Favorites of 2018

As is the tradition, here is my end-of-the-year collection of favorite images. This is now my tenth such collection – I suppose this photography hobby is working out!

January 2018 lunar eclipse setting over Sierra crest:

Split Mountain Lunar Eclipse

Lifting storm, Eastern Sierra:

Winter Above

Lizard on metal, Keene Wonder Mine, Death Valley National Park:

Lizard on Metal

Sea light, Channel Islands National Park:

Shimmering Gloom of Gray

Kelp and ripples, Channel Islands National Park:

Kelp and Ripples

Rosy evening light over Santa Cruz Island, Channel Islands National Park:

Rose Ocean

Aspen in eroded tuff gullies, eastern Nevada:

Tuff Maze Aspens

Luminous haze on the Golden Gate Range, Basin and Range National Monument, Nevada:

Coal Valley Glow

Reflecting water, Deep Springs Lake playa, California:

Playa Galaxy

Light beams over Panamint Valley, Death Valley National Park:

Panamint Rays

Precambriam fossil mud cracks, White Mountains, California:

Precambrian Calligraphy

Blooming indigo bush in monsoon rain, Deep Springs, California:

Indigo Rain

Dune and mountains, Kelso Basin, Mojave National Preserve, California:

Devils Playground Textures

2018  was a strange year for me, and a difficult one. Lots of plans were cancelled unexpectedly or failed to pan out. I really didn’t take many trips devoted to serious photography, but instead spent a lot of time on outings with family and friends or in casual rambling. Hanging over most of the year was the prospect and logistics of leaving the California desert and moving to Washington, a process which sapped much of my mental energy and inspiration.

Atmospheric haze was something of a theme for me this year. Even before skies across the American West filled with wildfire smoke, it seemed that I much of the best light I saw was filtered through a lot of soft and hazy air, challenging conditions in which to make images. During a two-week trip through Washington and Oregon in August in the thick of fire season, I barely saw blue sky at all, and scarcely a glimpse of a mountain.

Despite these challenges, I had my share of good moments. I took many fun hikes with friends, saw lots of really interesting fossils and geology, explored some new territory in eastern Nevada, took my son on four backpacks, and got to spend some time on Santa Cruz Island, a landscape I hadn’t visited since I was nine years old.

In 2019, my main hope is simply to explore Washington, particularly the Channeled Scablands and the North Cascades, and perhaps deepen my connection with landscapes in western Idaho and eastern Oregon where I’ve always wanted to spend more time.

It seems that many of my friends and acquaintances also found 2018 to be a challenging and unpleasant year. Here’s hoping that next year is an improvement for all of us! Happy New Year!

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2018 Favorites: Eli

The annual collection for family and well-wishers: this year we managed four overnight backpacks, spent two nights on Santa Cruz Island, saw lots of fossils, built a 13-kilometer radius scale model of the solar system, repeated climbing camp with Sierra Mountain Guides, summited a Sierra 13-er and checked out Mojave National Preserve. Oh, and we moved to Washington.

Goodbye Deep Springs

Playa Trail

Five years and four months since we arrived from New Mexico, the rodeo’s over. I’ll dearly miss the geology, the night skies, the quiet, the black toads, the mostly-dry lake that always feels like the center of the universe, the unpredictable flower blooms, the winter fog, the views. And I’ll miss many excellent students, staff and faculty at Deep Springs College. But it’s time to move on. By the time you read this, we’ll be headed north for Washington and new landscapes. Washington is the only remaining western state in which I have not either lived, worked or spent serious time. It’ll take time to settle in, but I’m looking forward to new terrain. At least we’ll be east of the Cascades and still in the rain shadow! In the mean time, I still have quite a backlog of desert images to share.

 

Happy Halloween

Garage Bat

Happy Halloween from the flying mammals of the Frishmans’ garage!

In a few days, my family and I will be leaving Deep Springs and moving to central Washington. Today is our sixth and last Halloween in this beautiful desert valley. This place has provided some excellent spooky images over the last few years, and I’ll miss our ready access to bats, tarantulas, bristlecone gargoyles, dry bones and dead animal pits.

 

 

Bristlecones in the Light

Bristlecone Radiance

My apologies for the lack of posting these recent months! Life events have kept me very busy, and honestly, not in much of a mood to make art. But there’s light at the end of the tunnel now and some major changes are coming to my life soon. For now, here’s a moment from summer among the ancient bristlecone pines of California’s White Mountains. Trees that have seen it all, bathing in the light….

Canyon of Color

Downcanyon

Since we’re now coming up on a year since I backpacked the most colorful canyon in the Sierra Nevada, I really ought to post my remaining images! Skies were hazy with smoke, as is now to be expected, but the warmth of the haze worked fairly well with the colors of the folded rocks.

