Category: Daniel C.

Week 7: A Cascade of Failures in the Western Cascades

The second to last day of my spring break was by far one of the most interesting and action-packed days I have ever experienced. It was truly an adventure. I felt that is was more important to tell this story than it was to summarize my week, because quite frankly this one day defined my entire trip to Oregon.

Before I dig in, I need to give some backstory:

There is a place called Tamolitch Blue Pool in the Western Cascades that I hiked to with a friend of mine. It’s a beautiful natural spring of crystal clear extremely blue water. It also has a seasonal waterfall and it feeds the McKenzie river. Below are some photos for reference:

The day I hiked here with my friend, I was three hours late to bring her home. Her parents were irate and grounded her. I apologized to them in person, but feeling blue, I brainstormed a way to remember what was honestly an amazing day and make everyone feel better. The product of this brainstorming was to hike the two mile trail at night, shine a flashlight underwater in the pool, and get a long exposure wide angle shot of the pool with the stars at night. I will explain more details later, because it was far more complicated, but I specifically picked this Saturday because of the clear weather. In addition to this, I had spent the week researching the Oregon Slender Salamander and the places to find them. Good habitat for them happened to be in the Western Cascades very close to the blue pools, as well as lots of other cool herpetofauna that I wanted to find. As a last ditch effort to find cool herpetofauna, get out exploring, and help my friends emotional health, I decided to go out with my friends from camp, estuary field instructor, Indusium, and Alpine cabin area leader, Gecko to accomplish my goals. They had offered earlier to help me with my project and expressed interest in going out together. So we all piled in my Ford and listened to the same two CD’s I had in my car on repeat.

The starting point for my adventure was Silverton, OR, about a 45 minute drive from Salem, OR, where I was staying. Our first stop (aside from the gas station) would be an interesting bog research site about 2.5 hours south deep within the Cascades. It was here that the northernmost population of Foothills Yellow-legged Frogs resided.

I had to take the highway to get there obviously, so I hopped on I-5, quickly made my way over to the left lane, and sped up to about 70-75 to catch up to the cars in front of me. I then noticed an oddly parked car under a bridge. “Hey, that’s a strange place for a car to park!” Then I realized it was a highway patrol car. A few seconds later and flashing blue and red lights were behind me. I pulled over and was informed of the speed I knew I was going, and then the speed limit. 60 miles per hour! Insane! Everyone on the highway was going between 65 and 75 miles per hour, with most cars driving a hair under 70. I had no idea the speed limit was 60. I thought it was 65, but apparently Salem I-5 is a famous speed trap where the speed limit lowers by 5 mph and cops pull over people at will. For whatever reason, Oregon invested a large amount of money in a fleet of unmarked Ford Mustang GT cop cars, and they literally camp around near on ramps or in the shadows of bridges, just waiting to pull people over. I had actually seen one pull over a US Postal Service truck earlier because apparently the mafia uses them to smuggle drugs. Whatever. Oregon speed limits are dumb, and I got my first speeding ticket! This all occurred with my friends in the car, which was actually quite helpful.

After an absolute killjoy in the first 30 minutes, I drove past a monotonous expanse of rolling green hills, and eventually made it to the foothills of the Cascades. I passed by covered bridges, beautiful mountain views, a lake, and a river! Like most of Oregon, the sites were awesome. Then I got to my turnoff (and missed it at first, making a dangerous U-turn shortly after). I pulled into the forest service road, and no more than 30 seconds later I was met with a six foot wall of snow. A six foot wall of snow that continued for the entire duration of the road to the bog. There were no frogs out. Not in this. So all I could do was go to the next stop…

Which proved rather difficult. I planned this entire trip so that each stop was within around 20 miles of each other. This first one was the most south, and afterwards I would continue north, stopping at the next stop, and then finishing at blue pools at night. I was correct in my planning, each site was roughly 20 miles apart. It would be able 26 minutes of driving to the next stop.

EXCEPT IT WASN’T. Not even close.

Due to the fact Oregon is terrible at building roads (they are all dangerous with very little markings at night, plentiful potholes, intentionally poor rough patches, not enough lanes, and slow speed limits), there was no route through the mountains going North. There were plenty going all of the other directions, just not North/South. So we had to drive around the entire damn mountain, 2 and a half hours worth of driving, all the way to the next road junction, and then back in again. It was a colossal waste of time. Despite being out of Old Growth Forest, the only habitat in which Oregon Slender Salamanders are found, we decided to stop anyways at one of the nearby streams before getting back into the car for 2.5 hours and listening to the same music again.

At our quick stop, within minutes of me saying salamanders are often found under rocks, forest debris, and logs, I flipped my lifer Oregon Ensatina. While not uncommon, these salamanders are really awesome. Below are some photos of me setting up for a photo session while Gecko holds the Ensatina for me:

After nabbing some decent photos of the little dude, we left after not finding any additional animals. My next site was a three mile trail along a creek, the end of which had prime old growth forest. It was confirmed to have Oregon Slender Salamanders, but the record was rather old.

To access this site we had to take a poorly maintained forest road littered with pot holes and fallen debris. It snaked across a dammed up valley with a breathtaking lake, and at one point we actually drove past a huge waterfall and an apparently popular hot spring area. Then we got to our road, the final drive to the trailhead! It was mysterious and foreboding. The trees hung over the road on either side, tightly hugging it. It looked like we were driving into the forest completely.

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The good news was that there was no snow to block our path!

But that didn’t matter.

Sure enough, within minutes of driving down this road, a giant mound of dirt blocked our path. I did not want to risk getting stuck on it, so I did not try driving over it.

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Frustrated and determined to find something, we searched the creek area next to my car for salamanders. There wouldn’t be Oregon Slender Salamanders here, but there was the possibility for some other cool species!

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This was the area we were in. I put on my boat shoes and walked through the very cold water looking for Giant Pacific Salamanders, flipping rocks and looking under bark on logs for smaller salamanders. Sure enough, we found something, but it was Gecko that found the salamander this time! I was not sure what he found, but after consulting my field guide, I determined it to be a Clouded Salamander. This was definitely cooler than any Ensatina, and it was a great find! Even though Gecko found it, I was the one who captured it, carefully using my pocket knife to pry open little bits of wood so I could goad the salamander into coming out of its decayed crevice it had been living in under the bark. I had to be careful to make sure I preserved its habitat as well as possible. Below are some photos of me getting the salamander out of the log and posing it on a mossy rock for a photo:

I had to assemble and figure out how to use my new macro flash on the spot, which was definitely difficult with a very small and sensitive salamander in my care. I had to wet it often in order to ensure its skin stayed moist. The animal’s health is my main concern when taking photos. I am fairly proud of how the shots came out with my setup, as these animals are extremely small and difficult to photograph. Refer back to the photo above (look for the little black line on the moss- that’s the salamander) when viewing the photo below to see just how small it was.

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Clouded Salamander

In addition to this, Gecko found a Yellow-Eyed Ensatina in the same log, a different subspecies of the same Ensatina I found earlier. All and all it was a successful albeit delayed and greatly inconvenienced trip. I still wasn’t able to find any snakes or Rubber Boas though, something I really wanted to see.

