Thursday, June 13, 2019

Jackass Rabbit

Well, technically, it's not a jackass and it's not even a rabbit! Jackrabbits are actually hares, not rabbits. Hares are larger than rabbits and have taller hind legs and longer ears. Jackrabbits were named for their ears, which reminded people of a jackass or donkey, resulting in the name "jackass rabbits." The writer Mark Twain brought this name to fame by using it in his book of western adventure, Roughing It. The name was later shortened to jackrabbit.

I was out exploring recently in the Hidden Valley area of Joshua Tree National Park and came across this guy (girl?). He blended in well and I likely wouldn't have noticed him except for those ears! They were sticking out above the ground cover like little flags, and were hard to miss.

So I had a decision to make. Should I attempt to wrestle off my backpack and put on my telephoto lens? The short answer is no. These guys never stick around long. They tend to be skittish and extremely fast, but I decided to try it anyway.

My, what big ears you have!!
To my surprise, he didn't run away! He perked up a little but otherwise wasn't much concerned with me.

Over the years, Lepus californicus has been widely used as food by humans, especially by Native Americans and the early miners. It's also a critically important prey species for hawks, owls, bobcats, coyotes and others higher up on the food chain. The huge ears are used in cooling, radiating heat via an extensive network of blood vessels. Controlling the flow of blood to the vessels in their ears is like a built-in air conditioning unit and allows them to survive and even thrive in the sweltering desert heat.

They are also natural athletes, being able to travel at speeds up to 40 mph, make sharp turns and run in a zigzag pattern to avoid Wile E Coyote, and make single leaps of more than 10 feet. How they manage to do all this with those giant ears is beyond me!

My favorite shot. I like the late afternoon back-light on those big ears as he checks me out!

Off he finally scampers, and off I go on the rest of my hike. I'll make a full post of this hike at a later date, but for now, come enjoy a couple sky shots from the end of my hike. Nothing but blue skies!
A giant, upside-down tooth??

Linking with Skywatch Friday.
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Thursday, June 6, 2019

The Road Less Traveled

I love exploring seldom seen and rarely traveled areas. I also enjoy photographing and sharing the details about these amazing areas on my blog. It's quite a conundrum. By sharing details of these places, they potentially become more popular, and they lose part of the allure that made them so special in the first place! But I digress...

A little over a year ago I hiked up a wash that I suspect very few people hike. I chose it for this reason, thinking who knows what I might find? Also, after studying Google Earth, the area looked like it might have some interesting rock formations. Turns out, I was right on both accounts (interesting finds and cool rock formations). The most memorable rock formation was a large alcove (I call it Lookout Alcove because of it's commanding 360-degree views). I was so impressed by it, I went back a week or two later after discovering it to leave a sign-in register inside the alcove. I was very curious to see if anyone ever visits this spot.

So a couple weeks ago I decided it was time to revisit the area... check the register for names, look for footprints and other signs of visitors. My first stop was an old bench, lantern and other artifacts I had discovered a year or so ago in an overgrown and secluded side wash. The cats-claw bushes made it hard to even get into the area. Here's the old table and lantern I found in early 2018.

When I revisited in May 2019, the lantern and old crate had blown off the table. But otherwise, things looked exactly the same. No footprints. Absolutely no sign of visitors. Placing the lantern on the old table, here's what it looks like now.
Perhaps a little worse for wear, but still intact! I was encouraged that the old lantern and other artifacts were still here and the area had likely had no visitors in over a year. So, let's continue on to Lookout Alcove. We will make a few side-trips and take lots of photos along the way!






Lots of small arches in this area.


Lots of birds and giant monster lizards to be seen.

My first rattlesnake of the season, too. I took a moment to thank the rattlesnake Gods for the nice loud warning rattle. He took off rather quickly into the bushes, and I wasn't quick enough with the camera to get a good shot.




And, of course, many alcoves to be explored. Does anyone else see a dog's head?

But the granddaddy of alcoves is Lookout Alcove. Hard to get perspective in these photos, but take my word for it that it's a large, roomy alcove with incredible views!


The good news? The sign-in register was exactly where I had left it over a year ago. The bad news? Critters had totally chewed off the plastic top of the container and a bit of the paper.

But the paper was still (more or less) intact and the pencil was still in the container. A visitor could easily see this was a register and could have signed in (had there been any visitors). But the registry was empty except for my own entry (4/14/2018). I strongly suspect Lookout Alcove has had no (human) visitors in the last year, and who knows how many years before that, other than my own visits??

