Tag Archives: cliff

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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Two Trees, Granite Face

Two Trees, Granite Face
Two trees, one very old and one very young, grow high on a granite face in Yosemite National Park

Two Trees, Granite Face. Yosemite National Park, California. July 13, 2015. © Copyright 2015 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Two trees, one very old and one very young, grow high on a granite face in Yosemite National Park

This tree grows high on the apparently barren face of a tall granite dome in Yosemite National Park’s high country. Of all of the improbably places to spot a tree, and one that seems reasonably healthy and strong at that, this has to be one of the most unlikely. Given its location, it must be putting its roots down in little more than a large crack in the rock and it has to be fully exposed to strong winter winds and snow.

I have photographed it more than once in the past, and it continues to intrigue me. For thinking that I know the tree well, I was surprised to find that I had not previously noticed the smaller tree growing just beyond and to the right of the main tree — perhaps the offspring of the larger tree? For a short time in the morning, low angle light streaming across the tops of more granite formations to the east glances across the surface of the dome and beautifully lights the two trees.


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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Base of the Cliff

Base of the Cliff
Autumn plants growing at the base of a sandstone cliff

Base of the Cliff. Capitol Reef National Park, Utah. October 22, 2014. © Copyright 2014 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Autumn plants growing at the base of a sandstone cliff

It seems that we have arrived at that time when each year my thoughts begin to turn again to autumn photography. That is probably my favorite season as it includes those final warm days of Indian summer, the first inkling of the coming winter, the annual color transition as trees lose their leaves, and the first real winter weather — all of which are favorite photographic subjects of mine. (I’ll be paying special attention to Sierra Nevada fall color this coming season, for a number of reasons, but especially since this is the first autumn following the publication of my book on the subject: California’s Fall Color: A Photographer’s Guide to Autumn in the Sierra” from Heyday Press.)

So, an autumn photograph! This one comes from last October, when I had the opportunity to make a photography trip through some of may favorite areas of southern Utah. Partway through the trip I met up with my friend and fellow photographer, David Hoffman. We spent several days poking around in and photographing Capitol Reef National Park. On this evening we passed through a narrow gorge not far from our camp, quickly stopped, and ended up photographing the red rock canyon walls and the autumn colors until the light faded at the end of the day.


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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Weathered Cliff, Evening Light

Weathered Cliff, Evening Light
Early evening light on the face of a rugged and weathered sandstone cliff, Capitol Reef National Park

Weathered Cliff, Evening Light. Capitol Reef National Park, Utah. October 22, 2014. © Copyright 2014 G Dan Mitchell – all rights reserved.

Early evening light on the face of a rugged and weathered sandstone cliff, Capitol Reef National Park

Recently I have been thinking about where we find subjects for photographs and about the fact that they are everywhere — I could say that you don’t always have to seek out particularly “special” places, or I might instead say that if you look closely enough almost any place can be special in some way. I do understand the interest in creating photographs of recognizable subjects and perhaps even the challenge of trying to make such photographs stand out in some way. But for me it is far more interesting to use the camera as a means of focusing more closely on what I can find wherever I am, and then trying to clear away obstacles to seeing these subjects in my own way.

Late in the day we had stopped along a section of roadway in Capitol Reef National Park. We knew, of course, that red rock sandstone cliffs and autumn trees were there, but most of all we stopped because the light was so fascinating. We simply walked along the road and looked, and almost everywhere we looked we found something that seemed like it might be worthy of a photograph. There was so much to see in this small area that as fast and furiously as we photographed, we felt like the light was passing too quickly. The subject of this photograph is a rough and weathered by of sandstone cliff that I happened to notice as I looked up from another subject I had been photographing.


G Dan Mitchell is a California photographer and visual opportunist. Blog | About | Flickr | Twitter | FacebookGoogle+ | 500px.com | LinkedIn | Email


All media © Copyright G Dan Mitchell and others as indicated. Any use requires advance permission from G Dan Mitchell.