After I finished up photographing salamanders while we had some interesting conversations by the creek, we got in my car and headed up to a restaurant by the McKenzie river famous for its Mac and Cheese. Luckily it was the 26 minutes away I expected it to be, and we got there just before it closed. I had delicious Mac and Cheese, Clam Chowder, and Marionberry Soda, which uses a special type of Raspberry known as a Marionberry that is only grown in Marion County, OR to flavor the drink. After a healthy amount of nazi-tattoo stories and general interesting conversation, we left the restaurant for our night hike to blue pools.

Arriving at the parking lot for the hike is an interesting experience, as a small hydro-electric dam on the McKenzie greets you at the entrance. At night it looks like a steam boat.

After hiking for what seemed like twice as long as it should have taken in complete darkness with no one around, we finally made it to the pool. Only there was one problem.

The water levels had more than TRIPLED within a few nights. The insane amount of snow melt set in motion by a couple of warm days had made the once crossable waterfall above the pools a gigantic several foot deep raging powerhouse of a stream that was literally impossible to cross. I could not get to the other side of the pools to light them from below like I had hoped.

Once we figured this out, everyone laid down next to the raging waters under the starry night sky, and rested while I played around with fairly terrible attempts at long exposure photography. The flashlight stuff didn’t work and only made my hands cold (the water was close to freezing). As a last ditch effort, I got some cool photos of the night sky above me, and rested a bit as well, enjoying the absolutely beautiful sight and sound of a raging waterfall and brilliant starlit sky.

On our way out, I stopped at the cliff-side overlook to try and get a photo of just the regular pool area. It was extremely difficult because of the overwhelming amount of mist the insanely powerful waterfall created. I was lighting up the waterfall and pools with a flashlight from a far, because it was too dark for the natural ambient light to show the surrounding landscape. After combining a few shots together, I was able to get this:

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By the time we got back to the car, it was past 2:30 am.

And then my car wouldn’t start.

But thankfully after some ritualistic chanting and about 5 tries, with a little shimmy I got it to barely start.

I got home at 5am after listening to the same album over and over again, and so did everyone else.

It was totally worth it. One of the best days of my life, by far.

 

 

Week 6: A Change of Direction

 

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A multi-image panorama taken several weeks later in the estuary at Camp Westwind

Week 6 was spent counselling at Camp Westwind, the place of my internship. Basically, my job as a counsellor was to manage the lives of a cabin of 6th grader’s throughout the week, from morning until night, as well as to teach various groups about the estuary (one of the three field studies at Camp Westwind). It is an extremely exhausting yet rewarding full-time job that requires good leadership and improvisational skills to be successful. This would be my 5th time counselling, and it is the reason I have built such a close relationship with this place and wanted to do my internship here. I counselled to get back into the groove of camp life and acclimate myself to the camp environment, as well as start the first week off right for the camp and myself in order to set a good tone for the coming weeks.

However, I’m not here to talk about counselling and my time during this week. The most important part of this week came at the end, when I had my first meeting with Acer, my site supervisor for my internship (and camp site supervisor), about what my role should be at camp as a photographer.

Basically, she told me that she would be very happy if I would do some kind of field guide for the Salmon River Estuary, as she already has plenty of guides and information for the ocean/tide pools and the forest, the two other field studies here at Camp Westwind.

This is essentially what saved my project from being a complete disaster. At this point it was going to be extremely difficult to find enough herpetofauna to fulfill my original goal, as the coastal region is not very rich in interesting reptiles and amphibians, and I would be spending 3 out of the next 4 weeks on the coast. Understanding this, I decided to make my final product the field guide, and my research focused on how I would create it. This was the most pivotal moment of my research project.

My plan to tackle this undertaking was to first create a species list, marking definite present species based off of personal accounts and accounts by people who frequent the camp. Once I compiled a list of species on the camp, I consulted with both the estuary field instructor (Indusium) and Acer to decide what their priorities were as far as animals they wanted to include. Certain species of salamanders and invertebrates in general were either present within the estuary, or in nearby areas, but I did not include them. While the salamanders would fit in line with my original intentions to find herpetofauna, they did not represent species found within the estuary itself. There were simply too many species of invertebrates to create a comprehensive field guide for within a three week time period.

Having figured this all out, the plan was to make a field guide featuring the habitat types, all of the Reptiles and Amphibians, the most attractive and notable Birds (think Eagles), and important/unique mammals (that I could get photos of). As of this blog post, it is likely that the field guide will only be for Reptiles and Amphibians, as I have both the best photos and the best information for those animals. This could always change in the future if I ever come back to spend more time gathering photos.

With this change of direction I came into spring break a little more relaxed, as I was able to focus on researching the animals I needed and exploring Oregon instead of rushing outside to find things.

However, at the time I was still a little uncertain, and so I made a last ditch effort to find one of Oregon’s most interesting amphibians, the Oregon Slender Salamander. Check out my next blog post to hear about my epic adventure in the Western Cascades!

Week 5: Getting Used to Oregon and Problems

My first week in Oregon was an adjustment week.

It constantly rained, I constantly felt tired and unmotivated, and I had little knowledge of the area or what to do. I basically spent my entire week dealing with various issues and researching stuff about the local herpetofauna.

While I was in Painted Hills, I busted the hinge system on my back door, so the glass part of my back door was falling off. You could easily rip it off and take whatever was inside. This was a huge problem considering the week after I would have what is essentially my life’s possessions (all camera equipment, computer, most of my clothes and shoes, a large wooden clock, etc.) in my car for a week while I ran around micromanaging children. I was not going to risk having my stuff stolen, or even worse, the other hinge breaking while I was driving around. Not good.

I got it fixed, but I had to wait a day for an open slot for the them to fix my vehicle, so it took a lot of time out of the week as far as days to go places and explore.

Not only that, but once my car was fixed, my computer broke. The entire time I was in Oregon I was editing photos to use for upcoming blog posts, and my computer decided it had enough. It started making screeching noises, and before I knew it, my hard drive had failed. I brought it in to Best Buy, waited another day for a diagnosis, and discovered that all of my files had been lost. It would cost hundreds of dollars to just attempt a fix, and even then it was no guaranteed. Luckily I still had photos on my SD cards and all of my finished photos were on my external drive.

However, there was more bad news. Aside from the Best Buy being an hour away, my computer, which could be fixed under the insurance I had, would not be able to be shipped back to me until a month later. This was basically the entire span of my time in Oregon.

In order for me to continue my project, I had to buy a new computer. Between having to go to another Best Buy to get the computer because it was out of stock, and purchasing necessary accessories and setting all of my programs up, another day was wasted.

Because of my own shortcomings with regards to maximizing my time, readjusting to a new environment, and having everything essential around me break, my entire week was wasted.

However, I was able to get some interesting shots of some frogs late on my second night in Oregon after some dinner.

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Northern Red-legged Frog
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Pacific Chorus Frog

This, and a failed hiking trip at the end of the week were my only truly successful outings in the field to find what I needed. This failure to find things during my first week here was critical in my project’s later change of direction.

Week 4, Part 4: Getting to Oregon

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This was the first photo I took of Oregon this trip. It was roughly midnight and I stopped to pull over and get this night-time long exposure because the mountains here were just too interesting for me to pass up. I expected this in Idaho, but it was interesting to see this landscape in Oregon. I quickly figured out this trip that Oregon is one of the most geographically diverse states in the county, especially considering the size.

