Rinus Baak Photography: Blog http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog en-us (C) Rinus Baak Photography rbaak@san.rr.com (Rinus Baak Photography) Thu, 28 Apr 2016 15:25:00 GMT Thu, 28 Apr 2016 15:25:00 GMT http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/img/s6/v135/u297007982-o443440908-50.jpg Rinus Baak Photography: Blog http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog 93 120 April Spring Break http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2016/4/april-spring-break If it is April, it must be spring break time.  And where does one go for spring break?  Florida of course!  That is exactly what the three of us did.  The three of us being Jane and me plus our photo buddy Bruce Hollingsworth.  We flew from San Diego to Miami for three weeks of bird photography and some sightseeing in the Sunshine State. 

A quick recap of the itinerary goes something like this: three days in the southern portion of Everglades National Park; three days in Naples to photograph at the Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge, and the Big Cypress National Reserve; then three days in Bradenton to photograph at a small mangrove island rookery in the Braden River, stopping in Venice on the way to visit the Audubon’s Venice Rookery; some touristy stuff followed with a two-day visit to the Kennedy Space Center on Cape Canaveral; a quick tour of Merritt Island Wildlife Refuge and then four days in Sebastian to photograph osprey at Blue Cypress Lake, snail kites at Lake Kissimmee, and other birds at a small mangrove island at the end of the Fellsmere Grade Road, near Stick Marsh.











Yes, we did have time for lunch and dinner.  Not so much breakfast, however, as we were on the road at dawn each morning to get that sweet early light.  Jane had done a superb job in arranging our VRBO accommodations.  There was plenty of space at each location for us to hang out and relax after our exhausting days.  Bruce is a bit of a gourmet cook and we let him practice his art at preparing some great dinners for us.










The photography started out a little slow, actually.  Turns out that the El Nino storms that should have come to San Diego may have ended up in Florida.  Florida reportedly had the wettest winter in decades.  All that rain water, on the flat terrain, ended up flowing south to the Everglades.  That in turn made it possible for birds to forage and feed throughout the park, as opposed to a few “water holes” during a normal dry winter.  We were very disappointed as all park rangers and local birders told us “you should have been here last year”.  We did get a few good shots in the Everglades, including some interesting shots of baby alligators.











Photography opportunities improved as we traveled north.  Shooting at the J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island was a turning point with a higher number of birds, although still less than during a normal dry winter.  Although the birds were not as plentiful, the no-see-ums were out in force.  Even though we were lathered up with repellent, we all ended up with numerous bites that turned into nasty pocks.  Non-the-less, we were able to enjoy the antics of a reddish egret as it danced around with spread wings to spot and catch its meal.

The Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary was also disappointing.  The Audubon volunteers were very apologetic and directed us to the most likely locations to photograph birds.  One bright spot were the feeders just outside the visitor center.  There both the painted and indigo buntings posed for pictures.  It also turned out to be the only location where we were able to catch a little blue heron in conditions suitable for photography.










On the way to Bradenton, we stopped at the Venice Rookery administered by the Venice Area Audubon Society.  The rookery is situated on a small mangrove island in a small lake in the middle of an urbanized area.  The birds did not seem to mind to the hustle and bustle of commercial and residential developments around them.  Here we got our first real opportunity to see and photograph Florida’s famous bird population at a rookery.  There were egrets, heron, spoonbill, and ibis nesting on the small island, many with chicks.















In Bradenton, we had arranged three photography charters with Captain Bob Salyers (www.bobsalyers.com) on his photography friendly boat at a mangrove island rookery in the Braden River.  That also turned out exceptionally well with lots of birds in the air, on the nest, preening and courting.  In particular, the courtship and breeding behavior of the wood storks was intriguing and fascinating to observe.  While other birds were already raising their young, the storks were still engaged in their intimate mating ritual.















We next traveled to Cape Canaveral and the Kennedy Space Center.  There we spend a couple of fun days touring the space center and reminiscing about the space age and man walking on the moon.  Jane had arranged for special tour tickets in advance, so we did not have to stand in long lines to get into the visitor center.  All three of us were impressed with the quality of exhibits, displays, and tours.  One of our tours included a visit to the actual control center that got the shuttle missions into the air.









Our next, and final, stop on this Florida expedition was Sebastian where we had arranged for four days of charters with Whistling Wings Photography (www.whistlingwingsphotography.com).   Before leaving Cape Canaveral, however, we made a slight detour to photograph at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge.  Early in the morning of our visit, on the Black Point Wildlife Drive, there was no wind and water on the adjacent ponds was still and dark.  These conditions made for some very strong reflection shots, especially of a reddish egret foraging on the pond.

From Sebastian, Ron Bielefeld, of Whistling Wings Photography, took us to some very interesting locations to photograph from his boat.  We made several trips to Blue Cypress Lake, home to hundreds of nesting osprey.  He also guided us to Lake Kissimmee, about an hour and half from Sebastian, to photograph the endangered snail kite.  My understanding is that only a few hundred breeding pairs of these birds are left in the U.S.  At Lake Kissimmee, where we photographed the kites, Ron estimated that there were only about six or ten pair.  Since the number of birds hunting for snails was small, our “keeper” rate was commensurately low, and most of the birds were female.  I had my heart set on some great in-flight shots of the slate-blue males.  But that was not to be.  The birds kept too far from the boat for good in-flight shots and even the perched birds were just out of range for full frame images.  We also photographed at a rookery on small mangrove island at the end of the Fellsmere Grade Road, near Stick Marsh.  That provided another opportunity to find birds on nests with eggs and young.
























From Sebastian we traveled back to Miami to end our birding journey to Florida.  We choose Highway 1 in order to do some sightseeing along the way, traveling through Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale, and Hollywood on our way to the Miami airport.  We were in awe with the number of high rise condos and resorts along the way.  It was enough to convince us that Florida was not the place for us, even though there is a Walgreen or CVS drug store on nearly every corner.

Images from this trip our located in the Florida Birding gallery.  Enjoy!

rbaak@san.rr.com (Rinus Baak Photography) http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2016/4/april-spring-break Thu, 28 Apr 2016 15:24:25 GMT
The Super Bloom http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2016/3/the-super-bloom According to the Death Valley National Park Service, it occurs about every ten to fifteen years.  The last one was in 2005.  We are talking about a “super bloom” of desert wildflowers.  Being one of the driest places on earth, there is precious little rainfall in Death Valley to germinate wildflower seeds.  But every decade or so, there is sufficient rain, at the appropriate time of year, to create a super bloom.  When I found out that this year was expected to be an outstanding year for wildflowers in Death Valley, I had to go.  Jane agreed that a super bloom was not be missed and came along as did my photo buddy Bruce Hollingsworth.










By the time I found out about the explosion of wildflowers in Death Valley, the event had already made national news, and I could not get reservations in the Park.  We ended up staying in Beatty, Nevada, and made daily excursions from there into the Park.  That turned out well for us since there were spectacular displays of wildflowers along the Beatty Cutoff Road in the Park.  The preponderance of flowers was the Desert Gold Sunflower.  This plant has a single stalk with multiple blight yellow flowers and grows in a scattered pattern.  When seen from a distance, however, the multitude of yellow flowers form vast golden fields of color on the desert floor.

