Thursday, May 28, 2020

Nolina Land

I'm no botanist, but I do know a Nolina when I see one. There are multiple species of Nolina, but the dominant one in Joshua Tree National Park is Nolina bigelovii. Especially when flowering, few plants can match the large showy flower stalks and the way they capture the late afternoon light. To my eye, Nolina kind of resemble a Mojave Yucca (see below).
Both the Yucca (above) and Nolina (below) have long leaves that end in a point. But Nolina leaves are longer, more slender, and more flexible. I learned long ago during my desert hikes that there is a key difference: If you accidentally walk into Yucca leaves, the stiff strong leaves have the potential to result in a serious injury. Blood will be spilled. Not so much with Nolina, since the leaves will flex. Not the recommended way to determine one from the other!
While the Yucca have white flowers, they don't have the huge spikes that protrude upward like the Nolina. The Nolina flower spikes can easily reach 4' or longer. Very impressive!

On my most recent hike (last week), I was in search of a pictograph site. I actually had approximate coordinates for the pictos, so I was confident I would find them. 5.8 miles later, with an elevation gain of 938 feet, I was unsuccessful. I double-checked. I even triple checked all around the rocks, behind the rocks, under the rocks. Nada. Ziltch. Doesn't mean they're not there. Just means I couldn't find them. But there's no such thing as a bad hike in Joshua Tree, so that's why you're seeing photos of Nolina today and not Native American rock art.

Part of my hiking track from my GPS device. The path of a totally lost person wandering without purpose and with a touch of heat stroke? Perhaps, but see that big blob of tracks in the middle? That's where the pictos are supposed to be!

This Nolina flower stalk had drooped down and was blocking the trail. I nick-named him the "toll gate" Nolina!

This Indian Paintbrush certainly draws attention. The red flowers really jumped out!

Beavertail cactus
The flower spikes on this Nolina had a pink or purplish tint. Kind of odd.

The real story of the Nolina flower spikes is how they catch the light when the sun is low on the horizon.


Beautiful, wouldn't you agree? I was lost in thought as I was wondering and taking photos. You can imagine my surprise when I noticed someone standing a ways off on the faint trail I had been following. He was a fellow photographer, and the only person I had seen during my entire hike. We commented on the beauty of the Nolina flowers and then went our separate ways. A couple days later I noticed a photo on Facebook of Nolina flowers that looked like it was taken in the same area as my hike. Turns out the photo was taken by the same person I saw on the trail! Also turns out that, although we have (had) never met, we are friends on Facebook and I admire his photography! Lastly, it turns out he took a picture of me out wandering with the Nolina. It's a small world after all!!
Photo by Mike Stillman. Thanks, Mike, and nice to meet you!

Linking with Skywatch Friday.
Thanks for stopping by, and stay safe out there!!

Thursday, May 21, 2020

Staying Local

Last week I posted some recent moon shoots that I took locally (not my usual desert photos). The moon was rising about the same time the sun was setting, which creates a real dilemma. Shoot east at the moon or west at the setting sun?? Don't we wish all our problems were so wonderful? Here are shots from the same evening, but looking west.

Downtown LA






Linking with Skywatch Friday.
Thanks for stopping by. Stay safe and healthy.
PS: Joshua Tree National Park is open again. Yippee!

Thursday, May 14, 2020

Flower Moon

Last week I set out with a goal to capture the "Flower Moon" rise. I went over to a local restaurant that sits up on a hill. The views are excellent, and I figured I would pretty much have the place to myself (which I did). It seemed strange to see this normally bustling restaurant empty. The grounds are beautifully manicured, but empty.
Another reason I wanted to get out and take some photos was to try out a new lens. The photo above was taken using a 12mm fisheye. I really like the ultra-wide view it gives me. I have an 8mm fisheye, but it creates a round image. It's kind of a cool effect, but I prefer a traditional rectangular image. It turns out that 12mm is the widest lens I can use and still maintain the traditional rectangular format. It's an inexpensive lens (as lenses go). A significant downside to the lens (and what keeps it inexpensive) is that it's fully manual. No auto-focus and no auto-exposure. It's like the old days when everything was manual! Kind of fun, but also a challenge. All this is background information to provide an excuse for my blurry images below!




As the moon started to rise on the horizon, I did a quick lens change to a 100-400mm telephoto. The moon was visible but the sky was hazy.

As the moon got a little higher on the horizon, it became clearer.

