is being studied and hopefully recovered and will be shared with the public. However, this experience did raise a bunch of questions in my mind. I'm sure it's the Park Service doing (or at least supervising) the rebuilding of these cabins. In the spirit of "national parks aren't owned by anyone, they are owned by everyone", should the public have input (or did they have input) into how these cabins are being restored? How about input into how they will be used in the future? Will they be restricted for use only by Park employees, or will they be open to the general public? What is the mechanism for general public Park users to have input into these important decisions?

Running out of time, so join me next time for some photos from my return hike back to my car from the "mystery cabins". Thanks for dropping by!!

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Thursday, August 10, 2017

Competing Priorities

Late afternoon/early evening moonrises are kind of special occurrences. That's especially true when the moon is full. Not sure how many times that happens each year, but probably not very often. Last Sunday (8/6/17) the full moon was scheduled to rise at about 7:15 PM in the east (111 degrees to be exact). That's late enough in the day that the moon should be visible in the sky, but still enough light around to make the landscape visible. The photo below was actually taken on Saturday (not-quite-full moon). I like the way the moon appears to be balanced between the telephone wires.

On Sunday after dinner, we jumped in the car and headed out to Joshua Tree National Park to watch the moon rise and hopefully get some decent photos.
 The moon makes its first appearance. Sunday, 7:20 PM, single exposure shot.

Different angle and zooming in...

Zooming in even more. I like the Joshua Tree silhouette. It was after this shot that I looked west to check out the sunset.

Queen Valley Road, Joshua Tree National Park
Safe to say I was struggling with competing priorities... a big full moon rising in the east and a beautiful sunset developing in the west!!



As the sun set behind the hills, the entire sky went pink...

And then orange. The moon put on a good show, but I think the sunset won the majority of my attention!!
 
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Thursday, August 3, 2017

Congratulations to JTNP!!

What's the best place to take Skywatch Friday photos? Well, I know I will get a lot of argument with this one, but I think Joshua Tree National Park should be in the top ten. That's because Joshua Tree National Park, which harbors some of the darkest night skies in the US, has just been certified as the 10th International "Dark Sky" Park in the US national park system. Others include Death Valley, Big Bend and Grand Canyon. In case you were wondering, there are 58 national parks in the US, so only about 1 in 6 have the "dark sky" designation.

Turns out there are a total of 83 locations worldwide that have won the coveted designation, including Warrumbungle National Park in Australia, Yeongyang Firefly Eco Park in South Korea and Zselic National Landscape Protection Area in Hungary. No other Dark Sky spot on Earth, however, is a mere 140 miles from a huge metropolis where stars were washed out long ago by mega-wattage lights flooding the night sky from airports, malls, billboards, theme parks, etc., etc. (Los Angeles). Quoting one park ranger, "The Milky Way is only a two-hour drive away by car!"

Heck, we all knew JTNP has great night sky photography. I guess now it's official!! I'm just lucky and fortunate to live so close to this area. With that in mind, I went through the archives to select some night sky shots taken in JTNP suitable for sharing.
Early evening on Park Blvd. under starry skies. Summer evenings generally see little traffic.
Cholla Cactus Garden off Pinto Basin Road. Although it looks like sunset, I think that's a moonrise shot.
Even moon shots look a little sharper when taken in the Park!
Star trails using a fisheye lens (taken just outside the Park). 29 Palms in the background.
Beautiful early evening sky near Keys View Road.
Milky Way framed between two Joshua Trees.
Just another gorgeous Joshua Tree sunset!
"First Stars", Geology Tour Road, with Malapai Hill in the background.

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