Friday, March 30, 2012

Hike No. 11 - Borrego - Palm Canyon

March 29, 2012
4.8 Miles

Borrego-Palm Canyon, named for the Bighorn Sheep that frequent it and the palm oasis that comprise some 800 Fan Palms, drains the west side of the San Ysidro Mountains. These mountains form a 6,000 foot rampart on the west side of the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park. We arrived at the park via a pass through those mountains, and the change from verdant and lush agricultural land of Southern California to the Cholla, Yucca, and blooming Ocotillo of the desert was striking as we plunged down from the 4,000 foot pass to the town of Borrego Springs, 3,500 feet below in just a few miles.

The hike up the alluvial fan and into the mouth of Borrego-Palm Canyon took me into desert terrain much loved from way back at the beginning of my career as a geologist working in the desert of Central Nevada. Down here, though, in addition to striking geology and rocks coated with desert varnish, there is a greater variety of interesting plants, including the Ocotillo which are at their peak now, and several smaller blooming shrubs, including a bright red Penstemon. I was struck by the activity of bees, despite the fact that the winter and spring have been extremely dry. Another hiker on the trail pointed out a bee hive, clinging to the canyon wall 100 feet or so above the canyon floor. The walk was accompanied by nearly constant bird song, beginning with a covey of quail near the trailhead. A pause to rest for a few minutes would reveal small mammals scuttling among the boulders, and at one point, after fruitlessly scanning the steep canyon walls for Bighorn Sheep, happened on a lone ewe browsing the desert plants just off the trail.

But water was the most distinctive feature of the hike. Early on, the trail crossed a dry wash emanating from the canyon at the upper end of the fan. Very dry, and despite photos I'd seen showing flowing water at the oasis, I really didn't expect to see any on this very dry year. Nevertheless, about half way to the oasis, there was that pleasant burbling sound, and soon the sight of a healthy little stream tumbling around cobbles and falling from boulders into clear pools. Other signs of water were also around. In 2003 a huge flash flood ripped up palms and tumbled boulders to turn the once lush oasis into a scene of devastation. Much healing has occurred since then, but tumbled boulders and many trunks of large palms are scattered along the canyon bottom, where at one spot a boulder the size of a cabin rests on a trunk well up from the canyon bottom.

But the oasis is still impressive, with a cluster of at least 100 mature fan palms, skirted with decades of brown and rustling fans. From my perch on a large boulder within the oasis I enjoyed my liverwurst sandwich and watched the come and go of other visitors - this is a popular trail, and I heard several languages on the way up. According to the guidebooks, a second oasis can be found another mile or so up the canyon. But it is a boulder-hopping excursion, and I was worried about my old bones, and also pretty well used up from the rock and boulder hopping I'd already done, during many side excursions in my hunt for vantage points for photographs. I could see that the groups of other hikers were enjoying themselves, but realized that it is best that I hike alone - any companion would long ago have abandoned me, as with all of my pauses for photography, my GPS informed me that my overall speed made good on the way up the canyon was a measly 0.9 miles per hour.

Despite starting from the trailhead at about 8AM, the day was now warming up pretty well, my water was gone, and it was time to head back down the trail. But I did take the longer, alternate loop, which took me through an area of impressive cactus and Ocotillo, where I photographed a Cactus Wren, and was fortunate to come across that grazing sheep.


Within the palm oasis

Cactus Wren



Monday, March 19, 2012

Hike No. 10 - Odd weather at Cronan Ranch ... very odd

March 19, 2012
4.5 Miles

It had been sunny in the morning. But by the time I got enough of the to-do list checked off to assuage  the guilt of going for a ramble they were darkening. Foreboding, like. Eerie light and odd colors. It was as if I had stepped into a parallel universe where the light, or my perception of it, reacted to my brain waves. Maybe I hadn't drunk enough water. Thankfully everything returned to normal once I had looped back to the parking lot and slumped into the seat of our Explorer.

One of the ancient oaks between Cool and Pilot Hill

Oaks near Cool

Goldfinch, pondering the odd weather

I love the copses of oaks, like this one ...

