Thursday, September 28, 2023

Surprise Rock

 On a recent hike in Joshua Tree National Park, I happened to be in the neighborhood of Surprise Rock. It's been a really long time since my last post about Surprise Rock (February of 2017... wow, where has the time gone??). Before I take you to Surprise Rock, I'll show you some of the scenery in the area. It was a beautiful day to be out hiking!
This was taken using my ultra wide angle (or perhaps fisheye is more accurate?) 12mm lens. It's fun to shoot with, and sometimes you can use the distortion to your advantage. The rocky overhang is greatly accentuated in this photo.
The Red Obelisk boulder is a landmark people use out here where it's easy to get turned around. It's dead center in the photo above. Below is a closer view.
The Freak Brothers rock formation with the three distinct summits is impossible to miss. The large Pinion Pin on the left is probably at least 20' tall, so this is a huge formation!
My friend P.T. on the right.
The thing about Surprise Rock is it looks like a big round boulder (in an area with thousands of big round bounders) when you hike by it. As a matter of fact, I had trouble finding it again on this hike, even though I've hiked here a number of times in the past. It's not until you push through the bushes and move around the back side of the boulder that you see it's hollowed out. Then, when you look closer, your jaw will drop!

Same photo with a little Dstretch (color enhancer).
The sheer number of pictographs (seen here in red) and etched petroglyphs (white or light color) is mind boggling! It's impossible not to ask yourself who made these? Why? What do they mean? I've accepted that we will never be able to answer these questions to any degree of certainty, but they are fascinating just the same. I will hazard an opinion, and that's all it is: Multiple people made these pictographs and petroglyphs over a very long period of time. Some look much more recent, and some are very faded and ancient-looking. Some are very high up on the rock and hard to see. Others are in a very low, dirt-level alcove. The longer you look and let your eyes adjust, the more you see. It's almost as if the ancients would travel this corridor on a regular basis, and add to it. Some of the more recent rock art is written directly over the top of older rock art.
An ah ha! moment during this visit to Surprise Rock: The etched-in-the-rock petroglyphs are newer than the red dye pictographs. In the photo above, you can clearly see a petroglyph that has been etched right over the top of a red pictograph. I had always assumed the petroglyphs were older, but that's not the case here.

On my first hike to this area, we came across a recent bighorn sheep kill. It was both fascinating and disturbing (if you're squeamish, you might want to skip the next couple photos)
February 2017
May 2023
Not much left now, and in a slightly different location. The skull and horns appear to be gone. In February of 2017, it was a very recent kill. I remember getting the heebie geebies thinking "Am I in a mountain lion den? With it's recent kill where in might see me as a competitor for it's food??" We made a hasty retreat!
Thanks for joining me on this hike. The Native American rock art in this area is fascinating!
Linking with Skywatch Friday.

Thursday, September 21, 2023

Milky Way Summer


Hard for me to believe that summer is over already. Wow, that went fast! This was the summer I became re-interested in Milky Way photography (the big one in the night sky, not the candy barπŸ˜‰). I had dabbled in the past and knew the basics. But for some reason it never caught on until this summer. Beginning in April 2023, I went out once a month on or around the new moon for five consecutive months. Some people say the hardest thing about MW photography is finding a compelling foreground, and getting the lighting (not too bright, but not too dark) and focus just right. So here's what I came up with over the pre-summer and summer of 2023 (all photos taken in Joshua Tree National Park).
April 2023: Bird Skull Rock
May 2023: "Big Eyes" in B&W
June 2023: Rock formation along Lost Horse Road
July 2023: "The Big Belch!" (Geology Tour Road)
August 2023: Old Pump House (bonus points for Perseid meteors!)
There you have it. These five photos represent a tremendous amount of time and effort, but if I had the chance, I would do it all again. My night photography skills have gotten much better, and summer nights under the desert stars are absolutely magical!
Thanks for stopping by!
Linking with Skywatch Friday.