The super bloom was a heyday for botanists since many species of plants only germinate during these epoch events.  We observed many varieties of plants and flowers, but many were so tiny that we could not photograph them effectively.  That did not stop us from trying, however, as we pulled out all our various photographic equipment “toys” (including cell phones) and totally emerged ourselves into the experience of photographing this unique event.  Images from this trip can be found in the National Parks gallery under Death Valley National Park.

rbaak@san.rr.com (Rinus Baak Photography) http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2016/3/the-super-bloom Mon, 07 Mar 2016 23:10:38 GMT
Chasing The Iconic Image http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2016/2/chasing-the-iconic-image I don’t know about other photographers, but I am always impressed with special, unique images that I also want to have in my portfolio.  In that sense, you could call me an “iconic image” chaser.  One of those iconic images is Horsetail Fall in Yosemite National Park.  When evening sunlight illuminates the 3,000 foot high granite monolith called El Capitan, yellow and orange light is reflected back into the falling water of Horsetail Fall mimicking a lava flow.  That special condition can only occur when three natural elements come together.  First, the sun has to be in the proper location on the horizon.  That only occurs twice a year, once for about two weeks in February and again in October as the sun cycles through the seasons.  The sun's position is highly predictable.  What is not predictable is if the sky will be clear of overcast or clouds that block sunlight from reaching El Capitan.  So, the second condition is a clear sky.  The final condition is that there has to be water flowing off El Capitan to create Horsetail Fall.  Normally that only occurs in February when winter snow melt creates the waterfall.  In October the ephemeral flow does not occur.

Last year I was gung ho to photograph the “fire fall” and made reservations to stay in Yosemite National Park for several days during February when Horsetail Fall would light up.  It was a disappointing venture.  Due to the continuing drought in California, there was no water flowing from the small watershed atop El Capitan to create the fire fall.  With double the enthusiasm, I traveled to Yosemite again this February to chase the iconic image of Horsetail Fall on fire.  I had called a Park Ranger ahead of time and knew that water was flowing in Horsetail Fall.  With reassurance that the critical element of water was present, I had only to hope that the sun would not be obscured by clouds.














Well, lucky me, for two of the four evenings that I was in position to take my iconic shot, all the elements worked in my favor.  I was at the right place, at the right time, the sky was clear and Horsetail Fall flowed like lava.  It was a very special feeling to see this unique, natural phenomenon let alone photograph it.  But let me also mention, that I was certainly not the only one experiencing this rare event.  There were throngs of photographers and onlookers.  To be set up at a location from which the waterfall could be photographed required an arrival at least three hours before sunset.  I brought a sandwich and folding chair to await the golden hour and got my iconic shot.  Images of the fire fall are located in the National Park gallery under Yosemite National Park. 











rbaak@san.rr.com (Rinus Baak Photography) http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2016/2/chasing-the-iconic-image Fri, 26 Feb 2016 17:04:56 GMT
February In Barrie, Ontario, Canada http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2016/2/february-in-barrie-ontario-canada  

Yes, Jane and I ventured into Canada during the dead of winter.  We traveled to Barrie, Ontario, to photograph and video snowy owls.  The owls were obviously smarter than we were.  They came south for the winter from the extreme cold of the arctic tundra.  We, on the other hand, left the warm climes of San Diego to experience the cold north.  Average temperatures in Barrie during February range from 29 to -11 degrees Fahrenheit.  Average snowfall is about 15 inches in February.  With some trepidation, Jane and I packed all the warm clothes we had and loaded up on chemical hand warmers to stave off the expected cold temperatures and snowy conditions.  The weather, however, turned out far less extreme then we had anticipated.  Temperatures were balmy, by Canadian standards, and snow had pretty much melted away while we were in Barrie.  Temperatures were actually in the low 30’s and 40’s during the day and snow was only found in patches on the fields where the snowy owl hunt. 

The unusually warm weather created some problems for our photography.  Without a cover of snow, the owls were able to find plenty of prey among the open farm fields and were less inclined to be in the open where we could find and photograph them.  Above normal temperatures had warmed the plowed farm fields, turning the furrows into soft, spongy clay that stuck to our boots like glue.  Considering that weather conditions could have been much worse, Jane and I did not complain too much about the mild temperatures.  We brought most of our chemical warmers back home, ready for a future cold country adventure.



































Our local guides had scouted the farm fields before we arrived and knew where some the snowy owls had established territories.  However, the milder conditions meant we still had to diligently search for them, traversing miles of back roads to locate the few cooperative owls.  Most of the photography was “birds in flight”, one of my more challenging endeavors.  None the less, I did manage to bring home some keepers and you can see those in the Snowy Owl Gallery.

rbaak@san.rr.com (Rinus Baak Photography) http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2016/2/february-in-barrie-ontario-canada Mon, 08 Feb 2016 23:26:56 GMT
One Trip Two State Parks http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2016/1/two-state-parks We did not waste any time in starting our 2016 travel schedule.  Early on New Year's Day, January first, Jane and I headed north on Interstate 15 to photograph at two separate state parks.  The first was the Valley of Fire in Nevada and second was Snow Canyon in Utah.  The Valley of Fire proved to be a fun place to hang out and explore.  With the help of a newly acquired Garmin GPS from Santa and coordinates found on the internet, we were able to find and photograph many obscure arches and colorful eroded formations.  In addition to amazing geologic features, we also encountered a small herd of full-curl bighorn sheep.  Although pretty shy, they did allow us to approach close enough for some good images.




























After our explorations in the Valley of Fire, we headed further north to St. George, Utah, and Snow Canyon State Park.  In St. George, the weather turned on us and we had to cope with several days of dark, rainy skies.  Rain turned to snow at higher elevations and we were able to capture snow on the Red Mountains surrounding Snow Canyon.  By the way, Snow Canyon was named for Lorenzo and Erastus Snow, early Mormon pioneers in the St. George area.  It actually seldom snows in Snow Canyon.  So, even with inclement weather we were able to make pictures of a unique and seldom seen setting.  We also had an opportunity to photograph some Ancestral Puebloan rock writing among the rocky ledges adjacent the Santa Clara River.











Pictures from this trip are located in the State Parks group under Valley of Fire and Snow Canyon.

rbaak@san.rr.com (Rinus Baak Photography) http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2016/1/two-state-parks Mon, 18 Jan 2016 22:11:04 GMT
End Of Year Hurrah http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2015/12/end-of-year-hurray Twenty-fifteen was a most successful year with lots of wonderful travel experiences and, let me not forget, a total backyard redo.  It is hard to say which we enjoyed more.  The backyard is a pastoral sight to behold each time we look outside.  Since we really are home more than away (hard to believe), that investment will be appreciated many years into the future. 

To celebrate the end of 2015, we decided to enjoy a long weekend visiting museums and attractions in Los Angeles.  Some might say that it is not possible to have an enjoyable stay in busy Los Angeles, but Jane and I did very much enjoy our exploration of the City of Angels.  Our home-away-from-home for this long weekend get-away was the Hotel Angelenos, just off the I-405 at Sunset Boulevard.