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The road I stopped on
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My Ford Explorer Sport 2DR 

After these photos we drove straight to the hotel, getting there extremely late. It was okay though, the hotel had comfortable beds and good air quality.

The next day we made it our goal to explore the John Day Fossil Beds a few hours away.

There were some pretty awesome sights along the way, including these geese (not that cool but the photo is cool):

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“these geese”

And this beautiful rural scene:

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Multi-image panorama featuring a pretty cool tractor

Before we got to the actual fossil beds we stopped in a placed called The Corner Cafe in a very small town near the beginning of the fossil beds. It was one older man running the restaurant, and I had the best baked potato I’ve ever had. I really would like to go back there and try the burger that the one other customer in the restaurant said was “the best burger I’ve ever had!” That’s a stretch, but I’m dying to find out!

The journey to Painted Hills in the John Day Fossil bed was interesting, with trees covered in shoes and cool signage. But the actual site was much cooler. Most of these are phone photos, but it is still really cool nonetheless.

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This photo isn’t a phone photo. The colors during sunset were unreal. 

After Painted Hills we began a long drive through the backroads of Oregon to Newberg. The roads were terribly marked, and there was no cell service to speak of and almost no gas stations. In addition to this, you cannot fill your own gas in Oregon, so when a gas station closes, you’re out of luck. At some point during our drive we realized we took a wrong turn. After getting a tiny amount of service in a small town in the middle of Oregon, I looked up the nearest gas station, understanding that if we continued on the wrong route like we were doing, we would run out of gas. Our ETA said we would arrive within 5-10 minutes of the gas station closing if we turned around at that point and adjusted our course to a town we didn’t even want to go through. We did it anyways, and with our gas on E, we made it to the gas station with 5 minutes to spare. The town was out of the way, and rather creepy, but it was better than being stranded without service. We got to my Air BnB rental in Newberg at around 3am that night.

In addition to this, my back window had broke. It was a rough drive into Oregon, but I was very happy to be there. I was about to live in this little red house by myself for a week and I couldn’t be more excited!

Week 4, Part 3: Strange Idaho

 

Aside from Oregon, Idaho was by far the most interesting state to drive through. Breathtaking mountains welcomed me as I crossed the border, and despite being very close visually to Utah, it just seemed more exciting. 20170309_181056

This was the sight from the first gas station we stopped at in Idaho. I went to an A&W for the first time and had some wonderfully horrible fast food while enjoying this view. At the same time, I also saw more pickup trucks stop at and leave from the gas station than I have ever seen before in my life. Mountains and pickup trucks seemed to outnumber people (I know this fundamentally doesn’t make sense but it was crazy).

As the sun set, we continued driving until we reached Pocatello, Southeastern Idaho’s largest town. It was not very large. I did however have good meals while I was here, with plentiful comfort food wherever you went. I especially enjoyed the Pocatello Co-op, a small little market converted from an old soda fountain joint that specialized in serving fresh foods with locally sourced ingredients. My lamb burger was delicious, and I am not a big fan of lamb.

It wasn’t until our drive northwest that things in Idaho became most interesting. My mom and I wanted to see Craters of the Moon, a huge area of lava fields with caves and holes in the lava, and to get there we had to drive through a really strange part of Idaho, let alone the world.

The area around Atomic City and Butte Falls was that strange place.

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Atomic City was the first city in the world (along with Arco nearby) to run on nuclear power. Nearby was EBR-I, or Experimental Breeder Reactor 1, the first atomic reactor to produce usable electricity. This accomplishment was achieved December 20th, 1951. In 1955 Atomic City was lit. Booming during the Atomic Age, the town quickly dwindled after a series of meltdowns and explosions, most notably the SR-1 reactor explosion in 1961, drove people out of town. The town itself and the area around it is one of the most radioactively polluted areas in the United States.

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Right next to Atomic City is Idaho National Laboratories, a sprawling government installation maintained and ran by the US Department of Energy. The site is extremely secretive. Trespassing at the very least attracts agents to the scene, and if you carry anything deemed to be a weapon or a threat on to the property illegally you will be “seriously injured” as stated by the hundreds of signs posted along the outskirts of the lab’s land.

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The entrypoint to INL
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A watchtower rises above the hills outside INL
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INL nestled behind some ominous fog and power lines

There are all kinds of conspiracy and strange stories attached to this place and the areas around it. Hundreds of owls have been reported to drop dead around the area, a legitimate report from a local news outlet. It’s an eerie place with a clouded past, but it is also a source of great technological advancement. Regardless your viewpoints on this strange place, it makes for an interesting road trip. I am a huge fan of fog and secret government operations.

After we got out of the Butte Falls area, we discovered the Craters of the Moon was inaccessible due to snow. However we did stop at a very beautiful and still tremendously interesting lava field just outside the monument, and I grabbed some photos.

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A massive 15+ image panorama of the surrounding area. I walked to this huge volcanic rock from the road at the edge of the surrounding mountains to get this shot.

Later on after leaving this area we passed by the Snake River. After seeing a pixelized picture of the river in Oregon Trail last year in Dr. Rosinbaum’s class, I have always wanted to see it. I had no idea I would on this trip! Below is a phone photo of the river from a restaurant where I had lunch:

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After a fantastic lunch on the Snake River, my mom wanted to see one of the waterfalls in the river. I got some interesting photos from there as well!

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Looking down

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From here we drove to Boise, got there for dinner, and kept driving late into the night until we got to our hotel in John Day OR at about 1am.

I left Idaho a huge fan, and not because the potatoes were good or the people were friendly. It was because it’s a strange place, with lots of interesting and often overlooked qualities.

Hopefully I’ll be back someday!

Week 4 Part 2, Utah – Beeline North and No Parks, Still Amazing

 

***Please allow ample time for this post to load, the photos are very large***

As I usually do, I will be blending photos taken with my real camera and photos taken with my phone to show my journey. I will make a note of which were taken with my phone and which are supposed to be taken more seriously.

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Onwards we drove from Lake Powell, through my favorite extreme southern Utah town, Big Water, to the outrageously noteable Kanab. Renowned for its multiple gas stations, Kanab is a central hub in extreme southern Utah. (It’s just a basic town, we filled up gas there.) For the most part, the initial drive into Utah was fairly interesting. I saw migratory animal fences to keep the deer and other animals from getting ran over on the roadway. This made a lot of sense considering the insane amount of deer that we passed by (especially in Idaho) during our travels north of Arizona.

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Phone photo of some cool cliff faces a little ways outside Kanab, Utah

The above photograph was the first area where I saw these fences, and you can just barely see them in the middle of the photo just before the edge of the bushes. Pretty cool stuff I think, way to go deer protectors of Utah wildlife!

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Phone photo of where we stopped next. The sign says no trespassing without permission. I would love permission to trespass!

From then on we basically drove through a series of beautiful half-snow-covered hillside passes, then drove between Zion and Bryce, eventually making out way to a beautiful valley of nature reserves and farmland. My spontaneous pull over and take every picture imaginable juices kicked in, and I got some great photographs of old farm shacks and the surrounding mountains. Before taking any of these photos I noticed some odd things running around in the nearby open dirt area past the gate. Much to my surprise, it was a family of Prairie Dogs! They made all kinds of cute noises and entertained me for the next five minutes. Having never seen any in the wild, this was quite amazing to me, despite apparently being common in the area.

