Thursday, August 15, 2019

Pismo Beach

This week we're jumping from the desert to the beach. We wanted to take our granddaughter somewhere before starting school, so we took a two night "mini-vacation" to Pismo Beach. We live in S CA, and Pismo is in Central CA... cooler temps, not as built up or crowded. Much nicer in my book. My big dilemma was whether or not to haul along my big camera and a couple lenses or just rely on my iPhone. I doubted I would have the opportunity to do any serious photography. On the other hand, if there were great photo opportunities, I would be kicking myself. So after a little grumbling, I took my DSLR, 100-400mm tele lens, and 17-35mm wide angle. Just in case. You never know.

Turns out, I'm really glad I took it.
My wife took this photo of me taking pictures. I had spotted this bench on the far corner of the motel property and it looked like a perfect spot for some sunset shots. But things were cloudy and a little foggy, so I wasn't sure I was going to get anything good. I think it was about this time I heard my wife calling me (she was at the pool with Lilly). She was calling my attention to the sun becoming visible from behind the clouds. It looked very cool, and looked more like the moon than the sun. In the photo above, you can just make out the sun if you look closely.


I was focused on the cool looking clouds and fog rolling in from the distance and hadn't even noticed the sun.


I think it was at this moment it struck me: So glad I brought my DSLR and a couple lenses along on this trip!! No more grumbling.

Do you see the arch? I call this "Pismo Arch", although that may not be its real name.

A closer view of Pismo Arch. This area was loaded with birds. Actually it looked like bird real estate was at a premium. It looked to me (a total novice) like cormorants and pelicans were the dominate birds. I found myself waiting for birds to fly by so I could get some shots without birds in the frame!

On the second afternoon, things started out a little cloudy and foggy. I like the mystery created by the fog, and rarely get to take photos in conditions like this.
Then I noticed the sky start to open up.
For a moment, there was a well defined hole in the sky with a ray of light. Very cool!


Lens change (telephoto to wide angle). After the clouds burned off, we had blue sky for a while. I managed to get both a bird (not too hard) and the moon in this shot. This is looking the opposite direction (down the coast toward the Pismo Beach pier).

As sunset approached, the sky went kind of crazy. Orange/purple/red/gold all seemed to blend together. And everything, including the hills and the water, took on the sky colors.



It was an amazing show. Even the people down on the beach seemed to stop in their tracks to watch the sun drop behind the hills and enjoy the sky colors.

Except for this lady, who was busy flying her kite!

Linking with Skywatch Friday.
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Thursday, August 8, 2019

The Car Wash at Night

As I mentioned last post, I headed out to Joshua Tree for a night hike (Thursday into Friday, and drove home midday Friday). I was joined by my intrepid hiking partner and experienced Milky Way photographer JL. I'm a total newbie at astrophotography, so it's great to hike with JL, who has significant experience and know-how.

I made two big mistakes on this trip. I try to look at mistakes as learning opportunities... so a lot of learning took place on this hike😉 My first major error had to do with the temperature estimation. We were leaving 29 Palms around 5:30 PM and driving out to a remote area in the Pinto Basin. I told JL that temps in the Pinto Basin are similar to 29 Palms... probably a few degrees hotter. It was in the high 90's as we left 29 Palms, and we figured things would be cooling off as it got later in the day. I told JL it would likely be low to mid-90's when we arrive at the trail head, and cooling off as the evening progressed.
WRONG!! Big time wrong, as you can see in the photo above. After 10 miles of dusty and washboard dirt road, we finally pulled up to our hiking location. Seriously, 110 degrees at 6:35 PM??

We were hiking out to a little-known location, kept secret by those in the know, to a place called the "car wash". There is no trail. I last visited the car wash in April of 2016 (here), so it had been a while. The car wash is just that... 7-8 old rusty derelict cars that, years ago, were swept into the local wash, likely during a flash flood, and remain there to this day. There's a lot of mystery about these cars: Who owned them, what were all these cars doing out here, etc. Just questions, no answers.

My hiking partner, JL, who also happens to be excellent at navigation. No big deal while hiking during the day, but on a moonless night in the pitch black with no trail to follow, it becomes a very critical skill!

Without giving away the location, I will say that if you come across this old gate, you are on the right path! It strikes me as funny and odd... an old gate in the middle on nowhere, with no fence on either side, holding nothing in or out.

Yours truly at "the gate". Photo credit: JL
At this point on the hike, I'm keeping one eye out hoping JL is not going to throw a rock at me (or worse) for talking him into this crazy hike. It's still well into triple digits and doesn't seem to be cooling off at all.

We eventually found the "car wash". So strange... you would never in a million years expect to find old cars out here!





This area if fun to explore, because there are also old wells and a mill in the area. At one time, this location was probably providing the water and milling of ore for some of the mining operations in the Old Dale Mining District.
An old stove that has, unfortunately, been used for target practice.
Did somebody lose a funnel?? This must have been used in the mining operations. It's about 6 - 8' in height and very heavy. So bizarre to find this out in the middle of nowhere!