Thursday, September 14, 2023

Milky Way Over Quail Springs Pump House

 I've hiked out to the Quail Springs pump house before (most recently HERE), but never at night. As a matter of fact, I don't think I've ever seen a night photograph of the pump house, and I know I've never seen a photo of the pump house under the Milky Way. Not many people know about the location so it doesn't get many visitors, and the number of night visitors is probably... well, let's see... zero! Anyway, the idea hit me when I was trying to think of possible interesting foregrounds for the Milky Way, and the pump house seemed to check all the boxes. The view of the pump house is to the south (as is the MW), so we can check off that box. The location should be plenty dark, and it's about 2 miles to the nearest road (so no interference from car headlights: Check ✔️). The elevation is nearly 4000', so that would help a little with the hot summer desert temperature.
On the hike out to the pump house, you pass by this old rusty relic, which is pretty cool! You are also not far from Samuelson's Rocks. Close to the rusty car is a collapsed cabin, so lots to see out in this area if you know where to look.
This cabin was unique in that it had a basement or cellar. It's noticeably cooler down here! Now it's just a snake den. No, just kidding, but I do look very carefully before proceeding in. Because of the rusty cars close proximity to the cabin, they very likely had the same owner. But I've never been able to find any information about the owner of this cabin. 
This cabin had a totally bitchen front porch, and the whole area has a very nice feel to it, with lovely desert views. Desert living at its finest! There's a very faint road that leads from the cabin to the pump house. It's likely the owner(s) of this house drove the old jalopy up to the pump house for water.
I've heard it said that the old timers would use whatever they could find (usually an old piece of tin from a can) to cover up holes in cabin walls, especially where there was knot in the wood that would allow air to blow in. Here's proof!
It's about 6:30PM when I get to the pump house. That gives me about an hour until sunset, and plenty of time to look around and get my camera and tripod set up.
The old pump still works, which is amazing to me! On this visit, it took a lot of pumping for just a trickle of water. I kept at it until the trough was about half full. I'm guessing the local critters will appreciate it! Interesting side note: Almost the moment I pumped out a trickle of water, the bees went crazy!
Killing time, waiting for the Milky Way to rise.

Until finally, it was dark enough and the MW was in the right position...
It's so much fun being out in the desert at night under all these stars! Totally quiet with just the occasional yip of a coyote. The above photo is actually 10 photos that are "stacked" to reduce noise (since you have to crank up the ISO for these MW photos). My plan was to go out at night for more photos the night after this photo was taken to (hopefully) capture the Perseid meteors. Long story, but the camera settings were incorrect (read: User error) and after taking around 300 photos, I got nothing. So I decided to go back to my pump house photos, brighten them up a little, and see if I could spot any meteors.
Darn if I didn't capture some!! Out of the 10 photos I took (10 second exposure, ISO 8000), 3 or 4 had faint meteors that could be seen. I combined them into this single image. What a nice bonus to have on my MW photos!
There's only one challenging part to this hike, and that's hiking open desert using headlamp and phone navigation to get back to the car. The above photo shows you exactly what it looks like. No mountains or landmarks of any kind; just a patch of light from the headlamp. If my phone navigation would malfunction or my battery died, I would have to just sit down and wait for first light. There's just no way of navigating without GPS, unless you're one of those people who know how to navigate using the stars! Anyway, all went well, my trusty phone app guided me right back to my car, and it was a wonderful night to be out taking pictures in the desert!
Thanks for stopping by, and stay healthy!
Linking with Skywatch Friday.

Thursday, September 7, 2023

Super Blue Moon & COVID

 The headline in the LA Times on 8.30.23 said "Rare Super Blue Moon will fill the night!". Wow, I had to get out and take some photos!
According to NASA, a blue moon is when there is more than one full moon in a month. They occur roughly every two to three years. A supermoon, meanwhile, is when the full moon occurs at the perigee of its orbit (the shortest distance between the moon and the Earth). The proximity means the moon appears about 14% larger than it does during the apogee (when the moon is furthest from Earth). The next Super Blue Moon won't appear until 2037, so hoping you had a chance to see this one!
So after going out on 8/29 and taking some photographs, I started feeling kind of crummy. My wife had been suffering from a bad cold, or more likely, the flu, for about 4 days. Darn, looks like I've caught whatever she has. By Thursday of last week I was really feeling terrible and I decided to take a COVID test. High temp, muscle aches and pain, bad head cold, splitting headache... you get the picture.
Noooooooo!! (double line means Covid positive πŸ˜“). So no post last week. Just wasn't feeling up to it. It wasn't until about Wednesday of this week (and 5 days of Paxlovid) that I finally started feeling somewhat human again, but still not 100%.
But back to the Super Blue Moon. 
Moonrise was scheduled for 7PM, but I didn't see it until about 7:15 because it had to climb over those mountains. Also, it was supposed to rise at 112 degrees, which my trusty iPhone compass said would be just to the right of that big tree. My planned composition was to have the moon rising next to the tree, with the dirt trail and fence acting as leading lines, drawing your eye to the moon. Oh well, best laid plans!
Meanwhile, looking in the opposite direction (west), I liked the way the setting sun was selectively lighting up the wood fence. It's really fun when the moonrise and sunset are at the same time. So many photo opportunities!
7:26PM... Starting to get a nice purple sky!
Bonus points if you can spot the guy lurking at the base of the tree. I didn't see him until I uploaded the images on my computer. He's following a trail, so no worries.
PS: The Super Blue Moon isn't blue at all, but it's big and beautiful!
Thanks for stopping by, and stay healthy!!
Linking with Skywatch Friday.