... and this one

Sandhill Cranes on another ordinary epic adventure

Mule Ears

Journeys are best with company, whether down the river, or through life

Kayakers head down the SF American River

Cronan Ranch cow camp

Images captured via Lumix GH2 and processed minimally in Lightroom 4, and to 11 in Nik Color Efex Pro

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Tony Mindling - Prize-Winning Photographer?

I had mixed feelings about entering a juried show. Rejection is no fun, and I didn't like the idea of needing to fight feelings of ill will toward judges too lame to recognize my brilliance. I was about 18 when I last entered a show - some sort of camera club exhibit in San Rafael. My image, star trails with the superimposed track of the Echo I satellite taken during a family camping trip in the Sierra Nevada, was rejected in favor of a horribly trite image of a ballet dancer tying her slippers. I have avoided contests, and especially camera clubs, ever since.

But I had learned of this show, a celebration of the Centennial of the Mountain Quarries Railroad Bridge, through the folks of Art on the Divide, a cooperative gallery I recently joined. The Mountain Quarries Railroad Bridge is more commonly known as the No-Hands Bridge, a name applied by equestrians in the time before guard rails for reasons only they can fully appreciate. It was built in 1912 to transport limestone from the Cool Cave Quarry. At that time the limstone was used as part of the refining process of Sprekels Sugar. Now the bridge is part of a fine hiking, equestrian, and cycling trail along the river within the Auburn State Recreation Area State Park.

A few others in the AOD group were entering paintings and photographs. So what the heck, it was an opportunity to print and frame a couple of photos. Putting aside my anxiety, I went to my photo archives to find an image of the bridge that I recalled from a couple of years ago.

Thanks to Lightroom and keywords, finding the image, and one other that pleased me, was un-painful. I had post-processed the image after I had taken it, in the fall of 2006, using Photoshop, and saved it as a TIFF. I also had the original RAW file, taken with a Nikon D80 with the Nikkor 24-85mm lens. While working over the image a bit more, I recalled taking it. 

The photograph was no snapshot. The bridge is just downstream from the Highway 49 bridge that crosses the American River between Auburn and Cool - a well-beaten path for us Coolies. As the leaves turned I had been watching that tree for a couple of weeks, and knew the time of day when the light would be right. When I felt that the little tree was at its peak, I packed up my camera and tripod and headed out in the late afternoon, when the low sun would backlight the tree and set it a-glow. From a parking area just upstream from the Highway 49 bridge a trail leads back under the bridge to a good vantage point for the No-Hands Bridge. Dissatisfied initially with that point of view, I went closer to the river and clambered over the rocks looking for the right spot, and eventually came back to a spot under the 49 bridge, where I found a point of view providing a shadowy backdrop for the tree, and also include a satisfying curve in the river leading to the bridge in the background. I stopped the lens down to f/20 and used a shutter speed of 1/4 sec. Post processing this time around included local lightening and darkening in Lightroom, and general and local use of the Warming/Brightening, and Detail Enhancer filters in Nik Color Efex. Printing required a trip to Fry's to replenish a couple of the ink cartridges in my Epson R3000. The print was made on Ilford Gallerie Silk Gold, and at $120 for a box of 50, 13X19 inch sheets, I was pleased when the first one out was right on. 

My mat cutting process is very simple. Cut out the mat to fit the frame, in this case 18X24, with the blade. Laying the rule over the print  determine the window size, and write those two dimensions on the back of the mat. I subtract those dimensions from the width and height of the mat and divide by two. The math of dealing with those fractional inches is the trickiest part. Two marks for each margin and lines are drawn for the window on the back of the mat. I lay the print over those lines as a double-check, then use my three-foot aluminum ruler as a straight-edge to guide the cut. The tricks are to use a sharp blade in the cutter, and to begin and end the cuts a fraction beyond the window corners. And keep the straight edge parallel to the line - I set the cutter down with the blade in the line, then bring the straight edge up against it, measure the distance of the straight edge from the line at the cutter, then adjust the straight edge as necessary to equal that distance near the end of the cut.