 The little out of focus bird seems to be enjoying the Flower Moon!


Below is my attempt at capturing a rendition of the Flower Moon. I combined two photos, with photo #1 having a sharp focus on roses in a flower pot. Photo #2 had sharp focus on the moon. Combining the two photos gives you an image with everything in focus. 
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Thanks for stopping by. Stay safe and healthy!

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Handprints Cave (part 2)

Last week, I took you on one of my all-time favorite hikes: "Handprints Cave", deep in the Wonderland of Rocks in Joshua Tree National Park. One of the absolutely incredible things about this secret location is the large grinding slick with the mano (grinding stone) sitting right there, in plain view, just after you enter the cave. As if the Native Americans stepped out for a second and will return shortly! Makes you wonder how long that mano has been in that exact location. Likely hundreds of years, I would guess. I also shared some beautiful rock art in the front half of the cave. The hike to the cave and the cave itself has lots to see, so I had to split the post to keep it from rambling on forever.
This photo is a view out the back end of Handprints Cave. It's a large opening, and makes the cave feel roomy, cool, and fresh. Rock art is clearly visible on the ceiling in the back half of the cave. One extraordinary marking is a zigzag line that extends for a full 12' in length! In case you are wondering about my 12' claim, I measured it with a tape measure, so it's legit! It's a little hard to see the zigzag line in the photo above, but it starts in the upper left corner. I have no idea what significance it has. You can also make out some tally marks (at least that's what they look like to me) and some round marks of some kind. 

Close up of the tally marks

Here's a better view out the back end of the shelter. You can make out the reddish circular marks and the zigzag line on the cave ceiling. Pay special attention to those reddish blotches. On first examination, it's difficult to tell what they are.

Using a hand-held LED light and getting up closer to the "blotches", I'm suddenly struck by the fact that these are hand prints. LOTS of hand prints!

Seeing all these hand prints in person is really an incredible experience. I tried to count the number of hand prints, but some are very faint. You can see some of the very faint prints in the photo above. I wonder if they are older, with the more visible hand prints added more recently?

I count at least 30 hand prints. Most appear to be right hand prints, but at least a couple are lefties. And so interesting how the zigzag line seems to be a border, with all the hand prints being below the line.

Sorry about the blur. By the time I took this photo, I had been lying on my back or side on the floor of the cave for over an hour, balancing a light and heavy camera in the air. Add a tape measure to the mix, and things get sketchy. Anyway, the point is that the hand prints are quite small: About 5" from finger tip to the base of the hand. This one is a lefty.

One of my favorite photos because it gives you a view of some of the rock art (including hand prints and zigzag line), a view of the grinding slick on the left, and a sense of the size of the shelter. Just an amazing site and I find myself wondering over and over again about the significance of the hand prints.

As I finish up photographing the ceiling, it's time for some water and a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. I made this hike in November 2019, and it was unseasonably warm. Actually a downright hot day, and the shade and coolness in the cave was wonderful. As I look on the ground around me, I'm shocked to see what looks like another mano (above). The stone is worn smooth and I know of no other way to explain it. Most of the natural rock in the area is angular and rough.

A few more bites from my sandwich and I notice another mano-like rock.
This one has worn, rounded edges, and it's not clear to me if this is a mano or perhaps just a piece of a larger mono stone.

The more I look, the more I find, which is very weird. Are my eyes playing tricks on me? It seems that the floor of Handprints Cave is full of manos! If not for the hand print pictographs, I would suggest this shelter be named "Mano Cave"!! The three stones above all show evidence of worn, ground down edges or surfaces. I wonder if this shelter was used predominately as a seasonal grinding shelter? Just conjecture, but the large grinding surface at the shelter entrance and all the mano stones make me think this might have been the case.

A view of Handprints Cave from the back entrance.
It's getting late but I'm very reluctant to start my hike back. This shelter has a nice "feel" to it and it makes you want to stay, but it's a long, tough hike to the car. I feel elated and energized after seeing such a special location that few others have seen. Such a privilege, and I'm careful to leave it exactly as I found it. I'm hopeful that the next explorer that finds it will enjoy it as much as I have.

Flying Saucer rock?


Don't know what this one's called. My vote would be "Fish Head Rock"!

Hiking back through the Wonderland, it's comforting to see the old familiar rock formations.

Thanks for coming along with me on another desert adventure. Hope this post finds you safe and healthy!
Linking with Skywatch Friday.