So, back to my conundrum about liking to share photos and details about amazing spots like this, yet thoroughly enjoying desert solitude and the fact that not only will I not see another human being all day, I won't even see footprints! Hmmm... I think I'll keep the location private 😉. But if you happen to be driving along a remote stretch of desert highway and you notice rocky peaks on the distant horizon like those below, you might be getting warm. Then again, perhaps not.
Linking with Skywatch Friday.
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Thursday, May 30, 2019

Fruit of the Joshua Tree

While hiking last week, I noticed a number of the Joshua Trees in Joshua Tree National Park had these large fruit clusters. Here's what one reference says:

Joshua tree flowers are followed by fruits, which are capsule-shaped and can grow more than 3" in diameter. Left on the tree, the fruits will eventually become brittle and fall to the ground, where the impact can split them open, scattering the seeds. Seeds not eaten by wildlife can germinate where they fall. The young fruit is edible and may be sliced and seeded, then dried, or eaten fresh. The seeds may be eaten raw or roasted.

Since I was in a national park, I didn't try to pick any fruit to sample a taste. But I must admit, I was tempted!

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Thursday, May 23, 2019

Local Color

OK, I promise to get you back out to the desert soon. But for today, just some shots of local blooms in the Orange County (CA) area. They are impressive, and won't last long!
Hiking in the local hills, I had figured the yellow wild mustard blooms would be faded and gone. I was wrong. Still going strong. As a matter of fact, they were so abundant they were blocking my hiking path and I had to carefully "bushwhack" my way forward!

It was an overcast day with the threat of light rain. I wasn't expecting much from my photos. Just hoping the sky might open up and reveal some dramatic skies.
But I learned an important lesson on this hike. I don't do much flower photography. Heck, I don't even own a macro lens. But for some reason, grey overcast days seem to bring out the beauty of flowers. Seems counter-intuitive to me. I'm used to thinking about landscape photography and the importance of light and shadows. Best shots are usually early AM or late afternoon, etc., etc. Flat light is the landscape photographer's enemy, but not the case with flowers.


The Prickly Pear cactus were putting on a good show. Many more buds than blooms, so the promise of even better things to come, but the blooms were beautiful.


Every once in a while I would get a peek of blue sky. As you can see, the wild mustard still dominate the landscape.


I think this is Tree Tobacco (Nicotiana glauca)



Hiking along, deep in my own thoughts, you can imagine my surprise when...

This guy zoomed by!! First time I've ever encountered another person while hiking this area, and I certainly didn't expect a mountain biker!






I have no idea what this is. Some old rusty metal something or other!

A beautiful view of the ocean on this somewhat hazy, overcast day. It's 15-20 miles to the water from this spot (as the crow flies). You can see the big tanker ships on their way to Long Beach Harbor. I'm pretty sure that's Catalina Island in the background, which is another 26 miles according to the song. Take a listen, and see if you remember it: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3dPaeUGrmdA

I almost forgot... as I was starting my hike, I heard sirens from the highway. The sirens seemed to stimulate the howl reflex in the local coyote population. For best results, turn your volume up to maximum.
I guess this is Coyote Hills living up to it's name! The howls were coming from the exact direction I needed to hike in, but I never had even a glimpse of a coyote during the entire hike. I've never seen a coyote on this property, and I've hiked it many times. I'm guessing you only see them when they want you to see them!

Linking with Skywatch Friday.
All photos taken with a Canon 100-400mm telephoto zoom lens.
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Thursday, May 16, 2019

Baja Memories

I'll extend my theme about forgotten files from last week. For that post, I was complaining about how difficult it is to organize digital files, and how easy it is for great photos to slip through the cracks and get lost. This week, I'm focused on the pre-digital age. Remember that? Dealing with film, developing, prints, slides, etc. Yup, the good ol' days!

For four years in a row, our summer adventure was to drive down the Baja peninsula. We would camp on the beach and spend our days fishing, snorkeling and diving. It was just rough camping... no showers or electricity, and it was usually a group of us guys that went down (although wives went down one year). This was in the late '70s and early 80's, so a long time ago. Baja and Mexico in general was a different place back then.
The single road (Highway 1) that went down the Baja peninsula was always in bad shape back then. 1000 miles as the crow flies of huge potholes, washed out areas, detours, and cattle on the highway, which made travel at night a bad idea. Keep in mind, this road wasn't even paved until the end of 1973, so tourist travel down the peninsula was just developing and still relatively rare. Blown tires and even broken axles was a common occurrence. We would drive all day at slow speeds to dodge the potholes, and as it got dark, just pull over to the side of the road and make camp. I can't imagine doing that these days, but sleeping on the side of the road seemed perfectly acceptable back then!