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Not the best photo, but they’re so cute! I wanted to trespass without permission, but I didn’t feel like breaking the law today.

After being entertained by these actually quite large critters, I proceeded to snap away at the surrounding landscape.

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First photo I got while checking the Prairie Dogs out by the edge of the road
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Multiple image panorama of the same scene, but without the stuff that keeps crazy people from driving off the road.

Facing the other direction, I moved on to smaller and better things.

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This super cool farm shed is what made me pull over

Love me some small shack in the middle of beautiful countryside. My mom and I joked that we could make a book of just these types of photos, because there were so many good opportunities in the area!

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A panorama of that same shed from a different angle with the cattle pond in front!

This several image panorama was my favorite shot I got from the area. The lighting got better as the sun began to set, but because of the angle, the raised road casted a big shadow over the entire foreground. It was ugly and disappointing, like most pictures I take. But there’s always a gem in every photoshoot, and this was definitely that gem.

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Photographing the shed scene. Not the best job by Great Clips with my neck hairline, but it was better than the last one for sure! It was lopsided before 😦

After thoroughly photographing the shed, I moved on to seeing what other cool pictures I could get from the area. Gotta love lone groups of trees in the middle of fields, or at this point, lone anything really.

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I love how the snow contrasts with the golden glow the grass. I would love to see this place in the early Summer when everything is green!

The moon may not exactly be in a field, but it definitely counts towards photographing appealing lone objects.

After leaving this area, I drove around the mountain I first photographed when I was near the prairie dogs, and was pleasantly surprised by how beautiful it was.

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Phone photo of our drive leading up to the mountain pass
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Phone photo taken while driving through the valley heading towards the mountain pass

Eventually I started driving up the steep slope towards the top of the pass, and out of seemingly nowhere I was slapped in the face with one of the most beautiful vista’s I’ve seen while driving. I’ve seen some really cool views, but never ones like this just casually driving places. Below are some photos I took after I pulled over again and darted over to the other side of the road to catch the fading light on the mountaintops!

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This was the most stunning vista, though you could see the entire valley we drove through below!

The above photo was a panorama of the most stunning portion of the view. I love the way the haze glows in the sunset! My favorite part about this photo session had to have been the development of the airplane condensation trail over the mountains, as it was perfectly positioned for a great composition.

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This is easily one of my favorite photos I’ve taken this trip

I don’t actually remember how I got the above photo, considering I was on an elevated slope overlooking a valley. It looks like I was in the valley when I took that shot, but I wasn’t. I was actually getting my feet wet and muddy in the pull-off below.

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Phone photo of where I photographed the mountain vista
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Phone photo of the road and the other side of the valley

After a successful (and cold) photo session, I decided to continue on through the mountains, as well still had a painfully long amount of driving to do.

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Phone photo of our view driving out through the mountains
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Phone photo of some cool cliffs once we started getting out of the mountains. I love it when sunsets paint the rocks orange!

We covered most of the state once we got on to I-15 at the junction below this rock formation. It’s not the best photo, but I liked the way things looked when I was busy snapping photos out of my car with my camera.

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The calm before the storm (I-80 the monotonous)

Unfortunately, this is where the photos come to an end. Shortly after I took this we sped on to I-15. It was the first time I’ve been on a highway with an 80mph speed limit, but not the first time I’ve been that last. Apparently its that high because if you speed even just a little bit the red and blue lights quickly follow.

The following days were disappointing, except for the lone bright spot when I scored on a really nice jacket at the Sundance Outlet Store, where Robert Redford’s Sundance Catalog sells their overstock merchandise. The hotel was absolutely disgusting, the food wasn’t notable, and we didn’t do a whole lot that night and the next day. However, the trip over was more than enough to compensate, and it was about to get even more cool once we started our drive to Idaho!

Speaking of which, stay tuned for Part 3, an exciting adventure through the nuclear wastelands, stunning mountains, and snow-covered lava fields of Idaho!

As always, thank you for reading, and I appreciate your patience as I continue to roll out new stories about Week 4’s adventures!

 

 

Previous Blog Posts:

https://btnseniorproject17.wordpress.com/2017/04/05/week-4-part-1-arizona-trendy-bends-and-bygone-towns/

https://btnseniorproject17.wordpress.com/2017/03/11/week-3-what-lives-on-islands-in-the-sky/

https://btnseniorproject17.wordpress.com/2017/03/02/week-2-the-pajaritos-its-cold-its-wet-but-its-not-miserable/

https://btnseniorproject17.wordpress.com/2017/02/18/week-one-standing-in-the-corner-of-southeastern-arizona/

Project Question and Intent:

https://btnseniorproject17.wordpress.com/2017/01/17/from-sloughs-to-sky-islands-a-photographic-look-into-the-relationship-between-reptiles-and-amphibians-and-the-environments-they-inhabit/

Week 4, Part 1: Arizona -Trendy Bends and Bygone Towns

***Please allow ample time for this post to load, the photos are very large***

All of Week 4’s blog posts will be covering my road trip from Rio Rico, AZ to Newberg, OR. I am going to cover each state as a part, and the parts will vary in length due to me spending more or less time on my journey in each state. Week 5’s blog post will be about my first week in Oregon, and both the joys and difficulties following my trip. Week 6 will be a brief overview of my week counselling, a description of what counselling is, and why it has been so important to me. I will also cover the potential changes to my project and the new direction I am taking. Week 7 will be about experiencing spring break in Oregon, which was pretty much just a crazy rollercoaster ride of adventure and issues. Stay tuned for some exciting posts coming up!

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My drive to Oregon began in (SURPRISE!) Arizona, not to be confused with the more serious location of Surprise, Arizona. It was around 6 or 7 in the morning after a hearty three hours of sleep, and my mom and I were ready to leave. The night before we had packed my car with an excessive amount of clothing, camera gear, and other necessities.

 

I was the first driver, and I made up my mind that I would drive as much as possible. I think I ended up driving the entire trip to our final destination in Page, Arizona, which was by far the most I’ve ever driven. The next few days my mom drove more, but I was pretty happy with myself.

 

Anyways, after leaving my house in Rio Rico (doesn’t help starting an hour south of Tucson), we sped through the valley, up I-10, reaching Phoenix, and then we left it behind. We took a more scenic route, something we would do a lot of on our trip up to Oregon.

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My home in Rio Rico during moonrise

Just past the Salt River is a beautiful road that snakes through hills covered in wildflowers before making its way to a mountain pass, which actually managed to surprise me quite a bit with how remarkable it was. The road enters the mountains and bends around a cliff face before revealing an astonishing view of the valley hidden by the hills, and the road goes straight through. I was nervous as the incline increased and the road quickly became more dangerous, but it was still a beautiful moment. Unfortunately for you, the reader, I do not photo and drive, so I wasn’t able to capture this. My least favorite thing about driving had to have been the fact I couldn’t photograph anything. My most favorite thing about driving was that I could pull off to take pictures wherever was safe, and whenever I felt it was right. I did this sporadically during my trip, but not that often in Arizona.

After making it out of the Superstition Mountains and some other less superstitious mountains, I headed for Winslow Arizona. Before getting there, we got gas in one of my favorite places, Payson, and I took some terrible phone photos out of my car while my mom took her turn driving.