A wide view (please enlarge!):

Lake and Fold Panorama

This drainage is truly a unique and wonderful corner of the High Sierra!

Red Slate Evening

Monsoon Gifts

Indigo Shower

To much delight, the monsoon season of 2018 has been strong. We needed it. Last winter simply didn’t happen and our high desert range was looking frighteningly brown and brittle by late June. Our usual late spring flower season also, unsurprisingly, failed to materialize. But in July, the southwest monsoon pattern kicked into gear with the strongest series of thunderstorms I’ve seen in this region. Our highway flash flooded twice, debris flows have afflicted the Sierra Nevada, many local backroads are still closed and will probably remain that way for a while. But the desert right now is beautifully green, and the indigo bush in particular has rallied for a wonderful out-of-season display of purple.

I drove around the valley a few days ago watching lightning on the mountains and the afternoon sun illuminating the falling rain. Between rain, wind and limited depth of field, these images are certainly rather impressionistic. I’ll have to see how they look in print. But the green, purple and wet is a welcome sight after months of brown and dry.

Indigo Bouquet

Steens

Steens Sunrise Wall

Steens Mountain in southeastern Oregon is the northernmost major peak in the Great Basin, and in many ways it is one of the most archetypal of the region. It is highly asymmetrical, with a gently sloping west side contrasted with a massively steep and cliffy scarp on the east, a large block of crust levered into the sky by tectonic forces. It is big enough to cast its own rain shadow, blocking Pacific moisture from the west and causing the Alvord Basin to the east to be even drier than the arid range surrounding it. From the desiccated Alvord lakebed at its foot, it rises over a vertical mile through desert scrub, sage, juniper and aspens up to tundra at its summit, overlooking canyons that once held glaciers. If one were searching for the Platonic ideal of a Great Basin mountain range, Steens would make a very strong candidate.

Steens First Glow

Steens Sunrise Wave

Given its general excellence and regional importance in a land I’ve been exploring for many years, it’s a little surprising that until recently I had never even caught a glimpse of Steens Mountain. I had tried to visit back in 2002, but a sudden April snowstorm left me driving hours of snowy backroads and dodging frosty pronghorns instead, while Steens stayed stubbornly wrapped in clouds. But last November I finally chose to remedy the situation and make the long drive north to spend a couple days in the mountain’s impressive shadow.

Steens Ramparts

One frustration of this area is the number of private lands which block access to the spectacular east side canyons below the mountain crest. (Access is granted to hunters, but if you’re not planning on killing anything that day, apparently you’re out of luck.) Still, there is no shortage of views, and the various hills, buttes and playas on public land to the east give great, sweeping, lonely looks at the Alvord Desert and the Pueblo Mountains to the south.

Alvord Cloudscape

Alvord Light Curves

The late author Ursula K. LeGuin was a lover of this country and wrote beautifully on the subject:

High Desert

Out here, there is another way to be.
There is a rising brightness in the rock,
a singing in the silence of the tree.
Something is always moving, running free,
as quick and still as quail move in a flock.
The hills out here know a hard way to be.
I have to listen for it patiently:
a drumming canter slowing to a walk,
a flutter in the silence of a tree.
The owl’s call from the rimrock changes key.
What door will open to the flicker’s knock?
Out here there is another way to be,
described by the high circles of a hawk
above what hides in silence in the tree.
The cottonwoods in their simplicity
talk softly on, as hidden waters talk,
an almost silent singing in the tree
that says, here is another way to be.

Steens Towers and Shadows

Hot Water

Twin Pools

The earth’s crust is thin in the Great Basin and hot springs are abundant across the region. But Oregon’s Alvord Desert contains some of the most aesthetically pleasing springs I’ve seen in the region. White crusted pools plumbing unknown depths under a stormy sky, with Steens Mountain rising behind, steam rising in the chilly November air…..

Borax Pools

Borax Lake Clouds

Green Spring

One nearby basin was very active indeed, full of whistling fumeroles and a small bubbling geyser. My night photography abilities are not great and I wouldn’t dare to print this image large, but it was a haunting scene in the northern desert twilight.

Hot Stream

Bitterbrush

Bitterbrush and Snowstorm

It may not be the showiest wildflower out there, but the creamy yellow blossoms of bitterbrush (Purshia tridentata) bring a beautiful glimmer of life to the high desert. Even in a bad year like this one, when very little is blooming, these perennial shrubs put forth some color.

Granite Gully Bitterbrush

Bitterbrush Detail_900px

Bitterbrush is hardy and adaptable stuff, growing from true desert at 3,000 feet up to subalpine elevations at 10,000′, from the Mojave to British Columbia. Its seeds produce a small drop of vivid purple dye, almost like cochineal in its brilliance.

Bitterbrush in the desert Hiko Range, eastern Nevada

Owens Storm Bitterbrush