The End of a Tale That Has Become Too Long

So the deal was that we were to drop off our entries this morning, then wait for an acceptance phone call by 8PM this evening. If we did not get a call that would mean our work had been rejected and we were to pick it up in the morning.

When I had given my little presentation talk to the Art on the Divide folks I'd said that I was old enough now to take rejection in stride, that it didn't mean our work was bad, just didn't fit the needs at the time, and yah da yah da. Bullshit. By the time 6:30 rolled around I was so anxious that my old stammer gremlin had returned and I could barely answer the phone when it rang. Turned out my photo had not only been accepted, but was a prize winner. I am now to show up at the show opening next Friday for the awards presentation.

As I had been washing dishes when the phone rang, after the call I tried to convince my wife that as an artiste, it would no longer be appropriate for me to wash dishes. Not getting anywhere with that, I pondered the purchase of black attire and which ear to puncture for a diamond stud as I scraped the leftovers into the trash.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Nisenan Bedrock Mortars, Coloma, Califfornia

They arrived in the eastern Sierra Nevada about 7,000 to 8,000 years ago, moving into the mountains from the Great Basin as the climate warmed at the end of the last Ice Age. They included the Washoe, the Yakut, and the Paiute. An even greater population of native Americans inhabited and tended the warmer and moister western flank of the Sierra, among them the Nisenan. They tended the land by pruning and selective burning to increase the productivity of useful plants for food and basket weaving, and maintain open, park-like forests free of deadwood and underbrush.

The Nisenan inhabited the Great Central Valley and the Sierra Nevada Foothills west of Sacramento, including the area around my home here in Cool, and the town of Coloma, a few miles to the south. I've photographed the Nisenan bedrock mortars in Coloma several times, and keep coming back. Here Nisenan women prepared acorns by pounding and grinding them with stone pestles. The relatively homogeneous nature of  granitic rock resulted in mortars that likely lasted for generations, as mothers took over their mother's places, while their children played in the meadow or the nearby river.

But lying in the gravels of that river, eroded from bedrock veins higher in the mountains, lay flakes and pebbles of gold. Winter storms, occasional doozers, would turn the river into a roiling, sediment-filled grinder that pried the metal from its home in the high mountains and swept it away to finally lie in the riverbed down in the foothills, gleaming innocently for many thousands of years, while the Nisenan, unaware of its "value", tended their lands sustainably for generation after generation. That all ended in 1848, when James Marshall walked out one morning, within sight of this spot, to inspect the race of a new sawmill being built for John Augustus Sutter, a gleam caught his eye, and the Gold Rush displacement of the Sierra Nevada natives began.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

A Tidy Drawing Kit

Inspired by a Kolby Kirk, I've become a bit more consistent in maintaining a written journal. You may note I have not used the word "journaling". It just irks me a bit, like chalk screeching on a blackboard. I write in a journal. I try to keep at it every day. I draw pictures, too. In the past these have been sketches of ideas or plans for cabinetmaking, remodeling, or landscaping projects. Inspired by Kirk, I've begun to add little maps and sketches. Like this one.

As the drawings have become incrementally more sophisticated, so have the tools. To a fine-point india ink felt tip and my treasured Pelikan fountain pen, I've added a few graphite pencils of varying hardness, a set of Prismacolor Watercolor pencils, and a water pen.

What the heck is a "water pen" was my reaction when I read Kirby's blog about one. Turns out it is a nylon brush attached to a barrel that serves as a water reservoir. A squeeze of the flexible plastic barrel moistens the brush. It can then be used to pick up color directly from the tip of a watercolor pencil, or to smooth out and enhance the color of watercolor pencil that has already been applied to paper. Very fun. To me it kind of feels like those fun children's coloring books where the color was already on the page in the form of water soluble ink dots that you brought out with a brush dipped in water.

Why does a photographer write about drawing and watercoloring? It turns out that, in my brief association with a group of artists, that it is not unusual for photographers to be closet painters, or the other way around. And I find a sort of meditative experience comes about through spending more time with a subject, and seeing it a bit more deeply.