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Forest near Payson, AZ

The next stop after Payson was Winslow. Past the Mogollon rim the beautiful pine trees quickly petered out and gave way to large swaths of basically nothing. There was however a really interesting small slot-canyon-esque type area that cuts a super deep and narrow path through the flat landscape called Jack’s canyon. It crosses over the middle of AZ-87 on the way to Winslow. The main portion of Jack’s canyon is much larger and more expansive than the one you get to see from the car. Unfortunately, I don’t have any photos of it, but it’s the one interesting thing you’ll see in this area if you ever happen to make Winslow a destination.

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The splattered bugs on my windshield were more varied than this landscape, but I liked it

Once I made it out of the nothingness, just a few blocks past the state prison, I was greeted by the classic regional airport sign that lets you know what city you’re arriving in before you’re actually in the city.

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I really do apologize for the inordinate amount of smashed bugs

In the past I have made trips with my family there to visit the La Posada Hotel (http://www.laposada.org/hotel_history.html), a historic hotel left over from the golden age of train travel. Inside of the restaurant is a beautiful restaurant called the Turquoise room that serves excellent southwestern dishes, with a few unique ones as well. One of my favorites is the blue corn piki bread, which can only be made with a specific strain of blue corn grown by the natives in the area. If you do not use that corn, the delicate bread falls apart. This time I had some piki bread, excellent shrimp pasta, and one of the best deserts I’ve had. The desert was pecan pie balls, which was quite odd but even more delicious than it was strange.

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A forced smile after a long day of driving – but it wasn’t forced once the food came!

Winslow really is a forgotten town. The La Posada hotel had to be rescued from preservationists, and Route 66, impossible to rescue now, still has bits and pieces of it running throughout the town. With stores shuttered up and not many people in sight after sundown, I wandered around the town center with my mom.

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Yellow streetlights light up the Route 66 emblem and bank building on a dead night

Next to the huge Route 66 emblem embedded in the roadway is the honorary “corner” of Winslow, Arizona that was made famous by the Eagles song Take it Easy. It ever comes complete with a flatbed Ford and the songwriter himself!

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Not many people standing on this corner
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All smiles in Winslow!

The original plan after Winslow was to drive north to Page, AZ through parts of the Hopi reservation, but because it was dark we scrapped that idea. It’s kind of pointless visiting anything in the dark unless it’s a cave or space, because in those places it doesn’t matter when the sun is out. It was late, much like myself and most everything done on this trip, so we just made a beeline for Page.

After having arrived in Page after some uneventful driving, we got accustomed to our surprisingly nice Sleep Inn room for the night, and went to bed. The next morning we were greeted by a seemingly alien world of orange sandstone.

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Several image panorama of a rock formation in the Glen Canyon Dam Overlook

Just less than half a mile down the road to our hotel was a turnout for a scenic viewing area, the Glen Canyon Dam Overlook. I quickly derailed any plan to get to my next destination (Salt Lake City) on time as I burned through hours photographing the amazing landscape and everything else in it. And by everything else, I just mean one particular Plateau Side-blotched Lizard. I quickly made friends with the little guy in an effort to practice extreme wide angle close-up photography.

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View of Glen Canyon Dam from the Overlook

 

Below are some photos from my time in the Glen Canyon Dam Overlook!

 

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Plateau Side-blotched Lizard

This was one of the photos of the Plateau Side-blotched Lizard that I followed around that I didn’t take with my 15mm lens. I used my 60-250mm lens at 250mm to get the ideal detail shot of this lizard’s stunning colors. I had to follow the little guy around for awhile before it posed this nicely. Side-blotched lizards are pretty common if not the most common lizard in every area they are found, but I think they are still relatively underappreciated and more beautiful than you would think up close.

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Plateau Side-blotched Lizard

This was my first successful attempt at capturing an in-focus shot of the lizard with my 15mm lens at minimum focusing distance. I basically set the lens at minimum focusing distance on manual focus and stealthily creeped my camera towards the lizard until it was in focus, quickly capturing the shot once it was.

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Photographing the Plateau Side-blotched Lizard! Compare this to the photo above- in this photo I was taking the photo above. Photoception!

The above photo taken by my mom is actually what I looked like while taking the photo I previously talked about. Note that the lizard (the lizard looking glob a few inches in front of my lens) is very close to my camera. With such a wide angle of view, the camera needs to be as close as possible for small subjects like this to be prominently featured in the photo. It took a lot of patience to photograph this guy, as I basically chased him around the rocks for an hour, losing him and finding him several times over. It was frustrating, but I eventually made friends with this particular individual, and the photography became a lot easier.

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Plateau Side-blotched Lizard
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Plateau Side-Blotched Lizard

This wasn’t my favorite shot with regards to the lizard, but I love all of the interesting shapes and things featured from this perspective.

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Plateau Side-blotched Lizard running away!

This is a very aesthetically pleasing example of how frustrating photographing animals can be. Would have been the perfect shot had the lizard not scrammed at the last second!

 

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Glen Canyon Dam Overlook

In addition to photographing lizards, I had a lot of fun photographing the surrounding rock formations. I also decided to take a more creative approach with some of the edits. Not all of these edits are super successful, but I think they’re cool. Definitely good enough stuff to pair with a shot of the lizard!

 

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Love the way my shadow works with the abstracted lines of the sandstone in this one!

Shortly after this photography excursion I left for one of the most famous places for photography in Arizona, Horseshoe Bend. Unfortunately, I was pressed for time and wasn’t looking to photograph the area seriously during a poor time of day with a crowd of people there. I much prefer to photograph the less visited or seen (but still cool) parts of an area. Nonetheless, I just had to see the bend in person, and my mom wanted to see it really bad, so we drove over and hiked to the bend’s edge.

Once we got to the lookout my lack of excitement for seeing such an over-photographed place was quickly wiped away. It is more breathtaking in person, and it’s massive. Reading about how the sandstone layers were formed was pretty cool too, and it’s fun people watching as well.

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Here’s a mediocre cell phone photo of something not so mediocre! (Horseshoe Bend)

I absolutely loved seeing all of the green in the bottom of the canyon. It doesn’t show up well, but all throughout the shadows were plants growing on the cliffs, especially towards the bottom. It was quite the sight!

I even found a little time for some interesting abstract photography of the surrounding sandstone!

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I’m curious as to how these were formed

After our visit to Horseshoe bend, our time in Arizona quickly came to an end as we drove past Lake Powell. Kanab, Utah would be our next stop, eventually making our way to Salt Lake City, even if it was just I-80 at night for half of the time.

I hope you enjoyed this post, and if you did…

Stay tuned for some exciting landscape photographs from Utah and a few more cool stories! Parts 2, 3 (the best one), and 4 of Week 4 should all be coming out this week!

Thank you so much for your patience and your interest in my project!

