Runoff

White and Glass

Early 2017 saw record-breaking snowpack in the Sierra Nevada, and by June that began to turn into incredible runoff. Even here on the Eastside, where the waterways are comparatively modest, the creeks and waterfalls were amazing throughout the summer and even into the fall. Even the little Owens River is still running high as I write this in November. As usual, summer flew by all too fast, and as winter approaches I’m looking back and wishing I’d found even more time to spend watching the snow melt.

To me, running water is the real magic of the Sierra, even more than the lakes, sharp peaks and massive granite.

Rush Creek Power

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Good News for the Confluence

 

We got some much-needed good news yesterday as the Navajo Nation Council voted 16-2 to reject the appalling Grand Canyon Escalade proposal. I have watched this proposal fearfully and advocated against it for years. It would have turned one of the most beautiful, isolated, biologically significant and culturally important corners of the Grand Canyon into a heavily commercialized, motorized, overcrowded tourist attraction. The proposed tramway and other infrastructure would have destroyed the wilderness and scenic values of a large portion of Grand Canyon National Park, and would have been an affront to both local Navajos and regional tribes, many of whom consider this location highly sacred. I have visited the Little Colorado Confluence numerous times by raft and on foot, and the place stands out for its unique beauty even in the spectacular context of the larger Grand Canyon region.

For background, please see my earlier writing on the Confluence and the Grand Canyon Escalade proposal.

I am very grateful that the Navajo tribal government saw through the developers’ rhetoric. I am left wondering what will come next, however. The Grand Canyon’s east rim will always be a tempting target for such proposals, and I hope that local Navajos will work together with other tribes and conservationists to introduce their own legislative proposals to the tribal legislature so that a more responsible and far-sighted vision of the areas future may be enshrined in the Navajo Nation’s laws.

But for now, it’s time to celebrate a bit! Many thanks to the local people at Save the Confluence, who have been fighting an uphill battle for years now, to the Navajo Nation Council members (16 of them, anyway), to Grand Canyon Trust and all the other organizations and activists who have worked on this!

Solitude Morning

Eel Skeleton

Halloween Wolf Eel

Here’s something a little different from my normal desert Halloween images: a wolf eel skeleton at the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Happy Halloween!

Secret Lives of Rocks

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Wandering around Death Valley pointing a camera at interesting rocks is always a good time! Death Valley’s extremely long and convoluted geologic history makes almost anywhere else look geologically simple and sedate by comparison. The strata here have been desposited, metamorphosed, shuffled, broken, bent, folded, faulted, overturned relocated and eroded in almost every conceivable way over the last billion years. This petrified chaos is evident on a large scale in the Gothic outlines of the mountains and canyons, but it shows up plenty in the smaller details as well. One has the feeling that this is what rocks get up to when left unsupervised.

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Alpine Mirrors

Matlock Lake Calm

Photographing the Sierra Nevada has many delights. One of the foremost is waiting lakeside on a calm morning, wrapped in stillness and growing light.

Tree Glow

Total

End of Totality

“You have seen photographs of the sun taken during a total eclipse…. The lenses of telescopes and cameras can no more cover the breadth and scale of the visual array than language can cover the breadth and simultaneity of internal experience. Lenses enlarge the sight, omit its context, and make of it a pretty and sensible picture, like something on a Christmas card…. More fearsome things can come in envelopes. More moving photographs than those of the sun’s corona can appear in magazines. But I pray you will never see anything more awful in the sky.”
— Annie Dillard, Total Eclipse

Partial eclipses, of which I have seen several, are curious, fascinating and peculiar. A total eclipse is utterly astonishing We saw the bewildering light as the sun dimmed, pale, soft and almost shadowless on the ground as the great shadow approached. We saw sunset light all around the horizons, the Tetons silhouetted ghostly to the east, Venus appearing, felt a late autumn chill descending on the warm August hills. The sun shrunk to a wickedly sharp crescent. But for all that, I was still taken aback at the instantaneous change as the dark of totality struck like a sheet of inverted lightning. The dark seemed to hit with a snap, and the orange crescent above was suddenly replaced with an inky circle rimmed with streaming colorless radiance. The black circle loomed surprisingly large, while the corona appeared vast, its tendrils so arresting that they seemed to cover half the sky. Two minutes of totality seemed to pass in a breath, until a dot of blinding white burst from the top right of the black moon, spotlighted the earth for a moment, then waxed and warmed as the light gradually returned.

To me, these photos stand out from the many others only because they happen to be mine. I’ve already seen lots of better ones, though none which even begin to capture the experience. Honestly, even though I made no serious efforts to photograph this eclipse, I wish I had done even less. Next time, I do not want to give even the smallest instant of thought to my camera during totality, I just want to gaze and be awed.

I was left with a feeling of sadness for the rest of the day, wishing those minutes of totality were twice, five, ten times as long. If you ever have a chance to see a total eclipse, make the effort – all the trouble was easily worth it! I will certainly consider seriously every chance I have to see that sight again in my life.

Black Sphere

Alpine Frogs

Round Meadow Sierran Treefrog

Sierran Treefrogs (Pseudacris sierra) up in the meadows at 10,000 feet in the Golden Trout Wilderness.

Brown Sierran Treefrog

Summer Shadow

Summer Shadow

When we moved to Deep Springs four years ago, one of the first photographic elements that caught my eye was the shadow formed by the shallow canyon on the face of Chocolate mountain, a couple miles east of my house. As the seasons changed, I learned that this shadow is purely a summer phenomenon, happening only when the sun sets far enough north to shine down the big gorge where Wyman Canyon splits the White Mountains.

Somehow, the photographs closest to home can be the hardest to get after. I watched this shadow come and go over the course of four summers, always thinking I’d photograph it another day. Yesterday evening was finally the night to seize the moment and make the epic 300 yard trek down the ranch road to take some photos (with a popsicle in hand as an added bonus). It’s just a shadow, only one of many interesting shadows that the revolving earth and setting sun project on our mountains, but it will always bring home to my mind, presiding above our little house in a big desert.

Chocolate Mountain Shadow

Winter Light, Desert Snow

Gilbert Pass Snow Study 1

As we westerners grit our teeth and endure the summer of the endless heatwave, I long for the white outlines of January. These three studies were taken in the Inyo Range just east of my high desert home, looking into the Piper Mountain Wilderness.

Gilbert Pass Snow Study 2

Gilbert Snow Study 3

National Monuments Updates

Just a note, the July 10th deadline to comment on the administration’s National Monuments “review” is almost upon us. I’m typing away with my comments and adding them to my original post on the subject. Please consider sending in a comment as soon as possible! As always, feel free to borrow any of my language you find useful.

Images: A long view to Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks in southern New Mexico; my toddler son at Grand Staircase-Escalante, Utah (if he can appreciate it, so can you!); and Rio Grande del Norte in northern New Mexico.