We did have some specific objectives.  First, we wanted to tour the Frank Gehry designed Walt Disney Concert Hall and enjoy a performance in this acoustically excellent venue.  Our second objective was to spend some time at both of the J. Paul Getty museums, the Getty Center in Los Angeles and the Getty Villa in Malibu.  Other than that, we meandered about a bit, visiting the La Brea Tar Pits, Santa Monica, downtown, and Larchmont Village where we had an excellent lunch at Louise’s Trattoria.




































































For night time entertainment, we ventured to the nondescript Gardenia Room Restaurant and Lounge.  This little know gem of entertainment is a classic piano bar lounge where we enjoyed the musical production “Little Things You Do Together” performed by Vincenzo Lodato, Angela Wolcott, each of whom have performed in numerous Broadway productions, and Nancy Dussault, perhaps better known as Murial Rush from the TV series “Too Close For Comfort” and an original co-host for the Good Morning, America program.  I go for this kind of up-close and personal style of entertainment, just three vocalists and a piano.  

To cap off 2015, Bruce Hollingsworth and I traveled to Morro Bay on California's central coast.  Our objectives were to photograph migrating monarch butterflies at a grove of cypress and eucalyptus trees in Pismo Beach and giant elephant seals at their Piedras Blancas colony.  Morro Bay is situated about half way between these photo locations.  

Early morning light was best for photography at the elephant seal colony and late morning light best at the monarch grove when the sun was able to penetrate the tree canopy.  Our days were planned around these time sensitive events.  We were up before dawn to be at the seal colony when the sun broke over the distant hills to the east.  Then, an hours's drive back south to Pismo Beach to catch sun lit clusters of monarch butterflies clinging from eucalyptus branches.
























Afternoons were spent looking for photo ops around Morro Bay.  There we found a long, wide, sandy beach filled with shorebirds and we were able to creep close enough to capture images of the diminutive sanderling.  We also photographed along the Morro Bay State Park boardwalk.  There we photographed the even smaller blue-gray gnatcatcher.  Our leisurely stroll along the boardwalk included a surprise when a cautious coyote came sauntering towards us through the sparse brush adjacent the boardwalk.



















For a short, five day, trip, this turned out to be a productive venture.  I certainly added some "keepers" to my collection of images.  Images from this trip can be found in the Piedras Blances gallery in the Wildlife Refuges group and the Butterfly gallery.


rbaak@san.rr.com (Rinus Baak Photography) http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2015/12/end-of-year-hurray Thu, 24 Dec 2015 18:07:18 GMT
If This Is October, We Must Be In Costa Rica http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2015/10/if-this-is-october-we-must-be-in-costa-rica October found Jane and me in the high altitude cloud forest of Costa Rica.  We were on a hummingbird photography tour with David Hemmings, a Canadian wildlife photographer (www.naturesphotoadventures.com).    Neil Solomon, a fellow photographer from the Photonaturalists Camera Club, had turned me on to this opportunity to photograph some new species of hummers and he and his spouse joined us on this adventure.  Gene Davis, an old photo-buddy, had also signed up.  So it was almost like a private group of friends enjoying the remote outback of Costa Rica.









One of the trip highlights was a peak at the caldera of an active volcano.  Before heading to our photography destination, we made a side trip to the Poás Volcano.  It is only one of Costa Rica’s many active volcanoes along the Ring Of Fire.  Fortunately, only steam was escaping from this caldera during our visit, although there were many signs giving evacuation advice should a more serious eruption occur.



Most of the photography was accomplished at and around the Paraiso Quetzal Lodge (www.paraisoquetzal.com) located at nearly 9,000 feet in the cloud forest.  Dave set up his multi-flash equipment at one of the lodge's hummingbird patios where we were able to get some pretty fantastic shots of hummingbirds feeding at various flower arrangements that were part of the setup.  My favorites were when several hummers were photographed together in one shot.  Suffice to say that I was able to add several hummingbird species to my list of bird photographs.









Weather did play a role during this photo tour.  Several times the morning clouds were so low that photography was not possible and in the afternoon, rain played a similar role.  Never the less, trudging through steep, muddy terrain, with heavy telephoto lenses on tripods, and hampered by slick exposed roots creating constant trip hazards, we were able to locate (with the help of two exceptionally talented local guides) the very photogenic Resplendent Quetzal.  This colorful red and green trogon-like bird with its long tail feathers prefers to perch deep in the shelter of moss covered foliage of Costa Rica’s rain forest.  This, of course, made locating and photographing this target birds a real challenge.  One morning, we intrepid photographers, under the guidance of our talented local assistants, were able to scramble along an extremely steep, slippery hillside to photography the elusive bird.















Jane and I very much enjoyed our stay in Costa Rica.  I had been once before, but this was the first for Jane and she’s game for going back at some future time.

rbaak@san.rr.com (Rinus Baak Photography) http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2015/10/if-this-is-october-we-must-be-in-costa-rica Wed, 21 Oct 2015 21:18:21 GMT
September Road Trip http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2015/10/september-road-trip Three thousand five hundred miles and twenty days, that was our Montana/Wyoming road trip for September.  It was a very diverse trip with stops at several wildlife locations for photography.  During the journey we enjoyed seeing a wide variety of wild animals and birds, including: big imposing bison, delicate pronghorn, big eared mule deer, white tailed deer, big-rack elk, full-curl bighorn sheep, high altitude mountain goats, nervous prairie dogs, free roaming wild mustangs, a scurrying black bear, nesting bald eagles, migrating Canada geese and sand hill cranes, noisy Steller’s jays, a lone burrowing owl, chirping meadowlarks, a cautious muskrat, tiny painted turtles, an unexpected osprey, elegant trumpeter swans, a fleeting Clark’s nutcracker, a colorful varied thrush, the aquatic dipper, fishing mergansers, along with various ducks and other LGB’s (little gray birds).  It was quite the menagerie of American wildlife.







Our first stop was in rural Charlo, Montana where we had rented a small, remote cabin (www.vrbo/3435680).  From there, we day-tripped to the surrounding wildlife habitats, Ninepipe National Wildlife Refuge, Kicking Horse Reservoir, McDonald Lake, and the National Bison Range.  We spent most of our time at the Bison Range (www.fws.gov/refuge/national_bison_range) because it had by far the most photogenic subjects.  There were bison, of course, but also pronghorn, deer, and elk, all fairly close to the road.  At the Kicking Horse Reservoir we unexpectedly encountered some muskrats in a small pond adjacent to the reservoir.  From a distance, through the field glasses, we could see them clearly swimming in the pond.  When I got closer to photograph them with the long lens, they quickly headed for their shore-line burrows.  I managed only one keeper.










Also at this small pond, and others, we noticed several little snouts sticking up out of the water.  After several careful observations, we concluded that they belonged to small turtles.  Some further research yielded a surprise.  It was not any run of the mill turtle, but what we found was the small, painted turtle. indigenous to western Montana.

From this remote retreat in the Mission Valley, west of the Mission Range and south of Flathead Lake, we headed to our own cabin in West Glacier, Montana (www.glacierwildernessresort.com) from where we day-tripped into Glacier National Park, but mostly just kicked back and relaxed for about nine days.  In Glacier, I concentrated my photography on panoramas.  I wanted to practice to see what makes the best panoramic composition.  My conclusion, I need more practice.  I did learn a lot and that always means I need to purchase more gear.







We left our place in Montana and drove to Wapiti, Wyoming to spend a few days with Don Getty and Joan to photograph the wild mustangs at the Bureau of Land Management, McCullough Peaks Wild Horse Herd Management Area.  Don had assured me that he had never been skunked photographing the wild horses there.  Well, he was not skunked this time either.  We went out to the Management Area on three separate days and saw horses each time.  The second day out, however, proved to be a trying one.  We did not spot any horses until we had been driving on bumpy and dusty dirt tracks for nearly four hours.






















