New Year Birds

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A little break from winter Deep Springs pictures – here are two images from the Bosque del Apache in New Mexico on New Year’s Day. My standard disclaimer on such things: I’m not a serious avian photographer, I’m just a landscape guy who also likes birds, so please be kind!

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Cloud Layer

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This winter has brought a lot of temperature inversions to the deep valleys of the Great Basin. One storm cycle in particular created an interesting effect in which most valleys in Nevada were buried in persistent low-lying cloud. This pattern came to its southwestern end just over the ridge from us, where mile-high Fishlake Valley’s cloud cover ended at the eastern edge of much lower Eureka Valley. The border is clearly visible to those familiar with the area in the satellite image below.

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We had been sledding up in the mountains that afternoon and I had noticed the cloud edge from a hilltop. So I hiked up to the most accessible overlook into Eureka Valley for sunset. I was hoping to see the clouds cascading over the low divide into Eureka, but instead they sat like a stationary wall at the valley rim. As the sun sank, some interesting subtle iridescent effects showed up in the cloud, though alas they did not appear in a very photogenic spot.

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I was kicking myself somewhat for not hiking up to a higher overlook on Chocolate Mountain, but cloud layer under twilight glow with snowy peaks in the Palmetto and Sylvania Ranges beyond still made for a lovely evening.

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January Storms Round One

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Winter sunrise light on Waucoba Mountain and the granite ridges of the Piper Mountain Wilderness, Inyo Range, California

This January has been a month of beautiful and dramatic weather in eastern California. I’ve shot almost 400 images this month, and conditions are still amazing! Were it not for life’s everday obligations, I could easily be shooting every sunrise and sunset productively for the last week or more. These four images are from our early round of weather at the beginning of the month, a fine prelude to much more.

Early light on storm-crowned Black Mountain above Deep Springs Valley:

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Snow-laced slopes of the White Mountains:

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The granite ridges and formations towards the west side of Deep Springs Valley are beautiful, fascinating and convoluted, but I generally find them very difficult to compose and photograph. The version I managed that morning is probably my favorite so far:

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Ladron Sunset

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It’s been quite a while now, but thanks to a holiday visit I at last have a fresh New Mexico image! This is Ladron Peak in Socorro County during the last sunset of 2016.

2016 Favorites: Eli

The annual collection for friends and well-wishers: The Best of 2016, Eli category. He’s getting less obliging about being photographed, alas, and our adventuring was not quite equal to some of what we’ve done in past years. But we did get out plenty, including for his first two overnight backpacking trips into the Sierra. He’s full of very optimistic notions about climbing mountains, so hopefully 2017 will bring some good outings!

Favorites of 2016

As is the tradition, a collection of favorite images from the year past. There’s not much else to say – as usual, my plans for 2016 mostly changed, but plenty of other opportunities came my way instead. Happy new Year to all! May 2017 be prosperous and photogenic beyond anyone’s expectations!

January: Looking to the sun, Death Valley, California.

Look to the Sun

January: Blooming brittlebrush, Death Valley, California.

Blooming Brittlebrush

January: Sunlight under winter storm clouds, Columbus Valley, Esmeralda County, Nevada.

Sun under Storm

February: Camouflaged pupfish, Death Valley, California.

Camouflaged Pupfish

April:Fresh snow and storm clouds on Cloudripper and Vagabond Peaks, Sierra Nevada, California.

Cloudripper Snow

April: Blooming Joshua tree at twilight, Lida Valley, Nevada.

Joshua Twilight

April: Cottontop cactus on the slopes of Corkscrew Peak, Death Valley, California .

Cactus over Badwater

April: Fog on Westgard Pass, White Mountains, California.

Westgard Fog Bank

April: Storm light on the Great Salt Lake, Utah.

Salt Lake Radiance

Fossil camel tracks, Great Basin:

Camel Tracks

June: Balanced Rock, Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas.

Boulders in Forest

June: Monsoon storm rainbow over the Piper Mountain Wilderness, Inyo Mountains, California.

Druid Rainbow

August: Limestone ledges above White River Valley, Egan Range, Nevada.

Lower Terrace and Valley

August: Sunrise light on limestone strata, Currant Mountain Wilderness, Nevada.

Sunrise Strata

October: Stormy sunrise over Sawmill Creek, Eastern Sierra.

Sawmill Creek Sunrise

October: Late autumn snowstorm descending on Temple Crag, John Muir Wilderness, Sierra Nevada, California.

Snow on Temple Crag

America’s Best Ideas: Parks, Preservation and Public Land

As we reach the end of the National Park Service’s much-celebrated centennial year, let’s have a little fun! Many people are familiar with the Parks’ iconic landscapes, but there’s a whole world of other views out there. How many of these fifteen less familiar gems from America’s best ideas can you identify? (Click to scroll through larger versions.)

Continue reading for the answers! (more…)

Toiyabe Front

Storm over the Toiyabe Front

This one’s from the spring of 2015, but it’s been languishing in the archive: the Toiyabe Range in central Nevada on a stormy May morning.

