Thursday, December 5, 2019

Is That Sky Real or Fake??

Well, it's finally happened. The technology and algorithms and artificial intelligence (AI) have gotten so good that, with the click of a mouse, you can turn a blah sky into a fantastic and vibrant sky. In the "old days" you could swap out skies in Photoshop, but it took lots of time and lots of practice to get it right. And if the background was busy with trees or other detail, it was darn near impossible. Not anymore!
Here's a photo from my last post. Granddaughter Lilly standing on a large flat boulder. The sky is kind of plain.

Same photo with a fake sky added, courtesy of a program called Luminar 4 and it's "AI Sky Replacement" function. The program comes with about 30 skies to choose from, or you can use your own sky photos. Can you tell the sky is fake? It looks pretty good to me. The program also has something called "Relight Scene", which tries to correct the lighting in the photo based on the sky chosen. That's a slider, not a mouse click, but still super easy. Here, it removes the blue cast and warms up the color to match the yellow in the sky.

Another example. Took this photo using my cell phone on a walk yesterday. This is a nice vantage point and makes for a good photo if the sky is dramatic. Yesterday it was pretty boring. No problem, let's just add a dramatic sky.

There we go, lots of drama. May be too much, as it looks a little fake to me, but quite beautiful. If I hadn't told you, would you have guessed this to be a fake sky?

How about this one? Another photo from yesterday's walk. Not a bad photo as is, with nice tree silhouettes. It would be IMPOSSIBLY HARD to replace the background sky in Photoshop. Let's see what Luminar 4 can do with it.

Wow, impressive! All the sky detail is filled in perfectly between the multitude of branches and leaves. Ya, good luck doing this manually in Photoshop.

One last example, just because it was the last photo from my walk. I like the sky as is, but just for kicks, let's see what Luminar 4 does with this one.

That's a big change. I like the golden light, and the more intense light on the ginko tree leaves. Not sure I like it better than the original, but certainly a different look!

So, is this a good thing? I must admit, it has me worried. Is it getting too easy to take the "perfect picture"? If your sky is boring, you change it to something else with a click of the mouse. Don't worry if your exposure is off, the AI algorithms will take care of that too! Lighten up the shadows, fix the over-exposed areas, etc. And how will we know if we are looking at an actual photo, or just something concocted by a sophisticated program?

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Thursday, November 28, 2019

Return to Rattlesnake Cave

Just a quick post as I sit here reflecting on all the things I'm thankful for, and getting ready for Thanksgiving. At or very near the top of my list is all the joy my granddaughter Lilly brings my wife and I. We were out at the desert earlier this week and Lilly and I went on a quick hike over at Indian Cove in Joshua Tree National Park.

Indian Cove is such a beautiful area, and it's very close to our house, so we hike it on a regular basis. I've posted about it before here and here.

Someone is watching!!
It was about a year ago that Lilly and I were hiking in the area and came across this shelter or cave formed by two large rocks. As I prepared to go inside to explore, I heard Lilly say "Papa, is that a snake??" Well, that stopped me in my tracks.

Sure enough, there was a rattler right in the middle of the cave. And the worst kind of rattler... the kind that doesn't rattle!! I told Lilly to move away from the cave, I took a couple photos, and off we went. 

So here we are, about a year later, and Lilly and I find ourselves at the same cave.
Lilly's a year older, a year wiser and a more experienced hiker (at the wise old age of 7!). She approaches the cave cautiously.

One of the huge boulders making up the cave has this weird rocky "skin" on the outside. I'm sure a geologist could help us understand how this was formed. Really interesting!

There is no sign of Mr. Snake, so we can do a thorough examination of the inside of the cave. I see no rock art, but there is an indentation in one wall that forms kind of a natural fireplace, complete with an overhead opening between the rocks making up the shelter. This would provide for good ventilation. A little hard to tell from the photo above, but the rock in and above the "fireplace" is blackened from what looks like years of use, perhaps dating back to Native American times.

After checking out "rattlesnake cave", we continue exploring the area.
Not far from the cave we come across an absolutely HUGE boulder. It's the largest boulder in an area full of large boulders. One side has this interesting tafoni weathering (photo by Lilly).

Lilly wants to take another photo, so I let her take this one of her little stuffed animal she's brought along in her backpack. I don't even know what it is, but I think it enjoyed the hike!

We continue exploring, making an attempt to circle the giant boulder. It's been my experience that sometimes large boulders have shelters under them, either from natural soil erosion or from other boulders propping them up. This one does not disappoint!

The "cave" underneath giant boulder was extensive and impressive. The photos above just show Lilly at the entrance. It was too dark to capture additional photos on my cell phone, but it had multiple levels and extended the entire length of the boulder. Lilly and I had fun checking it out!


For those that celebrate, wishing you a Happy Thanksgiving, and thanks for stopping by!
 
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Thursday, November 21, 2019

Grinding Slick Shelter

For today's adventure I'm taking you to a really cool spot in Joshua Tree National Park that I think you're going to like. This is a first visit for me. Relatively easy to get to, yet remote enough that nobody goes here or knows about it. I say nobody... well, there are a few, but very few. And I know I'm not the first to find this site, but I feel incredibly fortunate and lucky to be one of the few to see it and experience it.

There's no trail that leads to it, but fortunately, it didn't require too much bushwhacking. And unlike my last couple adventures, I didn't have to climb under any rocks or wedge myself between too many boulders!

For a while, I was following a wash that looked a lot like this one. I'm looking for a shelter with a large grinding slick inside. I know the approximate location.

Hmmm... may be somewhere up in those rocks? Let's go take a look. Keep in mind, these photos represent the hike, but are actually in a different location in the Park. That way the true location is protected.

