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Minaret Reflections

August 22, 2014

Minaret Inversion

Back in June, Greg Russell and I hiked into Minaret Lake in the Ansel Adams Wilderness. We had a late start, and opted for the comforts of camp and dinner that night in lieu of photographing a very dull and lightless evening as the sun set directly behind the local peaks. But our hopes ran a little higher in the morning, and we staggered out before dawn to try and do justice to the lake’s impressive rockbound shores, with the pointed spires of the Minarets fixed above and waiting to catch the dawn light. I frustrated myself for a while in a vain attempt to find some attractive composition emphasizing the stony lakeshore. But I soon gave up on foreground and decided to shoot pure reflection images instead, and was instantly much happier. The dawn glow came, though it faded off the peaks quickly as a cloud intervened, but the soft filtered light that took its place was perfect for some gentler images, all the more so as the breeze died and the lake grew increasingly glassy.

Lake Symmetry

Minaret Lake Calm

Of course, I never mind a little more drama in my images, and the Minarets certainly have an ample supply of that.

Ken and Clyde Minarets

Minaret Skyline

Dodder

August 15, 2014

Dodder Detail

This spring, an obviously parasitic plant caught my eye in the Inyo Mountains. Some research revealed it to be dodder, and it’s interesting, albeit rather creepy, stuff:

It has long been known that dodders are “vampire-like” parasitic plants. Like a nightmare from an alien horror film, the dodder wraps itself around its host. It then uses a long probe to literally tap into its victim and drain their fluids.

Researchers had done previous work that found that when the dodder first sinks its “fang” into its victim, it also begins to transport RNA – the DNA translator – between it and its host.

This latest study expands on that, finding that a surprising amount of messenger RNA (mRNA) is constantly being exchanged between both plants during the parasitic relationship….

….like any true vampire, the dodder has a “silver tongue,” sweet-talking its victim into lowering its defenses.

Here it is having its way with a blooming shrub:

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Minarets

August 6, 2014

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Back in June I took my first serious trip into the Sierra Nevada since childhood, in the always excellent company of Greg Russell. Our goals for the trip were vague and shamelessly hedonistic: to spend time in great scenery, have mellow fun, and take what photo opportunities might present themselves. The area we chose for this undemanding plan was the Minarets in Ansel Adams Wilderness, both for the spectacular landscape and because I have family connections with this group of mountains and had wanted to see them up close for years. one of the outstanding pinnacles, Ken Minaret, is named after my grandfather, Kenneth Adam, along with his climbing partner Kenny Davis. My grandfather was not a major figure in the history of Sierra mountaineering, but he pops up around the edges, notably in the Minarets and for having achieved the first ascent of the Royal Arches, a classic route in Yosemite Valley. By the time I knew him, his serious climbing days were done, but he and I spent countless hours in the Desolation Wilderness near Lake Tahoe, hiking peaks in the company of improbably small and pampered looking dogs, fishing, messing about in boats and generally exploring. There’s no question that he was a major influence on my life, and though it’s somewhat overshadowed by the higher and pointier peaks of the Minarets, just as he was somewhat overshadowed by the great climbing pioneers of his day, I couldn’t have asked for a finer moment than to watch the morning alpenglow on his namesake mountain and remember all the miles we hiked together.

Alpenglow on Ken

From the Nevada Archives

July 30, 2014

Right Fork Cascades

While looking for images for a recent photo request, I unearthed these two oldies from my 2011 travels in eastern Nevada. Above is a cascade at sunrise in the Ruby Mountains. Below is last light in Baker Creek drainage in Great Basin National Park, looking many thousands of feet down to Snake Valley.

Baker Creek Valley

Wilderness of Stone

July 21, 2014

Sylvania Joshua

Back in the spring, I visited an obscure wilderness area in our local neighborhood. Small and unassuming on the map, tucked up against much larger wildlands and higher mountains, it’s an out-of-the-way place, and I wasn’t sure what I’d find. I had read in the geologic literature that the area was made mostly of granite, so I was a little surprised on the drive in to see what appeared to be heavily eroded badlands of the type usually associated with soft sedimentary rocks or volcanic ash deposits. Regardless, the badlands were very enticing, clearly an intricate mineral labyrinth lightly adorned with Joshua trees and a sparse smattering of other desert plants. I pulled over and started wandering. But my surprise was much greater to discover, when I got close enough to lay my hands directly on the rock, that this crumbled, erosive, dendritic landscape was in fact made entirely of granite, a pale granite studded with large crystals.

Sylvania Diagonals

I’ve never seen granite behave like this, and all the nearby desert plutons weather much more conventionally into rounded boulder fields of the type seen in the Alabama Hills or Joshua Tree National Park. This patch out on the California-Nevada border was clearly marching to a different drummer. Our local geologist offered only educated speculation, but the dendritic erosion patterns made clear that some disturbance in the region’s history had allowed this particular patch of granite to be affected primarily by water erosion rather than the slow chemical weathering typical of the area.

Sylvania Shadows

I wandered up several canyons into the maze. At every bend of the watercourse, I was sure that the canyon could go no further, that an impassable dryfall must be around the next bend. But I was always surprised as the defiles cut deeper and deeper, further and further back into this anomolous pluton. The Joshua trees were blooming, other desert flowers contributed their splashes of color. In one hollow antechamber I surprised a pair of Great Horned Owls, quizzical and a little incredulous to see a visitor in their sanctuary; in another room a prairie falcon flew overhead, ignoring me entirely. The ancient Hebrew vision of “an habitation of dragons, and a court for owls” might have been envisioned with this very landscape in the prophet’s mind. Only the breeze and my own footsteps disturbed the silence as the sun sank and the shadows lengthened, the evening light etching the millions of fractal involutions comprising the walls of this desert cathedral.

Sylvania Walls

Herpeta

June 2, 2014

Snake Pair

We’ve had a lovely spring here in the valley, and the last eight weeks have seen our local toads emerge and an increasing bounty of snakes and lizards. I’m pretty sure these are Mojave patch-nosed snakes (Salvadora hexalepis mojavensis) – can anyone confirm?

Side by Side

They were having quite a wrestling match, though whether it was rivalrous or amorous was not clear to me:

Wrestling Snakes

Twisting Tails

 

A handsome gopher snake who’s been hanging out in our yard:

Golden Serpent

Photographing the local herpeta is driving home just how shaky my macro photography skills are, and achieving adequate depth of field is a constant challenge with small creatures. But a bit of blur does emphasize the excellent camouflage of the horned lizards:

Sand and Reptile

The black toads are a pleasure every time I visit!

Four Toads Basking

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Morning in the Piper

May 9, 2014

Dry Desert Snowy Peaks

The Piper Mountain Wilderness is a medium-small wilderness area happily located within a couple miles of my house. Straddling a branching spur on the Inyo Mountains, it encompasses the entire divide between Deep Springs and Eureka Valleys, as well as a substantial stretch of Eureka Valley’s northern floor. It contains a nice swath of local geology, from Pre-Cambrian and Cambrian sedimentary layers to Cenozoic basalt, but the lion’s share of its rock is Mesozoic granite plutons, which form a wonderland of boulder-studded ridges reminiscent of the Alabama Hills or Joshua Tree, though at higher elevations.

Piper Morning

The many nooks and crannies, minor summits and stone labyrinths of the Piper ought to provide me with years of short explorations. But the views from the area’s high points are easy and spectacular goals for a morning close to home. Across the expanse of Deep Springs Valley the Eastern Sierra preside, while to the south is the deep drop and vast, desert expanse of Eureka, with the Last Chance Range looming above.

Eureka Rays

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