 

Previous Blog Posts:

https://btnseniorproject17.wordpress.com/2017/03/11/week-3-what-lives-on-islands-in-the-sky/

https://btnseniorproject17.wordpress.com/2017/03/02/week-2-the-pajaritos-its-cold-its-wet-but-its-not-miserable/

https://btnseniorproject17.wordpress.com/2017/02/18/week-one-standing-in-the-corner-of-southeastern-arizona/

Project Question and Intent:

https://btnseniorproject17.wordpress.com/2017/01/17/from-sloughs-to-sky-islands-a-photographic-look-into-the-relationship-between-reptiles-and-amphibians-and-the-environments-they-inhabit/

 

 

Week 4: Part 0, What Was and What’s Next

It’s been three weeks since I have gotten a blog post up. Today is the night before I go back to Camp Westwind for a three week tenure, and I’m the farthest from packed I can be. Since getting to Oregon I’ve had to fix my car twice, buy a new computer (hard drive failed on the first and I lost every single unedited photo I had), I’ve counselled for a week, and I’ve had a tremendous amount of fun actually experiencing the state and starting my project. Because I took an extremely large amount of photos on my way to Oregon, it’s been difficult finding the time to get those edited while dealing with the other ways I have been spending my time, either by necessity or choice. For that I apologize, and it has been taxing on me to not have this post up and completed yet. A lot of things have changed the past three weeks, including potential plans for my project, and that is okay. Now that I have most of my photos edited from the major stops I took along my trip, I am going to write my Week 4 blog post as separate parts, spacing out my trip and the photos that come with it. After that, I will cover my exploration into Oregon itself, some crazy stories (like actually), and my project for Westwind, which begins tomorrow.

After writing the above statement, I quickly got into writing about my journey through Arizona. As I did that I just realized that I did not have any of my Arizona photos on my new computer due to my old computer’s hard drive being a dying pile of garbage. Despite the fact that I have practically all of my Idaho photos edited, and most of my Oregon photos edited, I don’t actually have all of my Arizona photos edited yet. Luckily I didn’t wipe my SD card, so I was able to recover everything from the trip. I have all of my photos from the Arizona trip edited except for a few really cool lizard shots I absolutely have to share! Utah is a lot less fortunate on that front. I need to go to bed tonight because after having already driven at 4:30am this week (stay tuned for the story), I don’t want to repeat driving with similar circumstances regarding my drowsiness. It’s not safe. I’ll explain that all later, I have a lot of stories to share, but until then, enjoy this sneak peak at what’s next in the coming blog posts!

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Arizona (Plateau Side-Blotched Lizard)
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Idaho
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Oregon

Poor Utah is still missing in action 😦

Thank you everyone who is reading for your patience, I appreciate it so much!

Previous Blog Posts:

https://btnseniorproject17.wordpress.com/2017/03/11/week-3-what-lives-on-islands-in-the-sky/

https://btnseniorproject17.wordpress.com/2017/03/02/week-2-the-pajaritos-its-cold-its-wet-but-its-not-miserable/

https://btnseniorproject17.wordpress.com/2017/02/18/week-one-standing-in-the-corner-of-southeastern-arizona/

Project Question and Intent:

https://btnseniorproject17.wordpress.com/2017/01/17/from-sloughs-to-sky-islands-a-photographic-look-into-the-relationship-between-reptiles-and-amphibians-and-the-environments-they-inhabit/

Week 3: What Lives on Islands in the Sky

IMPORTANT: Some information from this week’s adventure has been censored due to environmental concerns. The name of the animals and the localities where they were found have been intentionally removed, as have some images I would share under normal conditions. This has been done to minimize this post’s visibility in search engines, as well as hide crucial information in order to protect this regions critical habitat and species from danger and disruption, should this blog post be read by someone not a part of the intended audience. Please do not share this post publicly. I censored as little as possible to keep this post relevant to my project, and some things shown in this post may be obvious as to what they are. The point is minimize search engine visibility less than it is to hinder readers. Thanks!

Less important: Due to the nature of the trip and the time constraints I had, the photos documenting this post were taken with my cell phone. The important photos were taken with my DSLR. Having said that, please give all of the images a chance to load. There are a lot, and my phone still takes high resolution photos.

***Please allow ample time for this post to load, the photos are very large***

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As I already have several photographs of this range, I decided that it would be best to try and find more cool reptiles and amphibians to pair with them. That was one of the purposes for this next trip, aside from Jules and I itching to get out into the wilderness and find something cool.

By far my most serious photography trip of the year, and perhaps of my life, I had prepared for this moment and many more to come with some extra gear. However, the seriousness of it was not in the amount of photos taken, the quality, or the type. It was getting to where I needed to be for the best shot of what we needed to find. Seeing as I have a reputation for being late, I made sure I would sleep over at Jules’ house before making the trip. After packing my new hiking pack (full of more stuff than I needed, but I didn’t know that until my calves started burning) and making a lunch of cheese, bread, and meat, I went to bed at (a stupid) 1:30 am. We left at 5:00 am sharp.

Once off the highway, we made our way along a dirt road through golden rolling hills and beautiful views of the mountains. I can’t say the Suburban is the most comfortable car I’ve been in, but I’ve probably seen the most cool sights from it. Once we got to the trail head, we dressed for the cold 40’s (I was really excited to use my new jacket and pants), and left the car behind. A man was sleeping out in the open by his Subaru, and the sun hadn’t fully risen yet. It was odd, exciting and beautiful.

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It begins!

With the sun just starting to touch the peaks of the mountain, we began our 5 mile trek to the top. I didn’t think it would be too bad of a hike, but we ascended the slopes at a very fast pace. Jules is used to harder things, like backpacking, so he was fine, but it was difficult for me and I had to push the boundaries of how far and how hard I could hike. It didn’t help that I brought too much gear, at least 30 pounds worth. But it started off great, and I loved seeing the mountains change color as the sun rose.

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The sunrise quickly set the mountains ablaze

There’s nothing like peering through the greenery to see the surrounding scenery jump out as a blazing orange. It stayed like this for awhile, with fiery splashes seeping through the canopy as we made our way up the canyon, eventually fading as the sun got higher.

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The canyon was dense and green

 

Looking down was just as astonishing, as we passed pools of pearly light blue all throughout the canyon. Jules jested that we would go swimming in one, and by the end of the hike we probably could have, and secretly wanted to. But for now we just passed pool after pool, soaking in the rainbow of colors around us. No one else was here but us.

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A light blue pool that we had to cross

After an hour or so, we finally made it to the steep part. The trail switched back along the mountain side, and was poorly maintained from here on out. On top of the steeper incline, we frequently had to climb over (or under) fallen trees, and we lost the trail a few times, quickly finding it again. We trudged on, taking quick breaks, getting up again and pushing up to the top. My favorite (and the longest) break was on a fallen log that overlooked the whole canyon, through some dead trees.

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My view from the log

After the hardest hiking of my life, we reached what was apparently the top of the saddle. But not really, as I soon found out, after Jules took off to some snow covered slopes. I followed, trying not to slip on the wet snow, frustrated with the barely visible trail to the top. I fell a few times, and looking back I feel pathetic, but my body was not used to this kind of activity. Once to the very top though, I didn’t care what my body was used to. Only that I could get used to seeing this:

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The view from the top of the ridge
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Imagine sitting around this campfire

After reaching the top of the ridge, Jules told me to set my pack down and called me over to a boulder he was sitting on. The invitation to rest was well received, though a tree I was navigating under did fall on me on the way over. Below is a panorama I took with my phone (featuring Jules) of our view from the rock. Just in front of us was a steep drop, but you don’t look down much when you have a view like this!

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A panoramic view from a lookout spot on the edge of the ridge

 

Despite an intense and exhaustive hike up to the top of the ridge, our hiking wasn’t over. To get to where we needed to go, we needed to go off-trail.

