Monthly Archives: November 2007

Cosmic Swirls

As dusk darkened to night, my exposures got longer and longer until the swirl trails of the stars echoed the swirls in the rock of the Wave.

To take this photo, I needed to wait until darkness out in the desert with the ordeal that was to come. But, I say, since all’s well that ends well, well worth it!

Posted in Digital Night, Landscape, Photography, The Wave

Rock Poetry

In the late afternoon, the inner chambers of the Wave glowed with the warmth of the November sunset.

[93mm in 35mm terms, 2.2 seconds at f/22 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.]

Posted in Landscape, Photography, The Wave

Great Basin Spadefoot

The good people at the Kanab Field Office of the Bureau of Land Management collected this fellow when he was merely a tadpole from a rain puddle in the slickrock. Now this Great Basin Spadefoot Frog lives in a terrarium in the office.

When I visted the BLM following my visit to the Wave, they were nice enough to take the little guy out for me where I photographed him on a hand. He’s a shy one, so I didn’t have too much time. I put my 200mm macro lens on a tripod, and boosted the ISO to 1,000 to use available light.

Posted in Bemusements, Photography

Pride Cometh

This is a photograph taken at the Wave, a beautiful geologic wonder of the world. Chambers, striations, passages: it’s hard to describe the wonders of this place. So I’ll be posting photos to show, not tell.

The Wave is in a special administration area, which is rather well run by the Kanab district office of the BLM (Bureau of Land Management, part of the U.S. Department of the Interior). BLM regulations cap the number of people per day at 20, 10 selected by advance lottery, and ten first come first served. BLM regulations also specify that everything packed in must be packed out, including human waste.

When you get your permit, the BLM gives you a kit with a series of maps and photos. There’s no trail as such, and a lot of the hike is across slick rock. But the BLM treasure-hunt kit is great, it shows you photos correlated with a strip topographic map of what you should be seeing each step along the way.

People, particularly photographers, flock to the Wave from around the world. May and October are the most popular months (the summer is just too danged hot and dangerous), but April and November are also good times to visit.

When I got to the Wave, the central area was occupied by three German photographers who were very loud, smoking heavily, and whose gear was all over the place. This was offensive to me. A place like the Wave is the closest thing I have to a church. How would these visitors from Germany have felt about someone behaving in a similar fashion in the middle of a Gothic church in the ancient downtown of a medieval German city?

The photo above shows a side corridor or chamber (you can walk through it) lit by the setting sun. I used a polarizer filter to maximize the color saturation, and an exposure of two seconds at f/22 to get the most depth of field I could.

In Perspectives, I wrote “I have found my center, and know what I am. I can hike the canyon rims, photograph sunset, and come down by starlight.” It’s dangerous to take wilderness casually, and to be over confident. You know what pride cometh before as well as I do.

I stayed at the Wave long after everyone else had left to photograph by the light of sunset, and then to make a thirty minute exposure by starlight of the Wave. Sunset comes early this time of year, and the jumbled country around the Wave would be very dark at night. Still, I figured I’d have no problem reversing the order of the BLM checkpoints using my headlamp.

In the event, I had the light of the crescent moon for the first twenty minutes or so of my hike. Then the moon set, and I lost my way. The route was marked by cairns, which are rock piles, marking the way across the slick rock. I saw one cairn, but not the next. Foolish me, I figured I knew the direction I was headed.

From then on, it was like a bad dream. I was up and over mounds and around dry basins. The land seemed to be driving me to steeper and steeper ground, and it was hard to tell in the light of my beam whether a drop-off was three feet, thirty feet, or three hundred feet. In the best of times, this is confusing maze-like terrain, let alone on a dark night. Pretty soon, I’d forgotten how to get back to my starting point. The shapes of mountains and canyons loomed larger and larger, and I didn’t seem to remember anything like this from the fairly brief hike in.

I’d see a stone ramp, go up, meet an obstacle to go around, find another way, and even my recent history was lost.

I realized that this couldn’t go on. It was very hard to see where I was going. I was getting very tired after a long day on little food, with lots of exertion photographing. My water was low. To continue in the circumstances was to risk breaking my neck.

So the next time I found myself on a platform facing what looked like a precipice opening at my feet, I stopped. I had a down jacket, and knew I wouldn’t die of hypothermia in one night.

But it was so, so cold. I paced all night in a small circle, like Gandalf on top of Orthanc. I used the last of my camera batteries to photograph star trails. I enjoyed the cosmic light show in the sky and tried to ignore chattering teeth. I meditated on being lost in the desert and on whether my life insurance was adequate for Phyllis and the kids. (I spent another cold night vigil on top of Half Dome not so long ago, so I’m actually experienced at this!)

As the pale light of dawn began to illuminate things, I was glad I had stopped. Between impassable crags, a gorge and network of crevasses opened at my feet. I turned around, and began to make my way back down, coming shortly to the cairn-marked route, which I had crossed without recognizing it in the night.

A couple of hundred feet closer to the trailhead, I met one of the BLM people coming in. He said he was running late. I said I was running even later, and told him my story, admitting to feel a bit embarrassed. He told me I wasn’t the first, it happens lots of times (if that’s a consolation). We talked about contacting my wife so she wouldn’t call out search and rescue. He said heck, when he’s in the office, he ignores calls for search and rescue for two or three days because “they usually show up”, and, heck, where are you going to start looking for someone in this crazy, convoluted terrain, anyway?

When all is said and done, I’m thrilled with my time at the Wave (thought not my cold and sleepless night). I’ve many interesting photos to look through and post-process. But in the future I’ll try to be less prideful about my relationship with the wilderness.

