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.
First dawn light descends the eastern face of the Cottonwood Mountains and touches the desert floor
A morning like this on the desert flats, surrounded by arid and rugged mountains, waiting for the sun to rise, is very special. We arrived in the dim, pre-dawn light and set out across the flats toward the edge of dunes, passing across scrubby desert plants and over rocky and sandy ground, listening to the steady crunching of footsteps in the silent landscape. We probably should have started a bit earlier, but we lingered a bit too long over coffee, and as we approached the edge of the dunes the sun began to move down the face of the mountains to the west.
The light on the mountains was set off against a sky darkened by the clouds of a passing weather front, and thin clouds intermittently shadowed the dawn light. It worked its way down from the ridges to the base of the mountains and then it very quickly began to light the terrain around us, first with gently cloud filtered light and soon more intensely. We quickly stopped walking and looked around for any nearby subject that might serve as a canvas for this light — I found a few long plants nearby growing in sand and moved to position them in front of the mountains as the soft light touched them.
Contorted geologic formations along a narrow desert canyon
Almost inevitably, one’s first impression of Death Valley National Park is that of huge open desert spaces, with salt flats, occasional dunes, and vast alluvial fans surrounded by rugged and arid mountain ranges. These things are impressive — that scale of the landscape reminds me of visits to The Yukon and Alaska — and the fact that roads run though and past them helps make them seem central. But with time to explore a bit more, it becomes clear that there is more to the landscape than first meets the eye. Among these features are the uncounted canyons that thread their way into the mountain ranges.
We visited a few of them during this year’s spring visit to the park, including this one that we hiked into one afternoon. The terrain of these canyons is remarkable variable, ranging from shallow and open to very narrow with vertical walls. This spot fits somewhere in the middle — the walls here are indeed very high, but they tilt back a bit from the vertical and allow a bit more light down to the gravel wash at the bottom. This particular section especially impressed me with the wildly contorted layers revealed in the cliff above. This spot is near the bottom of one of the ranges in the “basin and range” geology of the area, and the old strata are twisted and folded in all directions.