The Wild Horse Herd Management Area is immense, nearly 110,000 acres.  I don’t really know how big that is, but it sounds big and we spent hours driving the dirt tracks looking for horses.  Finding them we did and the photography was great.  There are suggested rules about keeping an appropriate distance from the wild horses so as not to impact their natural behavior.  The horses, evidently, don’t know about those rules because they came so close to us, that we had to change our behavior.  The photography was good and the companionship with Don and Joan was outstanding.  Jane and I shared a wonderful time with them.  Inevitably, however, it became time to head back to San Diego so we embarked on the long, two day drive home after an all-around great road trip.

rbaak@san.rr.com (Rinus Baak Photography) http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2015/10/september-road-trip Thu, 15 Oct 2015 17:28:22 GMT
Silver Salmon Creek Lodge – Déjà Vu http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2015/8/silver-salmon-creek-lodge-d-j-vu This August Jane and I found ourselves once again at the Silver Salmon Creek Lodge in Lake Clark National Park, Alaska.  It was Déjà Vu all over again.  We were there in 2013 and decided to make a return visit.  Dave and Joanne Coray and their friendly staff are outstanding hosts and we had a wonderful stay at this cozy lodge.  Access is by bush plan from Anchorage with a landing on the beach along the shores of the Cook Inlet.  The journey started with adverse weather conditions in Anchorage resulting in our flight being delayed several hours.  After arriving at the lodge, however, we enjoyed several days of sunshine.

As it was in 2013, the objective of this short, 5-day jaunt, was to photograph the Alaska Coastal Brown Bears, aka as grizzlies.  In August there is a Silver Salmon run which draws the bears to the creek for some high energy fishing.  Salmon migrate from the Cook Inlet to spawn along Silver Salmon Creek and its tributaries.  This time bears were not as numerous as during our trip in July, 2013.  But there was plenty of photo action with bears splashing after the swift fish.  We also were able to observe and photograph young cubs play-fighting as their mother fished for their dinner.  As always in the Alaskan wild, Jane and I had a great time enjoying the diversity and beauty of nature.














On this trip, there was also the opportunity to sail out to Duck Island on the lodge motorboat.  Duck Island is very small, about the size of a city block in San Diego.  Small as it may be, it is a haven for seabirds, particularly horned puffins.  Photographing from the boat, with substantial surf and swells, proved to be difficult resulting in only a few keepers.  After landing, some good shots of puffins perched near their burrows, doing what puffins do, were possible.










I hope you enjoy the images from this return trip to Silver Salmon Creek Lodge as much I enjoyed obtaining them.  You can also refer back to the 2013 gallery to see what difference a month makes in the life of a grizzly.

rbaak@san.rr.com (Rinus Baak Photography) http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2015/8/silver-salmon-creek-lodge-d-j-vu Mon, 24 Aug 2015 22:43:08 GMT
July Doldrums http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2015/8/zen-test If it’s July it must be home improvements month.  Yes, most of July was spent redoing our backyard.  The project started June 15th, right after we returned from Montreal and the Canadian Grand Prix, and was completed on July 23rd.  It all began when one of the pipes to the pool sprung a leak and we had to tear up some of the backyard hardscape for the repair.  Never hesitating to make a big project out of a little one, we opted to just redo the entire yard.  The final results are wonderful, and breathed new life into our enjoyment of the backyard.  It was a comprehensive project and included replacing the wooden, termite infested, patio cover with an aluminum one; replacing cracked pool coping and tile; and installing artificial turf to replace the aged hardscape.  And last, but not least, we also decided to add air conditioning to our home.  We are loving it all!



















Photography wise, things were a little slow in July.  One bright spot, I was published again.  Nature Photography ran my story about the Black Bears of Anan Creek and Watching Backyard Birds choose one of my images for its August cover.














I did manage to get some night photography practice.  I call it practice because my images don’t quite come out the way I would like.  First, I wanted to get a full moon setting over the ocean.  In San Diego, with its almost perpetual evening marine layer, that turned out to be a bust.  Then, when I tried for a full moon rising over the city skyline, the morning was overcast.  So those ideas were a total flop with no actual shots at all.  I did make it out to Borrego Springs, with its dark night sky, for some Milky Way photography.  I considered the results mixed so I will try that again. 














Finally, in early August, I did get some nice images of butterflies in the wild when I went out with the Photo Naturalists Camera Club to the Bird and Butterfly Garden at San Diego County's Tijuana River Valley Regional Park.  It's amazing what I will photograph when I'm hard up.  Can you believe spiders and grasshoppers?

































Now that the July doldrums are over, I’m looking forward to a more robust photography schedule for the remainder of the year. That will start soon with another trip to the Silver Salmon Creek Lodge in Lake Clark National Park in Alaska. 

rbaak@san.rr.com (Rinus Baak Photography) backyard butterflies construction milky way photography publish remodel travel http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2015/8/zen-test Tue, 11 Aug 2015 00:07:13 GMT
Grand Prix of Canada http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2015/6/formula-1-in-montreal June found us in Montreal, Canada.  Jane and I had become interested in Formula 1 car racing some years ago.  Our good departed friend, Lee Robinson, was an avid fan and got us interested.  Each Formula 1 season, as we watched races on television, we would daydream about actually going to a race.  That dream came true this June.  We chose the Grand Prix of Canada because we longed for that international flavor that is Formula 1.  We certainly got that in Montreal where the primary language is french.  

























We had a great time browsing the restaurants and sights of Montreal.  But, of course, the real treat was going to our first Grand Prix race.  We had purchased weekend tickets for Friday practice, Saturday qualifying, and Sunday racing.  Jane, the travel wiz had found comfortable accommodations near a metro stop that went directly to the race course.  We had not been in crowds like that since we were at the Fourth of July near Fisherman's Wharf in San Francisco.  We had a hoot!











Jane and I each have our favorite drivers.  Jane favors Sebastian Vettel, who drives for Ferrari.  My unsung hero is Valtteri Bottas, driving for Williams.  We both like Fernando Alonso.  He was previously with Ferrari but now drives for McLaren with a car that is not competitive.  Unfortunately, none of our favorites did well in this race with the exception of Valtteri Bottas who finished third and made it onto the podium.












rbaak@san.rr.com (Rinus Baak Photography) Canada Formula 1 Grand Prix Montreal cars racing http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2015/6/formula-1-in-montreal Wed, 24 Jun 2015 19:34:37 GMT
Great Basin National Park http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2015/5/great-basin-national-park Little did I know, before embarking upon my latest photo journey, that there was another great desert in the western United States.  I have frequently photographed in the iconic areas of the Mojave and Sonora deserts, and the desert-like Colorado Plateau.  But I had never thought of the area between the Sierra Nevada and Wasatch Mountains as a desert.  But that vast geographic area, defined as the Basin and Range Province, is known as the Great Basin Desert and that is where I spent the first week in May photographing.

Tourist accommodations and facilities are few and far between in this inhospitable and isolated area.  U.S. Highway 50 traverses this ocean of ranges and basins and is known as the “loneliest road in America”.  My destination was Great Basin National Park (www.nps.gove/grba), the only national park in Nevada.  I had never been there and was motivated by its remoteness and the potential of photographing inside Lehman Caves that are included in the park.  The first week in May turned out to be a bit early to visit Great Basin National Park.  One of the park’s primary attractions, Wheeler Peak, is some 13,000 feet high and the road up to the high elevation trail heads had not been cleared of snow.