Posted in Hiking, Landscape, Photography, The Wave


This is a view of the spine of Angels Landing with the Zion Canyon floor far below.

I hadn’t realized until I was actually in Zion National Park that I have visited this wonderful place twice before. Once, as a kid with a camera, with my parents and brother on the canonical camping trip ending in California. And again, as a photographer in my twenties.

Nothing inside Zion has changed much in all that time. But outside protected lands, southwestern Utah is changing fast into a country of generic strip malls and McMansion subdivisions.

Anyhow, the strange thing is I didn’t really remember Zion until I came back. With memory returning, I realize, “I photographed that tree before, by golly.”

The land hasn’t changed, the vistas are much the same, but my perspective has altered. I have found my center, and know what I am. I can hike the canyon rims, photograph sunset, and come down by starlight. I can wander up winding canyons filled with water. What was I thinking way back then to be so timid about making my way into the heart of this great land?

Posted in Landscape, Photography, Zion

Falling into the Virgin

I wandered and slogged up the Virgin River towards the narrows. Boots and jeans soaked, walking up the river like some amphibious creature, camera and tripod high on my back.

About a mile beyond the end of the trail, I came upon this waterfall tumbling down the slick rock into the Virgin.

I exposed for two seconds to soften the water, and used a polarizing filter to bring out the red colors in the rock.

[300mm in 35mm terms, circular polarizer, 2 seconds at f/25 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.]

Posted in Hiking, Landscape, Photography, Zion

Looking Up in Zion

Coming down from Angels Landing in the dark, I paused after the set of switchbacks known as Willy’s Wiggles. Looking back, I saw Angels Landing silhouetted (on the right). I exposed for about twenty minutes, with the camera pointed close to due north (which accounts for the exaggerated circular motion of the star trails).

[18mm in 35mm terms, 1199 seconds at f/4 and ISO 200, tripod mounted.]

Posted in Digital Night, Landscape, Photography, Zion

Star Trails from Tunnel View

Driving into Yosemite on a clear November evening, I stopped at Tunnel View for this 25 minute exposure from the classic Ansel Adams view spot.

With night photos, the color depends on your white balance setting (star light is not sun light). Night photography utterly baffles auto white balance settings, so the best bet is to correct the white balance in post-processing.

Posted in Digital Night, Landscape, Photography

Fog and Stars

After the sun went down, the stars came out. I thought a photo of star trails above a fog bank would be unusual, so I made this three minute exposure.

Then a park ranger came along, and told us we needed to be off the slopes of Mount Tamalpais 15 minutes after sunset. Makes it kind of tough on a night photographer.

Related image: Star Trails.

[24mm in 35mm terms, 180 seconds at f/9 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.]

Note to readers: please bear with me, I’m on a photo trip, and I won’t be posting for a while. Hopefully my work while I’m gone will be worth the wait!

Posted in Digital Night, Landscape, Photography

Island in the Fog

In the sea of fog, the crest of the Point Reyes peninsula stands out like an island.

[600mm in 35mm terms, 1/5 of a second at f/5.6 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.]

Posted in Landscape, Photography, Point Reyes

Sea of Fog

On Monday afternoon Mark and I went out hunting for photos. Berkeley was in its own globe of sunshine. When I looked across the Bay, fog was creeping through the Golden Gate and up the slopes of Mount Tamalpais. Mark suggested the top of Mt Tam would be clear, and it might be interesting to shoot the sunset from above the fog.

We drove up the slopes of Mt Tam through intermittent fog and scattered sunshine. From the ridgeline, the Pacific Ocean was buried in a sea of fog. I exposed using as small an aperture as possible, hoping to exagerate the rays of the sun.

[72mm in 35mm terms, 1/8 of a second at f/29 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.]

Posted in Landscape, Photography, San Francisco Area

Bridge to Nowhere

This is the suspension bridge over to the Point Bonita Lighthouse.

[36mm in 35mm terms, 7.1 seconds at f/25 and ISO 100, tripod mounted.]

Posted in Photography, San Francisco Area

Lembert Dome

This photo of Lembert Dome, near Tuolomne Meadows in Yosemite Park, is truly an artifact of digital technology. Without the ability to render the foreground at a lighter exposure than the dome or sky in the digital darkroom, you’d never see the meadow or deer.

Posted in High Sierra, Landscape, Photography, Yosemite


Roof, photo by Harold Davis.

Phyllis and I left the kids with Rachel this afternoon, and we went to visit the De Young Museum in San Francisco. This is a photo of the vast and wonderful roof of the new museum building from the observation tower. I used my Canon Powershot G9 “toy” camera (I never could have brought my backpack full of gear and tripod into the museum).

Posted in Bemusements, Photography, San Francisco Area

Lake Tenaya at Night

On a memorable evening close to the 2007 summer solstice, I climbed down from the top of Lembert Dome as the sun set. On my way to the Olmsted Point area to photograph star trails over Half Dome, I stopped to photograph the shores of Lake Tenaya by starlight. This was a 3 1/2 minute exposure with the ISO boosted to 640.

The photo below shows the view of Lake Tenaya from more-or-less the same spot in daylight hours.

Besides ambient starlight, you can see a couple of exogenous light sources in this photo: car headlights in the distance on Route 120, and the light trail of a satellite traversing up the right-hand side of the sky.

[24mm in 35mm terms, 210 seconds at f/4 and ISO 640, tripod mounted.]

Lake Tenaya

View this image larger.

Posted in Digital Night, Landscape, Photography, Yosemite