Bingo! Here it is!! A beautiful, large shelter. I don't see any signs of rock art, although it may have been here at one time and faded away over the years. But there are two very obvious grinding slicks in this shelter. Very cool!

A closer look.

And an even closer look!
Even if you weren't looking for a grinding slick, and even if you didn't know what a grinding slick is, I think you would notice that something, over years and years and years, has smoothed out the top of this rock in a couple places. This is the best example, and most obvious example of a grinding slick that I've seen.

As you are probably aware, a grinding slick is just that... a flat smooth area used by Native Americans to grind things. Anything from manzanita berries, pine nuts, mesquite seeds, you name it. The more grinding that took place, the flatter and smoother the surface. And a large rock or stone was used as a pestle (or mano) to grind and crush the material. The mano would be smooth on at least one end. The rock you see in the photos above is not a mano. At least I don't think it's a mano. I found it on the ground next to the grinding slick. It's not worn smooth on one side (or more) and it's probably a little too small. I just placed it there for effect.

Here's a close-up of the larger of the two grinding slicks. This is looking in from the other entrance to the shelter. Well, not really an entrance because the rocks are in the way. More of a window, perhaps. Anyway, this is the larger of the two grinding slicks. If memory serves, at least 12" in diameter. There may be other grinding slicks on the smaller rock next to this one, but I was so busy taking pics of this one, I forgot to check it out.

Feeling totally elated about finding this very cool shelter and grinding slick, I leave things exactly as I found them and move on to explore the area.

Nearby, I squeeze between some boulders to find this beautiful area surrounded by rocks on all sides. One rock surface immediately grabs my attention because I can see some color. I also like the rocky "wing" sticking out on one side.

Getting in closer to the surface of the wall, you might be able to make out some faint red dots near the center of the photo. Let's use Dstretch to get a better look at whatever color might be here.

Now you can easily see the red dots, along with a number of other pictographs if you look carefully. Wow, this is a cool site!

 A close-up of the seven large dots, with a z-shaped symbol on the right.

My favorite symbol from this panel is this double star or sunburst symbol. Very unusual. Without Dstretch, it's pretty faded, but with Dstretch it really comes alive!

A net symbol, which isn't all that unusual. I'm pretty sure this is a basketball net... or may be that's just because I've been watching all the Laker games 😉

A headless dancer with her arms up in the air? I have no idea, but I've promised myself to try to learn more about Native American rock art and culture. It's totally fascinating!

With the sun getting low on the horizon, it's time to head back. This has been one of my most rewarding hikes, and it only makes me even more interested and grateful to see sites like this.


If you look really closely at the next to last photo, you might make out the crescent moon. It's easy to see in the last photo, especially with the help of that leaning Joshua tree that appears to be pointing at it!

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Friday, November 15, 2019

Cave of the White Orbs

I'm on something of a roll with regard to finding (well, mostly being told about) remote and seldom-seen rock art sites and Native American shelters. On my last post I shared a site I stumbled across (I called it Children's Shelter pictographs) while in search of some nearby sites. So today, let me take you to one of the sites I was actually looking for!

I had seen photos of pictographs from this site that were very unique and unusual, and I had a pretty good idea of the approximate location. Of course, that doesn't mean you will actually find it once you go looking, but I got very lucky on this hike.
Looking for one particular boulder with some faded rock art is like finding a needle in a haystack. But half the fun is in the search!

A little local color on the hike in.
And a little local texture.
Gotta be around here somewhere!
Could this be it? Looks like there's a very small, tight crawl space under this rock (hiking stick for perspective). Seriously, you expect me to crawl in there??! Well, let me at least see if I can stick my head in there and take a look.

Well, what the heck. Once down on my belly looking in, I figured I might as well go all the way. It is in fact a hollowed-out boulder on the underside, but not as spacious as it looks. The wide angle lens makes it look bigger. If you don't like crawling on your belly, or have an aversion to tight, dark areas, you may want to avoid this site! By the way, look very closely and you might spot a pictograph on the top, left of center, of the photo.

With Dstretch to highlight the picto, you can't miss it.

Thankfully, there is a second opening (above) that makes crawling under this rock feel a little less confining. Still, it's a tight, dark area and really glad I brought a light with me so I could better check things out and take some photos.

Very interesting pictos. One thing that stands out to me is the two colors used (white and red). Looks like the white coloring kind of highlights or reinforces the red symbols. What those symbols mean is anyone's guess!

Nearby, I can make out a faint red picto on the ceiling of this hollow rock. Keep in mind I'm now flat on my back, holding a heavy camera in one hand and a light in the other. I'm sure it would have made for a very comical photo! Anyway, let's use Dstretch to see if we can't get a little more detail on the picto.

Wow!! This is a great example of how Dstretch will make visible details that you would have totally missed.


I've never seen any pictos quite like these. With a little imagination, I can see a magic wand, a popsicle, a baseball, a telephone, and a space ship! And then it occurs to me, may be I've been under this rock a little too long!


But the above two photos are the "money" slides!! Wow, really unusual, and these white orbs are what the site is named after. Interesting how two of the orbs are solid white, and two are hollow with red circles. It's been conjectured that this picto is representative of female, and perhaps has something to do with a female puberty ceremony.

It's time to see if my sore, stiff body can crawl out from under this rock. I look at the ground and notice my car keys have fallen out of my pocket and are lying in the dirt. Right next to my reading glasses, that were hanging from my shirt pocket. I can do without the glasses, but I need those car keys to drive home. And without cell service in Joshua Tree National Park, you don't want to lose your keys!!

Ah, so nice to be standing upright again, with the sun setting on the horizon. I'll share a couple more photos from my hike back to the car (with my car keys securely in my pocket!).


Ouch!! Looks like an uncomfortable perch to me.

Thanks for joining me on my latest adventure!!

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