This was a photo excursion that was shared with Bruce Hollingsworth.  Plans for the trip had been made well in advance and I had arranged to stay at the “Home On The Range” in Baker, Nevada (www.endofthetrailer.com) only about six miles from Great Basin National Park.  For the area, this was by far the best accommodation available, two bedrooms, full kitchen, super-fast wifi, and a wonderful “trail boss”, Margaret Pense.  Since we were early in the season and the high elevation roads were not open, Margaret had great suggestions for other day trips which Bruce and I gladly accepted.  So besides photographing in the park, we also explored Cottonwood Wash, an area of Desert Archaic petroglyphs on the National Register of Historic Places, and Crystal Peak, a white, volcanic, rhyolite tuff, mountain in the Wah-Wah Wilderness Area.


















The best tip Margaret had given me, though, was that the Park Service offered private, after-hours, photo tours of Lehman Caves.  I had submitted an application, paid the fees and Bruce and I were escorted into the cave, with tripods and flashes, after hours, by Dustin our assigned Park Ranger.  We spent three hours with Dustin photographing to our heart’s content.  WOW!!!  How fun was that?  All in all, we had so much fun that Bruce and I discussed the possibility of a return trip to this isolated part of the American west.

rbaak@san.rr.com (Rinus Baak Photography) Crystal Peak Great Basin Desert Great Basin National Park Lehman Caves Nevada Wah-Wah Wilderness Area Wheeler Peak http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2015/5/great-basin-national-park Sun, 10 May 2015 00:44:09 GMT
Grand Staircase - Esacalante http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2015/4/grand-staircase---esacalante In 1998, some seventeen years ago, Jane and I rented a four-wheel drive Blazer in San Diego and spent two weeks touring the backroads of southern Utah.  That vacation included travel through the Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument, created less than two years prior to our trip.  Recalling the adventure and the amazing scenery of that first journey, I had wanted to revisit and photograph the landscapes and arches of the Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument.  And, that is exactly what I did in April, 2015.

The original plan was that Jane would join me on this excursion.  Then, while I was deep into planning the routes and photo locations, Jane had a change of heart and decided she would prefer to stay home.  Bruce Hollingsworth, who frequently joins me on photo trips, had commitments that prevented him from coming along.  During my research I had come across Jens Munthe, the author of a book descibing many of the arches found in the Monument and that I wanted to photograph.  Since I did not think it wise to wander in the desert looking for arches by myself, Jens kindly offered to guide me to the photo sites I had selected.  In the meantime, Bruce had cleared his calendar and was able to join me after all.

The Grand Staircase - Escalante National Monument is a vast, 1.9 million acre, wilderness.  There are only a few washboard encrusted dirt roads.  For our excursion into this immense, remote area, I had selected to stay four days in the small community of Escalante and concentrate photography along the primitive Hole-In-The-Rock Road.  Accommodations were at the Circle D motel (www.escalantecircledmotel.com) a very nice, refurbished property with a very energetic and helpful host.  After exploring along the Hole-In-The-Rock Road, we moved to an even smaller community, Cannonville, to photograph along the Cottonwood Wash Road for three days and stayed at the Grand Staircase Inn (www.grandstaircaseinn.com).  Also an adequate accommodation but don't stay on the third floor if you have a lot of gear like we did.  There was no elevator but the staff was very helpful and informative.










I am so grateful to Jens for all his advice and help during the planning and implementation of my trip.  Even though there were now two of us, Bruce and I concluded that we would not have found all the arches and slot canyons we photographed if it had not been for Jens.  On our very first day out, Jens led us to three very photogenic arches that had not even been on my radar.  The most fascinating site we visited, however, was the Peek-A-Boo slot canyon.  This excursion began with a moderately challenging hike along a poorly cairned trail.  Thanks to Jens, we had no trouble locating the slot entrance.  The difficulty was in actually entering the canyon which required scrambling up a steep, 15 foot, slick-rock dropoff.  After some hardy attempts, none of us could struggle our way up the dropoff, especially with camera gear, even though handholds had been carved in the slick-rock sandstone.

Fortunately, Jens knew of a back way into the canyon and that is where we ended up entering it.  Peek-A-Boo is not a very long canyon but it is a very, very narrow one.  Even turned sideways, there were spots where we had to push and scrape ourselves through the confining red, sandstone walls of the canyon.  The ultimate reward for all this strenuous effort was the ability to photograph a double arch inside the slot canyon.










As per usual, not everything was perfect.  We had several days of very strong winds with gusts up to 45 MPH creating dust and aggravation as we hiked along sandy trails or attempted to set up for a photo shoot.  We tried as best we could to protect our camera gear from the swirling sand and dust but still had to use compressed gas in a can to blow the grit off the cameras, lenses and tripods.  We also had snow.  Not much, but enough to keep us off some of the dirt-clay tracks we had to traverse to reach our photo sites.  None-the-less, the venture into the canyons of the Grand Staircase was amazingly successful with new discoveries and amazing photo ops every day.

Images from this journey can be found in the Grand Staircase - Escalante gallery.

rbaak@san.rr.com (Rinus Baak Photography) Cannonville Cottonwood Wash Road Escalante Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument Hole In The Rock Road Utah arch arches natural bridge slot canyon travel http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2015/4/grand-staircase---esacalante Sun, 26 Apr 2015 22:37:39 GMT
Eagles & Aurora http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2015/3/homer-and-fairbanks  

For a southern California boy, it was extremely cold during my recent trip to Homer and Fairbanks, Alaska.  Homer was my destination for photographing the iconic American Bald Eagle.  Day time temperatures were in the low to mid-teens.  I was bundled to the hilt and loaded with chemical warmers.  I had come on a 5-day photo workshop with Dale Franz (www.franzfoto.com) and four other wildlife photographers.  The objective was to photograph eagles in their winter range along the southern end of the Kenai Mountains, across Kachemak Bay from Homer.  Each morning and afternoon the six of us we would depart from the boat harbor, at the end of the Homer Spit, and motor across Kachemak Bay in the utility landing craft “XTRATUFF” piloted by Captain Kevin, to China Poot Bay for two to three hours of photography.  Our photo sessions were controlled by weather, primarily wind.  The crossing to China Poot Bay normally took about twenty, or so, minutes when conditions on the bay were good.  The ride was rough and longer when the tide and wind were against us.  Dale and Kevin always worked hard to position “XTRATUFF” in good light for photography.











The Beluga Lake Lodge (www.belugalakelodging.com) was our home for the duration of the workshop.  We spent a lot of time in our rooms.  Typically we were up and out for breakfast by 7:00 AM, then back to the room for added layers and hand warmers for a departure from the dock around 9:00 AM, depending on whether it was sunny or cloudy.  We would return from the morning shoot around one, remove some layers before heading to lunch and then back to the rooms for downloading and napping until about three or four before heading back out for the afternoon shoot.  March is still the off-season in Homer and many establishments were closed so our lunch and dinner choices were limited but Fat Olive’s was my personal favorite for lunch.










Initially we had some great sunny weather with fantastic early light and a great sunset.  Our last two sessions, however, were aborted due to heavy winds and rain.  By then temperatures were more tolerable but we could not cross the choppy and white-capped Kachemak Bay, even in the XTRATUFF.  Consequently, we spent a lot more idle time in our rooms.  By then most of us had at least ten thousand images saved on our hard drives and we spent that idle time reviewing the results of our efforts and deleting thousands of unacceptable shots.  I don’t mind confessing that I had started with over 11,000 raw images and ended up with about 2,000 after deleting out-of-focus, clipped wing, and butt shots.  You will be happy to know I whittled those down to about 35 true “keepers” that are in my gallery.