We packed our stuff, headed down, and made a leap of faith off into some area off the trail, disappearing into the steep, heavily wooded hillside. We couldn’t see far enough through the thorny bushes, brush, trees, and boulders to know where we were headed to. We only had a direction and the determination to literally walk through (I’d love to say walls that sounds so cool, but unfortunately I have to say something else) whatever obstructed us. It sucked. But despite scratching my arm up everywhere, I had a lot of fun.

After bushwhacking for some time, we finally reached our destination: a small area of talus slopes.

Talus is essentially loose rock that collects on top of each other over time, forming a slope. As more rock erodes from the mountain or place it came from, the newly deposited rock slides, along with existing rocks, down the slope, maintaining the angle of the pile. Over time talus slopes grow larger as more layers of rock are deposited, and despite looking like only a few rocks piled on top of a hill, the layers go down very deep. This creates an ideal habitat for montane reptiles, as they can hide from both prey and the cold in the talus, but also emerge to sun themselves and warm up.

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A panorama of one of the talus slopes we explored, looking up

The talus slopes we were on were quite steep, with an angle of about 45 degrees.

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A side view of the first slope from our “base camp” area. The camera was level!

The lichen that covered most of the rocks was beautiful!

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Lichen covers some particularly large rocks

They stretched most of the mountainside, making them as much of a pain as they were a joy to see. It was also fun watching the wildlife from these open slopes, as I was able to spot a hawk carrying a snake in its talons! Unfortunately no photos… 😦

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A zoomed in photo from the lower middle of a talus slope, looking down. Jules is in the middle to help show scale.

Navigating these slopes was very difficult for me. I essentially had to travel via controlled falling, sliding and stopping as gingerly as my big body could manage. Jules could keep his balance better and was lighter on his feet, so the steep angle bothered him less.

We did this for four excruciating hours, with very quick breaks. We covered three similarly sized slopes, three times each, bushwhacking through the forest in between each slope. Climb slide, climb slide, climb slide.

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This slope was particularly long, and I remember dreading the climb until I got to the top. It wasn’t as bad as it looked.

Nonetheless I persevered and did my best to listen for a faint buzzing noise.

A rattle.

Not only are these rough, steep, remote slopes high in the mountains, but they are also home to the highest elevation rattlesnake in Arizona, a true sky island resident. This was the reason for our journey. Unfortunately, I cannot give the name to minimize the search-ability of this blog post.

Although it is publicly searchable knowledge that this snake is active on exceptionally warm winter days, ranges, localities, and feasibility of finding snakes in those ranges and localities is sensitive information.

Not all “herpers” are ethical, and many will severely damage the habitat these snakes live in by intentionally throwing rocks and unsettling vast swaths of talus in order to disturb the snakes out of the hiding. Even herpers with the habitat in mind can still disrupt a location if too many people visit it. If we were to find one of these snakes, and made it very visible and public that we found them, it could prompt the wrong people to visit these sites and others earlier in the active season, putting too much stress on the habitat before the main herping season begins. There’s no way to be sure, but it is better to be safe than sorry, and protecting sites is important.

So I can’t write a censored post about a grueling effort to find a nameless snake and then let everyone down by revealing that I never found one, right? Right.

On the way back to our camp, ready to head home, we had just the upper bit of the first talus slope to walk through before we were at our stuff. We were tired, deflated, and upset that we were about to fail yet another trip. Then I hear Jules’ exclamatory yells I have grown so accustomed to over the years, and just a short ways down the slope, there it was. And it was huge! Overjoyed, we rushed to snap some photos of it. As Jules found this one, I let him use his favorite lens of mine, the 100mm macro, while I stuck to my telephoto zoom.

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Finally! It isn’t a phone photo and it isn’t a bunch of rocks!

These snakes are generally very small, especially for rattlesnakes. Ours was old and massive, stretching out to about a couple of feet long! The rattle was equally as huge, and it was loud compared to the cute little buzz average ones make.

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This less artistic photo shows the distinctive yellow tinge some individuals from this range possess. Most are a cooler grey. What a beaut!
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Not the best photo, but it shows the talus in the background
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I was fortunate enough to get some brilliant lighting! The light changed often as the foliage played with the shadows

This guy was easily one of the coolest snakes I’ve seen, and I will never forget the effort we put in to find it, not to mention the beautiful area!

I’m glad you’ve made it this far, but like this hike, this blog post isn’t over yet. There’s still the beautiful pools on the way down!

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Gotta love that blue!
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The water was the perfect soundtrack for our brisk hike back down the canyon

Jules and I never held true to our ambitions, we didn’t swim in the pools. But we did have a lot of fun dipping our heads in for a refreshing finish to a rewarding day!

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Jules cools off in the biggest of the blue pools

The most important lesson I learned that day was to never give up. That’s probably the most cliche thing I could write right now, and I’ve written some pretty cliche things, but it’s true. I wasn’t in the best shape, I didn’t get enough sleep, and we weren’t here at the best time. But it didn’t matter, we met our goal, I got the photos I needed for my project, and more importantly, I learned what it meant for hard work and trust to pay off. I couldn’t have done it without my good friend Jules, and I couldn’t have done it without getting outside my comfort zone. Here’s to many more adventures!

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Join me for my next adventure, the road trip to Oregon! I will be driving through northern Arizona, Utah, and Idaho on my way to the Pacific Northwest. As of this (admittedly late) blog post, I already have some exciting photos to share. Stay tuned!

 

Previous Blog Posts:

https://btnseniorproject17.wordpress.com/2017/03/02/week-2-the-pajaritos-its-cold-its-wet-but-its-not-miserable/

https://btnseniorproject17.wordpress.com/2017/02/18/week-one-standing-in-the-corner-of-southeastern-arizona/

Project Question and Intent:

https://btnseniorproject17.wordpress.com/2017/01/17/from-sloughs-to-sky-islands-a-photographic-look-into-the-relationship-between-reptiles-and-amphibians-and-the-environments-they-inhabit/

 

 

 

Week 2: The Pajaritos: It’s Cold, It’s Wet, but It’s not Miserable

***Please allow ample time for this post to load, the photos are very large***

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A view of the Cayetanos and Santa Ritas from the Pajaritos

An early day made late by any number of excuses is normally how my trips start out, but this one was exceptionally late. We even stopped on the way there so I could try and capture some cool light rays, but they disappeared.

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Rainbows are still nice

The smile on Jules’ face masks his disappointment and frustration. The window of time you have the greatest chance of encountering or flipping most herpetofauna is small, especially during the cold seasons. Even if I was cordial, I would have expected little no matter how the day played out.

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This is a photo of an Ornate Tree Lizard. I had actually had to merge two photos together in order to keep the composition I wanted while making sure the lizard was in focus as well.

Little is what we got. As Jules and I flipped the boards we set around the outer foothills of the Pajaritos, we turned up nothing but some random insects. This little guy was our first and only significant find of the day, a baby Ornate Tree Lizard, found by Jules as he flipped some hopeless rocks. On any other day, we wouldn’t be all that excited. However, seeing as it was our only find, we were happy that this dude decided to camp out under one of the rocks we flipped. Before this photo was taken, the lizard was actually very creamy looking- almost white. It quickly changed color as it warmed up and became more active, and in this photo it even appears to be mimicking the rock it is on, though I think that is coincidental. I thought that was pretty fascinating stuff for an often overlooked and common tree lizard.

