Sand dune shapes in soft light, Death Valley National Park
There are still a few more photographs to share from this year’s spring visit to Death Valley National Park back at the end of March. To answer the inevitable question, we arrived after the peak of the “super bloom” — but there were still flowers and there are always plenty of other things to see. We visited some familiar sites and sights, and we also investigated some areas that were new to us. (It is a big park — even though I’ve been going regularly for over 15 years there is still plenty of new thing stuff to see.)
On the last morning of our trip, after days featuring wind and dust storms and even rain, it appeared to be calm. I got up well before dawn — what else is new? — and headed to a nearby area of dunes. Rather than going to the “usual spot,” I drove on to a location that I had been thinking of for a while, parked, loaded up my pack full of camera gear, grabbed my tripod, and headed out the pre-dawn light across a playa, heading toward some low dunes. Twenty or thirty minutes later I arrived, still before sunrise, and I had some time to photograph in the beautiful soft pre-dawn light.
Reflections and shaded interior beyond a barred window, San Francisco
Walking along the waterfront near the South Beach Harbor I noticed a walkway going out to the end of a pier than I had not noticed before. This time a gate was open, so I walked out onto the pier and passed many small temporary (or so they seemed) businesses and shops that were set up behind the sliding metal doors, now open for the day. My goal was the end of the pier, where I figured I might be a good, clear view straight into the morning light coming across the bay or possibly back across the boats tied up in the harbor.
Passing one small metal-sided building, I noticed the odd combination of objects — a bird cage behind a sort of “human cage” of the barred windows. The right window provided a visual and subjective contrast with these objects, since it reflected the open blue sky and the upper portions of the masts of the nearby sailboats.
San Francisco, a city with a truly interesting past, is being gentrified at an alarming rate. The absurd and explosive increase in real estate values in the region is one indication. Another is the rate at which formerly down and out areas are being “redeveloped” and filled with very expensive real estate.
In few places is this more apparent than along the waterfront north and south of ATT Park, where the Giants play. The area right around the ball park took off some years back, and soon become one of the most expensive areas in the City. (No surprise, given the views of the bay!) More recently the run down areas south of the park have been the site of a huge amount of new construction — run down open areas are now full of new buildings. In a few spots some of the old things remain, including along sections of the Embarcadero where the “Hi Dive” still stands, along with the Java House and (not for long) Red’s Java House.
Photographer Patricia Emerson Mitchell at work in a Death Valley canyon
Photographer Patricia Emerson Mitchell paying attention to the small things along a narrow canyon in Death Valley National Park. On a cloudy day with dust storms out in the valley we headed up this canyon in the afternoon and found quiet conditions following this narrow canyon as it twisted and turned its way up into the mountains along the east side of the valley.
We started our hike at the top of a monumental alluvial fan build of rocks washed down from the mountains through this canyon. We dropped over the edge into the main wash and headed uphill, with the canyon walls soon closing in around us. In many places the canyon walls are almost vertical and only feet apart. These are places of deep quiet and stillness, mostly cut off from the surrounding terrain, protected from the wind, and with only a narrow band of blue sky straight overhead.
A small brick-paved urban square in dappled sunlight
I have my reasons for photographing in urban environments, even though that might seem like an odd passion for someone who photographs nature and landscapes. The same attractions of form and light and texture and juxtaposition are found in both places, though the urban environment encourages me to photograph in a different way. Here I don’t use a tripod, and I often make photographs very quickly and instinctively, since the subjects are so transitory and it is a matter of photograph it now or never. Even a seemingly static and quiet scene like this one only lasts a moment before people again walk through the scene. If nothing else, it is an intense exercise in seeing.
The area of where I made this photograph is, despite the appearance, a very busy and noise place along San Francisco’s Market Street, a place where there are throngs of people and where traffic noise can be oppressive. Yet at times the crowds part and the scene can be almost empty. And there is often quite beautiful light — it comes from all angles as it reflects back and forth among the glassy surfaces of tall buildings, and at street level in some places the light can fill the scene from almost all possible directions.
Evening on Death Valley sand dunes with desert mountains in the distance
It was the first evening in Death Valley this season, and we had arrived after a lazy drive in from the Ridgecrest area. Having plenty of time, we stopped at Trona Pinnacles before reaching the park and after entering we took a long side trip out on a gravel road to a couple of somewhat remote canyons. We got settled in and it was time to head out for some evening photography — and since dunes were nearby they seemed like a good first evening destination.
The sand dunes go quickly through some remarkable transitions of light and color at the end of the day. In the full sunlight the tones of the sand can seem a bit flat and washed out, but the low angle light begins to highlight the textures — large textures of the dunes themselves, plus the finer textures of small patterns of windblown sand. The the color of the light begins to warm and the contrast drops and shadows fill with a soft light. At the moment I made this photograph the sun was still above the ridge to our west, but it had passed behind high, thin clouds that momentarily muted the light even more.
Surf, a steep bluff, and sea stacks lead toward a foggy horizon, Big Sur Coast
I sometimes forget how long this coast has been a part of my consciousness, but a visit or two quickly remind me. I have lived in the San Francisco Bay area since I was four-years-old. Weekend and summer visits to the Monterey Bay beaches and the tide pools of Point Lobos were regular events, and the effect of those visits remains all these years later — and all it takes is a quick visit to remind me of what it means to live this close to the Pacific Ocean.
On this first day of May I made a morning visit to the upper Big Sur coast, getting to some of the best parts before the inevitable weekend crowds arrived. It was a beautiful day, at first looking like it might turn out to be “yet another blue sky day,” but soon becoming more interesting, at least from the photographic point of view, as thin fog began to form just about the meeting of the ocean and land. When I made this photograph looking south down the coastline, it was still early enough that the bluffs and coastal mountains cast shadows along the surf line.