After Homer, I was off to Fairbanks for the aurora borealis.  I have long had a desire to try my hand at photographing the northern lights and, since I was already in Alaska, took advantage of the opportunity.  Fairbanks is in the auroral zone and known for good northern light displays.  There are a number of photographers that conduct aurora workshops in Fairbanks.  I had arranged with Ron Murray (www.ronmurrayphoto.com) for three nights of aurora photography.  In Fairbanks, like Homer, I also spent a lot of time in my room at the Westmark.  The drill was a bit different, however.  Here Ron and his wife Marketa would pick me up around 10:00 PM and we would head off, with the other photographers in his group, to a remote location outside Fairbanks to photograph the northern lights.  Usually, by about 11:00 PM we would set up and wait for the “show” to begin.

During our first night out there was a spectacular aurora display.  The green waves of light filled the sky, weaving, dancing and pulsating above us.  The results of the solar winds were all around us.  I was constantly changing camera positions to capture the ever changing display.  It was not easy photographing in the dark.  Although the green aurora light was bright enough to cast a light shadow onto the ground, it was still too dark to easily compose a picture through the viewfinder.  Difficult or not, I was happily taking as many shots as I could and not caring too much about composition.  The aurora display ebbed and flowed throughout the night and culminated in a magnificent finale with green and maroon lights streaking across the sky.  That night I was returned back to my hotel room at 5:30 in the morning.  What a night!











There were many more aurora displays over the next two nights, but none could compare with the first night.  I concentrated more on composition on the following nights and even attempted some star circle exposures.  Those were also difficult due to wind, which caused the pine trees to sway back and forth and be fuzzy in the final stacked image.  Because the green aurora light was relatively bright, the stars are dim and do not stand out sharply against the sky.  It was fun trying and that’s what it is all about.


rbaak@san.rr.com (Rinus Baak Photography) Alaska American Bald Eagle Fairbanks Homer aurora borealis eagles northern lights http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2015/3/homer-and-fairbanks Mon, 30 Mar 2015 15:16:29 GMT
Quick Trip http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2015/3/quick-trip I have been planning a trip to Homer, Alaska, to photograph bald eagles for some time and that trip is now just around the corner.  So, my thoughts had been focused on getting ready for that new adventure.  Meanwhile, a note on my calendar reminded me to check how the spring wildflower bloom was proceeding.  Normally that bloom would occur in late March or early April and I had somewhat planned on going to the desert to photograph wildflowers at that time.  Much to my surprise, then, I learned that the rains we enjoyed in February, followed by the warm spell, had resulted in early germination of wildflower seeds and that the desert around Borrego Springs was actually starting to bloom.

Obviously I could not wait until I returned from Alaska to photograph these emerging desert spring flowers.  I had to do it now, before leaving.  A quick trip was called for.  So, I packed my camera gear and headed for Borrego Springs early last Friday for just one day of shooting.  The quick trip turned out better than I expected.  Over the last few years, I had become conditioned to the lack of spring flowers in Borrego so seeing the pallet of color that confronted me along Henderson Canyon Road was a wonderful surprise.  This quick, one day trip resulted in some very nice images as can be seen in my latest gallery.

rbaak@san.rr.com (Rinus Baak Photography) http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2015/3/quick-trip Sun, 08 Mar 2015 21:10:28 GMT
Yosemite & Sequoia http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2015/3/yosemite-sequoia The fire fall eluded us.  We had ventured to the Yosemite Valley to photograph the "fire fall" made famous by renowned photographer Galen Rowell.  During the later part of February, on clear evenings, when the sun sets at the proper longitude, its golden rays illuminate the granite wall of the El Capitan monolith in Yosemite National Park.  In turn, the alpenglow from the rock is reflected into the watery spray from Horsetail Falls that cascade down the face of El Capitan.  This February, however, mother nature conspired against us.  It requires a clear sky to trigger the fire fall effect.  Our fear was that skies would be overcast.  Not so, we had sparkling clear skies to the west.  But, there was no water draining from the top of El Cap and, consequently, no waterfall and no fire fall.

In the hope of replicating Galen Rowell's famous photograph, Jane and I had planned a week's vacation with Bruce Hollingsworth and his wife Debbie to Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks.  We had planned to be in Yosemite for several days to maximize the chance of clear skies.  The thought that California's drought would dry up Horsetail Falls never occurred.  Making up for this disappointment, the four of us enjoyed an expensive night out at the Ahwahnee Lodge.  Bruce and I did pursue some photography in the valley but our hearts were not in it.  In February, Yosemite needs snow to create interesting photographic compositions and there was none.  Along the Merced River, with its low-water cascades and rocky shoreline, we did find some interesting scenes to photograph.  Since there was no water to generate Horsetail Falls, we spent our time instead photographing Half Dome at twilight.  










After three days we left the warm, snow-less Yosemite Valley for the higher elevations of Sequoia National Park.  Jane and I have fond memories of a previous visit to Sequoia when there had been lots of snow.  Although cooler than Yosemite, Sequoia also offered no snowy compositions.  The long term weather forecast predicted an approaching storm that could bring snow.  The front desk clerk at the Wuksachi Lodge did not express much confidence in the veracity of the forecast.  Much to our surprise, however, it began to snow on our second day and it snowed almost continuously for some forty-eight hours, accumulating more than two feet of dry, fluffy snow.  The ghost trees, that Jane and I had hoped to see during our January trip to Yellowstone, we found instead in Sequoia.  With all this snow, we decided to stay an extra day to soak in the beauty of this newly created winter wonderland.  Unfortunately, Bruce and Debbie had commitments in San Diego and could not stay.  After installing chains on Bruce's vehicle, they headed down the mountain as Jane and I enjoyed libations and watched big snow flakes float down from the grey sky through the large lounge windows.









rbaak@san.rr.com (Rinus Baak Photography) El Capitan Half Dome Horsetail Falls Sequoia Yosemite snow winter http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2015/3/yosemite-sequoia Sun, 01 Mar 2015 17:32:40 GMT
Yellowstone In Winter http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2015/2/yellowstone-in-winter  

Yellowstone In Winter

Déjà vu, all over again.  That’s how it was in Yellowstone National Park this winter.  Jane and I had been to Yellowstone in the winter of 2011and here we were again, in 2015, all bundled up and ready for the cold.  We had come on a photography workshop with seven other hardy folks led by Charles Glatzer, a most energetic and enthusiastic photographer (www.shootthelight.com).  As in 2011, we had a wonderful time exploring the winter wonderland of Yellowstone, although this time the weather was milder with less snow than we had hoped for (it's all about climate change).










Winter in Yellowstone is a big tourist draw and there were lots of people at the lodges we stayed.  Some were cross-country skiers, others wildlife enthusiasts, and still others came for the wolves.  And let me not forget to mention the myriad of snowmobilers plying the snow packed roads of the park.  Of course, there was also the van with seven intrepid photographers holding up traffic as they scrutinized the landscape for photographic potential.  Under the leadership of Charles and our Park Service certified guide/driver Wim, our small, congenial group concentrated on photographing the winter wildlife in Yellowstone.