For the first two trips we traveled about half way down the peninsula to a remote location called Punta San Francisquito. I haven't yet scanned slides from those trips. Almost nothing there at the time other than some beach cabanas for shade, a dirt runway and a small bar/restaurant. There were a couple locals that lived in the area full-time. It was mainly a destination that gringos would fly to for some of the best fishing on the peninsula. Very few people drove to the spot because it was 50 miles of nasty, difficult dirt road from the main highway. There was not gas station, but there were barrels of aviation fuel. If you got in a real bind, you could beg on of the locals to sell you some for your vehicle. You may or may not be successful! Driving there was not recommended, but when we heard how good the fishing was, there was no stopping us.

Even back then, I was interested in photography, so I was the unofficial photographer for our adventure travels. I also had an underwater housing and flash for my camera that I took along. I would shoot mainly Kodachrome so we could all get together and have a slide show party after getting back home. The photos I'll be posting today were scanned from slides from my Baja archives (of which there are many!). Kind of cool that the technology makes scanning slides easy, and the quality isn't too bad. The plastic slide sleeves are breaking down, making the slides sticky and attracting dust, so there's a bit of urgency to scanning them now before they are too far gone! 
Stops at the llantera (when you could find a town that had one) was not uncommon. Here you can see my wife and our friend Dave getting a tire repaired. I think this was in Guerrero Negro.

I think this was the hills above Bahia de los Angeles. This is Ron's dad, Ray, who joined us on one trip. If I had to guess I would say that's an old Super 8 video camera. Remember those? Quite a view from this spot! I remember we stopped and camped here for a couple days on one of our trips. It was nice because the side road leading into the area had just recently been paved, so we made good time getting in and out. This area had wide open beaches and very undeveloped back then. I'll bet that's not the case anymore!

My wife in front of an old funky trailer. I have no idea where this is.

My friend Ron, who was really the spark plug behind these trips, learned that there was only one place in the entire Sea of Cortez side of Baja with coral reefs. That place is called Cabo Pulmo, and the rumors back in the day (remember this was before internet) was that the fishing and diving were incredible. So after two summers visiting Punta San Francisquito, our third trip was all the way down the peninsula to check out Cabo Pulmo (yellow arrow on the map).

Ron's dad Ray with a freshly caught yellow tail! It never occurred to me at the time that it was unusual to catch these big yellow tail while fishing right off the beach. I think those days are (unfortunately) long gone.

The entire area was beautiful... very scenic! The beach was rocky, but we had the whole place to ourselves during the two trips we went down there. We simply pulled all the vehicles up on the beach and set up camp! Such awesome memories. That was my "Baja bug" that we used for exploring the beaches and other areas. It would go pretty much anywhere!

A couple of the locals chatting with Stu (blue shirt) at Cabo Pulmo. I believe this is looking down the beach to the south (ocean would be just beyond the cars on the left).

The view up the beach at Cabo Pulmo looking north. I think that's "Pulmo Point" in the photo. Not sure why the sky looks purple!

This image looks blurred on the edges for some reason, but that's me holding what looks to be a gargantuan lobster. I just remember the lobster were plentiful, as were the fish, and we ate like kings!

A simple beach campfire... Ron getting ready to grill fish and lobster for dinner as I look on. I'm trying to remember the story behind why he was wearing socks with flip flops. I think it had something to do with going barefoot on the rocks too much and having sore feet!

A late afternoon shot watching the sun set into the Pacific Ocean. Stu, Ron, Ron's dad Ray, and Dave. I would have been in my late 20's and remember thinking of Ray as "the old man" who seemed to know everything there was to know about camping and fishing. I'm older now than Ray was in this photo, so it certainly changes my perspective. I love the fact that he's the one using the sling shot. You can't take the boy out of the man, or whatever that saying is!

I'm somewhat saddened that when I google Cabo Pulmo now, the first things that come up are adds for Airbnb and beach resorts. When I look at the area on Google Maps, it looks very different (and much more developed) than "the good ol' days" when you could camp on the beach and have it all to yourself. On a more positive note, in 1995, Cabo Pulmo National Park was established. It's a national marine park that was established to protect this incredible marine ecosystem. Below is one of many, many photos I took while diving and snorkeling the reefs at Cabo Pulmo during our two visits.


"The complexity of the life pattern on Pulmo Reef was even greater that at Cabo San Lucas. Clinging to the coral, growing on it, burrowing into it, was a teeming fauna. Every piece of the soft material broken off, skittered and pulsed with life, little crabs and worms and snails. One small piece of coral might conceal 30 or 40 species, and the colors of the reef were electric."

John Steinbeck, The Log from the Sea of Cortez

Thanks for sticking with me for this long, rambling trip down memory lane! I've only scratched the surface of my slide archive, so I will be busy scanning away. I'm curious if others have scanned and organized all their old photos, slides, and negatives?

Linking with Skywatch Friday.