Another interesting find. I wonder where the rest of it is??

Big mistake #2: Overuse of "Live View" mode. So this will take a little explaining. Live View allows you to look at the photo you're taking on the camera's LCD screen. It's particularly useful for night photography. As you can imagine, putting your eye up to the viewfinder doesn't allow you to see much at night. But looking at the viewfinder can help you see what you are photographing and better frame the photo. I'm not very comfortable using Live View because I haven't used it much in the past, so I decided to use it on this outing to increase my comfort level. As the night sky finally settled in and the Milky Way became visible, here's what all my photos looked like.
Yuck! What the heck?? Extremely noisy, poor definition, and some strange colors. Very disappointing, because nearly ALL my night shots for this outing looked like this and are unusable. It totally baffled me! JL's photos were looking good, and we were using similar to identical camera settings. 

In the fine print buried deep in the camera's manual, I found my explanation. It mentions something about being careful using Live View. It can cause the camera's sensor to overheat, which will introduce lots of "noise" and strange colors. Well, that would explain it! I was using Live View extensively, and along with the triple digit ambient temps, the poor camera sensor simply overheated! Oh well, live and learn. I will never make that mistake again!

Still a lot of "noise" from the overheated sensor, but this gives you an idea of what we were hoping to accomplish. We were trying to capture some of the old rusty cars under the beautiful Milky Way.

As we hiked back to the car, my camera sensor had a chance to cool off. Ironically, my best Milky Way shot of the entire evening was just an afterthought, taking a quick photo of Old Dale Road under the Milky Way sky when we had finished our hike.
Hopefully there will be future trips to the Car Wash, and when the temps aren't so crazy hot. It's a desolate and beautiful area with some of the darkest skies in Joshua Tree National Park!

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Thursday, August 1, 2019

A Day at the Beach

Lilly hasn't been to the beach in a long time, so we were overdue. With no particular obligation to hold us back, we drove down to Huntington Beach this last Sunday. We were unaware we were driving right into one of the biggest events of the year! The US Open of Surfing was underway south of the pier, and the crowds were out in force.

It was fun to see the surf photographers out with their "big glass"... 400mm, 600mm, even 800mm super-telephoto lenses.

I think this couple wins the prize for most gear. Each had two high-end camera bodies and multiple telephoto lenses dangling from various harnesses. Considering that a Canon 600mm telephoto lens is $10,000, that's a huge amount of $$$ these two are sporting!


Sea shells down by the sea shore...
Lilly seemed oblivious to the whole surf competition thing going on, and wanted nothing more than to collect sea shells!


And here's something you don't see every day. The city of Huntington Beach has mounted police. Pretty cool!

Lilly wanted me to bury her legs in the sand and make her look like a mermaid. I'm afraid my artistic abilities weren't up to the task, but fun times anyway, and a great day at the beach!


If things go as planned, I'll be driving out to Joshua Tree on Thursday for a night hike, and driving home Friday. My apologies if I don't get a chance to visit your blog.
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Thursday, July 25, 2019

Ivanpah Tank (After the Rain)

I've posted in the past about hiking to Ivanpah Tank here. This is a man-made dam built back in the days of cattle ranching, long before Joshua Tree National Park existed. It's only about a half mile hike from the Live Oak parking area and the desert scenery and rock formations in the area are interesting. 
Can you spot the dam or "tank"?
Back in the day, I'll bet this dam held a LOT of water. But what you see above is what 99% of hikers see when they visit the area. Over the years, the sand and silt has almost totally filled in the area behind the dam, and it's dry as a bone. These photos were taken in November of 2017. But I've always wondered what this area would look like after a few good rains.

With a little effort and some rock scrambling, you can make your way to the back side of Ivanpah Tank. Here's my intrepid hiking partner, Lilly, checking out the construction of the dam.

And a little later, time for a short break. Gotta love Lilly's purple back pack!

Fast forward to February of 2019. It's been a wet winter with more rain on the way. Lets hike back to Ivanpah Tank to see what it looks like.


WOW!! Amazing what some rain will do. This is what the 1% see. The water won't last long, and most years don't get enough rain to result in standing water.

Not taken from identical spots but... you get the idea!



I guess all kids are required to throw rocks into ponds. Compare this photo of all the water below the dam to photo #3 (above) when it was dry.

A young boy climbing up on the rocks. Very dangerous, although he was wearing a helmet. Not sure how much that would help him if he were to fall.

Lilly and I decided to follow the wash for a while. There was enough water that it made hiking while keeping our boots dry a little bit of a challenge. Lilly wasn't quite able to meet the challenge!



Kind of cute that Lilly likes to bring along a small notebook so she can sketch some of the interesting things she sees. A true naturalist!


Driving home from our hike... Sullivan Road, 29 Palms, CA

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