To put into perspective how “boring” this little guy was compared to our other finds, I’ll share some of our previous ones:

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Sonoran Mountain Kingsnake

Flipped by Jules in the summer of last year near where our boards are located, we were hoping to turn up a Yaqui Blackheaded Snake. Seeing as the Pajaritos are the lowest elevation area these snakes can be found, as well as a difficult range to find them in, I would say this is an excellent consolation prize.

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Mexican Black Kingsnake (Lampropeltis splendida “nigrita”)

Another great find from this area was this Mexican Black Kingsnake. We roadcruised this snake near our site at night, and I will never forget the moment I saw it in the headlights. Pushing the maximum length of this species at over five feet long, starting to see a black snake fully stretched on the road as the car sped closer was surreal. We immediately knew what it was, but seeing as these snakes are so rarely seen that we had not considered it a possibility, it took awhile for the idea to sink in that we found one. They are a special all-black morph of the Desert Kingsnake, possibly its own subspecies, whose range barely enters the states. Not to keep bashing on the tree lizard, but this is quite a bit cooler.

It is photos and snakes like these that I want to feature in my final project, and so part of coming out to this area again was to get more photos to pair with these ones. Despite being in the area during a rather bland and bright time period, the clouds were interesting enough for some decent shots.

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A Panorama of the Pajaritos from Our Location

This was one of the first decent photos I got, a panorama comprised of about eight or so images. I am a little dissatisfied with this photo, as the lighting changes through due to the approaching storm. I did my best to correct this, but it is still not perfect. However, I am still pleased with the result.

The mountains in the center are the Pajaritos, and the grass in the foreground represents the ridge we were walking to get to our boards. The last time we were in this area we found an AR-15 machine gun, but nothing this time. It was a crisp 55 and windy, and I got to use my new soft-shell. Using winter clothes is an achievement for me.

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The Cover Photo: A view of the Cayetanos and Santa Ritas from the Pajaritos

From the same location but facing a different direction with a different focal length, I captured this photo. This is a single image and not a panorama. A particularly hazy day, I had to do some careful and extensive editing on this photo to get it how I wanted it. In the back with Mt. Hopkins exposed are the Santa Ritas, and in front of them are the Cayetanos. My mom’s house is on the ridge below the small peak on the far right of the Cayetanos.

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Jules

I thought this photo of Jules was pretty cool, looking out over the landscape with his snake stick, but he’s just waiting for me to stop taking pictures of Rainbow Cacti.

Despite all of these photos, this was actually the most boring part of the trip by a mile. Unfortunately, I left my camera in the car during our second outing in a nearby wash. The weather wasn’t looking good, and the most exciting things we did weren’t planned. Unfortunately again, I left my phone in the car (which I never do) and couldn’t get any phone pictures either. You’ll just have to bear with me and use your imagination.

After failing to do much, we made a plan to tank up on gas at the nearby station and then drive back into the Pajaritos to walk a wash at the start of a dirt road. We didn’t have Jules’ GMC Suburban, so we couldn’t go on the dirt. Honda Civics do not cope well with muddy dirt roads. Just as the forecast predicted, it started the rain at the start of the afternoon. I was excited as I got to use my new rain jacket for the first time. Jules put on his and we left the car, leaving everything behind but a snake stick and our drive for adventure (stupidly).

As we walked the wash, we talked of how beautiful the wet lichen covered rock formations were, and how despite our lost efforts to find any snakes, how exciting it was to be searching in the rain. It was spectacular, and spectacularly uneventful. I just remember looking up to green cliffs, looking down to red stones, and looking forward to nothing much. But then we got the familiar cattle area.

Basically a corral and an old concrete watering trough, there’s also a pond nearby that reliably turns up Chiricahua Leopard Frogs and Great Plains Narrow-Mouthed Toads. It was too cold for them now, unfortunately.

We’ve never been past it though, so we decided to explore a little after seeing some good flat rocks to flip. We climbed the hillside just past the corral to its modest top, ogling at the moss covered walls of rock we passed on the way up. It smelled amazing. By now my gloves were soaked through, but my jacket and pants were still keeping me dry. When we got to the top, I thought it was going to be the best part of our little hike. (It wasn’t.)

To the east of us was a steep and immense collection of cliffs, with a relatively less steep sloping ridge behind it, all of which was ascending far above our modest hill. I jested with Jules, “It would be pretty cool to see what’s on top of that, it looks do-able.” He replied bluntly, “Dude let’s do it!” We had nothing better to do as ourselves and the environment around us were both soaked and quite cold. So we did it.

It wasn’t a long or arduous climb, but it was made difficult by there being no clear path to the top. The slipperiness caused by the rain and the steepness of the slope didn’t do much to help. We had a little time until we needed to head back, so we made the 20 minute hike over to the start of the ridge, and made our ascent. It was exhilarating and fun for me, I felt alive. We were exploring an awesome area in miserable conditions just for the fun of it, there were no goals this time. Just open ended exploration and the excitement of not knowing what to expect. Of course, we still checked all of the crevices on the way up for snakes, but secretly we didn’t want to find any. Right now wasn’t about that, and we weren’t prepared anyways.

After plowing through thick vegetation and climbing the rocky slope, I looked up to see Jules flat on his stomach over a protrusion of rock. I hadn’t yet seen the view. Making my final ascent, I carefully stepped on top of the cliff, and was swiftly met with a blast of cold wind and rain. Jules had laid on the rocks so he wouldn’t get knocked over by the wind. Carefully, we arranged ourselves on the rocks, and sat down. Jules’ hands were suffering badly from the old and my face was freezing, but we loved it.

For such a modest climb, that was one of my most favorite sights of all time. There is something unique about exploring an area you thought you already knew and finding more. To the west, a hill wrapped by a road gave way perfectly to a lake. Straight ahead to the north the grassy hills of the Pajaritos displayed a brilliant myriad of colors and textures that would have not been as stunning if it weren’t for the passing storm. To the east, foggy canyons we didn’t know existed revealed their lush vegetation and brimming potential. The rocks were flamboyant to the say the least, with orange, yellow, cyan, blue, green, and turquoise lichen coming together to create a living rainbow.

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Mexican Black Kingsnake (Lampropeltis splendid “nigrita”)

This photo I took the last time we climbed a cliff in this area tells at least some of the story. However, this one was a lot lower, it wasn’t raining, and this particular area is not as interesting in my opinion. There really isn’t much I can do to describe the moment, because so much of it was a combination of everything leading up to it, as it was everything I was experiencing in front of me. It was cold, it was wet, but it was far from miserable.

Despite not finding any of our targets, I think I know a good spot to pose them once we find one.

 

Take a look at next weeks post for an exciting trip to another southern Arizona mountain range! Will the curse of the cold finally be broken?

 

Next Blog Post:

https://btnseniorproject17.wordpress.com/2017/03/11/week-3-what-lives-on-islands-in-the-sky/

Previous Blog Posts:

https://btnseniorproject17.wordpress.com/2017/02/18/week-one-standing-in-the-corner-of-southeastern-arizona/

 

Project Question and Intent:

https://btnseniorproject17.wordpress.com/2017/01/17/from-sloughs-to-sky-islands-a-photographic-look-into-the-relationship-between-reptiles-and-amphibians-and-the-environments-they-inhabit/