Using the Mammoth Hot Springs Hotel as our base, we started with two days of scouting and shooting in the Lamar Valley.  The Lamar Valley is known for its wolf packs, and although we did not see any wolves within photographic range, there were lots of folks with telescopes searching the far distant hills for the packs.  We did spot a lot of coyotes, some elk, a moose (back-lit and not really photographable) and a bachelor herd of bighorn sheep.  One unique and exceptional find was a recent wolf kill of an elk.  We were not the first upon the scene but were able to find some spots to place our tripods in the congested pullout.  From a ranger, we learned that the wolves had already gorged themselves and had wandered off out of sight.  The carcass was some 200 yards off, but near enough for photography with a long telephoto lens.  With the wolves gone, the carcass was left to Yellowstone’s scavengers.  We first saw two coyotes feeding on the kill and later eagles swooped in from above, including a golden eagle.  At one time there were four bald eagles, three adults and one immature, jostling for their share of the bounty.



























After our journeys into the Lamar Valley, we traveled south to the Old Faithful geyser area.  Using the Snow Lodge as a base, we traversed the interior of the park seeking out wildlife and scenic photographic opportunities.  There, with the help of some strategic intelligence from one of Wim's guide buddies, we located a bobcat.  Bobcats are not uncommon in Yellowstone but it is rather uncommon to find one within photographic range.  We watched the small cat disappear into a forested area and after some sleuthing for an advantageous vantage point, we positioned our tripods where we anticipated the bobcat to emerge from the trees.  Charles and Wim did a good job in choosing our location because we were rewarded with some amazing photography of an elusive animal (see the Winter In Yellowstone Gallery for images of the trip).










After eight fantastic days enjoying the beauty of Yellowstone National Park in winter, it was time to pack up the long-johns, fleece liners, warm gloves and socks and put away the photo gear and head home.  We bade goodbye to our new made friends at the Bozeman airport, with some sadness, as we each headed to our respective abodes. 

rbaak@san.rr.com (Rinus Baak Photography) Yellowstone National Park bighorn sheep bobcat cold coyote elk moose snow winter http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2015/2/yellowstone-in-winter Tue, 03 Feb 2015 16:21:40 GMT
December With Bighorn Sheep http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2014/12/december-with-bighorn-sheep If you have read my “National Geographic” experience blog, you will know Don Getty (www.dongettywildlifephotography.com). Don and I first met on a photo trip to Costa Rica.  Then, as you have read, Don was one of the six intrepid photographers on the African Photo Safari.  Well, after the African adventure, I invited myself to spend a week with Don and his wife Joan at their home in Wapiti, Wyoming, to photograph Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep.  Actually, Don had been bragging about how easy it was to photograph bighorn sheep along the North Fork of the Shoshone River near his home.  When I told him I wanted to come and photograph the sheep he invited me stay with him.










Typically the period of high sexual tension and excitement among male bighorn sheep, known as the rut, occurs in late autumn.  As winter approaches, the big, testosterone-driven males retreat from their high alpine territory to mate with receptive ewes at lower elevations.  That is what occurs in December in the canyon forged by the north fork of the Shoshone River.  The dry grasses along the canyon bottom provide ample fodder for numerous foraging ewes, lambs and immature rams.











Don and I spent five days, from first light to twilight, cruising up and down the canyon in his Jeep Rubicon photographing bighorn sheep.  Sheep were found incredibly close to the road.  We observed and photographed scores of sheep.  The most excitement was generated when one or more ewes excreted sexual pheromones that the rams sensed through their flehmen response.   It would not take long for a group of competing rams to sniff out a receptive ewe and attempt mating while having to fend off rivals.  This was when savage fights among equally matched males would erupt with ferocious pushing, shoving, kicking, and high velocity head-butting.  These sexually driven encounters were exciting to watch but difficult to photograph.  I was lucky to get some keepers.

rbaak@san.rr.com (Rinus Baak Photography) Cody Shoshone Wyoming bighorn photograph photography river rut sheep http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2014/12/december-with-bighorn-sheep Mon, 29 Dec 2014 18:32:56 GMT
National Geographic Moments http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2014/12/national-geographic-moments It was ever so much a “National Geographic” experience, three whole weeks in the east African savanna on a photographic expedition.  It all started when I agreed with Bruce that I would go to Africa if he would organize the trip and all I had to do was show up.  Bruce rose to the challenge and, soliciting the assistance of Don Getty, our acquaintance from the Costa Rica adventure (now close friend Don Getty after three weeks in the veldt) put together a three week safari itinerary that even National Geographic would envy.  There were six adventurers that embarked upon the journey, Bruce Hollingsworth and Don Getty (the organizers of the trip), Mike McDermott (who Bruce and I met on our Costa Rica trip), Sharon Ely (a new traveler friend) and Jane and I. 










It was a long haul from San Diego to Nairobi, Kenya, where our adventure began.  We arrived in Nairobi in the evening and spent the next day adjusting to the time change and rearranging our packing to prepare for the photographic adventure ahead.  Bruce and Don had obtained the assistance of Stu Porter in South Africa to arrange for our transportation, guides and accommodations.  Stu is the proprietor of Wild 4 Africa Photographic Safaris (www.wild4photographicsafaris.com) and did an outstanding job taking care of the expedition logistics. 

Stu arranged to have two large four-wheel drive Toyota Land Cruiser safari vehicles, with driver/guides, available for our transportation and game runs.  Each Toyota had three rows of seats enabling each of us to have our own row for stowing camera gear and shooting.  The vehicles were modified to have a removable top so we could easily stand to photograph as well.  These modified Land Cruisers are not the most comfortable vehicles, but after three weeks of game runs on rough graded, dirt roads, we adapted to their various quirks and concentrated on the task at hand, photographing African wildlife.











In all, we photographed in five major parks in Kenya and Tanzania.  In Kenya, we first traveled north from Nairobi to the Samburu National Reserve, then on to Lake Nakuru National Park in the Rift Valley and finally the Maasai Mara National Reserve.  From the Mara, we traversed the long way to Tanzania to explore Serengeti National Park and the Ngorongoro Crater Conservation Area.  Although the Maasai Mara and Serengeti are adjacent parks separated by the Kenya-Tanzania border, we could not drive directly from one park to the other because there is no official border crossing station for customs and immigration control in the park.  Traversing the “long way” between these two contiguous parks provided us the opportunity to experience, through the windows of our Land Cruisers, the hustle and bustle of remote villages and towns along the way.

In the outback of Kenya and Tanzania there are no shopping centers and all commerce is carried out, pretty much, by individual vendors with portable stalls or small store fronts along the main highway.  As we drove through the villages we passed colorfully dressed women selling bananas, potatoes, carrots, cabbage, charcoal, and sugar cane stalks from their roadside stands.  Carts, pulled by donkeys and oxen, and small motor cycles were loaded to capacity with fire wood, water barrels, tobacco leaves, corn stalks, long wooden poles and planks (to build scaffolds for construction projects), and all matter of household furniture.  The motor cycles were also used as taxis to transport people and it was not uncommon to see three people straddling the buddy seat behind the driver.











