Tag Archives: cliff

Canyon Narrows

Canyon Narrows
Twisting narrows in a desert canyon, Death Valley

Canyon Narrows. Death Valley National Park, California. April 30, 2016. © Copyright 2016 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Twisting narrows in a desert canyon, Death Valley

On a late spring day of wind and sand storms in Death Valley National Park — and after several days of such conditions — we retreated to one of the deep and narrow desert canyons for an afternoon. After a short walk across the upper edges of a giant alluvial fan, we dropped into the lower reaches of the canyon and headed uphill. Soon the path entered the base of the range and the walls began to narrow, and the wide open world of the desert floor was invisible to us.

The canyons of Death Valley are in some ways similar to the more famous slot canyons of the Southwest. Both are formed by water coursing down narrow canyons, sometimes at high rates that rearrange the geography of the canyons significantly. But there are differences. Here the canyons are most often dry — a year round water supply in such Death Valley places is not typical. And the rock is not the familiar red sandstone of the Southwest, but here a more contorted and broken and often less colorful rock. But sections are very beautiful, and there is something very magical about this section of this canyon, as it narrows and passed between inward curving walls.


G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist. His book, “California’s Fall Color: A Photographer’s Guide to Autumn in the Sierra” is available from Heyday Books and Amazon.
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Surf, Bluff, Sea Stacks

Surf, Bluff, Sea Stacks
Surf, a steep bluff, and sea stacks lead toward a foggy horizon, Big Sur Coast

Surf, Bluff, Sea Stacks. Big Sur Coast, California. May 1, 2016. © Copyright 2016 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

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.


G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist. His book, “California’s Fall Color: A Photographer’s Guide to Autumn in the Sierra” is available from Heyday Books and Amazon.
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Colorful Granite Cliff and Trees

Colorful Granite Cliff and Trees
A colorful High Sierra granite cliff and trees in soft light

Colorful Granite Cliff and Trees. Yosemite National Park, California. September 9, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

A colorful High Sierra granite cliff and trees in soft light

Sitting here on a late-winter day, this late September week spent photographing in the Yosemite back-country seems so far away. (At the same time, as I watch the inevitable progress of the seasons, the upcoming summer season seems closer and closer!) Three photographers headed out to a back-country lake, where we set up a base-camp for something like nine days of photography. It might seem like photographing in one tiny area for a week might exhaust its possibilities. In fact, at the start of such a trip I often harbor such fears — but by the end of every one of them I am again reminded that it virtually never works that way. The more time spent looking in such a place, there more there is to see, and at the end of such a trip there are, inevitably, things left to be photographed on the next visit.

Not far from our camp was a rocky area that we often crossed in order to make our way around the perimeter of a nearby lake and to get to areas a bit further away. After climbing slabs the route dropped into the lower extent of a deep gully traveling down from higher terrain, and eventually I began to know these rocks and this gully very well. We had “interesting” weather during our stay, and on the day I made this photograph the light was muted by various factors including clouds and wildfire smoke.


G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist. His book, “California’s Fall Color: A Photographer’s Guide to Autumn in the Sierra” is available from Heyday Books and Amazon.
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Eastern Escarpment, Clearing Autumn Storm

Eastern Escarpment, Clearing Autumn Storm
An early season autumn leaves a dusting of snow atop Wheeler Ridge, Eastern Sierra Nevada

Eastern Escarpment, Clearing Autumn Storm. Eastern Sierra Nevada, California. October 4, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

An early season autumn leaves a dusting of snow atop Wheeler Ridge, Eastern Sierra Nevada

This long ridge in the Eastern Sierra just north of the town of Bishop has long fascinated me, though for the most part I’ve only looked at it from a distance. (Or from the other side, as there is access via along valley to the west, but that’s a story for another post.) At first I was mostly aware of this steep section of the eastern escarpment of the range when it served as a spectacular backdrop for views of the pastureland and cottonwood trees of Round Valley. But with increased familiarity with the area and opportunities to view if from many directions and distances, I began to note what a tremendously rugged and daunting bit of terrain it is. In many ways, if you ignore the scant vegetation on its slopes, it looks more like the mountains of the desert, even reminding me a bit of places in Death Valley, though with more granite-like rock. Unlike many other Eastern Sierra locations, there is little (no?) evidence of glaciation, but plentiful evidence of erosion from water, including the classic alluvial fan spreading from the steep valley between the low hills in the foreground.

Despite the lack of glacial evidence, the scene presents many other classic components of the eastern face of the range in Autumn. Although it is small against the tremendous landscape, there is an aspen grove and a bit of summer-brown grass near the lower left. The main rocks seem to be the granite that we expect to see in the Sierra. The rocks are lit by filtered sunlight from the southeast. And the cloud drifting in front of the rugged face is the remnant of a passing storm that has dusted the highest peaks with a bit of early season snow, promising that winter cannot be far off.