Anyhow, the drive to create doesn't need an excuse, so this is how I've organized my drawing stuff.

So there is all of my stuff - the colored pencils, graphite pencils, pens, and the nifty water brush. There are a lot of colored pencils. To apply some organization I grouped them into warm colors and cool colors and corralled them with a pair of asparagus rubber bands. It's the season, so we have been enjoying a lot of them lately. The asparagus, not the rubber bands. The pens and graphite pencils all go into another pair of asparagus rubbers.

And there you have it. And the whole thing (including the little pencil sharpener that came with the Prismacolor set, altho I think I will add a single edge razor blade as well) fits right back into the tin that the pencils came in, minus the flimsy plastic trays.


Hey - did you know that you can click on an image in this blog to see if full-screen in all of its glory, then forward arrow through the whole set?

Saturday, March 10, 2012

A Nice Little Gallery

I dropped off five photographs at the Art on the Divide Gallery today. They will go on display once we complete the monthly "hanging" the end of this month. Note the "we". I'm already feeling part of this kind and creative group. I took a few photos to show how well-displayed the works are, and the variety, from jewelry to pottery to large metal sculptures. Oh, and some great photos, too.

The hills of the foothills are just beginning to green up. Soon the oaks will leaf out, and we will be launched into our best season. Come up and see us. From I-80 at Auburn, head south on Hwy 49. Take it easy and enjoy the vistas of the American River Canyon on the six-mile stretch to the town of Cool.Take a left in the heart of town (you will know you are there because of the stop sign), and head out Hwy 193 for another 12 miles of serene rolling oak woodlands dotted with barns and grazing critters to Georgetown. You will love historic Georgetown. It's, like, "beyond Cool". Down the street from the gallery there is an antique shop where you can get lost in annexes filled with books and other treasures. Lots of places to eat and drink, too.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Hike No. 9 - American River North Fork Ramble

March 7, 2012
2 miles

Errands to Auburn, especially on a fine day, are hugely enhanced by a brisk run down and up the canyon in the TR6. Add in a quiet ramble of a couple of miles along the river from the Confluence, and the head noise developed through a couple of weeks of preparing for my vetting by the Art on the Divide folks was soon damped down into the mellow zone.

The walk started on the north side of the Old Foresthill Bridge. Old, to distinguish it from the New Foresthill Bridge, that splits the sky some 700 feet above the N Fork of the American River. The walk passes the abutments of at least two other NF bridges - The Old Old Foresthill Bridge and the Old Old Old - well, anyhow, lots of gold rush transportation history is littered around this spot in the bottom of the canyon where the North and Middle Forks of the American River convene.

It was a relaxing walk, filled with the beginnings of spring, and lots of stuff to aim the
Panasonic GH2 at, as I continue to try to learn its tricks.

(Video here:

Canyon Live oak

Gold panning 

Belly Blossoms (technical term for tiny flowers requiring a prone position to photograph)

Parachute Man was no doubt launched from the Foresthill Bridge, 700 feet above.

A quiet spot along the North Fork

Hand-stacked stone still supports a 150-year-old roadbed along the river

The Buckeye always fascinates me with its unique adaptation to foothill summers by getting the jump on the season, leafing out early, flowering, producing seeds, and going dormant by July.

Buckeye leaves a few days old

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Art on the Divide Gallery

Today I was welcomed into the fold of the Art on the Divide Cooperative Gallery. I'm proud to have been included among this fine group of artists who produce exceptional work. I'm looking forward to getting to know and learning from them. The gallery is located in a historic building in Georgetown, California. Fortuitously off the beaten track, Georgetown has escaped the "quaintifying" transmogrification that has blighted so many of the old gold rush communities. C'mon up and see us sometime.

Here is a sampling of the work that I will be showing there beginning March 30:

Loon Lake

Bud's LaSalle

Codfish Creek

Backyard Maple

Snowy Egret, Cool, CA

Winter Oak, Knickerbocker Flats, Cool, CA

The Red Caboose, Portola, California

Bufflehead Pair, Newport Bay preserve, CA

Morning Paddle, Eagle Lake, Lassen County, CA