Getting back to our “National Geographic” experience, the game drives were phenomenal.  To catch the soft, early morning light, we six intrepid photographers were in the Land Cruisers and on the “road” by six.  We brought snacks for breakfast in the veldt and typically returned to the lodge around one for lunch.  Then, out again by three-thirty for some more shooting and home by the six o’clock park curfew at twilight.  The wildlife encounters were incredible, like “living” a wildlife film.  We were there when a cheetah brought down a Thompson’s gazelle and watched the suffocating bite to the throat.  We were there when a young male lion snapped the neck of a Cape buffalo calf and drug it off.  We were there when a throng of Nile crocodiles savagely tore apart a wildebeest and voraciously consumed it in the Mara River.  We were there when a cheetah called her cubs to a kill and watched the cute little tikes gorge on the carcass with bloody jowls.  We were there when spotted hyenas harassed hooded and white-backed vultures to steal the remains of a lion kill.











On the gentler side, we watched massive African elephant cows huddle protectively around diminutive calves as the herd foraged across the savanna.  We watched as a colorful adult bee-eater swooped from its perch to catch bees and feed them to its young chick.  We watched female baboons carry young on their backs as they fed among the flowering shrubbery.  We watched weaver birds build and repair their nests.  We watched warthog sows, long skinny tails extending straight up, with its tufty end waving like a cavalry flag, protectively herding their gang of piglets away from danger in a hastened trot.  These were “National Geographic” moments to be savored and relished.  

rbaak@san.rr.com (Rinus Baak Photography) Africa Crater Kenya Lake Mara Masai Nakuru Ngorongoro Samburu Serengeti Tanzania expedition safari travel http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2014/12/national-geographic-moments Sat, 27 Dec 2014 20:52:30 GMT
Coronado's Inland Empire http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2014/10/coronados-inland-empire In late February of 1540, nearly 500 years before I was born, a band of Spanish conquistadors, under the command of Francisco Vázquis de Coronado, left northern Mexico in search of the legendary “Seven Cities of Gold”.  Driven by the thoughts of Inca-like gold and silver, the conquistadors reached the Zuni pueblos of New Mexico in the summer of 1540 where, much to their distress, they found no riches.  In their search for the fabled treasure, however, Coronado and his men became the first Europeans to traverse the great American southwest, exploring the vast Colorado Plateau with its remarkable scenic treasures more than three hundred years before John Wesley Powell’s great exploration of the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon .  These intrepid conquistadors and subsequent Spanish explorers were the first Europeans to colonize the Santa Fe region of New Mexico.  A wonderful description and account of these exploits can be found in Stewart L. Udall’s book “Majestic Journey – Coronado’s Inland Empire”.

Jane and I recently ventured into Coronado’s Inland Empire to savor its rich history and experience its iconic characteristics.  Our first stop was the “Sky City” pueblo of the Acoma culture.  This pueblo was the second that Coronado and his troops encountered on their quest for riches and is considered the oldest, continuously inhabited settlement in North America (www.acomaskycity.org).   Archaeologists estimate that “Sky City” had been occupied since the early 1100’s and that the Acoma were descended from the Ancestral Pueblo culture of Mesa Verde in Colorado.




















From Acoma,we drove on to Santa Fe where Jane had arranged one of her superb VRBO (Vacation Rental By Owner) accommodations.  It was a delightful little renovated casita near the heart of Santa Fe’s museums and galleries.  We used our quaint little casita as a home-base and day-tripped through the area from there.










One of our day trips took us deep into Georgia O’Keeffe Country, including a tour of her home in the village of Abiquiu and a short visit to the Ghost Ranch (www.okeeffemuseum.org).  O’Keeffe was a fascinating artist and her work full of the vibrant colors of the New Mexico landscape.  Our tour was led by a knowledgeable artist who had interesting stories and anecdotes that made us appreciate Georgia O’Keeffe’s life and contributions even more.  Unfortunately, photography was not allowed at her home and studio, so no pictures in the blog.










Another day trip brought us to the Taos pueblo along the scenic “high road”.  Along the way we stopped at artist workshops/galleries; toured several small villages first settled in the 1600’s by Spanish and Mexican pioneers, including Chimayo, Truchas (where Robert Redford filmed the “Milagro Beanfield War”), Las Trampas and Rancho de Taos;  and stopped to photograph multiple churches designated  National Historic Landmarks due to their antiquity and classical Spanish colonial architecture.











The ultimate objective was Taos (www.taospueblo.com). Taos is by far the most visited pueblo in New Mexico.  These multistory pueblos, with their thick adobe walls, are the largest surviving structures of their kind.  We spend one afternoon photographing these picturesque buildings with their colorful door and window frames.  Coronado and his conquistadors also visited Taos pueblo in 1540 and their journals describe the multistory, stacked adobe buildings.  Taos pueblo also hosts a National Historic Landmark church, the San Geronimo de Taos Mission Church.  Originally built under direction of Spanish friars around 1620, construction of the chapel created cultural conflicts with the native peoples who resisted conversion and destroyed the building on two separate occasions.  The church was again destroyed during the Mexican-American War of 1847 and the current structure was rebuilt in 1850.

All of New Mexico’s pueblos celebrate various feasts throughout the year.  Taos pueblo is no exception and while we were there, San Geronimo Day was celebrated.  San Geronimo (Saint Jerome) is the Taos pueblo patron saint.  The ceremony involves a group of clowns, men with alternating black and white stripes painted on their bodies and dried corn leave headdresses.  These clowns play tricks on pueblo residents and we observed several small children being dunking into the small stream running through the pueblo by the clowns.  The kids certainly did not like it nor did their mothers but on this day the clowns were in control.  The climax of the ceremony occurs when one of the clowns successfully climbs a very thick, tall pole that had been erected in the central plaza of the pueblo and dislodges various foods from atop the pole, including a dead sheep.  The whole affair is shrouded in their ancient religious tradition and the meaning is kept secret.  During my diligent pre and post trip research, I could not discover any hint of the hidden meanings related to the clowns and pole climb.  All I could discover was that the ceremonial meaning is a secret.  Again, unfortunately, no photography was allowed during the celebration, so no photos in the blog or gallery.











Our final destination for this excursion was the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta.  So after six days of day-tripping and photography in Santa Fe we journeyed to this high profile, extremely popular and colorful event.  We favored driving the back roads to reach Albuquerque and ventured past the Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument.  No,I had never heard of this unique place either but it was on the map and on the way.











Visiting the balloon fiesta was a memorable event with extreme crowds, and a lively, vivacious “midway” full of food vendors hawking their deep fried chips and fries, corn dogs, burritos, and funnel cakes.  On Saturday morning we strolled among the hundreds of hot air balloons readying for their mass ascension into the Albuquerque air.  As crews and pilots filled their balloons with hot air from their burners, we watched the colorful envelopes take shape and slowly stretch and rise into the morning air taking gondola and crew with it.  It all seemed to go in slow motion until suddenly the entire sky was filled with balloons of every imaginable shape and color.











For Sunday, we had arranged to go up in one of the Rainbow Ryder’s balloons (www.rainbowryders.com).  Filled with anticipation of an exciting experience, we arrived at the check-in booth early.  On the field, we waited impatiently with our pilot for the “all clear” from the weather forecasters.  It never came!  It appeared that the winds were too strong and we remained stranded, with all the other balloons, firmly on the ground.  What a disappointment to head home without the exhilarating experience of a hot air balloon ride at the famous Albuquerque festival (www.balloonfiesta.com).

rbaak@san.rr.com (Rinus Baak Photography) http://www.rinusbaakphotography.com/blog/2014/10/coronados-inland-empire Tue, 14 Oct 2014 20:25:00 GMT