G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist. His book, “California’s Fall Color: A Photographer’s Guide to Autumn in the Sierra” is available from Heyday Books and Amazon.
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Basalt Columns, Lichen, Autumn Plants

Basalt Columns, Lichen, Autumn Plants
Autumn plants and lichen lend color to basalt columns, Devils Postpile National Monument

Basalt Columns, Lichen, Autumn Plants. Devils Postpile National Monument, California. October 9, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Autumn plants and lichen lend color to basalt columns, Devils Postpile National Monument

Quite honestly, this photograph was at least partially the product of laziness! We were recently in the eastern Sierra Nevada for a few (more) days of autumn color photography. We had driven up late the previous day, and by the time we got settled in to our lodgings the idea of getting up again at “oh-dark-thirty” to head out and make dawn photographs was not appealing. Rather than overtly cop out, we sort of agreed to maybe not set alarms and instead just sort of see when we might wake up. Needless to say, on the morning after a very long drive that ended late at night… we did not get up at the crack of dawn! In fact, we wandered out for breakfast at perhaps 7:30 or so, and only then returned to our room to get ready for photography.

With no prior planning at all, we made  a more or less spontaneous decision to visit Devils Postpile National Monument, which was to our lodgings at Mammoth Lakes. I’ve been in that area many times, but always in conjunction with backpacking trips, and most of those simply headed out from Agnew Meadow. We finally got down there in the middle of the morning. It turns out that this is actually a very good time to photograph this geological structure, as the sun is behind it, producing beautiful soft shaded light on the details of the basalt columns. To make a series of photographs from which this image comes, I used a very long lens, which allowed me to isolate and compose photographs out of small areas of the much larger wall of basalt columns. (Update — December 2015: Patty Emerson Mitchell reminds me that I almost left my camera in the car on this morning, claiming that I was really just there to let her see this location!)


G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist. His book, “California’s Fall Color: A Photographer’s Guide to Autumn in the Sierra” is available from Heyday Books and Amazon.
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Aspens and Rocky Cliff

Aspens and Rocky Cliff
Aspens in full autumn color against a granite cliff in the eastern Sierra Nevada

Aspens and Rocky Cliff. Eastern Sierra Nevada, California. October 4, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Aspens in full autumn color against a granite cliff in the eastern Sierra Nevada

On this morning I woke up at my 8000′ eastern Sierra camp to temperatures in the mid-thirty degree range and light graupel, or snow pellets. But the clouds looked thin, and the combination of aspens and snow is appealing, so I headed up the canyon to a higher location where I thought that there might be colorful aspens and snow. When I got there, I wasn’t disappointed — the temperature was still down in the thirties, and the light snow continued to fall… and the trees at this location were probably at their peak color of the season.

The color of the trees was intense, but the soft light of the snowy, cloudy weather intensified colors even more. I went to the far side of the lake where I know of an accessible area that is a bit higher than the lake, with my plan being to photograph these trees against the backdrop of broken granite walls, using a long focal length to narrow the boundaries of the compositions and exclude distracting objects. For intense color everything was working in my favor: the peak color of the trees, the muted tones of the background rock, and the effect of the soft light from the overcast skies.


G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist. His book, “California’s Fall Color: A Photographer’s Guide to Autumn in the Sierra” is available from Heyday Books and Amazon.
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Land Meets Sea

Land Meets Sea
Steep coastal ridges run down to the edge of the Pacific Ocean, Northern California

Land Meets Sea. Mendocino County, California. July 6, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Steep coastal ridges run down to the edge of the Pacific Ocean, Northern California

Having lived not far from the Pacific Ocean for more than a couple of decades, I am lucky to have regular access to the California coastline and its often dramatic meeting of land and sea. Due to proximity, my home territory is the section between just north of San Francisco and down through the upper portions of the Big Sur coast. The shouldn’t be any surprise, given the number of photographs of that area that I have made.

Oddly, for a near-native Californian, I had little experience with the coastline farther north. I had made it up as far as Fort Ross a few times, but every time I went north in the state I headed inland. Some years back we began to rectify this omission with some visits to the Mendocino area. I still haven’t gotten my mind completely around photographing this particular coast, but I’m learning. While we think of the coast as being somewhat civilized, with roads traversing it and passing from town to town, the actual meeting of land and water remains mostly a rugged wilderness. I made this photograph from a spot that it at the edge of one of these wilderness sections, where the roads cut inland and leave the coast to the birds and the sea life.


G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist. His book, “California’s Fall Color: A Photographer’s Guide to Autumn in the Sierra” is available from Heyday Books and Amazon.
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All media © Copyright G Dan Mitchell and others as indicated. Any use requires advance permission from G Dan Mitchell.