Lichen Calligraphy

Lichen Calligraphy

Just some lichen and granite working together in Deep Springs Valley.

Preserve the Desert National Wildlife Refuge

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The Desert National Wildlife Refuge in southern Nevada is the largest refuge in the contiguous U.S., but it stands to get a great deal smaller. Nellis Test and Training Range is proposing to take over 227,000 acres of Desert NWR (as well as quite a bit of other public land), with public access to be eliminated, for the purpose of fancier training scenarios with live bombs. The Refuge’s elevation range encompasses seven plant life zones, from the Mojave desert floor ecosystem up to ponderosa and bristlecone pines at its upper elevations. In addition to its iconic bighorn sheep, it protects habitat for 53 species of mammals, 30 species of reptiles, 250 species of birds and 500 species of plants. It is almost entirely in primitive condition, with 88% of its acreage recommended for wilderness by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Nellis TTR already encompasses 2.9 million acres, a larger area than any contiguous wilderness complex in the Lower 48, and they have overflight access to much more. In a time of expanding population and development in Nevada, when the state is attempting to diversify its economy with an emphasis on outdoor recreation, when nearby recreational areas such as the Spring Mountains, Red Rocks and Death Valley are seeing soaring visitation numbers, this landscape’s scenery, solitude and biodiversity are more valuable than ever. The Desert NWR’s status as a Refuge should be upheld and continued intact.

If any readers agree with me, now is the time to help! Please offer a comment on the legislative EIS by December 10th. Comments are by far the most effective way to influence this process – this is the gauge of public sentiment which will be incorporated into the information that will ultimately go to Congress. Your comment can be simple (“I want to see Desert National Wildlife Refuge continue to be managed for ecological values with open public access.”), or you are welcome to repurpose language from my comment below. If you’d like to do more, please consider a donation to Friends of Nevada Wilderness, which currently has a generous gift matching offer.

A distant view into the 2.9 million acres of off-limits military land on Nellis TTR.

A distant view into the 2.9 million acres of off-limits military land on Nellis TTR (click to enlarge)

More information on the proposed land takeover:

Here is my comment:

I am writing to express my opposition to the proposed NTTR Military Land Withdrawal. Specifically, I wish to support Proposed Alternative #1 (Extend Existing Land Withdrawal and Management of the NTTR, North and South Range). If that alternative should prove unworkable, I support the No Action Alternative.

In particular, I am strongly opposed to any land withdrawal that would result in loss of public access to currently open lands on the Desert National Wildlife Refuge. As a hiker, photographer, and amateur naturalist active in southern Nevada, the lands proposed for withdrawal offer me unique and irreplaceable opportunities for recreation and study in the region. Locations such as the Sheep Range, Hidden Forest and the Alamo Road contain a diversity of scenery and ecosystems which do not exist in similarly primitive condition elsewhere in southern Nevada. Hayford Peak, by virtue of its more than 5,000 feet of topographic prominence, is an important summit to the mountaineering community, and under the proposed withdrawal it would become the only such “ultra-prominence peak” in the Lower 48 to have no legal public access.

The elevation range, geology and biodiversity of the western portion of Desert NWR have no equivalent in similarly undeveloped condition in the region. Nearby recreational areas such as the Spring Mountains, Red Rocks, Death Valley and Lake Mead are already overcrowded and experiencing major management challenges, dramatically increasing visitation and resource degradation. NTTR has already withdrawn substantial lands and closed public access to a large portion of the Desert NWR’s original territory. In a time when Nevada is actively promoting and developing its outdoor recreation economy, loss of public access to an additional 300,000 acres of high quality landscape is simply unacceptable.

Also of concern is loss of public access and oversight to the archeological and historic sites in the lands proposed for withdrawal. Maintaining unlimited access for scientists and wildlife managers is likewise a vital concern.

I also believe that the regional context of military lands argues against further land withdrawal. Military lands without public access are enormous in the region. Between China Lake, Fort Irwin, Edwards, Twentynine Palms, Nellis, Hawthorne, Fallon and Utah TTR, recreation and natural landscapes in the Mojave and Great Basin desert ecosystems are already heavily impacted by military lands. This point only becomes stronger when one considers Fallon Naval Air Station’s current proposal to withdraw another 600,000 acres in Nevada. Nellis already has 2.9 million acres withdrawn (an area larger than almost any Federal wilderness area in the contiguous U.S. and approaching the size of Nevada’s total designated wilderness acreage), as well as flyover access to much more. I believe it is reasonable to expect the highly competent and professional leaders of our military to achieve their training goals on existing land withdrawals via increased innovation, more efficient use of existing withdrawals and better cooperation between military branches.

Furthermore, population and development in Nevada is rapidly expanding, causing major increases in impacts to desert land via urban growth, growing demands on water resources and solar energy infrastructure. All this comes at a time when residents and tourists are visiting Nevada’s backcountry in unprecedented numbers and the state is attempting to diversify its economy with a substantial emphasis on outdoor recreation. In this context, ecologically healthy land in undeveloped condition is more important to the public than ever.

Desert Range View